I’m an ableist douchebag, too. By “too” I mean, along with ablebodied people who make ableist assumptions and hold ableist viewpoints on levels of ability. I’m right up there with you, perpetutating prejudice from down here–in my wheelchair.
Considering I have a physical disability, and a disability blog, in which I lament disability issues(including ableism), this truth is a pretty ugly one. But I binge in ableism all the time, sometimes even more-so than able bodied people, like it’s a bottomless kegger of vodka (imagine?). In hand with this confession, I’d like to talk about the different ways ableism rears its head in my life, and the lives of others.
Practical ableism is the voice that says, “It’s just too hard to be with someone in a wheelchair, physically speaking.”This tape plays in many people’s heads–disabled or not– when they wonder about issues with dating or sleeping with a person with a physical disability, and are (maybe unconsciously) deciding to give up before even trying.
It runs through my mind too, whenever another disabled person shows interest in me, and it is the toughest, most intrinsic form of ableism out there. It is fed (very well) by the simple, dirty fact that sex between two people with disabilities is often less conventional, and more work than sleeping with an ablebodied person. As a culture, I think there’s an unspoken belief that sex should be all fun, all smooth, all “I can read your mind because I’m an excellent lover and know exactly what you want,” all the time. Two people with physical disabilities (and ablebodied people)have very little chance of having sex like how its had in the movies, or on porn, or spontaneously in the shower. Because spontaneity is sacrificed and “real sex” is underrepresented for PwD or people at large, the sex might become less desirable, more frustrating, and more confusing.
It is with this in mind that this form of ableism continues to breed, and in my opinion, practical ableism is the hardest to eradicate. As a 21st century human who likes the simplest of everything, I’m always going to choose easy sex over unfamiliar, unconventional, underrepresented sex, unless I’m balls-deep in silly old love with you.
The only way I see practical ableism leaving my life (and the lives of others, ablebodied and disabled) is if:
- Societal norms change, such that they devalue spontaneity and quit exalting sex-circumstances that are smooth and simple
- Sex is more diversely represented in anything and everything.
- My brain is magically infused with all the white brain matter I lack, and I become ablebodied.
If you’re a wheelie, you know what it is to be gawked at a lot. If you’re a wheelie dating another wheelie, the gawking increases by 200%. If you thought you were on display before, you now feel like you’re on a soap-box, holding a sign that says “disabled people can like other disabled people. Deal with it.”
Besides all the looks, there are two major assumptions that show up when you’re dating another wheelie:
- That you’re only dating each other because you couldn’t find a walking person and settled for a wheelie. Because who in their right mind would make their life harder, by dating someone else with a physical disability? (See: Practical Ableism).
- That you’re both so damn cute together, and you must have the best, most healthiest love because you’re in the same boat. Type in infantalization into Google. This viewpoint is common, and an extension of the belief that disabled people are forever children, and they need to be “looked after”.
As a side-note, there is also a prevalent, dehumanizing belief that disabled people have overcome some huge feat through continuing to exist. It’s often the way that people are able to make meaning out of disability, and I’ve written about it before, so I won’t go into detail. It’s simply narrative which attempts (and fails) to validate PwD by assuming they’ve overcome something huge. In my experience, this often becomes apparent when people decide you are “brave” “ridiculously intelligent” or “intriguing” without really knowing you. You might be all those things, but you might also be a big wimp.
This is when shit really hits the fan and you realize your ableism has turned inward. If you’re an ablebodied person, it might be the incessant bug in your ear telling you to work-out more, to be stronger, and hence better, and more likeable. It might also be that voice that tells you your body isn’t good enough, tall enough, big enough, fast enough. If you’re a PwD, the story is similar, except it often morphs into a belief that you are fundamentally flawed. This really bites the big one, because it affects everything, from how you perceive yourself, to how you expect others to receive you, and even what you think you realistically deserve in relationships and friendships. It goes hand-in-hand with Practical and Social Ableism, and is often written about under the term internalized oppression.
This is the part of the post where I usually contrive solutions/suggestions for change. My major suggestion today is that we realize and analyze how and why ableism is so rampant. I think it’s largely because we’ve all gobbled-up Darwin’s “Survival of the Fittest” theory as children, and re-digested it as adults. Which is funny, because Darwin also wrote extensively about compassion and empathy, though those theories are much less popularized.
Another thing we might start doing is phrasing this with, “This might be ablest but….” Generally, when you replace ableism with racism, people roll their eyes, because what you’re about to say is unjustifiably based on race stereotypes. But, I’d give anything for people to start acknowledging ableism….Please! It’s a start. It’s a conversation. I swear, I’ll kiss the next person that admits ableism exists in their own life.