Compulsory Able-bodiedness

The term is not mine but from the disability studies scholar Robert McGruer who in addition to being a cultural critic of disability is also a writer who pushes the parameters of our discourse on queerness.

McGruer properly asserts that as heterosexuality is the compulsory position of the many it is in its own way the shaper of queerness (which of course becomes reactive, performative,parodic, what have you).

And just so with disability. The able-bodied assumptions of the many are doubled and re-doubled by the placements and displacements of bodies that our disfigured, broken, require accommodations for the senses, or any variety of other taxonomic differences. Do you want  to be a freak? Well, yes. The able-bodied love to play at freakdom if its a matter of style as with Haight-Ashbury in the late 60’s or the followers of Marilyn Manson. Able-bodiedness is after all so static and on some days its boring.

Ah but the parodic is boring. Freaks of yesteryear put on their business suits. Compulsory able-bodiedness is an unremitting social expectation. Its symbolism is unavoidable. President Barack Obama plays basketball with more than passing skill. Jack Kennedy was a sailor. The able-bodiedness must still hold at the tiller when it comes to our ship of state. We may finally have a statue of F.D.R. using his wheelchair but don’t get too giddy. Its just a statue.

I do not believe that people with disabilities should engage in parody of what I’ll call the athlete-worshipping, or half-starved feminine followers of commodified and highly stylized body images. Nor do I think people must be cured to be included at the roundtable of culture.

But the compulsory able-bodiedness continues because Americans aren’t capable of asking questions about their body assumptions. Looking thin and even less than thin is an apriori expectation of the millions though owing to genetic inheritance and factors of poverty millions are either overweight and ashamed or they are shaped like their forbears who were tough country people and who held no resemblance to a Madison Avenue model.

But people are depressed by their bodies in numbers that are not merely indicative of a reasoned hope for simple better health–you know, let’s lose a few pounds and get into summer activities. The depression I refer to is deeper, inspired by the compulsory able-bodiedness  industry which is far more powerfulthan the average persons capacity to ask: “does this image of the body really do me any good or even matter  very much?”

I’m blind and I’m different. I don’t like being different on every occasion for in fact I don’t like the business of being stared at when I walk into a new barbershop.No one likes this. But letting  this go can bedone. You simply tell yourself:”I’m the most interesting thing to happen to these sad barbers at least for today.”



Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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