From a fairly young age, I found that humor was the best way to combat all the weird interactions that come with being in a wheelchair. I hated people tiptoeing around me, I hated people thinking that because I sat in a chair and had a special desk they couldn’t talk to me because they might accidentally hurt my feelings.
I’m a lot of things, but I’m not made of glass, and it has always made me angry when people left me out because of the assumption that I’m fragile.
So, I made it aggressively clear that I had no problems talking about my disability by constantly cracking jokes that made everyone else uncomfortable. I’d sarcastically say I couldn’t help someone do a boring task because my legs didn’t work. I’d laugh while saying I was living on borrowed time. Sometimes I’d tell people my parents were disappointed they got a broken child.
Obviously, I was being an ass, but it worked. I was loud and in your face about it. I made sure everyone knew I was comfortable to make jokes about myself. My opinion has always been this: if I can laugh with and at my disability, no one else should feel sad or awkward about it.
That being said, I also hated people thinking that disability was something to laugh at. It’s one thing if I poke fun at my situation, it’s another when someone else cracks a joke trying to be cruel. So, all I could do was try to take the fun out of it. It wasn’t long before everyone knew they could laugh and make fun of me and it wouldn’t matter because I’d be sitting a table away making the same jokes about myself.
As I got older, I started calling myself a cripple. I don’t really remember how it started. At first, I didn’t even realize that I was reclaiming a slur. All I knew was it made other people uncomfortable. It gave me the upper hand.
Once people were weird, rude, or offensive in some way, I could throw ‘cripple’ around and they would get so flustered and unsure of how to react that they’d leave me alone. Which is exactly what I wanted.
I think it worked so well because I was always the quiet, shy girl. I never mouthed off and never got in trouble. No one expected me to say something they all thought was so terrible.
It’s sort of like that line from Game of Thrones. Wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you. As soon as I started calling myself as a cripple, no one else had any power to use it against me. I’d just laugh and agree with them if they did.
Using it was and still is more than getting people to back off, though. It’s a reminder for myself and everyone around me that I know exactly how society views disability. AKA how society views me.
I know that people would rather die than be “wheelchair bound” (ugh), and I know people think that having a disabled child would be nothing but heartbreak and a burden.
People think that the ADA is a hassle to local businesses and that the government gives me too much money. I know this. I’ve heard it my entire life, and after this past election, it’s more apparent than ever.
The thing is, I don’t want anyone to ever, not even for one second, think that I’m blissfully unaware of what’s being said about people like me. I hear you, and fine if you want to make your assumptions because I can’t really stop you. I’m just not going to be quiet or make it easy for you to be ableist and gross.
But sometimes using the word cripple just isn’t that serious. Sometimes I’m just goofing off with my best friends making wheelchair jokes. It’s a way for me to laugh at my situation instead of dwelling.
I don’t think my life is horrible or worthy of pity, but anyone and everyone can fall into feeling sorry for themselves. When that happens for me I have to find a way to snap myself back out of it.
I’m like Chandler from Friends, I use sarcasm to handle basically every moment of my life. Making wheelchair jokes and laughing with my friends about being a cripple is what I do to keep from taking anything too seriously.
I’d rather joke that an employer didn’t like my useless legs and move on. It sure beats panicking about never getting a job every single day, and I do plenty of that.
I know that ‘cripple’ makes some people uncomfortable. It’s a word I only use to refer to myself because reclaiming a slur has to be a personal choice. I’d never use it against anyone else. Except maybe my brother, but I’m his little sister and it’s okay.
So yeah, some people don’t like it. But after all the things that people have said to me or to my friends and family about me? I think I’ve earned the right to crack a joke and call myself whatever I want, regardless of how rude or offensive anyone else thinks it is.