Monday, July 2, 2012

Anderson Cooper May Be Gay, but I'm Not Proud of Being a Crip image
There is this matter of pride. Name the cause. People are proud. Gay Pride. Disability Pride. Fill-in-the-blank Pride.

I won't go metaphysical all over your opinion, and so I'll leave out the negative aspects, the immutable facts that make pride a two-edge sword. Pride didn't earn its place as one of the seven deadly sins for no reason.

And I can be practical too. Self-worth has value. A measure of what might be called pride is necessary to function in this world. Monks excepted, of course.

But I truly do not understand why many energetic people working for disability rights and access talk about "Disability Pride." To say it better than I can, since I don't have any pride in being disabled, I'll point to a fair synopsis of the concept to be found here at the Inclusion Network.

Let me say it again: I am not proud to be a person with disability. Why should I be? I didn't volunteer for this project. In fact, I don't need to have a sense of personal disability pride for other people to open their eyes and understand that I am a human being with inherent rights and opportunities equal to any other person born here in the USA.

There are only two ways to ride the disability train. Be born with a disability. Have something happen in life that gives you the boarding pass. Why should I be proud of having had polio in 1959? It is random fate, nothing more, a series of events and choices and conditions that arrived at the end of a needle in a high school gym. As far as I can see, the only reason to be proud because of a disability would be acquiring the disability through an act of personal sacrifice.

I can bring in another of the deadly sins, if you like. Dig deep where you think you'll find pride buried in my psyche, and you'll get your fingers burned on a glowing ember of anger. I have no disability pride. I have disability anger, which admittedly at this stage of my butt-surfing career has dwindled to disability disappointment.

I'm not even proud of having survived as a disabled person since 1959, unless you want to flip the equation and say I'm grateful to have the physical make-up, emotional complexity, and the familial and social support to make it this far without too much self-inflicted damage.

I asked my wife, one of the more intelligent and insightful people I know, "What are you proud of?" She thought for a minute and replied, "Our marriage. My education. The professional responsibilities I've earned."

"Earned" seems the key word to me in her reply. Professional accomplishment, education, and even a satisfying marriage are "earned" by discipline and effort. I've earned things I'm proud of, but there's no need to recite them here other than to say I have some pride in those accomplishments. And none of them involve disability.

No one "earns" a disability, at least as a conscious goal. I'll grant, though, that some people end up disabled because they make the wrong choice. That's nothing to be proud of, really.

As for me, I'm no more proud to be disabled than I would be proud to be struck by a meteor.

Perhaps the idea of disability pride is tied to the concept of functioning in society, in being regarded as a contributor.

If so, and if we focus that entirely on the state of disability, we are approaching a concept that closely related to the "overcoming" dynamic. And once the "overcome" or "hero" words begin to fly, I begin to look for a way out of the room. Being celebrated for "overcoming" a disability, or being celebrated as a "hero" because you're tolerating a situation others find fearful doesn't feed the bulldog. I am no hero. There is nothing heroic about riding out life in a wheelchair. Neither have I overcome anything. Polio killed a good part of my nervous system in 1959, and it's still dead.

I've been thinking about the issue because I've gotten severals notices about disability pride events, parades and otherwise. And then this morning CNN's Anderson Cooper used the proud-word in discussing his sexual orientation, as if it made any difference. Cooper said, "The fact is, I'm gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud."

To me, being proud of being homosexual makes no more sense than being proud of being disabled.

I'm not smart enough to prove it, but I think sexual orientation is a function of biology. Anderson Cooper is homosexual because his brain is wired that way, which is just as inevitable and immutable as my neuro-spinal system being re-wired by poliomyelitis.

Is he proud to be homosexual because, say, Michelangelo or Leonardo might have been homosexual? That's about as silly as me being proud of being disabled because Stephen Hawking is a genius.

If I must be proud before you can accept me as equally human, as equally worthy of respect, it is you who are disabled rather than me.

And if you're proud because you are disabled, or homosexual for that matter, I would be interested in knowing the reason you choose to celebrate something you are rather than something you earned.


claudia young said...

hi my name is Claudia I found you through mobility I got an email and followed a couple of links and I was really enjoying your writing I've been in a wheelchair 33 years quad also a quad and just really enjoyed reading what you had to say so thanks for putting all that out there and I'll make it a point to keep reading.

for the record yeah I'm not liking being in a chair anymore now then I did then what's up with that mindset?

also for the record I do know how to use punctuation but I've chosen to give this voice recorder A try on my new iPad.

Gary Presley said...

Thanks for the comment, and I appreciate meeting you, Claudia. About "liking and not liking" -- I think there is more than one layer in nearly everything, and so it is possible to hold two ideas about the same situation/thing.

I both love and loath my wheelchair. I loath it because I hate my disability. I love it because it provides almost the maximum amount of free a person with my disability might have.

One thing really doesn't have much to do with the other, does it? I think in some ways that speaks to how we as people (disabled or not) must confront reality.

I'll make a simple, not so important analogy. I'm bald. I could make a change -- a wig, a hair transplant, or some other choice. But making that choice isn't worth the hassle. It's easier to be bald.

Focus that on disability. I cannot walk. I could do something about it,
and I have by using a power wheelchair.

Thus, I made a change about what is important (mobility) and ignored what isn't (being bald).

I think that way about a lot of things -- holding two different ideas. I find it an easier way of getting through life because there is no such thing as perfection.

I hope you'll keep reading.