Guest Post: Ableist Nons

This post was authored by regular Misandry Angie guest contributor Alex Conall. 

Let me be clear at the outset that I am not playing, or at any rate not intending to play, Oppression Olympics here. (Fuck Oppression Olympics.) I am simply remarking on a phenomenon I and many others have observed. To wit:

It is a great deal harder to convince people to be anti-ableist than to be anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, or anti-queerphobic.

(In fact it is also rather harder to convince people to be anti-ableist with regards to some kinds of disabilities than others! Funny how this hierarchy-of-disability stuff works.)

I think I’ve put my finger on why. It’s the nature of ableism, in contrast to the nature of (for example) racism.

Generally speaking, one can—one doesn’t necessarily, of course, but one can—understand the basic similarity between people at different points on an axis of privilege. Women, men, and people of assorted other genders are fundamentally alike, for example. There is literally nothing members of any given gender can do that members of any given other gender cannot (not even pregnancy, if anyone was going to gotcha me with that: trans people exist), however typical it may be that most men don’t or won’t do women’s work or vice versa. Non-men typically know this from experience; men often come to know this from listening to articulate, convincing members of other genders.

Now, I am not going to argue that people who are marginalized by reason of being neurodivergent, mentally ill, or developmentally disabled (in future: “ND/MI/DD”) are not, generally speaking, as articulate and convincing as non-ND/MI/DD non-men generally are. How could I? I’m neurodivergent and mentally ill! I simply observe that no one has ever thought “being both cis and female” is a mental illness. No one has ever thought “being black” is a mental illness. No one thinks “being lesbian” is a mental illness anymore, or if they do they need to be reminded that that queerphobic bullshit came out of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders decades ago!

What ND/MI/DD folks have in common, however, that even folks who are only physically disabled do not have in common with us, is we are assumed not to be capable of understanding the facts of the situation. Even the most sexist, racist, full-of-patronizing-bullshit white man is willing to assume a non-ND/MI/DD black woman is capable of understanding his point of view. He might well have the logical fallacy going on where if she doesn’t agree with him then she must not understand him, but he will assume she is capable of understanding. Right up until the point where he decides she’s—well, insert slur against ND, MI, and/or DD folks here.

Consequently, non-ND/MI/DD folks (“nons”) typically believe, any ND/MI/DD person asserting facts about ND/MI/DD folks contrary to the nons’ beliefs—however articulately and convincingly—must be at least one of lying about the facts, confused about the facts, mistaken about the facts, or not actually speaking for the relevant subset of ND/MI/DD folks on account of not being one. No one that articulate, nons think, could possibly be that—well, insert slur against ND, MI, and/or DD folks here.

That assumption. That ableist assumption that only nons can know the facts about neurodivergence, mental illness, or developmental disability. We don’t tolerate the parallel sexist assumption that only men can know the facts about womanhood. We don’t tolerate the parallel racist assumption that only white people can know the facts about blackness. Why do we tolerate that ableist assumption?

…Oh, right. Because of the nature of ableist oppression, and hierarchy of disability.

—Alex Conall

All Day (In Bed)

I can walk, fast for a severely impaired person with mobility issues. I can’t stand. I can’t sit comfortably in most furniture made for adults cause that really means default males. I’m either moving forward at 2-3 mph, or I want to be in my bed reclining right then. 
I made the mistake of telling my prior, bad match therapist (who had been a physical therapist, something I didn’t ask or want to know but will never forget) that I spend about 20 hours a day in bed. She took this as a severe depression screening red flag and started talking over me to tell me how much better I would feel if I would just move my body more. 
My current, way better fit therapist (who respects my need for her to be a blank slate I don’t know personal things about) believes me when I say that I’m in pain.  She accepts that I know what I’m talking about when I say guided imagery is helpful but body centered mindfulness exercises literally make me experience ongoing  physical pain sensations at a higher volume.

