Warning: This post involves some very personal and frank discussion of my experiences as a disabled person. This includes mention of times that I have been suicidal. It also references murder, specifically murders committed by the police and by parents against their own children, as reflects recent real life events.
A lot of times, non-disabled people look at people who are disabled, be it physically, mentally, or both, and they think “how do they live like that”. Sometimes they even say it. I think it is not unreasonable to say that most disabled people have probably heard some version of “I couldn’t live like that” at some point in their lives. Often, perhaps usually, many times in their lives. Honestly, we tend to hear it on a pretty regular basis–if not from people talking to us personally, then from the media, or from people online (who often don’t consider that disabled people use the internet too.)
This sentiment is usually supposed to be an expression of sympathy, although pity seems a more accurate word for it. Sometimes it even comes in the form of things that sound like compliments–“you’re so strong, I could never live like that”, or “you are an inspiration”.
That is a dangerous sentiment.
The idea that the lives of disabled people are automatically of lesser quality, and that this is an inherent part of the disability and not due to the fact that the world is constantly set against us and made inaccessible to us, is dangerous.
It is not simply inconvenient. It is not simply frustrating. It is not simply offensive.
It is, quite literally, dangerous.
People die because of this idea. People are denied medical treatment like organ transplants because their quality of life is considered lesser. Parents kill their children and people let them get away with it, they sympathize with them. And when they do this they sometimes call it a mercy killing.
And sometimes people think about killing themselves because their lives are terrible, and they have been told their lives are terrible, and that their lives will never get better. That they will always be in pain themselves and a burden for others.
I know this last one is true because I have lived it. And I can only assume that if I have thought about killing myself for this reason, that there are people who have gone through with it.
When you say you could not live like that, you are saying disability is terrifying. You are saying it is worse than death. And not only are you saying that disabled people might be better off dead for their own sake, but you are supporting an idea which is inextricably tied to the idea of the disabled as terrifying.
To the idea that we are frightening.
That we will hurt you.
That we are fundamentally abusive, prone to violence, to the idea that the friends and family of disabled people are constantly suffering and that they, too, should be pitied.
And that is how parents who murdered their children get turned into their children’s victims.
That is how the idea that it is okay to kill disabled people gets perpetuated.
And whether any of these people are convicted or not their victims are still dead, and the systems and ideas that led to these crimes being committed and accepted by the general public are still in place, and it will happen again.
Whether horror movies frame the disabled as people (or more often things) to be pitied, or whether they frame them as monsters to be feared, it is this society they are reflecting. It is these ideas they are perpetuating.
Even tropes like the blind or insane psychic, which perpetuate the idea of disabled people (or different bodied, it is my understanding that some blind people do not necessarily identify as disabled) as somehow more mystical, more other. Less human, and more impossible to understand. The same is true about the tendency for women and children to be more connected to the supernatural in horror movies, and in fact that is one of the places where misogyny, ableism, and ageism clearly and dangerously intersect.
I am going to say something now that is true for me, and I want to make it clear that I can only speak for myself. I can’t speak for anyone else, and I wouldn’t try. Enough people try to speak for us, when so many of us will speak for ourselves, even if it is not through methods you are used to.
Being disabled sucks.
I am chronically ill and chronically depressed and chronically in pain. I have an ever-growing list of things about my body and my mind that are not healthy, and they all suck, and most of them will never go away. The best hope that I have for most of these things is to learn to cope.
I am angry. I am angry, and I hurt, and I am tired all the time, and it is not just because of the disabilities or medications that cause fatigue. Pain is exhausting. Having to constantly question your own thoughts because you cannot trust your brain is exhausting. Having to figure out whether the pain means “something new is wrong” or “you still have the same disabilities you did yesterday, congratulations” is exhausting.
And having to live in a world where you are pitied and othered and kept out, where there are people who believe you would be better off dead, where there are people who have authority over you who believe you would be better off dead, is exhausting.
All of this is exhausting. And I’m scared. I’m terrified, all the time, and I’m angry, all the time, and those are things that I get to be. And someday I will get to the point, I hope, where I am angry less, and maybe I will get to the point where I am terrified less, or terrified differently, because I have an entire lifetime to learn to cope with these things after all. But right now I feel what I feel and I get to feel that way.
I’m allowed to want to cure these things or not cure these things. I’m allowed to feel angry and I’m allowed to feel sorry for myself.
And I’m allowed to talk about it. I should be allowed to talk about it. I should be allowed to say these things.
But other people don’t get to say these things for me.
People who do not have my disabilities do not get to say that my disabilities are terrifying. They do not get to say that I am terrifying, they do not get to say that they would kill themselves if they were me, they do not get to say that it would be better for me or everyone if I were dead or if I had never been born, because you do not get to say that about another person ever. That is not okay.
And that seems like a pretty simple concept, right? You don’t get to decide what another person’s life is worth?
But disabled people are not considered people in the same way. Women aren’t. Children aren’t. Anyone who isn’t white isn’t. People who aren’t straight and cis aren’t. And all of those groups can intersect. I only talked about women and disabled people this October, but all of those groups get othered and villainized in horror movies, and in movies in general. Our society considers people to have different levels of humanity and many of the tropes in horror movies are a reflection of that.
The point that I am eventually getting to is this:
You don’t need to stop watching horror movies. Horror movies aren’t inherently bad, and enjoying problematic horror movies doesn’t make you a bad person, either. But if you’re going to watch horror movies, understand what it is that you’re watching. Think about the messages the movie is sending. Think about how those messages are affecting the way you think and feel. Think about why you’re enjoying this movie, and why this movie is scaring you, if it is.
Challenge yourself. Challenge your thoughts, and your feelings, and your fears.
And if you’re making something in the horror genre, think very carefully about the message you’re sending.