Trying to be Normal – By Jane Smith
From: Women and Disability – An Issue. A Collection of writings by women with disabilities. This booklet was produced by the Melbourne based Women with Disabilities Feminist Collective in the late 1980’s. The exact publishing date is unknown. Copyright.
Disability affects, not just me as woman with a physical disability but also people around me. Whether they are family, friends, acquaintances or people I may really never get to know, I believe their attitude towards me at some (or all) stages of our contact, is affected by the fact that I am disabled. Having a disability has, and is affecting the way I behave, interact and the way I view myself and others.
The most difficult part of being disabled is coming to terms with the negative values I have internalised. I am disabled and I am trying to work through my prejudices about my own disability and others. My gut reaction was to deny that I had these feelings but denial does not allow me to come to terms with my devaluing prejudices.
I spent too many years trying to “pass” as an able-bodied woman. It was a ridiculous farce with a curved spine and pronounced limp. Painful energy, both emotional and physical, went into competing with my non-disabled peers – riding a motor bike (when I hated it); bush-walking (when I loathed the great outdoors) and ‘dating’ incredibly boring males as it was the done thing.
I was socialised into believing that being able-bodied was best. Not just able-bodied, but with some ideal of physical perfection as the goal one had to fill within a social norm – not too short and not too tall, not too fat and not too thin, well proportioned, femininely athletic, and symmetrically beautiful. Step outside this arbitrary well-defined boundary and you are a deviant. The mere word smacks with negative connotations.
There are certain criteria for fitting into mainstream society and it is made out to be compelling to nestle comfortably in secure and stable mediocrity. I don’t fit and it is only a recent discovery that I’m learning that it is okay. I don’t like my body image but I am starting to accept that it is part of me and that I do like myself.
I have had the support of women friends who have given me their trust and the strength to question accepted values. And I am starting to meet other disabled women who I’m learning from and growing with and that’s of prime importance to me. I am no longer isolated and our struggle with internal and external prejudice is united.
The question of dependency is crucial for me. Being disabled and dependent is very different from other sorts of dependency. I find myself becoming anxious at times, when I think that roles I have performed and am performing, may not be able to be continued. I grow even more anxious to think that my disability won’t be confined to a particular point in time (it’s not simply a ‘stage’ I’m going through) and that eventually my whole way of life will be changed and determined by something over which I have no control. To think that self-management may not be, in my future, even an alternative is frightening.
Perhaps there is too much emphasis on disability rather than ability, I don’t know. Right now, it is very important for me to try and come to terms with my own disability. If to others this seems like I’m over-emphasising, then that’s their problem. Anyhow, how many people actually know what their abilities are? Along with finding out what I’m capable of, I am also learning new ways of coping with things that I’m not able to do and that’s fairly positive.
Meeting with other disabled women is a relatively new experience for me. Initially it involves acknowledging that I am disabled; that is a struggle in itself. Having the opportunity to talk with other disabled women, regardless of whether their disability is like mine, can mean the opening up of a whole range of ways of accepting myself. The most empathetic person I can talk to about being a disabled woman is another disabled woman!