There are two stories I could tell you.
One: I’m clinging to my roommate’s arm, trying to (re)learn how to walk in heels.
Two: A friend sent me a pair of shoes.
One: I wore heels, once. I was in a choir, it was a really big deal, and the high school girls had to wear character shoes. I got the lowest possible heel, and I was OK, mostly.
I liked how they sounded on the floor, so sometimes I wore them in college, or to council meetings, or when I went to Washington. I think they had maybe a half-inch heel.
I lost my character shoes in the move. Two years went by. I tore all the muscles in my left ankle, every last one, and I couldn’t go to physical therapy.
I put on a new pair of heels, and I knew instantly I didn’t remember how to do this.
Two: My life looks different now from when I was high school. I am connected now, in some pretty formal ways, to hundreds of disabled people all across the world. A couple of weeks ago, one of those people, a Facebook friend who has done a lot to show me what living with pride and joy in a disabled body looks like, posted she had somehow wound up with a pair of Mary Jane shoes that were far too big for her. Did any “crip femmes*” she knew want them?
They were a size 11. I usually only have one pair of shoes at a time, and let me tell you, finding cute shoes in your size when you are over six feet tall is not easy. I said so. She sent me a picture, I noted they had heels, we worked out the logistics.
A few days ago, they arrived. My roommate helped me open the box.
I did remember how to put them on by myself.
I am autistic. Just like the screenings warn, I walked on my toes when I was little, and until I hurt my ankle this summer, I still did. I can dance, kind of, not really. In my own way. I have a lot of trouble with conventional femininity — I wear long skirts and long hair after a religious upbringing, but I don’t have the motor skills or the patience or the social-cognitive something for most of the work required to do femme traditionally.
I can’t put on my own makeup or paint my nails. I can’t fasten any clothes a typical 6-year-old can’t. I used to be able to pin up my braids, but I lost that skill sometime last year after going too long without OT. The day you see me with my hair perfectly coiffed and my eyes carefully made up, in a coat with buttons and boots with no zippers, is the day you know I’ve either been married or placed on a Medicaid waiver.
Like a lot of disabled women hoping no one notices we’ve snuck into the professional world, I cling to the few scraps of traditional femininity I can hold on to with my teeth. My friend, another autistic woman in the workplace, calls it “femme-NOS.”
Being able to wear heels again would be a big deal.
“We’re gonna walk around the room,” my roommate says, and I nod and hang on for dear life.
“Why did you want these?” he asks.
“The gala,” I say grimly. One of these days I am going to be dressed to kill.
“OK,” he says. At the last gala, he helped ferry me from guest to guest, guiding me through the crowd and staving off meltdowns and making the loudest night of the year mildly enjoyable.
“We’ll have to practice a lot.”
One of my other friends runs a blog called CP Shoes, about disability and shoes and some other things. I know as soon as I volunteer to take the shoes I am going to want to write a thing for her. I’m writing, again, because some things worked out and I have a little more energy, a tiny bit of space for words left in my brain on the weekends.
Some of my friends and I are starting to talk, in various places and various ways, about #DressingWhileDisabled. There are a lot of stories about disability out there, and not a lot of them look like our lives.
We have to tell them ourselves. We have to tell them together.
I sit down, and there are two stories I can write.
One: I’m autistic, and there are things I have to learn and struggle with and overcome, like wearing heels.
Two: A friend sent me a pair of shoes, and on a night dedicated to celebrating disability and community and the way my brain and my body glitch at each other, I’m going to wear them.
I want to write a story about shoes and disability, about the connections the disability community makes between people who are short and people who are awkward crashing giants.
About the ways my life has gotten so much bigger.
About objects and ideas that get passed from person to person.
About the ways disabled women or “crip femmes*” or we take care of each other when no one else will.
We’re taking it one step, one story, at a time. And these are the stories I want to see.
* “Crip femme”: a term from the LGBT community for some kinds of women with disabilities.
A version of this post originally appeared on Just Stimming…
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