How can we think of a comprehensive model of citizenship for all? Functional diversity and autonomy. “We live in the same world”, claims activist Antonio Centeno in this interview from Barcelona. He shares how a community organizes itself to recognize more accessible forms of livability for all and make them a reality, as well as how that bothers capitalism. Written by Flor Coll and illustrated by María Pichel. Translated by Patricia Labastié
Functional diversity and autonomy. How can we think of an integral model of citizenship for all?
Antonio Centeno. Born more than 40 years ago in Montcada i Reixat, he has lived in Barcelona for 20 years and has opened up spaces for debate, legislation and social awareness from the Foro de Vida Independiente y Diversidad (Forum for Independent Living and Diversity, FVID). He became functionally diverse at the age of 13 after an accident. He graduated in Math, worked as a teacher in secondary schools, and for the last two years he has lectured in the master’s degree in Gender and communication at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). He is an activist, feminist and one of the founders of the Oficina de Vida Independiente (Office of Independent Living, OVI) in Barcelona, a space aimed at transforming ways of independent living for people with disabilities. In recent years, he has advanced a variety of audiovisual cultural projects linked to functional diversity: the TV series “Trèvols de 4 fulles” (2018) as co-writer and actor, the film about sexual assistance “Vivir y otras ficciones” (2016) as actor, the documentary about sexuality “Yes, we fuck” (2015) as co-director, and the cripple post-porn short film “Nexos” (2014) as co-writer and actor. He also leads the sexual assistance project “Your hands, my hands”, works in partnership with the association En torno a la silla addressing the free and collaborative design of assistive products, and takes part in the inclusive art initiative Artransforma. We talked with Antonio, who kicks off this first section of femiñetas called Ideas dibujadas (Drawn ideas).*
* In the original interview in Spanish, Antonio uses the so-called generic feminine.
Math. Math was my refuge. I enjoyed it very much. And it allowed me to solve the material part of life, because I worked as a teacher, and it has also been very useful to me on a personal level. For me, everything I do in life has a substrate that is conditioned by that viewpoint, by that mathematical thinking. But there are many things that might be better approached from the perspective of purely living them, enjoying them, sharing them. And it doesn’t matter much if you understand that or not. Moreover, maybe that non-knowledge, that unknown space allows you to enjoy things in another way with a certain mystery, with a certain magic. It is good to understand, it is good to get it, but there comes a time in life when understanding is not everything.
Undermined rights. What is the point of proclaiming the right to free movement if, at the same time, transports allowed are not accessible, do not consider all the ways of getting around, for example, if they have no ramp for access? If you cannot use transports, your right to free movement is highly restricted, much conditioned, reduced. And so is your citizenship, and that happens with everything else: work and leisure. That is where our struggle aims at the recognition of certain forms of personal autonomy, certain ways of doing things that are minoritarian, not usual, but that are equally human, real, valuable and should be respected likewise. And that is a political issue: how the community organizes itself to recognize and make these forms of personal autonomy possible.
Therefore, we are not asking that great normal mass to make a big sacrifice, to live in a slightly worse way so that we weirdos can breathe in exchange. There is no need to live in different worlds. We don’t need a second-class citizenship. We can live together and in a better way. We and you. In the same world. In the end, it is an exercise of practicing realism, of saying: What are bodies like? How do bodies do things? How do they interact with each other? And from this realism of doing, building society, from physical spaces to objects, to processes, to the relation with public administration, to the relation with paid work.
Language and life as a process. Language is important because we are communication. Reality is mostly communication. What we know as direct experience compared to what we know because it has come to us through some cultural way or from art or media is much less.
The construction of reality has its foundation in communication and therefore, in language. It’s exactly that: language is thought and steers it. It is so different if you position yourself in the arena talking about certain problems in terms of capabilities, let’s say, than if you position yourself talking about a human diversity. What you must consider is that they are different lines of thought. And you must choose where to position yourself, because that says a lot. That creates one reality or another. That’s why we are interested in language. Not so much for words themselves, because any word is easy to contaminate. Now one word might seem great to us, but when everybody has embraced it —institutions, companies, Coca-Cola ads—, then it will be the same shit that we already had. Then it will no longer be a useful tool. But words are important insofar as they put ideas in motion, as they challenge new ideas. So, right now, as it [language] is not official, it is a useful tool because it questions and challenges a positioning.