The First Lady 2/2

​When Bill Clinton was sworn in as president, his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton was expected to give up her partnership at a law firm. When Barack Obama became the nation’s first black president, his wife Michelle had to walk away from her $212k annual salary to perform the unpaid “duties” of the First Lady. We feel entitled to the time, energy, and economic opportunities of women, to their detriment. Assuming no raises or additional compensation, Obama sacrificed about $1.7 million to be constantly subjected to sexual and racial hatred. 
The position of First Lady has not changed substantially in the 228 years since Martha Washington was dragooned into the role. It is still an unpaid, public, highly structured, and heavily scrutinized job expected of the wives of presidents. It is an inherently gendered title, and I suspect cultural discomfort with seeing a man and former president in the role played a part in our current situation. 

We knew how to say “Madame President” if Hillary Clinton’s popular win had counted, as it should have. But we did not know what to call Bill, how to address a male First Lady. First Lord, First Laddie, First Gentleman? Nothing had the familiar ring of two and a quarter centuries of sexist tradition. For all that she is foreign born, heavily accented, and apparently quite shy, Melania looked the part of “Lady” in our collective consciousness in a way Bill never could. 

In all 49 women – all women – have maintained the social and domestic lives of 45 presidents – all men. I wonder if America might sooner stomach a lesbian couple in the White House than see a man perceived as virile degraded by association with feminity and women’s work. It’s easier to imagine Michelle Obama in the Oval Office than Barack poring over seating charts for a state dinner. 

Melania Trump is a wealthy woman who has grown accustomed to a pampered life as wife of a realty heir, who exploits countless tenants, contractors, and employees. After a year of disruption on the campaign trail, she wanted to return to that lifestyle. Instead we are collectively dragging her to Washington for our service, scrutiny, and hostess services. In return she will lose freedom, privacy, and opportunities to earn income. 

The First Lady 1/2

Martha Washington was a wealthy women, accustomed to a pampered life as mistress of the Mount Vernon plantation, which had over 300 slaves at the time of her husband George’s death. After seven years of disruption spent in army camps and on the battlefields of the Revolutionary War, she wanted to return to that lifestyle. Instead she was drafted into the role of America’s hostess. 

The first president, vice president, and cabinet – all men – decided amongst themselves that the wife of the president would have an official, constant, unpaid role. All of her socializing would be considered a public matter. No longer could she pay or receive social calls from her friends. Now she had a rigid schedule of structured engagements. 

Washington hated the duties foisted upon her at the advanced age for the day of  57, in 1789. Her appearance was constantly scrutinized. She had to have her hair professionally set each morning and to wear impractical yet fashionable muslin frocks. She lived each day in the public eye. At one point Martha declared, “I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else… as I can not doe as I like I am obstinate and stay at home a great deal.” 
Thomas Jefferson was an 18 year widower when he was made the third President of the United States in 1801. His daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph performed the unpaid and then untitled job duties of White House hostess. Dolley Madison, wife of fourth president James, was the only spouse or hostess given an honorary seat on the floor of Congress. She is well remembered and beloved by historians and archivists for her successful efforts to save art and artifacts during a White House fire. 

The wife of seventh president Andrew Jackson, Rachel, died shortly after the election, amidst a flurry of scandalous press calling her a bigamist. Her niece Emily Donnelson served as White House hostess for the childless widower elderly veteran general. Eighth president Martin Van Buren was another widower with no daughter. No matter. His son’s wife Angelica could be pressed into service. 

Set In Their Ways

I am from Florida, which is not exactly the South. My maternal family is Southern, descended from  “those Carters and those Lees” as my grandma would say, referencing the peanut farming president and the Confederate general. The (white) South is a region in love with its past and slow to move on. My mom who is not yet sixty graduated from a one room Tennessee schoolhouse. 

I always knew that my grandma was racist. It wasn’t a secret. My cousins, siblings, and I attended multiracial private Christian schools with small class sizes. We had friends with different skin colors, and grandma was bothered by it. One aunt stood up to her, and told her she was wrong, and wouldn’t be teaching her kids to think like that. I was in awe. 

In fifth grade, now at a nearly all white Midwestern public school, I was assigned to interview elderly relatives about WW2. I sent my interview questions and cassette tapes to my grandma and her father by mail. They recorded answers and sent them back. My grandma but not my great grandpa defended Japanese interment camps from their Florida backyard during the early Clinton years. 

