Living with Lines

In the last entry, I wrote of my frustration with people who want to tear down arbitrary borders yet have some very arbitrary definitions of what constitutes a differentiation worth eradicating. Today I want to talk about life with all those boundaries.

Whether it be about sexual orientation, disability, gender, chronic illness, or class, my life has a plethora of delineations. Trying to find my place within that complexity is difficult. Can I stand in both the disability and bisexuality areas simultaneously? Do I need to abandon my gender to stand in the area set aside for my sexual orientation? Can I balance on the toes of one foot to be in the place delineated by all my boundaries? At best, it is a complicated prospect and at worst a failing endeavor.

More and more, I find myself faced with the question of what identity is most important at that moment in time. While working to create a new discussion group on bisexuality at my local LGBT Center, I kept encountering disablist attitudes ranging from people not thinking alternative formats were important to constant underestimation of my abilities. Each time I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that my current goal had nothing to do with disability and that pushing such an agenda in the midst of trying to gain cooperation on another project would not achieve my goal.

Then there are the times when adding together two identities has an exponential result. Disabled people are helpless. Women, especially those of us who look small, are fragile. This makes me a fragile, helpless being.

There are also cases when one identity overpowers the other. Bisexual people are promiscuous, but disabled people aren’t sexual. If you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you know the misconception of hypersexuality cannot overpower the desexuality disability status imparts.

Years ago, when disability was the sole focus of my existence, it was easier to negotiate all this. I simply went around being disabled and that was that. Now, as I have somehow managed to amerce myself in the bisexual community, I have far more complexity. Not only do I feel the conflict between the two, but it also highlights my other memberships. For example, I have become aware that being a woman does matter if someone hasn’t figured out I’m disabled.

My mind contains a map of all these memberships delineated by a network of lines and I have instinctively learned to negotiate it. Some days it is about deciding what space I wish to inhabit that particular day. Some days it is about stretching myself between two spaces so a foot can be planted in both. Some days I attempt to balance on the very lines that define all the areas.

Alone I can often ignore this map. When others are around I am forever aware of where I place my feet and the consequences of a misstep. If I had been the cartographer, I would have no objections, nut I did not decide that my disability made me asexual, that bisexuals were hypersexualized, women are fragile, or chronic illness is a fate worse than death. Society as a whole has imposed these ideas upon me.

I am, however, responsible for bowing to them without question. The choice, between treading carefully or ignoring the consequences of walking wherever I wish, is a choice even if the options aren’t particularly good.

This is where courage comes into play. Moving forward knowing you are going to encounter unpleasantness and doing it anyway takes serious ovarian fortitude (female balls).

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

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