Question Time: Gender and Disability

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

Or, the obvious one, given that this is a blog run by disabled feminists! And, reflecting that duality of identity, the question is also twofold:

How have you experienced the intersection of gender and disability identities? And that of sexism and ableism?

15 thoughts on “Question Time: Gender and Disability

  1. I started puberty very young, in third grade. I got my period when I was ten. I was always told I was just a whiner and that everyone has the same pain when complaining about my abdominal pain. It was just “women’s issues” so it wasn’t a big deal and I suffered every month in silence, to the point of passing out from the pain, until I was 16 and finally got someone to believe me.
    .-= thetroubleis´s last blog ..Legitimacy =-.

  2. My problems are near (in? on?) my so-called “female” parts.

    So my primary pain doctor is a GYN. And a man.

    However, the people who’ve been jerks about my problems could have multiple meanings, not just my gender. (My age, for instance. Or our past interactions.)

    I did have one issue when I moved (for only a month, not the plan, obviously) and tried to find a nice doctor who took my insurance. I was on Lupron at the time, ie, no period, no breakthrough. There was blood in my urine.

    “Well, women bleed there.” “I don’t.”

    I know that because I am a woman, it is so hard to figure out WTF is hurting me, but that’s not sexism, unless it’s the sexism of the design of our bodies.

    I worry about the future – moving (I can’t stay here!), getting new insurance, getting new doctors, establishing rapport, and being believed.

    The last part worries me the most – women have abdominal/pelvic pain all the time, right? It’s called cramps, little lady. And my depression? PMS.

    And the worry that my doctors could be sexist? Hysteria!

    How my mental issues will be treated may be tempered by my gender, but before, I think it’s been youth. (Adolescent psych ward.)

    How depression is treated hurts both gender, I think. Women should “just smile, honey.” And we know men (real men) don’t admit feelings or anything.

    I’ve been “lucky” on the sexism front, I guess. Whoo.

  3. Where do I even begin… I’m on the mobile device so I need to keep it brief… Hopefully this will be clear enough:
    what’s going on is since I experience sexual (and sometimes nonsexual but still pelvic/genital) pain, these two things go together for me at all times. I am a woman with, currently well-managed but still a long term chronic pain condition. So there’s the gender & disability identity, although I’m still thinking about where/if I fit on the disability spectrum (I know I definitely do fit on the chronic pain spectrum, somewhere.)
    Sexism & abilism – the assumption that you are having intercourse & that is what makes or breaks a relationship. Performance anxiety on my part… Have to live up to this pefrormance standard I didn’t create. “It’s all in your head” when I try to explain what’s happening to me physically. “FSD is the new hysteria” is another attitude I’m running into & not fully understanding. “Big pharma = bad especially in relation to sexuality.” Condescending doctors. Ignorant doctors. Ignorance in general. Not funny jokes. It goes on…
    That’s why I write about what I do.
    I may have gotten ranty here today.

  4. Delurking to say that I feel that very often when my disability is not taken seriously, it is at least in part because I am a woman.

  5. I don’t think external transphobia and ableism could do anything to match what a bit of internalized intersectualization could do: causing me to deny my feelings and postpone transition for ten years past my first real coherent understanding that I wasn’t comfortable in the gender which society had placed me into.


    Because by the time my feelings regarding my gender had become truly cogent in my mind I had already been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. I was labelled, different. I could feel that I wasn’t a normal boy and that I longed to be a girl. And therein lay the problem. I knew that I wasn’t a normal boy, but I wasn’t supposed to be a normal boy.

    So I went though my childhood knowing that I felt like I ought to be a girl and that I was unhappy with my assigned gender. But I was Aspie, I wasn’t supposed to be comfortable with my gender identity anyway because I wasn’t supposed to be like the other boys.

    I felt like a girl.

    But on the other hand, Aspies aren’t supposed to feel.

    It wasn’t until my adulthood when I started to question my diagnosis that I started to be able to really face my gender. Upon coming out I started facing from my family the second most difficult and damaging incarnation of ableist transphobia in my life:

    “Aspergers’ brains are really extra masculine brains therefore you can’t possibly be female.”


    I never really got a lot of ableist transphobia from the general public, though. By the time that I started becoming visibly disabled I had progressed far enough in my transition that most people no longer picked up on my transitive history. Or at least they are too focused on my cripple bits to notice anything else about me like the fact that I’m trans (yay ableism?).

    Of course, nowadays, my family is convinced that all of my disabilities are a direct result of my hormone treatments and that its the estrogen that’s making me frail and headcrip. (I can’t help feeling that that’s sexist somehow but I can’t put my finger on it…)

    I’m still conflicted about what my childhood diagnosis means.

  6. My doctor, whom I’d chuck happily out the door if I had the energy to, tried to dismiss my ADHD diagnosis and wouldn’t believe I was hyperactive because I’m female. And females, when they are actually ADD, can’t be hyperactive.

