The varieties of disability

We’ve just put up an extremely thoughtful, thought-provoking post over at Disabled Philosophers. It begins like this:

My disability is, for many, also a marker of identity. In the parlance of pop culture, I was “born in the wrong body.” In the words of the DSM, I have “evidence of a strong and persistent cross-gender identification.”. . . I realize that there are others in my situation who would shirk this description, and I am do not mean to imply that any transsexual or transgender individual is thereby disabled.

However, this is a physical condition for which I must constantly medicate myself and for which I’ve had significant surgeries. I live with the fear that my colleagues will discover my past history, which is a source of some not-insignificant anxiety.

While I’m sure that there are many trans folk who would object to the description of a trans body as a disability, and likewise that there are many disabled folk who would object along similar lines, this post encourages us to think carefully about what we classify as “disability” and which experiences are experiences of disability. I’m leaving comments open on this post for the time being, but I’d ask that everyone be courteous and kind. The policy at the Disabled Philosophers blog includes allowing people to report and interpret their own experiences. People may disagree with how to interpret that experience, but it’s imperative that we all be respectful in that disagreement.

One thought on “The varieties of disability

  1. I definitely don’t object to that characterization of transsexuality as a disability *per se*, since it *is* some people’s experience: the objection would only be to its prevalence as the only narrative available. I was careful to use *would* since there’s nothing overtly objectionable in that post. The author is very careful to explain that it’s not everyone’s narrative, and that’s fantastic. Moreover, many trans* people do require life-long medications, and they’re not always cheap (they may not be covered due to a “pre-existing condition”), and it’s not always easy finding a doctor willing to take on trans* patients. I’m uncomfortable with transsexuality (and anything under the trans* umbrella) as a disability, but that my be a political decision rather than a conceptual one. I don’t consider myself disabled any more than someone who has to take life-long medication that works perfectly would be.

    HOWEVER, it seems to me that much of what the author is pointing to as a disability is really stereotype threat (NOT of the underperformance effect kind) and attributional ambiguity, and the anxiety and stress that result from them. (This is something I work on philosophically.) I don’t think that’s a disability, unless it’s a disability for a woman of colour to experience the same phenomena in her own contexts. It’s oppressive, but I wouldn’t say disabling.

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