“Don’t label me disabled.”
“I may use a wheelchair but that’s not the most important thing about me.”
I am more than my disability.”
“I see you as you, I don’t notice your disability.”
“They people I work with are just like regular people.”
“I don’t see disability I see ability.”
“You shouldn’t think of yourself as disabled.”
The last little while I’ve been hearing these kinds of sentiments from disabled people and from non disabled people all the time. They are always said with conviction, on the part of disabled people, and a sense of generosity by the non disabled.
But I shudder when I hear them.
Ableism and disphobia are rooted the ‘more than’ and ‘don’t see’ sentiments that are so commonly spoken and so seldomly challenged.
“I am MORE THAN my disability” kind of means that you figure that disability makes you less and that other parts of you make you more. I want to be seen with a different identity. I want to be seen as a more valued role, a role that trumps my disability status.
“Don’t see my disability, see me,” kind of means that you are wanting to shed yourself of disability identity and that you are something different and better than the disability you experience. You are asking of another person to actively not see, or to pretend not to see, something you find shameful. It’s a request for double deception and an agreement to pretense.
I understand that we wear multiple identities throughout our lives. I understand that we all want to be seen and respected for who we are. But that can never happen if we don’t respect who we are, if we need social coddling and a giant social agreement that what is, isn’t. Words that describe are words damned as labels.
We become the unspeakables.
We become the willing invisibles.
A long while ago I decided that I am done with pretense. I am what I am and I can speak and hear about myself as I am.
But I get shushed …
Two days ago someone told me not to call myself disabled because I’m more than that.
Three days ago someone told me not to refer to myself as fat, even in context, because I shouldn’t be mean to myself.
For speaking openly about who I am.
For being okay about my body, it’s shape and the mechanisms by which it moves.
In both situations, I took exception. I will speak of myself freely. At 65 it’s finally noon and my weight and my chair cast no shadow.