|Photo Description: The words I am, in capital letters with the word enough superimposed on the letters. The letters in I AM are made up of other words regarding ethnicity, sexuality, disability and other positive aspects about being.|
I wrote those words yesterday when referring to being a speaker at a conference, doing what I loved with people who liked an respected me. I wrote that because of that kind of welcoming inclusion, I forgot. In the comment section, here on the blog, and in a discussion on Facebook, some people thought that I meant that I'd forgotten I had a disability. Though subtle, a question came through about 'what's all this about disability pride when you long to forget you have a disability?' Now be clear, no one said this, but it's a good question, as I hadn't written clearly, and it deserves an answer.
I don't often forget my disability. When I'm engrossed with doing something or when I'm fully involved in interaction with someone, I don't think about it much, but that's not the same as forgetting. After all, I'm pretty much always in a wheelchair. I pretty much always need adaption to the environments that I'm in. I pretty much need help every day to do things others take for granted. My disability is there. It's real. It calls attention to itself in ways that can't be ignored or forgotten.
Too, I don't have a huge wish to forget my disability. My disability, now that I'm 8, nearly 9 years in, has become part of my identity and part of how I see myself as a person. It just is. It takes, true, but it also gives. I have a disability community, of which I am proud to be an active member. I have a new point of view that has enabled me to see the world in a very different way. I believe I am better at my job because I have a disability. I believe I write different lectures because I have a disability. I believe that some of the experiences I have had that are unique to having a disability have changed me in a deep and profound way.
When I wrote that I forgot. I didn't forget my disability. I meant that I was in a place where disability had a different meaning to those around me. It didn't mean that I was worth less. It didn't mean that I deserved the harsh light of uncompromising attention shone on my life, my weight, my relationship. It didn't give permission to be touched or talked to or interacted with differently. I was Dave in a chair, and that's it. So. I forgot that I lived in a world of prejudice and bias and bigotry. So, I forgot that people who don't know me, know my Dave-ness feel they have permission to touch me, speak to me and interact with me in ways different than those who walk. So, I forgot that the moment I got out of the van, and went into town, I would be noticed, and stared at, and valued differently, and that people's faces would say the words that they congratulated themselves for holding back.
I forgot that I lived in an ableist world with ableist attitudes and with people who are inherently disphobic.
And it was nice.
You know, some people say to me that 'once people get to know you, they forget that you are disabled and interact with you in typical ways.' I find that disturbing. Firstly, I don't want them to forget that I have a disability, I do, I'm not ashamed of it, it's not a fact about me that needs forgetting. Secondly, why is it the burden of disabled people to go out and meet people so that they can have a transformitive experience and become more decent in relation to disability? Why can't disabled people, en masse, simply expect decency? I don't like the idea that, as a minority, we are so different from the norm that the norm has to have some kind of personal awakening to the personhood of someone with a disability. I don't like person first language because it panders to that idea. Let me tell you that I am a person first and that I have a disability second. I'm forced in language to place disability as secondary to personhood when, in life, I see it as equal to or no different from personhood. Disability doesn't have to come second when respect comes first.
I am a disabled dude.
I am a gay dude.
I am a fat dude.
I am all of those things. I don't think about them all the time, but it doesn't mean that I've forgotten them. It's just that, at some times, the situation doesn't call the identity to the fore. That's all. I am not ashamed of who I am.
I can be ashamed about what I do.
Some things that I've done deserve forgetting.
But me, and me me-ness, nah, I'm good with all that.