I read an article today on internalized ableism, and it reminded me of my grad school work in identity. Then, it was about language’s impact on a person’s identity – how the way we communicate affects and expresses who we are and the parts of life we most identify with. I was focused on foreign language then, but I’ve always had this innate need to study what people choose to identify as and how they prefer to do so. Why does that person with breasts identify as a man?* Why does that foreign Muslim woman choose to identify as redneck? How does a quadriplegic develop a sexual identity? How does a blonde white lady decide that her identity is that of a black lady? How do narcissists come to the conclusion that they are superior to others?
And in continuation from yesterday’s post intro, what things do people declare problematic in their development and expression of identity? Why are these things problematic? A transgender or genderfluid person might have difficulty deciding how to dress if they want others to be better at guessing their gender, but another might not care as much about whether people guess correctly and thus might give zero shits about wardrobe. A disabled person might find it incredibly difficult to develop their sexual identity because mainstream sexual ideas and practices prefer to deny sexuality in those with certain conditions, but another might be totally asexual and have zero use for such a thing. Each person’s attitudes, ideas, preferences, practices, etc. are totally unique and can only be understood completely by that person. What influences them may not influence another person in the same way.
For me, I spent most my life trapped in identities that weren’t true to me. Growing up, everything about me had to fit into what my mother wanted me to be. Any time I deviated from her expectations or from what was acceptable within her parameters, I was made to feel absolutely worthless. When my outfit wasn’t perfect, she pointed out every single flaw. When I tried to express interest in something she wasn’t interested in, I was mocked and discouraged. When my choice wasn’t the one she would’ve chosen, I was treated like I’d made a horrible, stupid decision. And it wasn’t even about big things. She would’ve had no problem with me coming out as non-heterosexual or deciding to transition from female to male. I’m Libertarian, my parents are Democrats, and she couldn’t care less. I didn’t have the same kinds of problems with my mother as some people have when they differ from parental expectations. It was not as though things were great except one big secret or one big tension source. It was everyday stuff. Buying the wrong groceries was a criminal offense. So was cleaning the wrong way or expressing negative emotions.
I had to be what she needed in the interest of self-preservation, and it was the same with my ex-husband. So that’s how I was programmed – to be malleable and to abandon my sense of self in favor of the comfort of others. And since I did most of the housework, my identity became solely about taking care of other people. I was the glue that held my family together, and it made me incredibly selfless. While being selfless and focusing on the comfort of others can be a wonderful thing, it’s a problem for me.
So, I’ve worked in my adult life to develop back into that self I buried so long ago. I’m still a people pleaser in that I’m compelled to help others whether it’s my responsibility or not. I still feel responsible for keeping the house clean and cooking meals. I still feel obligated to work through the pain to the point of exhaustion. I still have a fear of expressing my feelings, though I’ve gotten better about that these last couple years.
Ableism is a big part of my struggles now, too. I’m a strong, intelligent, resourceful, hard-working, 35-year-old woman. I should be able to work, clean, eat, socialize, and engage in a certain level of physical activity that everyone else my age and socioeconomic status can. I am physically unable to, though, and the stress that results is sourced entirely in my internalized ableism. It feels in my head like I’m being affected by the opinions of others, and while they do have an affect at times, it’s all primarily fueled by what I’ve accepted in my own mind as standards to be met. It’s only my perception telling me that others are disapproving of my choices because that’s the programming I was molded by. Do I actually have anyone telling me I’m wrong or bad somehow? No. It’s the girl in my head who’s terrified of displeasing others. It’s the girl who could never possibly measure up to someone else’s standards telling me that if I fail to exceed expectations, I simply didn’t try hard enough.
I keep trying to ditch that bitch. She’s fucking annoying and quite depressing. Her voice is quieter now than it used to be. As I move toward embracing my limits, she still chimes in with all the things I want to do or be, trying to guilt me into planning for the day I’m “better”. All I can do is keep telling her to shut the fuck up and accept that there is no ‘better’ for me. This condition is progressive. I will never again be as able as I used to be. AND THAT’S OK. It’s really ok. I have to get her to understand that what others prefer has nothing to do with me, and anyone who can let my limits or needs inhibit their positive opinion of me can just fuck right off and out of my life.
*Edit: I’m fully aware that gender identity is not a choice to make but rather a self-realization. My curiosity is about the process a person goes through to understand where they sit on the gender spectrum, as well as the varying degrees of need in regards to being perceived by others as something binary as opposed to androgynous.