A Disabled Person Reviews: Sickness & Lies (BBC)

Screenshot of BBC's title, Sickness and Lies, but above it I added text so it now reads "A Disabled Person Reviews: Sickness & Lies"

Note: this documentary is not good, and if you’re disabled you might find it very upsetting. You might also find this review upsetting as a result, so feel free to skip it if you need to.


It has taken me a week to watch a 25-minute video.
Obviously, some of the reason for that is the cognitive fog that comes of holding an alphabet soup of mental health diagnoses, and that I’m supposed to be writing a dissertation. But most of the reason it took me a while is because, friends, this one hurt.
The disabled community is not unfamiliar with being mocked and/or dissected in mainstream media, having their diagnoses doubted and generally being treated like shit, within documentaries and outside of them. I was expecting this to be bad, so it’s not that I was disappointed. It was an extremely angry kind of hurt.
The first thing I saw about this documentary was Jessica Kellgren-Fozard’s Tweet about it, stating that she firmly declined to take part in the project because she disagreed with the premise. I’ve followed Jessica’s career for a number of years now and I respect and trust her as a content creator, meaning that I also trust that what she has said is true. So yes, I started from an angry place in watching this doc, but only because I knew that footage of Jessica Kellgren-Fozard had been used without her permission. I hoped, though, that this little sprinkle of unethical journalism would be an exception, not the rule.
The premise of this documentary, apparently, is to investigate the recent phenomenon of “Munchausen’s by Internet” (which, I would like to note, was invented by a white man). Essentially, Munchausen’s by Internet is a factitious disorder linked to and driven by online interactions with other people, and I personally (as someone with, admittedly, zero qualifications on the matter) don’t think it’s a real thing. It’s my opinion that yes, some factitious disorders are probably made worse by unregulated internet access, but the vast, vast majority of these people are legitimately disabled, enjoying community and acceptance for possibly the first time and eager to share in a space where that’s welcomed. Regardless, the documentary also looks at people trying to diagnose others with MBI or otherwise trying to prove that they are not, in fact, disabled.
Sounds like fun, right?
Infuriatingly, the documentary provides no numbers about most of these things. We’re informed that “many of the accusers are people with chronic illnesses themselves,” but there’s no clarification as to an exact number or proportion. They have no stats on how often people are malingering (which, I should note, then also makes them ill as someone suffering from a factitious disorder or similar), nor on how often disabled people are harassed about it. They don’t present any data about disabled people’s internet usage or about their wellbeing as it relates to internet usage; it’s all interviews and broad statements. One statement that was absent of numbers but caught my attention was when the online chronic illness community was described as having “spiralled” in recent years. Not “grown”, not “exploded”, but “spiralled”, because obviously the expansion of our community is a negative. They also draw attention to the fact that the number of chronically ill people is growing, especially among young women, to which I say two things: 1. Your data only shows you the growing number of diagnoses, which could be due to a huge range of factors including more comprehensive healthcare access, changes in the diagnostic criteria of certain disorders, etc., etc., and 2. Young women are one of the most thoroughly silenced groups out there. If the number of diagnosed-disabled young women is growing, could it be possible that it’s because cultural shifts have allowed them to be diagnosed? And could it also be possible that a supportive and informative online community is helping with that? Of course, they don’t dwell on any of this, because they’re too busy panicking about how many disabled Instagram users there are nowadays.
I tried to draw hope from the fact that the presenter of the program is also disabled, but a cynical voice kept asking me whether, perhaps, the BBC had chosen a disabled presenter to mitigate the obvious yuckiness of the program’s premise. She expressed that she began making the program as a result of falling down an online “rabbit hole” about chronically ill people, and the people who accuse them of faking.
Allow me to stop everything right there. I’m doing a Linguistics MA. I spend a lot of time investigating the way people frame things, what they bring to the foreground and what they do not. I noticed almost immediately that, wherever possible, the term “chronically ill” was being used instead of “disabled”. I’m not sure why, but I have two theories: the optimistic one is that this is because the BBC knew that not everyone identifies with or wants to use the label “disabled”; the cynical one is that they didn’t want to emphasise disability, because disabled people are, in the UK, a minority group protected by law (specifically, the 2010 Equality Act) and even if this documentary doesn’t constitute a hate crime, acknowledging that you’re closely dissecting the disabled community might make you sound like more of a prick than if you say “chronically ill”. (This documentary does a lot of work to avoid seeming prickish. None of it is successful.)
