Category Archives: 101

Less Than / More Than – My complicated thoughts on reproductive rights & feminist discussions

When I’m not being a student, I typically get temp jobs working in a variety of offices. Once things get settled, and folks realise I am married, they often start asking about kids. “Do you have kids? No? When are you having kids? It’s not too late, you know!”

This may seem like an opening for a post about being child-free, but it’s not.

I often put these questions off with flippancy or a shrug or just saying we’re not interested in having kids. In my experience, this will often have people leave the issue be.

Sometimes, though, people will hound and hound and hound.

“Oh, it’s different when they’re yours. But what about Don, what does he think of all of this? What about your parents? What about– what about– what about?” [1. Everything in quotation marks in this post is a paraphrase.]

Do you want to know the secret way of getting people to never again ask why you’re not having children?

At some point, drop into a conversation that your husband’s disability is genetic.

Without fail, that has stopped every single person who has asked and asked and asked about children, even when the “genetic” bomb isn’t dropped in a conversation about having children.

One of the reasons why the focus of abortion! abortion! abortion! whenever talking about reproductive rights really bothers me (and a lot of others) is because of the assumption that people like Don & I shouldn’t have children (because – oh no! – the child likely will have Marfan’s just like Don! And everyone knows people like Don are a burden on the system/have miserable lives/are never happy/can never be married/are all the same/should be stopped/are just an example for the rest of us). When people focus on reproductive rights only involving abortion, they neglect that, for people like us, the pushback is to not have children. Don’t burden the system. Think of the children – and don’t have any.

I’ve seen similar conversations play out around the feminist blogosphere. [1. I have decided not to link to specific examples, because it’s a general attitude I’m talking about here. And also, who wants to start a blog-war? Not I, said the Anna.] When older women have children, there is always a sudden upswing in “BUT THE CHILD MIGHT HAVE A DISABILITY!” (Yes, the child might. And the child might fall out of a tree and land wrong. Or the child might grow up to be the next Stephen Harper and prorogue Canadian government. WHO KNOWS!) “Think of the children!”

The same fears are reflected when discussing women with disabilities having children (with bonus “but how will she care for the child?”), or when parents forcibly sterilize their disabled daughters.

This pains me, perhaps especially as someone who doesn’t want children. It pains many other women who, for a variety of reasons, are discouraged or outright prevented from having children they want. That, in North America, these women are overwhelmingly women of colour, lower class, disabled, queer – that they’re often women who have been institutionalised in some way, be it a “medical” institution or a “criminal” one – is not a coincidence.

In my experience, marginalized voices who speak out about this disparity between on-line feminist discussions of abortion and on-line feminist discussions from a broader reproductive justice framework [1. FREE Halifax: Feminists for Reproductive Justice & Equality. We meet every other Tuesday for teach-ins & movies about Reproductive Justice. Look for us on Facebook.] are often shouted down, or ignored. We’re told our issues are “special circumstances”, or “pet projects” or “in the minority” or “don’t apply to as many people” or … Well, basically everything feminists in general are told when they talk about issues that are “special circumstances” that don’t apply to enough people (read: men) to count.

Frankly, I end up not knowing where to go from here. Do we, who are limited on spoons or forks or energy or time, keep trying to push for more mainstream feminist discussion on these issues? Do we form our own spaces, our own groups, and have our own discussions? Do we write blog posts that seem to dwindle down, rather than lead us all into the future?

I don’t know. I know and respect people who have made each of those choices, and still others that I haven’t mentioned. But I don’t know what the right one is.

Maybe they all are.

Let’s Bust Some Myths: People with disabilities just want to sue the world into compliance

One of my “favourite” disability stereotypes is that people with disabilities are rolling lawsuits waiting to happen. I first hit this stereotype when someone directed me to Penn & Teller’s Bullshit episode about the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA], which focused mostly on how the ADA is all about putting people with disabilities down and treating them badly. [1. I can’t rant about this enough because this episode really pissed me off. They actually put someone in an iron lung and tried to get around New York, thus demonstrating that you can’t actually make the world accessible for everybody, so obviously the ADA is “Bullshit”.] The episode also included interviews with a town that was hit with many many many lawsuits by a lawyer who is also a wheelchair user, and financially threatened many businesses in a small town.

