Gender, Physical Movement, Permission and Waiting

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USA Today reported that a majority of disability-related complaints filed with the Department of Transportation cited airline wheelchair service as a big problem.

Failure to assist passengers in chairs was the number one complaint. Passengers:

also complained of damaged chairs, poor seating arrangements, inaccessible aircraft and excessive waits for stored chairs upon landing.

How I moved through the physical world changed as more and more hormones transitioned my body into a semblance of male. Physical deference, a sense of physical safety and an awareness that I had metamorphasized into a “big guy” solidified in my mind that significant physical changes to my body changed how much physical space the world granted me. And, that “land grant,” if you will, also changed my perception of myself. The world and its inhabitants conspired to let me explore as much as I wanted to. It was my right.

“Race” and “class” and “gender” and “youth” and “aged” and “fat” and “disabled” and “impaired” are constructed, in part I think, by how much physical movement we grant each of these labels. The constriction of a disabled person’s movement happens because we let it happen. In small and large ways, known and unknown, we agree as a society that folks with impairments get a small range of movement. I know this may sound harsh. But there is no power outside of our individual and collective actions, unless you believe in some Higher Power that has time to guide every action of every person in the world.

Of course, my dear astute readers will say, you think we don’t know that. Yet I still find it astonishing to have gone through this shift in an everyday, ordinary kind of way. My physical world expanded.

So I’m always on the look out for how we grant, shift and proscribe other people’s physical movements because of the label we assign them (usually based on the perceived type of body they have).

And I wonder about folks whose world we contract. What options are never available to them? How much of their life energy is spent justing moving a short distance in our world?

As our society ages, more and more physically mobile people will live with new confinements. Many of them, I think, won’t put up with it. These folks, after all, came of age in the sixties. Some of them have lots of money to spend harassing the airline, auto, building and transportation industries to return them a greater movement through the world.

Life transitions should never constrict movement. But they do. I have been blessed with greater physical movement through my transition. Though we currently construct my body as a sack of bones and flesh granted greater physical movement than just about all others, this permission is a right. It is not a privilege for a few nor a “fact” that I must resign myself to now that I am a man.

We have created worlds and granted these permissions and restrictions. I believe we can change them. Call me naive. Yet, I wonder, who else created these conditions?

cover for Moxie, Vol. 1 by Jay SennettMy essay collection, Moxie, Vol. 1, will be released January 15, 2018. Preorder your copy today at Amazon, Nook, Kobo and Apple Books.

6 Comments

  1. I can certainly attest to the lack of support from airlines for travelers with mobility issues! My mother had hip replacement surgery in the summer of 2001, and she had to travel to another midwestern town about 2 hours away by airplane, because she was undergoing a brand-new procedure that was still in clinical trials.

    As she deplaned after her very painful surgery and plane ride, I was appalled to see that she was the last one off of the plane, and that none of the flight attendants were helping her, or even seemed concerned whether she made it into the terminal safely. We had to wait for 45 minutes for someone on the ground to find us an operable wheelchair, all the while my mother was crying softly in pain and murmuring, “I just want to go home.” Apparently this is what passes for customer service on a “low-cost carrier”.

    It was gut-wrenching and pathetic to witness, and I’m still angry about it.

  2. >

    As well you should be, and we all should be outraged at a system that doesn’t give employees the tools they need to do their jobs and for so many other reasons.

    What I wonder is how many more people will be in your Grandmother’s unfortunate situation as the baby boomers get older.

    I know my Mom and Dad will chew sometimes hind quarters off and hand it to them on a platter in a similar situation.

    And I just am so curious how we will respond as a society to mobility issues and aging.

  3. Any transperson could tell you that, Jay. We have unbearable bodies ourselves. They remind people who are ostensibly without gender issues that things aren’t as simple as they like, just as a vulnerable body reminds people that they, too, will eventually be vulnerable. Until we have not only a critical but an outraged mass, the solution will be the same: passability. The elderly and increasingly infirm will do their best to pretend that they are neither old nor hindered for as long as they can. That’s already happening; the boomers are searching out the appearance of youth, not protection in old age.

  4. Until we have not only a critical but an outraged mass, the solution will be the same: passability. The elderly and increasingly infirm will do their best to pretend that they are neither old nor hindered for as long as they can. That’s already happening; the boomers are searching out the appearance of youth, not protection in old age.

    Definitely a possibility, passability.

    I don’t know if I agree with your statement that Any transperson could tell you that, Jay. We have unbearable bodies ourselves.

    I’ve known of at least one transperson who completely derided another transperson with a disability around the disability.

    I think you probably hang out with more astute people, and are yourself more astute than most. 😉

    I guess I’m coming from a place where I see ableism so entrenched that it’s difficult for temporarily able bodied folks to see it as an issue, at all. And I just wonder how they will view ableism as it comes home to them. Will passaibility work? Will they claim the label “disabled,” or will “ability” expand to include what we now describe as “disabled”?

  5. >>I’ve known of at least one transperson who completely derided another transperson with a disability around the disability.

    I think you probably hang out with more astute people, and are yourself more astute than most. ;-)>>

    I know transpeople who deride other transpeople for being transsexual. I don’t mean that we’re all conscious, just that the same dynamic operates in both situations.

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