I made a joke. I said it without thinking. I thought it was funny. The person who was with me when I made the joke didn't laugh, but we just continued on with our conversation. That's how it all began. A comment made, thought humorous at the time, entered into an otherwise ordinary conversation. A simple beginning.
Nearly a full day later I was thinking about the conversation and, into my mind, popped the comment that I made. Suddenly I was no longer thinking about what was said in our chat, I was thinking about what I had said in jest. From the distance of time, I heard that comment, the one where I was just joking, differently.
It was mean.
It was cruel.
It was disphobic.
It was completely unnecessary.
The realisation hit me hard. I couldn't believe I said what I said. I know better than that. I, obviously wrongly, thought I was better than that. The memory of what I'd said. The realisation of how deeply offensive it was. Began to bother me. I knew that if I'd heard someone else say it, I'd have blogged about them and their demeaning attitude towards people with disabilities. Case in point, that's what I'm doing now. Only the subject is me. It was me I overheard making an ass of myself.
A couple of days pass. I worry now about the only other person who knew I said what I said. She is someone I respect and someone who's respect I would like to have. I wondered if she noticed, then I knew that of course she did. Did I really want to draw a lot of attention to it? No. But I couldn't let it pass.
Just as I was leaving work I saw her in the hallway near my office, I stopped her and said, "I made a comment that I thought was funny at the time but now I realise was mean and cruel. I shouldn't have made it. I wish I didn't. I want to apologise to you for having said it. You may not remember what I said, I'm to ashamed of what I said to repeat it again, so I'm not going to. Anyways, for subjecting you to a joke that really was just mean. I'm sorry." It's hard to explain the depth of shame I had while making this apology. I didn't ever want to have to do something like that again.
She was kind. She said she didn't remember. She said that she'd done that from time to time, made a remark and then regretted it later. I appreciated her response.
I felt better. I could have gone on and let it go but then I wouldn't have let it go. The apology was given, and, in fact, deeply meant. The act of saying out loud to someone who heard me being less than I want to be that I was sorry to subject her to the part of me that still harbours disphobic sentiment mattered. She heard me. That's important. But I heard me too.
I think, maybe, I learned something in all this.
About the depth of ablist thinking and disphobic attitudes that still live somewhere at the back of my mind.
About my need to watch for the prejudice in me as much as I watch for it in others.