Spectacularly Crippled: On Academia, Disability, and Institutionalized Pity
The last two weeks have been a mixed experience of pain, joy, and anger. This is not a drama post. I have found wonderful people since I arrived, I am getting used to the overwhelming energy of these woods, and I have experienced moments of validation that have filled my soul with happiness. For the first time in my life, I know in my heart I will be fine. But I am navigating the process of adapting to the institutional culture of a top tier research university as a disabled trans being with no home who comes from a place associated with violence, ignorance, and misery.
This is about the deployment of institutionalized pity within U.S. academia as a procedural performance of empathy activated to deal with difference, dissidence, and conflict. I am talking about the affects/reactions I arise when I question people for whom I am inherently ignorant and incapable, who can’t stand my honest opinion even when they asked for it, but who need to follow scripted phrases, gestures, and reactions offered by them as “recipes” for diversity and inclusion.
This is about the freak out but robotic “I am so sorry, do you want to go to Counseling and Psych” and the “we offer yoga classes on campus” that follows every time I disclose any of my disabilities or any of my experiences of trauma. This is about the power points, the workshops, the institutionalized knowledges about how to handle a “crisis” or a disagreement that reinforce hurtful stereotypes and that alienate people of color, queer./trans people, and disabled people–while they supposedly aim to do the contrary. We are dangerous when is convenient for pedagogical purposes, but also pictured as fragile and infantilized people when they need too. We are “lucky“ to be here and therefore ignorants without any professional or academic experience. We need to sit down and stay quiet, while they feel “sorry” and teach us how to handle our oppression. Only sugar coated forms of truth tend to be accepted.
As I become visibly disabled and visibly trans, I also become “spectacularly crippled”. I am a living wonder who makes others visibly uncomfortable and visibly curious–a source of uncanny fascination. People freak out with me. People take pictures/record videos of me and my service dog without asking. People touch us without consent. People assume I cannot be trusted. People “help” me when they are actually bothering me–so when I say “thank you, I am good” they get mad at me. People also get mad at me when I don’t let them pet Meera, when I answer with anger to ableism, when I share too much or share too little about my “exotic background”, etc, etc, etc.
My sense of being “genderless” is linked with my visceral rejection to being understood as a “human” subject myself. This is connected to my feelings/experiences of non-belonging and to my inner sense of constant displacement from the present–from what implies this here and now in terms of embodiment and relationality. Perpetuating categories of social difference as the only way of understanding differences and commonalities reproduces humanist systems of oppression. Institutionalized modes of approaching trainings on “diversity and inclusion” exclude the people they are supposedly conceptualized for.
Navigating spaces defined by the performance of pity is becoming really draining. I need to become palatable but not too much. I have learned to hold my breath and make the “tokenize me, baby” moves I have learn to make from my own teachers. I am whatever you want me to be: I am Spectacularly Cripple. This implies smiling to microagressions, constant unpaid pedagogical labor, and the ability to hold pain– a lot of pain.