Another big-name voice that’s come out against the ADA as being “bad” for people with disabilities (and the nice able-bodied folks who are totally oppressed by it) is Clint Eastwood. Strangely, Eastwood didn’t care two wits about the ADA until he was sued for his boutique hotel being inaccessible. Then, suddenly, he was very concerned about the unending stream of lawsuits about accessibility. [1. And this is why I won’t watch any movie he’s in, produced, directed, mentioned as a good thing, whatever.]

There are two big problems with this theory. First, and most obvious to me, is that none of these Nice Able-Bodied Folks seem to be concerned that one needs to sue (or otherwise threaten with legal action) in order to get into buildings, get written material presented in a way you can read it, get captioning, get… well, get all sorts of “little things” that people with a variety of disabilities need in order to fully interact with the world. (Trust me, I have missed many of them myself. Many many times.) Oh, but they’re really really concerned about the poor little crippled person who is just a victim of the big bad lawyer who is totally leading them on, gosh darn it. (They are, of course, not concerned about just going “Oh, hey, let me fix that right now! No need for a law suit!” If you really think accessibility is important, and people note that your space isn’t accessible when it should be, why do you fight this suit in court? Is this some American-thing I don’t understand, being from The Great Frozen Post-Socialist Utopia of Canada? Do you lose American-points if you don’t fight law suits in court? I don’t even know.)

The second problem is that most of the people I know with disabilities don’t have the time/energy/inclination/spoons to sue about an accessibility issue.

Let me give you a personal example. (The plural of anecdote is not data, but strangely, there isn’t a lot of data available on “people not suing for accessibility-related issues”. This isn’t something pollsters ask.) Just the other day, Don and I went to the mall to take advantage of Boxing Day Sales. And, like every other time we go to the mall, it became apparent that the mall’s “accessibility plan” didn’t really include making the actual shops accessible. Lots of junk in aisles, aisles too narrow for a wheelchair, ect. (You’d think we’d stop going to the mall, but we only go about once every six months. The other mall we shop at is better, and I keep forgetting why we don’t trek out to this one very often.)

Don, kindly, pointed out that the shops I was going into didn’t have space for him. At first I thought about making complaints at each individual shop, but I wasn’t sure if the mall actually had a policy, and Canada doesn’t have an equivalent to the ADA. So, then we talked about going to the Mall Information Desk and finding out the details there. That fell through when we saw a very lengthy line, and a very harried pair of employees behind it.

In a world of sue-happy disabled people, we’d probably be contacting the Human Rights Commission, or a lawyer, or our Member of Parliament (that’s Federal government) or MLA (that’s Provincial). Instead, we came home, and agreed to stop shopping there because this is rather ridiculous.

Ultimately, I wrote a letter to the mall to bring this to their attention, but I have no idea if that will actually mean anything in the long run.

This anecdote isn’t unique by any stretch, and many people with disabilities I’ve talked to don’t even go so far as to write a letter (or an angry blog post) because this takes energy and time that could be spent doing countless other things.

People with disabilities are really no more sue-happy than your average person. Some people with disabilities, just like some average citizens, call their lawyer whenever there’s a problem – because they have a lawyer to call. Others stoically press on through life. Others write letters, to editors, to MLAs & MPs, to mall administrators. It’s almost like “disabled people” don’t all react the same way to things, and have a variety of ways of dealing with “adversity” (in the form of non-existent ramps).

So, in short, the myth of the sue-happy cripple who’s just a law suit waiting to happen is perpetuated by Nice Able-Bodied Folks who are actually full of Bullshit. [1. Okay here’s a link to “highlights” of the Bullshit episode on YouTube. It is not captioned, which I guess kinda disproves their ultimate point. I live in a country that doesn’t have an ADA, and I’m still waiting for Halifax to embrace the idea that business owners should be “more compassionate” and put in wheelchair ramps. ANY DAY NOW I’m sure it will be true.]

