Words Hurt

I wanted to share an article my boyfriend wrote for a local newspaper. I think it’s an important read – share it with your friends! Spread the word.

Words can hurt people
by Robert Doss

Do you remember the saying “Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words will never hurt you?”

When I was younger, I must have heard that saying a million times by my parents, my teachers and even some of my friends, and looking back, I know they meant well, but the saying simply isn’t true.

Going to high school and even into my earlier years in college was torture for me. I was sort of an introvert because of my disability.

Kids don’t necessarily take the initiative of educating themselves about the differences of other human beings.

Actually, most adults don’t educate themselves either, and they pass their ignorance on to the younger generation, which is why various forms of discrimination and stereotypes continue to persist in today’s society.

Words like “nigga,” “fag” and “bitch” casually roll off the tongue without giving a second thought to how it might offend people.

In the case of the first word, people think that just by changing the spelling, it detracts from the original meaning and intent of the word, but I believe that kind of thinking is what’s perpetuating the divisiveness of humanity.

The rash of suicides by young high school kids who were the victims of anti-gay bullying toward the end of last year took me back to what was so terrible about my high school experience.

I was harassed with the word “retarded.”

Although bullying comes in many forms, the most effective and less detectable way to scar and humiliate a person for life is through the use of words.

Having to hear the “retarded” word and watching as other kids mocked how I spoke and laughed at me on a constant basis changed me. I became angry, and I wanted to dish out what was being dished out to me.

What’s so unfortunate about it is that people seem to condone abusive language.

For instance, I was told that I needed to develop thick skin, or that I shouldn’t listen because I was smarter and had a brighter future than the kids who talked about me. However, that piece of advice never worked.

It got so bad for me that the only way to release the pain and aggression that I felt was to hit the walls in my room so hard that it would leave a hole.

Doing that only got me into trouble with my mother who said that I had an anger problem, which I did. However, she didn’t know that the extent of my anger came from one word.

I understand why those young people committed suicide.

Words have a powerful ability to rob a person of his or her joy and self-worth.  They won’t hurt you physically, but the pain can linger for a much longer period of time.

My philosophy is, if you have something bad to say about another person, it’s best if you keep your opinions to yourself.   Remember, no one is perfect, so what are you expecting?

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,

ME

Comfort, Safety, and Internalized [dis]Ableism

A while back, I joined a website for people with disabilities called Disaboom. There was a chat room, message boards, and articles written by PWD, doctors, and carers. While I did make a couple of friends there, it was mostly filled with internet drama and points-of-view that I couldn’t deal with.

In a space that was supposed to be comfortable and safe for PWD, it wasn’t. It certainly wasn’t one for me, being a disabled mixed-race woman.  There were posts by devotees looking for a little action, posts about  “illegal aliens” and any people of color who immigrate to the US, how women were inventing and perpetuating sexism, about Obama only winning because he is black, and more. Of course, there were people who did not think these things (my friends), but we all started to leave as the bigotry grew.  I eventually left.

Even though I would like to forget that whole experience, I did take away two things from it. One is that, besides being with good friends, my boyfriend, and some family, I will probably never feel totally comfortable in any space. This is something I knew before, subconsciously, but I didn’t start to analyze it or think about it until post-Disaboom. At zine fests, I’m usually the only (visibly) disabled person; I mean, at most social events, this is true. But even in spaces with other disabled folk, I am the woman, or the stealth Latina. Or the atheist. Whatever. There’s always something that sets me off from the crowd. I’m used to feeling like I’m on the fringe (and not in a cool, punk-rocky way), so I roll with it. It’s there, it will always be that way, so I deal. My activism is something that I hope will change this, but realistically, it’s beyond just me.

The second thing I took away from Disaboom is that there is a lot of internalized (dis)ableism going around. I know that, when I was younger, I was one of those “I’m not DISABLED like THEM!” people. I guess that’s because the only images of disabled people I’d ever seen were “inspirational” (which I never felt) or “sad” (which I also never felt). I used to go to the Muscular Dystrophy Association parties, and I would be uncomfortable with the attitude that permeated the room. It seemed like everyone there was so obsessed with their disability and being poster children and finding a cure to FIX them, and I wasn’t raised like that. I was raised in a home where my disability was rarely a topic of conversation, and all my friends were able-bodied. It was alien to me to think of myself as something that needed to be fixed. But this is what disability was to me because this is what I was exposed to.