Then there’s the online bit. Yes, these are predominantly online communities that are being examined, both of ill people and of their doubters, but there was no discussion of disabled people forming community IRL, and, more annoyingly still, the discussion about backlash and suspicion was almost entirely focused on Reddit. A lot of people who watch this documentary might be inclined to think, “Ah, yeah, but Reddit is full of know-it-alls, argumentative bastards and people who are just generally cunts, so I don’t imagine this happens anywhere else online, and ill people can just click away from Reddit if they’re upset,” which wouldn’t be unreasonable. Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens on every platform I’ve ever used – Tumblr, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram… they all have some lurkers who are hoping you’ll “disprove” your own disability. This behaviour is oppressive and inescapable, it is directed at members of our community within our own online community spaces, and, as even the documentary highlights, it can lead to real-life harm.
The trouble is that the documentary suggests that the harm that comes to ill people most often is self-inflicted as a result of trying to “prove” the existence of one’s disabilities; it shows interviewees recounting their experiences with coordinated harassment and doxxing, but then immediately returns to the topic of people intentionally making their symptoms worse or inventing new ones. One influencer makes reference to people who “list off every single diagnosis, or sometimes even their medications” (emphasis mine), her tone suggesting that this is a psychologically unhealthy behaviour that is driven by a need to disprove Redditors and their ableist friends. It’s my experience that when people list their conditions and/or medications, at least part of their reasoning is that someone else with that same condition, or using that same medication, can spot that someone is willing to talk about those things and can ask questions, compare experiences and receive encouragement. Again, yes, I do imagine that there are some people with actual factitious disorders who should maybe avoid that kind of content for their own sake, but I also imagine that they’re a very, very small minority.
This was another bit of framing that frustrated me. Consistently, throughout this doc, behaviours like posting symptom lists, lists of diagnoses, photos related to medical care, etc., have all been treated as though they are done solely for the purposes of proving yourself to be ill. They did mention, sort of, that the disabled community can be quite supportive and caring, but they didn’t consider for a moment that the things disabled people post are for the sake of other disabled people, rather than for the abled audience trying to expose them as liars. There was no use of the word “destigmatise” even though that seems like a pretty high priority for many disabled people, especially people with more “gross” disabilities like those related to digestion, or diagnoses which make you behave differently from your neurotypical peers. Wanting to destigmatise the specifics of disability, one’s healthcare journey, bodies that look different from what’s typical and the difficulties associated with being disabled is certainly the reason I post about mine, and it seems to me to be the main reason people share this information, for a disabled audience, an abled audience or both.
Lots of things, actually, that could look like signs of Munchausen’s By Internet to an outsider are actually very typical parts of being disabled. Someone mentioned illnesses “piling up” as though that ought to raise suspicion, when in reality, 1. Lots of conditions are comorbid with one another, so plenty of people have multiple and/or changing diagnoses and 2. Once you’re under the care of a certain healthcare team or similar and you’ve been diagnosed with one thing, it’s way more likely you’ll be tested for or could raise concerns about other things. Dr. Dickhead, who coined the term Munchausen’s By Internet, also lists “miraculous recoveries” as a sign of MBI, which frustrates me since “miraculous” can be so subjective, and sometimes bodies really do just glitch badly and then figure themselves out. Moreover, it highlights “clones” who apparently imitate disabled people so closely that “they get the same chair, the same colour service dog”, but listen. Wheelchairs are very expensive, and I personally wouldn’t want to choose one without checking out the opinions of people who already own one. Service dogs, whilst being very very good boys and girls, do not come in a huge range of colours to begin with, so statistically you’re pretty likely to see two people with a service dog of the same colour (you tit). The whole documentary feels like, regardless of its host, it has been put through a very particular lens that just cannot capture the nuances of being disabled, let alone being disabled online, because that diverts from the bit where disabled people are naughty lazy fakers. (It also feels like this should have been an hour long, partly for this reason and partly just based on the choppiness and the half-arsed interviews that answered like two questions.)
