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Societal expectations of disability and Mel Baggs

kyhong's picture

In my experience, depictions of an autistic person looked like the following: a mechanical genius who could do calculations in a split second or was exceptionally talented in a niche interest considered profitable. Of course, this would be met with high praise. As long as they could operate within societal expectations, especially in the production of resources and knowledge, then at least this aspect of a person would be embraced. But what about stimming? Although not formally taught, at a young age, I soon learned that stimming and other aspects of disability were considered socially undesirable and must be "fixed" for the benefit of other people's comfort. Hence, in public, I saw parents scolding children for stimming, and admittingly, I thought stimming was odd. In Mel Bagg's video, In my Language, sie discusses the irony of the rejection of neurodivergent people, particularly how they interact outside the norm. Baggs remarks, "I find it very interesting by the way that the failure to learn your language is seen as a deficit but failure to learn my language is seen as so natural...that people like me are officially described as mysterious and puzzling rather than anyone admitting that it is themselves who are confused."


After watching Mel Bagg's video, I researched into hir life, and I was horrified to read about attacks on the credibility of Bagg's disabilities in hir blogs. For instance, sie discussed how people questioned how she could simultaneously have gastroparesis and be fat. In addition to explaining how weight is not an indicator of someone's health, Bagg also points to hir experiences as an example of how fatphobia leads to the health care system rejecting people from proper diagnoses and treatment. Other instances include people claiming that Bagg wasn't autistic because sie "...spoke, attended classes, dated, and otherwise acted in a completely typical fashion" or that autism was the only part of hir identity. On the About page of hir blogs, Baggs emphasizes that autism is not hir main identity, asserting, "I am cognitively disabled, physically disabled, chronically ill, developmentally disabled, and psychiatrically disabled." 


Sadly, Baggs passed away on April 11, 2020. Although hir cause of death was speculated to be due to respiratory failure, as autistic author C. L. Lynch notes on NeuroClastic, hir death was due to institutional failings rather than a mysterious disease. Lynch declares, "Really, to me, hir cause of death doesn't matter because whatever it was, whatever it says on the death certificate, I am absolutely certain that it was preventable. Ultimately, we all know that hir true cause of death is ableism. This would be true whether sie died from violence or natural causes, because Mel documented hir struggles with ableism over many years as it pertained to both hir treatment as a human being and hir treatment by medical staff."


(Side note: It was also frustrating to read news articles about Bagg's passing, where journalists were deadnaming hir and using incorrect pronouns, further demonstrating how multiple aspects of one's identity result in intersectional oppression (in this case, identifying as both disabled and genderless).


Below are hir blogs if anyone is interested in reading: