Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Blogging Against Disabilism: I day

For once I will not be verbose (lie). I have been watching the latest box set of Law and Order Special Victims. I watch every box set that comes out, even when I was in the UK, I ordered it from the states. The police officers care, the female raped is treated with dignity, people are angry for her. The detectives work long hours to find who sexually abused her and arrest him, and they put him to trial and lock him away. And every 45 minutes I see someone whose life will never be the same, but there at least is justice, there is a society (in TV land) who cares, who says, “you matter, what happens to you matters.”

I watch it because, like SO many, I was physically and sexually abused and yet only this show, not the umpteen spin-offs of CSI or the other dozens of court or cop shows, starts by saying, “Sexual Crimes are PARTICULARLY HEINOUS….” I need to hear those words and believe that there is a world, or will be a world where it will stop. That I won’t be hearing stories from nieces (or nephews) in five or 10 years about THEIR rape, sexual abuse, physical abuse.

Disablism: my computer is trying to tell me this isn’t a word. Over a year ago I stopped ‘passing’ as able bodied and lost the privilege I did not know I had. The first one I lost was the ability to define myself. Between the medicos and the population, who I knew I was wasn’t what was getting through. I lost myself as an equal person, as an employable person, as an approachable person. And sure, I have had my share of disablism from open discrimination to entire government institutions which, for example, cannot classify someone like me as a person with a disability in this province UNTIL I am on welfare. But my story isn’t important except that I realized, with a bump, what so many already knew, that there still remains a two tiered system in modern society regarding ablism and disability, with quite a large gap between the tiers.

I learned that because I need assistance, I will never be safe in my own home. Indeed, the local care agency doesn’t consider it “my home” but rather “a workspace” that I am responsible for ensuring is code standard for “their workers.” I learned that when able body people bully or dismiss those with disabilities, when they make jokes about them, or harass and restrict them that nothing is done. And that the same people, the same “good people” who I was a part of will WALK on by. That like the New York case of a woman being raped and killed while 200 people heard screams and did nothing. If you work in a government office, at a racist joke you can expect someone to say, “Hey we don’t do that here.” but not a “Short Bus” joke. You will find that even your greatest enjoyments, like a trip to Japan, have people saying to your partner how ‘Christian’ and ‘kind’ she is to ‘take care of Beth.’ That in many people’s eyes, our marriage, which was not seen as equal to the heteros, is now, no longer a marriage OF equals.

I learned that someone who hasn’t taken a first aid course will try to make demands before I am allowed to pay to do what everyone else can simply because…I am disabled. I have lifted my eyes only a little to this landscape and I realize that this generation does not have the capability of understanding what they are doing is wrong. And so I write against disabilism because I believe that, no, not in this generation, but maybe soon people will be sent to jail for being abusive caregivers; and one day that the value we have as human beings, and the perspective we have will be even listened to.

When suffragettes worked for the vote for women, there was not even the language or ideas of how women’s view in middle and upper management would change the way of doing business. But we have those ideas now; the way business is done and the way almost every activity we do in life is different because an inch at a time the rights and the presence of women advanced. At the Times Colonist 10K run last Sunday, 2/3rds of the joggers were women: in 1970 there wasn’t a woman’s jogging shoe being manufactured. In 35 years, things have changed so that the competitive runner has been replaced by workshops and running groups, by women’s work running clubs at lunch and free presentations on buying the right sports bra. Nike and other jogging shoe companies are more likely to show an ad of women jogging together, one with a three wheel baby-jogging stroller than the ‘lone male’ running through mountains or on early morning pavement of three decades ago. We couldn’t conceive then how things would change and how society would change AND benefit from women being more active.

One day, I believe that there WILL be shows on TV where people with impairments/disabilities not only lead the show, but show an accurate representation of the population: so not just 1 character but 1 in 7. I believe that society will move away from “full time work or no work,” move away from “able body or nothing” type of thinking, move away from a world created for able bodied people and then mildly altered to ALLOW others to take part. I think that sometime in the future, the things we have learned by being dependant, by having a disability will change the way business is done, the way everything from sports, arts, literature and schooling is done. I believe we will finally have a language to express, for each person, the diversity and talent that right now is blocked in at least two generation’s minds behind labels or simply seeing a mobility or other assistive device.