Disability 101: Treatment Suggestions and Why They Are Not a Good Idea

I suggested a treatment/”cure” to a PWD for her/his/zie’s condition, and they ignored my suggestion/did not throw themselves at my feet with gratitude/got upset. Why? I was only trying to help!

Many people who do not live with chronic health issues, perhaps in a spirit of wanting to help those they know who are in pain, disabled, chronically ill, or affected by a neurological or mental health condition, may suggest different treatments or ways that they believe the person with the condition, illness or disability should use to “get better.” Many PWDs and chronically ill people, however, have experienced this exact process before, and often to the point where such “well-meaning” pieces of advice get…well, annoying; a stranger, acquaintance, co-worker or relative might suggest something that has been suggested many times before. Such “well-meaning” suggestions may imply some very different things to the PWD, chronically ill person, person with a mental health condition, or non-neurotypical person, namely:

…that they cannot be trusted to manage their own health, disability/disabilities, or course of treatment. Many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses have found treatments that improve their quality of life. Even with these treatments, they will probably still remain disabled/ill or still have their condition; the treatments that they have worked so hard to find, additionally,  most likely work for them. It is not your job, whether you are a friend, relative or other person concerned for the PWD’s “well being,” to bombard them with suggestions for different treatments, or push them to “just try” treatments (some of which may even be questionable in their effectiveness). There is a long history of people with mental health conditions, the non-neurotypical, persons with disabilities and chronically ill people being forced into undergoing treatments, into hospitals, and even into institutions by able-bodied people who presume that those with the health problems are not pursuing the “right” kind of treatment, and that this must be corrected—even at the expense of the individual’s humanity. Unless you are a professional, doctor or other specialist working with the person who has one of these conditions, and/or unless the treatment that they are undergoing is actively damaging their health, it is probably best to keep your recommendations about what course of treatment that you think the individual should be undergoing to yourself.

…that you are frustrated by the individual’s inability to “get better.” You may not say or even think this outright, but in some cases, actions speak louder than words.

…that you want to be given cookies/be thrown a parade/told you are fantastic for suggesting something that, in actuality, has probably been suggested to the individual many times before. In its more severe forms, this tendency is known as the “savior” or White Knight complex. Here’s the problem: Disability, chronic illness, mental health conditions, non-neurotypicality and pain, for the most part, are not things that can be cured. They can be dealt with, but it is oftentimes up to the person with the condition—-with appropriate support from family and friends-—to decide which treatments he/she/zie would like to pursue. Though you might like to, you cannot be the affected person’s able-bodied savoir. It is not the job of PWDs/chronically ill people to make you–an able-bodied person–feel better about yourself, whether by following your every treatment-related suggestion, or being uber-thankful whenever you deign to offer well-meaning advice that is related to their condition(s).

In addition, finding the right treatment(s) to improve quality-of-life can be a long, tiring, and agonizing process for many persons with disabilities, chronic illnesses, health conditions, mental health conditions, and neurological conditions. For many, starting an entirely new treatment for their condition(s) would, on some level, entail starting all over again; since getting to the point to where they are able to function and where their quality of life has been improved takes a long time, do you think that many non-able people would want to start from square one again to “just try” a treatment that’s been suggested, offhand, by a “concerned” person in their lives, that might not even work for them—-or that, in some cases, may make them worse? Because of each individual’s limitations when it comes to things such as time, finances, energy, tolerance/intolerance of additional discomfort or pain, or medication/treatment side effects, starting over with a “new” treatment might actually be a huge inconvenience for some people with disabilities, chronic health conditions, non-neurotypicality, or mental health conditions.

An earlier version of this piece was posted at Faces of Fibro on July 6, 2009.

Accommodation is Not “Special Treatment”

“Treat us like you would anyone else.”

It’s a common catchphrase you hear in some spheres of disability rights activism when an able bodied person asks about how to behave around people with disabilities. Pretty simple, right? Treat us like you would anyone else. Acknowledge that we are human beings. That we have a right to exist. That we should be treated with respect. That we deserve space on this Earth, just like everyone else. Greet us when we enter a room. Talk to us, not our interpreters/communicative devices. Don’t touch our assistive devices without permission.

