Question Time: Intersections

Question Time is a series in which we open up the floor to you, commenters. We invite you to share as you feel comfortable.

How does ableism intersect with any other oppressions you experience? We’ve covered gender in the past, and now I’m wondering how disability interacts with other issues in your life. For example, maybe people think your queerness is fake because you’ve a mental illness. What can you think of?

19 Comments

  1. As someone with daily migraines and a history of mental health issues, people often assume that my migraines are caused by stress or some type of mental health issue. Although this is not the case, my migraines would be no less serious and disabling if they were caused by my mood or something like that. So there’s the second layer of, “well, if the root is psychological, blame the person who is in pain because they could obviously stop it.” Which is also bad and makes me angry.

    Not only are many people I meet bad with this, my first neurologist was terrible at it. She also didn’t take my mental health issues seriously, but that’s another long story….

  2. Sorry, the last bit should read: Not only are many non-medical-professionals I meet bad with this, my first neurologist was terrible at it. She also didn’t take my mental health issues seriously, but that’s another long story….

  3. Among a good many other things I often use a cane to get around with, I have mental health issues that occasionally try to kill me, and I’m trans*. So recently when things got really bad and I was admitted to a psych hospital they took my cane away. That kind of sucked. I got a room I didn’t have to share with anyone so no one but staff would walk in on me and that was nice of them.

    But the staff there — therapists and psychiatrists both — had little to no experience with trans* folk. So I got to do a whole lot of Gender 101 education and got asked a bunch of really irrelevant questions about the status of my genitals which was highly offensive. With being admitted on 23 December things were kind of fucked up with people being on holiday so I saw like eight different psychiatrists and the discontinuity of care was not helpful and I got to do the education thing with every single one of them because they were all like curious and shit. That was so fun let me tell you.

  4. I think your age intersects with disability in interesting ways.

    Take that recent play – because Cassandra is a baby, she’s worthless, she hasn’t lived a life. Or somebody really old, whatever we decide is “really old.”

    The worst I can remember is being told that “no one has that much pain at 17” when I did have “that much” you pain-free meanie.

    Kaninchenzero – so with you on the bad timing with the psych wards/hospitals. If it’s such a bad time, WHY did you let me check in? (I checked in on Thursday, bad storms put everyone in a tizzy on Friday, and no one does anything on the weekend, so it was my fault I didn’t see a counselor/therapist until a few hours before I checked out Monday!)

    Back to age – it played a part in my first “invisible” problem. (No one doubts skin allergies for some reason.) Just about everything was haywire thanks to my thyroid. My mom checked my vitals, and wanted a second opinion. So we went to the local fire station and she asked one of the firemen to take my pulse. “Did you ever think she could be on drugs, ma’am, she is a teenager.” (I’d been 13 for a month or so and was already a wicked wicked teenager.)

    There just isn’t much out there for “young” people with “invisible” chronic pain. All the *gag* fibro medication ads have women my mom’s age. So there’s this worry that I need to wait 20 years – an irrational one – to get taken seriously. Also, there’s not much in the way of … help… once you’re at that point in life where you’re supposed to “grow up,” but you can’t, but you can’t prove it to people easily and it’s tiring.

    I think age will dog me for a while along with gender, but age. Especially since I apparently will get carded well into my 40s.

  5. I sometimes feel that neither being gay or being ASD would be that big a problem if I was only one of them instead of both. I mean, when I was a younger kid, being ASD was a big problem, but by the time I was in high school, I was a little better at being with other people even though I was still very anxious and had trouble with a lot of things. Stuff had started to get semi-okay, but then I came out as gay for some reason. I was idealistic, and thought that by being openly gay I could change the climate of my school, which was fairly (though not brutally) homophobic. In retrospect, this might have worked if I’d been really socially adept and charismatic, but obviously I’m not. I went to a very small school and was never attacked or anything, but I knew that people gossiped about me and called me a dyke. This made me very self-conscious and because I’m not good at reading people, I became paranoid about talking to anyone, in case they were homophobic. I was especially afraid of any interaction with other girls in case they thought I was hitting on them; it’s sort of hard to even remember how anxious I would get about even sitting next to girls, or having to read the part of a couple with another girl when we were reading a play in English class. At the same time I guess I learned some more complicated social strategies, and just learned how to find happiness in little things, because I was so isolated. But I wish this hadn’t happened. And I have trouble talking about it, because it wouldn’t have been so bad if I wasn’t ASD, so I feel like it’s hard to explain to people exactly what was so bad about it.

