01 December, 2010

Passing as Ethics: a primer

Passing as Ethics

So, passing as ethics is a term I invented and I use it a lot. It’s at the core of a lot of the stuff I write. In retrospect, I wish I had said “passing as functioning” or “passing as cure” because I think that would be more inclusive and cover more ground. Originally I thought that passing as ethics only happened to people with autism, but as I learned more I found out that it was more pervasive than I could ever have imagined.

Here are some passing as ethics values. I’m mostly writing this as if a professional is saying it, but disabled people can totally feel most of this stuff about themselves and I certainly did for a long time. I think it’s a very basic part of life for most people.

1. It is better for a person with a physical disability to walk without any visible mobility aids than it is to use a wheelchair, crutches, or cane--even if the person finds it painful or tiring to walk unaided, and/or is danger of falling.
2. If someone’s disability causes them to have an unusual gait, this is a problem, and it would be an improvement if their gait could be changed to look more normal, even if this didn’t make the person walk any faster or more easily.
3. Habits that mark someone as a person with an intellectual disability or autism, such as flapping hands, are inherently bad, and people who do them should be trained not to do them.
4. If there is a conflict between someone with autism and someone without autism, it’s the person with autism’s fault. If a person with autism gets bullied, this is evidence of why #3 is true; if no one had been able to tell they had autism, this wouldn’t have happened.
5. If someone misunderstands a person with autism, it is because the person with autism didn’t express themselves right.
6. Deaf and hard-of-hearing people should learn to lip-read. Hearing people need not learn sign language.
7. So basically, people with disabilities should always try to communicate in a way that is comfortable for people without disabilities, even if it makes the people with disabilities uncomfortable
8. To sum up, any habit, style of movement, facial expression, interest, feeling, word choice, way of pronouncing words, way of sitting, way of communicating, okay you get the idea, that is commonly associated with disabled people is
a. the opposite of success, and must be destroyed to improve someone’s “functioning”
b. morally wrong in some cases--that is, the person who is doing the behavior that’s associated with disability becomes automatically wrong in any conflict
9. If someone who used to look like they had a disability now doesn’t look like they have a disability (to most people), then they are recovered/cured (no matter how negatively it affects them to hide their disability, and no matter how many less visible aspects of their disability continue to affect them).
10. Don’t kill yourself after reading #1-9 because people will just think you killed yourself because it was so depressing to be disabled.


  1. A little off-topic, perhaps, but reading over this my first thought was that many of your points work equally well if you replace 'disabled' with 'female'.

    My second thought was despair at how much I've internalized the values in your list. Even now, I find myself apologizing to my husband when I don't feel capable of leaving the house to go to dinner with him - and he should understand, being disabled himself!

  2. I don't think of it so much as 'passing as ethics' but as 'passing as survival' or 'passing in order to not get arrested'.

    I was once at the skating rink as a kid, happily skating and drawing pictures in the air, and a cop pulled aside my parents and I to give me a talking to about how I must not draw pictures in the air in public. Sure, I think a world where disabled people didn’t have to pass would be a good thing. But I guess I'm worried that by choosing to pass (at least where I need to), that I'm being a bad disabled person or something.

  3. Oh no way, absolutely not. I mean, I think when disabled people do have unnecessary PAE complexes it's because we live in a world that has one. And sometimes depending on your environment you can be like, "hey this is cool I'm going to just start stimming whenever I want because it doesn't matter." But sometimes you can't. There is obviously no reason anyone should be required to put themselves in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation by intentionally not passing.

  4. Yeah, that's reasonable. I don't really have the hang of this yet, since I finally decided to change my mind about how I think of myself like, today. So I don't really know what accepting a disability identity means for me yet, and I'm still struggling with whether I even have a right to think of myself that way.


  5. Asher I thought it was really charming in your trans 101 post when you said "No one knows why so many people are cis" and "No one knows why so many people are binary." Actually I think I wanted to reference it in some post I was making but I can't remember why and I thought it wasn't really on-topic, so I didn't.