By D’Arcee Neal, Agent of Change
This is the fourth #TheDisabledBlackMagellan blog by Agent of Change, D’Arcee Neal who is a fellow in ECNV’s Ford Foundation Disability Justice Initiative. This year, D’Arcee will share his thoughts and experiences about disability and intersectionality with BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized identities.
Earlier this month when the House of Representatives were collectively throwing a massive tantrum err, I mean totally governing in a responsible way that everyone in America totally approved of, one of the most captivating pictures that emerged was that of California Representative Katie Porter reading Mark Manson’s aptly titled The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F—k. Could there have BEEN a more appropriate moment? The internet thought not. And while the timing was sure to raise some eyebrows, one has to commend Representative Porter on her ideal way of keeping calm while the world burns apart in one of my favorite memes that just simply states, “this is fine” while everything burns.
Not to say that everything on is fire. At this time of writing, I find myself in Phuket, Thailand, a lovely beach town that is perpetually 85, windy and bright with a time change that made all my American work appointments horrific. But before I get to Thailand and how it measures up on my tour de force, I should point out, that getting here, to this moment, was in itself an exercise in restraint, not unlike Katie Porter’s. Let me explain.
Picture it. I’m on a flight. A 13 hour jaunt from London England, where I’ve just come back from a weekend sojourn in Copenhagen to see some friends last minute. This time, by the way, was markedly different than the last time I’d visited, and was made so by people who were actually willing to help me by giving directions and making sure I was accommodated in a much better, more spacious room (imagine that.) It made me wonder if for example, I’d followed through on my first mind and tried to find a better space if perhaps things would’ve been made better, but there’s no use in dwelling. That said, now I am on this fully booked flight to Hong Kong, China. Apart from the always-drama of trying to explain to the airplane crew why, for example I need a window seat (so I don’t trap people to the left of me when they want to go to the bathroom), the entire scenario was just generally uncomfortable since, as my father had warned me, Asian airlines do indeed make their seats smaller than what we in America usually enjoy. However, I’ve traveled enough to know and deal with all of that. It’s not a problem. The problem as it was, was when I needed to use the bathroom. Now, how, and what I feel about airplane bathrooms is another post in itself (let’s just say for the sake of time that they’re on par with the 8th level of Dante’s Inferno), but getting to them, and all that this requires is always a production.
Usually the way it goes down falls into one of two categories. Either A) the flight attendant will listen as I very quickly describe that despite policy and their want to build a transforming aisle chair reminiscent of Optimus Prime, that I don’t need it, is one way. What I do need for example, is simply for someone to stand guard at the doors for two minutes because the bathrooms are so narrow I can never put my full legs inside (being unable to stand) and so I simply must pee on my knees while they wait at the door. Further, getting to said door, the easiest way is simply to crawl on the floor to the back and handle my business, despite how it looks. But that request is only only honored half the time. The other half, I am told such things are not allowed, legally they’re obligated blah blah blah. Yes, yes. I know. But what is easiest is option A. In a scenario where nothing is easy. Such was the case on this flight to China.
Despite having a fully packed plane, in the dead of night in the air around 3am, my bladder decided it could not longer wait and I made arrangements to start the inevitable game of shame that was going to begin. I will say, for a supremely annoying situation, the attendants, handled it with as much class and grace as they could. Squeezing past sleeping passengers who had leaned into the aisle way as I tried to move backward, with their cellphone flash lights on guiding the way around people who were utterly confused and upset that their precious sleep was being interrupted by…whatever was happening, I come back to Mark Manson’s pivotal point.
There are times as a disabled person, where you must simply not give a f—k.
The body is the body and it will do what it wants, when it wants, and the world must simply bend around those rules or suffer the consequences. My experiences in China, after landing of course, would mimic this idea, as I had to find my way into the city and into a hotel that was no bigger than a closet (no, seriously) in a 60 year old building whose elevator could not hold my chair without turning diagonally. Yes the hotel owner was looking at me like it wasn’t going to work. But I’d paid for a week upfront. And we’d have to figure it out. And for his part, he did graciously putting my chair in another room or in the hallway when it was occupied. But apart from him? No such concept applied to anyone else while I visited. Despite going to various restaurants, malls, and venues who were completely inaccessible, the response I received was mute. It almost subconsciously gave out the idea that for example, I was to blame for the situation I found myself in, because I was the one who decided to come to China. Not that any of the places there should, I don’t know, have wanted to make themselves accessible or created a system that circumvented these problems. No. The idea is that you have made yourself into an issue by daring to come to a place that you know does not welcome you.
So what do we do? Not give a f—k. It was me getting out of the chair on my hands and knees and lifting it into the Chinese eatery to find a table inside. Here in Thailand, it’s me turning the chair backward as I pull it up behind me one step at a time to go into the Robinson’s market to buy drinking water. It’s staring at legions of motorcycles, cars, and trucks in their face as I roll directly into oncoming traffic because there is no other way. The body will do what it will or we will simply suffer the consequences, in which case, would’ve condemned me to my hotel away from situations, food, and places I want to be by virtue of someone’s else’s decree that I should not be there. I wonder, sometimes, what the shopkeepers think or what the patrons who stare slackjawed as they watch (and here in Thailand actually help so that’s great) me. Do they think me a fool? I wonder if I have American branded on my forehead simply because I will not allow a set of steps to keep me from experiencing the world.
Either way, you already know how I feel. If you don’t, see Representative Katie Porter and she’ll tell you.