We also have the right to be in public

This is a guest post from Thetroubleis, a knitting, writing, dog training, queer uppity negress who enjoys writing about race, madness, disability, adoption and the intersections of the aforementioned subjects. She is a big geek who spends good deal of time raging against fandom and canon underrepresented of marginalized people and squeeing about new episodes. You can find her writing at The Trouble Is…

I’m disabled. I do weird things that bother other people. I have trouble controlling the volume of my voice and I use a service dog. I’m easily distracted and have a tendency to become very intensely focused on one thing. I hate certain buildings and noises, they make me want to crawl out of my skin or scream until it stops. I can’t tell you why they’re wrong, but I simply know they are. Sometimes, fear sinks its claws into me and doesn’t let go until its had its merry way.

These things bother abled people quite a bit. Ever since childhood, I’ve been judged for not preforming humanity correctly, as anyone who wants the basic decency afforded a real person should. Reading at the dinning table to avoid a freakout is disrespectful. Refusing to look people in the eye must mean I’m hiding something. Making my mom order for me because I couldn’t stand to talk to strangers was freaky and just not right. It cannot be allowed stand and thus, I had to be molded, to become more normal. The discomfort of others with my natural state was always more important than anything I could need.

I preform better now. Most people can’t tell I’m not neurotypical anymore, unless I’m having a panic attack or am in the arms of mania. I haven’t had a screaming fit in public in years and I walk up stairs normally now. Yet, I’m still off. Even the things I do to cope, so I won’t behave in a manner that will end with me being locked back up, are judged far too often.

This is ableism.

Knitting through stressful situations, or to keep focused, seems to really bother abled people and non-knitters. Out of courtesy to other people with attention problems, I even try to use quiet needles and keep my knitting under a desk if I’m sitting at one. Yet, every time I’ve been scolded for not paying attention, I’m simply told I’m being distracting, without any understanding that I’d be willing to work around other people’s needs. Often I’m pretty sure I’m not being scolded for being distracting, but for the possibility of it. Because what I need to do to get by is weird, so of course it’s my fault when people gawk.

I have a service dog, in training. His name is Figaro and he’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. The general public is not so sold on him. Every time we go out, snarky comments start up and I live in area that’s pretty service dog friendly, thanks to the efforts of our program and other handlers. This behavior isn’t even coming from gatekeepers, but from people who seem generally angry if they see Figaro. Admittedly, he’s not perfect, but his worst behavior is slipping out of a heel or popping up from a down. The act of him simply lying under a table while I eat seems to be an affront to the proper way of doing things.

These are just stories from my life. Other people with disabilities deal with other situations, some much, much worse than mine. Policing of behavior is a chronic thing for many PWDs, regardless of the actual effect of their behavior of other people. The abled community has its standards to uphold and some girl having her dog lay on her to calm her down is too weird to let stand. People end up locked up because of these standards. People end up dead. We end up cut off from any real support any coping methods we may have had, all in guise of conformity.

One would think feminists, who I hear aren’t too keen on the policing of womens’ behavior, would see the parallels in policing the behavior of other marginalized people. Really, truth be told, the feminist movement has never been very good at being inclusive, at understanding intersecting oppressions. Therefore, I’m not very surprised, just further disappointed. This happens time and time again in various movements sold as progressive.

All people, have the right to public spaces, even people who annoy you. Sometimes, because of conflicting access needs, compromises need to be made, but shunning people who don’t preform correctly isn’t compromise. It’s just more of the same bigotry. We no longer have ugly laws but people still attempt to enforce the spirit of them. Ableism isn’t feminism, so if you’re abled, actually listening to PWDs? It’s a capital idea.

10 thoughts on “We also have the right to be in public

  1. This was a really cool post. My disability seems to be a little different from yours, but I identified a lot with some of what you said. Most abled people simply find any source of nonconformity or difference to be threatening, which is why I only rarely take “offending” people seriously. I’ve also had similar frustration with feminism and some of the larger… disenfranchised groups, for lack of a better term. A lot of them seem to get so caught up in Their Issue they’re willing to steamroll anyone else in their way, which is why the context of intersectionality is so important.

    I also had no idea any such ugly laws existed (I was born 10 years after the last one, apparently)–I’m actually a little shocked.

  2. Awesome post! My 13yo son and I both have invisible disabilities. Why is it ok for others to tell us “ur doin it rong!” when we do something outside the “norm”? We need to access public spaces too.

  3. @Shaun: I find myself especially annoyed at the steamrolling becuase of my membership in several intersecting groups. I think that my identity has been helpful from a social justice standpoint insofar as it made me realize other people are probably dealing with intersectionality in ways I’d never even thought of before. Often times being willing to listen to people talk about the marginalization they have to deal with is more important than any talking/writing I could do.

    I find it pretty telling that the Chicago ugly law just comes right out and says an “improper person” isn’t allowed in public. That’s really the root of a lot of bigotry, I think, improper personhood. Well, the perception of it, anyway.

    @Sarah: Wow, allow me to fangirl for a moment.

    Your blog was very influential to my understanding of neurodiversity and I’m flattered you liked my writing.


    Rest assured I am reading all comments, even if I don’t reply directly.

  4. *I’m* flattered to hear that I’ve influenced *you*, the troubleis. Wow. I’ve just recently started reading ontd_feminism and really appreciate your contributions there. It’s good to see a “mainstream” feminism forum with a strong cohort of PWD speaking out against ableism.

  5. As another person who knits to help me concentrate or stay calm—I need to be doing something with my hands, and if it’s not knitting it will be picking at my face, constantly adjusting my clothing, tapping pens, clapping, or making shapes with my fingers, all of which are more annoying or less productive for both me and others—I don’t understand what other people find so threatening about it. I swear to you I will be more engaged in a conversation, film, lecture, or party if I’m knitting than not and giving me dirty looks isn’t going to make anything better, thanks.

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