We Need to Talk About Fear

Actually, I need to be doing so many other things, but the topic of fear has been laid on my heart like a brick.

Fear as it pertains to disability is somewhat of a given. It’s fear of the unknown, It’s also fear of letting go of long-held and abided-by beliefs and stereotypes. It’s all-encompassing and ever-denied by many ablebodied people. And I want to talk about why it’s so damn prevalent.

My experience with people that fear me (and they exist by the truck load) generally shows up in one of 2 shitty ways:

1. The person straight up says, “Your disability scares/confuses me.” Other versions: “I’ve never had a friend in a chair before,” “I don’t think I can be what you need.”

2. The person says I’m awesome, that they won’t treat me differently, or pity me, or whatever, and then treat me differently anyhow.

These are umbrella generalizations of the way fear is communicated to me, but they’re good starting points. Both are awful to hear, in any form, and both speak to a much bigger problem:

An inability to ask questions.

As a society, we’ve started to put on big “accept-everyone-as-they-are” uniforms, These uniforms are one-size-fits-all and comfy as all get out. They’r less constrictive, and represent a common agreement among many of us to be less judgemental. But when it comes to disability issues, these suits fail us. They fit all wrong, taking in and letting-out in all the wrong places.

I can’t keep up with my own weird metaphor, but what I want to say is this–We need to do the leg work before we become accepting of disability. (ahahah, leg work. Disability. #ableistlarry expressions). How can we possibly accept without knowing exactly what it is we are accepting?

I recognize that it’s not for others to judge us, and that asking too many questions, or the wrong questions, exposes an entitlement on the part of the asker. But I think that our overall frowning on said questions has made way for deceit and confusing behaviour when people feel afraid of disability.

This means that day-by-day, people say stranger and stranger shit, to cover the things they cannot ask and mask the guilt they feel around being unable to accept parts of disability. “I don’t think I can be what you need,” (which is both presumptuous and sets a harsh boundary), is born of an inability to explore, perhaps a lack of want-to-know. The question, if it were able to be stated without fear might look many different ways, like:

– How the fuck do you get through life?

– So, like, do I have to help you with a lot, or?

-How severe is your disability?

As much as I roll my eyes at disability questions (can’t I just forget about it for like, one day?) I’d take this over the alternative. Because disability is not an abstract concept. It isn’t socially constructed as race is. There is a very real, pretty poignant difference here, and just as I deserve to be treated as a person, you deserve to know what being friends with me might mean.

Now that it’s finished, I’m not sure I agree with this post. Thoughts?

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1 Comment

  1. This brings up some questions in my mind – mainly because I’ve had the same internal dialogue. Usually, it comes up when a potential date says “I just can’t handle the chair/your disability”without really taking the time to get to know what it really means to be involved with me. We do need to have honest conversations about disability, but then some days I think “Why can’t I just be accepted as me and not have to educate the whole world about what it’s like to live day to day with disability?” I’m afraid I’m not much help.

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