10 Years Old
It’s the defining memory of my childhood.
I’m sitting on the floor. My mother is on the couch. I am maybe ten. Possibly eleven.
And it is being explained to me that there is a law that is in congress (I understand congress, right?) and it’s going to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights as everyone else.
I look at my mother who has a disability and in that moment something clicks in my pre-pubescent brain. It is the moment I realize what it means to be different. And that’s funny since I am a non-Mormon girl in Utah and I’ve spent my childhood being mocked for every reason from being poor to being weird and I’ve chased kids away for calling my mom a “retard” but see, in that moment, it clicked for me –
It was one thing to be “Different” and it was another thing to have the law say you were.
I got it then.
It wasn’t just the stupid people around me that thought we were different. The president thought we were different. The congress thought we were different. And she looked at me and said, “There’s a chance I could be arrested at some of these protests we are going to and are you okay with that? I mean, if you run for president some day, that could hurt you.”
Let’s put away the laughter there. I was ten years old. It was 1989. Girls didn’t run for president. No matter what my mother was saying.
It’s funny. I don’t remember the Americans With Disabilities Act being signed. I know that my mother always supported that Bush Sr. stood by the law. I don’t remember the day it was signed. I don’t remember the protests. I remember my mother telling me that she wasn’t recognized as a full citizen under the law.
It was legal for the kids in the neighborhood to call her a “retard” to call us “retards” because of her disability.
I remember her telling me why my father wasn’t listed on my original birth certificate. Because they weren’t married and what if they split up? Her having a disability meant I could get taken away. I’ve read the paternity papers.
They didn’t even bother to get my name right. And the papers assumed that the courts would take me.
I was eleven when my mother became a fully recognized citizen of the United States. She was born here, to a teacher and a radio journalist. And her legality wasn’t delayed because of immigration issues. It was delayed because she had the unmitigated gaul to be born with a disability.
So you can imagine what it felt like when I saw our president elect mock reporters with disabilities. When I saw him kick a kid with Cerebral Palsy out of a rally. You can imagine how it felt when I saw President Obama hug that same kid.
I was 36 years old when the United States recognized me as a full citizen. Almost exactly the same age as my mother when the ADA was passed. When the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court, I ranted and raved about how much had been thrown under the bus by queer activists as we fought for “marriage” but oh my god, I was LEGAL. When my partner of five years was admitted to the hospital for a cardiac arrest that was seconds from killing her, the hospital did not turn me away.
For 27 years, I’ve spent my life painfully aware of what it means for the law itself to see you as “less than.” And I, as a white, reasonably CIS looking woman, have no understanding at all what it means to be a person of color who is railroaded by police, immigration, politicians, and everyday citizens. I have no idea the fear that my sisters and brothers and other folk are feeling right now.
But I know what it’s like to be ten years old and realize that the law doesn’t consider your mother to be someone worth protecting. I know what it means to be 18 and live in fear because police are arresting same sex couples. I know those fears.
I feel those fears today.
No, I don’t believe that a Trump administration is going to repeal the ADA. I don’t believe that tomorrow, marriage will again be outlawed. I do believe we will see rollbacks. And we will see them because people look to their leaders. They look to what those we elect say and those we elect want to please those who voted for them.
The ADA passed because a Republican Administration decided it was an important fight. The repeal of DOMA happened with a rather conservative Supreme Court. Leaders. In please to do just that – LEAD.
So what then?
What next under these leaders? These bullies we have put in place?
What next for the ten year olds who are more than aware right now that their families are not considered full citizens under our laws?
As I type these words, I see cops flying by the windows – most likely to the scene of a protest taking place mere blocks away. Most likely to arrest those who are standing up for the rights of those ten year olds – and their parents. As I type these words, I don’t know what happens next, but I do know that no matter how we choose to speak out, we MUST speak. Even when our voices shake or our fingers catch on the keys. However we choose to speak, to protest, to stand tall, we must.
Because somewhere, there is a ten year old kid who has been made to understand that they are less than.