    Presently I don’t have these kinds of problems because I’m not in a homophobic environment. But I am in an environment where socializing with queer people tends to involve socializing in a different way and with different people than the way it is easy for me to socialize. I’d have to make a big effort which would be stressful and isn’t necessarily what I want to use my energy on. I don’t think being friends with straight people is a terrible thing, but it is sort of frustrating to not have had a relationship and have very few queer friends. I feel invalidated because people claim that my college is a great place to be queer, but that’s only the case if you are socially versatile, or happen to socialize in conventionally queer ways (I mean, the ways that are conventional at my school). I used to be kind of depressed about being gay, but if I ever said I was depressed, people would just say that being gay isn’t hard anymore and I’m just not putting in the effort. But that means that being gay only isn’t hard if you have effort to spare.

    Now that I wrote this I feel like maybe it isn’t on topic, because it’s more about my disability than it is about actual ableism. But I do feel like my experiences with being gay/queer aren’t respected, or are seen as something I brought on myself, because people don’t understand that certain things are harder for me than they are for them–or, in fact, more or less impossible.

  6. Age, definitely, and motherhood status. Presenting as a ‘tired middle-aged mother’ for medical help when I first got sick, it took a while for me to get a diagnosis (though nowhere near as long as some), and at least three specialists have dismissed me completely, I believe on that basis.

    I also am still reluctant go somewhere where I’ll have to to park in accessible parking spaces with my kid with me and my scooter not. I’ve heard enough violent hatred expressed about ambulant mothers in accessible parking, and this scares me.

  7. I’m a black, queer, adopted female with mental illnesses, developmental disorders and PCOS. The better question is what doesn’t intersect.

    Some gems:

    My mental illness was caused by my adoption. My PCOS symptoms are becuase I’m mentally ill. I have impulse control issues becuase I’m black. I’m queer becuase I’m confused by being mentally ill. I’m clumsy becuase I’m female. The issues I have with being an adoptee are becuase I’m mentally ill.

    Round and round it goes. I started my period at 9 or so and it took until I was 17 before someone believed me about the pain I was in, becuase I was just a troubled child. I wasn’t sure for a while if I was actaully queer, becuase I thought my mind may have just been messing with me and some people in my life reinforced that idea. THings like that are part of the reason we have to be aware of intersections.

  8. My asexuality is often written off as a part of my nonverbal learning disability or viewed as ‘fake’ because, as someone with anxiety disorder, I must just be anxious about relationships, therefore I’m pretending to be asexual to get out the whole deal. I also look young, so people assume I don’t know what I’m talking about sometimes when I speak about my disabilities.

  9. I have noticed that many women who deal with chronic pain and fatigue, regardless of age, seem to have their pain taken less seriously (I include myself in this category). See also: accusations of “you just want to get out of having kids/doing housework/et cetera because you are female and in pain/have chronic fatigue”; the assumption here seems to be that women in pain want to “get out” of what are traditionally considered “natural” female roles. Because, ya know, it’s inconceivable that I haven’t ever had an interest in having kids. *sigh*

    Other side of the coin, of course, is the widespread belief that women with disabilities shouldn’t have kids under *any* circumstance, which is also extremely problematic and really, deeply disheartening.
    .-= annaham´s last blog ..HIATUS. =-.

  10. This is less an issue for me now, but the intersection I’m really aware of is mental illness and family abuse. At least in my experience, courts and cops seem to be a lot less willing to believe and investigate families if they believe/have heard that the child has mental health conditions. It makes me so frustrated and sad.

