18 February, 2010

my reply to her reply

(Hi: so I feel like this is an unfair thing to do, not just because I'm cheating on God, but because I'm only posting my responses and not what my professor actually said. I guess I feel like it would be wrong to post what someone else said. I basically feel that I really misunderstood comments she made in class that I took as her saying that ableism was going to be looked at in a really theoretical way and we weren't going to talk about how it affects specific disabilities. She was actually saying that we weren't going to read a lot of personal narratives and that she didn't want disabled students to feel that they had to educate anyone about their experience, and that classification of disabled people can be othering. She also totally missed/ignored what I was saying about accessibility, and was like, "in an academic class, which this is, you can get accommodations through the disability services office." And I think that a disability studies class taught by a nondisabled professor is problematic in general, unless the professor is MAGIC. But I feel like, by only posting my own emails, I might be making her look bad, so I want to be clear that she was pretty nice in the email, and didn't say the things about ableism that I misinterpreted her as saying.)

Dear [professor],

I'm sorry to hear that I misunderstood what you said, about classification and not studying personal experience, to such a great extent. I wish that add-drop wasn't so short, because then I would have been able to go to class more times before making my decision. As it is, since I have trouble changing my schedule and had never dropped a class before, I didn't really have any more time to make the decision. It took a lot of time (Wednesday through Sunday, I think) to make the decision and get myself used to the fact that my schedule was going to be different from what I expected. If I waited until after class on Monday, I would have felt like I was making the decision at the last minute.

I think it's possibly an inherently uncomfortable situation. The problem is that, while it's obviously wrong for a disabled student or students to be the zoo animal of the class who has to explain disability to everyone else, it is also uncomfortable to be invisibly disabled while everyone else is theorizing about it, especially if you don't feel that you're allowed to say, "I'm disabled." I don't feel that the class is [Ralph] Studies, but when [Ralph] makes comments in class, everyone knows that he is coming from a particular perspective and set of experiences, and if they are not disabled, they feel that he may have more understanding of certain issues. (At least, I hope they feel that way, because he does.) Note: "Ralph" is the only visibly disabled person in the class.

Like a lot of people with autism, I was raised to be hyperconscious of the way I speak and what I say. It is hard for me to participate spontaneously in class discussions because I am also trying to speak and respond to people in a standard way, and cover any lapses that I have in creating or processing speech (if someone interrupts me, I basically feel like someone has tripped me, and can't finish at all). On Wednesday, a person in class said, "I'm really interested in Asperger's, and they're taking Asperger's out of the DSM and they're going to call them autistic, and people with Asperger's feel like the identity they claimed is being taken away from them." Actually, a lot of people with an Asperger's diagnosis don't feel this way, identify as autistic rather than Asperger's, and are horrified by this response to the DSM change (which we see as very ableist, and basically coming out of mildly disabled people not wanting to be identified with severely disabled people--a very prevalent type of ableism which occurs in many disability communities). I've been thinking, reading, and writing about the autism/DSM issues a lot in the past few weeks. However, I felt like I couldn't say anything because it might take a lot of words to explain, and because I might be seen as dominating the conversation and trying to make it about a more specific issue (instead of classifications), or trying to make the conversation about my "Asperger's special interest," or whatever the stereotype is. It was just really uncomfortable because it would have taken more preparation to figure out how to talk about it, and I didn't have time to prepare, but I felt upset about it for days because it's really uncomfortable to have another person speak for you, and attribute sentiments to you that you find offensive.

It would have been nice to feel like I could just explain that I am disabled/what my disability is, I guess. At the same time I can imagine that maybe other invisibly disabled people want to pass, or feel like zoo animals if they're expected to explain themselves in that way. I have trouble with people not knowing, because then I just have to spend a lot of time wondering how soon they'll figure out that something is wrong, or what assumptions they'll make about me before they figure it out. (For example I had a professor who chastised me for not having done the reading and not being serious about the class, because in his opinion I didn't speak coherently enough to have done the reading, and didn't make the facial expressions that people make when they are interested in a class.) And it is especially hard if people are talking about stuff that is disability-related or especially autism-related, because I worry that I'm too emotional about it to talk about it in an appropriate way, or if I shouldn't say anything, which also feels wrong.

To conclude, I basically have no useful criticisms of the class, and I'm sorry. I just was upset, and figured I would email you, because sometimes it's hard to tell from the inside if you are feeling uncomfortable for a good reason or not. I'm really relieved to hear that I misunderstood the classification/specificity thing and I appreciate that you are concerned lest disabled students might feel that they are being studied or expected to educate other people about disability or ableism.

I don't agree that disability is the one identity category we will all embody. What about queerness?

I explained why I don't want to apply for accommodations and don't think that any standard accommodations would be useful for me. Also, I think that the whole setup, where I have to go through the disability services office, and bring in doctors' reports to prove that I'm disabled--well, I think it's kind of like a building with a wheelchair entrance in the back, where wheelchair users have to ring the doorbell and wait until someone comes outside and then ask the person to unlock the wheelchair entrance. To make the analogy more appropriate for my situation, let's say that the wheelchair user has CP, and has difficulty being understood, especially by strangers. If I understand the ADA correctly, this building is ADA-compliant, but I wish that buildings would have ramps in the front that people can use if they need them, without feeling like they're asking for special treatment. My desire for the autism and learning disability equivalent of this doesn't have anything to do with whether your class is "academic," by the way. I guess I mentioned it because I was dropping the class anyway and figured that, given the nature of the class, you might be interested in accessibility (which is also an assumption I might make about psych or neuro professors, or professors teaching a disability-related literature class, and so on). I admit I have somewhat radical views on accessibility, and I apologize for unleashing them on you, especially if you felt that I was saying your class wasn't academic.

Thank you very much for your reply, have a wonderful semester too (and I'm sorry for being so long-winded),


(I'm being kind of a bitch with the wheelchair entrance thing, huh? also, here is a paragraph I cut:

I don't agree that disability is the one identity category we will all embody. What about queerness? Something I wanted to say about classifications, but didn't manage to get out in class, is that when someone tries to "reassure" me by saying I'm not disabled, I feel like the floor is being pulled out from under me. I know that there are parts of disability and queerness in everyone, but people don't look at me the way they look at Eli Clare, and people with regular brains don't feel the way I do about being found out. Neither do straight people. Being able to escape a certain amount of worry and ambiguity is something that certain people get, in certain areas of life. I'm jealous. I feel different from them, even if we're technically all different/all the same.)

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