It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I started to view disability as something that wasn’t inherently bad. I learned more about disability rights and activism – the internet and books opened that world for me – and I began using “disabled” as a word to describe myself. I knew there were people out there who were fighting for rights and getting together to do protests, whether they were in the streets or online through blogs.

So, when I joined Disaboom, I was at that point in my life – accepting and appreciating who I am. But this website wasn’t like that. Even the people with disabilities talking about how they weren’t disabled (sound familiar?), but differently-abled, how they would never be able to accomplish anything in life and they needed to be fixed or cured. I wanted to tell them, and tried to tell them,  that, no, you don’t need to be fixed – society needs to be fixed! Your disability isn’t the problem, it’s society’s inability to include us in everyday life!

While I would definitely want parts of my disability to go away (stomach issues, ugh!), and while there are disabilities that many people want a cure for (and rightfully so), I don’t like to see “finding a cure” as the biggest topic in a disability community or message board. It just reeks of ableism – it’s always the disabled person who has to change, and not the community around them, right? And when your community (I’m speaking specifically about the Muscular Dystrophy Association) is ALL about finding a cure and pitying you, you just want that attitude to go away.

Activist Burnout

I have had all these topics I wanted to write about, specifically dealing with ableism/disability, and I just can’t right now.  Whenever I start researching for my topic, I get really angry at everything I read – and then I let that anger fester in my head so much that I find myself not dealing with people that well. My overall regard for the human race basically goes down the toilet – and I don’t like feeling that way.

As a coping mechanism, sometimes I let myself not think about the ableism (or try to) – even though it’s permeates every part of my life.  I still know it’s there in the back of my mind, and I always recognize it when I see/hear it, but I brush it off.  I have to.  If I let it get to me so much, if I let the reality sink in every day, I would not be able to function the way I do.

When I don’t think about ableism, or when I sort of play into it (read the bad activist moments I mention in this post: click), I feel guilty.  And you know what? I shouldn’t.  As the person on the oppressed end of things, I get a pass.  As much as the able-bodied/neurotypical want me to, it is not my job to educate people (even though I do through my blog because I choose to).  I have to live my life the way that makes me happy and the way that allows me to survive.  Even if that means putting my activism on the back burner – there is a time for everything, and sometimes, it is not the right time and that’s okay.

So, what do I do when I get activist burnout?  I look at blogs like Cute Overload and read books from my ever-growing collection.  I also look at my silly TV shows online, such as Ugly Betty, Flash Forward, and Survivor.  But even when I do these things, I just can’t get away from it.  For example, on one of the Cute Overload posts (of ALL places!), the author made a “joke” about a kid who rides the short bus and wears a helmet.  Some people spoke up about it, but the majority did the usual “But it’s just a JOKE – lighten up!” thing.  Way to be a total douche while also invalidating our feelings.  On those TV shows, there’s always *something* to remind me that bigotry is alive and well – such as the stereotypes on Ugly Betty or the constant sexism/racism/ableism displayed by certain Survivor cast members.

Like I mentioned before, I can only try to not think about it.  And see – it wasn’t my intention to write about disability, but this is where my thoughts led me – I ended up writing about it anyway.  Next time, I’m going to write about something silly, like the cuteness of squirrels.  We’ll see how that goes.

Ownership

NOTE: Some of the links below may be triggering, and one link (the blog) leads to an extremely offensive site.

I’m sure many of you remember the forced sterilization and mutilation of Ashley, a young girl with a disability, at her parent’s request. The parents even had a blog dedicated to their “cause” and referred to their daughter as a “pillow angel.”   This removal of organs and injection of high levels of estrogen was illegal, a gross violation of human rights, and completely steeped in ableism and sexism.  According to Ashley’s mother, there was no need for her breasts since she will not be breast feeding “and their presence would only be a source of discomfort to her.”   As far as the removal of the uterus, this was done supposedly so she could not get pregnant in case of rape, and so she would not have to deal with any period-related pain or bleeding (see links above).  Women and children with disabilities have a long history of sterilization and mutilation at the hands of their carers – Ashley’s case is not anything new.

