Monday, November 19, 2007

In and Out of My Body

I have been thinking recently about disability - as a medical term, a politically-correct term, as an identity. My capstone was on transgender identity and disability, a relationship that is legally, medically, and socially haunting. We transpeople are included in many state interpretations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and in states unlike Minnesota where there is no protection against gender identity discrimination the ADA is what keeps us from being fired or discriminated against. So we enter disability regarding it as a privileged status - we hope that it will grant us protection - yet we have been taught to read the word "disability" as akin to "disease" "inability" or even worse "monstrous". I say that "monstrous" is even worse because it is so close to what we are running away from, the idea that being transgender is being monstrous. So we want it, we fear it, and we create it too. We often create our own disability through our attempts to present who we are. I stand 7-9 hours at work with my chest bound, but when my chest is unbound I slouch in order to hide my chest. The effect of that is causing me to lay on the floor curled in an upward fetal position for hours. I know that this is nothing compared to what many people with legally recognized physical disabilities go through, but I sometimes get confused about what I am doing in order to become who I know I am.

I will be moving from the Twin Cities to NYC soon, thus moving from one gender-identity protected area to another. But my partner and I have to now realize the binds we are in. There are so many restrictions on where we can safely live. We are queer, female, transgender and genderqueer, interracial, black, white, and mixed. Already there are so many spaces in which we are seen to be dangerous and unwanted. Adding to this, if we move out of gender-identity protected areas then I begin to rely on the ADA to keep me safe. This means I have to state that because I believe myself to be a man I have a mental disability cured only by a physical transformation. It also means that I take a law created to insure that the civil rights, and basic human rights, of people with disabilities are respected and twist it to insure my own protection. I don't want to not claim a disability because I fear the label, but neither do i want to claim disability when I don't feel that my identity is a mental condition. These questions become a quagmire in which I go in and out of being lost. My privilege as someone on the fringes of disability...I can afford to think of these questions only when they become pressing to me.


Kay Olson said...

If you're ever interested in sharing any of the writing you did on this topic for your capstone, I'd love to read it, learn from it and discuss it.

From the other side of the trans/disability issue, I can see and sympathize with your dilemma and I certainly don't begrudge the use of the ADA by anyone who needs it for physical or financial security against judgments about who is "normal." I admit to not fully understanding the need to change your body to match your self-perception, probably in part because that's not an option open to me. Do you find the need to change your body is also motivated in part by the possibility that might also give you a measure of safety at some point?

misscripchick said...

phrasing your blog entry in terms of privilege illustrates how complex disability really is and how often we live in a state of grayness, not "black and white."

it is problematic that you have to say you have something you don't have to get the protection you need and i hate that we live in a society that only gives you this as an option.

misscripchick said...

ps. if you haven't read this piece on trans liberation and disability liberation, you might like it:

Lisa Harney said...

I do think being trans is like having a disability, though - not in the sense of being incapable of anything. In the sense that, like disability, it's cultural. In the sense that people treat you as less than because of your medical history.

Anyway, I think that going to ADA for protection is probably fine - you're not stealing someone else's rights in doing this, and you're asserting rights you should automatically have (as should people with disabilities - ADA and ENDA should not be necessary, but they are).

I've had the intersections of disability and transgender on my mind a lot lately, thanks to reading Amanda Baggs' blog, plus what Shiva said in the post Miss Crip Chick linked.

Seriously, check her out - check out Dave Hingsburger, and so on. It's amazing how much of the crap trans people get is almost identical to the crap people with disabilities get.

Mik Danger said...

Thanks for the comments and suggested reading! I'm glad that there has been so much understanding about trans and disability intersections, when identity is determined by the state as well as communities and the self it becomes so confusing...