Kinder Gentler Jen Gone Awry

The past week has been all about realizing how I have allowed others’ perceptions of me to shape my thinking. And, let me tell you, it’s not good. I even know the route cause and the situation is entirely of my own making.

It began a while back when I decided to become a Kinder Gentler Jen. Accused of being “too independent” and having offered assistance rejected once too often, I decided to take a step back and go with the flow. Perhaps it would make life easier teaching me something important along the way. guess what I’ve learned? The expression about easier not necessarily being better has major merit.

The KGJ (Kinder Gentler Jen) Approach translated into two major changes or should I say capitulations, the first related to yoga. I have been taking classes entirely composed of non-disabled people since April 2009. Once I discovered the teacher whose approach best suited my needs, I let him dictate how I functioned in the classroom. His room, his rules, so I didn’t move around without a guiding elbow, someone retrieved all my props, and I wasn’t allowed to do things alone other students routinely performed solo. Tentative chirpings about being less dependent were met with observations that my ego was getting in the way. Rather than blast my teacher, I let it go thinking maybe he knew something I didn’t.

A couple of weeks ago, as per usual, I sat on the floor at the end of class waiting to be retrieved. A student came by and said, “Oh, don’t worry, he didn’t forget you.” It was in that moment that I realized a situation I allowed to happen was perpetuating images of disability I loathe.

The true extent of the problem emerged when I discussed it with someone, who has a good sense of disability issues, but hasn’t known me long. He was baffled at my behavior, and questioned why I wasn’t pushing back insisting upon treatment that felt right to me. Awareness of my passivity and tolerance of ablist attitudes crashed over me light a ten foot wave.

And that’s not even the worst of it. Looking for a means to change the situation, I considered how to start doing what was denied to me. While I could sort out the mechanics, I realized I had no faith in my ability to carry them out. another’s doubts had literally caused me to feel less capable.

My KGJ (i.e. Wimp) Approach extended beyond the yoga studio to friendships. Routinely people decline my offers of help or stop my efforts because a sighted person can do it faster, better, or easier. Before, I would get pissy, but now I simply accept it and walk away.

Recently when I mentioned ability in an area, it resulted in a request for help. I was literally shocked and ridiculously grateful which led to realization and more shock. Somehow I’d become convinced I had nothing to offer others that couldn’t be done faster and better by another. Thinking back, I even noticed times when I should have offered aid but did not because I felt my efforts would be inadequate.

In other words, people thinking I can’t do things combined with me not challenging those notions has eroded my sense of value and ability. It’s… disgusting. On an intellectual level, I always knew how a person was treated impacted their self-assessment. Naively I assumed myself immune. Something about living so outside “normal” and “typical” endowed me with protection. The unfortunate truth is that I am not only influenced by others but don’t seem to know how to fight back. KGJ has gone from an experiment into ingrained behavior patterns.

You have no idea how much this rocks my world in a bad way. This leads to a question: Can you kick yourself in the ass? Maybe I should consult the yoga instructor on how to go about it.

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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.

One thought on “Kinder Gentler Jen Gone Awry

  1. Wow. This continues to be a daily struggle, for myself. I have to find a balance– at what point do I recognize that my disability requires help? At what point do I stress my independence? Defend myself, when someone makes assumptions about my skills, needs and quality of life? Once you add people’s perceptions and my own confusion…well, let’s just say that life is incredibly challenging!

    Thank you for this wonderful, insightful post.

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