Several days ago, my 12 year old enby brought home an article they talked about in school. To be honest, I don’t know the context of the conversation or the purpose of the discussion as they didn’t remember much. The class focused more on the content from the perspective of reading comprehension. My kid’s overall disinterest in the article relieves me because I’ve come to realize how much I hate the phrase that was used as the title.
“I am not my disability.”
That concept fills me with an unbridled and incoherent rage. Not only because it’s not true (we are all a make up the many things that define our lives), but because it, perhaps without intending to, still manages to “other” disabilities. “No!!! I promise I’m okay!!! My disability might not be okay, but I am!!! And, I’m not my disability!!! Like me anyway!!!”
I am a black woman with anxiety. I’m legally blind in one eye. I’m five feet tall and I have chronic nerve and spinal issues. Everything in my life from where we park, where we keep the tea, to whether or not we can see a 3D movie, to how close people I don’t know can stand next to me is filtered through those facts of my life. They can’t be separated from me – even the ones that aren’t so obvious.
To try and separate me from my skin, as most people try to do when they’re saying they’re “colorblind”, is to invalidate every experience (positive or negative) I have because of my skin. People who claim that they “don’t see color” don’t see everyone as clear. They see my skin whether they choose to acknowledge it or not. And the fact is, I loooooooove my skin. I love how certain colors look on my skin. I love the feel. I love the fact that it ages well. I have good skin. And, I adore that my grandmother in her seventies could still pass for 50. #blackdontcrack FTW!
In the same way, trying to convince someone who is autistic that “they aren’t their disability” is stupid. You can’t separate my kids from their neurology. They are one giant neurodiversity salad tossed together with one another and completely amazing. The facets of their humanity, which, yes, includes a disability (and various mental health diagnoses), isn’t an accessory they can put down to prove themselves worthy of attention in spite of what they carry. Who they are is magnificent because of every, single, iota of their them-ness. And, yes, that includes their disability.
Let’s stop teaching people that they need to put themselves down before they can enter in. Let’s change the narrative that says you have to be “default” to be accepted. My kids are autistic and this adds to the wonderfulness that they are. My husband is autistic and I love him more for it. You are your disability. And, that’s more that just okay.
It’s pretty damn brilliant.