Breaking News: Invisible disabilities can’t be seen

I live in a country where, if you don’t look too closely, all people are considered equal. Let’s get really frisky here and look a bit more closely. Zoom in on higher education in my area. Colleges and universities are, I believe, required to have a department dedicated to meeting the needs of students with various disabilities.

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Disability in Fiction: You Can’t Get Everything Right the First Time

So I was reading a story the other day that was, really, a very well-written story with interesting characters and an interesting plot and a pretty respectful look at disability. (The story also included a couple characters who were less than respectful of disabilities, and that in no way detracted from the actual respect in the story; these characters were unilaterally told off for their disrespect.) However, one thing stood out to me, a couple days later, as being less than awesome.

Character A walks into a college office with Character B to meet Character C to discuss accommodations. A is … let’s say A is using crutches to get around. From appearances, this could be because of a broken ankle that will heal in the next month, or it could be because of any number of more permanent conditions. C says, “Oh, I see that you are disabled.” B adds, “Yes, and A has a handicapped parking tag in sy car to prove it.”

First off, I’ve had temporary handicapped parking tags on several occasions for breaking various things in my legs. That does not indicate that I need to run on down the disability office on campus and get special in-class accommodations. (in fact, all I did was say, “Hey, Prof, broke my leg, mind if I change my assigned seat to one I can get into a little easer?” and the prof said, “Of course, pip!” I imagine if that scene had gone differently, I could have gone to student disability services for backup, but I would never start there. I would never register a broken leg as a disability.) The presence of a hangtag in one’s vehicle does not prove one’s disability.

Secondly, there are conditions that would result in a permanent hangtag that would indicate a need to register with SDS, and there are those that wouldn’t. There are conditions that indicate a need a register with SDS that do not involve a hangtag at all, that are completely invisible if you are just glancing up at me as I walk into your office. Take, for example, a traumatic brain injury that impairs someone’s ability to memorize long lists. This person may or may not drive, but either way, sa wouldn’t get a handicapped tag just for a memory impairment. Sorry, but your TBI (in this particular example) does not make it more difficult for you to walk further to enter a building. However, it does affect your performance in the classroom. The absence of a hangtag does not prove the absence of a disability.

Finally, the idea that a hangtag should be used as proof of anything is completely absurd. A couple years back, I kept a hangtag in my car, because I often picked up my mobility-impaired friend from classes. With this tag, I could park close enough for sa to get to the car. Yes, the tag was sy spare one, but it didn’t have sy name on it. (Tell me your local college or university would really go to the trouble of looking up the actual ownership of a hangtag.) If all it took to be registered at SDS was the presence of a hangtag in my car, well, I could have been registered despite no physical disability on my end. Likewise, I knew students who had their grandmothers’ spare hangtag, despite their grandmothers living hours away, simply so they could make use of the parking advantages and be lazy. (Their own admission, not me drawing conclusions.) I knew a student with documented fibromyalgia who had difficulty walking very far for classes but did not have a hangtag for various bureaucratic reasons – and sa was registered with SDS.

So, dear writer, I did enjoy your story, and you did an overall excellent job portraying a character with disabilities and sy home accommodations and characters interactions with sa. Overall, I have very positive feelings towards your story, both as a fun story and as a respectful and insightful look into the life of a person with disabilities. I just wish that one exchange had gone a little bit differently.

On Identity

I’ve had some curious reactions to people saying “I identify as X Gender” lately, and I finally had the time to sit down and think about why. It’s all in the word ‘identify’ – how many cispeople ‘identify’ as their gender? They say “I am X Gender” without anyone batting an eye. Why isn’t that the norm for the rest of us?

I am some things. I identify as some things. I identify with some things. There is plenty of overlap, but you might be surprised at some of the categorization – I was. Let’s take a brief look at a few examples for me:

I am:
genderqueer
transgender
a procrastinator
grey-asexual
a high school graduate
caucasian
a college student
intelligent
kinky
I am not female.

I identify as:
genderqueer
transgender
asexual
kinky
To a lesser degree, I identify as a student, intelligent, caucasian, and a procrastinator.
I do not identify as grey-asexual, a high school graduate, a (specifically) college student, or female.

I identify with:
nonbinary-gendered people
the trans* community
the asexual community
students
intelligent people
kinky people
females and those with the cisfemale body type (however you’d like to word it)
I do not regularly or actively identify with caucasians, procrastinators, or high school graduates.

Look at that – I don’t identify as all of the things that I am. I threw in some silly examples to show that that’s pretty normal (many high school graduates don’t identify as such, especially if they are also college students and/or graduates), but there are some interesting ones in there too. I don’t identify as being disabled, though I am and identify with. I am grey-A but ID as asexual; in ‘identify with’ I count grey & demi as part of the community. I am not female, I do not identify as female, but I identify with females, as I’ve mentioned before, because we share many of the same issues/histories/relationships with our bodies.

That’s certainly not an exhaustive identification list, but (slightly silly illustrations aside) it’s pretty much my main list of this-is-who-I-am words. Which set do I use most often? “I identify as.” Because it’s a statement of fact in addition to being a statement on what matters most to me. (Things like caucasian and student are mostly dependent on the situation in which I am – in a race discussion, I identify (privately as well as publicly) as Caucasian, because I am aware of the extent to which that affects my views and knowledge; it is otherwise not an important part of who I am in my eyes.) And yet, I don’t phrase that list as “I identify as.” “I am” these things. I am all of the things I identify as*, and so much more.

So back to the original issue. When I say “I identify as genderqueer,” I feel like I have left a lot of room for discussion. I feel like I’m quietly whispering “probably” at the end of that sentence. I feel like people will think they have the right to question me. I feel like people will see ‘identify’ as weaker than ‘am’ – I feel like they won’t see it as a statement of fact and will take it instead as an opinion. This is why I say “I am genderqueer.” This is why I say “I am transqueer.” It is a fact. I don’t know why other people make different choices, though I’d love to hear any thoughts on the matter from other people.

I don’t want to hear that implied “probably” every time you say you identify as X, but I do. I hear it because I’ve had people hear me say it when I didn’t mean to. I hear it because somebody, somewhere is hearing it from you and questioning you, even if only silently. I hear it, and I will back you up to them until that “probably” disappears, until the day when I can stand up and say “I identify as genderqueer” and have it mean “I am genderqueer, and I take pride in being genderqueer, and I fight for genderqueers, and I stand by genderqueers.” Because that’s what I want it to mean.


Footnotes!
*asexuality is the interesting exception here. I am grey-asexual, but I identify as asexual without the grey. Part of that is because it’s just unwieldy, to me, to say “grey-a” all the time, but also, hmm. Here is what I said about it a month ago:
I’m not sure how to explain that. Clearly I identify with grey-A privately. But it is less trouble not to do so publicly. And it is not worth the explanation most of the time in not-public. (by which I mean, if you completely rule me out as a partner because I identify as ace, you’re really not going to change your mind when I’m grey-A (or if you do, it’s not going to work out), and I am saving us both some time by simplifying it some.)
And all of that is true, but it’s only part of the story. I do identify as grey-A privately, a little bit, enough to say “this is what I am”, but I identify more strongly as asexual. It’s like … I’m grey-A on a technicality, but I feel more at home with the plain aces. I’m cozier there. I’m not sure how to explain it, but each time I try, I get a little bit closer.