Friday, October 25, 2013

Disabled Is Not An Insult

"Eh?" said Hagrid blankly.  "No, don' go!  I've - I've never met another one before!"
"Anuzzer what, precisely?" said Madame Maxime, her tone icy.
"Another half-giant, o'course!" said Hagrid.
"'Ow dare you" shrieked Madame Maxime.  "I 'ave never been more insulted in my life!  'Alf giant?  Moi?  I 'ave - I 'ave big bones!"
-Excerpted from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K Rowling (pgs 428 - 429 in the printed version)

Poor Hagrid.  He's desperately trying to find community, just as I have on so many occasions.  He knows that he's finally met someone like him.  I know that feeling, that wonderful feeling of sameness, of solidarity. He reaches out only to find his advances rebuffed and the target of his affection insulted.

Though J.K Rowling has often said that Remus Lupin is her metaphor for specifically HIV/AIDS and disability in general, I see a parallel with Hagrid and Madame Maxime as well.  To Hagrid, half-giant is an identity, albeit a lonely one, something that he's carried with him his whole life without ever meeting another.  To Madame Maxime, it's the height of shame.  She, like so many disabled people, has internalized the stereotypes about her people and distances herself from the label as much as possible.  She insists that she is not half-giant, merely "big boned", much like many disabled people insist that they're not DISABLED, of course not!  They're merely "differently abled".

Disabled is not an insult.  It's a stop on the subway lines of the human condition.  It's a rainbow shining through shards of broken glass.  It's a new view on life, one explored by stimming fingers and unseeing eyes and silent ears and seen from the lovely vantage point of butt-level as you're rolling down the street.  It's an identity, a culture with pride flowing through its veins while the taste of shame still lingers in its mouth.  It's words like crip, gimp, freak, words that slash open our war wounds like badges of honor.  It's music and dance and poetry and art from the inside looking out.  It's free our people and our homes, not nursing homes and nothing about us without us.  It's hope and fear and cowardice and love, love among people who are deemed incapable of feeling.

Disabled doesn't mean suffering or brokenness.  It doesn't mean that you will never love, or be loved in return.  If you stumble into big-D Disabled land, it doesn't mean that your life is over - it means a new one is just beginning.  Despite what society would have you believe, it doesn't mean inferiority, or a fate worse than death.  It shouldn't be a scarlet letter on your chest.  It's simply another way of being - a turn of the kaleidoscope in a different direction and suddenly all the colors and patterns line up in a way you've never seen before.  Different, even new, but just as beautiful nonetheless.

So when I call you disabled, you better be fucking proud.  Because it means that I hold you in high enough regard to say that you're one of my people, for better or worse.  It means that you can be the cruelest person who ever lived, but you've got something inside of you that resonates with me, that tells me we are the same.  Some of the kindest, smartest, funniest, best people I know are disabled.  You should feel pride that you share an identity with them.  I sure as hell am.

"Jumpstart my kaleidoscope heart
Love to watch the colors fade
They may not make sense but they sure as hell made me"
-Uncharted by Sara Bareilles 


Anonymous said...

A lot of this really resonated with me--especially the last paragraph. (I guess that's why I can relate even to the most evil disabled villains...)

As well as being useful for considering how people counteridentify with disability, Hagrid and Madame Maxime's stories both relate a lot to the racism faced by mixed race people, especially considering how JKR uses the status of Muggleborns, half-bloods, and the classifications of magical beings vs. magical creatures as a big metaphor for racism.

Anonymous said...

I'll say again what I said on your Facebook post, which is that this post is giving me happy fantasies of Hagrid and Lupin secretly having tea together, because, since they're both members of reviled minorities, they're about the only people at Hogwarts in a place to understand each other's experiences, even though they're from different minorities.

And also, on further thought...there's probably a lot to unpack in terms of Hagrid embodying the experience of visible disability--there's not much chance of successfully hiding that you're half-giant--contrasting with Lupin embodying invisible disability, with the effort and strain he goes to in order to keep his condition a secret lest he face discrimination and ostracism.

Margot said...

Great stuff! I think "disabled" is something that newly disabled people have to adapt/adjust to. Their world has suddenly changed and we have to give them time to be comfortable in their disabled identity. I saw a great movie called "When I walk" that dealt with what you are saying.