Saturday, January 8, 2011

On Being A Cripple

Title taken from Nancy Mairs' essay, "On Being A Cripple", all credit for the title goes to her and her wonderful writing.

People shudder when they hear me call myself a cripple. "Don't say that." they say. "Don't you ever call yourself a cripple. You're not a cripple." What people don't understand is that cripple is a term of pride, a way of defining ourselves, a way of taking back words previously used against us.

By calling ourselves cripples, freaks, and gimps, we identify with those who have come before us, those PWDs who were not as fortunate as us. We remember those who were hidden away, murdered by their parents, or trapped in institutions, those who never reached their full potential because of society's fear of disability. We remember a time not so long ago when people "like us" didn't have any rights, were in fact prohibited from showing our faces in public. We salute those early pioneers in disability rights, who fought for the right to get on a bus, get an education, and be productive members of society.

By calling ourselves cripples, we define ourselves. We expose ourselves, our bodies, and our community, strip away all the layers of political correctness until all that is there is bold and shocking. It confronts people, it forces people to reevaluate their ideas and preconceptions. We choose words like cripple, spaz, gimp, and freak to describe ourselves. We willingly take on these antiquated words, because in the choosing, we gain our freedom. We choose these words, instead of having others choose for us. We make that choice because it is one of the few choices that we have. In a time when we cannot even choose to live at home instead of an institution, we can choose the language we want to describe ourselves.

I call myself cripple to align myself with a community I never knew I had. I call myself cripple to pay homage to all my crip role models whose ideas and writings influenced me and shaped my views on disability and the world. And in some ways, I call myself cripple to constantly remind myself that I belong in this world. As a person with a "mild" disability, so to speak, I've spent much of my life feeling like I'm "on the fence" between the able-bodied and disabled worlds. Society pressures those of us with "mild" or less visible disabilities to conform to the norm as much as possible. I could've done that - skated by with little or no accommodations, denied my heritage as a disabled person, and tricked myself into thinking I was "normal". I've met people who have done that, and it is much more societally acceptable to do that than to let your freak flag fly with all your might. But my life led me down a different path, and now that I've seen the other side, I can't ever go back. But there's still that little voice in my head sometimes that tells me I'm not "really" disabled, that I'm just using my accommodations to be lazy when I don't really "need" them. So in some ways, I call myself cripple and use walking aids to remind myself that I AM disabled, and I am part of a community with a rich and vibrant culture and I have as much right to be a part of that community as anyone else with a more "severe" disability.
I call myself cripple to describe myself and only myself. I would never use it to describe someone if I knew they preferred not to use that word. It is my choice and I ask that you respect it. Thank you.
(btw, the DBC will be up sometime tonight, I swear! Promise! I do apologize for the delay.)


Carl Thompson said...

Great post!

This subgroup was touched on in an article at my place of work, you can read here if you like -

Please check out my blog also if you find time -