Unfractured Dreams: A Photo Essay
By Michael Mullady
While still a grad student at San Francisco State University four years ago, Bethany Stevens, 30, teamed up with photographer Michael Mullady to capture life as a young woman wheelchair user in the Bay Area. Mullady followed Stevens everywhere, including tagging along on her dates and even to parties. To see the original multimedia presentation of Unfractured Dreams, go to www.tinyurl.com/unfractured.
See that guy flirting with Stevens? As a distraction from the California bar exam, she went on a date with him, and then ditched before dinner arrived. “It was the only date I ever left,” says Stevens, who has osteogenesis imperfecta.
“I find children scary,” confesses Stevens. “They get excited by the wheelchair and they come running. They can hurt me — even a 3-year-old can break me. But this child is contained in a stroller.” She wonders if small children think she is riding some kind of interesting bicycle.
Stevens and her close friend, artist Sunny Taylor, who also has a disability, took an adapted yoga class together. “We have such a tremendous crip solidarity,” says Stevens. “She’s a big deal. We met at an ADAPT protest in 2003.”
See Stevens sitting in the back of the room? That’s the accessible seating. “There were no opportunities for me to talk to the professor in the classroom,” she says. Now that she’s a professor at Georgia State University, Stevens still deals with rooms like these. “I have to remind the scheduler that I’m disabled and need to be put in an accessible classroom,” she says. “It’s absurd.”
Yes, indeed, that is a dildo Stevens is holding, and that is a sex shop she is browsing. “I am comfortable in that space and talking about everything hanging on the wall,” she says. “Some may see it as a problem, but it is my gift to the movement, my relentless, unashamed embracing of my sexuality.”
“I do love my body, but that is not an everyday feeling,” says Stevens, about why she chose to allow the above photo to be taken. “So I wanted to reveal that I do have scars and they are part of me, and they’re not something that I can always embrace. For everybody — beyond disability — shame and love are two sides of the same story, intermeshed and interwoven, and they are together for me, too.”
When this photo was taken, Stevens says she was looking for something in her life. Now, she says she’s settled down. “I have a partner who I’m very much committed to, and a profession. I have a trajectory now. That all came to fruition there, in the fertile land of Berkeley and San Francisco. All those fractured pieces of me came together in the Bay Area.” Stevens now is a faculty member and policy analyst in the Center for Leadership and Disability at Georgia State University in the Institute of Public Health. She lives in the Atlanta area with her fiancée, Sara Palmer.
Performance artist and radio talk show host Frank Moore (the guy with the head stick) invited Bethany Stevens to be on his show. “Moore is a hippie … polyamorous, love, let’s dance around. He’s one of those interesting Bay Area personalities,” says Stevens.
“What I miss most about the Bay Area is being able to be with this many disabled people in the same space, no need to talk about Disability 101,” says Stevens. This party was hosted by John Kelly, and many of the attendees were in town to do post-doc work.