We interviewed DJ Matt Howes

Matt Howes is an unofficial world record holder, charity ambassador and, amputee. In 2011, he was in Greece when his moped was hit by a car; he survived the accident but lost his right arm in surgery. Just two weeks after the accident, Matt was back behind the decks, despite having no practise. He puts his speedy recovery down to his love for music and performing.

DtL: What motivates you?

Matt: I am very lucky to be alive; if my accident taught me anything – it’s to appreciate life. Something I read recently, rung true, and it stayed with me: ‘If you are anxious you are living in the future and if you are depressed you are living in the past’. My advice to anyone who is feeling down, would be to always try the best you can to live in the moment – the here and now. Don’t worry about what tomorrow might bring, you have no control over that.

DtL: What has been your recipe for success?

Matt: I’m a big believer in positive thinking and the Law of Attraction – if you focus and harness your energy into thinking positively, things begin to change for the better. I noticed my own life start to completely transform when I began to think optimistically about things.

If you are struggling to rid yourself of negative thoughts, a good way to start is to write down everything you have to be thankful for, such as a roof over your head, health, food, water, good friends, family etc. It’s a simple and easy reminder that there are numerous things to appreciate, and things aren’t as bad as they might seem.

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DtL: Ditch the Label research found that 63% of those with a physical disability are likely to experience extreme bullying and social exclusion. What advice would you give to those experiencing bullying or feel like they don’t fit in/doubt themselves because of attitudes towards a disability?

Matt: Remember that you are not alone. We are all in this together, and no matter how dark some days may seem, things do get better.

I was bullied throughout high school, and in reflection, I think it is important not to suffer in silence; speak to someone, tell them what you are going through – you need a support network during difficult times. People that bully are obviously projecting their own stress and trauma onto others. Everyone deals with their issues in different ways, and it is natural to want to vent your emotions, but inflicting the same pain and misery onto someone else doesn’t do anything to solve your own problems.

DtL: What is it like to have a disability in 2016? Have you faced any challenges/ prejudice?

Matt:I think we are heading into one of the most exciting times for disabled people, with opportunities opening up across the board. Important events like the Paralympics, are helping to raise awareness about all types of disability, and this has opened up a lot of avenues to people who would have perhaps otherwise, been ignored. In particular Rebekah Marine in the US & Alex Brooker in the UK are both friends of mine who inspire me on a daily basis.

Of course there are challenges – I can’t recall a time before my accident, when I was told I ‘shouldn’t’ or, ‘couldn’t’ do something, but since losing my arm I tend to hear this quite a lot. I have also received negative feedback, but I try my best to take this in my stride – criticism is an inevitable part of life as a performer, it’s what you do with the criticism that will make or break you. I choose to learn from it; every day I learn something new about music, performing or production. I believe with hard work, dedication and practise you can achieve anything you want to.

DtL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?

Matt: Don’t worry, the best is yet to come.

You can listen to Matt Howes’s mix for the Ditch the Label Mixtape here!

Ryan James Caruthers Challenges Archetypes of Masculinity in New Photo Series ‘Tryouts’

‘Strong’ and ‘dominant’ are popular adjectives often associated with masculinity. However, our Gender Report found that a significant number of male respondents saw themselves as being somewhere ‘in the middle’ of masculinity and femininity and did not wholly identify with the stereotypes most commonly attributed to men.  

New York based photographer and Saint Laurent model, Ryan James Caruthers uses his own ‘coming-of-age experience’ to challenge these false ideologies, and reflectively explore connections between masculinity, athletics and being gay in his new photo-zine. Tryouts is a series of self-portraits inspired by ‘childhood isolation’ and life with Pectus Excavatum (a bone disorder where the ribs and sternum grow incorrectly and instead cove inward, creating a caved-in chest).

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Throughout the images, Ryan’s frail frame evokes an apparent separation from athletics. “My condition and body type separated me from sports and removed me from typically masculine activities”, he explained. “Being closeted throughout my childhood and high school experience also contributed to my separation from other boys at school. Creating this series was an alternative way for me to explore my personal journey through boyhood.”

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Ditch the Label has consistently found that young people are restricted by gender stereotypes, and face considerable social consequences for not conforming to them. This issue was the inspiration behind Tryouts “I really wanted to use this series as a way to not only tell my personal story, but also tell the story of so many others”, Ryan told us. “I’ve had to deal with not fitting into ideal versions of what a “boy” should be and do, my entire life. I remember getting in trouble for not having enough male friends growing up – I felt like I could relate more to girls – a lot of boys seemed preoccupied with sport, and I was unable to connect with them because of that.’

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We live in a world where society feels the need to gender generic items and colour code them, it seems so barbaric! The general public needs to realise that there is so much diversity in every human being, and instead of categorising and forcing people into groups we need to celebrate individualism. No person fits into the same mould as another. Conforming causes issues which only further builds social boundaries. These boundaries lead to bullying and other unnecessary forms of segregation.”