There is no level playing field, in either direction. No, I will never in this lifetime be able to compete in THIS country’s workplace with able body people. And no, it does not appear in my lifetime will THIS country’s work and social fabric be able to learn from me the myriad of things being a person with a disability has taught me, has created in me. I am a better Elizabeth McClung than I was two years ago, but the language and the way for me to express it isn’t here yet; and there isn’t a show I can watch to release the frustration, humiliation and pain I experience in THIS world. Pain not from my disease and disability but from the actions of society as I try to move myself forward.

They say that if you put a chain on a baby elephant, that by the time it is an adult it has learned not to try and free itself even if held only by rope. Many say to me that I will never be able to match the energy, time and system of resources of those who have been abusive, insulting, and/or restrictive. And they are right. Often times it is the agencies set up by able bodied people, staffed by able bodied people who are supposed to be assisting me but instead are judging my “attitude”, as one common example, that I butt heads with. And no, I will never grow up big and strong, my activism, or phone calls will always be made between medical appointments, on the few hours a day I am awake and functional. But I will not be chained. Never chained. Let them learn that.

You know what they used to do to baby elephants who would never give up trying to break out? They’d destroy them. I guess we will see if there is any difference in society between a constructed outcome for an animal and one for someone with a disability?

One day the language will come, the society will come. I believe that.

Generations on, the vote and rights or not, sexual abuse is still rampant. One day that too will change. I believe that.

No, I don’t have answers. I don’t speak for people with disabilities. I am merely grateful for those who have accepted me as friend. As I have more friends connected through this cyber world than in my own town. They are the ones which make me believe that this society will change, can change, and they are the ones who make me believe that person X, is worth the time to educate (perhaps with a particularly sarcastic tone…..).

I do wish we had a phrase, for when our job would be done, like earlier in my life, in the society I was in we would say, “Next year in Jerusalem” which meant: next year all of what we worked for will have come true.

That language will come; I believe it.


yanub said...

"One day the language will come, the society will come. I believe that." I believe it, too. As we insist on living as if it is already true, someday, it will indeed be true.

Lady Bracknell said...

I don't know anyone who could have written a more powerful post with which to open BADD 2008.

Much kudos to you, Elizabeth.

Lailah said...

This was a really important post. There's a reason I read your blog even when I'm so tired I want to let every connection I have in the world slip away so I can just rest, alone. You articulate things beautifully, and more important even than the way you say them is the fact that someone is even saying them at all. I guess some days you are my SVU.

I am a better Lailah than I was two years ago. I am becoming a better and better me every day, mostly through the grace of my relationship with what is happening to my body, but it's tough for a lot of people to get how I can find grace in this state and not just be consumed with wishing I were "better" and "normal" again.

I don't want to be normal again. If I could roll back the clock two (or more like five) years to the person I was physically that would mean going back to who I was emotionally and spiritually as well, going back to how I defined myself and what I thought was important, and how I handled the relationships in my life. It would mean losing a huge chunk of my soul.

I wouldn't wish my crappy health on anyone, but it's pretty sweet that as long as I'm here I'm learning so much to share with the rest of the world. Yes, even you, able-bodied folks. Especially you, in fact.

(Incidentally, as an aside: A while ago I tried watching the first episode of the very first season of SVU. A cab driver was murdered, and it turned out the hit had been intended for a different guy who was a sex worker. The way the investigators joked about and were disgusted by this femmey male sex worker and talked like he almost deserved it and wasn't it a shame that this macho hetero guy got killed in his place made me so sick I couldn't finish the episode. Does it stay so vilely homophobic or should I try watching some of the later seasons? I do rely on you for TV reccs, you know!)

Elizabeth McClung said...

Yanub: I am not as strong as that, but most days I try, if I keep reminding myself.

Lady Bracknell: Well that is high praise from someone I greatly admire. When confused, I smile, say thank you and back away. Thanks.

Lailah: Thanks, it is interesting how the disease or disability itself gives us a chance to be lifted up, to be something better? I know that sounds like a bunch of misty eyed weird stuff but where else do you get terror, social distain, pain, limitations and a whole seething bag dumped upon you, with no guide - but those who have gone before to know how to cope, to deal, to reshape identity.

