Fixing It?

If authenticity represents a greater risk for disabled people, then how do you claim the joy Dr. Brene Brown contends comes from feeling connected which can only be achieved with authenticity and vulnerability? If societal expectations and perceptions of disability foster a disconnect how do you establish connection?

I have been struggling to answer these questions explicitly over the past week, but on some level my entire life. I know being authentic and vulnerable is not easy for anyone, disabled or not. My intuition says disability is a complicating factor like other marginalized group affiliations, but probably represents a dynamic with more impact than most. It is unique because society defines group membership by something the individual cannot “do”, pigeonholes members into a tragic but brave category, and yet somehow ignores the fact that membership is a constant possibility. What my intuition refuses to cough up is the way to deal with disability so that it does not decrease one’s chance to create connections.

I have some pieces of the answer, like shame. Dr. Brown defines it as the fear of not being worthy of connection – is there something about me that if others knew would make me unworthy in their eyes? Disability is in fact such a stigmatizing trait that we attempt to conceal, divorce ourselves from, and distract so others do not notice. Blind people wear dark glasses, learn to mimic sighted mannerisms, and my personal failing – become paranoid about clothes matching. People with scars cover them up. Deaf people sometimes hide their hearing aids. People with prosthetic legs avoid shorts. The list goes on.

I know and have sometimes parroted the rationalization behind concealment. We live in a world that perceives disability and the “defects” that define it as negatives. Hiding those traits facilitates social interaction. In other words, we do it to maybe avoid some of the crap dished out to us every day.

Yet in order to be authentic and vulnerable, disabled people need to stop hiding “flaws.” This will in theory lead to a greater feeling of connectedness. My question, still unanswered, is whether the gain in authenticity can overcome the disconnect inherent in being disabled.

Long ago I stopped concealing my physical manifestations of disability, but I still experience shame. If people find out how much help I need, will they think I’m worthy of knowing? What if I seem incapable? Believe it or not, I experience shame simply by running into something while using my cane. Though I joke around about “sucking as a blind person,” it’s just a way of trying to coat my shortcomings in a layer of humor that might make them more palatable.

Maybe my problems finding connection are because I don’t show my weaknesses. I equally know it is true that societal perceptions and expectations surrounding disability make connection more difficult. I am an imperfect being. The world is an imperfect thing. Guess we could all stand for some improvement.

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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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