THE BLOG

Should All Identities Be Embraced?

09/12/2016 16:25 GMT | Updated 10/12/2017 10:12 GMT

One would think being proud of who you are and striving for the best possible physical state of health are two fairly non-contentious statements, but what happens when they don't overlap?

Being gay, black, a woman or any other minority group has no major physical barrier and minority groups are under no duty to change. However, the main issue for these groups is prejudice. In this respect, their entire marginalisation is artificial and if people were more open-minded there would be absolutely no set-backs for them. But what happens if the minority group also has a very clear physical detriment which is a fundamental part of their identity? Does the desire to become healthier and minimise their impairment ultimately undermine that identity?

I am disabled and have cerebral palsy which means I rely on assistants 24/7 and use a wheelchair because I have severe involuntary movements. Is this something to be proud of or something I should try to fix? It's a debate I have with many, many friends. I am 25 and up until a few months ago, I was told there was very little that could be done for cerebral palsy. This was fine and what I had always thought. Without going into technical details, I was introduced by a friend to a new piece of medical equipment which has significantly reduced my involuntary movements. Of course, it won't cure cerebral palsy (and walking is still probably off the cards), but it has opened up a brand new world of possibilities. The device requires three hours' therapy a day. At first, I thought it would hugely eat into my time, but as there is a monitor on it and my assistant is at hand, I have not found my work to be any less productive. I feel great and can now maintain eye contact and read a book without ripping it and throwing it aggressively (something which was impossible before).

While it is clear to see that there are some fantastic possibilities, I am also a very keen follower and trainer in the social model of disability. The social model acknowledges that individuals may have impairments, but they are disabled by society not adapting. To give a very simplistic example, a building that doesn't have a lift has disabled me from accessing it. To give a slightly more complex example, when people see me in the street and assume (based on my appearance) that I have learning difficulties, they are putting up an attitudinal barrier. The individual does not carry the disability, hence the term "people with disabilities" is wrong. It is rather like disabling a fire alarm rather than the fire alarm having disabilities.

By trying to improve my impairment, am I in denial about who I am? Would a woman ever switch gender purely because she was fed up that she couldn't get the same pay as her male counterpart? If my gay friends had conversion therapy to become straight because they were tired of homophobia, would I support them? Probably not. We need to be proud of our identities to hold our ground. I have no major problems with cerebral palsy and am incredibly grateful to Islington social work for providing me with a very good support package that allows me to employ my own staff. This is tax-payers' money, so am I under a duty if there is an easier solution to fix myself or not, in an attempt to require less care? I don't have an answer.

Recently, I attended a screening of How To Fight A Plague, a beautiful film about treatment action for HIV and the difficulties activists faced getting access to treatment. Not for a second would anyone consider that death was part of an identity and, of course, the promotion of a healthy life is an undisputed fact. However, given the above, what is the relationship between positive people and impaired people? I understand that the comparison isn't entirely fair as impaired people do not necessarily have a progressive condition. It's not for me to comment on this relationship, but this has made me think and I would welcome discussion on it.

Ultimately, my question is this: Can someone be proud of something that undoubtedly hinders them? Of course cerebral palsy has made me more resilient and shaped my personality. I would be a very different person without it, but applying Darwinian theory, if there was a fire and I was without an assistant, CP could only be a hindrance.