The Body (In)Visible
This post is written for Blogging Against Disabilism Day. It is a wonderful space for conversations around disability across the world, do check out other entries on the blog.
There is a word in my native language called ‘laaj’ which loosely translates to ‘shame’ or ‘honour’. This word gets used a lot in daily routine conversations – it’s not solely about ‘shame’ or ‘honour’ rather how the two interplay with each other. As the eldest daughter in a Hindu family, a lot of this ‘laaj’ depends on me — I don’t know what else is more intimidating, people expecting this of me, or my ready acceptance of this ‘responsibility’ — and while cognitively I recognise how this device of ‘laaj’ that seems to haunt only women is used to control, police, codify (deviant) feminine behaviour within boundaries of patriarchy, I know that somehow I must not slip up, disappoint my family in any way possible. So while interacting with strangers ‘laaj’ says Curl Your Tongue Inwards and I do, interacting in white spaces ‘laaj’ says Don’t Draw Attention To Yourself so I pretend to not hear, at home ‘laaj’ says Be Strong And Do Your Parents Proud and so I show no weaknesses. I have OCD, PTSD among other things that mesh in my headspace but I mask them all. OCD is filtered through ‘being bossy’ and ‘quirky’, PTSD is chalked to being ‘oversensitive’ and being aware of gender, race, sexual marginsalations and privileges. What I do is, swathe terms over words, justifications over rationalisations and make sure no one knows, because if they did, this ever-elusive ‘laaj’ would go away and that would be my fault.
I can write long posts and papers over the state of our ‘ex’ empires, how ‘we’ as postcolonial subjects see life but when it comes to talking of ‘my’ body, ‘my’ invisible disabilities, I don’t. Not even in ‘virtual’ situations — which are deemed ‘less’ real because they happen online, in the ‘absence’ of bodies so to speak — knowing full well talking of my body isn’t something I am ‘allowed’ to do. I don’t think my family would be outraged to see me writing of my body and invisible disabilities — I am definitely more privileged than many people in my geopolitical location who would be punished or reprieved for transgressing this boundary — but they would be disappointed and probably hurt as they don’t know about my history of being a survivor of sexual assault(s) — from which majority of my PTSD stems from — and maybe they won’t believe me when I say I have OCD mainly because of the way it’s constructed. The narrative most of us know of OCD is situated around bodies in the Western world, words that ‘belong’ in a sense, to native speakers of English. I am an Anglophone — but all of my family isn’t. What is the term equivalent to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in other tongues? What about PTSD? How do you explain to someone that you get triggered if you can’t explain even why? How do you explain that thinkingexhausts you on most days? Or that you’re out of spoons.
The onus — as always — is on this Othered(In)Visible Body to find terms to explain to people just why they aren’t like others — because I haven’t witnessed a single conversation around disability rights outside the mainstream western bent, with the focus on healthcare and accessibility etc and am not too optimistic about that either. Living is exhausting enough, now I have to find ways to explain why too — in different tongues?
Even if, options for people who are Othered by English — such as my family — did exist, how do I explain to the western narrative about this ‘laaj’ I shouldn’t transgress? I live in two worlds, one is ‘virtual’ where I have the privileges – steady internet connection, fluent Anglophone etc — to access information and forums, to find my support system, people whose thoughts and thought patterns are similar to mine, who reassure me simply by existing that I am not alone. Another world is where I ‘physically’ inhabit space in a way I don’t in virtual spaces, but I don’t talk what ‘makes’ me ‘different’. There are physical manifestations of my Other-ness but they are disguised as I mentioned earlier so that I can get from day-to-day without having shamed the people I care about — because having a ‘crazy’ daughter is no parents’ bargain, especially not around here — and things are relatively ‘easier’ for me. But it never fails to amuse me how in both of these spaces my body is (In)Visible, as it were.
I don’t think I have the privilege to proclaim my Visibility, to suddenly melt the Western semantic and semiotic barriers I encounter. So I won’t even try to confront or control them. Instead, I exist in parts, in cracked spaces, within fissured identities — and I will speak about me, my body, my loopy thoughts if, where and when I can. This is best I can do. Today.