We need to be realistic, become aware and know how things really are. To know that life is a process and that those lines that we believe separate normal and different are lines. And that they move. And that if it goes well, at some point everyone will be on the bad side of the line, because if it does go well, we will grow old. And to grow old is to do things in another way with a different autonomy, not so much in this way that we have been taught and that seeks to be the only way: to do things without counting on others or apparently without others. Because behind it there is always a context, there is a community that makes anyone’s life possible. And this is never seen.
Capacitism. Capacitism is the form of oppression that only validates or legitimizes certain capabilities, certain bodies, certain forms of autonomy. It is one of the foundations of capitalism. It ensures productivity, which only affects specific bodies, based on the idea of not counting on others to do many things.
Why is it that nobody ever thinks about whether you are capable of loving or laughing? Why is nobody interested in this? It only matters if you can cut a steak by yourself, if you can open the door or need to have it opened for you. We must be aware of this because the whole oppressive system is built upon a basis of capacitism, which ensures production, and a basis of sexism, which ensures reproduction. And therefore, these are not different struggles. We must be aware that they are aspects of the same struggle. Any progress in one aspect will have a positive impact on the other.
The problem has never been the proclamation of rights, even though a few and in dark times. And so, we go back to a matter of politics, how the community organizes itself to recognize and make possible these forms of personal autonomy.
Privileges. Walking down the street with no fear should be something normal. It should no longer be a privilege. It should be logical and something usual. I think that in general there is a very difficult connection to the idea of masculinity and feminisms. What happens with men who feel attacked or questioned and get defensive? “Hey, what are you telling me? I’m nice!” Or those who think about supporting “that certain aspect” of feminism or going to the demonstrations? I believe that our role from that masculine identity is not to support such a thing, but to be part of it. And how do you become part of it? By becoming aware of the privileges we enjoy and the mechanisms underpinning them. We must work with each other to undo them. But
You don’t need to be there, you should think about your role in all this, its scope. But without taking part in everything. And specially not to be the center of attention or to pretend to be the leading voice. You must know how to position yourself.
Personal and sexual assistant. When the Foro de Vida Independiente began to take shape, we didn’t think about fitting in. I can also be a father or mother, I can also work, I can buy an apartment with a mortgage. We try not to cut down the individual to fit into the puzzle, but to break it, that is, to question the model. We try to make it possible to see different dynamics of doing things, but in the way each person does them. Specifically, our way is with other people’s hands.
We created ad hoc structures separate from the Foro de Vida Independiente to keep that non-structure, that lightness, and we founded the Oficina de Vida Independiente to manage specific projects, so that they were the supports necessary to live the way we wanted to live: outside institutions, outside family care. We started a couple of projects in Madrid and Barcelona, which have been running very well since then and have managed to change the lives of participants. This has proven to work well even at the economic level, and of course at the level of rights.
This is model that allows coexistence, that allows the way to blur the line between us and others, so I believe it is always along the right line. It is all those constructs that determine everyday life in the end. And doing it this way, including the differences, results in something that is better for the whole, not just for minorities. It is better for all.
And that is why the Foro de Vida Independiente makes capitalism’s hair stand on end, because what the latter needs is precisely to isolate us, to atomize us from each other. We propose and carry out a form of autonomy entailed by the bond, counting on each other. Thus, when we comb our hair with our personal assistant (PA), we make the decision of who we do it with and where we do it. So, although the hands are theirs, the responsibility for all actions is ours, and therefore, it is our way of combing our hair. In addition to our PA, when the tasks have to do with pleasure —because of this little cultural problem we have regarding pleasure and desire!—, it is best to separate it into an independent figure: the sexual assistant (SA). The rationale for the role is exactly the same as that of the PA, and its configuration as a right for us is also the same. The only thing that changes are the tasks being made possible with one and the other.
Their hands are the support that enables us to explore our body in our own way. With their hands, we can give ourselves pleasure in our own way. For example, if we want to have sexual practices with other people and if we need a support to have a certain position or movement and we cannot do it in the usual way (by ourselves), we have the support of another person, and that is one of the tasks of this type of assistant. In no case we propose it as someone with whom we engage in sexual practices; it has nothing to do with that. Even though we think that this type of support, of work, of services, can be valid and useful.
Visit @feminetas IG and Facebook to learn where to get all these materials: the documentary Yes, we fuck, the TV program Trèvols de 4 fulles, and the film Vivir y otras ficciones can be found on several digital download and online platforms. The film starred by Antonio highlights that the desire to enjoy a full sexuality becomes a vital and political choice, when he, a quadriplegic writer, decides to set up a space for sexual assistance in his own house. forovidaindependiente.org // asistenciasexual.org