Ableism is the most important identity marker.

At least once each semester, I’ll usually ask my students at some point, “What is the most important identity factor? You have to narrow it down to one thing.”

They’ll usually say race, gender, class, or something similar. These are all good answers. As they give their answer and justify it, I’ll challenge what they say by saying, “What about….”, regardless of what they say. They also resist this becase we put so much emphasis on intersectionality. 

This semester when we were discussing this question in my Queer Studies class–within the context of a lesson about masculinity, gender, and sexuality as described here–this time I found myself spontaneously saying, “What about ableism?!”

My interests have specifically grown to include ableism lately, and I have several such projects in-progress. I probably would have been interested soon given my own medical experiences, but I didn’t really know about the field of Crip Studies until recently.

But as to the question I ask my students: yes, class, gender, and race, as well as nationality, literacy, and countless other facts matter and are “the most important” in their own specific ways, depending on the positionality in question.

However, my new thought was that one could argue ableism is actually most important because other identities and experiences grown from it. Whether someone is born deaf or becomes bedridden or someone has “perfect health” as considered by the medical and social model, these factors come before. Of course, People of Color, women, and other minorities do not receive the same quality of care, but at least on the extreme ends, ableism matters most. Even extremes of being alive or not being alive. 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda