When I was in high school, I experienced extremely painful periods. I was in so much pain that it led me to seek medical help. In the doctor’s office, I explained my symptoms: pain so bad I was often nauseous and fatigue that made me feel as though I was weak and could pass out any moment. The doctor looked me up and down, “well, why don’t you lose some weight and see how that helps.” I was perplexed, I didn’t know how losing weight would help my uterus—it would likely be the same size regardless—but, he was the medical professional and the authority. Some family members agreed, saying that fatness was my primary issue now and it was likely the cause of all my ills. My weight fluctuated up and down. No matter the number, I was still in severe pain every month. With every gain or loss, I felt like I was losing my grip—and no matter the doctors and even those close to me did not believe what I was expressing. I was later diagnosed with a menstruation disorder and everyone expected me to move on like I had been believed the entire time.
That level of gaslighting was years in the making, but I felt much the same in addressing the CDC Director Walensky’s recent comments regarding those of us who were “unwell to begin with.”
It started with a tiktok video of me angered by her comments saying that of the statistically small number of people who died while vaccinated, most of them had four our more comorbidities and were “unwell to begin with.” People responded with anger. Telling me that with greater context, I would feel better about it. I did not.
Then, through the public accounts of liberals, scientists and health professionals, influencers within those spheres misconstrued genuine concern from the disability community for right-wing propaganda. It was not.
Through rolled eyes and labored sighs, nondisabled people, scientists and health professionals acted as though disabled people were simply being argumentative about information that was objectionably good news that meant they may finally be able to move on from the pandemic.
While they heard that vaccines are working, which wasn’t being debated by disabled people, disabled people heard that while unlikely, there were still high stakes for disabled people who caught Covid even while vaccinated—but you know, that’s to be expected.
Throughout it all, I felt like I couldn’t trust my own judgement about the CDC’s remarks. I felt like I had during those years when doctors gaslit me about what my body was experiencing.
I started the hashtag #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthy because even in the midst of this moment, I knew there were other disabled people who were feeling just as lost, forgotten and betrayed. due to them, I believe the disability community has pushed the needle forward on this issue. I am grateful to all those who lent their voices and words to this conversation, but still I remain alarmed at the narrative perpetuated by public health, medical and liberal influencers.
One of the pandemic trends that will come to haunt us will be the elevation of ableist doctors, scientists and other medical professionals to the public sphere because of the lack of leadership of the government and CDC for over the last two years. While their advocacy is necessary to uplift the circumstances of medical professionals on the front line, what many of them have not addressed is the ableism and eugenics that is inherent to many of their practices. Medical racism, sexism, homophobia and other prejudices still speak to how “health” is wielded against marginalized communities.
It would be wrong to consider them consummate allies as the pandemic numbers improve significantly for the vaccinated nondisabled. We must still look at them critically and see they too are guided by their privileges and influenced by the ableism instilled in us all. Many were angered to find that their favorite influencers who had guided them through the pandemic displayed conditional allyship towards the disability community—and rightfully so. Their dismissal of the disability community’s concerns should be a warning to us all.
The next chapter of the pandemic is here.