Lessons from Gaelynn Lea: How I Learned to Question Internalized Ableism

I never learned how to run..

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When I was younger, my friends and I pretended that we were superheros. Imaginary capes billowing behind us, we would creep out of our stick forts and fly through the forest. The crunch of my feet striking the leaves was offbeat, different from the steady sound of my friends’. I was slowed by the villain of time, unable to make smooth, quick strides. As I started to grapple with the concept of “disability”, I wondered why there were no superheros like me.

Now, I am reminded of these memories as I lay sprawled on my bed, listening to musician and disability activist Gaelynn Lea’s TED talk. She speaks of how her disability and “bendy limbs'' influenced her life. “You are free to be beautiful in the way that feels beautiful to you”. Over the years, I started writing creative nonfiction, proud stories about my disability experience. I still internalized the thought, however, that I could never become the idolized ‘superhero’.

In elementary school, “beautiful” was primitive, based on the speed of my peers. I instead found a different beauty: my creativity. Every week, my friends transformed into characters I created, eagerly listening to the stories I scribbled down in dog-eared notebooks. With words, I became the storyteller.

With a physical disability, and as an ambulatory wheelchair user, I don’t fit society’s perception of ‘beautiful’. While I listen to Gaelynn Lea, I reflect back to those moments in the woods- the moments when my friends sat huddled around me, waiting to hear my stories. I embraced my identity as creator and storyteller. Hearing Gaelynn Lea’s words, I now realize what it truly means to love and accept every curve and flaw of my body.

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...I am learning to appreciate being human- imperfect yet beautiful.




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