Sunday, July 28, 2013

Open for interpretation

Here I am with Andrew Solomon, author of Far From the Tree
Last weekend, at the Disability Pride Post Parade Celebration, as I was hanging out in the shade under a tent in Daley Plaza, a woman asked me, "What happened with Andrew Solomon?"  Solomon is the author of Far From the Tree, a book that multiple different disability and marginalized communities. In the book, Solomon identifies what he calls Horizontal Communities.  A horizontal community is a group that a person is born into, but no other member of the family is part of the community.  For example, I was born with dwarfism.  Since no other member of my family is a dwarf, we don't share a vertical or generational community connection.  To connect with other people in the community, I have to move outside of my family tree, or I have to move horizontally.  Solomon's book includes a chapter on dwarfism.  He interviews multiple people of short stature and their family members, some of whom I know.  In the chapter, dwarfs and their family members share struggles, but within the struggles that result from orthopedic issues and stigma related to difference, there is a strong sense of dwarf community that generates pride and empowerment.  Solomon gave the keynote address at the Awards Banquet at Little People of America's National Conference. 

At the parade celebration, a negative vibe bubbled through the woman's question about Solomon.  I didn't know what she meant by the question, but I had a sense she believed something bad happened regarding Solomon.   When I asked her to explain, she mentioned a few Facebook Posts.  Someone who had been in the audience during Solomon's address at LPA posted several comments during his speech. In one of the posts, she joked that the speech was so depressing she wanted to slit her wrists.  Another post compared listening Solomon's speech to watching Hotel Rwanda because both were depressing. 

After the woman at the parade explained the question, I remembered hearing about the posts on the night of the awards banquet. I didn't think much of the posts at the time, but was concerned to learn that the posts impacted people who had not been at the conference, and I worried that the posts might impact might impact many more people negatively. Such a vibe might prevent people from reading Solomon's book.

When I think deeply about it, I can understand how a person might be overwhelmed with the negative when reading Far From the Tree and listening to Solomon.  The book indeed deals with negative issues.  Not only does it address the many physical issues that people with dwarfism are forced to confront, it covers how many doctors respond when they diagnose dwarfism and how expectant parents sometimes are repelled by that diagnosis.  It's the focus on the medical and on the negative that I believe must inspire some disability groups to integrate the search for a cure into their missions and objectives.  Little People of America is not about research, and is not about cure.  With this in mind, Solomon's message might be interpreted that way. 

In my opinion, Solomon's true message is about the identity that emerges within individuals as result of confronting physical and social challenges.  It is that identity that strongly connects people with dwarfism, even if they are different on so many other levels.  It is that identity that brings people back to Little People of America National Conferences year after year.  It is that identity that inspires LPA embrace dwarf pride over dwarfism research.  That identity, far from negative, is full of power.  But what do I know.  I always thrived on depressing movies. I'd much sooner watch Ordinary People than Rudy

No comments:

Post a Comment