Capitalism must uphold certain myths to function. One of the primary myths is that the more productive you are and the more wealth you generate, the better person you are.
People who deviate from this myth threaten to undermine the entire capitalist system. Those of us who violate the goal of striving for the ideal (by choice or by our existence, as is the case with many disabled people) or who challenge our roles face consequences for our deviance. Sometimes those consequences are legal ones, but more often they are social consequences. We are made into examples; we are denied the joys, comforts and pleasures that other ‘normal’ people have access to.
We are deviant because our minds and bodies do not fit the capitalist notion of the ideal, an ideal equated with what is productive. In a society where disabled people face countless obstacles; physical, mental and systemic, we cannot be productive, at least to the extent that would be required of us to be considered ‘normal’.
People assigned the status of supercrip are given temporary reprieve from these consequences.
The rest of us are punished for our deviance. One of these punishments is the control of our sexualities and reproduction. Sexual and reproductive control is important because it is a way for people to assert their own autonomy, have control over their own bodies, enjoy their bodies and procreate when and how they please. Just as it is important to control the means of production in a capitalist society, it is important to control reproduction as it is the most rudimentary form of human production. One key component of controlling reproduction is controlling sexuality. In the case of disabled people, it is important to control our sexuality as a means of punishing us for our deviance from the capitalist ideals. The lesson here is “you cannot be happy if you give up your pursuit of the capitalist ideal; keep striving to be more productive and you will be rewarded.”
Disability as Deviant
Disabled genders are inherently deviant. One of the capitalist myths is that men and women have specific roles and that there are only two sexes, male and female. Although the latter is untrue and is proven by the existence of intersexed people, genderqueers and some trans people, and the former makes no logical sense, the myth of the binary gender system prevails. However, the medical establishment attempts to conceal the existence of intersexed people through genital surgery and hormones (oftentimes preformed unconsensually on children) and to control the existence of transsexuals through a rigid system of gender definitions and tests that most non-transsexuals would not pass. Indeed, the only place where our society departs from the notion that there are only two genders or sexes is in regards to disability. Take, for instance, washrooms – there is a women’s washroom, a men’s’ washroom, and a disabled people’s washroom.
Disabled people are often considered to be a third gender, one without real sex or gender characteristics. We are oftentimes desexualized and seen not as men or women (or even genderqueer) but as wheelchairs, canes, ‘crazy’, ‘slow’, or sick. Eli Clare writes in Exile and Pride:
To be female and disabled is to be seen as not quite a woman; to be male and disabled is to be seen as not quite a man. The mannerisms that help define gender… are all based upon how nondisabled people move. The construction of gender depends not only upon the male body and the female body, but also upon the nondisabled body. p.112
The same view can be extended to the mind, where the construction of gender depends not only upon the male mind and the female mind, but also the non-disabled mind. This understanding of gender reinforces the capitalist myth by viewing disabled people as asexual and non-gendered.
Consequences of Deviation:
Because disabled people are unproductive within the capitalist framework, we are desexualized and oftentimes forcibly regendered. This has profound implications on our lives.
Some of these consequences are:
No porn: it is almost impossible to find porn that depicts disabled people as sexy in a non-fetishistic, creepy way (and even that is really, really hard to find).
No partners: it is difficult for many disabled people to find partners because of the incorrect assumptions about disabled people’s sexiness and capacity to have sex.
No pride: the constant bombardment of messages: through billboards, stares, rejection, the media, and pity, repeatedly tell us that we are unattractive and unsexy, blasting holes through our hearts and our senses of self-worth.
note: we do have this stuff, it is just hard and rare and is a real point of resistance for many disabled people.
These messages that disabled people are inherently unattractive weren’t created out of nothing. Where productivity is the most highly valued characteristic of a person, productivity translates into attractiveness in a capitalist system. Because disabled people are so far removed from the capitalist ideal and from what is perceived to be productive, our gender identities are stolen from us and replaced simply with ‘disabled’ and it is, therefore, assumed we are inherently unattractive.
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