i believe this what is known as pissing on pity?

This is something I have been writing for school. It’s still in the works but I wanted to post after a conversation I had with two friends about March being the time when all the Jerry Lewis MDA-telethon lovers come out to play (and ask you to donate money for our wretched souls.)

—-

You’re so courageous. Brave. An inspiration. God bless you.
Can I buy you an ice cream cone?
Carry your bag [even though you show no sign of being ready to move?]

This is in the Atlanta airport. I am traveling to Memphis so that I can meet friends, hopefully write some poetry, and go to the Civil Rights Museum if everyone’s up to it. I am traveling with my personal care attendant [PCA], Em, and when she goes to check out some shops, I pick up my book and try to relax until the delayed flight finally arrives.

Except that I can’t relax—privacy is a privilege I don’t have. My body is different. My spine twists and turns in ways unimaginable to the everyday airport passerby. I breathe and talk differently. It’s understandable that people are curious but when people are constantly pulling over to where I’m sitting and telling me things like they can’t imagine living like I do, that I’m an “inspiration”, it’s no longer a mere curiosity about my body. It’s a strong statement on what disability means in this society. It’s the lens in which people view those who are physically “otherized.” It’s the Ashley X treatment and disabled women being sterilized and stunted to convenience [make things easier] their poor caregivers. It’s the high unemployment rate (sometimes estimated at 70%) for disabled people because Jerry Lewis tells them we’re charity cases, not contributors. And it does not matter if I am on vacation visiting loved ones, traveling to speak at a disability rights conference, or working on Capitol Hill, they will still refuse to believe that I wanted to get out of bed in the morning. To them, I am nothing but a modern Tiny Tim whose head seems to need some urgent head-patting.

I could go into my speech about how in the words of St. Augustine, charity is no substitute for justice withheld. I could tell them that I love this disabled body they deem freakish or that I wouldn’t trade the community I share with people who speak, think, visualize or move differently for anything in the world (this is the same bond that Dr. Carol Gill defines as the familiar, comfortable rhythm of shared meanings that Disabled people, even strangers, fall into when they meet.) I could tell them that I’m just like everyone else.

Just. Like. Everyone. Else. Except that particular statement never works. When people hear disabled people say that, they assume that we want to be able-bodied or that we want to somehow separate ourselves from disability. I am proud to be who I am and am not sure how this is message is confused with the wish to be treated equally, or just like everyone else. You will not hear me claim that disability does not define me, in fact, it is an integral part of who I am. Is identity not inherently connected to one’s experiences or how one is perceived?

This is not to say life is not a struggle when one does not fit into dominant culture. My life is one of resisting assimilation [being absorbed into another culture]and struggling to find pride in who I am. Assimilation comes in many forms. Sometimes it is subtle, like temporarily wishing I could take off the disabled/queer/Corean hat and just be a college student. Sometimes it’s more explicit, like the year I spent immersed in only country music and cowboy boots or whenever I choose advocacy over activism because I am buying into the messages that says it is the only way to do something.

Mia Mingus, a fellow queer disabled APIA activist, says that multi-issue politics are not just a winning strategy but indeed the only way that we will survive. Pat Parker, a black lesbian feminist writer, said that the day that all the different parts of her can come along, we would have what she would call a revolution. There is truth in the words of these two women and as I continue to shed preconceived ideas of what it means to be me, I will continue to seek this truth.

And until we meet again, beware of wishing a Chicken-Soup-For-the-Soulish God Bless you on any uppity cripples you run across in an airport.

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21 Comments

Filed under ableism, abolishing medical and charity models of thinking, crip culture, telethon, writing/poetry

21 responses to “i believe this what is known as pissing on pity?

  1. gah. objectification by any other name, innit?

    and “beware of wishing a Chicken-Soup-For-the-Soulish God Bless you” is perfect.

  2. I’d get some of the same comments from people who read me as trans. Then they’d get insulted and angry when I asked them if they realized how condescending they sounded. I mean, they took the effort to tell me how courageous and inspirational I am, I could at least have the courtesy to be symbolic and not a person. 😦

    Thank you for those links to Mia Mingus and Pat Parker. I totally agree about multi-issue politics.

  3. thanks for the Gill article, p.s. very interesting.

  4. I think, you know, yeah, “just like everyone else” is one of those ideas that are sort of basically sound at their core but could use some semantic reworking, because it doesn’t mean what most people think it means. i.e. “Hi, I don’t like being patronized or having my space invaded by rude people any more than you do, could you maybe cut it out?”

    also see: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    my example: the queer thing. does not mean, “I am just like you, straight person, in such a way that you are correct to assume that I want a monogamous relationship and 2.5 kids and think all this leather and public sex and extreme stuff is icky and weird and perverted, and I just want to be normal, like you. It is also incorrect to assume that I -don’t- want a monogamous relationship and 2.5 kids and etc. Basically: don’t assume.

    What it DOES mean: do you think you’d enjoy being told you can’t marry the person you love IF you want to, and you’re selfish for even thinking that this should be a priority over other peoples’ needs? for example? or not to “flaunt” your sexuality in public, when there’s clearly a double standard at work as to what does or doesn’t constitute “flaunting?” Do you enjoy feeling like there’s something intrinsically wrong with you? Like you can’t have both a fulfiling sexual/romantic life and a spiritual life and/or acceptance by your community/family of origin? Like just being yourself opens yourself up to the threat of legal discrimination and even violence? Guess what! Neither do we! Okay! Glad we cleared that up…”

  5. I just can’t believe how rude people are. It’s inconceivable to me.

    Why do they think you want to hear their opinion, any more than any other strange person’s?

  6. why the heck are all you folks up at 3 in the morning?!!?

  7. I posted at 10:50 pm, Pacific time. It’s now 12:16 am.

    Also, I’m awake all night and sleep by day.

  8. right right, i forget i’m very east coast centric. well know that i’m up with you!

  9. That’s good to know! You’re good company. 🙂

  10. Aaminah

    Beautiful post. 🙂

  11. heheh, my sleep schedule’s totally fucked. I did go to bed shortly after that, though, so it was at least an improvement on the night before…

  12. Great post. I particularly like “charity is no substitute for justice withheld.”

  13. venuspeaks

    (Look! It’s Venus and her blog!)

    I really, really liked this post. You covered so many of the thoughts & emotions that I have had in similar situations. And thanks for the links, I’m going to check them out.

  14. venus–what’s your blog link?!

  15. Now there should be a link attached to my name.

  16. great post. i was having a difficult day, trying to learn how to drive my new elec wheelchair, banging into things, feeling dumb – this was perfect. thank you!

  17. Pingback: “You’re so brave to get up in the morning, just like a real person.” « Questioning Transphobia

  18. Regardless of what your physical voice may sound like, your literal voice sounds just fine.
    I’m personally not disabled, but I believe that the pity pushers you mentioned are not exactly generous to begin with. Aside from being rude and intrusive, it seems to me like a selfish act oriented more towards making themselves feel better.
    Just my opinion though.

  19. wicked good post. I hope we get to see some of that poetry you wrote while steaming in the airport. . .

  20. nix

    i echo others’ comments – thanks for the post and for the links.

  21. I seem to have come to this post about 5 months late- However- I have discovered that not only did I lose the use of parts of my body when I became a para, many of my former friends seem to think that I have also lost the use of my brain. The other day my friend almost literally climbed over me and my chair to dash ahead so she could let me know that the handicapped booth in the bathroom was not in use. As if I wasn’t in a better position to see legs under the door! Joan

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