The Post Where I Piss a Bunch of People Off

Dear People With Invisible Disabilities on Certain Blogs,

I’m tired of your narrative taking over in disability activist spaces or disability dialogue in general. You have a huge privilege in passing. Please be more understanding of when it is cool for you to speak up, and when you just need to sit back and listen.

When you can go around doing your business, hiding your disability from others, choosing when it is safe to come out or not, that is a huge advantage that many of us will never be able to take part in. And I don’t feel comfortable with people with invisible disabilities talking for me or with me about how hard it is when society judges you.  Not when people like me are being put in institutions, being mutilated, being killed, or any other number of atrocious things. I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT INVISIBLE DISABILITY ANYMORE.

Truly frustrated,



10 responses to “The Post Where I Piss a Bunch of People Off

  1. Totally get what you’re saying. Totally.
    But I quite often end up on the other side of the argument in another context. As a straight-looking lesbian I have never, EVER been beaten up, threatened or seriously verbally abused because of my sexual orientation. Never. And I know many gay men who go through that every single DAY. I pass, *whether I want to or not* and as such, stay under the radar of most oppressors. I’m under no illusions as to how lucky I am.
    So it’s very easy to think that I’m not oppressed, but having your identity ignored, dismissed, discounted every goddamn day? Well, it’s wearing. Being told I’m not a real lesbian from within the queer community, and that there’s still ‘hope’ for me to ‘change’ because I’m ‘not too bad’ by well meaning homophobes who are actually nicer to me than the queers? It gets to me.
    I can only imagine that there is a similar debate in the disability community. If I had to choose, WOULD I choose to be unable to pass as straight to the untrained eye? And deal with all the daily crap that would entail? D’you know what? I don’t know the answer to that one.
    Passing is a huge luxury. A privelige. But it’s a poisoned chalice, eating away at your identity from the inside.
    Which of course does not excuse one sector of a community monopolising a debate. That gets on my tits, too.

  2. I have never commented on a disability blog before. I have just read them, and thought deeply about what I have read.

    But I had to tell you that as someone struggling to cope with severe lower back pain that means I can’t stand for very long, severe chronic fatigue, neck and shoulder pain, hand and wrist pain, sleep apnoea, and arthritis I found your post very deeply offensive.

    All of my disabilities are “invisible”.

    What that means in reality is that I have to fight 100 times as hard to get the accomodations that I need.

    It means AB people bumping (hard) into my badly injured back and aggravating my injury because “Whoops, they didn’t know and didn’t look where they were going.”

    It means people not believing that I am in pain, that I am exhausted, that no, I can’t just do [X activity].

    It means workplaces not letting me take personal leave that I am entitled to to go to the physiotherapist or the CAT scan or the GP appointment that I need because “I look okay”.

    It means well meaning friends dragging me around in ways that set off my pain flares for four days straight because I don’t look that sick.

    It means people assuming that when I am in a scooter, it is because I am lazy, and not because I NEED one that day.

    You need to educate yourself about what it means to have an invisible disibility.

    I treat people with visible disibilities with respect and accomodation – how about you do the same for people with invisible disabilities?

    • A lot of the debate between people with visible vs. invisible disabilities is about the impairment itself. NO DOUBT you deal with a lot of pain and fatigue (me too), but this is not about comparing who has it worse in terms of the impairment. This is about passing, and the privilege of that. What a lot of people with invisibilities don’t seem to understand is – access/accommodations doesn’t come easy for us either. We are not automatically given free passes because we are visible. I used to work, and I would still get written up for being late because of my wheelchair-accessible bus not being on time. Stuff like that happened to me all the time. Being visibly disabled is not easier. Also, I don’t consider people who use scooters to have an invisible disability.

      I don’t see how my post is disrespectful or unaccommodating. It’s my reality.

  3. I haven’t tuned into this blog in a while, and decided to drop in.

    As someone who has a progressive disability, that has peaks and lows in it’s severity, all I have to say is…

    Fuck you.

    I have been on both sides of the fence. The parts of my disability that are now visible I wear as a badge of honor to represent the pain, neglect, and mistreatment I have gone through because my disability was almost 100% invisible at one point. You make gross assumptions about people’s lives you know nothing about.

    I too have gone through mutilation, forced medication, and other treatments that did me permanent damage. I have had damaging comments put in my medical records that have resulted in me being denied treatment because a neurological problem went undiagnosed for years while I had no access to the tests that would get me proper treatment. Then I hit the magic age where things go from a 3 to a 15 on a scale of 10. My disability had to BECOME visible for me to get treatment.

    I’m sorry, but there is NO huge privilege in “passing” as you imagine, nor is there any huge privilege in being visibly disabled. The only people with the privileges are the people without disabilities because they can get up in the morning without the fifty million extra challenges that we have to deal with.

    • Passing carries a privilege, socially. As in, when you go out and can do your business without people even knowing you’re disabled. If you can’t do that (not necessarily all the time), then you’re not privileged in that sense. Privilege isn’t a bad thing or a good thing, it’s just a thing.

      I’m not referring to the impairments in my post. I’m not saying people with invisible disabilities have it easier in life. I’m talking about the way people with visible disabilities are viewed, by strangers, by the store clerk, by people you only see from time to time. Basically, by society as a whole, that initial glance where people judge you right away. To be able to move about socially without people knowing you’re disabled is a privilege. That was all I meant. And by the way, people with disabilities can certainly be privileged in other ways (class, race, etc) that impact their disability and the care they receive.

      I haven’t been reading many disability blogs lately (and obviously haven’t been writing many), but when this post was created, it seemed the only things being written about were how “lucky” people with visible disabilities were because they (we) didn’t have to prove anything – which, if anyone who has applied for insurance or medicaid knows, is very far from the truth. It seemed the voices of visibly disabled people were being shut out of that dialogue and out of blogs aimed at PWDs, which was really messed up and frustrating to me. It was a knee-jerk reaction post, and I could have gone into more depth to explain what I meant.

  4. Hrm. This is perfectly reasonable (especially when you outline the details in your comments). I don’t get why people think passing privilege doesn’t exist – the fact that I don’t get attacked on sight sure sounds like a privilege to me (if a flimsy one at times).

    However, I do think the phrase “(in)visible disability” has a problem. It turns passing privilege (a dynamic thing) into a really static thing. As a personal example, people usually can’t tell I’m autistic, but sometimes they can. There are markers there and when someone knows what they are, and pays attention, I’m no longer “passing” and it’s no longer an invisible disability. Whether it’s visible or not depends on who’s doing the looking.

    Also sorry, I know late comments are a faux pas. Ick.

    • Hey Eric, thanks for responding to my blog. I don’t mind late comments at all, as I think it’s good to continually talk/write about and discuss this stuff. I’ve learned a lot since I made this post, and I see your point. No one really passes all the time, as your disability is bound to show up somewhere, somehow, in public. And the term invisible disability makes it seem like the privilege is all the time.

      But at the same time, I struggle with what terms to use to discuss passing, you know?

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