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14 March 2009 @ 02:19 am
Privilege is often invisible. Not always, and less frequently to people who don't have whatever kind of privilege it is, but it thrives in invisibility. Talking with my brother tonight I was finally able to identify a particular type of TAB* privilege that I've repeatedly bumped up against but couldn't ever see the shape of.

Although it's been correctly emphasized in disability rights (and intersectional) circles that "disabled" and "sick" aren't the same thing -- that plenty of disabled people aren't sick at all -- it's also true that some disabled people are sick, and I happen to be one. My disability is a longterm, chronic physical illness. I live with it, I do my best; this is my life.

The TAB privilege that I finally articulated tonight is this: some people who know I am sick expect a different response from me when they ask "how are you?" than they would expect from TABs. Not everyone, of course! But many people who know me ask "how are you?" and fully expect a CFIDS update. This sounds sweet and caring, and it mostly is, in terms of intention; but think about the question "how are you?" in our culture. It generally offers many possible paths for the askee to take. You can answer shallowly or deeply, broadly or narrowly; you can be honest or you can brush it off. You can choose according to mood or context or whether you like the person. You can reasonably expect that if you answer "fine, and you?", things will go on from there.

But because I have a chronic illness, I find that lots of people ask "how are you?" and expect to be told exactly how my CFIDS is doing lately. As if it's their right to know. And maybe I'm happy to tell them -- but maybe I'm not. Why shouldn't I be allowed the same options as TABs, the same right to choose a casual answer if I want?

I've tried it, and when this phenomenon is happening, a casual "fine" elicits... wild joy. Which is bizarre and irritating to me. The asker acts like the circus has come to town. They act like I have announced some EXCELLENT NEWS. They say "Oh, I am so glad your health is better than before!!"

Which... maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. Maybe I just want the same option to employ social boundaries that TABs have.

*TAB = "temporarily able-bodied." This is a term for people who are not disabled. It works as a reminder that anyone can become disabled at any point.
Heidisioneva on March 17th, 2009 05:38 pm (UTC)
We have a lovely woman at our church that I'd be friends with if we lived a bit closer, and she had more time, I had more time, etc. etc. - she's essentially had a headache for the last YEAR and only in the last month did they figure out what was going on.

I probably did ask her "how are you" with more weight than I'd have addressed it to a TAB...although I didn't think about it that way. I really do want to know how people were doing and I think I did want to offer sympathy if she wasn't feeling well. I hadn't thought about the fact that it might not come across that way!

Thanks for giving me this to think about (discovered you via a comment on Shapely Prose :) )
Rebecca Rabinowitz: House You Pass On the Waydiceytillerman on March 17th, 2009 09:02 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading. :)

There's certainly plenty of chance that your friend from church is glad to hear a "how are you" inquiry that really wants to know the truth. Such inquiries aren't always a negative thing; in some times and places, they feel like a gift! And then there are other times and contexts when they feel the way I was describing above, as if having an illness/disability/medical issue makes our bodies more public access than other people's. There's no formula because all relationships and contexts are different. For me, the more people in a row who are likely to be asking -- such as at a big gathering -- the less likely I want to feel compelled to answer. But that's just me.

Thinking about it is good, and trusting your instinct is also good.