Still Life with Woman and Crutch – A Guest Post by Gwyn McVay   2 comments

I write this folded in half, hoping that the forward arc of my spine will decompress the damaged discs that are throbbing today with wet weather. This peculiar position is not yoga, strictly speaking – but if I had a nickel for every person who hears of my multiple disabilities and suggests yoga as a panacea, I could move to a state that allows medical marijuana and buy myself a huge plantation.

The body of a disabled person is disturbingly not her own in ways that parallel those in which a pregnant woman’s body becomes a field for other people’s unsolicited advice and even belly rubs, and of course the ways in which women’s bodies in general attract judgment. This is not an either-or proposition but an intersection. How to lose ten pounds by Christmas! the newsstand blares. Firm your belly doing housework! This is already a source of shame for women who do not look like the cover models, and to the woman whose medication curbs an illness but causes weight gain – many, many of them do this – it is doubly shaming, because maybe if we just Did Things Better, we wouldn’t have the disability at all.

Barbara Ehrenreich, in her books Bright-Sided and Smile or Die, has written of her own struggle with breast cancer and with the culture of enforced positivism that surrounds it: to be angry at your cancer, she writes, is a heresy that will get you kicked off Internet breast-cancer forums. What if a woman doesn’t like pink teddy bears, pink SAVE THE BOOBIES bracelets, pink anything? But that is what our culture offers, along with dire warnings that anger might make one’s tumor grow.

I am angry. I am no longer ashamed of that anger. I am tired to the death (to quote Willy Loman) of the forearm crutches that fight with my coat sleeves and prompt strangers to pity, to requests to pray for me – these I mind less, because at least the person is wishing me well – to suggestions that if I traded my Coke for coconut water, my full-body joint pain would vanish. The crutches turn me from the object of the male gaze – no, strange men, catcalls are not compliments – to the object of egregious pity, often from other women. I could march through Philadelphia’s cavernous 30th Street train station in my underwear, and people would still see “cripple” before they saw “woman.” Even if my panties matched my bra.

Solutions to this? I have few. The next person who asks what happened to me will be told that I fell off a motorcycle. This makes me somewhat unfeminine in other ways, but at least makes me a person with agency, not Tiny Tim but a former “biker babe.” In fact, I have never been on a motorcycle, but I’d rather tell a juicy story than explain the messy reality of my ghastly MRI.

Gwyn McVay is the author of two chapbooks of poems and one full-length collection, Ordinary Beans (Pecan Grove Press, 2007). She teaches writing at Millersville University of Pennsylvania.


Posted December 29, 2011 by Andi Cumbo-Floyd in Life Lessons, Our Bodies

2 responses to “Still Life with Woman and Crutch – A Guest Post by Gwyn McVay

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  1. love the title of your blog. I too have gray hair and acne!

    Anne Higgins

  2. People’s judgements and assumptions can be so harsh…..

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