Being in a Wheelchair Makes Me Stand Out In a World That Craves Sameness
Images by Madison Reid and Daneka Shay Stowe.
Identity

Being in a Wheelchair Makes Me Stand Out In a World That Craves Sameness

And I'm fine with that.
August 10, 2017, 2:48am

I went shopping a while back and as the retail assistant processed my items she asked me, "Can you have children?" As she asked the question, her facial features shifted, making room for that disgusting thing called sympathy.

She obviously doubted the functionality of my uterus because I am a wheelchair user.

I do understand her logic: It's not that big of a jump to assume that malfunctioning legs means that everything from the waist down is out of order, including the pipes. However, I can attest that everything works just fine. There is nothing stopping me from reproducing, and that is what I told her. I left the shop quickly before she could ask about my stance on assisted suicide for the disabled. An able-bodied person with the balls to question my anatomy had also probably seen the movie Me Before You, and I didn't want to discuss whether I am planning to travel to Switzerland to die—I'm not.

"We've started to trade our uniqueness for sameness and started to believe that we should fit in rather than stand out."

I was never angry with that woman. Because my body is different, I understood that her question came from genuine curiosity. That is a truth that does not scare me. I thrive on being an outlier and that's what scares other people. I don't believe people are scared by the fact that I am physically different, but they are sometimes stunned by the fact that I do not crave to be the same. We live in a world which desires sameness. This yearning has brought forth positive pursuits that can be seen in the modern quest for equality: the gradual erosion of the glass ceiling and the legalization of same-sex marriage. These are positive outcomes of the belief that all human beings should be treated the same, but I believe that in pockets of society we've started to trade our uniqueness for sameness, and started to believe that we should fit in rather than stand out. I think standing out is dope.

Of all the women that retail assistant served that day, I bet I was the only one she asked about their uterus. It wasn't a pleasurable experience to be asked such a question, but it shows that I stand out and this allows me to affect people, which is something I can leverage. My differences give me power and because my body is outside the bounds of "normal," it means that to some people the prospect of me doing normal things is radical.

"If you came up to me and told me I was the same as you I would call bullshit."

It wouldn't be considered normal to see a woman simultaneously pushing a wheelchair and a stroller, but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen, that doesn't mean it shouldn't happen, and if it did, you can be certain that the mother who was pushing both herself and a stroller would turn a few heads and challenge a few stereotypes about what motherhood looks like. That is an incredible thing to be able to do.

We shouldn't be afraid of contrast, of people being different from each other and proud of it. A misplaced pursuit for sameness doesn't challenge anyone, it only strengthens a flawed belief construct—the one that tells us that we need to flush out what does not fit in. I don't want a media campaign or a body-positivity movement that tells me "I am the same as everyone else, because we're all human and beautiful." If you came up to me and told me I was the same as you I would call bullshit, not just because of my disability, but also because nobody is exactly like another person. I hate black jelly beans; you might love them. That makes us different to one another, and understanding this doesn't render us unable to relate to each other: our similarities will always be there and we don't need to remove our differences in order to find them.

Grace Stratton blogs at Grace Georgia. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.