The other day, I was riding my scooter along the sidewalk on the main strip of my neighbourhood. Four very large, very drunk young men in their 20s were whooping it up in front of me, blocking my way and utterly oblivious to my presence. I said nothing until one of them actually fell on my scooter, at which point I said, in my very best teacher voice, "Okay, boys, you have to pay attention to those around you."
To his credit, the man who fell on me was profusely apologetic, but in that obtrusive way of drunks, his very apology a kind of domination of my space and energy. "I meant no disrespect," he kept saying. I guess somewhere along the line he learned that it's not nice to be mean and disrespectful to the cripples.
I made to cross the street to get away from him and his buddies and he asked me to stay, saying that they'd be very careful now. I said I'd rather cross the street. He kept promising that he and his friends would now would behave.
Then he stopped, looked closely at my face, and said, with enormous surprise, as if he were giving me a precious gift even better than an apology, "You're pretty!"
Now, it was a beautiful, autumn day so I was already feeling good.
And I was wearing one of Beau's very favourite dresses. Before I'd left, he'd waxed eloquent about how beautiful and sexy I looked.
So, yeah, I felt pretty. I even knew I was pretty, a rare thing for me.
And why did he say it as if his noticing and commenting on it was something for which I should be grateful, as if such a compliment were like precious rain to a woman parched for affection?
|Dress: Gigi; Sandals, sunglasses, earrings, brooch and bangle: vintage; Right hand ring: Effy; Engagement ring: Britton Diamonds|
How, I wonder, do they expect a disabled woman to look? Decayed? Half dead? Hideous? Certainly not an object of desire, not someone they'd want to date or, shudder, fuck.
I'm disabled, not dead. Why shouldn't I look good?
Are disabled people not supposed to have any sex appeal?
Are we assumed to be sad and lonely, with no sex life and no-one to love us? I guess I didn't get the memo.
I met Beau after I became disabled. It never gave him a pause. Check out his shadow here as he craftily and playfully photographs my cleavage. He knows that a cripple can be hot.
Was I supposed to stop caring about my appearance after I became disabled?
Was I supposed to have no pride in my physical appearance? Was I supposed to forsake beauty and self-esteem to fit someone's notion of how the disabled should look?
I did, for a while. I was in so much pain, and in such dismay over what had happened to my body, that I did give up. I wore old sweats, t-shirts, and hideous runners. I didn't think I was worth beauty anymore, let alone that I was beautiful.
But that was my depression speaking, not truth. Disability is not, after all, a death sentence on beauty, style, self-worth, confidence, and attractiveness. Yet I sometimes feel like people think it should be.
I do understand that many people say, "But you look so good," as a compliment, and I try to graciously accept their comment as such. Yet their compliments betray their belief that the disabled generally don't look good. Really? We don't?
It also comes dangerously close to the classic statement of disbelief that so many of the invisibly disabled face: "You don't look sick," or, "You don't look disabled."
It is said as a refutation of our claims of illness and/or chronic pain. It is a kind of diagnosis by those in no position to make a diagnosis: You don't look like my idea of the disabled; therefore, you are not disabled and you are making it up.
Recently, I met a major union figure in a café and got to talking to him about how my own union had helped me with the disbelief and ill-treatment I received and still receive through my workplace. I told him about the physical pain I regularly endure and why I can't work. "But you look so good!" he said, right on cue. He then proceeded to tell me about all the "fakers" who are on disability, and the "quack" doctors who support their claims.
Then, wait for it, he asked, in all seriousness, "Did you ever think of trying to get better instead of being on disability?" No, of course not. I prefer to be in pain 24 hours a day.
This from a union head, the very person to whom the disabled are supposed to turn if they are experiencing prejudice, including disbelief, in the workplace.
Would he have said this if I did not "look good"? He was almost indignant about it. I wasn't supposed to look good and, if I did, well then, I wasn't really disabled.
Now, I have an invisible disability. My body looks "normal," whatever that means, and, to the lay person, moves "normally." (Anyone trained to notice such things can see the myriad ways I've changed the way I move to try to reduce my pain levels.)
Perhaps when people tell me I look good, what they mean is that I don't look like someone whose disability is visible, which, to them, is the only kind of disability that is real.
But what does that say about their feelings about those who are visibly disabled? Are they saying that such people don't "look good" and can't be "pretty"? Are they saying that they perceive the visibly disabled as unattractive? Wow. If this is so, it's damned sad. And, from what I've read and seen and heard, I think it probably is so.
I am quite sure that the big drunk man on the street would not have shown surprise in the fact that I am pretty if I had not been in my scooter. I wonder what he would have done if he'd found a visibly disabled person pretty. Yelled in shock? Felt weird that he was attracted to a "freak," as the visibly disabled were once called?
We should never be surprised if we find a visibly or invisibly disabled person attractive. We should never offer our attraction as some kind of rare, benign gift. And we should never question her disability just because she looks good.
The disabled won't take kindly to such condescension. Does that surprise you?
(I'm linking this up with Visible Mondays on Not Dead Yet, and Spy Girl.)