I agree with you, would I go back now to have friends I know would leave once I got sick. No; the people I have met through this blog are BETTER friends and people.

I have to say that first season of SVU and into the second was HIGHLY homophobic as well as incidents of transphobic. Also, it has the reality of "unwinnable" rape cases - particularly college and frat cases. But I plowed on becuase who else is there who even WANTS to speak for the abused? Or show them. It does get better, and there are better episodes, it also highlights abuse of patients in hospitals and care units. It isn't perfect but compared to even shows like HOUSE or ER (who ARE STILL LGBT phobic) they made a fairly swift move toward understanding victims instead of blaming them - the addition of the psychologist in season 2 (or 3) was a boost.

Neil said...

Oh, my. It IS a dark night, isn't it?

I think you ARE strong, Beth. And I thank you for being so articulate. I'm learning from you and from the comments, and I'm trying to be a more tolerant and understanding AB person.

Hugs and a standing ovation for you!

Dave Hingsburger said...

Here's to the day when they ramp justice, curb cut equality and fingerspell freedom.

Ruth said...

So powerful and strong. There are so many things that need to be written and said on these issues. Your words resound with so many people because all of these problems are very real. And BADD is a chance for MORE people to see that. Thanks for writing this, Elizabeth.

imfunnytoo said...

This kicks @ss. I love it.

My roomie/caregiver goes through the "It's so nice of you to take care of_____ this way..."

Wheelchair Dancer said...

And when that day comes it will be in part because of writing like yours.


Perpetual Beginner said...

Thank you for this post.

It feels like every few decades we have to go back and start over again with a new group of people. "Blacks are human beings - no really." "Women are human beings, too. Yes, really." The discouraging thing is that very few of those initial groups have actually achieved automatic human status. The encouraging thing is that we have come a long way, and that it's becoming less and less socially acceptable to be sexist or racist - even as people cling to their prejudices.

How many times we'll have to go through this before we (as a species) get that every human being is really and truly a person, I have no idea. I do know that your writing can do nothing but help push the process forward.

The language will come as we create and use it and pass it on for others to add to.

Sally said...

Hi Elizabeth - well said, with passion blazing out from your page. There is beginning some very small, slight change; not everyone can see it or feel it or believe it, but your determination to believe that it will come, encourages us, through your words and by your rage, and that is good energy.

Dawn Allenbach said...

Right on, sister!

rachelcreative said...

A brilliant, beautiful and powerful piece of writing.

Samuel A said...

I just started reading your blog two days ago.(Which is to say I probably don't know enough about you to feel confident in commenting but..) I don't know how I found your blog exactly, but I read a post from several years ago and was immediately interested in your story and personality.
People are story tellers. Your narrative can help construct the social architecture needed to humanize and de-stigmatize rape victims, LGBT individuals, and those suffering from a disability. Keep writing, tell doctors and assistants alike that you are more than a disability in a wheelchair, tell people that you have an equal, loving relationship with your partner, scream that people should be treated equally regardless of ... anything!

Activism can come from anywhere, internet blogs are as good a place as any. Maybe next year the TC 10K will be better, or maybe next year my 10K in College Station, TX, USA will have a male and female wheelchair bracket, or at least a couple more wheelchair accessible portajohns.

Anyway, you have lovely writing and great passion. Have a good day

cheryl g. said...

Thank you! This is such a powerful post and such an important message. You write in a way that makes me think and you have altered my perceptions a lot. Thank you for your part in making me a better person.

Veralidaine said...


No more to say.

Gaina said...

That was a damn fine blog.


Victor Kellar said...

A powerful post. Eloquent and empassoned. Elizabeth you always make me think (curse you! just kidding) Hopefully that is the first step, to get people thinking but the action step is even more important. I am not surprised you rail against the chains because that is your nature. There is no point in wishing that the chains were not there, we (we able bodied people who care not to look) put them there, we keep them there. Who has the key? Well, maybe we all do, but people like yourself and the others connected to this blog are the ones who we need to see and feel and listen to, so we know which way the key should be turned

Neil said...

