I don’t remember the first time someone urged me to be a Good Cripple. It might have been on my Livejournal, when someone I thought of as a friend told me I was “ruining” my “lovely journal” with negativity. It might have been the first time I gathered my courage and hissed “fuck off” at someone trying to distract my service dog, and got a lecture on how I just needed to understand that the person attempting to endanger me didn’t mean anything by it and I should be gracious.
Since then, I’ve had any number of people try to shame me into being a Good Cripple. The Good Crip doesn’t expect to have any privacy, and always answers invasive personal questions about her body and medical problems. The Good Crip never gets angry, bitter, or depressed; she is always an inspiring ray of sunshine to the non-disabled people around her. The Good Crip drops whatever she is doing, no matter how inconvenient for her or how much pain she’s in, to give extemporaneous educational lectures to curious people, followed by a petting zoo session with her service dog as the star attraction.
Gentle readers, I was not a cheery and inspiring ray of sunshine before I became disabled. Why would I become one now? Not that I have any particular animus for the Good Cripples among us merely for being Good Cripples. You do you, brothers and sisters. What raises my blood pressure every time is when people try to lecture me (or another angry cripple) about why we, too, should be Good Cripples.
These evangelists never, ever suggest that maybe non-disabled people should get a fucking grip on their curiosity, exercise some self control, and not ask for in-depth details on how crippled bodies work. The evangelists never point out that any non-disabled human being over the age of 5 has learned that sometimes you don’t get your curiosity satisfied, you don’t get to touch something just because you want to, and that some questions are rude. No, these people just make constant demands for people with disabilities to turn themselves into traveling teachable moments, as if we have no right to boundaries, to privacy. As if we have no right to decide who can touch us when, or what information we want to share with total strangers.
This is, not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit. When it’s another crip telling me to stop being a bad cripple, it’s depressing bullshit. There are millions of people with disabilities in the world, which means there are millions of ways of being disabled, all of them valid. What works for me, or for you, does not necessarily work for anyone else. Our bodies and lives are too different. If you want to be a Good Cripple, knock yourself out. We all have the right to decide when, where, and who we will educate, and how much information we will share while doing so. Being disabled does not magically negate my basic human right to decide these things. Being crippled does not put anyone under an obligation to lay themselves bare for the idle curiosity of strangers.
Asserting your right to boundaries, to be addressed politely, to not answer questions about your body, demanding that others treat you with basic respect for your humanity, none of these things makes you a bad person or a bad cripple. Being happy to stop and educate every single person who wants to quiz you doesn’t make you a bad person, either. But when you evangelize, when you lecture me and wag your finger about how awful I am that I just want to run my errands and get home without it becoming a two hour dog-and-cripple show, well. That, gentle readers, makes you an asshole.
By Andrea Chandler
Andrea is a crippled Quaker living on a tiny farm in the Piedmont of Virginia with four dogs, five cats, nine goats, sixty-odd chickens, a beehive, and one very understanding husband. You can find her on Twitter as @civilwarbore.