What came to my mind when I watched yesterday’s Heart TV on NHK, which focused on the intersection of disability and queerness, was the question of why happiness is so important in celebrating differences. Hiroko, the main guest on the show, who has cerebral palsy and is transgendered, was quite frequently referred to as a “happy person” and a “cute person” who has strength to live her life the way she wants to live it. But what if she were depressed? Well, she HAD been depressed.
In the interview at the studio, Hiroko told the audience that she had attempted to commit suicide when her spine was severely injured in an accident and she found out that she could no longer had control over what she wore (i.e. putting on ladies’ clothes when she was alone). The only reason she survived the depression was because the motor functions of her arms were damaged due to the accident and she wasn’t able to cut her wrist. Now THAT is exactly what we should really think about, that is, the erasure of her sexuality/gender identity due to her disabilities. The topic of yesterday’s show was “double minority,” meaning some people face more than one type of discrimination, in this case cisgenderism and ableism. And what it means in reality is that people easily forget that disabled individuals are also sexual beings just like the rest of humanity, not that they simply suffer from both cisgenderism and ableism at the same time as the MC guy, who looked like he was trying so hard to show empathy, claimed. To Hiroko, loss of the freedom she had had before the injury meant the end of cross-dressing which she had enjoyed in her entire life until then. It took her years to find an understanding personal assistant who helps her dress up as a woman and walks beside her like that, and I’d call it a miracle.
Indeed, she looked happy to me. She looked happy in that pretty red checkered miniskirt that she was wearing. But, I cannot tolerate the comments made by some of the other people in the studio. One repeatedly said, in an affirming manner (of course!), Hiroko looked very happy doing what she liked to do, and she had learned so much from her and been encouraged/empowered [translation may be wrong, but it was something along that line] by her. Another person commented on her “charming” personality, saying, “she is very cute!” Let’s put aside the problematic use of the pronoun, “she,” instead of “you,” which clearly illustrates his lack of respect for Hiroko’s subjectivity. What bugs me most is… what’s this all “happy” “charming” “cute” thing about?
From what she said during the show and in the footage shown to the guests and the audience, there is no doubt that she had been through lots, lots of predicaments which most able-bodied people could not even imagine. And now, just because she’s finally recovered from depression and gained some (partial, I’d say) freedom in the way she’s dressed, do they suddenly start celebrating today’s bright sides of her life, saying, “yeah, it’s cool she’s doing what she loves! Right on!” and “she made me realize that I could live my life the way I want it to be!” blah blah blah? Treating her like everyone else may be a good thing in many situations, but what it does sometimes is to completely ignore the richness of her life, the ups and downs she’d been through. Instead of glorifying her “strength” or “courage” that they may find fascinating and educating, they should be paying attention to what she says about her life, respect the darker side of it, and stop saying “happy” and “charming” and “cute”!
I really, really think that able-bodied people (including me) should be aware that we owe her one. She surely educated us on the intersection of disability and queerness, but we have not returned the favor yet, or do not even plan to.
Oh, I’d like to add that I personally didn’t find the footage offensive. I only hated the conversations that took place at the studio.