life with an ostomy. candid, not sugar-coated. empowered, not embarrassed.

Jun. 21, 2006

The last form of acceptable oppression? if!

The next time I hear someone say, "you know, __blah blah blah___ is the last form of acceptable oppression," I'm not sure I'll have the same happenstance reaction as I did the last time I heard it, just a couple of weeks ago, whilst talking to a co-worker who sat beside me on a five-hour flight.

I think my neighbour in seat 18E was referring to making fun of fat people, or short people, or some other widely accepted oppression which really and truly does exist. The last form though? Come on, open your eyes. Read the newspaper and look at how people of Islamic faith are oppressed every day. Look at how seniors are routinely abused and neglected. When's the last time you heard someone equate being Chinese with being a bad driver? Or suggest that a woman who makes certain decisions about her own sexuality is a hoe? Oppression exists everywhere and always will; different kinds of oppression, perpetrated by various people on various capital 'O' Others.

But what my co-worker said to me immediately made me think of myself and, without her knowing about my ostomy, I reactively said "That's not true, I saw a scene in a movie that was oppressive toward people with ostomies." It was kind of weird. First I had to describe what an ostomy was, then describe the scene in the movie, and say how I'd also come across ostomy-mocking on the internet and heard someone joke about people with colostomies on the radio, with no regard for how listening ostomates might have been affected. Predictably, my neighbour said, what an odd and hyper-specific reaction to what she just said. Well, of course it was, I have an ostomy!

So with hours still ahead of us on the flight, I told her. Different from most times I've come out about it, we had a lot of time and I got into the history and the anatomical detail; she asked many questions, and I gave thoughtful answers. It drew us together, and as with most times I've revealed my 'condition,' she began telling me very personal things that she would not have otherwise.

Ultimately though, what I liked in particular was not the depth of our discussion about my ostomy, although that was nice; what I liked was that in the beginning of the conversation, I unknowingly used an intensely personal experience to illustrate a larger political issue: that oppressive actions and words are used all the time, against an unending list of visible and invisible minorites, and sometimes no one other than those connected to the target of oppression even notice. In a very non-offensive way, it became clear that what she said was a gross overstatement of how far we've come as a society.

Unfortunately, the next time someone makes that blah blah blah is the last form of acceptable oppression statement in my presence, I might not react in such a genuine and personal way. Instead, in some angry, didactic and alienating way, I'll probably feel the need to defend all the oppressed people of the world, and deny the truth of the ignorant comment. Maybe not. Hopefully not. But hopefully I won't hear the comment again.


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