I’ve got into a lot of fights about privilege hierarchies lately, at least partially inspired by a (white) cis male friend who gets bodily flung out of the way on public transport as people rush to the priority seats, because they assume that, being young and male, he’s going to be ablebodied as well (This is basically why he can’t use public transport anymore). This is even though he walks with a stick. He’s got Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, more dramatically than I do, and as a result a badly-timed knock (or being made to stand on a moving vehicle) can leave him bed-ridden for a few days. I’m only marginally better off, wear wrist, elbow and knee braces all the time, walk with a cane or crutches, and take huge amounts of morphine to deal with the pain which comes with it.
And people keep saying to me (and him) “Oh, but if you were BLACK” or “Oh, but if you were PLUS SIZED” and in his case “Oh, but if you were A WOMAN”
And here’s the thing that occurred to me. I’ve been told over and over again, that I’m really near the top of any privilege pyramid that can exist. This, generally speaking, centres around the fact that I’m white and thin. And yep, I really am white and thin.
But here’s a game;
Hey, White Fat Ablebodied Woman! I’ve found a magic lamp;
It’ll swap your fat, for my disabled. So you get to be white and thin and disabled, and I get to be white and fat and ablebodied.
This is a chance that I’d jump at. I would literally tear your hand off to get that magic lamp, if I could.
How about you, White Fat Ablebodied Woman? It’ll be glorious!
-You’ll get to wear all the cute clothes! Everything will be made in your size, as-default!
-You’ll get to go shopping, in bricks-and-mortar shops, and try things on before you buy them! No more online shopping for you, you can go out with your friends and buy things!
-When people meet you, they won’t make any sudden assumptions about your lifestyle!
– Of course, you’ll still get snide jokes, but instead of getting called “porky”, you’ll get called “cripple”, and you’ll still get things thrown at you in the street, and violent attacks because you’re wrong/different/an easy target, and people still make assumptions about your lifestyle (We get called lazy too, and get assumed to be stupid, just like you do, and thought of as asexual, and assumed to not care about our appearances, and passed over in job applications because even though it’s not lawful to do so, employers would still rather hire someone that’s not disabled) and every second person has advice about how we could “get better”, but some things never change, and we’ve just swapped one privilege for another, so hey hum, it all tallies out… Right.
Oh, and people WILL want to touch your orthotics, or your wheelchair, or your cane. So your personal space kind of won’t be your own, even more so than the standard “You’re a woman, thus your arse is pinchable” way, more like “You’re a cripple, so I’m going to have to touch you and push you and steer you around because you obviously can’t think for yourself, and I need to interact with you as if you were a toddler that’s lost their grip on Mummy’s hand” But you’ll get used to that. Onwards!
-Hang on, you won’t get to wear all the cute clothes. You’ve lost your job because you can’t make it into work in the mornings, because your medication makes you feel so ill. So you can’t afford them. But never mind, even if you could afford them, you couldn’t wear them, because you can only fasten buttons and zips half of the time, and your skin hurts so much that wearing clothes at all is like being rubbed all over with sandpaper. Ah well, you’ll settle for the soft cotton t-shirt and the jogging bottoms that you’ve had forever, they’re nice and comfy and they’ll do whilst you go out and buy your tightly-budgetted new wardrobe with your friends!
-Wait a minute, you can’t go out! Every time you try to stand up, there’s explosions of pain from one or more of your joints that momentarily blind you. And you’re still knackered from a combination of your medication, the wrestling match that you had last night with your own shoulders, and the fatigue that goes hand-in-hand with chronic pain. Oh well, have some more morphine and get out there, girl!
-Hang on, you probably don’t really want to go out there. If you’re going on your own, you’re going to need to really put your faith in the goodness of strangers. And be prepared that if you DO collapse in public, you’re probably going straight to A+E, whether or not a friendly bystander decides to help you get there or not. Might be better off just staying at home, really, unless you can get a friend to go with you. And if you do stay at home, you can’t automatically shop on the internet – A lot of the time, your hands are going to hurt so much that typing is impossible; But don’t worry, you’ll get really proficient with speech-to-text, if you can find a way to afford the software (Damn having lost that job and having to wait for PIP/ESA – Oh, and if you DO want ESA, you’d better not try to make a bit of money on the side; ESA is a commitment to live below the poverty line dontcherknow). But hey, you’ve got good friends, and they LOVE your new look, so one of them has picked you up from your house and off you go to the shops!
-Hmm, you’ve gone out with your friends, but they’re kind of diving off ahead of you – They want to go to ALL the cute clothes boutiques, so… I suppose it’s fine, you can wait a few out in a coffee shop. Oh, now your joints are seizing up from sitting still for too long. That might end up with a fall, and back to A+E you go. And it’s looking like your friends are getting on well enough without you – I suppose it is a lot to ask that they always visit your house, especially when half of the time you’re barely conscious and just need them to bring you groceries. They don’t mean to drift away, but I suppose they are, a little bit. But hey, you can make new friends, now that they’re not all going to assume that you’re lazy and gross!
– Ah, um… Looks like you’re finding it difficult to meet people at all, what with never leaving the house. Nobody is judging you, but that’s because nobody knows you exist, other than a couple of taxi drivers, your flatmates, and your physiotherapist. But hey, let’s take a trip out to an evening class – They’re a great place to make new friends, you’ll be indoors, with a first-aider, and you can get there by taxi if you’ve budgetted enough to book one (Man, money is tight with no regular income). So you get to the evening class (Not the first one you wanted! The first one you wanted wouldn’t let you go for nebulous “insurance reasons” that they never quite clarified) and you know what, it’s pretty good! You’re sat down, having a bit of a giggle doing a life-drawing and get to meet some new people – Oh, but they want to go out to the pub. Or town. Well, you can’t do that, but you’ll invite them over, when you can. Of course, you have to cancel a few times, because you’re not well enough to host, and you miss a few classes so you never re-schedule, and they start forming friendship groups that don’t really have you in, and you’re back to square one.
-But hey, like you kept reminding me over and over again, this body is a massive privilege, and your disadvantage and my disadvantage are exactly equal in magnitude, so you must be feeling just as good about this transaction as I do!
Hmm, if you’re not going to take it, I’m going to take this lamp over to British Minority Ethnic Thin Ablebodied Woman and ask her if she’ll swap me for a White.