Monday, February 22, 2010

Cane Dancer

This journey down the coast has been a real trip in exploring peoples perspectives on disability and impairments, and where they intersect with a handsome young guy like myself.
My relationship to visibility, pain, management and assistance:
I have a cane. I don't bust it out all the time, but if I know I am going to be walking for a long time (or conversely if I don't know how long I will be walking) I will grab it and use the prop.


1verb,propped, prop·ping, noun
–verb (used with object)
to support, or prevent from falling, with or as if with a prop (often fol. by up): to prop an old fence; to prop up an unpopular government.
to rest (a thing) against a support: He propped his cane against the wall.
to support or sustain (often fol. by up).
a stick, rod, pole, beam, or other rigid support.
a person or thing serving as a support or stay: His father is his financial prop.

as opposed to prop in the theatrical sense:
Also called prop.
a usually movable item, other than costumes or scenery, used on the set of a theater production, motion picture, etc.; any object handled or used by an actor in a performance.

Using a cane is not acting for me. It's assistance. Its a little push from my upper body to get up the stairs, along the road, across a span, down stairs etc when my knee doesn't feel like participating as much as would be ideal.

It is a signifier for those around me too, especially in new and/or crowded space, that I may be moving slowly, I am probably in some degree of pain, and I may be having a low balance threshold. Give me some fucking space. This spurs a whole other topic, in which folks generally are not providing space or consideration for invisible impairments. My body, with out a prop, looks pretty normal. A chiropractor or masseur could see how my spine twists and a thermal camera might be able to show my knee responding to being impacted with an SUV. But from the outside I look "normal". Being a "passing" transman with an invisible disability makes me sometimes feel like the parts that are the biggest things that affect how I go through the world are the hardest for outsiders to perceive.

But when they do: First and foremost it makes people uncomfortable, and they don't want to believe it. And they call me into question. The other day in Fred Meyer I took advantage of their motorized scooters to get around the store while gathering edibles. This is something I have done before out of boredom, out of laziness and because being in those stores is ridiculous and when one must enter through its giant automatic doors to find some bananas 2 km into a concrete and packaging wasteland anything helps. This particular time I left the cane in the car, walked into the store and grabbed a scooter. A sales person asked me;
"So are you hurt or something?"
I said "Yes I got hit by a car." I should have cut her off. I should have told her it was none of her business. I could have snapped back and inquired about her neoprene supported wrists. But I let her drill me. She wanted to know where I was when I was hit. She wanted to know that I could still walk. She wanted to know that her perception of me as a young able bodied man being silly in the scooter wasn't shattered. I left there angry. And then returned to a queer space. At a house party in San Francisco I was called a trooper, assumedly for dancing with a cane. Choice of words, really? This country is full of veterans my age an younger, lots with resulting impairments. So the dude dancing with the cane is a trooper??? Actually I just really like dancing and needed the cane to get into the building and appreciate the extra balance it gives me. And cause if I use it to get in and then set it aside it becomes a prop (in the theatrical sense) the act (as it becomes) is off. I encountered another woman who felt that she wanted the answers to her questions too, how long had I used a cane? Did I really need it? Oh, I have a friend who had to use a cane for a while and then got better, are you getting better? What happened? Is this an early onset condition, something acute or something recent? I felt comfortable in this space to stop her. I told her that its the first thing that everyone wants to talk to me about, and that I am frankly not in a mood to talk about it. There are other things about me that are awesome and interesting, as I am sure there must be about you, if we could move on to them and you could remember that not everyone with a disability that becomes visible to you at any point wants that to be the focus of the conversation. She first got defensive, saying that it wasn't the first thing we were talking about (I'm sorry hun, but a I like your fashion, I like yours too doesn't count as a lets build trust and comfort starter). And then walked away.
I would like to go on about the line between fetishization and a-sexualization of both trans folks and folks with disabilities, but I will save that for later.


romham a. bear said...

the hurt of which is that these kinds of interactions seem to never, ever stop.
but you know there are a ton of us out here, all the way down the coast and back (and following out east and back too) who know there are so many magical things about each other that arent all about sharing the details of having been hit by this or born with that. but are about talking about struggles yes, and about music, ink, patterns, haircuts, building shelves, and other mundane beautiful things.

travel safe xox

Lindsay said...

Awesome post!!

When I was in college, I did a project on feminist disability theory, which was really interesting. As we know, the physical world around us (in terms of the structured, constructed world, ie - buildings, community spaces, houses, shops, roads, schools, etc - as well as the atmosphere, energy, and feeling of a space) has generally been constructed for 'able-bodied', 'healthy', cissexual men. Of course, we know that the world is full of all sorts of people with all sorts of different bodies, abilities, and differences, and yet, I find that often, when someone brings up trying to make spaces or atmospheres more accessible to more people, or criticizing the ways in which the spaces/atmospheres they find themselves in are problematic, they are met with a lot of resistance. There seems to be an attitude of "Well, you are the one with the problem, why should I go out of my way to work on changing this? It works fine for me!" ie, "You're the one who's abnormal" (Side note - I really dislike the word 'normal' and the concept of 'normalcy' - it doesn't exist.) As though it is an annoyance, and somehow the other person's fault, for having a body that moves differently than your own. I also find the concept of being 'able-bodied' or 'healthy' troubling, because it seems that, in general, this is a pretty narrow definition which certainly doesn't reflect the diversity of reality. It is totally common to be injured, have a long-term illness or disability, be dealing with mental health stuff, to be hurting, and even if someone manages to go through life without experiencing any of that, we all get sick sometimes - these are all very common experiences. So it makes no sense to me, that society seems caught up in this notion that being in pain, having a disability, getting sick, chronic illness, etc, is somehow an aberration. Being 'healthy' looks different for different people. And what about being happy? What about doing things you like? What about having loving, supportive friends? What about doing things that inspire you? Why isn't more value placed on that, rather than having a body that conforms to society's idea of being 'healthy'? (Not to dismiss the very real pain and complications that many people live with daily.)

I find people's responses to you, when your disability is more visible really troubling. It reminds me of the entitlement I think a lot of folks feel they have to ask people very personal questions when they find out that someone is trans. Where do people get off thinking they have any right to ask these questions - at least in a context where they don't know the other person, or not very well?

Phew. I'm really interested to hear what you have to say about the fetishization and a-sexualization of folks who have disabilities.



Sarah said...

Hooray, hello again Miss T.R. Blogger! So many interesting ideas in here, but mostly I am noticing that I really love reading about bringing different responses in different spaces. Sometimes I get frustrated about not coming up with maximum grounded resistance at all times. I feel much more relaxed and even loved, remembering that safety and self-care can help a lot with that grounding.

Also, props (sense 4, evidence of respect) for figuring out how to perform non-performance with the cane.

feralgeographer said...

Dude, I just hafta say: I AM SO GLAD YOU'RE BLOGGING AGAIN. Which is not to pressure you to maintain constant posting, cuz I know how hard that can be, but just to say how good it is to hear your voice on the Internet once more.