Every two years, I have the worst year.
I had this revelation not too long ago. My bad luck comes every second year, and it's rough. 2013 and 2015 were especially difficult, but 2017 has brought a whole series of challenges that I was totally unprepared for.
This year, I discovered the social model of disability. It seems unfathomable to me now that I was completely unaware of its existence before then, because it makes so much sense, but I had spent so much of my life thinking that the medical model was the only real definition as that's all I'd been exposed to. But discovering this model that reinforced my right to live and access the world as I should meant a new, uncomfortable terrain to navigate. How do I begin to take back my right to hold space and exist? How do I begin to demand these rights and how do I do it respectfully, but with the authority I should have as the owner of the body I inhabit?
I've been tripping up a lot this year, because I have absolutely no idea how to communicate this newfound sense of pride. I have spent almost 22 years being a pushover to the politics of an abled society, so to be told that there's nothing wrong with me, but that it's society that hasn't been built to include me... well. That just changed everything.
Your early twenties is a difficult period of self-discovery for pretty much anyone. That's why shows such as Friends and How I Met Your Mother gained so much momentum. A bunch of twenty-something pals trying to work out what the hell they're doing. Relatable, right? Well then imagine one of those characters discovering that everything they had been told about their identity was a farce, and they are entitled to a lot more than what they'd been offered in the past.
I'd watch that season. What a mess.
There's an unrealistic expectation that disabled people will automatically be agreeable when the bare minimum is offered. That we'll somehow be grateful that we have been offered a teaspoon of icecream when the kids at the 'normal' table get a full bowl of it to themselves. But no, fuck that. I want the bowl, and we should all be sitting at the same table.
I'm a millenial, and we're constantly fighting the notion that we're all entitled trust-fund brats with no real concept of how the world works. This gets even trickier when disability is thrown into the mix, because a disabled person demanding respect is different to a disabled millenial demanding respect. I'm immediately more difficult to deal with, more entitled, more cynical, more... whatever. That's upsetting. These judgements are hurtful and they couldn't be farther from the truth. I'm overworked 98% of the time because that's what's expected of me as a millenial. I can't keep doing that, and I've been trying to find ways to cut it down. But I don't know how, and I've been getting it very wrong in the process.
When we mess up and we have to face the consequences, it can be rough. Really rough. But not all consequences have to be negative. They can be learning experiences on both sides. I'm going to try to advocate for myself as best as I can and if I mess up and hurt someone in the process, I'm going to deal with those consequences, apologise, make amends, and learn from that experience. But that has to go both ways. I'll get it wrong. I'll often be problematic. I'm not infallible. I'm also not always the problem, and I'm learning that now. It's not okay to be oppressed, and it's okay for me to speak up about it.
When you're young, you're taught to respect your elders. School taught me not to talk back. It also taught me that I was less than everyone else. I know that that's false, now. But do you know how difficult it is to unlearn all of that?
I deserve to take up space. I deserve to be heard. I deserve to have authority over my body, its actions, its representation, its movements. I deserve to hold the same rights, privileges, and be afforded the same respect that abled people are afforded.
And I didn't truly believe that until this year.
I do now.
So bare with me, because I'm going to mess up, and I'm going to get it wrong until I start getting it right. It's been a truly awful year trying to come to terms with this new identity, one of ownership, respect, and agency... Many people have disappeared in this process and I'm sure others have struggled with it, too. I know I haven't done it well, or done it right. I'm learning a new language, find a new identity, building a new life, and trying to find my feet.
But I can't keep giving into the medical model of disability anymore. I won't keep conforming to the standards of a society designed to keep me down. We deserve better than that. We deserve to take up space.
So thanks, 2017. You've been horrendous to me this year, for a number of reasons. But you also brought me this revelation of sorts... Your thank you card is in the mail.