The investigation into the actual twats doxxing people for being disabled wrong was, in my view, less prominent than the discussion on faking/MBI itself, but it was also very “both-sidesy”, interviewing a moderator for one of the subs where doubters cluster together to try and find signs of faking, and finding that she considered it “a failed experiment” rather than something that could cause actual harm. Quite tellingly, she also said, “Sometimes we forgot we were dealing with human beings,” and acknowledged that “there is a line” but neglected to define where it might be. It seems like parts of the documentary are defending others’ right to scepticism, which, y’know, whatever, but that also means they’re implicitly defending behaviours that make others’ scepticism the problem of disabled people. Public internet forums debating whether or not you’re actually ill will always be hurtful, and sometimes dangerous (I convince myself I’m not disabled on a near-daily basis anyway; I don’t need any encouragement to stop taking my antipsychotics).
The thing is, this documentary does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in a world where we know that chronic conditions are underdiagnosed, especially among minority groups like women, POC, LGBT+ people etc., and it will be viewed by the people who have the power to provide or withhold these diagnoses and the treatment one could subsequently receive. It will be viewed by nosy and ableist next-door neighbours who will make you feel unsafe claiming benefits in your own home in case they glimpsed you in the garden last week. It exists in a world where the disbelieving of disabled people is already causing suffering and deaths, so maybe it’s clear why I’m angry about this documentary, which suggests that disabled people should be disbelieved.
I’m angry that they used Jessica’s image without her permission. I’m angry that they then said that “big-name influencers” like her had declined to be part of the documentary “because they’re afraid of being targets”, when Jessica states clearly on her Twitter that her motivation for declining was the ethical implications of the premise, and I suspect that was the case for many of these “big-name influencers”. Mostly, though, I’m angry that this exists. I’m angry that this was made and aired, and that whoever made those decisions either didn’t care, or didn’t care to learn, how it might affect IRL disabled people. I feel betrayed that the host was disabled but didn’t seem to bring any nuance to the table regarding disability, and was clearly there to portray “both sides”, not to advocate for other disabled people. I’m angry that it was weirdly short, so it gave only a very brief overview of campaigns of organised harassment, which are both fascinating to me as a linguist and terrifying to me as a disabled queer. I’m angry that most of the people featured in this doc were white, and that the focus was so heavily on physical disability, and a whole bunch of other things. And I’m hurt, because I feel like actual humans chose views and ratings over my actual wellbeing.
The documentary did a couple of things I didn’t hate, though! The host used they/them pronouns for a nonbinary interviewee, instead of misgendering them or carefully avoiding using any pronouns at all. She also did acknowledge that disabilities and medical interventions affect everyone differently, and what might hold true for her is not necessarily true for others. I liked some of the cool projection effects they used.
…that’s about it.
So, should you watch this wildly irresponsible and/or directly malicious documentary? Honestly, if you’re disabled, I wouldn’t recommend it – you won’t learn anything new, you’ll just be reminded how many people think you’re a liar and just how unsafe disabled people are in the world. If you’re not disabled, it might be worth watching just to know what discourse is floating around about disabled people, so that you’re positioned to be a better ally and advocate… but really, it’s not even terribly interesting, so maybe you’re better off reading reviews of it (like this one! But read multiple! I don’t represent every single disabled person!) and not giving the BBC the views. I can only really recommend it to people who, like me, sometimes want or need to get recreationally angry at the TV and who can’t find anything more infuriating on iPlayer.
I’m not here to tell you what to do, but if you want to complain about any aspect of this documentary, you can get in touch with the BBC by clicking here. If you want to support your local angry disabled person, you can buy me a coffee through Ko-Fi here. If you’d like to see some calming pictures of kittens, click here.

