This post is based on the following encounter I had with a couple while at work this past Sunday:
Nosy Guy™: What’s wrong with your legs?
Me (sighing): I have a connective tissue disorder.
Nosy Guy™: Oh, weird.
After that, Nosy Guy™ walked away, leaving me to ponder why non-(dis)Abled folks so often seem to feel entitled to my story, my medical history, my body. Now, in this case, the initial exchange was short, but as I answered his question, I found myself fighting the urge to respond a bit more sarcastically with something like, “nothing, what’s wrong with your face?”
Why, you ask?
Because the questions… they get exhausting. It’s tiresome having strangers ask questions about your body all the time, and while y’all know I’m ALL about education and advocacy, I have to admit that sometimes, being bombarded by Nosy Nellies just makes me cranky.
On Sunday, that was especially true, because the exchange didn’t end there – nope, of course not! About five minutes later, Nosy Guy™ came back over to my desk, this time accompanied by his wife. The situation unfolded like so:
Nosy Guy™: My wife is a doctor, can she see your splints?
Nosy Guy™ (to his wife): See? Look at her legs.
Nosy Guy’s Wife™ (staring): Who’s your doctor?
Me: I don’t fe-
Nosy Guy’s Wife™ (to Nosy Guy™): Those could cause muscle atrophy, what did you say she said was wrong?
Me: *clears throat*
Nosy Guy’s Wife™: Who did you say your doctor was?
Me: Not you. Can I help you with something else, ma’am?
After that, Nosy Guy™ and his wife walked away looking confused and offended, mumbled something about “teenagers” (lol, I’m 22, sorry folks!) and didn’t approach me again for the remainder of the day.
But here’s the thing: They never should have approached me at all, at least not for the reasons they did.
If they had needed me to do something for them – you know, something that was actually related to my job – that would have been fine! But they didn’t, they were just being nosy. They saw me working the desk, noticed that I looked different, and decided that they wanted to know why, even though it’s absolutely none of their business.
Why is that? Why is it that non-(dis)Abled people think they have a right to know that information? Why is it that they somehow feel entitled to ask a stranger who their physician is, or “what’s wrong” with them? (Don’t even get me started on that language, either… nothing is “wrong” with me, like ew, stop).
Funny how privilege works.
Interestingly enough, though, the timing of this not-so-pleasant encounter couldn’t have been better, because just the other day, a hashtag was created called #TheAbleistScript and the whole purpose is to give (dis)Abled folks a platform to speak up about all the gross, unnecessary, ignorant, ableist shit that comes out of non-(dis)Abled people’s mouths – and trust me, there’s a lot.
So today, I’m going to talk about #TheAbleistScript, and give y’all the 5 biggest examples of things that you probably SHOULDN’T say to (dis)Abled people – at least in the opinion of this cripple:
- “You don’t look sick”: Stop. Just stop right there. DO NOT SAY THIS. I know that a lot of people think it’s a compliment – I mean, who would want to look sick, amirite? But here’s the thing, y’all. This remark? This simple little statement that we don’t “look sick”? It has been used for so long, by so many people, to completely invalidate the experiences of (dis)Abled folks – ESPECIALLY folks with invisible illnesses. What I think a lot of people don’t understand is just how difficult it can be for a lot of us to find a doctor who will listen to us and who will believe us. It took me 11 years – that’s half my LIFE so far, by the way – to finally have someone acknowledge that yes, I am sick. So guess what? I LOOK SICK. This is what a sick person looks like. I should know, because I am one. So please, for the love of all that is good, reword your compliment. If you want to tell me I look good, say that! Don’t make it about not “looking sick,” make it about me looking sick and also looking fabulous, because believe it or not, the two are not mutually exclusive.
- “You’re so inspiring, I could never do what you do!”: Okay, why? Am I inspiring because I wake up every morning and dare to live while (dis)Abled? When you say you could never “do what I do” do you mean you could never live as a (dis)Abled person? Again- I know that a lot of folks think this is a compliment, but most of the time it feels like a thinly veiled insult, and frankly, it’s irritating. Now, don’t get me wrong… I want to inspire people, I really do! But I want folks to be inspired by my work ethic, by my kindness, by ANYTHING other than the fact that I live life as a (dis)Abled woman. My existence shouldn’t inspire you, it’s no more special than yours is. Do I face different challenges than you do? Absolutely, and it’s okay to acknowledge that. But if I’m not doing something amazing (hint: my existing is not amazing lol) why do I inspire you?
- “The only disability in life is a bad attitude!”: I don’t even know where to start with this one, other than to just say nope, sorry, you’re wrong. I’ve had folks say this to me before, and the conversation usually goes something like this: “No way, I don’t think of you as “disabled” – you’re always so up beat and positive! You handle it with a smile on your face, and the only true disability in life is a bad attitude!” You know what that says to me? It says that the reason I’m considered “valuable” to that person is because I “stay positive” (lol have you met me?). That’s pretty gross, because someone else is not worth less than me just because they’re angry, or upset, or frustrated by the fact that they’re (dis)Abled. A “bad attitude” is not a (dis)Ability. Stop saying it is.
- “At least it’s not cancer!”: DO NOT. I REPEAT, DO NOT. Don’t even go there. There are so many things wrong with this statement, so let me just explain a few: (A) Cancer is awful, but it’s not the only difficult illness out there, so stop trying to silver-line the rest of us by saying “at least it’s not cancer,” because it’s super condescending and it minimizes our lived experiences. (B) Do you really think folks with cancer want their illnesses and their lives held up as the standard of The Most Awful Illness Ever™ because I’m thinking not. (C) Just don’t do it.
- “So, what’s wrong with you?”: I want you to think for a minute about how hurtful it would be to constantly have people – strangers – look at you, and ask this question. Sometimes, there aren’t even any introductions. No, “hi, my name is,” or “hey, how are you?” just, “so, what’s wrong with you?” I get this one a lot, and it just really hurts. I understand the curiosity, because I know that you probably don’t see a lot of 22 year olds walking around with ankle braces and a cane. But why is it your business? Why do you care, other than your nosiness? And why – seriously, WHY – do you choose to ask what’s “wrong” with me? Nothing is wrong with me, y’all, it’s society that’s messed up, thanks.
Again- good intentions a lot of the time, I know… but not so good results. So just don’t say it, okay? Ask me about the weather, or about politics, or about the sporting event that I probably didn’t watch last night. Ask me about school, or TV, or my (awesome) new haircut. Have a real conversation with me. Have real conversations with all of us!
But mind your beeswax when it comes to personal questions about my body.
– Stephanie, ECC