"I have a friend with a disability who ..."
These few words begin a conversation that goes one of two ways. One, is a simply about a person, a person's experience or what the relationship between teller and subject learned together. The other is the dreaded "he hates being disabled, so disability is a bad thing, so everything you've said about disability pride and disability identity is wrong. So there!"
I had the "you're wrong" conversation the other day and in it I had to listen to a story about a hugely bitter person who is hugely angry at his disability, who attributes all that is wrong in his life to his disability. I have no trouble believing that the person talking to me was telling the truth. I have no trouble believing that the person in the story is simply the person in the story.
I responded with a true story about a woman I knew who was very pretty but felt that her relationships all failed because she had crooked teeth. I pointed out that her logic didn't make sense. She managed to get into relationships easily but that they never lasted. Maybe she should think about what happens after attraction not before. She stated, firmly, that the problem was she got a lower class of men because they were men who were attract to a woman with crooked teeth. I know, right now, you are thinking I've made this up. I haven't. And, in fact I've run into varients of this theme across my lifetime. Anyways, she got her teeth fixed. Next time I saw her, she was convinced that the problem was that she had toes that slightly pointed in. Seriously.
People always seem to want to attribute responsibility to a 'thing' or a 'circumstance' and not go any deeper. I know that disability brings with it a lot of difficulties, barriers and frustration. But I think it is important to not attribute to disability what doesn't belong to disability. In the same way that one becomes racist by attributing to race what doesn't belong to race. Or one becomes homophobic by attributing to sexuality what does't belong to sexuality. Or one becomes sexist by attributing to gender what doesn't belong to gender. In the exact same way, one becomes disphobic by attributing to disability what doesn't belong to disability. False attribution, to me, is always the beginning of a social evil.
I know gay people who don't like being gay. That doesn't make 'gay pride' wrong.
I know women who feel that women are inferior to men. That doesn't make 'Girl Power' senseless.
Individuals will always be, resolutely, individuals. But I think the conversations that I have with non-disabled peopel who want to negate the ideas of 'pride' and 'identity' as they relate to disability aren't really about their friend's, even though I believe the friend to be real not a conversational contrivance, experience. I think that these ideas, these concepts are so foreign to how people think about disability that minds snap to someone or to some situation that will negate the idea and return a world view to the 'status quo.' Disability is tragic and that's that.
What's interesting, though, is that these conversations are happening at all. That people are beginning to intellectually wrestle with a new way of seeing disability. I wonder if the very first feminist who had a discussion which began "I know a woman who just loves submitting to her husband," walked away thinking "HooRah!!" The topic has be raised. Or if the very first gay activist who had a chat which began, "I know a lesbian woman who is in therapty to change," walked away thiking "ALL Right, now we begin."
Eventually, I believe that we will begin to attribute to individuals what belongs to individual's, and leave it at that. Yep, there are going to be miserable unhappy people who attribute to an aspect of themselves what doesn't belong there. It's easier than doing self examination. It's easier than personal growth.
But in the meantime, I welcome the "I have a friend with a disability who ..." discussions, primarily because they are discussions and that means, that oh Lordy, Lordy, the conversation has begun.