Wednesday, January 3, 2007

"Invisible Lives" - an older piece of writing

[Slightly edited from its original form to reduce occasional incoherence and increase readability - I had only just started getting things down on paper about disability at that time, and was still very new to the social model of disability and to the idea that what I was feeling about my life and my disability wasn't just peculiar to me, and that the difficulties I had faced all my life weren't my fault. So, baby-activism!]

Copyright 2000

Imagine having to justify your existence every day of your life. Imagine having to prove your intelligence to every one you encounter, even your own family. And imagine that intelligence being diminished, ignored and overridden by those whose only superiority to you is their ability to control the movement of their bodies. Imagine that complete strangers feel they have the right to stop you on the street and ask for the most personal details of your life. Imagine that people who have never met you or spent even five minutes in your company think that they have the right to determine whether or not your life is worth living. Imagine that, if you try and protest against this treatment, others have the right to declare you `hysterical' or `over-emotional', and ignore you, laugh at you, or worst of all; sedate you, pronounce you insane and lock you away. Imagine that at the same time as all this is unwanted attention is being forced on you because of your supposed `defects', who you really are is being rendered invisible.

When you have finished imagining this, and have thanked whatever higher power you believe in that this treatment is not YOUR lot in life, I ask you to consider the fact that this is what those of us who are disabled have to endure every single day of our lives.

We are made invisible by the same attitude that makes us public property. By the assumption that our physical and mental disabilities make us less than human, turn us into things for people to stare at and question with impunity, with no fear of reprisal. We are exposed to the prurient gaze of the well meaning public, stripped of all of the basic rights to privacy, our dignity and pride are ripped away, leaving us with only fear and shame, the most cannibalistic of emotions. When we are seen only for our differences, and the difficulties they cause; our humanity and realities are denied, we are not seen as people to love, respect and include, but as freaks, something to be fixed or shoved out of sight.

We are invisible people, for as long as we are only seen as stereotypes and objects of pity, and not seen for who we really are, we are not being seen. We live in a world that tells us constantly we are expendable, the most expendable of any marginalized group in the world. There is not one part of life where we are accepted - with the exception of the charity industry. We are invisible. And we are only allowed to be visible when we try to be `normal', and deny our disability.

Many of us are trapped in an unending exile, and the only help we are offered is insulting and facile. The assumption is that it is somehow the disabled person's fault, that we have to get out more, be more outgoing, be willing to make the first move/break the ice/make people feel more comfortable. Our isolation is blamed on the disability, and the supposed personality defects that go with it. No consideration is given to the view that perhaps any `personality defects' are not part of the disability itself, but the logical and tragic result of being treated as something less than human, that is not worthy of the same respect as someone without disabilities. Or to the idea that it may be that people who reject us, are doing so for no other reason than that we look and act a little different to them.

We are invisible because what is done to us, is hidden, out of sight, trapped under piles of words, excuses, reasons and rationalizations. We are invisible because what is done to us is not seen, and because what is done to us is not quantified and cannot be physically proven. Because it is so easy to say that something that is the result of mistreatment, is really a symptom of the disability.
We are invisible because all the best bits of who we are, and all the things that mean most about our lives, are not the things that are obvious, that can be seen at first glance, they cannot be laid out like a resume, and cannot be properly be put into words.

We are invisible because people refuse to see us, not because we do not exist. People are scared of us because they see in us what can happen to them. They try and make us disappear, so they do not have to be aware of our realities. We are the scapegoats, we carry their fear, we absorb it for them, so they don't have to think about it, so they do not have to feel, so they do not have to be crushed by it.

The invisibility that we suffer from is far more crippling than any disability, and more infectious than any disease. But there is a solution. It requires that you have the courage to acknowledge the fact that our disabilities should not separate us from the rest of society. You need to be able to acknowledge the fact that it is your weaknesses and inability to see us as human, that causes us the greatest pain, and not our disabilities. And it requires that you develop the insight to see as who we really are and and for what we can become.

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