Inconvenient Bodies

My body is inconvenient.

When I’m moving house they say: only flats with stairs available. You want more accessible? Wait longer; pay more; move elsewhere. I scour the tube map – I can get on here but I can’t get off here so I’ll have to get the bus here and do these uncomfortable bounces around London to get where I need to be… And then I get to the meeting and they say, oh, sorry, it’s hard to find a pub without stairs – can you just do a few? My body doesn’t fit the London world.

In the ‘academic careers’ session they say: Be ready to go anywhere in the world, at short notice, for any job. I look down at my weak, dislocation-prone, support-requiring body. I think about the disability systems that I would need to fight my way into, in every new country (or even new city) I went to – social care services and work support and funding. I think about the adjustments that universities would need to make for me. I remember the stories of disabled academics working in cold huts on the edge of campus because their departments’ offices are inaccessible. My body doesn’t fit the academic world.

When I’m attending autism conferences they say: Yes of course we’re accessible. But… they’re not. I cram my body into narrow hallways, am shoved around by crowds, run over people’s feet. I worry about old buildings and wonder whether I should risk my physical health for the benefit of neurodiversity support. I get stressed. I have meltdowns. My body doesn’t even fit the neurodiversity world.

So I choose. Miss out on life entirely — or fit myself to their worlds, contorting and twisting and breaking my body to fit the spaces where normalcy reigns?

Lately I’m thinking and writing about the embodiment of disability discrimination. I don’t think it gets written about enough. Disability discrimination does not exist in an interpersonal vacuum. It oppresses the body, and/or the mind. Often, it’s not a case of “You can’t come in,” but more a case of “Come in, if you can twist your body and mind into our shapes.” The square peg squeezes into the round hole… and it’s never quite the same shape afterwards. My body is inconvenient — but in the end, to save them discomfort, I allow the the inconvenience to become mine. And the pain, and the physical harm, and the long-term effects on my health (physical and mental). The embodiment of the oppression.

Disabled readers: How do discrimination, disablism, inaccessibility and exclusion affect your body and mind?



3 responses to “Inconvenient Bodies

  1. I think I’ve seen something comparable happening around mental health issues and fatigue issues … it’s an underlying feeling that when you’re asking someone to change to accommodate your specific needs, you /me we’re difficult, and it’s a big thing to ask an event, or a specific person to do something different so that we can comfortably participate. (I miss out on things because I cannot take late nights, I’m not clever late at night, and it knocks me about for days and causes me pain.) But at the same time, because the problem is ‘ours’ it’s seen as fine to ask us to bend to fit. I think it goes with the culture of individualism and the idea that we’re all responsible for ourselves, including the things we have no power over, and not responsible for anyone else even when we do have the power to do differently. It’s also, frequently, a failure of empathy and imagination.

    • Yes absolutely. Individualism runs rampant in out society, and I particularly find it difficult in Paganism. It’s insidious and needs to be challenged, but it’s hard to know where to start when it’s so central.

      • Collective responsibility is something I’m increasingly interested in, and where I’ve brought it up around other issues, I’ve seen other people are thinking the same way. There was a thing online recently responding to Stephen Fry, about how most depression is caused by misery (other people), not some kind of personal inadequacy, for example. I get defeated when I look at vast problems and try to see how I can fix them – I can’t. You can’t. We can speak and point things out, and help build something, but we can only solve this collectively. But that’s good, because it means we can let go of the idea that one person is supposed to change everything. One of the things I’d like to challenge is the whole idea of personal enlightenment/salvation. There’s an idea in Taoism that we can only move together, there is no personal transcendence, so we have to take everyone with us. That would be a useful thing to have more people thinking about.

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