A Different Answer

bio_dave_hingsburgerI was asked, by someone who seriously wanted to know, if I encountered more discrimination because of my disability or because of my sexuality. As this wasn’t part of a frivolous conversation where a quick, and funny response would have been acceptable, I paused to think about it.

And there was much to think about.

In terms of my sexuality, the prejudice around being gay, being part of a gay couple, and wanting to live as freely and as openly as possible has defined much of my life. It defined my relationships with my friends and family. It defined where we lived and how we lived. It defined our choices in recreation and in socialization. My life path wound it’s way through a lavender field, with stretches of loneliness and stretches of peril and stretches of defiance.

My disability is a much more recent event, it’s been nearly 10 years now that I’ve been a wheelchair user, and it was a shock to discover that much of the lavender path that I was on was now inaccessible to me. That again my life was being defined not by who I was but by where I could go, the places I had access to and the new battles I had to fight. The discrimination this time was different because it was visible in ways that being gay is not. I can, as a gay person, make myself invisible.

So my answer was, “I encounter much more discrimination because of my weight.”  I hadn’t been asked about weight but it was the only honest answer. When in public I can forget that I’m disabled, forget that I’m gay, because when I’m in accessible environments doing stuff that isn’t focused on my identity as a gay person, I just get about my business. However, I’m never, ever, ever, allowed to forget that I’m fat.

The experience of being as fat as I am leaves me exposed to acts of social violence and hostility on an ongoing and constant basis. Every day. Every time.

I don’t wish to go into this further than that because I’ve written about this before. What I do think is important is that the initial question I was asked didn’t include weight as a possible source of discrimination. It wasn’t an obvious place to go for the person asking me. People are used to equating discrimination to sexuality or to disability in ways that they are not able to equate with weight. It’s exclusion in the question was telling. In fact, when I answered the person explained the exclusion by saying they didn’t want to offend me.

I pointed out that the fact that they thought ‘weight’ as an identity as potentially more ‘shameful’ or if not shameful, more resistant to a prideful life, demonstrated my point that weight is attached to all sorts of negative connotations and therefore is rife with potential discrimination.

So, there it is … an different answer to the wrong question.

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