I was explaining to someone the history of left-handedness in America, the ways that left-handed people were treated, it was considered okay to beat us until we became right-handed, and other things like that.
And instead of listening to me, the person’s only response was to roll her eyes and say “Oh God, please tell me they’re not trying to claim to be an oppressed minority.”
Which, no, I’ve never heard a left-hander claim that. But at the time in question, we were part of an oppressed minority: disability. Because left-handedness was literally, in and of itself, considered to be a learning disability with symptoms that went well beyond using your left hand for things (there was an entire list of symptoms from clumsiness to language problems). My mother grew up in that time and she was definitely considered disabled just for being left-handed. The fact that things have changed and now left-handers are not disabled, does not mean we weren’t disabled then.
But I found that person’s response really obnoxious. She basically had this worldview where there were “real” oppressed minorities, mostly people of color, and that everyone else was just “copying people of color” and not really oppressed, or not really very oppressed, when she’d grudgingly acknowledge oppression existed. So her very first worry when hearing about brutality towards an entire kind of person wasn’t what happened to the people in question, it was whether they’d try and “steal” oppressed minority status from those who really deserved it.
Which, as a left-handed person very grateful to grow up in a time and place where left-handedness is not a disability? Rubbed me the wrong way.
And yes, my view of what is and isn’t a disability is that it’s heavily depending on society. I’ve gotten in trouble before for saying that for a long time, gay people were disabled because of our inclusion in the DSM and our treatment by psychiatry. But it’s true. We were disabled at that point. We managed to climb our way out of that category, just as left-handers and some other people have managed to climb out of that category. But it doesn’t mean that we weren’t disabled at some point in time. Because whether you’re disabled isn’t just about your body — that’s one part of it, but social status as disabled is equally as important as physical or cognitive status. And it’s perfectly possible to be disabled entirely because you’re put in the social category of disabled people, even if you have no particular bodily or cognitive impairments.
But whenever I try to explain that, I get someone who flips out on me and insists that I’m trying to bring back the idea of gay people as disabled under the DSM. Which, just, no. I’m saying that when we were in the DSM, we were disabled because we were in the DSM and faced ableism, especially psychiatric ableism, the same as everyone else in the DSM. So don’t bother flipping out, it’s been done, it doesn’t do anything except cause aggravation.