Nervous Systems: Part 2

Here is the second installment of my theoretical/graphic memoir on disability, visibility, and gender! Previously: Part 1

Image descriptions can be found below the .jpgs; click the images for larger versions. Should you need more background on the “Supercrip” trope, a piece that I wrote for Bitch on the topic (all the way back in 2009) is cited on page 7.






Panel 1: Image of a report card showing A and B grades.

Text: The more crap I had to deal with in various environments, the higher my grades got.

Panel 2: Anna looks in the mirror as she pokes at a zit.

Text: I also hit puberty fairly early; this only added to the pile of crap.

Speech bubble: I’m 12 years old…I should NOT be getting zits.

Panel 3: Anna lies in bed, in pain from leg cramps.

Text: Muscular “growing pains” in my legs, which kept me up at night, weren’t fun…

Speech bubble: OW.

Panel 4: Anna looks at her chest quizzically.

Text: …nor was waking up one morning and discovering that I had breasts.

Panel 5: Anna grumbles.

Text: Filling out came with its own set of problems.

Thought bubble: Well, shit.

Panel 6: Anna experiences boob pain.

Text: There was pain in a sensitive area, for one thing.

Panel 7: Two middle school boys try to grab Anna’s chest as they laugh hysterically.

Text: Unwanted attention from boys…

Panel 8: One girl snaps Anna’s bra as another looks on and laughs.

Text: …and girls, for that matter.


Panel 1: Anna makes a decision to be “normal.” A thought bubble above her head shows her as a weird monster.

Text: The CP was—unlike my health issues that would come later—nearly always in danger of being pointed out by my peers, or in danger of being pointed out. I tried my best to hide it…which did not work.

Speech bubble: I’ll just be NORMAL!

Panel 2: Anna interacts with another girl.

Text: Being seen—and known—as the “girl with the limp” had its own set of problems.

Speech bubble, girl: Get away from me, RETARD.

Speech bubble, Anna: Sorry.

Thought bubble, Anna: So much for that “normal” thing…

Panel 3: Anna stands to the side; a group of kids laugh as her former best friend makes fun of her.

Text: I felt like I was constantly being watched, for one thing.

Speech bubble, friend: And then she was like—

Panel 4: Anna looks worried and sad.

Text: Nor did I understand, at that point, that other kids’ comments about my body were more about their own inability to deal with differences.

Speech bubble, Anna: Why do they hate me?

Panel 5: Anna thinks.

Text: At some point, I became convinced that getting straight A’s—and generally striving to be a “good kid”—was the solution to my problems.

Footnote: Along with being “nice.”

Speech bubble, other kid: Hey, BITCH!

Thought bubble, Anna: How can I make people respect me?

Panel 6: Anna makes a plan.

Text: I didn’t expect the CP to go away, per se—but I did want to compensate for this difference.

Thought bubble, Anna: I know! I’ll get straight A’s AND try out for flag football AND run for Student Council AND participate in volunteer work AND…

Panel 7: Text only.

Text: The trope of the disabled person who strives to overcome her disability via amazing feats is not uncommon, and even has a name: SUPERCRIP.

Panel 8: Text only.

Text: As the disability activist Lorenzo W. Milam writes, supercrip is a personification of “Roosevelt Syndrome—scaling great heights, smiling…convincing everyone that there is nothing going on inside…nothing at all (5).”

Bottom text: It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Footnote: See Milam 1997; see also Hamilton 2009.


Panel 1: Anna smiles as she makes a decision.

Text: In effect, I strove to become a sort of miniature Supercrip during my early adolescence.

Speech bubble: I’m not going to let my foot bring me down!

Panel 2: Anna runs for Student Council, sits in a meeting, and studies.

Text: My list of accomplishments during this time included running for Student Council multiple times, staying in Student Council for over a year once elected, and, of course, getting extremely high grades.

Panel 3: View of stage during a school talent show as the emcee introduces acts. A banner, reading “Talent Show 1999,” is hung above the stage.

Text: I also participated in plenty of school events.

Speech bubble, emcee: Our next act is a dance routine set to the Spice Girls!* So…please welcome Anna, Alex, Lauren, and Rachel from Grade Six!

Asterisk: Unfortunately, I am not making this up.

Panel 4: The girls perform their dance routine.

Text: All in all, I thought I was doing ok with this “good kid” stuff.

Panel 5: Anna’s parents congratulate her on her report card.

Text: The adults were cool with it…

Speech bubble, dad: Wow! Straight A’s again! Good job!

Speech bubble, mom: We’re so proud of you!

Panel 6: Two kids confront Anna after the Talent Show.

Text: …but the other kids certainly were not.

Speech bubble, boy: You were HORRIBLE! You are such a SPAZ.

Thought bubble, Anna: I didn’t see YOU up there…

Panel 7: Anna holds a mask that shows her own robotically cheerful face.

Text: Soon, being “good” started to feel like it wasn’t enough. I had to be PERFECT.

Panel 8: Anna throws the mask to the ground.

Text: The less “perfect” I was (according to my own impossibly high standards), the worse I felt.

Thought bubble, Anna: Eff this.


Panel 1: Anna looks sad as the taunts of her peers, spelled out, surround her. The taunts read: failure, gross, weak, dumb, emotional, stupid, bad, ugly, lame, fat, bitch, retard, eww, slut.

Text: I felt like I would never be good enough. And if I couldn’t be “perfect,” I didn’t deserve to be liked or loved.

