National AccessAbility Week 2019: My Life in Stealth Mode by Renée Yoxon
During National AccessAbility week 2019, we are organizing a blogathon:daily blogs/vlogs on topics of accessibility.
Check out this blog by Renée Yoxon on being loud and proud at the intersections of being a non-binary person living with an invisible disability..
Renée is a queer, non-binary, disabled, and chronically ill creator. They are currently a student of songwriting studies at Limerik University in Ireland, a freelance vocal coach for young and emerging singers, as well as a member of the communications team at the DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada.
My Life in Stealth Mode
by Renée Yoxon
What do you see when you look at me? Through a decade of disability and gender discovery, I’ve learned that to be seen as who I am. I need to be out, loud and proud.
I have chronic episodic pain which to most people, even to some that know me, looks and sounds like I’m sometimes-disabled. On one day, I can move effortlessly through crowds of people, unaided by mobility aids and with an average gait, and seamlessly pass as non-disabled. On other days, my big red rollator is a dead giveaway. It’s difficult to explain to people that there is no correlation between how well I pass as disabled/non-disabled and my pain levels on any given day. I’m not sometimes-disabled, I’m always disabled. I’m always measuring the distance between my parking spot and my destination, and planning trips around opportunities to lie down, and weighing how badly I need a second spaghetti squash because it puts my grocery bag just over the limit of what I can safely carry. I might use my rollator to prevent a future pain episode, or not use it because I’m having one that can’t be managed with a mobility aid. Chronic pain, and disability in general, is incredibly nuanced and personal.
I am also non-binary transgender. I am not fully a man or a woman, although I feel connected to both of those genders at times. Like with my disability, I pass as sometimes cisgender or sometimes transgender depending on the day. If my hair is long people see a woman, in a big coat they see a man. I’m rarely read as non-binary. Some people in certain spaces see me for who I am, but never without explanation.
Both my gender and my disability force me into a position of navigating the expectations of others. How I am treated on any given day depends on how others see me. On the one hand, passing as cis and non-disabled has its advantages, such as avoiding certain types of harassment from those who would openly discriminate against someone they deem “different”. But by-and-large, having my identities erased invites far more harassment and causes far more problems than does having them visible. For instance, I have been harassed multiple times by strangers for accessing accommodations that they have decided I shouldn’t be using based on how I look, such as accessible parking spaces and accessible seating on buses and metros.
If I want to be seen as who I am, I have to engage in daily acts of disclosure. In a sense, I have to “come out” every day, many times a day. At the beginning of every academic semester, I have to have conversations with my professors where I disclose both my disability and the accommodations I require, along with my gender and pronouns so as not to be repeatedly misgendered during class. Both of these conversations are long and usually involve quite a bit of teaching, so in the past, I have opted to only have one of those conversations. I used to submit to repeated misgendering to ensure I was accommodated.
These repeated moments of disclosure, coupled with frequent microaggression, have put me in a place where I find it necessary to exaggerate my gender and my disability in a way that conforms to the expectations of others, to avoid these confrontations and to more easily gain access to the accommodations I need. For instance, I often use a cane when I don’t need one just to fend off “good samaritans” in parking lots and on the bus; I don’t wear makeup when I go to the doctor in case it makes me look “too well”; I wear baggy clothes that hide my body shape and give me a more “neutral” silhouette.
I have been on both my gender journey and my disability journey for at least a decade, and in that time I’ve gone through many different coping strategies for dealing with the invisibility of both. It has taught me to be curious about the inner lives of others and has forced me to learn patience, especially when it comes to teaching those who have never heard of invisible/episodic disability or non-binary genders. I’m fortunate that at this stage in my life, I’m safely employed, housed, and loved by a caring community, and that has allowed me to live loudly and proudly as my authentic self despite the challenges I’ve faced. However, many trans and disabled individuals are not as fortunate as I am and have to continue to navigate a world that doesn’t understand their needs or their value. Many of us still need to pretend to be something we aren’t to be safe or accommodated.