FREE RESOURCE: Autism Shapes

So I am aware that this is a sex blog, but it’s also an autism blog, and, as usual, I have a bee in my bonnet about the general public’s perception of autism and their limited understanding of what the autism spectrum actually is. Functioning labels (“high-functioning autistic” and “low-functioning autistic”) are limiting and without nuance, and are mostly defined by how much one’s autism inconveniences the people around them and/or impacts their ability to contribute to an ableist and capitalist society. They fail to take into account the fact that most autistic people don’t have the same level of difficulty unilaterally with all aspects of life, and they make me so annoyed that I want to bite people.

So I made a PDF, because confrontation scares me. You can access it by clicking here. Essentially, the PDF introduces the Autism Shape, a way to visualise the experiences of autistic people in a way that doesn’t limit them to a sliding scale which goes from “not very useful in a capitalist society” to “rather useful in a capitalist society”. The blank template looks like this:

A sort of graph thingy with eight straight lines protruding from a black dot in the middle. These lines are marked at intervals, labelled from 1 (closest to the centre) to 10. They are all labelled with different things an autistic person may struggle with. From the top, clockwise, these are: Social interaction, Sensory perception, Interoception & self-care, Flexible thinking, Adjusting to change, Paralinguistic communication, Verbal communication and Cognitive empathy. In the bottom-right corner, there is some text which reads, “Morgan Peschek, 2019. Feel free to share, but please credit me!”

The idea is to prioritise the nuanced, lived experience of autistic people over the perceptions of their “functioning” that other individuals might have. You mark your own values on the template, with 1 meaning “I struggle a lot with this” and 10 meaning “I’m fucking amazing at this”, and then you connect the dots to create a fun shape, like so:

A radar chart related to the autism spectrum, with eight "spokes" each labelled with a different aspect of autism. More information is available in the PDF.
The same graph as before, but this time with a teal eight-sided polygon drawn onto it. This is my own Autism Shape.

I’ve been developing the Autism Shape for a while now, and I’m really pleased with it, but I’m always open to suggestions! I’m particularly interested in input on how to make the PDF more accessible to people who use screenreaders, and to people with dyslexia for whom black text on a white background is difficult to read.

Who this resource is for:

  • Autistic people who want to define and express their own experience of autism
  • Professionals who work with autistic people and who know that the high/low functioning model is a pile of shit
  • Friends and families of autistic people, only for the purpose of showing it to said autistic person and saying, “Hey, this might be a helpful tool for you!”

Who this resource is not for:

  • Anybody who plans to build an Autism Shape on behalf of an autistic person. Obviously you can help them, but the whole point of revisualising the spectrum is to help autistic people define and express their own experiences.
  • At the moment, people who can’t read English, because I don’t have the means to accurately translate it or to commission a translation (let me know if you do!)
  • Anybody who practices ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis), because if you use my cool resource as a way to harm autistic people, I might actually bite you.

I really hope that this tool helps my fellow autistics, and I encourage all my readers to share it far and wide. And on Saturday, I’ll be climbing off my high horse to deliver some smut, since this is a sex blog – stay tuned!


Liked this post? Excited by the work I’m doing? Amazed that it took me multiple hours to create the goddamn template in free graphic design software? Consider joining my Patreon to help me do more things like this!

Why Do I Keep Finding Autistic People In My Kink Communities? (For #AutismAcceptance Month)

Gummi bears lined up in a grid. Most of them are clear, but the one in the centre is red, like an autistic person in the midst of neurotypical people

Now, this might just be a Me Thing™, but I find that autistic people are disproportionately easy to find in kink settings.

