I had some personal feedback a while back that had me thinking and taking a break from writing for a bit, feedback that says my writing is too aggressive. This disconnect between my self perception and my writing persona gives me pause for a number of reasons. My philosophy is one of peaceful resistance, direct protest, and raising awareness, not antagonism or aggression.
It finally occurred to me that the most aggressive of my posts are the most popular--these are the posts a number of people with disabilities seem to identify with most. There is often humor mixed in with the aggressive words, but these posts do point out the need for change. But such posts are also the ones I feel most conflicted about and can feel embarrassed about later. To me this sense of embarrassment is telling and undercuts my insistence that real changes need to occur, that important civil rights are still under fire.
As with the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s or the feminist movement, I wonder how often we are considered "too strident" or "too aggressive," with disagreement, persistence, or insistence construed as asking too much. How much of this thinking that we're asking too much or not asking in the right way is meant to keep us in our place? Would we have access to public transport if people had not placed their wheelchairs in front of buses? Curb cuts and ramps if people had not continued to push and appeal, with some aggression? Is peaceful resistence and an insistence on one's rights aggressive?
I am direct but gentle and civil in asking questions about policies that might be changed or pointing out the need for changes--and can be patient for months while there is no response, simply reissuing the request and that I've received no reply. The reply back to me is often less than civil and sometimes even hostile, in response to gently worded requests. Merely asking is seen as an affront. I can be confrontational--but by that, I mean dealing with an issue directly, not shouting someone down. People who would infringe on our rights or space are not likely to be the sort to hear us, so I've learned to be cautious--a "please don't, that's not safe for either of us," but even that's received angry reactions. We are a vulnerable group. Sometimes I am unapologetically direct, without softening my words, but there's a place for that on occasion; not verbal violence, but again, directness. This defies gender norms as well.
What occurs to me is that someone's hostility towards us or our assertion of human rights or needs for access gets interpreted as our own aggression. I know how I'm perceived, I know how people stereotype, so I try to respond accordingly. Yes, I've been irritable before, but I know how that can cause people to be reactive in unconstructive ways. We often have to interact more with people than others do, because of barriers, because of inabilities, and the tense moments can thus add up. But someone's reaction to me--"sure, I'm glad to help," or even "I can't help, but let's see what we can do," or, "oops, I'm sorry"--is as important as what I say. Pointing out that I can't get past someone's car is an opportunity for someone to move the vehicle, not to harm me--no way would my phrasing be aggressive with someone who can mow me down, though I've still received aggressive responses.
Someone was saying to me yesterday that Obama sees the need for policy and social changes as a joint challenge, not a confrontation between groups. Why should we not do the same, seeing a request or a statement as an opportunity for positive change that benefits everyone?
Honestly, it hurts to point out the need for closer parking and to request it and to have someone snap back in every sentence with hate, to unknowingly direct a request to the wrong person and to be chided for it, to let a store clerk know that you can't get through and receive a verbal attack in front of other customers. Since our requests must be more frequent than others', more kindness would be appreciated.
Elizabeth recently had the police in her apartment for making a joke. Like her, I am not going to harm others--hitting someone in my scooter would harm me as well. Running over someone's foot--I've only run over my son's twice, fortunately not full on with the larger scooter, and it hurts--I wouldn't do it on purpose. I'm not going to harm other people, though I'm not going to stop insisisting on my rights, that motorcycles can't be parked on curb cuts or on sidewalks in ways that block access, that ramps can easily be added to some places of business. But more often I vote with my feet, not going in the furniture store that can't be navigated, not attending the church without an elevator, not going to the restaurant with inaccessible bathrooms. These people never know; I have limited resources and energy and must be selective.
But yes, here, in this safe place, there will be some aggressive words sometimes, though not directed at specific individuals. Yes, there is hurt and pain and frustration and tears and anger behind them, most of which I mask in public. Most abled people aren't going to get this, the impetus for aggressive posts or why people connect to them, but they're a start at awareness. If you're abled and they stick with you, perhaps they've done their job.