You get the drift.

Be good. Be kind. Be human.

Now, try requesting accommodation.

“I thought you said you didn’t want any special treatment,” they say.

Folks, accommodation is not “special treatment.”


I know that a lot of us have been told our whole lives that requesting accommodations is being unreasonable and demanding special treatment. It’s not. We shouldn’t have to request accommodations in the first place, because if people treated us like everyone else, they would respect us as human beings and recognize and try to anticipate needs. Kind of how like a group of people walking arm in arm will break up and go single file to let someone else pass them on the sidewalk.

That’s not special treatment. That’s recognizing that another human being has a need which should be accommodated so that this human being can go about daily activities.

Talking about this with Anna recently, she pointed out just one source of frustration; the need for wheelchair-accessible transport to the airport. “Don needs to get to the airport,” she said. “That’s all. Just like everyone else who needs to get to the airport from their house.” Getting to the airport is not a “special need.” Needing a form of transit which you can actually travel on is also not a “special need.” These are needs which people at all ability levels actually encounter pretty regularly.

Likewise, everyone needs to eat. Everyone needs to breathe. These are not, in any way shape or form, unusual needs. And there are lots of different ways to fulfill them. One way is not better than another. And we have a duty, collectively, to make sure that all ways are equally accessible. There it is, the A word.

Accessibility is not about special treatment. It’s about ensuring that people are able to do things they need/want to do. Just like everyone else. We are not asking for special treatment when we request accommodations, we are just asking to have our right to access recognized.

Talking with my father about this recently, I was trying to frame accessibility in a sense that he would understand. I said “imagine that I was a full time wheelchair user, looking for a place to live. When I arrived at my house [referring to the house I live in now] to look at it, I would have turned away immediately. Because my house is not accessible. Every time you deny accommodations, it’s slamming a door in someone’s face.” My father said, in a bit of a lightbulb moment, “so, what you’re saying is that for people who need accommodation, the world can be like going to look at houses for rent and being told that you can’t have the key to the front door?” And I said “yeah, pretty much.”

Accommodation is the key to the front door. And everyone’s entitled to have a key to the front door, people.


Disability 101: What is Able-Bodied or Abled Privilege?

What is able-bodied or abled privilege?

The term able-bodied/abled privilege refers to the numerous benefits—-some hidden, many not—-that many societies and cultures accord to able-bodied and/or abled people. Despite many folks’ paying lip service to notions of equality for PWDs, the chronically ill, people with psychiatric conditions, and those with chronic health conditions, abled privilege still exists, and there are still a lot of people who are resistant to the idea of a truly equitable, accessible society. Able-bodied and abled privilege is often hard for non-disabled people to spot; yet, in the words of the famous Palmolive dish soap ad, [YouTube link] most of us are “soaking in it.”

Many cultures have social expectations, structures, cultural mores, and institutions that are set up to accommodate able-bodied and/or abled people with the most ease; this is, of course, problematic for those who do not fit the standard of “able-bodied,” or “fully able,” whether in whole or part. Able-bodied or abled privilege also encompasses things like not having to worry about one’s energy level and/or pain level on any given day, the possible negative reactions of others to one’s needs due to his/her/zie’s disability or chronic condition, being stared at or questioned about (with varying degrees of invasiveness) his/her/zie’s disability or condition by strangers, her/his/zie’s ability to move for long distances or on a variety of surfaces without inconvenience/discomfort/pain and at a pace considered “appropriate” by others, being able to make decisions about the course of one’s medical, psychiatric, or other type of treatment without being questioned by others as to whether he/she/zie is making “the right choice” or can make a “rational” decision about his/her/zie’s own treatment-related choices, or being ignored by able-bodied people when one needs assistance in public; these kinds of able privilege masquerade as “the norm” for those without disabilities. For more examples, see Rio’s update on Peggy McIntosh’s famous article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” [link goes to Amptoons].

An earlier version of this post was originally posted at Faces of Fibro on May 6, 2009.

A brief PSA on language

So many people have complained that it is asking too much of abled people to stop using words they consider trivial: crazy, insane, lunatic, idiot, moron, dumb, blind, etc.

