Saturday, May 09, 2015

Me, Me-ness and Forgetting

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 forgot."

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.


Antonia Lederhos Chandler said...

You do "get it" from all sides, don't you?! The diet-pushers, food police, "religious" haters or "forgivers", the people for whom the emperor-with-a-disability has new clothes.

In Safeway, one time, I observed an impatient lady who was tailgating another customer with her grocery cart. She said, "Excuse me!" three times, increasing the volume and intensity of her voice and losing a bit of patience at each repetition. Then, she took her cart and rammed it into the oblivious shopper's cart! It turned out that the woman she was trying to pass with her grocery cart was profoundly deaf and had tunnel vision. Deafness and blindness doesn't excuse her of being aware of her surroundings and being courteous to other customers; nor does it merit having people assume she's being rude. I can't help wondering if, to her, that incident was just "one of those things."

Anonymous said...

Ah Dave, thank you for your clarification!

It took me a long time and a lot of therapy to get to like myself and accept myself enough without always having to apologize to still take space on this earth...

I always had the feeling that I have to work harder or being especially thankfull for people who adapted to my needs.

Since I fell in love with myself more and accept that I have limitatations yes, but other people have them too, albeit maybe not so obvious, I stand up for myself more. And astonisingly I feel much better around people; more loved and less alianated.

If I can be nice to myself I can be nice to others. And the rude people can stay where they are.

"First love yourself.
Then forget it, -
Then: love the world." (Mary Oliver)



B. said...

Well, that is the ideal. To be accepted for being who we are, whatever that includes. Or disliked once one gets to know one, not because of a visible feature only.

I answered my door to a delivery fellow and looked up, way up and for a split second I almost said to the fellow something stupid like "How's the weather up there?" I guess we can sympathize with how tiring those comments must be. I knew I didn't have to remind him of something he's well aware of, just like I know I'm disabled but, gee-whiz, why does it have to be such a stumbling block for the 'norms'?!

Thanks, Dave.

Unknown said...

Can I share the images here? Love to put them up in my Disability Services Office on campus. Are they both your artwork?

Unknown said...

Love your writing Dave!