Today, May 1, is Blogging Against Disablism Day again. Each year that I wrote about ableism for this event, I have focused on the effects stereotypes and counterstereotypes – that is, the stereotypes disabled people create in order to replace the stereotypes held by abled persons – can have on various levels. This year, I want to focus on an aspect of life which stereotypes and counterstereotypes have influenced on a very personal level: identity.
Most of my readers will not know this, since I last wrote about it in 2006, but I am mid-continuum plural. This means that, while I am able to present as a singleton person, inside my mind I host a number of parts or insiders that each influence my behavior on some level. There are a number of ableist stereotypes around multiplicity already, that I have to touch on briefly before proceeding to what I actually want to write about. In general, a multiple was either born that way, or became multiple through severe trauma or abuse in early childhood. Neither is the case for me: while I am not naturally mid-continuum, the experiences I had as a child – which I will not go into at this point – are not medically speaking sufficient to have caused me to create inside personalities. And yet I did. And I don’t give a fuck that I don’t meet the rigid stereotypes surrounding multiplicity.
On a deeper level, disablist stereotypes influenced the creation of my inner world, in the sense that each of my parts represents disability in one stereotypical way or another, and various ableist actions, from abled as well as disabled people, call on various insiders to represent me as a person.
First, there is Jane, the Competent Adult, the ultimate counterstereotype. When people call upon “high-functioning” autistics, those with Asperger’s Syndrome only, brag about how independent blind people can be, or call me out on my intelligence, they see her in my place. When people state how easy and cost-effective it is to accommodate disabled people, they imagine accommodating her in my place. In the right circumstances, she comes out, and you really think that I am her.
Then, there is Carol, the incapeble one, the ultimate representative of complex needs. When people talk about how complicated my case is, how hard it is to find the right services for me due to my multiple disabilities, or when they exercise control over me in the name of safety, they see her in my place. When they talk about how some people really cannot be accommodated and need to be cured of their disabilities, they want to cure her in my place. Despite my high intelligence, if you get me in the right circumstances, she comes out, and you really think that I am her. In fact, in my offline life, Carol is out quite a bit.
Then, there is Milou, the eternal child. When people talk about disabled adults as if they don’t understand, or talk about us or treat us as if we are children rather than adults, or when they brag about a tiny accomplishment as if it were the biggest success in the world just because we are disabled, they see her in my place. When care professionals tell each other that they should treat me like they would a little child if I exhibit X behavior, they imagine caring for her in my place. Thank goodness, Milou hasn’t been elicited a lot lately, but she is still around.
Then, there is Morgan, the child too big to handle. When people talk abut what happens to disabled children when their parents die, when they wonder to themselves whether they will ever live independently, or when they talk about institutions as the best possible option for a violent teenager, they see her in my place. When they worry about my future, they worry about her in my place. She is similar to Carol in some ways, but she still has a distinct identity of her own.
I could go on listing the other stereotypes of disability represented in my inner selves. I could also go on to describe the function of the few insiders who do not represent parts of my identity, but who are there to mediate them. I am not going to do that, since I think the point is clear: each of these parts represents me in some way, but it is a stereotypical way. I can be Carol when I’m in the worst of my meltdowns, or I can be Jane when I pass my Open University classes with flying colors, or I can be each of my other parts in various circumstances. All of my identitites are more formed than the flat image I painted here, but in some deep, fundamental way, they represent disability stereotypes.
Yet I am whole. I am not one of my parts one day and another the next. I am not a series of stereotypes and counterstereotypes, and a few identities to mediate them. I am a person. I have had my own experiences – all of them, regardless of whether a person with the characteristics I am perceived to have, can have had these experiences. I have my own abilities and difficulties – all of them, regardless of whether they fit a particular view of what disability or “functioning” can be like. I have my own care needs – all of them, regardless of whether the care system is equipped to meet them or not. I cannot pretend to be one of my fanthom selves just because it would be so much easier if I could. I am all of them, and I am none of them. I am a whole person, after all.
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