What’s In A Name?

Hi. My name is Erin and I’m the webmaster of this site. I have worked pretty much every day on it for the past four months. This space is important to me as a place for open communication about sexuality, about our hopes and fears as disabled people. But I really don’t like the word “disabled.” I do not really consider myself disabled, because I am able to do everything that I want to in life–I have only had to learn to ask for help sometimes. And sometimes I have had to be my own encouragement, when others have doubted me. But everyone on this planet has had to ask for help, and everyone has also sometimes had to be their own cheerleader. I really think that it is important that while tackling issues which are important for those of us with disabilities, we acknowledge that many of our problems are universal ones which others can relate to just by being human. I want this site to act as a tool for educating everyone–disabled and able-bodied. I want to bridge gaps. These are my goals for the site, and so far I’ve gone about it pretty well. And, as in the introductions to every book I have read on disability and sexuality, I feel it’s now time to tell you how I am going about it, where semantics are concerned.

I ‘ve told you that I do not like the word “disabled.” And I don’t. And I’m not. I am not saying that I do not have limitations. What I am saying is that I do not generally think of myself as “disabled.” Another big buzzword these days is “Differently Abled.” I’m not this either. There are certain things that I cannot do. No matter what, I am not going to be able to do splits. I have spastic muscles. By calling myself Differently Abled, I feel, I am saying that by some miracle if I try hard enough I can do splits by finding the different way to do them. Well, that’s wrong. There’s one way to do splits and it would hurt me extremely. And it’s not worth my energy, emotionally or physically, thinking about being a gymnast or a ballet dancer.

In most areas of my life, I have or am in the process of succeeding. I get good grades, I have good friends, I have a boyfriend who is devoted to me and I am devoted to him. My parents are proud of me, and my friends and lover are also. And I am proud of me. In short: I have found what I can do and made every effort to succeed at it without beating myself up for what I haven’t done in my life. So no one can say that by not calling myself Differently Abled, I am putting myself down. Obviously I know what is good about my life.

Nor do I deny that there are bad things about my life. But I would not say that my disability is one of those things. It brings me extra challenges, but I can handle each of them. It is more work, but the extra work is something that I have gotten used to over the 19 and 3/4 years of my life. And usually things go pretty well for me.

I have a few tools that I use in order to keep my spirits up, and one of them is humor. In this case, I would say that I use an amount of “black humor” in my life. I am not unlike many disabled people who use this as a tool. Sometimes, you just have to laugh when you think about the odd little fall you just had, or the fact that your catheter has broken and is now spraying people. Whatever it is, you have two options: You can be really embarrassed about it and make yourself feel bad by thinking about it, or you can crack a smile and remember it for a funny story to tell your friends later. I choose the latter in my life.

So to answer your question about just what I do tell people when I talk about my disability…What I say is that I have a physical impairment which requires some help from people occassionally. And, I add, sometimes I do gimpy things. Or, sometimes I act like a gimp. In this way, I am able to be a person who happens to have a physical impairment or disability. When I tell people “that was just me being gimpy,” they know that my disability is not my entire life–it crops up in certain situations and I deal with them with a smile. Plus, by acknowledging my shortcomings, I put people more at ease and they do not have to feel uncomfortable because it’s right there in the open. By acknowledging them with humor, I can make them crack a smile to match my own, and this breaks the ice and eases the tension resulting from the fact that a potentially embarrassing thing has happened for me, and the other person may be confused. By being up-front about it, I can dispel their confusion and make us both feel better.

My way of dealing with my disability is not politically correct. But it is not all that uncommon, either. I am an unrepentant gimp, and so are many of my friends. Words are important. And because of this, I feel that stripping a word like “gimp” or “crip” of its hurtful connotation is just as important. Within the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered) community, this tactic is very often used and accepted. Gay men call one another “fags” and lesbians call each other “dykes.” When a straight person says these words, it is often seen as inflammatory and it is often meant that way. Yet a lesbian can proudly learn to say, “Yep, I’m a big dyke, and how are you!” with a smile on her face. She has taken the harm out of the words and has caught her would-be enemy off guard. She has learned that there is nothing to be ashamed of in that word, and in doing so she’s learned to deal with society’s stereotypes and not let them hurt her.

And we can do the same thing. Not everyone does. The above example is not as widely used in the disabled community, but it does happen and is happening. In my support for this phenomenon, I have given this site two names. Primarily, the site is called “Disabled Sex” because all of us can identify with the word “disabled” on some level, even if we do not like it. This is also the word most often applied to us. I respect people’s right to use this word despite the fact that I do not. But I ask the same of you, in that I have also pointed the domain name gimpsex.org to this site. It is not meant in a derogatory way but in a familiar and comfortable way, for me and for all other proud gimps out there. It brings a smile to many of my friends’ faces, as well as my own. It teaches my AB acquaintances that whatever they have to ask about my disability is okay with me, and words do not hurt me. It is an attempt to bring a little humor into a situation which can often be seen as humorous, but which people may feel uncomfortable viewing in that way. It’s meant to break the ice.

So, there we go. It’s broken. Thanks to Ellen Fable for teaching me this wonderful lesson so long ago, even if it took several years to sink in completely.