In response to my affirmation of pride yesterday, I received an email. It was a fairly painful read and I've been emailing back and forth throughout the day. In brief, the writer is a person with a disability and questioned the idea of disability pride when life can be so hard and people can be so cruel. I was asked if I didn't, every now and then, simply wish my disability away. I'm going to attempt to answer that question here. For those concerned, I have discussed this with the writer of the email and guaranteed that I would not, in any way, provide identifying information. With that assurance, I was given permission to make reference to our correspondence.
So, have I ever simply wished the disability away? And if I have, how can I claim disability pride?
Yes, of course, I have had moments of such severe frustration that I have wished to be other than I am. That is true of many aspects of myself. When I was younger, I wished away my sexuality. Throughout my life, when treated differently because of my weight, I wished away the pounds. At moments when I wanted to feel handsome, I wished away plain features. And, therefore, of course, I have wished away my disability. I say it this way to ensure that people understand that disability, like every other aspect of my being occasionally brings me pain, and it is natural to wish away pain.
However, it is also important to understand why I wished away my differences, my disability. It took me some while to get this myself, but it was important in my development as a human being and as an adult. Every single time that I wished to be other than who I was, it was because I was dealing with a situation or having a moment where there was real unfairness, where I was experiencing lack of access or lack of opportunity or prejudicial thinking because of ... pick one ... sexuality, weight, disability. It was never the sexuality per se ... but those who would hurt me because of it. It was never the weight per se ... but the unjust judgements that lead to denial of jobs, opportunities, promotions. It is never the disability ... but the lack of access, the restriction of movement, the prejudicial thinking that categorized me differently.
It is a tendency of human nature to hold oneself responsible for the violence visited upon oneself. Victims always wonder if it was what they wore, what they said or how they acted that caused hurt, violation, victimization. It is easier to find fault with self, to punish self, than to stand tall, point at the world and name injustice. The world is so big and so uncaring that it seems that a small, frightened or angry voice can have no effect. Yet in the inner world of self that voice is loud, effective and has power. I gain power back by sitting in judgement of myself - in the world within my skin, I can inflict pain and punishment. In the world outside my skin, I have little power and can inflict only minor consequence, if any at all.
So I hold my disability, no wait my sexuality, no wait my size, responsible. I wish myself different. It's easier than wishing the world different.
Have I ever wished my disability away on days without hate or without barriers or without bigotry.
Have I ever wished to be different when I was with friends, laughing and being ordinary.
So I admit to being human. To wish away moments where discrimination, in whatever form, hurts me.
Can I therefore claim disability pride?
Because pride is a process. It's a day by day experience. It is a combination of will and willingness to face life as it exists, to unburden myself from responsibility that does not belong to me. I am responsible for how I will behave in the face of a store I cannot enter, a job I am unfairly refused. I am not responsible for the physical or the attitudinal barriers that exist. I am responsible for speaking out, for stoking my own fires of protest. I am not responsible for changing a single mind. I control what I can and that's all.
And one thing I control is my will to pride and self acceptance.
I do not give it away or surrender it simply because there are moments, fragments of hours, where I give in.
No, I will not surrender the only thing that makes it all possible.
The belief that who and what I am is worthy of every breath I take.
That belief can only come from pride.
And the occasional cup of tea.