Four words: I. HAVE. HAD. ENOUGH.
I think that the strangest days of our lives might be the ones where an irrevocable change happens. But nothing major occurs to incite this irrevocable change. Just something small, something seemingly meaningless. Like an link on Twitter.
Before I type any further, and before your blue and brown and green eyeballs scan any more words on this screen, I want you to know something. I don’t not intend for this post to come across as angry. Or mean. Or harsh. Or preachy. Or as an overreaction. But still, that may be the perception of some – and that’s the thing about perceptions, you can do not one single thing to change one that doesn’t belong to you.
With that said, I also need you to know this other thing: I. Am. Upset.
This morning, before I got out of bed, and drug my sleepy, heavy-headed self into the shower, I saw a link on Twitter containing this video right here.
I’m going to go for complete candor here, and say that I angry-cried all the way through my shower after watching that video.
I know in my heart of hearts that this campaign was born out of the sincerest and best of intentions. The people at the Cerebral Palsy Foundation are not my enemies, they are on my team. But what I don’t think they realize, is just what a sacharrine piece of ableism this is.
Ableism, by definition means “discrimination in favor of able-bodied people.” In real life, ableism is the notion of the inferiority of the disabled. The notion that we should change and adapt to the ways of the abled, that we should change and adapt so that we do not make others uncomfortable with our differences. The notion that we do not have the same rights, hopes, dreams, and desires as does someone whose body is on their side 100% of the time. The notion that those of us who walk and talk and look and think and LIVE differently than everyone else in these precious bodies of ours are inferior or unequal or not worthy.
What I need to ask is, did the Cerebral Palsy Foundation even bother to consult a single individual with actual Cerebral Palsy before coming up with this and blasting it all over the media? They couldn’t have. Because I don’t think, that in my 23 years of life, that I have ever seen something so blatantly dehumanizing and patronizing. I mean, could you not just hear the condescension dripping from their voices?
In case you weren’t aware, these fine folks were doing a giant favor to humanity by going out of their way to speak to some poor, sad person with a disability. Can you believe it?! I bet that person with a disability feels so much better about themselves now. We can all pat ourselves on the back for doing a good deed, have a little #blessed moment because their pitiful disabled existence has made us feel sooooo much better about ourselves. Man, I’m so proud of myself for being so kind and charitable. Congrats to me on a job well done.
What a crock of crap.
Here’s the thing, I’m about to get real. As if I wasn’t there already.
I have been on the receiving end of this bullshit. I have been stared at. Gawked at. Spoken to in a tone that is normally used for babies, puppies, and kittens – none of which possess complete cognitive faculties. Right in front of me, full grown adults have asked ludicrous and insulting questions about my disability to whomever I was with, as if I wasn’t in the room or couldn’t hear them. I’ve been asked (or rather, someone I’m with has been asked – because I’m obviously not capable of answering questions), or it has been assumed, that I have an intellectual developmental disability as well. “What’s wrong with her?” “Why does she walk like that.” “What happened to her?” I’ve been given pity gifts on the streets of cities. Respect of personal space is questionable, because I’ve had strangers come up to me with tears in their eyes, say nothing, and simply lay their hands on my shoulders, arms, or legs, as if I’m some sort of supernatural phenomena. Talk about making someone uncomfortable. I’ve had strangers approach me in restaurants and patronizingly ask if they can join hands and pray for me. Right there, in the middle of a restaurant. Because obviously, there is something wrong with me. They don’t even know me. Whether I’m walking, or in a wheelchair/using another ambulatory aid, people will stare until their eyes bug out of their heads. Or better yet, avert their eyes like it hurts to look at me.
I have had it up to the top of my curly head with this nonsense. I am sitting here, right now as I type, wrapped up in a mustard yellow throw blanket bawling my eyes out. Why?
Because my heart is broken. My heart is not broken because of this ignorant campaign. It’s broken, because today I realized that I live in a world where a freaking social media campaign is needed to TEACH people how to talk to me. Let me repeat that: I live in a world where people must be TAUGHT how to speak to me.
Because I am too foreign, scary, attention getting, and uncomfortable to naturally be approached. I am ET, an alien. I am inhuman. My very presence is so jarring to other human beings that they need a special instruction on just how to communicate with me.
I am going to be very clear about a few things right now. Absolutely nothing is WRONG with me. I am not meant to be seen as a cripple, as someone who is broken, as someone who is less than a human with two perfectly functioning legs and one perfectly functioning brain. I am not a unicorn. I am not special. I am not here to make you feel better about yourself. I am not here to make your realize how blessed you are. I am not an inspiration.
I was irrevocably changed today because a part of me broke inside, and I won’t ever be the same for it. And I was affirmed in something that I have known along. I will not stop, as long as there is a breath in my little body, working to see that those of us who are different sure as hell aren’t treated as such. For the rest of my life I will not stop trying to make this world a better and more hospitable place for anyone who has a body or a mind that they fight against on a daily basis. I will never, ever, stop fighting for the unconventional peoples of this lifetime and all the ones that come after it.
And to anyone who is reading these words, don’t you ever dare to “just say hi” to me. You want to talk to me? Ask me about my dreams, ask me how I like my tea. Ask me about my cat Sullivan, or tell me that I have beautiful hair. Ask me about what I hope to change in this world, about my favorite movie or book, about the two degrees I earned. Tell me you like my dress, or my shoes. Ask me about the kind of change I want to make in this world. Ask me about the people I love. About what I want to fix that is broken, about how I want to leave this life better than I found it. Kindly ask me, if you are curious, why my funny little legs work the way that they do. I will be the happiest to answer that question. But you’d better not “just say hi” to me. I am not here to make you feel better about yourself. I am not here to be your good deed for the day. I am a human being. Get to know me and all my glorious imperfect mess if you want, or don’t – that’s okay too.
But don’t you dare “just say hi” to me. Don’t you dare.