Monday, July 9, 2012

guest blog 2: “You’re so brave” and Other Assumptions

As I addressed the other day, I have just passed the 2 year mark of me writing as "that girl in the wheelchair."After 262 posts, you may think I have run out of topics- complete poppycock! Truth is that I am lazy and would like a break would like to offer you a different point of perspective. [Tangent: Back in December, after this hilariously brilliant blog, I promised the guest blogger thing would be a possible monthy/bimonthly deal...only my follow through was not so great.] Lucky for me- I have lots of very creative and talented friends who will come to my rescue when I ask for a writing favor.  Coincidentally, this guest blogger is another "girl in a wheelchair"[Tangent: No, its not like I solely know/fraternize with disabled people. We are not an exclusive gang...even though I would have to break your knee caps to initiate you in.]...she's my friend Beth and she writes for In Case of Fire Use Stairs. Read on as she shares what never to say to fellow girls and guys in wheelchairs. [Tangent: This is a topic I have wanted to tackle forever...only she will do it far more eloquently with fewer allusions to 90s R&B and the Real Housewives...and more homemade memes.]

“You’re so brave” and Other Assumptions
by Bethro Tull (aka Beth Hopkins)

Anyone who’s spoken to me for more than about 7 seconds knows I love to socialize. Not to mention I live in a great city for going out: there is always something to do, and always some well-meaning soul making it all the more entertaining for me.

I use a wheelchair, and almost every time I am in a public place, someone says or does something completely ridiculous to me. There are too many examples to recount in a single blog, but there are a few things I hear regularly that always make me do a double take, no matter how many times I hear them.


“You’re so brave. . .”
I get this a lot. But not for climbing Everest, wrestling a bear, or eating fire. Most often, people who approach me telling me how brave I am do so when I am having dinner, listening to music, or having a beer with friends. There is nothing brave about any of that. In that context, calling me brave is not an observation. It’s an assumption: that I don’t get out much, or that it is something singular for a person with a disability to show themselves in a normal social situation. The only brave thing I’m doing in that case is enduring such silliness without slapping people upside the head.

“You’re such an inspiration. . .”
One time, when I was living in Athens, Georgia, I was getting a haircut at an edgy local salon, and was making small talk with my hip, young stylist. When I explained to her that I was living in town and going to grad school for thus-and-such, she looks me in the eye and says in her Serious Voice, “Wow. You are such an inspiration for doing that.” I was baffled. This is a college town, Not-as-Hip-as-I-Thought Lady. Everyone here goes to school. What makes me inspirational? Going in a wheelchair? I just don’t get it.


“It takes a special person. . .”
I started hearing this phrase years ago, when I was working at a summer camp for people with disabilities: “Oh, you’re so brave. That is such an inspiration. It takes a special person to do what you do.” Triple whammy. And while it was a challenge and very rewarding, I can assure you I worked with no super-humans. We were all normal people who just wanted to be a part of a great experience.

As if that weren’t enough, I have been privy to an even more confusing use of this phrase. While out with a friend once, someone made a point of stopping her and telling her “what a great friend” she was to me for being with me, having lunch. Wait a second? It takes a Special Person to be my friend? My date is “such a nice young man” because he’s sitting across from someone with a physical difference? Not cool, guys. My friends are special, and their friendship is a favor to me. But it has everything to do with who they are, not who I am.


I smile and nod when people give those kinds of “compliments”, and my friends and I have a laugh. Because I am not mean. I am not bitter. And I know everyone means well. But here’s the thing: to assume a person is brave/inspirational/special for doing something typical is to make them [or their friends] an “other”, and makes no effort to understand that person as a whole.

There are things I have overcome, and situations I face down when I want to run scared. But none of them involve dinner, drinks, or other social situations. I’ve never been afraid to have a good time.

11 comments:

  1. I can't believe that people say that stuff. Or even think it! Wonderfully written, Beth. I wish that everyone could read this.

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  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wM-XhQeFzW4 - this feels appropriate! ;)

    All kidding aside - love the guest blog!

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  3. haha I get those all the time too. People feel the need to say something, but don't know what. "Nice wheels!" would be nice.

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  4. Glad to find some more blogs by ladies who use wheelchairs! This post is soooo true. Able-bodied people baffle me sometimes.

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    Replies
    1. so glad you can relate! Feel free to check out my blog from time to time. I don't only talk about disability issues...but I think you'll enjoy. I checked out yours...you're so CRAFTY!

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  5. Peed my undies a drop or two when I read the Willy Wonka pic. This blog is so hilariously written. The 90's references are killing me! I am a new reader, as of tonight :) Thanks for the best, real laughs I've had in awhile.

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