Friday, June 18, 2010

Don't you wish your girlfriend was crip like me?

Disclaimer: The following post contains a lot of questions. I don't presume to have the answers to all of them, and I don't assume others will either. Rather, I am asking these questions and/or writing this post in order to start to some sort of dialogue. Enjoy.

I have a strong body.
I have a healthy body.
I have a (relatively) cute body.
I am intelligent.
I am funny.
I am creative.
I am kind.
I have Cerebral Palsy.

Why is it that the declaration of my Cerebral Palsy seems to erase all of the positive attributes I have listed above? Is this power of deletion all in my head?

Perhaps.

However, if the negative sexual or romantic connotations of the phrase *Cerebral Palsy* are all in my head, then, I hypothesize that the many people with disabilities are suffering from the same affliction. (Note: I am not talking about all people with disabilities). I am basing my hypothesis on a highly "scientific" experiment I conducted on the popular dating site, OKCUPID.

Earlier today, I did a search under the term "disability". The number of profiles I read that contained any type of disability pride were few and far between. Instead, time and time again I read profiles that contained the following phrases:

"I am overcoming my disability."
"I overcame my disability"
"I wonder if I ever will find someone who will look past my disability"
"I am looking for someone who can look past my disability."
"I am looking for someone to accept me despite my disability."

As I read these profiles I began to feel more oppressed and then I began to feel angry. Not because I think the people who wrote these profiles were outrageous and wrong, but because I can relate to their sentiment. I know what it is like to feel like nothing more than a big, ugly, medical phrase. I know what it is like to *pray* that someone will be kind enough, to overlook my *phrase* and date me anyway; validate me anyway.

How oppressive is that thought process!

And yet it has been sustained in the collective "disabled" psyche for all these years? Why? How? Who is it benefiting? When did disabled people agree that their bodies were their enemies? I mean, those are the connotations attached to stating that the state of your body is something to be overcome. Or, at least that is what I hear.

In answering these questions one can state the rather obvious societal pressures such as the poor representations of disabled people in the media; or the lack of accessibility in public causing isolation among other difficulties; or stereotypical prejudices making finding employment difficult. However, I am not interested in these reasons, I am already extremely aware of them. I am not downplaying the effects of all of these pressures, they are just more of what I would call external forces on the disability community. What I am interested in, is the internal forces on the disability community. What I am interested in is the more difficult and complex question of what is the disability community doing (or not doing) that perpetuates these internalized oppressive thoughts in its members? For example, why is it that the disability advocacy community and rights movement is relatively small when compared to the number of disabled people in the world? Furthermore, why are many disabled people isolated from a community or unaware that a rights movement even exists?

When contemplating these internal forces (and trying in vain, to identify all of them), I became aware of a pattern I noticed in all the phrases I found on OKCUPID, that I typed above. All of the phrases contain the generally accepted term "disabled" and use it as either a noun or an adjective. This exemplifies the many (silent) negative connotations attached to the word. How come, then, it is still used widely both among the disability community and among society as a whole? Could this attachment to potentially harmful language be perpetuating internalized oppression? Would people have written the same things in their profiles if they identified as crips, and not as disabled? Somehow, I think not. The phrase " I have overcome my cripness" just doesn't carry the same tone. This primarily being because the word"crip" doesn't have the same tone and carry the same connotations as the word disabled."
Why is it then that only (what I would consider to be) a minority of disabled people are aware of this recent crip language and crip culture? Who benefits from such a large communication gap within a single group of people? How can we bridge it? Is changing our language one of the only ways we can delete the internalized power of sexual and romantic deletion, that come attached to our diagnoses? Will we ever reach a point where a diagnosis fails to be a relative descriptor? And where does the majority of responsibility for such change lie? Is it on the individual? On the community? On society? Are they all independent entities or are they interdependent?

P.S. I am writing all this when I am tired and feeling under the weather. Thus, it may come out sounding a bit circular and incoherent. However, all these thoughts and questions were spinning around in my head so I thought it best to write a post about it, however it may turn out.

2 comments:

Kathleen said...

Ava: You're asking a lot of really important questions about the intersections between disability, sexuality, language, bodies, culture, community...

When talking about changing the language, it sounds like you're talking about rhetoric. What are the stories we, as individuals and members of these identities/cultural groups, tell ourselves? How can changing the stories we tell ourselves and each other, and reclaiming / re-inventing languages to describe ourselves and name our experiences help us survive? -K

Queer on Wheels said...

Ava, as a society we are socialized to look a certain way and be a certain way which in turn affects our bodies. This socialization prescribes to us [society] a notion of what is "normail". Everything from buildings to toilets are designed with the able-body in mind. People do not think of the able-body as being temporary as we all know it is. Or people do not like to think of the frailty of the body because it can be a very frightening thing.

Because of all these things being in place (and I can name more), we, as disabled individuals, form negative internalizations about ourselves. These negative internalizations, for myself, at least are a constant battle. However, every now and then I have to look within and realize that my disability helped to form my strength, life path, identity, and community.