Trigger Warning: May trigger for mentions of child sexual abuse and body image issues. Please take care of yourself.
Note: This is part of a longer performance piece I wrote 19 years ago now. I share it because it is extremely important to me that people who contact The Disability Intersection understand that I do non-clinical (not therapy) trauma support and related consultation because I am a survivor, a trauma researcher, and a passionate survivor advocate who has seen much growth in the field over 33 years. With this knowledge and background, I will do my best to support you and your own healing insofar as the limits of my practice scope allow.
We have grown as the disability community since I wrote this and so have our allies. I dedicate this to the bravery and strength of every abuse survivor in general. And every disabled abuse survivor in particular. Hats off to all of us.
Blow the lid off the body image crises in the disabled community?
No way, buddy. I’m not touching that one with a ten foot crutch, cane, brace, ventilator, catheter, or wheelchair. Nothing doing. Not even.
Find somebody else. Preferably someone who isn’t disabled. Non-disabled people blow the lid off our issues all the time, and somehow, magically, the lid manages to stay on. They’re like the distant explorers who look at our planet and try to make sense of it in spite of their limited understanding. That’s what I want. It meets my needs perfectly. It demands nothing and assures that I blend in.
And that I can keep telling everyone I’m just like everyone else.
Suits me fine, buddy. No fuss, no muss. There’s no reason to go where no one has gone before, now is there?
Nothing out there but big black empty space.
Me? Nah. The people who have issues with their bodies are the ones who just don’t work out enough. The ones who think spasms are exercise. The ones who have stopped pushing themselves and becoming complacent. It’s as simple as that. No wonder they have body image issues. It’s nobody’s fault but their own. And my only responsibility to them is to help them see that.
Lara, the introverted, quiet, disabled social work intern:
Don’t look at me. I’m not your girl.
My body didn’t protect me, didn’t keep him out. I left it a long time ago, and I haven’t been back since. Every once in a while, it tries to break through, like a jilted lover, but I’ve got the doors locked tight. It’s never getting back in. Why are you even asking me to talk about this? You probably think I made the wrong decision. Everybody else does.
Stop it! I can’t take all your derision anymore! You can’t judge me until you’ve been there. Until you’ve been seven years old and trapped under an abuser. Until you’ve been eight years old and trying to move after rape, and finding you can’t use your walker anymore. Until you’ve been eight years old and gotten your first letter D attached to your chest. Your very own Scarlet Letter.
I’m not the one to tell you. The only things that come out are tears.
No big revelations here. Just wild, frozen, unpredictable pain.
It’s easier to kick the door shut than talk. Easier to try and convince myself that I’m really not the woman to talk about this one. Ask me about advocacy. Invisibility. Culture. Bioethics.
Because once you ask me this, you’ll know what it’s really like. And I’m not sure I want you to. There’s no place to hide.
All your eyes on me. Would you go away if I pulled my best “deer in the headlights” look?
No. Of course not. And I do want to talk.
It’s just that I feel as if exposing this means exposing myself as an absolute fraud.
That feeling comes along with the big Scarlet D.
You’re probably wondering where I got all these. It seems I have ten Ds for every year of my life.
I was branded with some of them; put some on myself for being different. Even from hurting from rape. Every pain gets old, you know, and people got tired of wishing I could just get over it. People still do, and not very compassionately. As if it is a burden they carry in their own bodies. As if they hate me. They aren’t very excited when I tell them I am coming home to my body. They say “That’s nice,” and stop just short of an angry “It’s about time!”
This hurts. It isn’t their experience.
I’ve gotten ahead of myself here, though. There is so much to say.
You asked about the Ds.
It’s a long story filled with estrangement.
The truth is, I was branded with some of them and gave some of them to myself. I always thought I would tell this story much later in my life, but I sense the time is now.
It is not a finished story. I guess you could call it the middle of the beginning. The fact that it is nowhere near the end gives me hope for change. A long time ago, there was a terrible consequence every time I moved.
Yelling. Tearing pain. Fear of death.
Verbal lashings that still leave open, raw wounds. I used to think I just stopped walking. It was bound to happen anyway; I know that intellectually. But to lose that capacity in such a sudden, violent way was so much more than my little body could bear.
No one knows about disability enough to stop the blame, to silence the taunts carried in the hearts of disabled children. There is always this dance of blame, responsibility, anger, grief. Until no one can see past the enveloping pain. And the children are left alone to sort out how everybody feels about them. And to build their own self-concept based on negative messages. We need to stop the madness, all of us. I’m scared. But clearly, I am the one.