Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Advocacy Differences


Mike is an 18 year female to male transman. He is currently studying psychology at The Evergreen State College between making quilts. He someday aspires to be a social worker, and in the mean time, he wants to fix the fact that not everyone is born with an inherent right to be themselves.   
I am a far better advocate for the transgender community than I am for the disabled community. And I know why. I pass pretty well now, and unless I tell people, they usually can’t tell that I’m a trans man. On the other hand, canes and wheelchairs are pretty easy to spot. In addition, it is apparently a mind blowing fact that sometimes I’m in a wheelchair and sometimes I use a cane, and sometimes I don’t use any mobility aids at all. It means that people ask me what happened whenever I wheel around and they haven’t seen me in my chair at all yet, regardless of whether or not I look like I have places to be. There is not a lot of consent involved in any transactions about my disability. Everyone is curious, and they want to know what is going on that I am in a wheelchair or using a cane.

I play a game on campus called Humans vs. Zombies in my wheelchair. It’s easier. There are a lot of stairs to run up and down. Stairs are absolutely awful for me, and they turn off the elevator for the games of Zombies. It is also agony to stand up for that long. Even if I’m having a good day, fibromyalgia wise, I like to use my chair. It’s a lot of vigorous activity and I like to not feel dead the next day. There was a girl who has seen me outside of my chair and probably saw me bumping it up the stairs outside of my dorm and she asked me if there was some tactical advantage to playing Zombies in a wheelchair. Yes, the tactics of not feeling dead the next day. There is absolutely no advantage to playing in a wheelchair. I can get going pretty fast on the smooth paving, but I still cannot run people down as well as the able bodied people can. In addition, I have to use the elevators (I get the key), which not only announce my presence but take absolutely forever. Usually by the time I get to the floor where everyone else is, I have to get back on the elevator and go to a different floor. It isn’t perfect, but I get to play. That is more than I can if I tried without my wheelchair.

The first time I played, I stood up at the end to get snacks and take care of my weapons, and one guy kept talking about how I completely blew his mind for standing up out of the wheelchair. I have bumped into a few other part time wheelchair users online, other people with fibromyalgia or similar chronic pain conditions. They experience this same thing. There seems to be this idea that people in wheelchairs are glued to their chairs, that someone would only ever want to use a chair if they were paralyzed and had no other options. The reality is that more people use wheelchairs than just people who are paralyzed. It is a mobility aid and anyone who needs help getting around can need one. It is possible to have the ability to do something, but to have it cause so much pain that it is easier to not do it at all. More often than not, mobility aids feel like cheating. I can go faster on my chair, especially on floors with no friction. I can keep up in my chair, be out for longer and not get grouchy or feel rushed from pain.

The one and only disadvantage to my wheelchair is that I get asked questions by anyone who knows me about what happened and what’s going on. I am afraid that people will think I am faking or do not actually believe that I need my chair (and in the case of the girl who asked if there was a tactical advantage, I was probably right). But it makes it difficult to go about my day when I am answering questions about what condition I have or what I need my wheelchair for or even something like what happened or how I got injured. It’s really rather tiresome. I would prefer people ignore my disabilities and treat me like a person and just accept the fact that sometimes I am in a wheelchair and sometimes I am not. It is not my choice as to whether or not I disclose that I have a disability. I wear that fact on my sleeve, as clear as my cane or my wheelchair. I cannot decide who is more likely to respect my disability or decide when I am willing to educate and when I am not. I get questions that I have to deflect every time I go out in my wheelchair, and I wish people knew better.