Conservative estimates suggest that 1 in 100 people in the UK are autistic. Even if there were 100 people at every munch, social or class I’ve ever been to, and even if I was, miraculously, extroverted enough to talk to every single one of them, statistically speaking I should’ve been the only autistic person in the room. I have found, however, that this is rarely the case.

If you, like me, are wondering why autistic people seem over-represented in kink settings, read on; I have some theories.


1. A lot of kinks involve sensory-seeking behaviours.

Obviously I can’t speak for every single autistic kinkster out there, but one of the things I enjoy the most about practising kink is the sensory component of it. The way that rope smells, the rhythm of a beating, the secure hug of being strapped to something – all of these things are sensory experiences. And in kink, we’re not just pursuing sensory experiences covertly, like when I’m in a busy shopping centre and I discretely tap my fingertips against my thumbs to attempt to self-regulate. In kink, we’re supposed to wholly lean into the sensory experiences we’re creating.

Additionally, dungeons and the like are more or less designed to make it so that you can focus entirely on the sensory experience at hand. They often have some areas for louder play and some quieter ones, and there won’t be any overwhelming distractions like a TV playing or people bumping into you. A well-designed dungeon is a safe sensory haven for the autistic kinkster.

2. Everyone in kink communicates more explicitly.

In vanilla life, communication with others can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. People use sarcasm and euphemism, they hedge their statements, and sometimes they say things they straight up don’t mean. (I still struggle to understand that the question, “How are you?” is not a request for information about how I actually am, but rather a relationship-building pleasantry that requires me to say something banal that’s easy to respond to.)

In kink, however, people are somewhat more forthcoming. Plenty of kinksters have Yes/No/Maybe lists that make their preferences clear, and there’s generally a heightened degree of openness in settings where anal fisting and inverted suspensions are being discussed. A culture of consent means that people feel more comfortable saying what they actually mean.

(However, I do feel the need to point out to some of my fellow autistic kinksters that people in kink settings aren’t always 100% forthcoming. Sometimes, when people feel uncomfortable saying, “No, thank you” to a proposition – because you are or are read as a man, because they’ve been harassed before, or simply because they want to be polite and avoid hurting your feelings – they will often use a ‘soft no’ instead. A soft no is something like, “Maybe another time,” or, “I’m not really sure.” It can be tempting to follow that up by asking when they would like to play with you or otherwise pressing them about it, but generally, a soft no won’t turn into a firm yes. It’s always better to say, “Okay, thank you anyway!” and then, if they actually are interested in playing with you “another time”, they can come and seek you out.)

3. Kink is outside of the mainstream, so autistic people feel right at home.

Plenty of people in kink settings have experience of being belittled, mocked or shunned for things they do in their personal lives – and even when they don’t, they’re aware that it’s a possibility. So it follows that plenty of people in kink are empathetic to people who, for reasons relating to neurodivergence, have also never felt too comfortable in mainstream society.

This is not to say that neurotypical kinksters face discrimination and oppression on the same level as neurodiverse folks, but they certainly know more about how it feels to be rejected by mainstream culture than vanilla neurotypical people do. Moreover, there’s a pretty high correlation between people who practice BDSM and people who identify as LGBTQ+, and those people are even more likely to understand what it’s like to exist outside of societal norms and to have to fight for one’s own human rights. This helps kinky spaces to be welcoming and accommodating to neurodiverse people and helps those people feel safer and more able to be their authentic selves.


If you’re autistic and you’re not sure whether you’d be welcome in your local kink scene, I hope this post has reassured you somewhat. Not only will you have built-in conversation topics available to you, since kinksters all have at least one thing in common (kinkiness!), but you’ll probably find your local munch or dungeon to be a welcoming environment where everyone is a little (or a lot) ‘odd’ by mainstream standards. I think it’s pretty likely that you’ll fit right in.