    I think part of the reason it bothers me so much is that it always sounds to me as though it comes out of an assumption that mental illness = liar. And I take issue with that. I also reject the idea that I’m less deserving of a safe home or protection because of my brain chemicals.

  11. Well, people who don’t know about my mental illness, like my neighbors, and how hard it makes to hold down a job think I’m just some spoiled lazy kid who lives with her parents. I suppose it is complicated by the fact that I can appear quite “normal” (ugh I don’t like that word), especially if you only know me on a lightly social basis, again like the neighbors.

    Also because I have trouble with social boundaries and am very affectionate, I have been mistaken for gay. I’m not, and usually I am only trying to be friendly when they think I am looking for more than that.

  12. On the theme of reproductions, I have both PCOS and hashimoto’s, both of which can cause fertility issues. I had one doctor who spent the better part of an hour explaining reproductive options. He did this after I had told him that I was not currently interested (nineteen year old full time student). Then there was disscussion of insurance and he found out I was on medicaid. He immediately stopped mentioning reproduction and never, ever brought it up again. While I was glad I no longer had to sit through it, it really bothered me that he assumed that I should not have kids because I was poor.

    As far as gender, I went to see doctor about my fatigue and joint pain who told me to shut up about my menstrual/hormonal symptoms and told me to sleep more. I told him that my irregular periods did effect my physical state and that I already slept twelve hours a day (this was before my diagnosis of PCOS and Hashimotos). He told me that I was being ‘overemotional’ (which is saying something considering that I most likely have Aspergers and tend to under express my emotions when dealing with other people) and that I needed sedation (he proscribed me muscle relaxers, despite the fact that I did not report muscle symptoms). I think he would have slapped me with the diagnosis of hysteria if it was still allowed. He also did not check my hormones or my thyroid and it took me another three years to get my first diagnosis (from a different doctor).

    On the issue of sexuality, none of my doctors know I am queer. I tend to not mention the genders of my partners and just give relevant descriptions (oral but no penetration, mutual masturbation, etc.) when I discuss sexual history.

    Then fat hate, there is so much. One of the things I hate is that question “Are you aware that you are overweight?” I’m 5’3 and I weigh 226, it’s not really a secret is it? I am tempted to give a sarcastic response of “No, Doctor, I thought I was skinny. I’m going to have to go home and take some time dealing with this shocking revalation.”

  13. Like thetroubleis said upthread, what doesn’t intersect?

    I’m depressive, mixed-race, queer, a survivor of domestic abuse, and inching towards gender-variance; and they all feed into and form each other. I don’t even know where to start.

  14. I think it all intersects. That’s the joy of living in the kyriarchy.

    I experienced this worst with depression and social anxiety – doctors and family all tried to tell me the SA was due to me being overly self-conscious about my physical disability Said disability is almost ‘invisible’ and since I’ve had it from birth, I’m *not* self-conscious about it – but of course, my own evaluation of my feelings about my disability didn’t matter nearly so much as their infinite professional wisdom.

    Having severe depression as a teenager and being told that it was ‘teenage angst’ and I’d ‘grow out of it’ I recall as being particularly infuriating. It wasn’t, and I didn’t, and if the people trying to help me had actually *taken me seriously* my life might have been a little easier to cope with back then.

  15. The kind of inflammatory arthritis I have, ankylosing spondylitis, was long thought to be much more common in men than in women. Little by little, another syndrome was described that they called “undifferentiated spondylitis” that was much more common in women and that was very similar to AS. It turns out that AS probably occurs in equal numbers in men and women, but as others have said above, women’s pain tends to be discounted.

    There is no blood test for AS, it’s a clinical diagnosis based on symptoms. A recent study found that when men and women described the same symptoms to doctors, men were more likely to be diagnosed with AS. They also found that the average woman’s time from the onset of symptoms to diagnosis was years longer than men’s. Many rheumatologists now know this, but most GPs are still convinced that women don’t get AS.

