Right now in our great city ReelAbilities Film Festival is happening! According to the website, it's 'the largest festival in the country dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different disabilities'.
Since its inception in 2007, ReelAbilities has showcased award-winning films made by and about people with various disabilities. In addition to film-screenings, theater and dance presentations, story telling sessions and post-screening panel discussions are taking place through March 11.All told, the festival will host over 40events at 32 venues in 8 NY counties.
Whenever I catch a glance of myself in a store window as I walk past, I'm surprised. I've been an amputee for thirteen years – ever since I was diagnosed with bone cancer at age fifteen. Still, in my head, I think I walk just like everyone else. The full-length windows show me differently. I have a slight limp. My hip dips as I walk. My prosthetic socket is visible through the side of my jeans and squishes up one butt cheek. I'm fascinated by this stranger everyone else sees. Even now, there are so few differently-able people in the media that I will sometimes walk back and forth trying to image what I look like to other people. A process that becomes more complicated when I am wearing shorts or a dress.
I dislike the way my prosthetic leg looks most when it is off. I roll it under the bed at night. I cover it with a towel by the pool. It looks lifeless, dead. I am reminded that one day it will be left behind when I die. It will be someone's job to take a piece of me to be dismantled and donated to landmine victims overseas. The actual appearance of the titanium pole, plastic foot, and springs don't bother me as much as the way other people stare. I can feel it when you touch me. I can also feel the way a friend freezes the first time they do it and are afraid they've done something wrong. Their body language communicates their debate of whether or not to take their hand away.
In this culture of images, our currency is made up of envious or admiring glances. Advertising encourages us to be the center of attention but only for the right reasons. I've become accustom to the way people look at my body as they try to figure out is wrong. I'm not used to the nasty looks people give me when I am with my girlfriend.
When I first came out a year ago, a female friend commented, “so you like ugly girls.” She immediately tried to pass it off as a joke. We were flipping through Facebook profiles of the girls I had crushes on. In some ways, I am so grateful to her for her insensitive slip-up. Her accidental honesty made me realize I was trying to blend in and pass for a beauty norm I didn't even find attractive. Real punishments exist for falling off the grid of accepted standards. Yet, real freedom comes from trusting your own vision.