Sunday, May 4, 2008

Disability Identity: Why I am a (sometimes) ally

This is my entry for the Disability Blog Carnival. It's not exactly what i wanted (I think maybe it gives disability organizing mad props even when we all know there are some issues) but ce la vie. Anyway, it's spurred by the constant questioning of able bodied people.

One more voice is always a good thing. One more person listening and responding, celebrating and giving, one more person fighting is always needed. I ally to disability rights movements because I am a sometimes member of this various, growing, important, and diverse community. I ally because disability activists directly impact the movements that I hold dear – queer rights, feminism, anti-racism, and environmentalism. I ally because I see my freedom wrapped in the freedom of disability rights.

For as long there have been people labeled as mad, or freakish, or unfortunate, there have been communities actively trying to find truth and beauty in these forced labels. Trying to find a community to be proud of and into which they can dig deep roots. But too often able-bodied media analysts and medical professionals view disability through a completely physical lens and loose track of the individual lives and stories associated with the bodies who become numbers and statistics before them.

The communities I most identify with – outside of the monolithic, unnamed, and ethereal white (non)community – are the queer and specifically transgender communities. We are on the perpetual outside of disability identities, our participation in regard to communities of disabilities changes based upon what state we live in, who composes our local disability groups, and how we personally identify. So we are on the margins of disability, and we can choose to enter at specific points in time although these choices run the risk of claiming an identity we might not fully understand or appreciate.

I ally with Disability Community(ies) and I claim and explain a mental disability identity, and the physical aspects of transgender identity because I can see how close our struggles are and how easily cigender and able-bodied peoples dismiss our cultures and sense of self. Our art, theatre, writing, and familial units are viewed as secondary to “normative” culture. We are told both that our work is only given credit because of it’s subject matter and that we should keep our identities from our art and activism, that the identities and communities that form our world view diminish our art and activism.

When I claim the right to identify as transgender and when I claim the personal knowledge of what is best for my body, when any changes should happen, who should touch it (and how), and into what spaces my body should go I am depending on the voices of so many people who have gone before me. Feminist movements that began to talk about the body as a real ground for political struggle, womanist movements that complicated choice by claiming the right to have children if and when they wanted, the writings and struggles of so many women of color to ensure that their bodies were not touched when they should not be touched. Movements of Black Pride, Chicana Pride, Asian Pride that promoted self-love and respect among communities who were always told they were undesirable. Gay Civil Rights, Queer Rights, and Sex Worker Rights movements that complicated the issues of body and sex by demanding that in all consensual relationships no one outside of the relationship could determine who or how we should love and that certain bodies are not less deserving of protection or respect than other bodies because of how we make a living or who we come home to.

Of course civil rights movements and feminism had already said that. All of these movements feed each other and enrich each other. They come back to a very particular bodily identity: no one has the right to tell me how to use my body, when or if I can have children, how I can have sex, and who with, and nobody can tell me that inadequate medical care that does not consider my condition or current medical discontent to be pressing is acceptable.

All of these ideas are prevalent in Disability Rights discourse. The modern practice of disability rights comes from all these movements and coalesces in an intersection of understanding. Not always, not in every group or individual, but the people organizing and allying with modern disability rights organizations tend to be aware of the histories of previous movements. We have learned not to leave out the voices of people who may appear “promiscuous” – LGBT people with disabilities, disability activists fighting for the right for sex, sex workers with disabilities. We have learned that multiple identities don’t complicate our issues - they enlighten them. For the people on the margins of society are most often the people with the least access to health care and living in the most environmentally degraded neighborhoods. Women, people of color and immigrants, working classes, people in poverty, the homeless, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are all more likely to come into a disability identity. So intersecting and multiple voices are valued. Voices that make us aware that disability rights work must be fought in environmental and women’s movements, LGBT, and anti-racism movements. Disability is a multiple identity. It is this that gives our culture - the culture that I am allied to and sometimes a part of - it’s great richness. For often we are painted as being simply concerned about medical access or legal rights and very rarely are the cultural gifts of people with disabilities seen as desirable. All of us on bell hooks’s famous margins are balancing between the seriousness of demanding our rights and extreme joy of celebrating our communities.

We should always celebrate our communities – multiple and various that they are, intersecting and intertwining they are what give us the strength to be visible in a world that would rather not acknowledge us. Our communities and culture give us the rich framework of our struggle, and remind us that we are never alone. Our struggle may change playing fields and rhetoric, but our communities and our sense of self will always stay strong.


Thinkfreestyle said...

"All of us on bell hooks’s famous margins are balancing between the seriousness of demanding our rights and extreme joy of celebrating our communities."
-- I love this quote. thanks for making these links between movements and cultures. so important!

Wheelchair Dancer said...

Right on.


Mik Danger said...

Thank you so much for reading! I generally don't work well with deadlines so there was a lot of pressure here!

Kay Olson said...

This is a revolutionary statement I like and will have to think more on:

Disability is a multiple identity.

A muddled mind said...

Hi there, Its great to see people out there raising awareness of disability, you express so much!
I too have a disability, take a look at some of my entrees if your interested, They are no where near the standard of your blogs, but meh...

Mik Danger said...

Thanks, Muddled Mind! I think your blog is great, especially the post about competing with the neighborhood children. There was a lot to think about there.

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