Sorry for all the emoting all over the place. It's been a rough couple of weeks, internet.
An interesting thing happened on the road to the next job search. (Sorry. It's the kind of line you always want to use, and almost never can.) So, I was talking to the recruiter attempting to help me find work. Very important information on this whole job recruitment thing, kind of vital, is that I am not looking for work through the ODSP work assist program. This is not because I don't think it works, but because I don't like the way the ODSP program treats its own clients, and I feel like, by and large, that encourages similar behavior from employers. I was fortunate to get a job fairly quickly while with ODSP, where I was then immediately told by a counsellor that I was the first client on ODSP she'd ever had who actually managed to get a job through ODSP. Since I've already explained how mild my CP actually is, I don't think I need to explain exactly how backwards that is.
So this time, I'm using another government-funded program, specifically designed for under-30s looking for work. They, by contrast, reassure me I am not the first person on ODSP they've been able to help, and they like to help, because it grants me access to all kinds of funding that my ODSP worker "forgets" to tell me about. But this is not another rant about ODSP (I promise.)
It's not uncommon that people in other government sectors are better at dealing with people with disabilities than the office that actually does the dealing. In the first place, I'm pretty sure the guidelines for ODSP begin with "Do not believe anything these people say." so there's a level of trust between me and other people that simply does not exist between me and ODSP. Of course, I am not stupid enough not to be able to recognize my own complacent privelidge in this. The fact is, I could almost "pass" for enabled. Which, to the ODSP office means I'm probably exaggerating the effects of my disability, and to everyone else means I'm not really "one of those" so to speak. Which is, to say the least, problematic.
So I tell this recruiter person that I am in a difficult situation, because it is difficult to underline the help I need until I'm already on the job, and that after that, people have a hard time giving me honest feedback, which is essential, because I can't parse what people are saying from what they really mean. I tell her that it is difficult to get what I need to do a good job, and still convince people that I really don't need a lot. She tells me it should not be a problem, that they've done a lot of this. She tells me of a blind woman who refuses to refer to herself as a person with a disability. She says this with a note of pride I am familiar with, and then suggests that maybe part of the problem is related to my self-esteem.
*sigh* Y'know, sometimes, I feel like I can't win with these people.
This blind woman I've never met is none of my business. Certainly, I define myself in terms I would never use for other people. I call myself a "handicapper." because it helps capture the person I am. It's a tongue-in-cheek reference to my non-existence athelecism, a throwback from my childhood, when my disability was miraculously not my problem to solve, but everyone else's, and my own petty rebellion in the form of reclamation. I don't exactly want people to be uncomfortable with me, but if they're going to be anyway, I'm going to have to find it amusing, won't I? The definition of self is a cornerstone to everything I am, as a person with a disability, as an asexual person, as a woman, as a human being who has faith in the general goodness of other human beings. But it always gives me pause when someone tells me they know someone who will not be defined as a person with a disability. Because oh my god, I have been there. And the person I was when I was there was not someone I liked.
I get told a lot that I am conceited. Part of this is because I genuinely believe I am usually more than what other people think I am, part of this is because I work so hard to be an open-minded person, and the assholes of the world have picked up on the fact that that is the line that hurts me the most. And then again, some of it is likely because I do have a strong belief in myself. It's a bit of an occupational hazard, the kind of thing no one outside disability culture can truly understand; people spend your life telling you how special, how you are, how unique and different from other people with disabilities, how much better you are than "most people" in your situation, and even when it's the last thing you want to do, there is a part of you that buys into it.
There was a part of me, when I was young, that believed I was distinguishably different from other people with disabilities, because I was constantly told that difference was obvious and important. One of the first major breakthroughs I had in becoming a political person was understanding that there was a part of me that hated being associated with "that." That I had been taught to hate that is no excuse for not knowing that it's wrong. That I have friends who are associated with that, and I understand that is also unfair, and that I do not inherently deserve to be treated better or have more than them, does not wash away the fact that I inherently believed myself superior, or exactly why there is a vested interest in this kind of divide and conquer.
So, for all I know, it's a matter of the nuances of translation. Maybe this woman does not want to see herself as a person with a disability because she, like me, sees the stupidity of beginning a personal identity with a negative. Because she understands that our definition of those terms are drastically different from that of the larger world outside us and our experiences. Or maybe its just the enabled way of speaking, the same kind of idiocy involved in the encouragement to "overcome" our disabilities.
But as someone who has spent years denying that part of herself, for very good and very practical reasons, which can feel horribly necessary and are in fact entirely futile, it bothers me to think of all the people who think the best thing they can do for themselves is to separate a large part of their experience and understanding of the world out of themselves, like some kind of exorcism. At least while they're in public.
I am not ashamed or afraid of being a person with a disability. I can admit to being afraid to be identified that way by other people. It's not the part of me I like best in the world, but I tend not to hate it as much as other people do. I'm not the one who sees this as a negative trait. It worries me how many people I might have a lot in common with, are being told that in order to succeed, they must think themselves better than me. It hurts me when I think I might buy into it. I work hard to make sure I remember every day, that I, like millions of others, am a person with a disability. That this body, on its own, is not a punishment or something that needs to be removed from the core of my being. And unfortunately, all I can do is hope that other people understand that. Because I've said it before and I'll say it again:
It is not our job to make you okay with this.