    I experienced all of this in my many years to diagnosis. The most sympathetic doctors said I was probably stressed and maybe a little depressed. The least sympathetic doctor (a rheumatologist no less) said that I probably had PTSD from some past trauma and that I needed to “act like a grown up and get help”. (I have never experienced anything particularly traumatic in my life.)

    Another study showed that men who report back pain at the ER are significantly more likely to get a prescription for narcotic pain relievers than women. Women’s pain is not taken as seriously as men’s.

  16. As I read the other comments, I realize how privileged I am to “only” be multiply disabled. I can understand, however, the problems people who are also in racial minorities, queer and/or gender-variant, etc. experience with being disbelieved. I used to identify as queer as a teenager (I for now don’t identify with a specific sexual orientation since the only thing I know is that I love my boyfriend) and I was self-diagnosed with autism for some years in my teens and officially diagnosed at age 20. That combined with blindness was apparently too much to be true already, since my parents used my former identification as queer against me to prove that the autism wasn’t real, either, and that I just kept looking for something to be different about me just to have an excuse to deny the reality of my blindness. This was while I was being re-evaluated after already having got an official autism diagnosis (I was again formally diagnosed).

    Oh, does intellectual giftedness count as an intersection? This is often used against me to deny my autism or its impact, too, mostly again by my parents (and people on the Internet, but I don’t really care about them). “Oh, yeah, we’ve known she had autistic traits for eighteen years [at age 20], but we’ve also known that she is so intelligent!” This may sound odd to people who think intelligence is intrinsically a privilege, but to me, intellectual giftedness has always been one of the qualities I most hated about myself, due to its coming with the assumption of automatic success regardless of other factors.

  17. I’m working class, and I lost my trade (drywall taper) when my disabilities got bad. I worked in construction for years. I could be making lots of money right now. My trade is in demand. But it’s not my trade anymore, is it? And it wasn’t as if my skills could be transferred to a job I can do, so all that training went down the tubes. I’m not in the construction industry at all anymore. I still get a little angry and frustrated by that.

    But my partner is in a decent union (carpenter) now, so at least my physio and chiropractor are covered by a good health plan. That helps a lot. We didn’t have coverage before, when we were both freelance, and when we had our own company. If it weren’t for the union, I’d be in rough shape, especially since my original disabilities got waaaay worse when I developed CRPS. My neurologist admitted there is nothing he can do to help me – only my physiotherapist (who first diagnosed me) can do anything to help.

    I’m seeing him tomorrow. I’m at the beginning of a relapse and am filled with dread. I hope we can come up with a strategy to halt the relapse before it’s too late. I don’t think I’ll be able to handle another relapse with grace.

  18. There’s always “You’re not a real lesbian. You are just fat and ugly and have poor social skills, so you pretend to be gay because you couldn’t get a man.” (Er, I came out when I was skinnier than I have otherwise ever been in my life, I’ve dated one guy and had at least three others admit crushes on me. I had boobs, that’s all it took to create interest in some circles. But none of that matters.)

  19. As I personally explore, and also research, the fields of medicine and rehabilitation, I realise quite how gender-normative they are, in addition to being deeply ingrained with disablist ideologies. My father, a disabled man, has been judged far less harshly by the medical profession than I, his disabled daughter, have. That’s partly about him being a man. It’s also about his very high level of elite education, excellent job, and financial resources. I’m reasonably-but-not-fantastically educated, not financially secure enough to pay for my healthcare, and female. I have been treated appallingly during my medical treatment as a result of a mixture of these things. It’s impossible to know how much is disablism, how much elitism, and how much patriarchy, of course. But I believe these things to have been significant in the way I’ve been treated for about the past 29 years in the medical system – not least my very late diagnoses.

    I know you can’t draw social conclusions from two individuals’ situations, but my experiences here reflect a lot of other people’s situations, too. I think that multiple oppression is an issue for many disabled people, from many backgrounds.