Lisa D. (chaoticidealism) wrote,
Lisa D.
chaoticidealism

The Right to Complain

If you're disabled, then society puts you in one of two boxes: Either you're a tragedy and should be pitied; or else you're inspirational and should be admired. I've yet to meet anybody who likes being pitied; so much of the time we're expected to go for "inspirational". Inspirational people don't complain; they "overcome" their disability.

Interesting thing about being considered either inspirational or tragic: Neither option implies equality with the rest of the world. Either you're beneath other people, or you're above them. Never at the same level. Many disabled people, I think, try to cope with this by minimizing their disability and acting as normal as possible--i.e., "I'm just like you; I happen to use a wheelchair." Or, "I'm just like you; I happen to have bad social skills." If you complain about anything disability-related, that means accentuating the differences, leaving the "equality" category, and dropping neatly into either the "tragedy" or "inspiration" boxes.

You'd think that would be different when it comes to the protocols within the disability rights movement, but it isn't, really. If you're in the disability rights movement, there's this unspoken rule that you're not really allowed to complain about the sucky parts of having a disability. Well, you're allowed to complain about how people treat you and the prejudice you experience; but people seem to shy away from complaining about anything directly disability-related. Maybe we're afraid that if we're heard complaining, people will assume that we actually don't believe in all that "disability identity" stuff, that we secretly want to be Normal. We're scared of confirming the stereotype that disability is a tragedy, so we're reluctant to talk about anything that might bring us closer to that stereotype.

Whether it's the desire to fit in, or the desire to stay away from the tragedy stereotype, disabled people often, I think, feel a pressure not to complain about anything disability-related. If you wanna be seen as an equal, often times the price is to minimize everything that's annoying, frightening, frustrating, or painful about your disability. And if you want to be part of the whole disability-pride deal, often times the price is to shut up about anything that could be construed as you not accepting your disability. Either way, we lose the right to complain!

I've heard it said that if everybody were disabled, then the sucky parts of having a disability would be considered the same thing as the bad parts of everyday life--bad, sure, but to be expected and not a reason to pity the person in those situations. People total their cars, break up with their significant others, get the flu, and have to wait in line at the DMV. Normal everyday life has all sorts of annoyances, and people complain about those things all the time without being considered pitiful for it. What if we could put into that same category things like struggling to get your chair up onto a sidewalk without a curb cut, getting overloaded and having a shutdown in the detergent aisle, or being sidelined by a fibromyalgia flare-up?

There are more important things than being normal. Being yourself is one of them. And disability--the experience of having a disability--changes who you are and how you think and how you see the world. People with all kinds of lives, with and without disability, go through annoying, painful, boring, and generally difficult experiences. Suffering is normal; it's a part of life. I don't see a reason why the particular negative experiences associated with disability should be considered any less normal. Just because most people will never have to deal with sensory overload from the seams in their clothing doesn't mean that this is a kind of suffering that is intrinsically different from and much more tragic than the annoyance of being stuck in traffic or the discomfort of getting a root canal.

Fact is, some parts of life suck. That's true for everyone, disabled and non-disabled. If we were sensible at all, the fact that some parts of life suck for everyone should draw us closer together rather than divide us into separate categories according to the specific type of suckiness we deal with.

So here you go: I give you official permission. It's okay to get annoyed. It's okay to complain. It's okay to admit that some things are frustrating and embarrassing and boring and painful. You're a human being, and you're living on planet Earth, and that means that not everything is going to be sunshine and rainbows all the time. You don't have to be a perky, cheerful, Stepford-smiling Tiny Tim. You're allowed to be honest about your feelings, and it doesn't mean that you're betraying the idea of disability pride. It can just mean you're having a bad day. You don't have to be inspirational, and you don't have to be an object of pity. You can just be human, facing the everyday problems of everyday life--some of which, for you, happen to be associated with a disability.

You have the right to complain.
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