Being Disabled – #Autistic December 1/31

Being Disabled – #Autistic December 1/31

A close-up of a UK disability Blue Badge showing the white on blue disabled symbol on its lower left corner

I never imagined when I used to see or hear about disabled people that one day it would include me. I don’t think anybody does: unless you are disabled yourself it’s always something that affects other people. Less fortunate people.

Be honest: that’s how you think of us, isn’t it? You feel glad–lucky–that you’re not disabled. Because that would be awful. Am I right?

That right there: that’s stigma. You feel sorry for us, pity us, hope you never become one of us. You see us as damaged people. You can’t believe it’d ever affect you, that you could ever become disabled yourself.

I know, because I used to feel that way. Disabled people were some other group, over there, not like me. There was a difference, a gulf that could never be crossed: that could never be me.

I had no instant of revelation, no light-bulb moment. The idea that I was disabled myself took time to sink in. I spoke the words long before I accepted the truth and believed them; I denied it to myself. I worked full-time, had my own home: how could I reconcile that with being disabled?

What I felt was internalised ableism: I had become accustomed to equating disability with failure. Really accepting that I was disabled meant confronting my own prejudice, admitting it existed, and then unlearning it.

That journey has been a hard one. It’s more than uncomfortable to admit that you don’t live up to your own moral standards, but faced with a choice between denial and change I realised I had to change if I was ever going to accept myself for who and what I am.

I am disabled: that means there are things I can’t do and situations I can’t handle. It doesn’t mean that I ought to be able to do those things, and it doesn’t mean I’m a failed human being: I’m not. And I accept that.

This is the first post in Autistic December, a daily series about the impact on my life of being autistic.

Being #Trans in 2018

Being #Trans in 2018

Scary SceneI’m scared. I’m scared and I’m angry. Scared because I’m exposed to voices in the mainstream media who hate me and people like me. Angry because time and again those same voices are given a platform to spread their destructive message of prejudice and intolerance.

I’m one of the fortunate ones. I have a wonderful daughter, a job, my own home, a fabulous group of supportive friends. I don’t get misgendered in public. The only personal harassment I suffer is the everyday stuff any woman deals with: being asked to smile by strangers, facing presumptions about my (lack of) competence, being ignored and spoken over, never having decent pockets in clothes.

I should feel great about it. I did feel great about it. Until recently. There’s been a change: the attacks used to predictable, occasional occurrences. The usual suspects in the usual places. I could brush that off. But in the last year or so there has been such a huge increase in the media (mainstream and especially social media) in content that seeks to turn public opinion against trans people like me.

On the surface they seem so reasonable. They want a debate. They’re concerned about women, about women’s rights, about safeguarding children. That’s the thin end of the wedge, their foot in the door. That gets them an audience. And once they have people listening they start with the fearmongering.

They don’t want a debate: they want a platform. And they get it daily in newspapers, on the radio and TV. They cry about being silenced from every outlet imaginable. And they go about their strategy of sowing distrust and apprehension. FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

They refuse to refer to trans women as women. After all, that might suggest we’re at risk too. They invent hypothetical situations based on little or no evidence and use these to suggest trans women pose a risk (it’s always trans women specifically, you’ll notice). Everything they say is calculated to portray us as a group separate from women, as other.

They don’t need or even want evidence to back their wild claims. How much easier is it to raise fears of a modern day bogeyman such as the male rapist donning a dress to access women’s spaces if you’re not burdened by the necessity of finding elusive examples of it ever having happened? But even if it were a thing, what does it have to do with trans people? Surely if it’s a problem, it’s a problem whether or not trans women have access? In fact, wouldn’t trans women be at risk too, perhaps even greater risk?

These are the exact same tactics used against immigrants, Muslims and other groups by the far right. They are the same fears raised 30 years ago during the fight against Section 28 in support of gay rights. The dismaying thing is that it works, especially in the factionalised society we live in where we are encouraged by the media and many in the public eye to see everything in terms of us and them.

So I’m scared. Scared in case I encounter somebody who has been encouraged by such rhetoric to see me as a threat. Scared, more than ever, that I will be physically attacked. I get nervous being out on my own anyway: that’s par for the course as a lone woman. But these so-called feminists have made this woman doubly afraid to merely be visible in public.

And that’s why I’m also angry.

I Have a Choice?

I Have a Choice?

A recent story shared by George Takei on Facebook about a 12 year old winning the right to have his birth certificate changed to reflect his correct gender attracted a lot of comments. This is not surprising, nor is the fact that so many were negative or transphobic. Not surprising, but very depressing.

Along with the usual equation of physical characteristics with gender (penis = male; vagina = female) there were many comments saying that 12 was too young to make this kind of choice.

Choice? Are they suggesting that somebody can choose their gender the same way they choose what to wear or eat?

Coming out, informing people around you that your gender is not the one you were assigned at birth, is not a lifestyle choice like being Vegan. It is a recognition of the true essence of one’s self.

If you asked a hundred random people of all ages what their gender is you would almost always get a hundred definite answers. Would you doubt that these people know what gender they really are? Would you insist on testing their chromosomes and genitalia? Would you even dare to ask a random stranger to confirm their gender?

So why is it that the element of doubt raises its head when the “transgender” label is present? Surely a transgender person has just as clear a view of their own gender identity as anybody else.

I didn’t choose to be a woman. I appeared to be male at birth and was raised as such. But from puberty onwards (about age 11) I knew that my body didn’t develop correctly. It didn’t (and still doesn’t) look like my internal self-image. I look in the mirror and if I’m lucky I will catch the occasional glimpse of myself, but more often I only see the out-of-place male characteristics. My brain developed as female, my body as male.

If you are not transgender yourself then imagine this: you are yourself, the same person you have been all your life, but every time you look at yourself you do not see what you expect to see. You see a face and body that is the opposite gender. Now also imagine that everybody else sees that too, and acts towards you as if that is your actual gender. But you know it’s wrong. Every day of your life you know, but you are stuck with it. Yes, it hurts to the point that it can be hard to carry on.

Unless you start to tell people that the way you look is not who you are. Unless you confront their disbelief, prejudice and mockery. Unless you fight to change your body so that it matches what you know inside to be your true self. The alternative is to try to pretend that you are somebody other than yourself, to live a lie. I tried to do that until it almost destroyed me. That is gender dysphoria.

So please try to be understanding when a transgender person comes out. Be accepting. It is hard enough living with the discomfort and distress of your body being of the wrong gender without also having to suffer prejudice and abuse.

Note: I have simplified things here for rhetorical purposes to mention only binary gender identities. These account for the majority of people but there is a significant minority for whom the categories of male/female do not fit. I’m not going to go into details here because there are many excellent articles about non-binary gender and I do not have the personal experience to add to what others have already written.