[Content Note: Profanity. Because ableism is profane.]
This is my contribution to Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD) 2016. It was going to be a post on the uses of satire to combat ableism, which seemed fitting, since this post lands right after this blog’s 2016 Autism Awareness Month campaign. But then something else happened.
Here’s the backstory.
About three years ago, my husband and I moved into a new house closer to the university where I earned my MA, so that I could go to graduate school. To cut everyone’s costs, we rented one of the bedrooms to my husband’s best friend.
Things went okay for a few months, until Friend got a new girlfriend. New Girlfriend all but moved in with us – she was there at least as much as Friend was, and she treated the place like her home. Which is to say that she treated it like her personal dumping ground and us like the staff who were supposed to clean it up.
Friend, after a couple half-hearted protests at this behavior, did nothing. Nor did he even try to clean up after his girlfriend. My husband regularly proclaimed himself too tired and overwhelmed. Worse, when I would point out that the increasing squalor was actually making me ill, my husband would defend Girlfriend on the grounds that “she has a mental illness.”
Things ended when the house made me so ill I was forced to move out, which made my husband realize I was not fucking around anymore, and Friend and Girlfriend moved out without ever apologizing for their respective fuckups or doing a goddamned thing to remedy them. I – entirely on my own – ended up cleaning up the squalor they left behind (and losing a week to illness to do it), despite the fact that I worked two jobs and was going to graduate school full-time, meaning that I had more responsibilities than everyone else in the house combined. (That kind of self-killing drive is the subject of another post.)
Husband and I largely just stopped talking about what had happened after it became clear that he was going to continue to defend Friend and Girlfriend.
Yesterday, we finished moving out of that house. Because of the unresolved bullshit over cleaning up after Friend and Girlfriend (and Husband), I had a PTSD episode. Husband, once again, defended Friend and Girlfriend: I was supposed to forgive her for screwing me over “because she has a mental illness.”
Okay. But so do I.
I’ve written about this double standard before because I have heard it before. I am supposed to let someone abuse me because they are autistic, and it is wrong to stand up to them even though I too am autistic. But I’m bringing it up again today because I want to underscore how incredibly ableist it is. It is disability used as both shield (“you can’t expect them to adhere to basic standards of decency”) and sword (“but you have to adhere to higher than basic standards of decency”). It is disability used to excuse bad behavior and to force others to simply “deal” with it. It is disability used to maintain the status quo, even when the status quo is causing major harm. It is disability used to manipulate and shame.
It is bullshit.
And it is not the first time it’s been done to me.
“But he doesn’t understand how he’s hurting you! He’s autistic!” people said when I dumped my abusive boyfriend.
Okay. But I’m autistic too.
“You need to cut your mother some slack,” says my family. “She’s in a lot of pain.”
Okay. But mom and I have the same chronic pain diagnoses.
“You need to understand, she had a mental illness,” my husband says when I’m livid, three years later, that someone trashed my house and then disappeared.
Okay. But I have multiple mental illnesses too.
There are mental illnesses that, at times, prevent a person from understanding that they fucked up. Girlfriend didn’t have one. Girlfriend understood. Girlfriend was capable of cleaning up after herself, which was the thing she was explicitly told would fix the situation. Girlfriend chose to run away instead of doing that thing. Choosing to run away instead of apologizing is not a mental illness.
When those of us in the disability community ask you to “presume competence,” we don’t just mean to presume that the adorable towheaded seven-year-old is in fact learning his letters even if he still doesn’t talk. We don’t just mean to presume that the teenager in the wheelchair can play basketball with her friends. We also mean to presume that we are capable of being assholes. We are capable of being abusers. We are capable of being manipulative, selfish shits. And we are capable of learning when we are held to account for our harmful behavior, just like anyone else, when we are.
Sometimes, disability is the reason something happened. That does not make it an excuse.
Perhaps you are attempting to excuse someone’s misbehavior on the basis of their disability out of a genuine attempt to understand or show compassion. Attempts to understand or show compassion are good. They can also be terribly, destructively misguided. And when your attempt says, in effect, “I know you have the same disability as this other person but I am going to demand you do things I will not demand of them, and I am going to use that same disability as an excuse to treat you differently,” your actions are ableist. They are terribly, destructively misguided, no matter how well-intentioned.
And I am over them.
If autism, chronic pain, and mental illness excuse people who walk all over me, then they had better fucking also excuse me when I say no. Because I fucking have them too.
If you’re willing to hand out “get out of jail free” cards to people who abuse me because they’re disabled, but I don’t get one even though I am disabled, you are perpetuating ableist bullshit. If you do it when the person you’re excusing has the same diagnoses I do, it’s double ableist bullshit.
If you want to hand out “get out of jail free” cards, you need to find another excuse. This one is so thin it’s fucking transparent, and your ableism is hanging out all over.