Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bitter? Twisted?

Today, I received feedback suggesting that my use of TAB when talking about West Coast's (tab) dancers was offensive and that it made me sound bitter: I am disabled. You will be eventually. This was not from any of the people associated with West Coast.. so it made me wonder. What am I doing with that designation? Does it make any difference that the criticism comes from a disabled person?

Am I bitter and twisted? Well, probably. But not about that particular aspect of the question. I care about the people who dance with West Coast, and I am excited by the way dancing with them has changed my life. Do I resent the non-disabled dancers? No. I love the way they move. They are so skilled, so powerful. And they have taught me a lot. In fact, dance (and West Coast) has fundamentally changed my disability experience and my understandings of movement potential. I do sometimes wish I could do what they do. It looks like fun to be able to make that move in that way. The extreme athlete in me wishes she could do that extraordinary thing -- for the fun of it. The sheer glory of moving like that or being able to do that.

But wishing I could do that doesn't make me bitter. I also wish I could do some of the things other chair-users do. I was talking the other day to someone who had figured out the forward roll with chair and return to standing position. Kinda like a handspring, I suppose. Now, there is NO chance of me being able to do that -- mainly because my chair has my legs positioned far out in front of me and because I don't think I have the arm strength to be able to get myself back up again. Desire, curiosity, eagerness about these moves? Yes. Bitter, no.

I haven't really thought of my use of TAB as controversial before. Political, yes. But controversial, no. And I am a little taken aback. I mean, I have kinda become inured to it. I think of it as marking .... in the linguistic sense. In the same way that, for example, newspapers don't report whiteness and only non-whiteness, I feel a kind of responsibility to embodiment. I mark the able bodied ness in order to cause a kind of shock, discomfort, and recognition. And, up until now, I was sort of carelessly thinking that if you had a problem with it, it was YOUR problem. But the person who responded to my writing was a disabled person; this person's whose other work that I know suggests that they are less likely to have that kind of problem with it.

In addition to being political on a grand scheme, I am also responding to the way critics, reviewers, etc. write about West Coast. They always say that we have disabled and non-disabled dancers. They introduce us by name, but then they go on to mark the disability. I had kind of thought of it as a "speaking back."

So, it may be an audience thing? Majority TAB -- use TAB; majority PWD -- don't? Or do? Or is there a sense of humour here, too? I mean... in some ways, it's a sort of not so in, in-joke? What are other ways of signalling the same point?

Sigh. It's now 5.48 -- I have been up since 3. Time to go back to bed and hopefully get some sleep.


  1. Since I first began seeing TAB about a year ago, it seemed somewhat rude to me. Not so much bitter as just outright rude. Coming from a background where such things were in my awareness, it seems almost as though it were a foretelling curse of a sort. But you don't do that to children - you don't tell them their entire childhood that they'll die at 30, or that they'll screw up their entire lives by making a horrible choice when they're 17. You just don't do it. It's bad karma, and it's bad for the child. It's foretelling an event that may or may not happen, and my upbringing told me that is something you do not ever, under any circumstances, do to someone else.

    So to me, it's a curse (as opposed to a swear). And an invalid one at that. I cannot in good concious say anyone is TAB because you never know what might happen. That person may die before becoming disabled. That person may live well into their 90s without ever becoming disabled, and suddenly die. There may be cures for everything before some 20 year old referred to as TAB becomes 89 and disabled.

    I myself am disabled. Had anyone reffered to me as TAB while I was, I would have felt sullied.

  2. "Cures for everything"--yikes, I hope not. I don't use TAB much ("nondisabled" makes most of the same points, and doesn't recall a 1970s diet beverage). But I don't mind it, either. A reminder that one experiences privileges based mainly on a random and tenuous conformity is a good thing.

  3. I just use "able-bodied" or AB. I only use TAB on rare occasions when I'm feeling snarky.

    Because well, do we know they won't die first?

    And are they really temporarily not like me, such that they will be like me later if they live long enough? In one sense, sure, yeah but in another it feels weird because... they won't know what it is to be born this way. So the whole "you'll end up just like me"

    ...No, not true, PWD are not even all that alike I don't think. A big part of what I LIKE about our movement is the lack of homogeneity and the ways in which we all HAVE to listen to one another in order to have a movement at all because we're all so totally different.

    So there isn't much point to using a "you'll end up like me ha!" word. No, not really.

    "Eventually you may come to have some of the same concerns as me when you previously wrote them off"


    but well, do I need a word for that? and to call people that word? eh.

    the whole "everyone is eventually disabled!" smile smile

    assumes that what all people with physical disabilities are is adequately captured by the aging process.

    And hey, i am not LIKE an eighty year old AB, I am LIKE a 28 year old with CP, thanks.

    An aging former AB becomes a PWD at some point, okay, but how is that LIKE ME such that I want to point this out?

    It works as a clever rhetorical experiment in de-centering but isn't useful for me after that.

    It's like the word "womyn." When I first came to understand the reason some women used it, it got me thinking. But is it really a tool beyond making someone think a bit once? Personally I don't find it useful.

  4. I don't like TAB but then I find able-bodied extremely problematic; a massive proportion of disabled people are able-bodied; they have sensory, mental health, intellectual or neurodevelopmental impairments. It's a false dichotomy to say some of us are disabled and some of us are able-bodied, temporarily or otherwise.

    My own snarky preference would be disabled-in-waiting.

    I don't, however, see it as a curse. In order for it to be a curse, one must see impairment as necessarily tragic.

  5. Well, I love TAB, I like having it in my verbal bag o tricks - since the people who refuse to stop their cars at crosswalks for a lowly weekchairs don't even know what AB stands for, TAB is going to bounce off them too. But for the clueless 22 year old who doesn't understand why the wheelchair change room shouldn't be full of broken furniture, saying, "I can't use the TAB change rooms" might give her/him a twig that 'hey' maybe we are two different species of humans but that we are connected, that yes, you may thank your lucky stars you aren't like me, but hey, maybe you or someone you love might be and you might want to think about that.

    Maybe I am the only person to be told repeatedly the someplace was wheelchair accessable to find it up a flight of stairs to reach a point where you need some little way to express, if even internally, that "not getting it with the best of intentions" sometimes just isn't good enough.

  6. TAB is extremely polite... "f*ckin' walkies" is rude. 8-) Sometimes it's good to be rude.

  7. Goldfish beat me to it. I'm self-conscious about the inaccuracy and centering of disability language that suggests it's about an able versus unable body for oh-so-many reasons. But I think that your use of "TAB" to discuss the physical act of dance in a dance company of people with varying physical abilities makes perfect sense, WCD.

    As far as "TAB" being impolite, insulting or cursing someone's future health in some way, well, I think it's an important political aspect of disability issues to continually point out how permeable the category is, and not just for those who consider themselves perfectly fit in all ways now. We all deteriorate if we get to hang around long enough. Why being here with an impairment or two is a curse instead of telling someone they could die young enough to never get the chance to see what it's like (better and worse) is beyond me. Wouldn't the ugly thing be to call someone Temporarily Alive? TAB is really optimistic in many ways, though it's challenging enough that I guess many wouldn't be able to see that part.

    About your bitterness. Well, I'll pray for you....

  8. Hey, thought I should let you know, I blogged about this over at the BBC Ouch! Blog.

  9. Kay: irreverent grin.
    Goldfish: thanks