When I was living in Portland, OR and waiting for my future husband Kevin’s visa to get approved, I had a psychiatrist who had an office downtown on Taylor Street. I traveled to my appointments with her using public transit. I had an ID and lanyard identifying myself as having the ability to get half-priced tickets. One particular appointment day, I decided to dress up, because I had been feeling utterly depressed. Of course, I would figure out that I am someone who likes to be able to touch their partner after getting into a long distance-by-circumstance relationship.
I decided I should make an effort and dress up. Not usually a big deal, right? But I had spent pretty much my entire life, save for short bursts of effort, dressing pretty plainly. I explained this to myself by saying I liked solid colors and didn’t like prints or flashy clothes that much. It really had a lot to do with the fact that I had worn a leg brace on my left leg until I was 14 years old. I had to wear two different sized shoes to accommodate this beast, and a side effect of its prolonged use is that my left leg is two centimeters smaller in diameter than my right leg. I spent a great deal of time wearing baggy clothing so I could hide it.
Currently, I am trying to figure out what my actual style is, what my style voice is. But for now let’s get back to public transit in Portland. I’m dressed up, I am wearing a skirt, probably one of ten that I have owned in different periods of my life. My shoes don’t look too shabby, and my shirt is form fitting. I look good, in my opinion.
I board the Max train and head downtown, then I switch to the bus. When you have a lanyard and ID like the one I had, you get to kick people out of the front of the bus for a seat. I did, and it gave me great joy doing this. I take my seat at the front of the bus and across from me is a gentleman in a mobility device. I sense that he is not happy with me being there. My lanyard is hidden by my coat, and his is hanging from his mobility device. He never says a word to me, only staring quite disapprovingly. I get the message, and I open my coat to show my lanyard. “I’m part of the tribe,” I try to communicate to him with my eyes. He softens instantly, and tells me to “have a nice day” as he is leaving the bus.
I have recalled this day from time to time, thinking about how people with disabilities are expected to look. The burden of proving our disabilities falls on our shoulders, and that day I learned that, at least according to some, we are not allowed to dress up. I am left wondering again how much I allow the expectations of others, perceived or real, and the expectations of society, perceived or real, to influence how I express myself. I am a work in progress. I intend to be seen and be heard. I intend to break free from this, and just be “myself” evolving, changing and growing along the way.
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