During the course of my work the last few weeks I have had the opportunity, privilege really, of teaching people with intellectual disabilities about their disability. I don't do this lightly and I never do this without a context for it because I don't know how well prepared people are to talk about their disability.
I've noted before about how people with intellectual disabilities, in my opinion, are less likely to have been told about their disability and, further, most likely been lied to about their disability. The lies are always framed as kindness. 'You are just like everyone else,' is simply an outrageous lie. The denial of difference leads to pathways of pain and self hatred.
When being becomes a secret hidden under loving lies, self esteem and pride are smothered to death. They are mourned by the actual, real, self.
So, it's a touchy thing to talk about with people who may never have heard their disability directly spoken about. While I never speak of a particular individual's disability when teaching, I speak about intellectual disability and what it means and what it doesn't mean.
In doing this recently, twice in a couple of weeks, I was really anxious as to the response. I've only done it once before and I had a positive response, but that's no predictor of how others may do.
But when both the sessions were over, I was really relieved. First because it was done. Second because of the reaction of the people with intellectual disabilities who attended. They loved it. They loved hearing about and learning about the disability they experience. They, of course, know that they are different, but most have been told that their difference doesn't matter and all know that's not true. So to hear information that they could identify with was a powerful experience.
One young woman at one of the sessions, "I feel like it's okay to just relax and not have to pretend all the time." One fellow said, "My parents are going to be upset but I'm going to tell them I'm disabled, they keep saying I'm not, and then I'm going to tell them that it's okay, I've always known."
These statements sounded an awful lot like the sentiments of those who 'come out of the closet.' And that's because it's the same thing. Coming out as different and proud is a powerful experience no matter what the difference is ... pride in self is simply electrifying.
I don't know why I was so anxious ... the journey to pride for me, in every way that I experience difference, has been one that has lead to embracing truth and discovering my okayness.
Being out, living out, claiming out, that's the path that we who are different must tread in order to embrace ourselves.