I beg to differ.

You know what is really damn easy? Erasing these words from your vocabulary. All you have to do is stop saying them.

You know what is really hard?

Confronting people on their use of same language.

We aren’t even asking you to do the hard work. We aren’t asking you to tell other people to stop using that language. We aren’t asking you to confront other people on their use of that language. We aren’t asking you to explain why it is problematic, to answer people’s questions, to deal with their redirection tactics, or to handle the attacks on and harassment of the people negatively affected by that language that such confrontations always seem to draw.

You don’t have to take the brunt of it. You don’t have to deal with the negative consequences. You don’t have to face employment discrimination, street harassment, caretaker abuse, and other people’s general cluelessness about our lives. You get to sit tight in your privilege, enjoying it without even realizing you’re doing it.

All you have to do is cut a few words out of your speaking and/or writing vocabulary. That’s it.

We’re the ones who are putting our safety on the line trying to change the cultural system that oppresses us.

Two seconds to reconsidering what you’re really trying to say? Easy.

Changing other people’s deep-seated attitudes? Really damn hard.

How do you think we feel when you complain that two seconds is just tooooo haaaaard for you to take on?

(Cross-posted at three rivers fog.)

Ableist Word Profile: Wheelchair Bound

Welcome to Ableist Word Profile, a (probably intermittent) series in which staffers will profile various ableist words, talk about how they are used, and talk about how to stop using them. Ableism is not feminism, so it’s important to talk about how to eradicate ableist language from our vocabularies. This post is marked 101, which means that the comments section is open to 101 questions and discussion. Please note that this post contains ableist language used for the purpose of discussion and criticism; you can get an idea from the title of the kind of ableist language which is going to be included in the discussion, and if that type of language is upsetting or triggering for you, you may want to skip this post.

I considered making this entire post “People don’t like being told they’re wheelchair bound. Stop doing it. Try ‘wheelchair user’ instead. Thank you.”

Then I remembered how often that argument is rejected. [My favourite: But I don’t like the terms that people with disabilities prefer, and I’m way more important!]

[I used to make really flippant comments about how no one is actually bound to their wheelchair, in order to make people think about what their words meant. Then I started reading reports of people being bound to their wheelchairs and, in extreme cases, left to die. Flippant comments are less funny after that.]

Shackling language like “wheelchair bound” is problematic because it leaves the average listener with the idea, again, that wheelchairs are a tragedy. You’re stuck in one, and it’s horrible, and you can’t do anything or go anywhere and it’s so very very sad, and isn’t their life such a tragedy. Just because of being bound to that wheelchair.

The thing is, a wheelchair is the exact opposite of a tragedy. As the blogger at Accessibility Net in New Zealand put it:

I then explain: I’m not wheelchair bound. I’m not tied to the wheelchair. To use the term “wheelchair bound” implies *limitations*. When in fact, the wheelchair is a tool of freedom. It’s without that wheelchair that I am seriously limited.

So each time I am told I am wheelchair bound, the implied message I get is “you’re in a wheelchair, you’re limited”. Yeah, I’m in a wheelchair, it gives me wings!

A white woman (Anna), sunburned and tired looking, stands behind a white man (Don), also sunburned and tired looking, in a manual wheelchair.  They are posed in front of a wooden figurehead of a mermaidThis certainly mirrors the experience Don had when getting his sexy sexy wheelchair of awesome. He went from not being able to get out of the house more than once a week, if that, to being able to not only go out several times a week, but doing it with only limited pain. The wheelchair opened up the possibility of our enjoying this strange, hilly city we moved to. [That’s us in the picture, after two days of handling the hills in historic downtown Lunenburg. Usually he uses an electric wheelchair, but we rented the manual for the trip. I vividly remember how exhausting getting up those hills were, which I think is obvious if you look at both our faces.]

Wheelchair user also reminds us who is (or should be) in charge of the chair. The person using the chair should be directing it, even if they’re not able to control it themselves. [This is a great post by Wheelchair Dancer about how to push a wheelchair. Learn it, live it, love it, folks.] When we talk about people who are using wheelchairs as though they have some agency, we’re reminding ourselves and others that they should have that agency.

