Disability Pride Month: Rosie Jones helped me come out again
Disability Pride Month is something that often gets overlooked. But the fight for visibility and rights for disabled people – especially LGBT+ disabled people like myself – is far from over.
As a Just Like Us ambassador, this really matters to me.
This Disability Pride Month will be my first as a regular mobility aid user – specifically my new, plastic fantastic sparkly cane I’ve named Tabitha (or, Bitsy, for short.)
What this means is, it’s my first Disability Pride Month where my otherwise invisible illness has a visible signifier.
Disability Pride Month
It is estimated that, of the 14.6 million disabled people in the UK, 70% of them have invisible illnesses. And, Just Like Us’ research has found that LGBT+ disabled young people are more likely to struggle with mental health.
I myself have a myriad of chronic health issues, which all work in harmony to make my life just that little bit more difficult every day. But it wasn’t until recently that things came to a head.
For about a year, whenever I walked for more than 20 minutes, fatigue and dizziness would kick in. I’d have to stop and struggle for breath, clinging on to nearby walls or friend’s arms for dear life.
This had gradually begun to get worse and worse until I rarely left the house. It was hard, not being able to do something everyone around me took for granted. But more than that, it was embarrassing.
I wasn’t comfortable with the fact that things were different for me, so I started to withdraw entirely.
Rosie Jones changed how I think about mobility
Then, one evening at the end of the Tokyo Paralympics coverage, everything changed. I saw disabled lesbian icon Rosie Jones on The Last Leg.
Rosie had been in Japan, following the games, and whilst she was there she had made use of a mobility scooter to get around the venues. She confessed that, even though she was proud to be disabled, she had trouble with mobility aids.
“I’ve always walked everywhere and having any sort of walking aid always felt like a failure to me. I prided myself on never using a stick, frame or chair. I now recognise this as some deep-rooted internalised ableism,” Jones said in the tweet that inspired the segment.
Whilst that particular scooter got left in Tokyo, Rosie said she would be taking her newfound appreciation for mobility aids with her. She declared: “I now realise that accepting help is not a defeat. It can make you more of a champion.”
At that moment, I felt connected to Rosie. Here was this brilliant, beautiful, unapologetic person admitting to the very same fears that were hampering me. I wasn’t the only one struggling with internalised ableism, stopping me from using an aid that would help me get out and live a better life.
Most importantly, like Rosie, I wasn’t going to let that curl of shame in my stomach stop me from living the life I wanted any longer.
Embracing my disability
I borrowed a spare cane from my grandad (affectionately dubbed Stan the Man). And I started going on walks around my local area. Gradually, I expanded to friend’s houses, then restaurants, all with my trusty cane in tow. With something to lean on, the fatigue wasn’t as debilitating.
The rumours were true – the fact that I needed a mobility aid didn’t have to mean I couldn’t enjoy life like everyone around me. In fact, not only did I slowly become less ashamed of my cane, I started to embrace it.
Now, I do impromptu photo shoots proudly wielding my aid. When people ask me questions, which happens often, I feel less self-conscious talking about it.
I will happily chat with people on the bus or at the gym about how the cane helps me to get around. I’m probably the first young, visibly disabled person they’ve been able to speak to. So I love that I get to challenge any preconceptions.
Disability Pride Month: Why representation matters
Which brings me to Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity. As an ambassador, I get to speak openly to young people in schools about growing up LGBT+.
I not only get to share my experiences but also be living proof that queer joy and comfort with oneself is possible. And much like my experience with watching Rosie, when I stand in front of a class with my cane, I’m also able to give disabled representation.
For most of my life, I didn’t have the language to talk about my health issues. I was often absent from school and I felt like I was living a very different life to my peers.
I hope that by volunteering with Just Like Us, I can help LGBT+ and disabled students feel less alone in their experiences.
Having outspoken role models like Rosie helped me to change my attitude towards what I saw as my limitations as someone with a disabled body.
I can only hope that by embracing my cane and being vocally and unapologetically who I am, I’m able to have even a fraction of that impact on others, too.
Volunteer with Just Like Us
If you’d like to volunteer with Just Like Us, you can join on our Ambassador Programme.