I have had to fight for every single thing in my life. I’ve not just had to fight, I’ve had to fight to prove I was worthy of fighting. When I was growing up, nobody ever took me seriously. Nobody even bothered. Nobody really cared to hang out with me, because it was too much work to make an effort to hang out with the crippled kid. I had to fight to prove I deserved to be in school, and once in school I had to fight to be taken seriously as a student. I had to fight to prove that I needed accommodations, because I didn’t look disabled enough, but I was too disabled to be allowed to participate in other things, like T-Ball, and parents didn’t want their non-disabled kids near me in case my disability ‘spread’ to them. I was excluded from things like Girl Scouts, because the parent leaders didn’t want their kids around me (note: the actual Girl Scouts are very accommodating, but my school troop excluded me). I couldn’t even prove I was worthy of being a part of a group outside of school.
In junior high and high school, I had to fight to try to convince others not to bully me so much. I had to fight to prove that I had been bullied. I had to fight to prove I was not lazy, because I wasn’t allowed accommodation, so I often was not prepared for class, since I could not get my books out of my locker without help. I had to fight to build up the courage to ask the few people who were nice to me to take off my jacket, and help me get lunch. The days I was too embarrassed to ask for help, I would hide in the bathroom or the elevator. Most days I wore my coat, all day and had no books. I would hate myself for being disabled, so I wouldn’t have to ask for help. Not ask…beg. I had to beg for help, and it was humiliating.
I had to fight to prove that I deserved to be in honors classes in high school. I had to fight to prove that I deserved one of the leads in my high school musical, and even then, people only said I got the part because my teacher pitied me, not because I happened to have talent. I had to prove that I could be a part of any stage production. I had a few amazing directors willing to take a chance on me, which always paid off for them, but plenty more didn’t just because I was disabled. Some even said to my face, “no cripples need apply.”
In college, I had to prove that I was worthy of being in extracurriculars, and just like in high school, even if I participated, I was often still excluded. I was often the friend nobody called to hang out. I was often the friend nobody bothered with, because it was too much work to accommodate my wheelchair. All of the proving got to be too much, so I decided I was better off dead, and tried to kill myself. When I failed at that I had to prove I was really serious, if I wanted help from my family. I failed at proving that, so I never received any help to deal with the overwhelming depression I was feeling at the time.
I had to prove that I deserved to go to film school. I had to prove that I deserved to be in class every day, and even then nobody believed me except for a few professors. By then, I was done proving myself and that led to large bouts of isolation and exclusion. As soon as I graduated, and I was no longer the token cripple, my film program pretty much forgot all about me. I remain excluded.
With my home life, I had to fight for people to believe that I wasn’t just an angry person. I had to fight for them to believe that I was actually being abused. I wasn’t believed. I had to fight to prove that I was LGBTQ, and not a faker or fraud. I had to fight to prove that I was, “not so desperate for love” that I was, “willing to take anything no matter the gender” because that’s what people in my family that knew I was queer believed about me. I’m still fighting to prove I’m trans and queer, because apparently I didn’t “act transgender enough” growing up, whatever the hell that means. Then I had to fight to be accepted, and not be branded a freak or sinner because I am LGBTQ.
As I started dating, I had to prove to some people I was capable of having a relationship. I had to prove that I was capable of being sexual, and that I could take care of my partner’s physical needs. I had to prove that I am worthy of being dated. Some wouldn’t just because of my wheelchair, and the perceived misconception my disability would limit our relationship. When I moved in with my girlfriend in Michigan, I had to prove that she really wanted to live with me, and she wouldn’t just get rid of me in a few months. I had to prove that she didn’t just “want me and for my very small Social Security check”, which was one of the most insulting rumors spread about my girlfriend. She actually has a better job than I do. She wouldn’t need such a small check anyway!
I had to fight to prove that I really loved my girlfriend, because people believe that I’m only with her because she’s the only one who would take me. It is definitely a complete and utter lie, as I’ve dated plenty of other people, and she could date anyone. I was not her first partner, and yet she chose me, because she loves me. I had to fight to prove I would be a good father, because I’m disabled and because I’m a relatively young parent. I’ve been accused of “raping my girlfriend” when people discover i’m only 14 years older than my son (he’s technically my stepson who I’ve raised since he was eight, and I was 22), and that my girlfriend was 16 when she had him. That is, when they believe I’m actually capable of having a child, considering I’m disabled.
Now, I have to fight to prove that I deserve a wheelchair. I have to fight to prove that my life is worth living enough that insurance should pay for a new wheelchair. I have to fight to be seen and treated as a human being every single day. I have to fight for my doctors to take me seriously. I have to fight to get people to leave me alone, so they don’t pray over me all the time. I have to fight to prove I’m worthy of working, and not one of those “lazy cripples” who lives off the government. I have to fight to prove I deserve to be treated like a human being. Every. Single. Day. I have to fight for the same thing for all my other disabled friends and family, because I know that some of them can’t fight for themselves, or they need help fighting for themselves, or it’s just too much to do it alone. I have to fight because it’s going to take a village if are going to change attitudes, and change the way we view disability in the hopes we no longer have to fight so hard.
I’ve been fighting my whole life, and some days I’m so tired of fighting. I keep going because that’s all I can do. So many people in my life could’ve changed this for me. So many of them could’ve reached out. So many of them could’ve offered me something I so desperately needed…acceptance.
Maybe if I had been invited to hang out with just one person from my class beyond my one disabled friend when I was in high school, things would’ve been better. Maybe if just one person would’ve said, “what happened to you in school was not OK,” I would’ve realized somebody cared. Why did nobody do that? Why did nobody care enough to be there when I needed them most? Why was I often so alone then, and why do I still often feel excluded now?
If you are a parent, don’t let your kids act this way to the disabled people in their classes. Don’t let them act this way to the LGBTQ people in their school. Teach them that every person is valuable, and every person could be a great potential friend. Don’t let your children exclude others. Teach them disability is OK, and the disabled friend can offer them so many different things other friends cannot. Do it because tomorrow your kid could be the disabled one who has no friends, and has to fight for everything. They might not be as strong as I am, and if they try to kill themselves they might be the one to succeed.