Thirdly, wheelchair user is inclusive of people who are either full- or part-time wheelchair users. There are people who only have to use a wheelchair during high pain days, or in the winter, or after an accident, or for only six months, etc. “Wheelchair bound” always has an air of permanence to it, while wheelchair user can be both permanent or temporary, and using terms like full- or part- time wheelchair user reinforces the idea that folks who only use wheelchairs for certain activities aren’t faking a disability.

I hope this much longer version of my originally-planned post still gets at my basic argument: People don’t like being told they’re wheelchair bound. Stop doing it. Try ‘wheelchair user’ instead. Thank you.

Guest Ableist Word Profile: Crutch

Welcome to Ableist Word Profile, a (probably intermittent) series in which staffers will profile various ableist words, talk about how they are used, and talk about how to stop using them. Ableism is not feminism, so it’s important to talk about how to eradicate ableist language from our vocabularies. This post is marked 101, which means that the comments section is open to 101 questions and discussion. Please note that this post contains ableist language used for the purpose of discussion and criticism; you can get an idea from the title of the kind of ableist language which is going to be included in the discussion, and if that type of language is upsetting or triggering for you, you may want to skip this post.

Sasha_feather is a science fiction/fantasy fan and anti-oppression activist. She is a contributor to Access Fandom

Dr. Kerry Weaver from the US television show 'ER', a white woman using a forearm crutch, text provided by Sasha Feather
Image: Dr. Kerry Weaver from the US television show ‘ER’, a white woman using a forearm crutch

Has anyone ever told you that you are using something as a crutch? Have you ever used this metaphor yourself as a pejorative?

What do people mean when they use this metaphor?

The metaphor implies that crutches are universally bad and that they prevent the user from moving onto the next stage of development.

There are underlying messages within this attitude that one should rely upon the self and not be using outside help or tools to deal with problems. All of this is ableist, and falls in line with similar prejudices against medications. If you cannot support yourself, well then, there must be something morally wrong with you: this is the message of our ableist society.

Crutches are assistive technology; they are tools. While it is true that tools can sometimes cause harm, tools are not essentially bad. I think most people would agree that tools are good things. Often tools such as crutches are the products of many years of innovation, design, engineering, and human ingenuity. People with disabilities often rely on tools more than fully able-bodied people do to help us navigate and live in the world. Crutches and canes are mainly useful for helping people to walk. They have other uses too. If you watch the US television show “House”, you might observe Dr. House using his cane for a variety of other creative purposes, such as a reaching device.

The metaphor of “crutch” can be reclaimed by using it as a positive metaphor. Some examples of this:

“I appreciated having creative projects to do as a crutch to help me through the grieving process.”

“I handed out fliers at a recent event. They were a good crutch for helping me go up and talk to people I don’t know.”

If you are looking for another metaphor to use for a tool that a person uses for a short time before moving onto the next stage of development, I suggest using “training wheels”.

Let’s talk about the weather

As I type this, Halifax is getting its first snowfall of the season.

To me, this is “Yay! snow!”

To Don, this is “Well, I guess I’m not going out anymore until spring.”

We live in a really shite neighbourhood for snow-clearing. Although our landlord is excellent about keeping the snow and ice off the area in front of our building, there are two places on either side of us that aren’t. One is a business, so I’m not sure what’s up there. The other is a private residence, and there’s a variety of reasons that could be happening, including that the person living there may have a disability and/or be a senior and be unable to clear their walks.

Whatever the reason, once the snow builds up, the only way for Don to get his wheelchair anywhere is to go on the road. This is not exactly the safest thing to do.

Then, once he gets into the cleared areas, we get into the issue of how bad the sidewalks are. There’s a curbcut up on Barrington Street that gets filled with snow from the clearing and is very difficult to get through, even with the electric wheelchair. There’s another one on Hollis that just turns into packed ice every winter and stays that way. The sidewalks on our street date back to 1978 and are so riddled with holes and deep cracks that it’s a very bumpy and uncomfortable trip, assuming he can get through to them in the first place.

