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To the Guy at Yonge and Dundas

August 15th, 2012     by Shoshana Erlich     Comments

To the Guy at Yonge and Dundas:


I’m a bit new at this, having come a bit late to the physical disabilities side of this game, so forgive me if I don’t sound grateful for what you did or something. I think it’s part of the privilege that goes with having grown up in a disabled bodied that has always managed to pass as able-bodied. I have some expectation of my own independence and right to manage my own body instead of it becoming property for others to manage and manipulate for me, with dispassionate hands and voices.

It’s been an adjustment for me you see, to have to figure out how exactly it is that I should act and behave. Shocking for me that I should be expected to spill exactly “what is wrong with my legs” to random strangers in grocery stores; on busses; in the drug store; everywhere that I go. I thought that I was entitled to a sense of medical privacy. Years of dealing with invisible illnesses has taught me that people don’t really actually want to know, it’s just some way of turning the disabled into a freak show. That our misfortune becomes the entertainment of the minute; hour; day; week.

I don’t think I ever got the memo that disabled people were supposed to be passive, helpless and dependent. I go to school, I work, I’m an activist (even if it is sometimes just an armchair, or more likely bed activist because that’s all my huge fatigued activist heart can manage). In fact, yesterday when you so confidently inserted yourself upon my life I’d been spending my morning at the Ryerson library, working on a paper for publication, which is ironically focusing on how we as researchers can do a better job of working in the Deaf community because disabled people can contribute to the academic discourse now. I have goals and dreams and I’m getting out there and doing it. It’s been hard to reconcile that image with someone who uses a mobility device, who has to ask for friends and family to help me with certain tasks, but there are only so many times you can barely manage not to fall while using a cane before even a young person accepts the inevitability of needing a walker or more intensive interventions.

So, taking all of this into account, please forgive me for not expressing my gratitude to you yesterday. I did appreciate you letting me know that my shirt had ridden up. For some reason my shirts and pants seem to act like two north poles on a magnet, physically repelling each other, making managing staying modestly clothed an almost full-time job sometimes. However, when the disembodied voice coming from behind me, without giving me even time to say thank you or turn around, reaches around my body and physically pulls my shirt down for me, let’s just back right up there. Then to compound it, to inform me that you work in a nursing home, so it’s fine. I’m wondering exactly what kind of work you do that leads you to believe that it is okay for you to decide if it is alright to touch my body or not. The last time I checked, I’m still the only one who can legally consent to that. Even if I didn’t have legal agency over my body, that doesn’t mean that that agency is transferred onto society as a whole.

What does it mean when we live in a world where disabled people aren’t actually given agency over their own bodies? This experience that I had is minor compared to things I have witnessed other disabled friends experience, or stories that I hear day after day. What happened to principles of consent? In a group that has hugely elevated experiences of sexual abuse, rape and sexual assault because disabled people are either as virgin as the snow or evil tempters asking for it, what makes you think that it is any less important that you ask before you lay your hands on a disabled person? On a non-disabled person there is no question it would have been sexual harassment, and the “decent” person in you would have never done that without thinking twice. That in the seconds after you touched me as I used my own hands to perform the task to try to reclaim my independence over something that I am quite capable of managing myself, my skin, my body the fact that this might have been a mistake never settled in for you. You went on your merry way and left me to grapple with feelings of being violated and infantilized because of the assumptions that you made. That somehow because I was disabled, I was unable to fix my own shirt.

Tags: body politics, disability, rape culture

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