Thursday, May 01, 2008

Blogging Against (My) Disablism Day

It's constant. Being stared at. I can't go into a mall, into an office, into a store without people swinging their eyes over at me and stopping, frozen by what they see, staring. It's always been thus. Before it was because of my weight, my size, now its because my bulk moves on wheels. There is a part of me. A strong part of me that knows how to slap those eyes away. Knows how to understand their need - standing on the top of normalicy - to look down upon me, catagorize me, label me. I honour that part today. It's blogging against disablism day. I hold that part of me up to you - acknowledge it, applaud it, accredit it.

(But what about the times, the few times, when I look in the mirror and wish to see something else? To be someone else? To have something else?)

It's constant. The tone of voice that judges. The high little girl tones of 'sweetie' and 'pudding' that people now call me. Like being in the wheelchair has taken away from me my adulthood, my manhood. The tone comes with the touch that belittles. The unwanted hand on the shoulder, the pat on the back of the head, the 'big hug for the big guy' - all things done, not for me but to feed the self esteem of others, to reinforce their relief at not being ... me. I know how to understand this. I know how to respond. To brush the hand away, to engage them in ways that morphs that tone from 'talking to a child' into 'talking to an adult'. I know how to use humour, to use wit, to surprise the world with intellegence. I honour that part today. I proudly place it before you. It's the part of me that maybe I most cherish. It fights a battle that's not even acknowledged. And it wins, mostly.

(But what about the times when my inner voice diminishes? When the tone I use to speak to myself assaults me? When the only ears that hear the words are mine, and a tone of loathing escapes hidden from the pen it's held in?)

It's constant. The assumptions of incompetence. Do you need me to do that for you? Here let me help? The worst ever, waiting for Joe to return from the washroom. We are at a coffee shop, having tea, we'd each gotten a slice of banana bread to go with our tea. A woman at the next table, seeing me sitting and waiting asks, "Do you want me to cut that for you?" I say no, thanks, but no. I know how to understand this. I do. I know what to do with it. I do. I know how to 'be in the world' to act with dignity when being diminished. I know how to quietly push away offers that look kindly but are there to reinforce the heirarchy between the priveleged and the pitiable. I know when manners work to reassert equality. I'm good at it. I honour that part today. I'm glad of it. I feel good after such interactions. Good about my ability to restrain anger. To rise from 'less than' to 'more than' with only a few words.

(But what about the times where I just don't try? Where I give in to my own preconceived notions of disability? Where I figure giving in is just easier? Where I just don't want to push at the boundaries of my incompetence?)

The oppressor without - I'm good, I've got that down, I know what to do.

The oppressor within - that's the real battle, the hard battle, the one I ultimately need to win.

17 comments:

narrator said...

Great post. I cannot claim to be as good at you as silencing the oppressor without, so, I have a long ways to go...

but I also wanted to comment re: your comment at SpeEdChange...

I am sorry if I offended. The idea is, of course, to offend, but to offend "them" by turning their hate words around. We have "Queer Theory" and "Crip Theory" - can't those of us deemed "stupid" by the powers that be fight back as well?

The argument is this - we cannot ever achieve equal status as humans as long as we allow their language to be used their way. As long as we play be their rules.

At least that's how I see it.

- Ira Socol

narrator said...

Dave.

The word was made mine long ago, by teachers, by school administrators, even much more recently by university administrators. You have no right to take it away from me. And in your attempt to do that, you are buying right into those myths of diagnosis, those myths that sympathy is equality, and you are accepting their rules.

- Ira Socol

imfunnytoo said...

It's the inner ableist that is the last to go down, and you have to keep at it every day, like those stupid carnival games involving a mallet and plastic popping up mole heads.

I am still working on that....

Ruth said...

Great post, Dave, something we all need a reminder of and you've done that here!

Nicole said...

Awesome writing Dave and great way to help me understand the others thought processes. For while I'm not disabled myself, I certainly have never felt above anyone. Funny my post is about Tarenne's feelings that she shares with you. HUGS

Wheelchair Dancer said...

Sweetie? Pudding? That is so demeaning. I don't know where anyone finds the inner voice that can repel that kind of behaviour all the time. It assaults one's gender, one's embodied self, one's personhood....

WCD

rachelcreative said...

Cor what a great post. Powerful stuff.

seahorse said...

Dignity in the face of humiliation is a triumph. I needed to read this.

David said...

Great post Dave. Thanks for writing about this.

rickismom said...

This is a VERY good post. Because instead of ranting at the world (which probably most of your readers do already), it takes a good look at something that we are able to effect and work on: our private thoughts.

Attila The Mom said...

"The high little girl tones of 'sweetie' and 'pudding' that people now call me."

Oh God, that just made me cringe.

Thanks for writing such a heartfelt post.

Attila The Mom said...

I forgot to add---anything else I say about your post will be so inadequate.

So I'll just say it again. Thank you for writing this.

jadewarr said...

Just became aware of "Disablism" --it has the earmarks of the latest in identify politics. Certainly, victimhood at its best.

No concessions to the possibility that non-disabled folks simply don't know how to deal with disabled folks because they so rarely encounter them. Same mentality in some women leads them to condemn men who would dare to open a door for them.

Next step in the victimhood protocol is to "celebrate" being disabled -- elevating it to something to be proud of, a la Gay Pride or Deaf Pride -- and trying to oblige others to participate in the celebration.

I can't defend people who rudely stare for a prolonged period at a disabled person -- OR AN ABLE-BODIED PERSON. But, ...

Tera said...

jadewarr,

Disablism (and Gay Pride, and Deaf Pride) aren't about victimhood at all. They are about saying "We are not inferior to you."

Speaking for myself, random people on the street who don't get it aren't really a problem. The people in positions of power who don't get it *are* a problem. And in my life, some of the worst offenders have been those whose job is to work with disabled people, or who have worked with us in some capacity.

These particular people have:

1). believed that they are "experts" in dealing with disabled people, and have nothing else to learn. ("I have been a special ed teacher for 14 years and know *exactly* what I'm doing, so please shut up;" "Oh, I'm GREAT with people who have disabilities! Why, I have this *awesome* ability to [blah blah blah, whatever]").

2). talk to me in a high-pitched voice, call me "sweetie," and/or tell my mother all the things that "we" accomplished in therapy, even though I'm right there.

3) see me only in terms of what diagnosis my insurance gave them, and frame everything into what they know about this diagnosis (which isn't much) while not listening to anything I tell them. So they say stuff like, "You're not at me because autistic people find eye-contact painful." And I say, "Well, no, actually, I don't find eye-contact painful, I just have a hard time looking at anything at all and talking at the same time, so I close my eyes. And plus, I might be looking at you, but my left eye wanders. So check my right eye." And they say, "What do you mean?"

Tera said...

Great post, Dave. I was nodding to myself all the way through.

saraarts said...

Wait, someone actually called you "pudding"? And someone else offered to cut up your frickin' banana bread for you? Seriously? Man, that sucks! I'm so sorry.

I'm afraid in your place in the latter scenario the temptation to say, "No, thanks; I'm fine" and then begin chewing grossly, crudely, open-mouthedly and with much slobber and food particles escaping my lips would be overwhelming. I'm not proud of this, but there you have it.

I think you are probably a far better person than I am. And you write so beautifully. Thanks. :)

Ettina said...

I've just seen two identical posts by jadewarr on two separate blogs. I suspect xe's a troll.