Thou Shalt Accept Every Identity as Valid
Minds Are Like Parachutes: They Only Function When Open
Don’t Open Your Mind So Wide That Your Brain Falls Out.
Look, I like to think of myself as a very open-minded person. Partly because I kind of need to be, or I’d be a giant hypocrite. But there’s a certain point where in following those two personal mottoes listed above, I have to shut my mind before my brain falls out. I don’t follow the Sacred Internet Social Justice Community Commandment that Every Identity is Valid.
I’d heard about the phenomenon of “transabled” people who identify as having a disability that they don’t have. They’ve been around for years- known as “Wannabes” but now have come out of the woodwork more by riding on the coattails of the transgender movement. I wasn’t too worried about it, because I thought that one thing the disparate disability communities were united on was against this nonsense.
Then I just saw an article about blindness being commented upon by a “transblind” person, posted on Lydia Brown’s autism blog. This disturbed me, because Lydia is a really awesome autistic writer and activist, and her voice is pretty prominent.
I commented – “I am confused by this- I’m severely near-sighted (as in I have to be very careful where I put my glasses or I’ll have to grope for them) I could be considered “legally blind” but with my glasses I am fully sighted. Is this the sort of reason someone might identify as “transblind”? In that case I could understand, though I wouldn’t call myself that. I don’t have the experiences that blind people have. From what I understand there are some non-disabled people mainly on Tumblr that identify as “transdisabled”. I’m surprised you’re promoting this viewpoint, Lydia. Would you think appropriate for a non-autistic person to call themselves “transautistic”? I am concerned about disrespect for both transgender and disabled communities.”
After that I noticed, that indeed at the bottom of Lydia’s blog was a long list of identities that she states support and inclusion for, and “transabled” was one of them. I respected her choice, even if I was disappointed by it, it had already been made, and it was her blog.
A little more on the broader phenomenon:
(I do take exception to the demisexual part- will discuss below)
“This is what happens when discussion of oppression gets divorced from discussion of the power structures and status quo preserving practices that generate the oppression. Once you eliminate discussion of which groups hold power, you can transform any incidence of feeling alienated into an identity. Therefore socially empowered groups are feel free to appropriate the struggles of the people they dominate by focusing on any and all passing similarities between them rather than on actual exchanges of power.”- Comment on Womanist Musings, Jamie Laplain
Western industrialized societies are very individualistic- this makes it very hard for us to think about oppression and domination in systemic ways. Hence all the emphasis on privilege checklists and people writing mini-biographies about how they experience privilege. Then it all focuses on guilt and blame, and avoiding guilt and blame, shifting it onto someone else, another oppressor, without truly critiquing the system and coming up with constructive ways of transforming it. Instead people accuse each of not being aware enough of their privileges and are lectured that their good intentions are never enough. To be a Real Activist, you have to be familiar with an ever-changing list of terminology, and the words included and how they are defined and who can use them seems to vary by individual opinion. So you’d better get it right the first time!
Granted, there is apparently a real (if rare) disorder called Body Integrity Identity Disorder that causes people to feel as if limbs or other parts of their bodies are not really part of their bodies. If untreated, some of them try to injure themselves. These people definitely need help, and I don’t want to stigmatize them if they have a real disorder. But we should not use this as a reason to accept the entire “transabled” identity category. We need to take our society’s distorted ideas about disability, the body and sexuality into account. I will also say that we all deserve the right to have some healthy skepticism towards the psychiatric establishment. They have made many mistakes in the past and they will continue to do so, especially considering their relationship with Big Pharma.
I am concerned that on the one hand, we are aiding and abetting people with untreated mental disorders. It also infuriates me to see people using wheelchairs when they don’t need them, while other people who need wheelchairs or other adaptive equipment can’t afford them. We have fought long and hard to demonstrate that people with disabilities merit equal treatment and public accommodations, and we still have a long road ahead of us on that. But we constantly get questioned “Do you really need that accommodation, or that adaptive equipment?” You can do this or that if you just tried harder, we are told. We always seem to be too disabled, or not disabled enough to be “worth” helping.
I’m also concerned that the influence of academia, and the constant search for unique research topics may have conveniently given an open platform for transabled folks into the disability studies field. Postmodern theorists with a thing for “constructed” identities would just lap this up.
Maybe some of these transabled folks have a special empathy for us. Maybe they’re curious about us. Maybe they didn’t get to know us enough when we were kids, because we were separated from them and so they became fascinated. If that is the case, I would ask them to grateful for all things your body and mind can do. And I would invite them to embrace their non-disabled bodies and minds and realize that they are still beautiful and unique, I shouldn’t have to tell them that since society tells them that everyday, but hey extra affirmation, why not. And I would further invite them to join as allies in the fight for disability rights. Because most of us, will at some point in our lives become disabled- hence the term “Temporarily Able Bodied”.
Now, I will take exception to the inclusion of demisexuals in this list of “faker” identities. A demi-sexual is a person who is only sexually attracted to people with whom they have a deep emotional connection, they are not (or rarely) sexually attracted to strangers and brief acquaintances. I know about this as I’ve been reading about asexuality, and demisexuality is considered part of the broader definition of the asexual spectrum. If this concept helps some people make sense of their sexuality and helps them great. The biggest problem demisexuals and asexuals face is simply invisibility. Society doesn’t realize they exist, and some of them grow up being confused when they don’t have the feelings that other people around them do. The main way these folks are being oppressed is when they are pressured into romantic/sexual behavior that they do not want to engage in. This is a problem for people of all sexualities and genders, and I really don’t think that the GLBTQ+++ communities need to worry about asexual folks “stealing their movement thunder” so to speak.
Entry filed under: Autism/Asperger's, Concepts & Definitions, Ethics, Feminism/Gender, GLBT, Identities, Politics/Culture. Tags: asexual, asexual community, asexuality, autism, blindness, blogging, demi-sexual, demisexual, demisexuality, disability, disability studies, Ethics, Lydia Brown, mental health, mental illness, psychology, trans ethnic, transabled, transgender, Tumblr.