God forbid we human beings should ever have to get up close and personal with our unwieldy, messy, smelly humanness. In every way possible, this culture’s rules and values distance us from the realities of our own bodies in all their glorious imperfection. Just flick on the TV any time of the day or night and you’ll be bombarded with messages about the necessity of looking perfect and smelling better. It’s presented not as an option, but an obligation. Of course we want to hasten death; of course we want to make it easier for Cripples to die. Out damn spot. Out.
I don’t think it’s just coincidence that this urgent, zealous drive to give us more ways to opt out of life comes at a time when more and more of us are visible, living in community, being “in the face”, so to speak, of able-bodied assumptions about normal. And not just the us that can almost pass as AB, but those of us whose bodies are wildly uncontrollable, we of the drooling, spazzing, claw-handed variety of Cripple. And instead of trying to fade into the nooks and crannies as good Cripples of the past were taught to do, we blast down the main streets in full view, we sit slobbering at the table of your favorite restaurant, we insist on sharing your classroom, your workplace, your theater, your everything. The comfort of keeping us out of sight and out of mind behind institutional walls is being taken away. And because there is no way for good people to admit just how bloody uncomfortable they are with us, they distance themselves from their fears by devising new ways to erase us from the human landscape, all the while deluding themselves that it is for our benefit.
(Emphasis in the quote is mine.) That’s a quote by Cheryl Marie Wade in On Edge, that describes a frightfully real phenomenon. When it is not an option to lock us up and separate us from society (and it still often is, but it is for less of us), people, with the same prejudices that lock us up to begin with, try to justify our quick-as-possible death.
Moreover, people are terrified of the things I described in my last post. Terrified in particular of having bodies or minds that don’t stay tidily in control, in a society that is right now far more of a control-freak society than it was when Wade wrote that article.
When Wade (who also wrote the great poem A Woman With Juice) wrote that article, I was still in the out-of-sight out-of-mind category that she describes. Now, I’m not. But I think a lot of people would be more comfortable if I, and everyone else like me, were. I don’t think all of them think of themselves as hating us. I think we make people highly uncomfortable merely by existing in their presence. We bring up too many questions, remind people of too much, and break too many rules devised for a society being run without us. And, as she mentioned, since nobody is willing to admit their discomfort, they do a lot of very nasty things while distancing themselves from the nasty things they are doing.
That’s of course not the only reason. Wade goes into many other reasons in the article. But I’ve noticed that merely being plonked into a society that is not designed for me, that in fact is actively hostile to people like me, is not the same as living in an inclusive society. It’s not the same as living in a society where people have shed their prejudices about us, or where we have enough power and respect to avoid some of the more awful fates (including re-institutionalization) that are accepted for us by others. It’s just a change of address. And it’s just the beginning.
I have to wonder how much of these attitudes are behind the widespread acceptance of the murders of Tracy Latimer, Charles-Antoine Blaise, Katie McCarron, and so many others, and this latest attempted murder of a little girl with cerebral palsy.
Someone pointed out in my post about Katie McCarron that it’s not just beautiful, young people who shouldn’t be murdered. It’s also those of us who aren’t cute anymore, those of us who have ‘severe behaviors’, drool, need help going to the bathroom, or whatever else is different about us. I think people are more comfortable with the murder of a disabled person than a non-disabled person, but also more comfortable with the murder of one of the disabled people with an ‘undesirable’ body than those who are closer to standard-issue. A lot of effort has gone into distancing Katie McCarron from a stereotype that she has never come close to fitting. But those of us who do fit it more than she does (of which I’m definitely one), are real people too. The misplaced discomfort and disgust we are greeted with should not rule our life and death.