Grandma was racist, was always racist. It was never a secret. It was a slight embarrassment: a social faux pas. A visible lace slip under a Sunday dress, a forgotten thank you card. Not something vile or grotesque, not a choice or an action, but a mere accidental momentary lapse of social grace. I can’t remember how young I was when she bragged about her great grandmother, the child slave owner who was gifted a black girl for her eighth birthday. 

Never excuse bigotry and bad behavior because of age. My grandmother has lived through every civil rights battle of the twentieth century, and learned nothing. She has had eight decades to become a loving person and for more than eighty years she has chosen hate instead. The old can’t claim the ignorance of youth. They know better. Hold them accountable. 

Unicorn Hunter Men

Queer women are sometimes made dating prey by a type of mixed sex couple called “unicorn hunters”. Hunters are usually one heterosexual man and one either heterosexual or bi (or tragically closeted and gay) woman. They seek a unicorn: a single attractive bi woman who will fulfill their sexual and romantic desires, equally, without threatening their existing and more important relationship. They want a human sex toy to spice up their dull marriage. (Sometimes they’re just dating but these are marriage people.) 

It is most often the men who create dating profiles to snare a unicorn, and who send messages to bi women, and lesbians and straight women too. So to those men I have a few questions. I wonder if you know what “lesbian” means and if you care. I wonder exactly you think would be “exciting” or “adventurous” for me about being a third in your early twenties starter marriage. Perhaps the thrill of moving past Crate and Barrel vases on IKEA tables before being rushed into the Target decorated boudoir. 

Like your parent cosigned condos, your dating profiles all look alike. Why is that? How did you all come to describe your inexpert slobber technique as “giving” and “very oral”? Why do you inherently look like a terrible lay? From your off-duty Bennigan’s shift leader short-sleeved button-up top to your early 2000’s youth group leader goatee, you were all stamped from the same creepy mold. 

And whose idea was it for your future ex-wife to have sex with another woman, hers or yours? Because if it was yours, honey that poor woman is turning her heterosexual self into fake bi knots to please you. Don’t exploit that just cause you can. She’ll come to hate you for it, possibly right away. And if she was the one who felt something was missing, what makes you think you think you can now satisfy two women? 

Not to change the subject, but where exactly did you get the idea that liking girl-girl porn makes you a “progressive”? And why do you say looks don’t matter as much as personality, but stress the desired “fitness” of your unicorn, while listing no athletic hobbies? And what made you think a ten page job application was reasonable for someone looking for the elusive?

There are many things I will never fully comprehend. The specifics of particular physics, the minutiae of lice reproductive habits, the intricacies of Northern European dance styles. But truly no specimen on this planet nor any other shall ever confound me in its contradictory, self destructive, relentlessness as that creature the male heterosexual homo sapiens. It is a wonder and a marvel to consider I count some of them among my absent relations and ancestors. 

Me and the LGBT “Community”

I know proper English grammar would have the title in reverse order but thinking of how irate this would make my grandma is amusing me too much. 

I am chicken shit scared to date. I am heart pounding, sweaty palms, about to drop on a roller coaster petrified, and I hate roller coasters. One of the (many!) reasons I’m so afraid is that I don’t have a lot of positive history with the “community”. I came out as bi 20 years ago, which Tampa lesbians mostly treated as a heterosexual interloper. 

At best I was grudgingly accepted as an ” ally” to the gay cause, certainly not at all (or as it turns out fully) gay myself. They would tell me how fake bi girls were, how slutty, how they were heartbreakers and hos who were only in it to turn guys on. They said exactly the same crude, cruel things straight guys did.  

When they “accepted” me at all, it was as a gay man’s accessory, his “fag hag”. Never have I ever hated a moniker more than that one. A homophobic slur and a misogynistic insult combined to erase my sexual identity: it was custom made to hurt.  They were wholly unwilling to date me. 

I don’t identify as bi now, so I won’t have that baggage. But I will have the late coming out, the marriage to a man, and the fact that all that bi antagonism has left me a lesbian virgin at the age of 34. No matter how many women swipe right on my profile, I feel like a fraud they’re about to cruelly and painfully reject, and then tell all their friends about. It is new girl, virgin, and mean girls anxiety rolled into one. And I am chicken shit scared.