Some people relate to people with disabilities in a dangerous and confusing way. They see themselves as helpers, and at first they seem to really like the person. Then the helper suddenly become aggressively hostile, and angry about the disabled person’s limitations or personality (even though they have not changed in any significant way since they started spending time together). Often, this is because the helper expected their wonderful attention to erase all of the person’s limitations, and they get angry when it doesn’t.
The logic works something like this:
- The helper thinks that they’re looking past the disability and seeing the “real person” underneath.
- They expect that their kindness will allow the “real person” to emerge from the shell of disability.
- They really like “real person” they think they are seeing, and they’re excited about their future plans for when that person emerges.
- But the “real person” is actually figment of their imagination.
The disabled person is already real:
- The helper doesn’t like this already-real disabled person very much
- The helper ignores most of what the already-real person actually says, does, thinks, and feels.
- They’re looking past the already-real person, and seeing the ghost of someone they’d like better.
This ends poorly:
- The already-real person never turns into the ghost the helper is imagining
- Disability stays important; it doesn’t go away when a helper tries to imagine it out of existence
- Neither do all of the things the already-real disabled person thinks, feels, believes, and decides
- They are who they are; the helper’s wishful thinking doesn’t turn them into someone else
- The helper eventually notices that the already-real person isn’t becoming the ghost that they’ve been imagining
- When the helper stop imagining the ghost, they notice that the already-real person is constantly doing, saying, feeling, believing, and deciding things that the helper hates
- Then the helper gets furious and becomes openly hostile
The helper has actually been hostile to the disabled person the whole time
- They never wanted to spend time around the already-real disabled person; they wanted someone else
- (They probably didn’t realize this)
- At first, they tried to make the already-real disabled person go away by imagining that they were someone else
- (And by being kind to that imaginary person)
- When they stop believing in the imaginary person, they become openly hostile to the real person
Short version: Sometimes ableist hostility doesn’t look like hostility at first. Sometimes people who are unable or unwilling to respect disabled people seem friendly at first. They try to look past disability, and they interact with an imaginary nondisabled person instead of the real disabled person. They’re kind to the person they’re imagining, even though they find the real person completely unacceptable. Eventually they notice the real person and become openly hostile. The disabled person’s behavior has not changed; the ableist’s perception of it has. When someone does this to you, it can be very confusing — you were open about your disability from the beginning, and it seemed like they were ok with that, until they suddenly weren’t. If this has happened to you, you are not alone.