There is a snow removal program for seniors and people with disabilities in Halifax, which is great, but it’s not something that can actually help us in this situation. Because no one is actually breaking the law (you must clear the snow within 72 hours of the end of snowfall – and it snows about every 3 days), we can’t make a complaint to the city. I have tried complaining about the sidewalks and curbcuts in the area, but get the run-around.

But hey, it’s snowing! Yay?

Ableist Word Profile: I Feel Your Pain!

Welcome to Ableist Word Profile, a (probably intermittent) series in which staffers will profile various ableist words, talk about how they are used, and talk about how to stop using them. Ableism is not feminism, so it’s important to talk about how to eradicate ableist language from our vocabularies. This post is marked 101, which means that the comments section is open to 101 questions and discussion. Please note that this post contains ableist language used for the purpose of discussion and criticism; you can get an idea from the title of the kind of ableist language which is going to be included in the discussion, and if that type of language is upsetting or triggering for you, you may want to skip this post.

I hear this one all the time.  I am pretty sure I am very very guilty of using this one.  I saw it used the other day in a context that I am not going to get into here, but it really struck it home for me in a way that made me jump (not at all literally) and decide that it needed to be unpacked here a little.

I feel your pain.

I had to go to the school to pick up my daughter because she had a slight fever.  Anything will get them sent home during the Flu Panic going around right now.  We walked to the nearest shoppette to pick up some canned soup for lunch before going home, and The Kid had that Look.  The tired eyes, with the dark circles and the pallor that told me she just wasn’t feeling well.  We got our soup and orange juice and a cab to get home.  She nodded off on the ride home as I stroked her hair, shoving aside my own pain wishing I knew how she felt and what she needed.  She can only tell me so much.  She can only give me clues to what it feels like to be inside her body feeling her experiences of being sick.  She is the only person who can communicate the way it feels to have that fever or that headache or to have that need for a nap and soup and cuddles and blankets.  No matter how much I understand how colds and germs and immune systems work, and no matter how well I know that low grade fevers are actually good for you, only she can tell me how it feels.

I can’t feel her pain.

Just like you can’t feel my pain.

One of the core principles of feminism, IMO, is the concept of bodily autonomy.  My body is mine.  Mine and mine alone.  You don’t get to tell me how to manage it, you don’t get to touch it without my permission, and anything that tries to attack me from the inside is treated as an enemy hostile if it dares grow uninvited.  This stems from the fundamental idea that you or anyone else who isn’t me could never understand my body better than me.

Coinciding with that, is that no one other human being other than me knows how it feels to be me, to be in my body, to literally feel the pain of living in this body.

Even the best of my doctors, the ones who care with all of their compassion, the ones who were and are capable of great empathy, can not physically feel my pain.  No matter how many fancy diplomas are on their walls or how many scans they’ve run or how many times they’ve played pin cushion with me, they still need me to resort to the handy dandy pain scale as a rubric for making this clear to them.

So, how can you, random stranger, on a random message board or in a random comment section feel my pain?

Can you feel the moment I wake in the morning, those three fleeting moments where I forget and turn my head too quickly, jarring my neck and triggering a migraine that has been hanging over me like a shroud all night?

Can you feel the way my body feels like it is bruised in all of the places it rested against itself or the mattress all night?

How can you, random person in line with me at the supermarket, feel my pain?

Can you feel the pain that my hip and other joints are causing, necessitating the cane, or that the cane is causing my back and shoulders?

Can you feel the dizziness that the blearing pain in my head causes?

How can you, random family member/friend/concerned citizen, feel my pain?

Can you feel the numerous side effects that my body must endure from the various medications I need to make it through a day?

Can you feel the rawness of my throat from the numerous times one of those side effects was not being able to hold a meal down?

I am not discounting the way that you want to relate to me, or to express that you share in my disapproval of something.  I understand that you want to sympathize with my frustration.  You may even want to align with my feelings, or appreciate my sentiment.  There are lots of options that you have that don’t somehow imply that you have some kind of insider info on the goings on of my body or what it really feels like to be me.