    I basically had to prove that my ADHD wasn’t a thyroid disorder before he’d give me the meds I had been on years prior that I did well on (until I got poor and couldn’t afford them). Nevermind that my diagnosis came before the huge boom, and it was done by a peds neurologist.

    Makes me wish I hadn’t moved, because my old doctor was awesome.

  7. I guess both of my conditions — the adenomyosis/endometriosis and the PTSD — are gender related. The first because it deals with uterine tissue growing in unruly places, and uteri are female things. The second because the PTSD stems from sexual assault and abuse — and while survivors of this are not only women, the topic is a feminist issue.

    A couple of thoughts, which aren’t intended to summarize all of my feelings about this, and which aren’t intended to generalize about other people’s experiences with the same conditions.

    First, the physical — I have been trying to get people to take seriously my pain issues for a number of years. That number is fourteen. For a long time, I had trouble convincing both health care providers and others in my life that my pain was real and not exaggerated. Even now — with a diagnosis and a scheduled surgical procedure — I cannot seem to get adequate pain management. And even now, people cannot seem to grasp: a) why I would need something stronger than an NSAID for “period pain;” b) why a doctor would fail to prescribe me something stronger if I did need it. The implication there is less that I’m imagining my pain and more than I just haven’t looked hard enough for doctors. But. That is not accurate.

    And I hate it when people project their own experiences with health care onto me.

    Second, the PTSD — I feel like because my PTSD is sexual-assault-centered rather than armed-forces-combat-centered, it does not fit the (male-normed) “standard” of how people get PTSD. A lot of people’s perceptions of PTSD — and even a fair amount of professionally published literature — really centers on PTSD that stems from war trauma, often giving only a token mention to PTSD from sexual assault and/or abuse.

    Which means that a certain amount of therapists, including PTSD “specialists,” do not have the right idea about *my* PTSD to help me.
    .-= Tori´s last blog ..Like All Good Things — Stolen =-.

  8. I was depressed for years, but didn’t diagnose it or take it seriously, and neither did anyone else, because it was related to my menstural cycle. I was depressed for between a week and two weeks each month. The response I got across the board, from myself, from medical professionals, and from people I knew, was that women just have to put up with stuff that comes with their period. When I talked to docotrs they’d say things like “go on the pill that’ll clear it all up”.

    Later on I discovered my depression was related to a dairy allergy. When I’m eating with people I don’t know and I’m extremely anxious about every little thing that goes in my mouth that doesn’t get taken very seriously. I think it would get taken more seriously if I was male.

    Dyspraxia and gender is a really weird interaction. There was, and is, so much that I just can’t do (Anthea has a great post on that here). As an adult I think that the impact of the years growing up when I was supposed to be able to do stuff that I just can’t actually is more significant on me than the dyspraxia itself. Those expectatiosn of what I should have been able to do were so gendered (it didn’t matter that I couldn’t catch as much as the fact that I couldn’t control my appearance) so the effects of dyspraxia are highly gendered.

  9. I suspect one of the things which made the epiphany that I had a huge amount of trouble with picking up nonverbal signals or reading between the lines in verbal communication (thanks to AS) so horrible for me was how society says women are not supposed to be like that! It’s *men* who are supposed to be bad at body language and stuff like that, women are supposed to be the ones who are ttly subtle and always have layers of meaning in everything that the poor menz can’t look through. Therefore I not only had no excuse for being flat-out horrible with it, I was also Failing At Being Female.

    Also, I’m have trouble with sexist harrassment because I can’t think on my feet very well or interpret “creepy” signals. I once had an adult man sitting next to me in a train, touching my hair, telling me how beautiful I was and giving me his phone number when I was thirteen and did not realise this was creepy and harassment until half an hour after he’d got off. That kind of delayed realisation is pretty standard for me and leaves me beyond vulnerable to predators. Also how the whole field of sex and sexuality appears to operate on an extreme nonverbal, implications, oh no we couldn’t state anything clearly could we basis with sexism mixed in for the lulz, and trying to navigate that as an autistic woman can be very hazardous. For example, it took me a while to realise that inviting a single male friend to my flat at night to have tea was interpreted as “I’d like to have sex with you”, when I’d intended it as “I’d like to get to know you as a platonic friend and would prefer to do it in a place where I am comfortable and it is quiet.” Mix in unrealised asexuality and the end result of /that/ was one traumatic sexual encounter I could have done without.

    Also, I’ve always given up on fashion because decoding the various implications of clothing falls into the body language category for me, and things like makeup, jewellery, doing more with my hair than washing it and cutting it once in a while are too spoon-consumptive to do on more than special occasions. (Oh yeah, and hairstyle implications are also body language territory.) This both means that my gender presentation is far less feminine than I’d like, and that I wind up being subject to the criticisms people make of women who don’t present themselves as very feminine and don’t appear to take much care with their appearance. (Luckily my environment is now pretty accepting as among mathematicians my clothing style isn’t that unusual, but school was “fun” and venturing outside the maths department is… well. )

    I haven’t encountered any real trouble thanks to the “all Aspies are male” stereotype yet, but yet is the operative word – I’ve only been dxed for less than two months, give me time! I *have* heard some “I’d never have guessed”s, and I really don’t want to speculate how much of that is because I use the pronoun “she”. (And, you know, different socialisation of men and women leading to autistic symptoms presenting differently leading to the fact that people’s ideas of Asperger’s are biased towards how it presents in men, which seems to be an explanation for the underdiagnosis of AS women being tossed around these days.)

