Reparations of the heart

Earlier this week I shared a beautiful piece done by SBS on Sydney’s erotic deaf dancer on Instagram. I had been so thrilled to watch and read the piece because I played a tiny part in that story. Katia, who is the founder of Sky Sirens had invited students to be volunteers in her film.

Even though I have been a student at SS since July 2019, 26th May 2021 was the first time I had interacted with Katia in person. I was beyond impressed at her ability to lip-read and understand the people around her and teach us a short choreography in 5 minutes that hit the beats of the song.

I had a realization that day that I had not actually interacted with many people with disabilities or chronic illnesses or any invisible issues. Immediately after the class I messaged a friend who is a sign language interpreter to teach me some common phrases as I had a workshop with Katia in a couple weeks time.

Within 2 days, I learnt to spell my my name, say my pronouns, ask for help, ask for a repeat demonstration in Auslan 🙂 Auslan is pretty fun! I managed to use some of it during my workshop with Katia but I also panicked halfway during my finger-spelling as I was signing much slower than I was speaking and I knew it must have looked incoherent.

Anyway, back to what I was talking about now.

I shared the SBS story because I was truly inspired by Katia’s journey and how she didn’t let her disability stop her passions. It was not a disability she was born with and thus had to change her life to adapt to me. When I shared the story, I wrote that I had my own paranoia for becoming disabled one day and that her story was comforting to me as she managed to embrace and overcome it.

For context, I did not say this in my shared story but this is what was going through my head – I have recurring nightmares of being jumped on / stabbed / attacked while walking home and specifically my attacker chops my legs off with a huge machete. Whenever I drive or am a passenger in any vehicle, my mind is imagining a car crash. What if I get in an accident right now? What if that car beside or behind us loses control? What if my legs get crushed?

It’s always my legs because the thought of losing my legs and not being able to dance is horrifying and I can’t imagine how I would live like that. I also have a separate fear of things falling on me and crushing me and killing or paralysing me – i.e. signs / billboards / traffic lights (I associate this from the freak accident scene in the movie Dodgeball)

The next morning, I got a response back on my story from someone with a disability (they are not wheelchair-bound/have not lost any limbs) saying that my comment about being paranoid of becoming disabled was ableist and made the person uncomfortable. They said it was hurtful that I said something like that, even if I didn’t mean it that way.

You’re saying you don’t want to become someone like me, that you would hate to be someone like me.”

I almost had a heart attack when I read that. I was so shaken that my comment had been interpreted that way. I was completely oblivious and ignorant to how someone would feel. I started to cry. I wanted to dig up a hole and hide in there forever. How would I ever face this person again?

It got my thoughts racing about everything I have been posting and talking about. How many people have I offended? How many people have felt uncomfortable about what I’ve said online or in-person?

I started to spiral for the rest of the day..

If I posted a picture of my cat, saying how much I loved it, would that be discriminatory and hurtful or offensive to someone with cat allergies? Is being allergic to cats and hence not being able to be near one considered a disability? Is talking about cuddling my cat to someone who is unable to be near one ableist?

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I’ve decided to take an absence from social media and avoid sharing and commenting on posts for .. some time. My heart is in great pain. I can’t look at social media without being reminded of my erroneous actions. I am very ashamed to have hurt someone without meaning to and making them feel even more vulnerable. I hate that I’m running away but I don’t know how else to deal with this. I need to educate myself more, I need to be more observant and mindful of others. I cannot do this again.

I’m really sorry for my selfish comment.

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