AbleismFeminismPersonal StoriesUncategorized

Different Strokes for Different Folks

I was born disabled, which means I’ve been dealing with my unresponsive body for over 19 years.

When I was younger I hated my body, and myself; I thought I was this useless, broken burden who would never amount to anything. I was a quiet, shy little disabled girl who went to public school and sat in the corner and prayed that today would be the day I wouldn’t be pushed into lockers, down the stairs, or taunted from afar.

I was forced to participate in physical education and felt humiliated in each class. So I would overcompensate, trying so hard in academic classes that by the time I reached my final two years I was burnt out. I was the kind of student that would break down no matter what mark I got, because it was never 100% and thus was never good enough.

This was not an enjoyable time for me, to say the least. I daily wished that there were a way for me to cease existing without actually having to kill myself. My depression and anxiety became overwhelming, and my body became as small and frail as I felt.

Me, with cropped hair wearing a short dress and fishnet stockings, sitting on a park bench.

The beginning of my journey into fabulousness

However, when I went away to attend university,  I saw an opportunity for change. I could be someone brand-new; different and fabulous. So I changed my style; I purchased things that I actually liked, rather than things that wouldn’t draw attention. I dyed my hair strange and unnatural colours, and decided that if people were going to stare at me anyway, I was going to give them something damn good to look at.

But most importantly, I sought to accept my disability. I did research about different ways to cope with tasks I struggled with, I watched videos of disabled comedians talking, I read books. Eventually I made the transition from someone who believed their disability had to be separated from them to make them okay, to someone who embraced their disability as part of themselves; I decided to let it enrich me rather than make me lesser. I went from a person with a disability, to a disabled person, if you will.

It took me 19 years to learn to accept my disability, and to learn to embrace it rather than ignore it. I’ve learned to make jokes about it, and have flung myself into the world of disability advocacy and intersectional feminism. Let me tell you, my fellow disabled queers are some of the most interesting people you will ever meet. I love that community, and if I hadn’t embraced my disability I wouldn’t be part of it.

However, I get quite a few disabled people who seem to take issue with the way I chose to deal with my disability. Apparently by presenting myself to the able-bodied community in such an upbeat, yet strange, way. Many people believe I am hiding the reality and the struggles of living with my disability, and am damaging the disabled community by doing so.

These are similar to the AFO's I had to wear for almost 16 years.

These are similar to the AFO’s I had to wear for almost 16 years.

I’ve never denied that living with cerebral palsy presents me with daily struggles, and quite painful challenges. Indeed, sometimes I’m pushed back into the mindset that tells me I’m a broken being. I try to acknowledge my struggles in my disability advocacy because it is important to acknowledge the struggles we face in a world that isn’t built for us. However my difficulties  are not my focus 100% of the time.

In addition to the reaction of the disabled community, non-disabled people often have a whole different set of issues with the way I present myself.

My bluntness, and constant use of the word “cripple” makes people uncomfortable, because they would prefer that I let them ignore my disability, or at the very least,I should address only the pain that comes with it, because that would be easier to deal with.

It’s unsettling for people to see a disabled person who is actually comfortable with their disability, and who makes jokes about “double-cripple sex” being the best kind of sex (that one’s one of my favourites because it reminds people that disabled people are sexual beings, and people don’t tend to like to be forced to acknowledge that.)

The reason people are uncomfortable is because society has conditioned them to believe that being disabled is the worst possible consequence of any situation, and my attitude forces them to entertain the idea that, that indeed, may not be true.

But the fact is, whether it is in response to the ire of a disabled person, or a non-disabled person, I refuse to appologise for the way I deal with my disability and my approach to it.

Every disabled person will eventually find the way they best deal with their disability, and each and every way is valid. No one should be ousted from their community because you do not understand why they chose to react to their disability in that way.

The fact is, with regards to disability and everything else, everyone has their own ways of dealing with things and if that method is not hurting them or anyone else, it is nobody else’s business what they chose to do. Everyone is unique and responds to situations in different ways, or, to use a horrible cliche:

Different strokes for different folks.

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A 19 year-old Australian who subscribes to the social model of disability. She has cerebral palsy and is studying social work full time at university.

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