    Oh yeah, and re another disability – thinking about it, I really don’t want to know how the stutter plays into people’s tendency to dismiss things women say, interrupt them, etc. I do often notice myself being interrupted or ignored when I try to say something. Also, stuttering is not usually associated with women (to be fair, there *are* something like five times as many male stutterers). In some sense I’m lucky because the AS already destroys the whole “woman are eloquent and socially skilled and comfortable in social situations” thing, so stuttering doesn’t really change much. In fact, I suspect that one of the reasons I escaped bullying as a child was that classmates could blame all my weirdness on the stutter and then pitied me instead. *shrugs*

  10. Kaz:

    I have trouble with sexist harrassment because I can’t think on my feet very well or interpret “creepy” signals.

    Me, too. This is probably the biggest way in which gender and disability intersect for me — tying in to the can’t-think-on-one’s-feet thing, for me, is my very rigid, literal-minded way of thinking. When I was a young teenager, I was in a completely nonconsensual “relationship” that maybe lasted a few weeks or a couple months, with a total stranger who touched me sexually, that only ended because *HE* thought I was too crazy for him. I did not think to refuse his advances, or to break off the thing even though it was horribly traumatic, because it never occurred to me that I had the right to do so.

  11. @Samantha (#5) – One of my friends is transitioning and when she came out to her family they told her they don’t believe her. When she was little, she was diagnosed with autism (I think PDD-NOS but it may have been Asperger’s). Apparently they haven’t really done much with this diagnosis until now.

  12. I tried to write a comment about this question, and some of the comments about gender and autism, and I ended up having to write a rather long blog entry about it. A lot of it is pretty much saying what Kaz just said in #9. This thread and the things I’ve been thinking about shows that there are just so many connections between feminism and neurodiversity/disability rights in general. It’s really unfortunate that most mainstream feminists are pretty much ignorant of it.
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..On Failing Girlhood: Thoughts on Gender & Disability =-.

  13. Bit late to this one, but here goes:

    The expectations of what being female is both Maia and Sarah talked about apply to me; I struggle and have struggled with things like makeup, being graceful, reading social clues etc. On the flip side, I struggle with the idea that women have to prove themselves as being as good as men by completing physical tasks that on an individual level may be difficult – I often have to ask the nearest person (who may or may not be male) to, say, unscrew a bottle cap – and that’s assumed to be typical female weakness, rather than an ability issue.

    My PTSD was repeatedly diagnosed as… pretty much everything else in the world, but particularly borderline personality disorder. I’m being careful here, because I don’t want to negate the experience of those who feel that is the appropriate diagnosis for them, but for me it really felt like a case that if I was a male combat veteran (not that I’m suggesting they have it easy) I would have been diagnosed with ptsd – an injury as a result of something that happened to me. As a teenage girl who had been raped and abused, it was easier to just decide that there was something inherently wrong with me, which was conveniently associated with lying and seeking out abusive situations.

    And then there’s the fact that the fear most women are socialised to feel, particularly when out at night, is compounded by the fact that my limited ability makes me feel twice as vulnerable, even if this isn’t supported by the facts. I can’t drive, I can’t fight meaningfully nor can I really run. I feel that the “why were you walking late at night?” phenomenon hits those of us who can’t drive for whatever reason doubly hard.
    .-= anthea´s last blog ..In Review =-.

  14. My problems, migraines and adenomyosis/endometriosis, were mostly ignored in the past because they were considered “normal” female problems. Cramps with tons of clots until I pass out gave me a rec of Tylenol and Midol. Migraines gave me the same.

    My new doc put me on a medication regimen for the migraines, which are now no longer a major impediment upon my life. I was just diagnosed with adenomyosis with a follow-up next week for treatment options (YAY). Having women doctors has really, really helped.

  15. Having something like endometriosis be taken seriously is… a complete rarity in our medical field. Honestly. It’s very, very rare. Even when it’s pain that makes you want to die because you can’t see anything beyond that pain, like the life that you like quite a lot outside of that hour/day/week. But all men see is that your body is doing the same thing the next woman’s body is doing, and she isn’t bitching so loudly about it. Women aren’t guaranteed to be sympathetic, but at least there’s a possibility, which I honestly haven’t seen *on this subject* with male doctors (of course, even all the doctors I’ve seen in my short lifetime is a pretty small sample size). (I’ve had empathy and meaningful assistance from male drs on other subjects, including feminine-coded ones like fibromyalgia… but never on the gynecological stuff…)

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