Thursday, February 26, 2009

Realizing Medical Bodily Difference

It took me a long time to realize that the constant headaches and migraines i feel are not a constant part of everyone else's lives. About three years ago i became aware that on a monthly if not weekly basis I would begin to get extraordinarily painful headache that would leave me curled up in a nauseous ball for hours. Left un-medicated they would last for the entire day - after 4 Excedrin they would generally clear up in a few hours. It took me longer than most to understand that the experiences were unusual and even longer to realize that they were probably related to eating, visual, and exercise habits.

Like most able bodied youth (and perhaps like most youth with disabilities, I don't know) I didn't pay attention to in health classes. As an adult I now see my behavior reproduced in the youth I work with - youth who are unable to make connections between lethargy, constant physical pain, and their daily habits. Perhaps it is because for many of the youth - living in neighborhoods/communities where disability is at an increase due to poorly managed work environments and increased environmental risk - disability is normative and associated with age.

I don't wish to suggest that disability is to be avoided or that a disability is a negative identity, but I do believe that all of our identities should be understood fully. I mean to say, for example a wonderful life can be lived if you are HIV positive - indeed being HIV positive can open up a whole new cultural identity and knowledge about sexuality, touch can become even more erotic as can sexual stimulus of non-genital areas. However, despite the joys that can come HIV positive status increased economic cost, physical illness, and discrimination also accompany the identity.

What I'm trying to come to here is that for whatever reason bodies are often not treated as visceral and important, some able bodied people often don't realize the impact of what we need to do to our bodies. All of which is to say that I only recently realized that my migraines were not normative and that I might be able to control my body in a more affirming way. Prior to my identity as a queer feminist anti-ableist activist I dismissed the body as an unimportant shell to the soul (yeah, I was raised Catholic). Now I see my body as a bearer of extensive importance: race, sexuality, size, gender, ability...all are marked on the body and give me access in a world where access equals privilege. Yes. This is old hat. But sometimes it is important to return to old hat.

I recently spoke to a small group of Gay Straight Alliance Students about allying with and becoming inclusive of transgender students and identities. In our discussion of allying techniques every student in the room discussed their abhorrence of gym classes and how humiliated they felt during gym. I understand and remember these same feelings - specifically the year-long teasing I received about my small chest and hairy legs. The daily teasing took away any joy I had at exercising my body - a task I do enjoy these days when I am practicing yoga (I need to write about that), running, or swimming.

It pained me immensely to see mini versions of myself with the same stories of pain and humiliation. As someone who believes in the importance of the body and that care for the body is how we are able to honor ourselves and continue our revolutionary legacies I'd like to see these students be given more affirming spaces to explore their identities. I find that our bodies are crucial for our identities and I'd like to see our LGBT and gender non-conforming youth know that their bodies have value. However this isn't going to occur in public high school gym classes, and I so I understand their desire to skip.

For many of us, living outside of our bodies is the way we find ourselves. But that comes at the expense of our bodies, something my friends in the disability rights community have taught me to value in many ways. I don't wish to value any identity or bodily ability over any other. What I want to emphasise is education. If I choose to have headaches, or if these youth were consensually choosing not to exercise this would be an entirely different conversation. Instead we came to these (lack of) activities because we were told our bodies - and thereby our identities - were not important.

19 comments:

cripchick said...

writing this in a comment since i don't have time for an email at this moment but how can we get to know each other better? you are amazing and i really appreciate every word you write--- so from the heart. would love to connect.

Mik Danger said...

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