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How I Came Out About My Disability

  • July 14, 2020

Truly overnight, I went from being Krysten to “poor Krysten,” which, even when it wasn’t explicitly stated, often felt implied. But I was the same person, if smaller and sadder. I still wanted to skip school and follow the musician Sufjan Stevens on tour and I was still a mouthy girl from the South Florida suburbs who loved her grandmother and harbored the most debilitating crushes.

My friends were also 19, young and seemingly invincible, and, however nerdy they were, they still got drunk and went to parties. I did, too, if one of them folded up my wheelchair and threw it in the trunk of their car. And I navigated my new reality with some self-deprecation, describing myself with words like one-legged, stumpy and wobbly to circle around the truth: I was disabled.

Part of the reason I hadn’t accepted my disability was that I didn’t have many people to talk to about what I was experiencing — what it was like to see the world from a wheelchair, and later, wear a prosthesis. There were support groups and the like, but I felt awkward going alone. One of the few times I went to a community event, an ice skating clinic, I realized at the rink that I had misread the flier: The event was for children. In the group photo, I was the tallest person by a foot.

And so I processed my emotions outside of groups, and tried to appreciate my body for what it was: strong and resilient, scarred but powerful. When I took up running, it traveled great distances, including countless park loops and across a marathon finish line. But I didn’t think of it as beautiful until I came across the Instagram accounts of women like the models Mama Cax (who died in 2019), Jess Quinn and Kiara Marshall, among so many others. They made having a prosthetic seem glamorous, even though day-to-day disability is very much not. Here were my women, joyfully showing off their stumps and creating spaces to normalize their differences.

They put words to the ableism I had experienced but struggled to describe. Their hardships resonated: tales of ill-fitting prostheses, or walking pain, or well-meaning comments that carried a sting (“I don’t think of you as disabled!”). I took solace in seeing videos of women putting on their legs, an experience I rarely talk about. When a dear friend asked me how I practice yoga, I sent a post of Mama Cax in midpose. “It looks like this!”

These women, and many others, formed the support group I longed for, one that reiterated what I knew to be true, but didn’t see reflected out in the greater world: that disability can be challenging, but it can also be sexy and stylish and fun and smart. Like me.

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