Will the language come from you, Beth? The people with disabilities may(?) know the language that's needed and will have to teach us AB folks.

Yanub, Lady Bracknell, Dawn, Wheelchair Dancer, Perpetual Beginner, Dave - thank god I'm not the token male here! :) - Zephyr, all the other commenters, and of course my dear wonderful POWERFUL Beth who led me down this oh-so-special rabbit hole some short months ago:

Thank you for your blogs and your comments. I'm learning far more than I would have guessed last year, and I trust that I will be able to deal more tactfully with the different-but-equal people I meet. I know I have a long way to go, however. As long as I'm doing my best, can you be patient? I'm also trying to drag my AB friends to the knowledge you're sharing. More of us need to read these blogs, because what you're writing about is simply not something we usually think about.

So please keep writing and teaching, and we'll keep learning, and I hope we'll all be able to communicate without insult some day.

A Bear in the Woods said...

These are not the words of a victim, but a powerful and caring person. Thank you.

You kick ass!

Elizabeth McClung said...

Neil: There is darkness, I just need to believe the light will come.

Dave: Yeah, speak it!

Ruth: Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate your comment.

imfunnytoo: I know, it is so annoying that people get brownie points because YOU breath. Thanks.

WCD: some days, I really don't know. But thanks.

Perpetual Beginner: I am baffled too, why do we need to relearn the same lesson over and over again, that we are all equal in respect, that we all have things that are needed.

I have to believe, and use whatever it takes to keep going. Some days it is longer than others, thanks.

Sally: so good to see you again, thank you for the comment, I know the pain and effort it costs. Sorry about the rage, it is just, I am not very good at meekness - go with what you know, I figure.

Dawn: back at you sister!

Rachelcreative: thank you, I loved your piece, and I hope I go over there and say that again, it was great.

Samual A: Thanks for commenting, I am not really so scary as the last few days might make me appear (and well tomorrow to) - I also travel and charm small animals!

Stories are my thing and thank you, I would like to think that someone is finding it easier to get "relief" at a 10K somewhere because of me - hey, I take what I can get!

Cheryl: thanks too for believing in me. For being there to catch me when I fall so that I can do what I love to do best - take the kind or risks which bring the rewards!!

Veralidaine: Thanks!

Gaina: double thanks!

Victor: Lene always makes the same complaint - yeah, I don't the answers but you bring up some points that I hope can lead us to them - well actually other people becuase I am crap at meetings, but direct action - call on me!

Lisa Corriveau said...

Very articulate, well-phrased post. I agree with your optimism: I think things are changing far too slowly, but they are getting better.

As a side note, I'm so glad I stumbled on 'Zed' & then googled you, finding this blog. I've had months of interesting, educational reading here. :)

Neil said...

"There is darkness, I just need to believe the light will come."

Yes, it's coming, but why does always seem that for you it's the headlights of traffic going the wrong way in your lane?

seahorse said...

You have such a powerful voice. I could hear you coming across so clear in this piece. It made me feel like I was listening to an address to the world. Which indeed it is.

missnomered said...

Beautiful, meaningful post. Wow.

Thank you.

The Goldfish said...

Thanks very much for this, Elizabeth.

Sorry it's taken me a while to get round to saying so, but thank you. :-)

Never That Easy said...

I don't know that I always believe that day will come, but with so many like minded warriors on my side, how can it not? A very thought provoking post!

saraarts said...

I believe it, too.

And I believe in you. You will never be chained.

Ian Hewitt said...

A wonderful and important post Elizabeth. Thank you for sharing it with and for raising uncomfortable issues for all to see.

In my own BADD post I wrote about the places that I believe disability to be positively portrayed in the media. I gave top place to CSI. I think that it goes along toward meeting the requirements you write about.

Declan Meenagh said...

This is a brilliant post. In my bad post, (I left it lower case because it really was bad, I have no literary talent, and threw the post together) I talk about language. As a person with a visual impairment, I find it hard to convey the level of my vision, and usually spend 5 minutes trying to explain it. I also have people coming up to me saying that I’m an inspiration. As I once wrote on Bebo, If you think I’m an inspiration then your in trouble.

I’m subscribing to your blog, thanks for the great post,