My (now former) job has been damaging my arm. The constant impact of operating a manual espresso machine at a high volume café is grueling. About two weeks ago the pain in my wrist became intense and unbearable. Any movement in it sent sparkling pinpricks of pain followed by tiny sites of numbness throughout the core of my arm. i started wearing a wrist brace.
i thought very little of it at first, as it seemed to be helping me to not feel pain, and maybe even start healing. It made some tasks more difficult, like back zipper dresses and writing with a pen, but that seemed like a well worthwhile trade off to not feel intense pain and shock all day long.
Then i went into the world. i’d of course heard stories from friends and others about negotiating people’s reactions to visible disabilities, but had no first-hand experience, as my bad knee and ankle aren’t readily visible and i am, for the most part, currently able-bodied (to the point where i’m uncomfortable claiming disability as an identity).
i was on a packed train, reading a book, not thinking about the brace on my arm. A person interrupted my silence to say, “Make sure you follow your doctor’s rules or you’ll wear that forever.”
Luckily i figured out what the person was referring too rather quickly because i was at first quite confused. Surely their comment came from a place of concern and good intentions, but it was still quite unwelcome. First and foremost, they assumed that my body was open to their opinion and subjugation.
i knew as a femme, as a visibly trans* being, as a punk, a faggot, a freak, that people welcomed themselves into conversations about my body. They feel that their opinions on my body are somehow more relevant than my own; they feel that their opinions are relevant at all. i’ve grown fairly accustomed to this accosting and have learned to respond in myriad ways of empowerment. But this was new, a foreign vector of social hostility.
Luckily, empowerment in response is so deeply engrained in my life, i found a way to respond that felt comfortable and congruent with how i want to carry myself in the world. i replied, “i might have to wear it forever (i don’t know yet if this will heal), and that’s ok.”
Perhaps this could have been fiercer in my response, but it did reflect that all bodies and ways of living are valid. Upon hearing this, they replied “Oh, i’m so sorry,” to which i just shook my head and reiterated that it was ok.
This person seemed to be coming from a place of feeling that it’s only ok to be disabled temporarily, that injuries should be tended to and that permanent disabilities are abhorrent and make life unlivable. That’s an unacceptable perspective to put out into the world, as it further stigmatizes non-normative bodies. It’s especially unacceptable to spout that social violence at someone.
Regardless of whether my paw heals or not, i’m thankful for this newfound first-hand experience, this new angle on the world. All told, i’m excited for yet another opportunity to intervene in the world in hopes of making it a less hostile place to inhabit.