When you dwell in caves, you are bound to see shadows of life casted on the walls and try to interpret them from within your own limited experience, like in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.
This post was written while I was extremely angry. Editing took care of most of the harshness (I hope) and added the research. My anger is however still simmering and I had debated with myself whether to press the Publish button or not. The little guy with the horns and tail won.
I try to avoid reading overt transphobic articles and comments, but being a “freak” in more than one way – a trans guy with a disability, sometimes others’ opinions and beliefs are shoved down my throat and I can only but gag. This happened recently and I need to vent, so I am doing it here in the relative anonymity of my blog.
I was sent a report on a conference attended by a senior person at work and diligently started reading it. This paragraph I read over and over:
“What was however shocking … was when (the presenter) showed videos and DVD’s of blind and partially sighted (people) expressing their views on the use of (…) equipment, devices for the blind and reading in braille, without their eyes being covered by at least dark (sun) glasses. This led to some people crying and others sitting in shock or walking out. This must be brought to the attention of (the conference organizers). Sensitivity should be of paramount importance and parading blind and partially sighted (people) should be avoided.”[Italics are mine – their words were replaced with more generalized words to be less identifiable.]
Then the volcano in me erupted onto this post. We had just celebrated Diversity Month in August and now this person in a leadership position is effectively saying that people with a disability offend their perception of a “normal” human being. Should I now remove my hearing aids when in their company? Should amputees only appear in public when they wear prosthetic limbs? Should any person with some sort of physical deformity cover up (if they can) before appearing in public? Etc., etc., etc. – you get my point.
This kind of attitude in the people in my frame of reference and living world, casts enormous shadows on the wall of my mental cave.
We, the different, the “abnormal,” have been seen as freaks since time immemorial, especially people with visible disabilities. What kind of mental cage must Joseph Merrick not have lived in, being gawked at and ridiculed when he consented to make a living as a human exhibit, the Elephant Man? I cannot begin to imagine.
B had been diagnosed with major depression and anxiety disorder, but she looks ‘normal’, so she usually gets asked, “You are still so young and single – why don’t you have a job?” (I tell her to answer, “Because I am a kept woman.” Managing our household is a bloody full-time job, dammit!). When she tells them why, she gets weird looks and a subtle or not-so-subtle physical distancing – do they think she might attack them? Why would they think so? Thank you, Media! How Mental Illness is Misrepresented in the Media.
People with disabilities have been stereotyped in movies to amuse, to scare, to evoke pity, to set standards of ‘normality’ and ‘abnormality’. To cite only one example of media representation: the 1932 film, ‘Freaks‘, feature people with physical deformities. The original version was considered too shocking to be released, and no longer exists.
Lynne Roper of Stirling Media Research Institute, in her article Disability in Media, wrote that “wheelchairs tend to predominate… since they are an iconic sign of disability. Most actors playing disabled characters are, however, not disabled. The wheelchair allows the character to be obviously disabled, whilst still looking ‘normal’, and does not therefore present any major challenges for audience identification.”
Paul Hunt wrote in a book of essays, Stigma, documenting the experience of disability in the 1960’s: ‘We are tired of being statistics, cases, wonderfully courageous examples to the world, pitiable objects to stimulate funding’. It is now 2015 and his statement is just as valid as then. We, disabled people, are still are stereotyped.
And let’s not even get into racial and cultural stereotyping.
Maybe a person without a label attached, has a chance to flourish and sustain some type of individuality outside of being stereotyped, but having such a label around your neck, will take a lot of convincing to change people’s perceptions.
Stereotypes will always be with us and impact on those who are being labeled and typed because of the way in which labels are perpetuated. While gender roles are changing slowly, socializing agents have not. (I am in awe of the creativity of people in advertising, so I suffer through TV adverts for the gem that will make me smile for its fresh approach and originality. I have yet to find a washing powder advert where a woman / women are not ooh!-ing and aah!-ing about the whiteness and colours of the washing with a male scientist / researcher looking on in approval).
Binary gender is defined and restricted by boundaries that are created by the media and plays on society’s stereotypes with images that are presented in such a way that they become the ‘norm’ of society. To some extent they even create and re-create society.
Caitlin Jenner has just become my living and working world’s transgender stereotype. Laverne Cox might be on some’s horizon through Orange is the New Black being shown on South African TV at last – if they care about reading about trans people.
“To have discrimination, you don’t necessarily have to have negative stereotypes that are off the charts,” says Melanie Morrison, a psychologist at the University of Saskatchewan. Amen, Melanie. I came across this article from The Daily Stormer (Neo-Nazi screams from the name of the ‘newspaper’ and its logo), in which a transgender woman is labeled as, “it”, “hideous creature” and other nice things. I know this is extremist, but are they not voicing what many are thinking?
It is because of stereotyping that I cringe every time I think of coming out fully as transgender. It is this kind of viewpoint that lets B pull down an iron boundary when I dare hint at taking T. Media is claiming “The Transgender Tipping Point has arrived”. Yeah, right. Maybe in New York, but certainly not in my little corner of the world. Am I stereotyping stereotypes? Are Stereotypes Unfairly Stereotyped? You be my judge, but just be warned – I am angry, very angry.
- A YouTube video illustrated Plato’s Cave Allegory with clay animation.
- CBS News report “Transgender experience in the ER: “I was a freak show“
- The Cup of Tea scene from the movie The Elephant Man (1980), starring Anthony Hopkins.
- The media perpetuates many myths about mental illness. Read a sampling of common misconceptions in Media’s Damaging Depictions of Mental Illness. I had to smile though about media categorizing mental health professionals into three types: Dr. Evil, Dr. Dippy and Dr. Wonderful. They clearly still have to meet my sage!
- Eight Common Ways Stereotypes Surface and Are Perpetuated, can be found in Leslie Aguilar’s Ouch! That Stereotype Hurts.
- Some clips from the film Freaks. See also A guide to the fascinating stars of Tod Browning’s ‘Freaks’
- Paul Hunt has identified 10 stereotypes of disability.