Editors' note: Guest blogger and Bilerico reader Maggie Schleich sent this guest post to us from New York City to remind us about ablism and LGBT Health Awareness Week.
A friend introduced me to a moving meditation practice called 5Rhythms recently and I have been having all sorts of moments where I come back into my body and emotions through dance in a way that I often evade when in other, more typical spaces. Gabrielle Roth, creator of 5Rhythms, has said that "Between the head and feet of any given person is a billion miles of unexplored wilderness." I think this is true regardless of the type of body we inhabit.
My experience within mainstream American culture, though, is one that is validated in many ways. Lately, I've been thinking about some of the ways in which I move through the world and how the physical components of such movement come so easily to me as a temporarily able-bodied* person, and what this means in terms of acknowledging such privilege.
Take just a little piece of my morning, for example. This morning, I left my third floor apartment a few minutes early because it took me less time to get ready than usual. I walked down three short flights of stairs to the sidewalk and continued walking the three long blocks to the train station. Then, I walked up a long flight of stairs to the turnstile. I swiped my monthly metrocard, passed through the turnstile, and proceeded to walk up another flight of stairs to the outdoor platform. When the train arrived, I had no trouble boarding the train or finding a seat. Along the way, I realized that I felt a little cold, tired, and stiff around the neck, but there was no significant discomfort or pain. In all, it was just another smooth start to another work day.
Movement is such a small word when you consider the range of our bodies and minds (and souls) over the course of a lifetime. We move ourselves forward physically and often forget that this is intertwined with movement on other, more subtle levels. As an able-bodied cisgendered person, I almost always take the ease of self care and travel, as well as social activities for granted. Considering the ease of physical movement during my first 30+ years, for example, it is hard for me to estimate the mental and emotional impact of related privileges, as I am just beginning to explore how aspects of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual realms are intertwined. This is not to suggest that I don't experience acute awareness of living in a petite gay woman's body in a society that is both sexist and homophobic; in fact, there are definitely times when I fear for my safety.
Rather, that my ability to take the train without regard for pain or discomfort, looks or questions from others, or preoccupation with accessibility of stations/stores/venues encompasses a freedom that has both immediate physical, but also mental and emotional dimensions. Of course, I cannot consider my experience superior to those who struggle with physical (or psychological/psychiatric) struggles in their daily lives. As I try to remind myself with each yoga class, our experiences of/in our bodies (and minds) vary from day to day, let alone between people.
One of the emerging lessons for me, I think, is to give others the benefit of the doubt, so to speak. I need to remember that everyone has billions of miles of wilderness regardless of how they look/seem/feel on any given day, and that I cannot speak to someone else's experience, but can find ways to help make room for their voice. As such, I recognize the need to challenge structures in society that consistently clash with this perspective (as we know, oppression runs deep and wide, and they are thoroughly interconnected). For me, how to act as an ally in the "disability rights" movement(s), then, is a question of how to integrate this perspective into our other social justice struggles; something for me to continue to explore.
* I understand this term can be problematic. In this reflection, I use it to suggest that I do not have to deal with significant physical (or psychological/psychiatric) challenges, or people's perceptions of such difference (i.e., disability) in my daily life.