How the Disabled Community Helped Me Accept My Gender Identity
Julia is an awesome accessibility consultant, a cat person, nature lover, and baker! Julia is always sharing content about all things disability related over on instagram, which you can check out here.
My identity has many facets, but some have been harder to come to terms with than others.
Growing up, I never felt like I was enough. I didn't speak enough Spanish to be Mexican, I didn't go to shul enough to be Jewish, and I didn't wear dresses enough to be a girl. I’d just tell myself “I am just me, and that's all I can be”.
As a kid, I felt very lucky to have friends that liked me for who I was. I never had to find all the right words for how I felt, and they just accepted me regardless. When I moved to the UK, I realised that I’d come to rely on their understanding so much, that I no longer knew how to be comfortable in my own skin.
Fighting with my identities
Many years ago, before I became disabled, I was on a long bus ride with my sister. We were having a heartfelt conversation about gender and identity, and what it meant to be Non-Binary. I didn’t tell her at the time, but I knew in my heart that that was the label I’d been looking for.
Just a few months later, I had a spontaneous sigmoid colon rupture. This would be the thing that kicked off my health decline. Because I hadn’t yet been diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos, a connective tissue disorder, this spontaneous organ rupture was a mystery. It only was thanks to amazing doctors that I survived.
I fought the idea that I was disabled, just like with all my other identities. Even when I started walking with a cane and couldn't go to work, I insisted to myself I would just get better. I was in deep denial, which looking back feels rather gross.
Growing to find acceptance
It was only after a hip dislocation that resulted in nerve damage and a labrum tear that I started to come to terms with the idea I might be disabled. But even then I wasn't comfortable sharing my new identity with many people. Even after my Ehlers Danlos diagnosis, I struggled with knowing where I fit.
It wasn't until I started using my wheelchair all the time because I couldn't really feel my legs anymore that I said "Yes, I'm disabled". And that was when I started testing the waters of the Disability community.
In many ways, it wasn’t until I allowed myself to be held in the arms of the disabled community that I started to feel like I could really be myself. Now I found I could name my feelings and share them with the world. It was once I became disabled that I truly realised the joy and comfort that could come from belonging to a community.
My acceptance of my gender identity grew alongside my acceptance of my disabled identity.
My metabolic crisis and coming out as NB
I had thought at the time the loss of sensation in my legs was an Ehlers Danlos thing, but I was very wrong. It was a metabolic crisis waiting to happen.
One day, I woke up peeing myself – I couldn't feel anything below my waist. I’d planned a big day out with my parents and cousin so I did my best to push through, but I ended up having a seizure and falling out of my wheelchair at a museum.
I don't remember much, just flashes of hospital, an ABG line, MRIs, my parents and husband sitting with me every day. I had lost most of the feeling from neck down and I remember crying over not being able to feel my husband's hand holding mine.
I had had a metabolic crisis due to an undiagnosed metabolic disorder.
It was then that I finally came out as Non-Binary to my mom. It had been kicking around in my brain for my parents’ entire visit but two weeks of hospital and not getting better pushed me to get the words out. I was sick enough that I was worried if I didn't say it now, then I never would. Thankfully I made it through to the other side, my gender identity was finally off my chest and into the world, and my parents were accepting and loving as ever.
Everything changed after that
Once I was out of hospital, it felt like everything had changed – and not just because I was partially paralysed and finally out to my parents. Treatment for my metabolic disorder did help me regain most feeling in my arms, and I could feel holding my husband's hand again but even with spinal cord rehab I couldn't walk.
This left me with a desperate need to learn how to be my truest self and to find a place I could share that. I didn't want to leave parts of myself a question mark. I wanted to be proud.
It’s thanks to the friends I made in the disabled community that helped me find the first glimpses of being okay with who I am.
One of the first close friends I made in the community is a transgender gay man. He has Ehlers Danlos like me, is Deaf like me, and is also Jewish like me! Having the same condition as someone else opened up the door for me, and I found a home in our friendship where I could truly explore myself.
I went on to find friends in the community who share every intersection I have. I have Jewish friends I can celebrate holidays with and Mexican friends I can talk about food with. These people give me the confidence I need to be open about my other identities and find pride in my Disabilities, my Deafness, and my Queerness.
Some of the strongest parts of me are thanks to the impact made by the lovely people of the disabled community, a place where I could feel nurtured and grow. I’ve found a community where I’m consistently encouraged to be myself and re-assured that there is a place for someone like me.
I can be Disabled Deaf Latine Jewish Bisexual and Non-Binary, I don't have to pick, and I am enough.