If an alien were to visit certain parts of Earth and take a look at many of the bathroom doors here, they’d see a regular bathroom for the figure in a dress, a regular bathroom for the figure in pants, and a single stall for the figure in a wheelchair. Based on this, they might well come to the conclusion that human society recognizes three genders: man, woman, and disabled. And, as far as how nondisabled people think about disability, they might not be totally wrong.
Disability is seen and treated as simultaneously emasculating and defeminizing. On the one hand, it’s often assumed that disabled people lack some of the most prized qualities associated with masculinity — namely, physical strength and a keen intellect. Meanwhile, we’re not considered to have positive traditionally feminine traits such as beauty and social graces either. If anything, we get assumed to have the worst traits attributed to each gender: dangerous, out of control violence and sexuality on the masculine side, and contemptible dependency on the feminine.
But disabled people are also, too often, “its.” As in “it was probably kept in its parent’s basement as their secret shame.” As in “kill it before it lays eggs.” As in, “these aren’t people, these are animals.” (And I wish I were making these up.) Those might be some of the worst examples, but they show where we stand all the same.
So it’s both easier and… maybe not harder, but with an extra layer of fraught, to be a disabled person living outside the gender binary. On the one hand, you’ve always been there anyways, so there’s no pressure to pretend to be anything else. On the other hand, you’ve always been there anyways, so why does it matter? Why do you need all these labels? Why do you want to be weirder? Why would you let your identity be defined by other people’s perceptions of you?
On a day to day basis, it might not matter, at least in the sense of having any grand, intentional purpose behind it. It’s just us living our lives as close to our true selves as we can under the circumstances.
But in overall sense, as non-binary (and in particular visibly) disabled people, we’re in one of the best positions to create disabled variations on the theme of gender — more than just a nondescript stick figure sitting in a wheelchair next to the men and women. We can be its if we want to be, but we can also be hes, shes, theys, eys, zies and more, and we can make it mean something other than “thing,” other than “monster,” other than “freak.” Hopefully it’ll give nondisabled people something better to understand us by. But more importantly, it’ll be there for other disabled people, cisgender or transgender of any sort, to find and draw from as fits them.
I don’t know the way there. I’m still trying to pin down my own self and figure out who and what that person is, how to describe them, and how best to be them. Once I have a better sense of all that, though, and maybe even on the way, I look forward to helping find some of the ways we can go.