Published on March 8th, 2012 | by Wild Gender0
Erasure: On Gender Identity and Disability
By Robbie Vane
When I was twenty-four, I had an accident. Hillwalking – I tore the tendons in both ankles, and two years later, at 26, I still have to walk with a stick. My system is weird like that.
It was pretty weird before, given that I was, and am, a genderqueer trans* person with bipolar disorder. But it was different then; I was a swaggerer, a shore-leave pirate in combats and cropped hair. I was a different person. I was arrogant, I was proud. I was also thin – snake thin – never worrying about a tell-tale swell of breasts or hips. I didn’t even need to bind my unassuming, shy wall-flower curves. I was lucky.
Then, well, then I tore my ankles in two. And it turns out that there isn’t a lot out there that’s worse than your entire world shrinking to four walls. There isn’t a lot that’s worse that crying to see the blue skies outside, knowing they’re not yours to run under, anymore. But there is. There’s being a crazy little androgyne unable to go anywhere but in your mind, and feeling with every un-taken step the natural fats that pile on – boobs, hips, arse, thighs – women’s things, female red flags.
Sounds stupid, I know. You think I should have been more frustrated at being unable to walk? Well of course that was the worst thing of all; it’s just that it also triggered this fleshly avalanche; turned my bones into bars, forced me even deeper into my skin-prison.
My mind did the splits, and it hadn’t warmed up first.
You have to deal with what’s in front of you – that’s just how it is. But I didn’t, not for a long while. Sitting in my room, unable to get further than the end of the road, starving myself because I was afraid of yet more hillocks of hip and breast and buttock appearing. Sleepless and nail-bitten, I fashioned myself into something sweat-streaked, pale and monstrous. Slowly though, slowly, after floundering around in a rough sea of non-identity, I saw land.
See, the thing that disability does is make you realize how much of your former house was built on sand. It strips you bare, it lays you out in the middle of the ring, mouth full of blood, while overhead someone counts down the seconds. It takes everything. It makes you feel invalidated – fuck worrying about gender expression, to some people disability means you’re not even a person anymore.
But it’s around that point, face-down in the ring, that you get those sudden flashes of clarity. I was told that the only thing that mattered now was rehabilitation – put everything else on a really slow-cooking back burner, it isn’t going to happen for you, kid. Of course, walking again was the first and often only thought in my head, but as a good friend of mine is always telling me; you also have to live now.
That’s the other thing disability does; it makes you ask, ‘Is this important now?’
Is being able to positively identify with your body important now? Yes.
Should you shove your dysphoric agonies to the side because other people say they’re inconvenient now? No.
Does a disabled body make you less of a trans* person now? No.
Should you take any of this shit lying down? No.
Living now means getting up for the next round, always, no matter how many times you go down. Laughed at in the street because of your crippled gendermess? Get up. Bullied inside the queer community for not prioritizing transition, because clawing back some semblance of independence is more important? Get up. Keep getting up.
I’m not so arrogant these days. The view is different from the floor. But I am more certain of my non-binary identity, more confident, more inclined to answer back, less inclined to listen to bullshit. And there is a lot of bullshit in the queer and trans* communities that you simply are not obliged to engage with or listen to.
If our biology determined anything about us we wouldn’t be on this journey and sites like Wild Gender wouldn’t exist. I like to think those of us who don’t fit the gender norm try not to make assumptions about the way people present themselves. That boy might be female-presenting right now because his classmates would kick the shit out of him if they knew. That guy in the wheelchair is actually a woman, you can’t tell because she doesn’t have the capability to present the way she wants to. If a penis doesn’t make someone any less feminine, then getting around in a chair sure as shit doesn’t.
Appearance is often meaningless when it comes to gender identity, but for the disabled, we battle not only the stigma of ‘benefit scrounger’ hate rhetoric, but also being taken less seriously in our gender identification because of what our physical problems do to our bodies. Trans* folk suffer from ignorance and invisibility, so do the disabled. Being both is a hard, hard life, and we are not being heard.
It’s time for us to stop being invisible.