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 thinking exhausts 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.

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10 Comments

  1. Rachana

     /  May 2, 2011

    That is an interesting thing to say, about the two different yous. Two things : Its interesting how when you get sexually assaulted, you become more aware of how common it is among girls to have gotten sexually assaulted to some extent. Second thing is, I am curious….although your parents might not want a “crazy” daughter, dont you think it is important to be who you are no matter what…especially when whatever you are a proponent of is progressive?

    Reply
    • I do agree with you — but I’m also a proponent of safety and self-care. I don’t know what their reactions to my “craziness” will be; I’m not going to risk any stability I have found today in whichever ways to be ‘progressive’. I have paranoia and a tendency for depressive episodes, I ‘manage’ them in whatever ways I can — I’m not about to risk this little balance I’ve found because of curiosity.

      Safety and self-care are very important things for me — because usually if I don’t look after myself in the ways I need, there is no one else to rely on.

      Yes, being sexually assaulted made me more aware of gender roles, dominance, patriarchy — but that was later. As a child and a pre-adolescent I only felt alienated and worried, somehow even the assaults were my fault in my head. Once I became aware of victim blaming, I became more aware of how our society functions — who gets to claim any support etc I could ‘re-claim’ that space, so to speak and not considered myself as guilty. So it wasn’t a cause-effect situation.

      Reply
  2. Magda Anne

     /  May 2, 2011

    For me, the word is ‘mian zi’, or ‘face’. Everything else is exactly as you describe it.

    Love and spoons,
    Magda ♥

    Reply
  3. haryanavi

     /  May 2, 2011

    so been sexually assaulted as a child made you hate all male ?
    and you consider all male rapist, barring the pink male population of course… ?

    Reply
    • First of all, you’re derailing. This post isn’t about sexual assaults and what I feel after, rather about the host of invisible disabilities I have and how I deal with them.

      Nowhere in the post I mentioned or even intoned that I hate anyone or think every other person I meet is a rapist. By the ‘pink male population’ I’m assuming you mean gay men — you do know that not every gay person likes pink or that ever gay person who looks/presents as a male IS a male, no? And you do know that gay people can rape too, no?

      One more comment along a similar vein where you’re doing nothing but constructing weak generalisations on vile stereotypes and derailing from the post I will ban and block you. You have been warned.

      Reply
  4. Rachana

     /  May 2, 2011

    firstly, Hahah ❤ I second you on your response to that person and their layman comment about sexual assault drivel.

    Second, in response to your reponse on my comment I want to say "fair enough". I can understand when you say you do not want to lose the balance…sometimes I feel that way too…but I usually feel that if someone will judge me unfairly for who I am…then they are not worth my time. But i guess one tends to take a different approach when those people are family.

    And as far being sexually assaulted goes…for me it wasn't so much being more aware of gender roles or such…I was already quite aware of it but it does make you more wary ( in a sad way) of the true intentions of some people around you who show a romantic interest of sorts around you. I go through that even though I am a pretty level headed person. ( I know you are too ). But before it used be something that happened to someone else…and it happened to me and I realize how easy it is for bad things like that to happen. Does what I say make sense? 😛

    Anyways I don't know how you are around your family … But in the crevices of the interweb you come off as a really strong/ smart person whose writing I absolutely enjoy and adore lol. 🙂 thanks for taking the time to write back and stuff ( sorry my eloquence is running a little bit low today!) k I'm done. 🙂

    Reply
    • Yeah I was FUMING when I saw that comment — it’s caveperson logic that equates penis = man and that’s it. There can be no variations there. And that all gay people have some absurd fondness for pink. I’m wondering which stereotype they didn’t employ.

      I won’t even try to lie — there are times I do want to merge my two ‘worlds’ — this morning I had an episode (I’m guessing the paranoia of making such a personal post public, stress after the finals etc all tied into this one) and by the time I was ‘me’ again it was 7 am. I stumbled to bed and mum woke me up around 9 am to go run some errands for her, and at that moment I did really want to sit her down and explain what I was feeling and why I couldn’t do anything on her list — but I was out of spoons so I just got her things done, came home and crashed for four hours. Explaining would mean questions and more questions, answers I’m not ready for, spoons I don’t have and so on.

      I’ve spent a lot of time trying to see my body as ‘mine’ and that people can’t just violate the boundaries I set on whim — this happened a few years ago. I spent the better part of my childhood and pre-adolescence somehow I was the one at fault.

      But before it used be something that happened to someone else…and it happened to me and I realize how easy it is for bad things like that to happen. Does what I say make sense?

      Yes this made sense, but because I believed *I* was the one at fault here, I assumed only people who weren’t me didn’t deserve it. You can see how problematic that tack is.

      Anyways I don’t know how you are around your family … But in the crevices of the interweb you come off as a really strong/ smart person whose writing I absolutely enjoy and adore

      This is making me blush. And I am pretty much like I write, however not everyone in my family has seen this side of me. To some people I am argumentative and some people I don’t even try to talk — even when they offend me because as always, there are never enough spoons to explain to them what I think and feel.

      Also, I thought your eloquence was just fine.

      Reply
  5. As always, I am so impressed by your insights.

    Reply

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