When I launched Painting On Scars at the beginning of this year, I had loads to say and almost as much worry that few would be interested in issues of disability and physical difference. As the year comes to a close, I look back and see that the posts about ableism and lookism have generally been the most popular, followed by my spring article about family planning, reproductive rights, and privacy. This hasn’t been the only surprise.
Lots of people find this blog by googling “dwarf + woman + sex.” I have no idea who these people are. They may be fetishists, they may be researchers, they may be women with dwarfism. Your guess is as good as mine.
Since March, Painting On Scars has been read in over 100 countries. To the surprise of few, no one in China reads it. To the surprise of many, at least one person in Saudi Arabia does. So have people in St. Lucia, Jordan, and Benin.
Thanks to blogging, I’ve discovered there is a considerable online community committed to combating ableism with its own terms and tropes such as “supercrip” and “inspiration porn.” I love such communities. I also love bridging communities. Because responses to my blog have shown me, perhaps more than anything has, that I want to talk to everyone. And I really don’t care what your label is.
I don’t care if you consider yourself Republican or Democrat or feminist or anti-feminist or religious or atheist or socialist or libertarian or apolitical or intellectual or anti-intellectual. Well, okay, I do take it into consideration. Somewhat. But there is rarely consensus when we ask that everyone define these terms. And none of them carries a guarantee against nasty personality traits like narcissism and defensiveness and aggression and cowardice. Novelist Zadie Smith noted that we are told every day by the media and our culture that our political differences are the most important differences between us, but she will never be convinced of that. When lefty comedian Jon Stewart was asked earlier this year if there’s anything he admires about right-wing hardliner Bill O’Reilly, he said, “This idea that disagreeing with somebody vehemently, even to the core of your principles, means you should not engage with them? I have people in my own family that make this guy look like Castro and I love them.”
This is not to say that it’s all relative and I see no point to social justice or politics. On the contrary, difference continues to be marginalized by the tyranny of the majority, as evidenced by the fact that the number one Google search term that has brought readers to my blog is “freaky people.” And far too many kind people will more readily lash out at a person or group whose recognition demands they leave their comfort zone, rather than the forces that constructed and defined their comfort zone. Well-intentioned friends and parents and bosses and classmates and leaders and partners and siblings and colleagues are capable of the vilest selfishness when they are scared of a power shift. (As the Christian activists pictured above acknowledge.) This is heart-breaking. And it is not okay.
But on the flipside, people are constantly smashing the prejudices I didn’t even know I had about them. Every day friends and family and strangers demonstrate strengths that highlight all the mistakes I make, proving to me that politics are tremendously important but they will never be the most important element of a human being. That may be a political idea in itself, but regardless of the divisions, most people on earth do seem to believe deep down inside that everybody matters.
And that’s what makes the struggle for social justice worth it. If you are friendly and well-mannered and generous and honor your commitments and don’t let your self-doubt make you self-centered and try to listen as much as you talk and are honest about your problems without fishing for compliments and are big enough to apologize when you’ve screwed up, I respect you and admire you and am humbled by you. I want to do the best I can because of you.
And since you’ve read this far, it’s more than likely you’re good at listening. Thank you and happy new year!