On putting the dis in ability.

The fairly new thing now is what folks are calling transabalism–the act of a perfectly (or, at least, mostly perfectly) able-bodied someone explicitly wanting to make themselves in some way disabled. The most noteable of these, of course, is Jewel Shuping, who very recently blinded herself with the help of a psychologist using drain cleaner. I won’t go through that entire affair again, mostly because I wouldn’t be saying anything that hasn’t been said already and better. But I’ll ask the question in more general terms, because I honest to god cannot wrap my head around where that comes from.

What would make a perfectly able, some would say functional, person decide to damage perfectly working eyes, or cut off a perfectly functional limb? It’s a way different beast from, say, deciding you should have been born the opposite gender–if only because you can still, I’d argue relatively easily, live a perfectly normal (*) life while your body learns to function as, and you adapt to being, that opposite gender. But with very few exceptions, so few in fact that I’d be hard pressed to think of any right off the top though I’m sure they’re out there, the same can’t be said for learning to live with a disability–even if, as Jewel has apparently done, you do things that would ordinarily be associated with that disability. The way of life in general changes–sometimes pretty freaking dramaticly, and you can’t really compensate for that by closing your eyes or sliding on a blindfold, or making a conscious effort not to use the problem limb you’re hoping to some day do without.

I’m completely open to the possibility that my perception is based on my own thoughts about a chance to gain at least part of the sight I never had. I’d have as much an idea what to do with sight as I would what to do without an arm or leg. By that, of course, I mean absolutely none. Which is why, to an extent, I can understand some able-bodied people’s reaction to the movement as a whole. If you have yourself convinced it would absolutely be hell on earth if you were confined to a wheelchair, then you’d be more likely to assume anyone who is, whether they’re there by choice or not, must be going through the same–and you’d therefore be more likely to wonder why anyone would willingly want to be put there. I’ve certainly wondered that a time or two, and I know people who’ve functioned perfectly well in that position–though again, that’s largely on account of they didn’t have the option. Now, let me slip into my disabled person roll for a minute.

I’m 32 years old. I’ve had that long to learn how to be a disabled person in a largely able-bodied world. I’ve had that much time to adapt parts of that world to what I need, and to adapt myself–with varying degrees of success–to the parts of that world I can’t. I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. One would after doing it for 30 years, after all. And a lot of that comes from not knowing or really caring that things could–or, in some people’s estimation, should–be any different. My blindness is as normal, as natural, for me as the exact opposite is for most other people. Would it still be that way if I lost my site in my teens? My twenties, maybe? Probably not–for exactly the reasons I wouldn’t imagine anyone would want that to happen by choice. In short, I’d have to relearn how to do escentially everything. Reading and writing. Travelling. Interacting with people. Basicly, living. I rely on things, be they environmental queues or things I pick up on from other people, that someone with a perfectly working pair of eyes wouldn’t need to. And they, in turn, rely on things I don’t necessarily care about on the not entirely unreasonable grounds that they’d just go right over my head anyway. Even if you’ve decided one of these things just doesn’t belong, your brain’s gotten used to the idea of it being there. You close your eyes, you’re still open to receiving and processing the information they’re sending–you’ve just told them not to send any. You make a conscious effort, say, not to use one arm, and that might actually work to an extent–but again, it’s still there, and it’s going to be a near constant effort to actually restrain yourself from using it.

By willingly cutting off that arm, or damaging your eyes, you’re escentially short-circuiting that connection. I’d imagine, on that level at least, it would be equally as traumatic as if you’d become disabled in the same or similar ways through no fault of your own (the onset of something like MS, for instance). You’d still, in ways you very likely hadn’t thought of previously, need to pretty much reteach yourself how to do things. At the very least, it’s now become a full-time job reteaching your brain how to process everything around you in entirely new and hopefully interesting ways–much like, were I to wake up with sight tomorrow, I’d almost immediately be putting my life on hold for the sole purpose of figuring out how to filter out, then process, an entirely new stream of information I haven’t had the means to get hold of or a reason to use for 30 years.

Add all of these complications on top of the usual routines the disabled go through on a regular basis (discrimination, both intentional and not, or the magnification of even the smallest every-day task into an act of inspiration, or being the latest political victim of choice just to name a few), and I don’t think it’s too far reaching to ask why someone would willingly want to put themselves through that if they had a choice not to. Does that make what people like Jewel are doing wrong? I haven’t got the faintest idea. But it does make it, at the very least, curious–and maybe, just a little bit, concerning. Being the way I am now, I wouldn’t want anything to do with a surgery, or treatment, that could give me my sight. I’m equally sure if I had it already I wouldn’t want to lose it. I can only guess at why someone else would–and I, very likely, wouldn’t even be close.

(*) In as much as anything these days can be considered normal, the definition of which if you asked three people you’d hear three different versions–just about none of them remotely the same.

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