Monday, December 2, 2013

Body Shame

I’m finally ready to answer the FAQ I receive most often. Up until now, it was a topic that was just too painful to discuss. But I believe enough time has passed and enough healing has occurred.

The FAQ I receive most often is: “Smart Ass Cripple, can you please tell me why you have a giant tattoo on your back that looks sort of like a cubist rendition of the bust of John Quincy Adams?”

Okay, here goes. (Deep breath): It all began on a bright, glorious summer morning. I went to a cripple pride parade and there were floats and marching bands and cripples of all shapes and sizes and races and creeds. I heard rousing speeches about the many great things cripples have achieved and I felt so proud and righteous!

So I decided to keep celebrating after the parade. I remember taking a public transit bus to a bar and I remember ordering a bunch of boilermakers.

And all I remember after that was waking up and feeling like my back had been sandpapered. So I took a selfie picture over my shoulder of my back in the mirror and holy shit! A tattoo! But my tattoo was just a bunch of words. Paragraphs.  The first line of the tattoo began at the top of my left shoulder blade. It read: Part B - Actions Applicable to Public Transportation Provided by Public Entities Considered Discriminatory. And the second line read: Subpart I - Public Transportation Other than by Aircraft or Certain Rail Operations. And so on and so on my tattoo continued across the hairy expanse of my back until it abruptly ended with: As used in subsection (a) of this section, the term "discrimination" includes…

In the harsh light of sobriety, I slowly began to realize what I had done. Tattooed on my back was Title II, Part B of the Americans with Disabilities Act! A vague memory appeared in the fog of recollection. I was at the bar clinking glasses with the guy next to me who was also drinking boilermakers. And I told him I came to the bar on a bus and that wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago because none of the fucking buses were accessible back then but then cripples got together and made noise so the ADA was passed and Title II, Part B requires public transit to be accessible, dammit! So we toasted Title II, Part B and clinked glasses. And then I asked him what he did for a living and he said he was a tattoo artist.

Double holy shit! I guess the drunken tattoo artist only got as far as: As used in subsection (a) of this section, the term "discrimination" includes… before he also passed out.

My tattoo cast me into a raging undertow of body shame. I’ve heard plenty of cripples lament how body shame weighs them down. They wear baggy clothes and expensive prosthetics in an attempt to hide their funny-looking bodies.

Somehow I’d managed to avoid succumbing to that particular shame trap, in spite of my funny-looking body. But now I understood what these shame-ladened cripples were talking about. After waking up with Title II, Part B tattooed on my back, I avoided being shirtless at all costs.

But then, I glimpsed a ray of hope. I saw a TV show where a tattoo artist transforms your pitiful, drunken-stupor mistake tattoo into an angel or a butterfly or something nice. So I tracked down one of those guys and showed him my back. No problem, he said. He could transform my Title II, Part B tattoo into hula girls and palm trees. So I gave him a bucketful of cash and told him to have at it. But when he finished, my new tattoo didn’t look like hula girls and palm trees at all. It looked more like sort of a cubist rendition of the bust of John Quincy Adams. The guy insisted it looked just like hula girls and palm trees if you viewed it in the right light.

But I’m rising above the body shame. I go around shirtless if I feel like it, even if it means enduring constant stares and questions.

What is the moral of this story? I have no fucking idea. But whatever it is, take heed.