Saturday, September 20, 2008

To Matter

I am not an insubstantial person.

That's a nice way of saying, um, I'm pretty big. I'm the kind of person that usually sticks out where ever he goes. Sometimes because of size, sometimes because of personality, sometimes because of humour ... add those all up and it's always. So it's hard to understand how I can simply disappear. Not exist. Become a magician's disappearing rabbit.

This morning Joe and I went to meet Sue Gabriel, who was in Toronto to do a presentation, at the hotel near the venue. We'd agreed to have breakfast together and really catch up. She'd arrived late last night and there wasn't really the opportunity to talk. We left the apartment early and, oddly, there wasn't a soul on the roads. We pulled into the hotel barely 15 minutes later. Way early for our breakfast date.

We decided to get a table and then call Sue. We figured her for a morning person so she'd probably be up. We waited by the 'Please Let Us Seat You' sign. The waitress showed up, looked at Joe and said, "Table for one?"

I waved my hand in the air and said, "That would be for two." All the way to the table I giggled. How was it possible for her to not see me? How was it possible for a man of my size to be invisible?

I was not, of course, invisible.

Instead I was 'invisiblized' ... I was exorcised from sight, from consideration, from membership. An unknown hand took a pair of sissors and cut me out of the picture. I was editted out.

While I thought the comment funny at first. Later on, it began to truly trouble me. It's like, in a moment, I experienced years of disabled history. Removed from neighbourhoods. Invisibilized. Removed from communities. Invisibilized. Removed from schools, from churches, from employment, from citizenship. Invisiblized.

Joe on two feet could be seen, was worthy of being seen. Me on four wheels, I was a troubling complication. As the day progressed I thought about what Sue was presenting about, the mental health needs of people with disabilities. I began to wonder if much of the 'problem behaviour' was caused by a need to be visible, to be seen, to be acknowledged, to exist, to have purpose. I wonder what a lifetime of invisibilization does to the soul, to the spirit, to the desire to go on.

What I found funny in the morning, I found worrying at the end of the day.

I don't want to be invisible.

I don't want to be invisiblized.

And if I have to act up to be seen. So be it.

If I have to make noise to be noticed. I'll do it.

If I need 'behaviour' to matter. By Good Heaven's get the incident report out and start writing ...


Brenda said...

Thanks once again, Dave, for another clarifying, validating, thought-provoking post. Being fairly new to the disability community (I really should have training wheels on my chair, for the good of the community), I find myself having experiences much like the one you wrote about today. When this happens, I usually sit there with my mouth hanging open, wondering 'Is it just me?'. I'm more than 'substantial' myself, on wheels, and with a fairly bright personality (usually). I tend to wear bright colours, and have even been known to have different coloured streaks in my hair. Why? Because I'm over 40, newly disabled, and if I can't work anymore I'm damn well gonna have some fun! So when I find myself made invisible, it still comes as a bit of a shock. Thanks for letting me know that it is NOT just me, and that this is a common event in the lives of those of us with disabilities. I don't like it one but, but at least I'm not alone.

stevethehydra said...

I posted about invisibility here.

It's interesting that people with disabilities other than autism experience this. I figure that the invisibility i experience may be a different kind from the invisibility you experience, because i am not visibly "abnormal" in physical appearance, only in expression and behaviour (probably most of which is only subconsciously noticed in most situations).

It's an interesting parallel, however (and i think your invisibility may also be rooted in the neurotypical psyche, because people who are in any way physically/visually unusual are the first, and sometimes even the only, people i notice)...

Unknown said...

i am a new-bee
have been "lurking"
looking forward to what lies ahead

lina said...

Unbelievable! Again, her loss for not seeing all people out there - wonder how much beauty she has missed out on in life. Wonder if her eyes will ever really open? Her loss - she missed realizing that she was in the presence of TWO great people!

FAB said...

Bravo again Dave and soooo True! That's why one of my favorite terms is Herb Lovett's "freedom fighters," used to describe a person who challenges us. Everytime I hear stories about "behavior" I think you show em "freedom fighter!" Then we get to the work of teaching everyone around that person that the "bad behavior" is really theirs!

As I've just started to moonlight as a waitress I've gained a small taste of invisibility (It's not the same I know), and it's degrading and painful. Ugly attitudes make for ugly, twisted people.

Anonymous said...

The squeeky wheel gets the grease. Keep on squeeking Dave, loudly and often!!!

imfunnytoo said...

Wonderful, if troubling usual.

And, even when we *do* start making noise we risk adjectives like *troublesome* *complainer* etc etc. geting hung on us.

A not-much-winnable scenario

Anonymous said...

I have experienced this a couple of times and not because of a disability, but because I am a woman. I used to be a supervisor in a man dominated field and would be invisiblized by them all the time, spoken over and not to.

At other times it was because I was woman also, just different scenario, another woman (term used lightly) was making passes at my husband while I stood beside him...she had tried to invisiblize me also. I assure you that at NO time in these events did they walk away successful, as I can be a VERY LOUD WOMAN!! ;)

I'm not trying to compare my experiences to yours or make lite of it either...I just think many of us experience different types of this phenomenon, and it all hurts and makes us sick inside to be de-humanized in some way because some other nin-com-poop feels they need to be better or not bothered by us!!


Unknown said...

and the other side of the coin? I found this to be pretty inspriational, just for my soul. I am a loud and large advocate, also....

and invisible in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

"I began to wonder if much of the 'problem behaviour' was caused by a need to be visible, to be seen, to be acknowledged, to exist, to have purpose."

Thank you.