In “The Politics of Staring,” Garland-Thomson creates a taxonomy in which disabled bodies are represented in popular photography according to four different categories, one or more of which can be present at any time:
1. The wondrous elicits admiration or astonishment at the disabled person by juxtaposing what is considered an extraordinary body with pedestrian surroundings, bringing together the exceptional with the ordinary. Among its many problems, this particular approach has the impact of making disability look unusual and distances the viewer from the fact that disabled bodies are relatively common (Garland-Thomson 2002, 59-61).
2. The sentimental elicits pity at perceived suffering and arouses a humanitarian desire to help and to feel oneself sympathetic, kind, and noble. As Garland-Thomson points out, this genre grew out of “the larger nineteenth-century bourgeois culture of fine feelings” in which “[t]he pathetic, the impotent, and the suffering confirmed the Victorian bourgeoisie by arousing their finest sentiments.” (Garland-Thomson 2002, 63)
3. The exotic dramatizes disabled people as though we are alien life forms and uses, in Garland-Thomson’s words, “the hyperbole and stigma traditionally associated with disability” to sensationalize images of disabled people as disturbing and larger than life (Garland-Thomson 2002, 69).
4. The realistic attempts to erase the difference between disabled and nondisabled people by hiding visible indicators of disability and “normalizing” disabled people (Garland-Thomson 2002, 69).
Most visuals communicate different messages based on the context in which they appear and the text that accompanies them; these differences are especially striking when it comes to the ways in which images of disabled people are purveyed.
This is partially why I loathe the phrase "if they can do it, anyone can do it" because it creates unrealistic expectations, it puts a ridiculous onus on both the disabled people and the non-disabled people regarding inspiration and hard work, and it is essentially painful and insulting. When disabled people say, "If I can do it, you can do it" I honestly feel like slapping them, then headdesking, because it is such a tired, old, offensive cliche all around. It is internalized inspiration porn in a way, when said by the disabled, especially to each other, and especially when there is extreme difficulty standing in the way. I I like to say, "These things are possible depending on varied circumstances, and it is worth it to try."
And now, this, as I said on Facebook.
So, here's the thing.
Since realizing I am actually autistic, I have actively read blog posts from other autistics that were extremely angry and that were absolutely damn right to be angry. Because in a world where autistics and other disabled people are being discriminated against, injured, abused, damaged, and even murdered under the guise of people insisting that they know better, being angry and outright yelling is one of the only things that will get the world to listen to us, to see how much we need support instead of prejudice.
Now, I have seen so many comments saying things like, "this is a great blog post, but you shouldn't be so angry" or "you should calm your anger and figure out why your heart hurts so much" and basically condescending platitude-inspired hippie-like comments that truly don't get what is happening.
And it doesn't help. Disabled people need that anger, and able-bodied people need to realized and embrace our anger. Because anger helps us, anger keeps us going in many situations. Look, I have a hippie mindset. I love holistic medicine and dancing with nature and wearing shiny jewelry that I believe has power. Buy you know what? I do not need to calm down. I do not need to stop being angry. I do not need to listen to my heart and soothe myself. My heart has already spoken, and it is full of rage at the facts: The disabled are persecuted in so many ways. Autistic children are being abused with therapies that are hurting them, by parents who insist they know what is best. I will not and can not sit and take deep breaths and soothe myself when I deserve to be angry about teenagers being killed by their mothers for having different brains.
I won't be quiet. I won't be calm. I won't stop feeling angry until I am ready to stop feeling angry.
So, if you read something from me and decide to help me not be angry by quoting platitudes, deciding that you are emotionally and morally superior because you are not angry... stop. In fact, it will anger me even more if you play with emotional superiority. The last time that happened, I mentally punched the person in the mouth. Several people wanted to punch the person, in fact. I don't want to punch you in the mouth. Please, let me be angry. Let me express my feelings about be disabled and chronically ill in a society that hurts people like me. Don't paste a smiley face in a comment and tell me that my feelings aren't helping me. Don't paste a smiley face and tell me that I'm too negative. Don't talk about rainbows and Positive Thoughts TM... not unless I ask for it. I need to feel angry.
-Brought to you by the anger upon seeing disability activists being told to stop their anger, be more peaceful, and think more positively.