Queer Disabled Activism

I am genderqueer and disabled. I don’t consider these to be my main traits or even my most interesting ones. But when I interact with groups of people, they often feel like my only traits. I’m so busy trying to make space for my gender and my disability that I have a hard time finding room for my values, interests, and ideas.

My conspicuous gender nonconformity is one of the first things most people notice about me. Many people stare, point and laugh, throw things at me, or ask me misguided and intrusive questions. Sometimes random strangers come up to me and tell me they are totally fine with me being the way I am. Sometimes people make a big show of calling me a woman to demonstrate that they are OK with my beard.

There are some groups of people that are totally unfazed by my nonbinary gender. This is always nice, but it only helps so much. Transportation is a huge challenge for me. I’ve been treated badly because of my gender presentation while walking, biking, driving, taking the bus, and taking the train.

Bathrooms are also frustrating for me. When there are gendered bathrooms, I don’t look like I belong in either one. And I still feel awkward in lots of places that have a gender inclusive bathroom. Some gender inclusive bathrooms are labeled “family bathroom.” I’ve gotten dirty looks from people with children when I’ve used those. I used to frequent a building that had gender inclusive toilets at the end of a dark hallway in the basement. A few years ago, I attended a climate change preparedness training in a building that had gender inclusive bathrooms, but going the training didn’t give me access to the part of the building where these bathrooms were.

When I manage to safely get to an event that is attended by people who are respectful about my gender and that is held in a place with a toilet I can access safely, my next concern is disability access. I am invisibly disabled so I have to be very vocal if I want to be accommodated. I am hard of hearing and neurodivergent, and I have an assortment of ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder problems.

My hearing impairment is typically the hardest thing to get accommodated. I get nervous when I have to give my phone number to register for an event because I hate trying to talk on the phone. In most environments, I have a difficult time following what people are saying. Background noise is very hard for me to tune out. I rely heavily on visual cues, so I do best when I can clearly see whoever is talking. I can’t usually follow anything when multiple conversations are happening near me, so breaking into small groups to discuss things doesn’t work well for me. I am not fluent in ASL, so an interpreter would not fix things.

I have a really hard time asking for disability accommodations, because it makes me feel disruptive which makes me feel panicky. I have an easier time advocating for others’ access than my own. I usually miss a lot of what is said and keep my frustrations about it to myself, but I want to get better at asking for what I need. Whether or not I work to be accommodated, my disability plays a big role in my attempts to get involved in my local community.

Much of my activism is driven by my desire to reduce my community’s negative environmental impact. But I’m learning, after addressing my queerness and disability, I don’t have much energy left to express my values. Any activism I do is queer disabled activism before it’s anything else.

The Telephone “Game”

I hate the telephone game. That’s the one where a message is passed down a line of people via whispers. The first person whispers the message to the second person who then whispers it to the third person, and so on. The idea is to get the message down the line intact, but it usually gets changed as a result of people mishearing each other. I remember being required to play it many times during my childhood. Adults always made us play if we had to wait in a line for very long.

If someone wanted to invent a game that would make hard-of-hearing kids feel like crap while encouraging others to dislike them, I think they would have come up with this game. I hated being expected to hear people without being able to read their lips at all. I often couldn’t decipher any of what was whispered to me, so I had to just make something up to keep the game going. The other kids would get upset when the end message was too different from the beginning message too many times. Eventually they’d figure out that I was the one screwing it up, then everyone would get frustrated with me for playing the game wrong.

I wish I would ever have been allowed to opt out. My hearing impairment was documented. I hated playing that crappy game, and everyone hated playing it with me. I wish I had been allowed to quietly hone my mental math skills instead.