A Conversation with Ellis "IZ" Dean

Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself: your name, your pronouns if you’re comfortable, and anything you’d like to share.

A: Sure. My name is technically Ellis Dean, but everybody calls me IZ, so it's just I-Z. I use the pronouns they/him.

Make sure I've answered.

I identify is non-binary and queer would be my sexuality or sexual identity. About me: I'm originally from North Carolina. I live and work in LA now. Los Angeles. Yeah. I'm married I have a wife, she has cerebral palsy. That's part of like, we're kind of an inner-abled couple, but not really, we just have different strengths and weaknesses. I have a connective tissue disorder. I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome but I have the classical type. I was diagnosed in 2001, so quite a long time ago, through testing. My brother has it as well.

Q: What was the move from North Carolina to LA like? Accessibility and resource-wise, and also just community-wise.

A: The move has been really helpful because I found that especially being queer and disabled in North Carolina, trying to get health care was a struggle. It didn't matter if what I was going in for it was related to like, I've had top surgery so say top surgery. It didn't matter. Like I could be going in for a dislocated ankle or a cold and it kind of like put doctors off or put people off. And they just don't treat you as well. So I really struggled at North Carolina getting adequate health care, just because of the stigma attached to being queer and trans, and you know, all that stuff like that. I drove across the country with all my things.

So that—yeah—so that drive is difficult. Yeah. But yeah, the move has been amazing. Resources much better out here. Health care, I find that I do get better treatment here. People are—it's not unusual for a physician to have encountered somebody who's trans, you know. So, so yeah, I think accessibility wise, my access to healthcare is better, my access to the world not necessarily. LA is really bad with their sidewalks and just keeping up with curb cuts and everything like that. Definitely gotten thrown out of my wheelchair a couple of times, just hitting a hole.

Q: You’re an activist, a creator, and a former paramedic, right? What’s been your experience as a creator? Do you think your identities have found a place in your work?

A: Yes, yeah. I was a paramedic for six years. Um, I am an activist, I started doing health care activism while I was a medic. I would mass print out resources and information for healthcare providers on how to better treat patients on the LGBTQ spectrum and trans patients. Yeah, after having a patient that I brought in, my like, I was still a rookie. And I brought in a transgender patient and the treatment that they got that very first initial encounter, set them on a path. They were treated very poorly, and it set them on a path where they eventually lost him. I said we're not going to do that anymore.

My experience as a creator has been that that has been my number one salvation.

So yeah, so I would every time I'd run a call and I'd take a patient to the hospital, I'd just be slipping these pieces of paper into break rooms and putting them on bulletin boards and putting them up at fire stations and EMF spaces. And you know, they'd get taken down and then next shift, I'd put them right back up.

That was how I started getting into activism. Like I said, I was a paramedic for six years. I did lose my first job as a paramedic due to my connective tissue disorder. They found out that I had it and told me that I couldn't come to work anymore. I actually spent about four or five months fighting them on it. And they said that they were trying to find an appropriate doctor to sign off on me, and we said the letter geneticist that said, you know, as long as I'm physically capable of doing things, it's totally fine. At the time, I was very fit and healthy. And they just wouldn't accept it.

So yeah. My experience as a creator has been that that has been my number one salvation. Truly. The reason that I'm out here is because of, because of that, because of that community. People—a good friend of mine is a musician that I've worked with some and who also performs everywhere. Now as part of her rider she has, you know, that it has to be wheelchair accessible, they have to reserve seating for people, that she requests an ASL interpreter at every single one of their events.

You know, creativity has been like a lifesaver. As far as my identity finding a place in my work yeah, all the time. I think when you navigate the world as a queer trans person and then you also have a disability on top of that, there's a lot to talk about. And there's a lot to like, motivate you and drive your creativity. One of the things that I've worked on is I worked with the clothing brand and did photoshoots with them. And, you know, that was a chance to not only reflect my disability because we didn't cut that out, but also to reflect my gender identity. And my wife is there so you get my sexuality. And yeah, it definitely is a driving force in my work.

