Guest Post: Learning to Write About Disability

Mouthyb is an MFA student, majoring in nonfiction. She teaches first year students writing and second year students creative writing. In February of 2010, she will apply to PhD programs to study the effect of class discrimination in the college classroom. She is too excited to spit at the thought of a longitudinal study of the ways poor students are sloughed from the academy, so that she can put together a series of pedagogical suggestions. Someday, mouthyb plans to put together an entire department designed to study the intersectionalities of class, but she will never leave the classroom if she can help it because that’s where the good stuff happens.

This is my first post for FWD, although I occasionally hang out at Shakesville and other feminist blogs. When I received an email invitation to write for this blog, I sat down to plan out a set of entries on the sexualization of disabled and poor women’s bodies and promptly discovered something new to me. I’ve spent the last four years writing about child abuse, domestic violence, about being a sex worker, being queer and poly, about class and academia. I’ve turned those pieces in to workshop and sat through hostile and cruel critiques, and gone back and done it again because I honestly believe that these stories need to be told.

But writing about my own disabilities is scarier for me than any coming out I’ve done before because of the way disability is viewed. I went through 5 drafts in 3 days and kept banging my head against the walls. Which told me that this is what I needed to write first.

When I mention CPTSD, my disability, I get cast by the people around me in ways I find frightening. Even people I would otherwise think of as nice people, people who I work with daily, who have had a chance to see me working productively, seem to draw back from me—as if my disability makes me so different that they can have little in common with me. I become suspicious, because the way we are cast in society means that we are viewed as defective. I am viewed as unable to distinguish reality because my problem is mental. And therefore I am capable of anything.

And capable of nothing.

That’s what scares me the most about talking about disability. It’s being reduced to someone who is so broken that they are capable of nothing. And that’s exactly why I mean to talk about it. Because, like the other stories I write, talking about disability is a way to reclaim that agency. To demand and demonstrate that my disability does not mean that I am reduced to damage.

4 Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this.

  2. *nods*. I have PTSD, which was repeatedly misdiagnosed as a range of mental health conditions, and it seemed that any time I wrote about it it was either seen as self absorbed (in a way that apparently writing three pages on your wedding dress isn’t) or completely unreliable (you’re crazy, of course what you’re saying must just be your imagination).

  3. Thank you for writing this.

    Being open about having a mental health condition is one of the scariest things to me. That fear of suddenly not being considered a reliable, sane person anymore. Of people questioning my decisions, my experiences, my stories about my life. Because being depressed means that either you are just down, exaggerating and need to ^pull yourself together^ (my nomination for an ableist word profile), or you are crazy. And then of course, nobody can believe anything you say.

    It is sad that so many people, myself sadly included, do not realize how steeped in prejudice our society is until we are on the receiving end of it.

  4. Wow, what a great way to put why you/we talk and write about disability, to reclaim that agency. Thank you for starting here!