I spend most of my traveling hours on a train or bus scrambling not to get stepped on. Sometimes this means I get to sit on a seat squished between people while my dog hides beneath, sometimes this means I sit on a nice privately isolated seat with enough foot space for D to curl up all comfy cozy. D loves to find empty seats, especially loves to find empty spaces for his body to hide. I don’t blame him, if I were foot-level with hordes of metro Bostonians I would want to hide under a rock too.
Sometimes it’s because I have this winning personality and fabulous charm that I acquire a seat on the transit system of my choice. Seeing me grappling a pole and straddling a labrador, someone will look up, shake the dust from their shoulders and say ‘do you want to sit down?” Once I said yes and the lady inquiring just went back to her reading. I thought it was insidiously cute. Once I said no and some guy forcibly put me in his seat. That didn’t last long, and neither did his er, grip.
I saw the above sign on a train window and thought about the implications. Rather than saying “this seat is intended for people with disabilities or the elderly” (problematic as that is) it said to offer up this seat if it’s needed. If it’s needed. How’s that get defined? Who gets to define that? How quaint that the sticker is intended to direct able-bodied people to do the ‘right’ thing whatever that may be, if they think it’s merited or warranted in a given situation.
Not that this is a new concept, people with a certain amount of privilege having the authority to decide when a person without a certain amount of privilege has access to things and services. But to be faced with it on such a visceral level, a directive on a train I’m riding, is to remind me of where I am and how little agency I’m afforded by this able-bodied world. It reminds me how often living can feel like fighting. Fighting for the right to define myself, my identify and my needs without interpretation and renegotiation by others.
It ain’t easy to redirect this fighting energy into positivity. It’s hard to re-imagine that people are kind and good and well-meaning. But sometimes they’re not; sometimes they’re patronizing and in need of a pat on the back, a good deed for the day and you are going to be it. And that’s where inserting our identities and autonomy (and right to choose our need) comes in to place. And that’s when I want to strip all those crap directive signs off the windows and walls I see them on.
More like….this seat is for folks who say they want to sit in it. Stop defining and identifying bodies for others. Self determination much?