Disability, Airplanes, and My Life as an Object…

In her review of Jessica Valenti’s memoir Sex Object (see it in The Nation here) Lauren Duca suggests the book asks, “Who would I be if I didn’t live in a world that hated women?” Inevitably the most disarming questions are drawn from years of public struggle and I for one plan to read Valenti straight off. (I’ve long admired her work in The Nation and The Guardian.)

Just this past week, as I flew across the US on Delta Airlines I chanced upon not one, but two passengers who absolutely refused to sit next to me because I had a guide dog. Their requests to be reseated were directed to the flight attendants with outrage and sneering, so much so that other passengers were appalled. And I thought: “Who would I be if I didn’t live in a world that hated the disabled?”

As I say, I’m looking forward to Valenti’s take on the sufferance and diminishment that accompany her embodiment—suffuse it, cincture it, inculcate it. Instill, implant, impress, hammer.

I like Judith Butler’s sentiment concerning emotional intelligence. She wrote: “You will need all of those skills to move forward, affirming this earth, our ethical obligations to live among those who are invariably different from ourselves, to demand recognition for our histories and our struggles at the same time that we lend that to others, to live our passions without causing harm to others, and to know the difference between raw prejudice and distortion, and sound critical judgment.”

I tried to hold the difference between those passengers who threw their hissy fits and my own obligation to be a person of sound judgment. I kept silent as the angry French business woman and the angry Asian business man demanded redress. Let’s be clear: the dog was not in their way.

Perhaps they were allergic to dogs. But this they did not say. Such a response would have been understandable.

They were evincing raw prejudice.

I kept silent.

I kept silent as the flight attendant promised they would receive a thousand miles of free air travel if they’d just agree to move to other seats.

They didn’t want other seats. They wanted their outrage.

Presumably Valenti’s memoir covers such moments: one is expelled from the sphere of desire.

You were the wrong kind of date.

And then there’s the rub: “How can one who doesn’t love him/herself expect to be loved?”

One simply has to practice reality from the fringe.

The fringe after all, is just as real as the center.

Is it my job to make the fringe the center?

Can I live peaceably on the fringe?

How do the original words, original thoughts imagine the margins? Weren’t we always nomadic?

Didn’t we take the fringe with us wherever we went?

It’s cosmopolitanism hates your variant gender, disability, pigment.

Oh but I’ve met cruel people in the countryside.

Thoughts in my head while listening to the antithetical faux umbrage of snobs.

I think they were angry because I was sitting in an expensive seat.

“What would I be like if I didn’t have to endure this prejudice daily?” I wondered.

Trouble is inevitable in all political situations, and just try to find an unpolitical cry.