July was Disability Pride Month, and I’ve read some really nuanced responses to it.
It all makes me think of the confusion of my first years as a disabled person. I was 19, and the messages I got from society were a mess – the arguments whenever I applied the word “disabled” to myself, though it very plainly applied to me, etc.
I looked for a counterpoint. I scoured tv and the embryonic 90s internet for disabled people, and found stuff. Mat Fraser had a one off comedy show – I’ll never forget the satirical song Tarmac the World…
But I kept coming up against this one idea: that if a cure existed – even if you had the fantasy choice to become non-disabled – a true, proud disabled person would not take it.
Looking back, I suspect this wasn’t because disabled people were discussing it, but because the media kept asking the question. Early clickbait.
Perhaps it’s the obsession with extremes. If disability is seen as unimaginably tragic, the most dramatic contrast would be disabled people who – shock horror – would choose to be disabled.
It makes sense in the context of eg Deaf culture. But in my position, it didn’t.
I think it’s a red herring. A catch 22 of a pointless question. How many disabled people are ever actually faced with this choice? Despite society’s unrealistic expectations of medicine, few disabilities are curable. It’s a fantasy.
And as a newly disabled person, I found it alienating. I got the impression that unless I could say I’d choose to be disabled, any community out there wasn’t for me.
Embracing the term disabled, because it applies to you, feels important. Disability is part of our bodies, our lives, our identities. It is normal.
Accepting reality is a good thing. A crucial thing.
That does not mean being disabled can’t be bloody hard. For me at least, not all of that is about barriers to access. A lot of it IS coming from my own body.
Nobody gets to choose their body. Prodding at a short person – asking if they’d choose to be tall – would just be weird.
I don’t know if my experience was representative, or a late 90s quirk. But if anyone else got hold of the idea that disability pride only applies if, in a TOTALLY IMAGINARY scenario, you’d choose your disability… I hear you.
(This was first posted on Instagram in late July 2021)
[Image description: A mirror selfie. I’m a white woman wearing a brown cotton hair scarf, holding a camera and looking into the lens smiling. The words “disability pride…” are written at the top with a cream torn paper background. The mirror frame is very old and cracked, and is cream, though it looks mysteriously pinkish here.]