Simi Linton

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My Body Politic

Linton, Simi

Last Updated: Dec-06-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir


Simi Linton, a major voice in disability rights activism, has written the story of her journey from car accident "victim" to college professor, disability studies scholar, and political activist. Her memoir of personal experience is interwoven with the evolution of her thinking about disability as social construct and the development of the disability studies movement and political engagement.

In 1971, Linton was a young married hippie--a college dropout hitchhiking her way to a protest march against the Vietnam War, together with her husband and best friend. Suddenly there was a car crash: her husband and best friend were killed and Simi sustained a spinal cord injury that left her legs paralyzed. There followed a year of hospitalization, surgeries, and in-house rehabilitation.

Although forced to be a recipient of attention and care, Linton even then was not inclined to play a passive role. "Even in this forest of overseers, where every move I made was scheduled . . . I had opinions. . . . Doctors . . . had saved me, and saved all my new friends, but I was outraged when they spoke for me or spoke down to a nurse I liked" (15). While still institutionalized, Linton took on the cause of petitioning the medical staff to educate patients like her about leading a sexual life as a disabled person. She determined to return to college as a psychology major so that she could eventually implement sexuality programs in rehab centers.

Linton details the activities of daily life that she had to adjust to and the strategies she adapted to maneuver, with her wheelchair, in her home, to go shopping, to travel, to attend classes. Family and friends and some social services were helpful but everywhere, life was designed for the abled body. This was a "fact of life"--"I had a feeling it could be different, but didn't know where to begin. I was having enough trouble just getting around" (28). She kept from thinking too much about her situation and her losses by staying busy and trying to be as independent as possible, but eventually needed the support of a therapist "who could bear my weight" (37).

It was in 1975 that Linton's disability rights "consciousness" was first stirred. On her own, she left her New York apartment to live in Berkeley, California for awhile. There she discovered "The Center for Independent Living" where the employees and volunteers were themselves disabled and whose goal was to assist disabled individuals to find ways of living independently. "I had been so tentative about my disability, and had, up to now, only ascribed a very personal meaning to it--this is what happened to me, this is the effect on me--that their forthright ownership of disability and their drive to take action based on the collective experience set my mind racing" (53).

Another defining moment came when Linton took a course on the psychology of women at Barnard College. "We examined the myths inherent in the so-called objective knowledge base" (64). Simi drew a parallel between knowledge generated from the male perspective and knowledge presented from the perspective of the abled body. "Unlike the [classroom] readings . . . which challenged traditional conceptualizations of women's roles and framed issues from an insider's perspective, the rehab literature recounted clinicians' views about disabled women's needs and experiences that seemed far removed from the way that I and the disabled women I had been meeting actually felt. It looked at us, and, it felt, through us, and I mistrusted all of it" (64).

The memoir continues with Linton's decision to work outside the realm of institutional medicine, her co-organizing the National Coalition of Sexuality in Disability, her falling in love with and marrying the man who is her (second) husband, her growing awareness of the silence surrounding disability and questions of access, and her dedication to change individual and society's discriminatory practices and to bring awareness of what we now call "the social construction of disability."

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