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Growing up Ryan experienced bullying because of attitudes towards his sexuality and appearance –  “In school I would get made fun of for the clothes I wore, the way my voice sounded, etc. Even though I didn’t come out until after high school I was still called a ‘faggot’ and other derogatory terms. Bullying is such a harsh and unnecessary thing for any human to deal with. I believe I tolerated enough, and at some point decided to stop caring about anything negative that was said to me.

To those who are currently experiencing bullying – I can really sympathise with you. Bullying causes emotional wounds that are not easily mended. I know how it feels to not fit in. It’s violent and can be unbelievably difficult to deal with. I know that it’s even more challenging to be strong in situations where you feel so weak, but I’ve been there too and it truly does get better. Seek help from those around you, whether it is loved ones or teachers. Find light.”

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“I do have hope that it is becoming easier for any individual in our current society to express their feelings and be the person that they want to be. I think the older generations are fixated on this traditional approach of masculinity, yet in 2016 we are nearing the tipping point. I think that people just need to be more open-minded, and this is happening with the help of activism and charities like Ditch the Label fighting to end these issues. Now, in 2016 people can express themselves more than ever due to the work of so many incredible activists before our time. I’m especially appreciative of LGBTQ+ activists and those who fought alongside them. They are the reason that I am able to enjoy life and be comfortable with who I am.”

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Written by Ryan James Caruthers

www.ryanjamescaruthers.com

Hi my name is Jack, I’m 21 years old and I represented Team GB as a swimmer in the London 2012 Paralympic Games. I came 4th in the world for the 100 meters breaststroke.
If you saw me, you would wonder why I was a Para athlete and not an able bodied one. I don’t look like your normal disabled athlete – no wheel chair, no missing limbs etc. I suffer from a condition called Haemophilia – I have no factor VIII (8) in my body.  Basically it means that my blood doesn’t clot properly.  If you’re not a haemophiliac and you get a bad knock in something like rugby or football you would get a bruise – an internal blood clot, but my blood can’t do that normally, so I have to have injections of factor VIII (8) every other day. When I was little I had a lot of bleeds into my elbow, knee and ankle joints and they were left badly damaged – I can’t straighten my left elbow and sometimes I find it difficult to walk due to pain in my ankles and knees.  It is for this reason that I am classified as a Para Athlete.

So where does the bullying come into my life then?  I’ve been really, really lucky in that I’ve always had great friends that have looked after me. They’ve always tried to make sure I could join in with games and hang out with them. I loved football and cricket and was able to play when I was little as long as I wore lots of protection. At nursery I made some good friends who I went on to primary school with. They knew that I was a bit different and could get hurt much easier than they would. When I got to primary school though, I made some new friends and these other boys turned out not to be such nice people.

Sometimes haemophilia made the pain in my ankle so bad that I couldn’t walk but I was too small for a wheelchair so I would have to go to school in my buggy.  Some nasty boys laughed at me and called me “Pram Boy”.  My good friends always stood up for me and pushed them away – but as you probably know, even when your true friends have your back, bullying still hurts – really hurts in fact. I mean I always knew I was different (my Mum said I was ‘special’) but no one had ever hurt me before like those boys did.

I did get stronger as I went through school; managing to get there without my buggy more and more too.  They still made fun of me though– it wasn’t nice, it hurt a lot. I tried not to show how the bullying made me feel inside but it’s hard to hide, especially when you’re only little.

Those boys went on to a different high school than me – thank goodness, but I still see them around. They laugh at me and continue to make comments behind my back.  I’ve come to realise though that these boys are just sad people. They have fears and problems of their own and take this out on other people to make themselves feel big. It’s their loss if they can’t accept that everyone is different and I wouldn’t dream of swapping my life for theirs.

Life is never easy, regardless of who we happen to be.  All we can do is our best.  I have always tried to turn a negative situation into a positive one.  This attitude has helped me cope throughout my life and has guided me through the painful situations I’ve had to endure. Some people don’t have a very good view of themselves and instead of looking at their own character and situation to see how they might improve things, they look for someone to blame. This may result in them using bullying as a coping mechanism, which they’ll direct at someone like you or me. These people are not to be feared, they are to be sympathised with. This isn’t easy, especially when they’ve got friends in the class or group who appear to be on their side (at least on the surface). You feel like everyone is against you. I know its hard, trust me, but you MUST remember that not everyone is like them. In fact, lots of your classmates will actually be on your side, but are also too frightened to say anything.

It is really important that you speak to someone about the bullying – a parent, a teacher, a friend or relative – anyone who you trust that you know will listen.  You’ll be surprised by the amount of grown-ups that have experienced bullying themselves and so they’ll know what you’re going through right now and will want to help you. Remember that the one thing someone who bullies you fears is being found out and being shown to be picking on others who are more vulnerable than they are.
By sharing this story, I hope that it will help you – if only in a small way, to cope with the very distressing experience of bullying. You are not the problem so stay strong, speak up and remember you are not alone. You will get through this.

– Jack Bridge
You can keep up with Jack by following him on Twitter.