Today I want to talk about humor in regards to disability. Here’s what I mean: poking fun at myself just to make light of things. I also mean the type of humor that can be very hurtful and malicious. On that note, I am not endorsing anything aimed at somebody else that could be hurtful, harmful, dangerous, or really ignorant in any way. It’s not funny. It’s cruel.
I’ll start with the humor that I embrace. We all know that I’ve been in physical therapy for many years now. I’ve often overheard my physical therapists say, “Congratulations, you’ve graduated!” whenever a patient completes their treatment, is discharged, and is officially ready to be on their own in the real world. I in turn joke to myself that I’ll never really “graduate” from physical therapy. Nope. I’m more of a resident. So, rather than feel sad for any reason, I try to find the humor in it all as I live life while disabled.
I mean, sure, I’ve had my hard-to-deal-with moments. I’ve been sad. Depressed. Frustrated. Even angry. I’m only human. For the most part, though, I like to think that I make the best of my circumstances by making light of things. Smiling. Pausing and taking a breath. Looking at the clouds or pretty flowers anywhere and everywhere. And, let’s not forget arguably the most important one of all: laughing. Life is tough enough without all the seriousness added on top of it. As a beloved relative of mine says, “You have to laugh. Life is crazy.” Amen to that. Why not try and find the humor in life every once in a while?
One of my favorite things is to immerse myself in the disability community. Make friends with others who are disabled. Making jokes about ourselves or the realities of being disabled together? The best. We relate to one another. We chuckle at the certain nuances of being disabled that only we can understand. I find such joy in that. It makes me feel less alone.
Now, say a non-disabled person made a joke about a disabled person. I’d most probably take offense. I’d cringe. Even if I stay quiet for some reason, I’d definitely feel it deep down inside. I may appear to be strong and tough, but here’s a confession: I’m actually super sensitive and very sentimental. I can’t help but take those things, many things, to heart. How could I not?
Non-disabled folks don’t know what it’s like to be physically disabled. They just don’t. So of course as someone who’s disabled, I’d question their authority, their privilege even. That is, the privilege to say whatever the heck they want–in the name of humor–and sadly get away with it more often than not.
Just as a clear example, taunting a physically disabled person’s gait pattern, their mobility aide, or their wheelchair…it’s all unacceptable. It will not and should not be tolerated. Teasing someone about their disability and any aspect of it, whatever it may be, is NOT OK. I can’t believe I have to spell that out in 2020, but I feel compelled to. You might be able to imagine why.
Around the time of my high school days, when I was young and shy, another student randomly tried to mock my gait pattern as I was trying to mind my own business, walk through the hallway, and get back to class. Back then I could walk short distances without crutches. Freshman year of high school was ages ago, yet I still remember the way the boy’s knees crouched down and locked, like mine would. I still remember how he swayed, like I did. I remember how he made it a show and a disgusting spectacle for his own amusement.
Yet the accuracy of his cruel portrayal is not the point. My teacher, who I remember fondly, saw the interaction and said, “Hey! I don’t think she likes that.” I said nothing. In retrospect, the teacher’s reaction was pretty soft. The problem wasn’t so much that I wouldn’t like it. The problem was that his mocking was incredibly disrespectful to an entire section of society. Even if let’s say nobody there didn’t like it, it still wouldn’t be acceptable by any means.
When the boy hurried along, I shook my head in my teacher’s direction, as if to say, unbelievable. Then, she said at a volume only I could hear, “He’s a jerk.” Again she was being extremely tame, this time in her choice of words. I could think of at least a million stronger and harsher words to describe that guy, but I didn’t say them, so I was being tame too. Honestly? I really wish I had cursed him the fuck out or even punched him in the face. Kidding. Sort of.
I think if that incident would’ve happened to me today, I would’ve given him a stern talking to. Or ignored him. Or told him where he could go. Years later, a part of me is still mad at myself for how I handled that whole unfortunate scenario, but I try to remind myself that I was very young, a little scared, needing courage, and definitely insecure. It might be worthwhile to note that freshman year of high school was when I truly experienced depression for the first time, merely to point out that I had a whole lot of stuff going on.
In case you need me to spell things out again, non-disabled peeps, here goes: don’t be like that moronic boy who made fun of me. Just don’t. It’s pretty disgusting, immoral, and not a good look at all. OK? OK.