Q: I know that being trans and disabled can be a lot from abled trans people and cis disabled people. How’ve you navigated that? Especially in creative spaces, I know it can create a lot of roadblocks that are neither our fault nor in our control.

A: Sorry if I'm not answering this right. Yeah. Oh, yeah. That's a great question. I was at an event this past weekend, actually and one of my friends was speaking and they opened up the floor to questions to ask these writers who were actually working on, it was like a sex-positive thing so like some of them write books, some of them write film, some of them are musicians. And they open up the floor and I said, how do you all—they're all queer—how do you all plan to integrate, like, and advocate and show disabled people in your work? And the answers that I got from I think three out of four of them were just they told me a story about how they went to an event one time and there was like, a, yeah, like a, like a wheelchair ramp, you know?

"I saw a disabled person once!"

Yeah, I saw a disabled person once and then, you know, now I'm getting messages from some of them being like, thanks for coming. Thanks for asking the question. I'm like, I don't, I don't want to pat on the head. I just, I just want to see myself, you know represented. Because if we're going to talk about queer sex, let's talk about queer disabled sex.

Q: “Disability justice” means a lot of different things to a lot of people. What are your thoughts, if any, of disability justice? What does that mean to you?  How does that tie in with, if at all, disability representation?

A: I think Disability Justice means people with disabilities not being punished for our existence. And I think what I mean by that is that I think that we are, in a way, punished for our existence. Just by not being able to access the same things as everyone else. Yeah, I mean, equal access, equal opportunity. That takes a lot of justice though because there's a lot of people that don't want to see that happen, honestly.

I think it ties in with disability representation, because honestly, so many people as I'm sure you're aware, don't think about people with disabilities at all. It's that whole I saw disabled person once, let me tell you a story as opposed to like, maybe I should be thinking about how accessible my work is. Because there are people out here that want to consume it. They can't think about that unless they see it. So, yeah, everybody deserves to grow up seeing people that look like them doing things that they want to do.

Q: What do abled people prioritize that doesn’t really matter to you?

I think people focus on their own personal comfort and honestly, I’m just trying to gain access,

A: Oh, man. People focus. Yeah, right. I think people focus on their own personal comfort and honestly, I’m just trying to gain access, you know? They prioritize themselves a lot. They want to, they want the best seat, they don't want to move for somebody in a wheelchair. Or if somebody needs to lipread, they don't want to move so that person can actually understand what's going on, you know, because they want the good view or whatever. And they also—I think people don't talk about this enough. I am not anybody's like chance to feel like they did a good thing today. If I don't need you to open the door for me, or I don't want you to don't force it on me. You know, like people will get upset if you don't allow them to help you. You don't need help. And you know that's a big one: I'm not your gold star for the day.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

A: No, I'm probably not best to like really talk about like to have the best words I had a traumatic brain injury in 2015, so but working on it. Yeah, I just I think that people don't consider that people with disabilities can also be here and that we want access to the same spaces as everybody else. And we want justice in the same way and the thing is, is that some part of our identity gets erased whether it being queer or you just see us as a disabled person or being disabled and you just focus on the queerness. We're whole people and that's people don't get that.

Q: Absolutely. Anything you’d like to plug? People or projects or social media?

A: I've done a lot of work with the clothing brand Radimo in Los Angeles. And yeah, so I'm in some of their photos and stuff like that and I do continue to work with that brand. They have been very very accessible. No problem, never a question about adapting anything.

Yeah. One of the most healing things I've ever done was dance for a Madame Gandhi music video, Top Knot Turn Up, which will be out October 25th. I was made fun of for how I danced my entire life, so to have had the experience of being cheered on and promoted for how I dance was literally life-changing and incredibly healing. People really ought to just give people with disabilities the chance to do things, because we're pretty great at a lot of stuff, even if we accomplish it differently (and sometimes better!).