10 April 2012

Passing ... Or Not

Embodying an invisible disability means I'm constantly in a state of passing, whether I want to be or not, unless I make a deliberate point of naming the disability. 

But that act of naming flies in the face of what Robert McRuer calls, in his book Crip Theory, "compulsory able-bodiedness" -- a cultural norm that insists upon ability, or non-disability, as normal.

Naming myself "ill" or "disabled" is transgressive within this paradigm.  Failing to fake able-bodied status is to court shame in a cultural milieu in which the idea that "health is the only thing" is regularly trumpeted.  The "crippled" are objects for pity, because a full and fulfilling life , according to this mind-set, is possible only for the healthy and the able-bodied.

In other areas, I don't strive to be normal, whatever that might be.  I embrace my own idiosyncracies and oddities, and I seek out others who are odd and idiosyncratic because they tend to be interesting.

But when it comes to expectations about hiding illness or infirmity, I have a much harder time making transgression my own.

Part  of the  problem  has to do with the fact that living with infirmity is in fact a hassle.  It's just plain difficult to function when a major life activity like breathing is not going well.  But compulsory able-bodiedness has a corollary: we're supposed to buck up without complaint and bear our ills patiently.

But part of the story involves my own investment in that cultural mode of compulsion, such that claiming/testifying/confessing infirmity feels like a failure.  I'm trying to get beyond that, but I'm wrestling.