'I don't just accept my disability — I can celebrate it.'
A personal essay by Summer Tapestry guest host Christa Couture.
I have one leg.
It's a pretty obvious thing about me because I wear a prosthetic leg that's decorated with big colourful flowers. And I wear clothes that show it off.
I didn't always make this part of myself visible. For about 20 years, I kept my prosthesis covered, hoping to pass for a two-legged person. I never wore dresses. I was Clark Kent in pants, hiding a secret identity.
Then four years ago, I got 'the flower leg' made. Part of the prosthetic is a high-tech, super-expensive knee that my friends and family crowdfunded to cover the cost.
I was so moved by their generosity and I wanted to be able to honour what they'd done for me. So I made the decision to stop hiding.
At first, I was nervous: I HAVE ONE LEG EVERYBODY. Yes, I'm this vulnerable.
But that feeling didn't last. And having one leg started to feel like I had a superpower.
Because of the flower leg, strangers now come up to me. Mostly, it's cool. They want to ask how the flower leg was made. They want to tell me it looks beautiful, that they've never seen anything like it.
I like these conversations — it used to be that people got pretty uncomfortable when I said, "I only have one leg," as if I'd just admitted a shameful secret.
"Oh, sorry, sorry,"
With the flower leg, the conversations are totally different. People don't even ask why or how I lost my leg, they're just excited about the aesthetics and technology.
But sometimes, people are not cool.
Once, at Niagara Falls, a tourist shifted their video camera from the waterfall to my leg and followed me as I walked down the sidewalk, without saying hi or asking. I'm not the roadside attraction here.
Another time, while I was waiting for a bus, a man came up to me (despite my wearing headphones) because he wanted to tell me how inspiring I was. What, for taking public transit?
Did he think I was an inspiration because he would never leave the house if he were missing a leg? Did he look at me and see something terrible?
Hot tip: If you're ever about to tell a disabled person they're an inspiration, please make sure they're actually doing something inspiring.
Look, I have no problem being an inspiration to people. I just want it to be for something greater than getting on the bus.
Like recently, I did a really cool thing. I went viral!
Actually, photos of me at 9-months-pregnant went viral. Maternity photos are nothing new. But these were different because I wore my prosthetic in some of the photos. And, I took it off in the others.
It was a first for me. And for the internet, apparently.
When I Googled pregnancy and disability, I found almost nothing. I wanted the next person who searched those keywords to have better luck. I wanted them to at least find me.
Honestly, I figured I'd post the photos online, they'd get a few Facebook likes and my mom would share them.
I didn't expect to get thousands of likes and shares or media coverage from across Canada, as well as the Daily Mailin the UK and Huffington Post in France.
I didn't expect to receive messages and emails from other disabled women and mothers saying they wished they'd done the same.
I didn't expect to be thanked for showing disability as beautiful, sexy, commonplace and extraordinary.
But it makes sense. They were seeing what took me a long time to reveal.
That I don't just accept my disability. I can celebrate it.