This post is inspired out of a recent conversation with the magnificent Wheelchair Dancer. As two physically disabled women of color, a conversation about our edges is complicated. There are many edges and, for me, it is hard to know where to begin and how to enter. Our conversation began around a table in the sun one afternoon with not nearly enough time to share everything. We decided we would continue it here on our blogs and post our thoughts on the same day at the same time. Her post can be found here.
I am grateful for this space to talk about my edges, a place to lay down some of the swirling mass inside my head and body. When I think about edges, I think about my limits, the places where I need to stop in order to take care of myself. I think about my physical limits particularly, as someone with a physical disability, and how far is “too far” to push my body. Many times this was dependent on actually being able to feel my body—a complicated task for so many of us.
As someone assigned female at birth and socialized as a disabled girl and woman of color by white adoptive parents, my emotional edges have seemed impossible to find. I have always felt that because I have physical limitations, I can’t have emotional ones. It has felt like I’ve had to learn how to hold emotional space for others, in order to redeem my physical “shortcomings.” As a girl and woman of color adoptee it felt like this was a way to “fit in,” to not be a burden, a way to finally feel wanted. It was a way that I could give back, instead of always being made to feel like I was taking too much, instead of constantly being called “lazy.” A way I could hold other people and have them be dependent on me, instead of the other way around. Pushing past my emotional edge has looked like giving too much emotionally, denying my own emotional needs for the sake of others, holding emotional intensity even when I didn’t want to or wasn’t ready to, shrinking, never sharing my emotions with people or learning how to make others feel emotionally (comfortable) close to me, but rarely having people I felt emotionally close to or comfortable with.
This strategy of emotional edge pushing also aligned with being feminine and indeed, as people who are (socialized to be) feminine, we are taught that it is our job to take care of other people’s emotions, denying our own. As a disabled girl of color, wanting to try and find any way into “woman,” not having emotional edges seemed to be almost desirable; or rather, it seemed like it would make me more desirable. The cruel cutting twist that heteronormativity seemed like the only route back to being desirable after ableism had pushed me out and adoption had pulled (taken) me away, and left me with a life-size puzzle of asian-disabled-womanhood to put together on my own.
I have lived a life of pushing myself too far, well past my edge, partly to survive and partly because I had no clue where my edge was. And this is still true in so many ways. Ableism is so seductive, so alluring, so all-together-spell-binding, that I find myself erasing my edges and redrawing them, until I become laid up sick in bed or physically injure myself. I am constantly navigating access or connection, “my edge” or being with community. The pull of connection and relationships, is always what gets me. It excites me and makes me abandon my edge. It is the part of me that foolishly thinks I can be someone who can party hop, work a 14 hour day and then go and socialize, doesn’t need sleep, doesn’t need to bring my wheelchair. It is internalized ableism. It is the seduction of ableism. And it has been the only way I have been able to be part of queer people of color community and social justice community in any real way.
I know what’s at stake. The edge is no mystery. I know that disabled and sick people are coerced in small and big, covert and blatant ways everyday to harm ourselves by systems, institutions and the very people we love and who love us. I know that the life I have lived, the amount of people that I know, the relationships I have been able to build, the access to love, sex, desire, laughter and community that I have had are a direct reflection of (and have been dependent on) me pushing past my edge. Otherwise, I could not have been part of the work that I so love and the communities that have saved my life.
This should not be the way it has to be. We cannot keep asking our kin to harm themselves to feel like they belong or to be worthy of connection. We cannot keep expecting that ableism (and capitalism) will do the work for us to keep disabled people segregated or propel us to push, those of us who can, past our edges. This is what I think about when I think about edges. I know I am one fall, one slip away from a very different edge; one that doesn’t have as much give and take. One that cannot do stairs, even on a good day, even with enough shame to motivate me.
I am learning to find my edge. My edge is different on different days. Some days I can feel my body, some days I can’t. Some days the pain makes it too hard of a place to be. Some days I can handle what is revealed from feeling, some days I can’t.
There is memory there, mixed with blood and bone, cells and tissue. There is history that you cannot turn away from embedded in these veins. There is a telling of war and pain, division and separation, loneliness and longing, humiliation and violence, resiliency and returning. There are stories of a land, a family, a body, a heart, a life. Knowing my edge means knowing all of this, as well as when I feel tired and when I need to rest. Knowing my edge means knowing myself and all the ways my body (heart) has been pushed past what was good for it. It means knowing inside and out that belonging does not have to be proven or earned or sacrificed for; it is for all of us. For all of us.