Organizing ourselves into categories is what we do. To conform to the norms of society, we must be able to answer a series of multiple-choice questions.
Unlike ones on in-class exams, these questions have two choices, and they are often of much higher stakes. Our lives are heavily impacted by how we answer those questions — whether we’re white or black, male or female or able-bodied or disabled, — both directly and indirectly.
But what happens when there isn’t a box we’re comfortable checking off? Do we have to find a way to conform to one of those options or are we free to question whether society is currently a place for everybody as it must be?
Society is evolving in this respect, but this goes beyond adding a third box in the “gender” sections of forms to allow people to explain themselves. And as somebody with a disability, I consider it unacceptable to make it seem that simple.
Having a disability could mean a lot of things. We all, in some way, have a disability. And there’s no way to determine the extent of our disabilities, because we all have different limitations and it’s impossible to create a standard of what we “should” be.
In other words, we’re all able-bodied and disabled. But though people admit they aren’t perfect, they don’t go as far to say that imperfection is, in itself, a disability and put down others whom they perceive to be more disabled than they are.
This comes from our obsession with extremism. With politics, we feel the need to side with one party and criticize the other rather than admitting that our values represent liberalism in some ways and conservatism in others, and this is metaphorical for how we see gender, race and other social constructs.
That’s a problem. Instead of thinking of gender, race, disability and other forms of identity as all-or-nothing systems, we must realize that they are all spectra and we all have our place along those spectra.
Moreover, those spectra are sources of commonality among us.
Everybody is somewhere along each of the spectra, and while some people lean one way or another, most of us are grouped in the middle of them. The sooner we understand this, the sooner we can identify where we are with respect to the spectra, the sooner we can build stronger relationships with one another and end the oppression that plagues society.