Panel 2: Anna looks in the mirror.

Text: This is not uncommon for young women to feel. As Charlotte Caron notes, “the desire to be liked becomes paramount” (22) during adolescence. The desire was there, as was the feeling that I didn’t deserve to be liked or loved.

Footnote: See Caron 2007.

Panel 3: Anna’s reflection in the mirror shows her as a monster with horns and a tail.

Text: In my mind—and, I assumed, the minds of others—I was too gimpy, too unfeminine, and too screwed up to be of use to anyone.

Speech bubble, Anna: Wow, I am disgusting.

Panel 4: A pretty, perfectly dressed little girl sings as Anna looks at her sadly.

Text: Where other girls were graceful and feminine, I was clumsy, shy, and weird-looking.

Panel 5: Anna sits on the floor after trying to walk in short heels.

Text: Feminine trappings were too difficult for me to pull off with success. Heeled shoes were out of the question.

Footnote: Still are, thanks to balance problems.

Speech bubble: How does ANYONE walk in these things?

Panel 6: Anna, wearing hip clothes and makeup, tries to talk to her former best friend, who rolls her eyes in response.

Text: If I wore makeup and “nice” clothes, my deep voice and odd gait would betray that exterior.

Speech bubble, Anna: Hi!

Speech bubble, former best friend: GROSS.

Panel 7: Image of a high-heeled shoe, a dress, and lip gloss—all with x’s through them, and the word NO beneath each.

Text: The backlash from trying to be feminine scared me so much that I refused to wear light colors, dresses, and makeup for many years.

Panel 8: Image of the “woman” symbol and Anna’s left foot, labeled “being a girl” and “having a disability,” respectively.

Text: I spent a huge amount of time hating myself for the two things that I felt were least under my control: being a girl and having a disability. None of my supercrip aspirations could mask either.


Panel 1: Image of Anna’s feet.

Text: The CP had—and has—an odd status as far as “visibility” is concerned.

Panel 2: Teenage Anna silently responds to a person who asks what’s wrong with her foot.

Text: Even while I was growing up, I always felt weird—and a little angry—whenever people would “helpfully” point out my limp.

Speech bubble, person: What’s wrong with your foot?

Thought bubble, Anna: NOTHING, jackass.

Panel 3: An old man points at Anna as she walks by.

Text: Many times, it felt (and still feels) as if they were really saying that I was too unaware of my different body—and it needed to be pointed out!

Speech bubble, old man: You’re limping!

Speech bubble, Anna: I sure am!

Panel 4: A woman with a cane walks as several large sets of googly eyes stare her down.

Text: In general, women’s bodies are so subject to cultural policing that the monitoring of disabled women’s bodies does not seem particularly surprising.

Footnote: See Bartky 1989; the same could also be said of those whose bodies don’t fit “traditional” gender presentation.

Panel 5: Image of the “woman symbol” and a question mark, surrounded by words: fat women, women of color, queer women, poor women, trans women.

Text: Many women who do not fit white, abled, thin, and cisgendered norms of what a woman “should” look like also experience this policing—and the cost of that visibility.

Panel 6: Image of a heart along with the words LOVE YOUR BODY! An asterisk denotes “If it looks and acts like it’s supposed to, that is.”

Text: In recent years, popular feminism has encouraged (young) women to “love” their bodies.

Panel 7: Image of a white woman’s bare stomach.

Text: Body acceptance seems to be catching on…at least for white, young, abled, middle-class straight women.

Panel 8: A delighted feminist talks about body acceptance.

Text: Many “new” feminist activists with media platforms wax poetic on the importance of women’s “self love…” without also considering that they are speaking from a fairly normative position in so doing.

Speech bubble, feminist: I love MY body…therefore, EVERY woman should love hers!


Panel 1: Anna walks to catch a light rail train.

Text: Loving oneself and one’s body, too, becomes a bit harder to do if you’ve been told by both mainstream culture and more liberal feminism that your body is weird, ugly, or just plain doesn’t fit in.

Panel 2: A young guy tries to ask Anna about her cane; Anna looks annoyed and does not respond.

Text: I suspect that some will protest this statement—after all, feminists and women with privilege have body image issues, too—but abled feminists and women face body policing that is substantially different from what women with disabilities face.

Speech bubble, young guy: Hi! What’s the cane for?

Thought bubble, Anna: SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UP.

Panel 3: Another stranger asks Anna about her limp; Anna does not respond.

Text: “Loving your body” is not easy to do when your body is consistently pointed out as “abnormal” because you are both a woman and are disabled, or are a woman and non-white, or…well, I could go on.

Speech bubble, stranger: Why are you LIMPING?

Thought bubble, Anna: Fuck off.

Panel 4: The “love your body” feminist from page 10, panel 8 looks confused.

Text: That such “abnormality” is made visible on a near-constant basis—and that this making-visible is obscured by non-disabled, “body positive” feminists—only adds to the feeling that we do not belong.

Speech bubble, feminist: Disability? How is THAT a feminist issue?

Panel 5: Anna looks concerned.

Text: Even in the “feminist” movement, people like me are still not all there—at least in popular feminism.

Panel 6: Anna looks conflicted, and then concerned again. Words surround her: WHITE, YOUNG, MIDDLE-CLASS OR ABOVE, HETEROSEXUAL, and finally DISABLED.

Text: Further, some of us are visible and invisible simultaneously. It is odd.

Speech bubble, Anna: I feel very conflicted about this!