From Theory to Praxis: Turning Apologies into Advancements

While I didn’t explicitly say this at any point during the semester, many of my peers already know that I have Tourette Syndrome (TS) and OCD. Tourette Syndrome is a neurobiological disorder characterized by motor and vocal tics, or involuntary movements and sounds. Thus, my journey from childhood into young adulthood was marked by instances of shame and pain, in which my peers voiced their disgust towards the “stupid” noises I made. I remember feeling defenseless against angry classmates who just wanted me to “shut up”, for they failed to understand the lack of control I had over my own body. Unable to bear the weight of the insults, I devised a plan to flip the script such that I was in a position of power. I decided to talk. In fifth grade, I gave my first TS talk, which involved a very informal discussion with my fifth grade classmates about TS, including the symptoms, the sensations, and the discomforts of the disorder. However, this one-time presentation very quickly evolved into a fulltime job. In highschool, I was certified as a Tourette Syndrome Ambassador for the Tourette Syndrome Association, and my job involved travelling to different elementary and middle schools in New Jersey to educate kids not only about TS, but also about stigmatization in general and the negative impacts it has on kids’ self-esteems. The overarching theme for the presentation was the importance of accepting people’s differences. While I came to college thinking I had taught thousands of kids an important lesson on “tolerance”, GSS 101 has changed my perspective, and, as a result, my future lesson plan.

Through our countless discussions regarding marginalization of mass amounts of people based on their race, sexual orientation, and physical capabilities, I’ve learned an important lesson on the apology narrative. As we discussed in class, pop culture has unfairly, and frankly, mistakenly characterized homosexuals as ashamed men and women who, deep down, desire a heterosexual orientation. In this way, popular coming out narratives frame gay people as apologetic for their sexual orientations, feeling they need to justify their sexual deviancy from the heterosexual norm. However, this framework is inherently flawed. It suggests that homosexual people are somehow lesser and subservient to their heterosexual counterparts with whom they are confessing a deep, dark, embarrassing secret, when in fact, variance from heterosexuality is common and no less acceptable than heterosexuality. This need to apologize for what makes us different stems from hegemonic monoliths that produce us as subjects—specifically heteronormative, white subjects. As a result, any deviancy from this model results in unwarranted discomfort and shame.

In the TS presentation I used to share in high school, the closing slide was a real tear-jerker, but now I realize it was also extremely stigmatizing in nature. On the last slide, I read an apology note to the students, pleading with them to understand that if I could, I wouldn’t make any noise in the back of the classroom, and that it bothers me just as much as it bothers them. Now that I’m armed with knowledge regarding subjectivity in our society, I feel incredibly embarrassed and ignorant for feeling the NEED to beg for forgiveness from a load of 10 year olds. In apologizing for my differences, I merely strengthened the shame discourses associated with disabilities as opposed to subverting them as I intended. I realize now that in order to truly deconstruct stigma surrounding various medicalized disabilities and differences, we need to look BEYOND medicine, which describes disabilities as pathologies, and present what we refer to as “disorders” as merely other versions of the “norm”. In the future, I plan to delete that slide from the presentation and, instead, work to deconstruct children’s perspectives of normalcy, which is where all stigma stems from.