It’s the judgemental gaze from the balding man who stares at my ankle braces in the doorway at Chapters, or the unadulterated laughter from the stranger in the Student Union Building who thinks it’s funny to call me an “old woman” when I use my cane. It’s the exasperated sigh from the impatient shopper when my illness transforms me into the ever-dreaded “slow walker” at the mall, or the push from behind when my crutches take up too much space in a high school hallway. It’s, “oh, that’s um… kind of a turn-off”, from a girl who I thought was a better person than that, or, “well we didn’t invite you because we didn’t think you’d be able to”, from the people I thought were my friends, who still didn’t bother to take the time to understand.
These are the things that make me afraid of being disabled.
These are the things that make me afraid of disclosure.
Now, let me be clear: I am not ashamed of who I am. I am not ashamed of my disability, or my mental illness, or my sexual orientation – all things for which I have been judged, of course.
I will offer loud and unapologetic lectures to those who snicker and sneer at me in public places, and I will laugh as the judgement in their eyes turns to horror and their faces go pale with regret – never remorse, though… because after all, they don’t feel bad about being ableist jackasses – no! They just weren’t anticipating my reaction.
They wanted me to drop my head in shame, but see, shame is no longer a burden I carry.
I used to, of course, but with a back as scoliotic as mine, a burden like that is just too heavy to bear, am I right?
So I put it down a long time ago. I made the decision to embrace myself, in all of my crooked, crippled glory, regardless of whether or not others would do the same. I made the choice to allow myself to exist – no, to live my life, despite the looks and the lies and the laughter.
So no, I am not ashamed.
But I am often afraid.
I am afraid that if I tell you that there are days I can barely walk from my bedroom to the kitchen, which is but a few feet away, that you will become one of the snickering, sneering, judgemental, jeering assholes that I am already emotionally exhausted by on the daily.
I am afraid that if share with you the realities of living as a 21 year-old disabled, mentally ill, queer woman, you will view me as fragile, or helpless, or… I don’t know, something.
I am afraid of disclosure, because if I disclose my disability – my identity, really – I am afraid you will look at me and decide that I’m no longer worth the effort. That you’ll check out because you don’t want to deal with the bad days – the days I can’t get out of bed, the days I forget my meds, the days I wish I had never woken up at all.
So I will say again: If I don’t disclose my disability… if I don’t share with you the details of my day-to-day life… it is not because I’m ashamed of who I am – it’s because I’m afraid that you will be.
And you know what? Maybe that means you’re the one who isn’t worth the effort.
– Stephanie, ECC