Many comments on the mainstream news sites sided with the parents.  Even on so-called progressive Feminist blogs, there were people stating that this was a complicated case and we must think of the parents.  Apparently, some feminist principles only apply to the able-bodied and neurotypical.  While not surprising, it still stings to know how widespread ableism is, and how far that ableism goes in harming people with disabilities.  Ashley is just one of the many of us who face this sort of oppression – the usurping of our bodies-something that we should own and we have a right to own.

I always knew there was a power imbalance between us and the able-bodied and neurotypicals, but I only recently started to think critically about the relationship between people with disabilities and the concept of ownership.

I want to share my thoughts with you.

People with disabilities, according to society, do not own their bodies or even their lives.  We are subjected to countless unwanted and forced surgeries or the removal of parts of our bodies.  We are told, starting from childhood, to use different contraptions to make us “more normal” that cause extreme pain or discomfort.  We are pressured by doctors to do things to our bodies, including invasive procedures, that we do not want or need.  Society tells us we will never be with someone, we will never live a “normal” life, we will never be happy, and we should just accept the pity we receive from our fellow humans; this takes away our right to decide our own happiness on our own terms.

The relationship between ownership and personal or material objects also needs to be explored.  Something as simple as an able-bodied person resting hir feet on a person’s wheelchair is a perfect example of someone using their privilege to diminish what we own.  I own my wheelchair, it is part of me – it is not a stool for your foot and you can’t make it your own.  If a nurse rearranges someone’s bedroom or throws away a person’s favorite shoes without asking, this is not okay.  It is not the nurses’ bedroom or shoes, and hir actions are a direct result of the power imbalance that can go on between care giver and the person with a disability.

I would not be exaggerating if I said I have to deal with the hijacking of my ownership almost every day.  There are few people who I feel completely comfortable around and who I know will not and do not take any power away from me unintentionally or intentionally.  It’s a scary world for me, for us, but this world and my happiness is something I am willing to fight for.

Restaurant 101 – The Gimp Edition

A recent post at Feministe got me thinking about my own restaurant experiences, and how, as a person with a disability, I am treated by restaurant staff.

Let’s start from the beginning.

If we’re going to a place we have never been to, we must check if it is accessible.  EVERY time we forget to do this, or we assume that the place will be accessible, the restaurant ends up having two flights of stairs or narrow doors.  Sometimes, the staff will tell us they are accessible “but we have a few steps out front that we can help you with.”  Assholes don’t even know how much my chair weighs.  Plus, HELLO, dangerous! Lawsuits!

If I can get into a restaurant, I will either not receive a menu (because I am just at the restaurant to look at the decor, evidently), or the waiter asks if we all want menus.  Or they ask if I need a children’s menu.  I’m almost certain that able-bodied folk do not experience this phenomenon, and this menu game is only done for those who look gimpy.  I know, I know, I should ask for a menu if I don’t get one, right? But no, I just borrow my mom’s.  I don’t feel like dealing with it.  Bad activist moment.

Now, I am ready to order.  My mom recites my order for me (bad activist moment #2) because I’m not loud enough.  Sometimes I order myself.  I dunno, it’s also kind of a social anxiety thing.  I have trouble doing simple things like answering the phone or asking someone in a store to help me – so ordering food is freaky for me; I inherited this from my dad.  Either way, the waiter hardy ever addresses me personally.  This is the plight of many a gimp – the old “talk to the aide/parent/nurse, not the actual person” trick.

When my food arrives, my drink is sometimes in a child sippy cup.  No joke.  This happens more at chain restaurants like TGI Friday’s or Ruby Tuesdays.  I don’t order from the children’s menu.  I know I look young, but good god, I don’t look THAT young.  But I guess they think people with disabilities are all child-like and love brightly-colored cups with clowns on them and gigantic purple straws.  Who knows.

I can’t say this stuff happens at every restaurant, but it occurs at least 80% of the time.  I’ve learned to just deal with it – I shouldn’t HAVE to, but if I protested/corrected every restaurant or waiter that expressed ableism towards me, I would get burnt out.  So, when I encounter these moments, I just think in the back of my mind that I am doing other things to fight ableism – other things that are more creative and empowering to me.  Like this blog.