An able-bodied friend and I recently discussed the swirl of issues surrounding transgender people, spurred by the President’s sudden tweeted edict banning transgender volunteers from serving in the military. My friend expressed mixed thoughts on these matters, most of them based on the fact he just couldn’t identify with a person feeling they were somehow born into a body of the wrong sex. I replied that I too couldn’t entirely relate to the emotional state and cultural pain experienced by transgender folks, but my feelings should have no bearing on issues of fairness and equality. If all people are indeed created equal, any person's standing as an equal should not rely on my ability to fully grasp the intricacies of their circumstances.
As those thoughts turned into words and left my lips, the realization hit that in many respects I can identify with at least some of the feelings I expect transgender people experience. I’m in no way equating my own situation with theirs, but thanks to Creeping Paralysis the inner me is now almost entirely divorced from the body in which it exists. I’m not transgender, but I am transabled.
My concept of “me” is still that of the wiry six-footer that I used to be, the mannish boy who reveled in meandering strolls through the city, long-distance swims, a vibrant social life, and a full tapestry of sensual and tactile delights. The self I hold dear bears no relation to the embodiment of decrepitude that confronts me whenever I glance down and take a gander at the frame that sits in my wheelchair. The image staring back at me when I muster up the courage to roll up to a full-length mirror and take a peek is a complete stranger, at least from the neck down. With its bloated belly and ravaged limbs, that thing in the chair is most emphatically not the me that dwells inside of it. The old me lives on, cocooned in my heart and soul, trapped within a penitentiary of increasingly useless flesh and bone.
Though I try my best to quiet the frenzied feelings engendered by this gaping disconnect between body and spirit, at times there is simply no denying the emotional tempest raging within. Confusion, anguish, sadness, a gnawing yearning for what used to be – negative energies all, especially when directed inward. And though I try my best to silence or at least contain them, these destructive emotions seek out seams and points of weakness through which to burst, like grasping fingers of flame blasting through an apartment building window, threatening a conflagration that will take down the entire edifice. Thus far my attempts at emotional alchemy, seeking to turn negative energy into positive, have helped neutralize the threat, but the potential for self-immolation always lurks within.
As a transabled person, I often find myself an alien on my own planet, a victim of a variety of discriminations. Outside the cozy confines of my home, there are bathrooms I can’t use, restaurants and shops that apparently don’t want me as a customer, and passersby to whom I appear to be invisible. Indeed, maybe even something worse than invisible, a threat, a reminder of the ephemeral nature of their own sense of normalcy, a not-so-subtle hint that the supposedly solid foundations of their lives are in fact made of nothing more than gossamer.
The New Testament warns us to judge not, lest ye be judged. As members of a society increasingly riven by social and political divides – largely manufactured by would be puppet masters who seek to gain wealth and power by exploiting the very fissures they have created – it should be contingent upon every individual to live those words as a matter of personal and national survival. It’s far past time to reject outright the prefabricated outrage bombarding us and not fall prey to manipulators who have nobody’s good at heart but their own. We are all in this together, black or white, gay or straight, abled or transabled. If we allow the cracks in our society to further widen, we may all too soon find out what lies at the bottom of the abyss.
To my fellow transabled people I can only offer the same advice that I try to follow myself; make every effort to channel the despair and outrage you feel over being trapped in an increasingly unrecognizable body into some sort of positive force. As the great Johnny Lydon stated, anger is an energy. For your sake and the sake of your transabled brethren, make every effort to direct that energy outward, to vent it in some sort of constructive way if only to not let it combust within you. Cry out against a multiple sclerosis status quo that has made treating but not curing somehow acceptable, confront a medical industry that obscenely sees us first not as patients but as consumers, and offer comfort and understanding to those similarly afflicted.
To the transgender community, I tender my support, as somebody who is now experiencing the turmoil of being transabled. Although we may not live in the same house, I believe we might reside in the same neighborhood. I didn’t choose my circumstances and neither did you. Stay strong.
Created from MRA image of my brain.
(For those receiving this via email, you can view this video on the Wheelchair Kamikaze website – click here)