(Should I throw in a clown nose while I'm at it? Purpose? Opposable thumbs? Scars or tattoos? Experience? A theme song like way back on Ally McBeal? Love? Some kneepads and a helmet? Resentment? Common sense? Or a winning smile?)
What are real people made of? What are stereotypes made of?
My favorite article ever written about a person with Down syndrome is titled 'People with Down syndrome can be jerks too.' To me this article and especially its title speak of great things. Although a personal story, the article offers to me a glimpse of a society that might just be able to see people with Down syndrome as individuals. As multifaceted, whole people who experience varied emotions, and whose actions are fueled by just as obscure, overt, honorable or selfish motives as yours or mine. People with agency.
Seems so simple yet it's not.
The article speaks to me of a potential for a complex inner life that is often incredulously denied people with intellectual disabilities.
Not a radical thought though, this complex inner life, thought processes, a reasoning beyond pure instincts, wants, and needs. Complex motives.
That stuff that makes you justify having a hamburger for lunch even though you'd sworn to yourself that same morning that you'd get a salad and start a new life, that makes you hate your job while you're thankful for your career, or kill a spider while carrying the ladybug safely outside. That stuff that allows you to pass that guy on the street who's waving around a sign asking for money for food without batting an eye and then pay $4 for a coffee you end up not drinking. That stuff that makes you fundraise for an animal shelter while wishing that your mother in law's driver's license will not get renewed so that she can't visit so often. That stuff that makes you hate someone you desperately love.
We can all be saints or jerks, towards ourselves and towards others, sometimes in the same moment. Sometimes we act on impulse, other times we carefully weigh our options. We make small decisions in everything we do that are guided by a complex mess of everything.
Life. We neurotypicals live it and more often than not aren't asked to explain ourselves, yet the general assumption doesn't seem to be that we acted on pure instinct, or based on some all-encompassing motivation. And even if we did, most times that specific instinct or motivation won't be seen as all we have or are, as our basic existence.
However, often, almost without anyone realizing, people with intellectual disabilities are dismissed as not having that complex mess and are flattened to a few basic emotions or motivations. People with Down syndrome are reduced to that one extra chromosome in ways that most of us never even think about. Little things. Insidious thoughts. Good intentions.
Closer to God in their innocence
The 21st is the chromosome of love
Not an evil bone in the body
Unable to tell a lie
Here to teach us what life is really about
If people with Down syndrome are not reduced to monsters as has been done in the past (hello Aristotle, you half-assed theoretician), then they're often reduced to special people, halo and angel-wings firmly attached.
Subhuman or superhuman, both exist on the margins or outside of society. Only partially included or segregated and grouped together, perhaps excluded. Denied of an average, everyday, mundane existence, complex mess and all - the kind of existence many of us have and refer to as happiness. Disabled by society and its perceptions.
By a society whose rhetoric of ableism has become so ingrained into us, into our thinking, our worldview, our language, and our understanding, that even many of us advocates never pause to challenge or question it.
We don't lead in our thinking and rhetoric, we scramble to have those we advocate for lie in this bed we've made without wondering when the last time was anyone changed the sheets - and those sheets are in serious need of changing.