Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Unthinkable Thought of Borderline Pride

Neurodiversity logo
As I said on Facebook earlier today, I am still sorting through the idea of BPD pride and recognizing BPD as a form of neurodiversity. 

This is not to say I'm overlooking the negative sides of the disorder, but that I see value in shifting the paradigm from an illness model to a disability model, and then using the path established by disability studies to make our assets and surpluses as visible as our impairments and deficits. 

It is a complex balance to strike because I don't want to underemphasize the fact of psychological suffering in the lives of borderlines, and sometimes I find it useful to describe BPD as a kind of chronic illness, so there is no one single way to conceptualize the condition that works for all purposes and in all contexts. I'm less interested in proposing borderline pride as the new or best or right way of looking at BPD and more interested in noticing how difficult it is to form a thought about "borderline pride," how unthinkable it is under the existing conditions of knowledge about BPD. 

When something seems to be unthinkable, according to feminist epistemologists like Nancy Tuana, it is sometimes because there are biased forms of knowledge that get in the way of the blocked thought. 

What is blocking the thought of borderline pride? 

What might the phrase mean? Is it pride-in-being-borderline? Is it pride-despite-being-borderline? How might we distinguish it from BPD grandiosity? Or BPD complacency? Does BPD pride make sense in the way that autism pride or Deaf pride does? Or is it nonsensical in the way that cancer pride might be? (As soon as I wrote that sentence, I googled  "cancer pride" and discovered the Bald Is Beautiful campaign.) 

Bald Is Beautiful T-Shirt

If cancer pride exists, it is even more difficult for me to understand why BPD pride is so unthinkable. Still, cancer pride and BPD pride tend toward a focus on pride-in-recovery or pride-in-survival, unlike autism pride and mad pride which foreground pride-in-alterity. 

I would like to see a form of BPD pride based in the disavowal of stigma. The fact that BPD pride is difficult to think - that it feels, in fact, unthinkable - is an index of the depth of the stigma, and therefore a marker of the necessity of BPD pride. One message of BPD pride might be, "I have it, I am not ashamed of myself for having it, and I feel compassion for and community with others who also self-identify as borderlines." BPD pride might say, "It is normal to experience pain, suffering, illness, and setbacks. It is not a sign of monstrosity. It is not a sign of being a failed human being." 

Rainbow colored balloons tied to
bronze statue of a woman dancing.
Spartanburg Gay Pride Parade 2011
(Photo Caption: Charles Reback)
In the world of queer theory, the pride/shame binary has been rejected, a fact that is unfamiliar to the general public, which is still entangled in fights against gay rights (see the current fight in North Carolina around amendment one) and fights for gay visibility (various towns continue to inaugurate gay pride parades, as my own town, Spartanburg, did three years ago in 2009). In the context of sexuality, what lies beyond the pride/shame binary is a more complex look at difference (can we handle the fact that people are radically different from each other?) and sameness (can we handle the fact that people are far more similar to each other than our categorical thought processes tend to reveal?). In the context of disability, those same questions about permission for radical difference and recognition of unmarked similarities apply. 

I think BPD pride is a thought worth thinking. 

I also think it is not the desired endpoint of the conversation.


  1. Lisa,

    So glad to see you're blogging again! As always, the points you make are spot on.

    BPD pride shouldn't be an unthinkable prospect. So many of the great artists who changed the way we think about humanity exhibited BPD-like symptoms in their personal life.

    You could say that I'm a non-borderline, but I have my moments. I am drawn to the terrain of emotional extremity that is associated with BPD. My past relationships definitely fell into some unhealthy behavioral patterns. I'm trying to learn how to have dysfunction-free relationships, relationships that gleam with health like newly washed cars rather than temperamental gas-guzzlers with windows perpetually clouded from the heat of a needy cling.

    But I refuse to abandon extremity entirely in favor of the tidiness of romantic rules dispensed by women's magazines. I won't live my life rawness-free. The crying in the corner until I'm hoarse, the desire to reveal all to a man I've just met, fingernails embedded to the quick in the flesh of an experience: I refuse to board up these borderline spaces.

    Pride and shame are not the endpoints of the story of how I feel about these borderline moments of mine. They are, instead, the poles of a spectrum containing innumerable nuances. My emotions can range across the entirety of this spectrum in the course of a given day.

    By entertaining the notion of BPD pride against all odds, we start to map the territory of our own ambivalence. We give ourselves somewhere to go, a place to begin a dialogue on coping that has implications stretching far beyond our lonely predicaments.

    That's a discussion I can't wait to be a part of.

    1. Oh my god Amanda - this is a FANTASTIC reply!! It is really sheer poetry. And conceptually challenging in a way that I really like. I'm going to quote you on the Facebook page for the book, like right now :-)

    2. Thank you, Lisa! Your kind words are so encouraging.

  2. I love the idea of Borderline Pride, for many Autism or Disability Pride are impossible but for me and many others it's something we learn and gives meaning to our lives and struggles, pride is a great way to fight stigma and have acceptance. It doesn't mean denying the bad parts, the main accusation against Autism Pride and neurodiversity, it means talking about the good things and the bad things but without stereotypes, stigma and prejudice. I think Borderline pride could be saying we are diverse humans with all the rights other people have and that we can and should feel pride on being ourselves with the conditions that are part of our lives, in individual level it can mean because of the condition, despite of it, surving it, embracing it or fighting against.
    I see a lot of stereotypes when reading about BPD, in some professional sources about autism I see the same but we have some places to read about autism that doesn't turn us into wrong limited ideas of who we are, with BPD that is more rare, the dialogue is always the same of suffering, of being abusive and causing suffering to loved ones,a similar view of disability/autism outside of the places that challenge ableism, I know that as someone that has BPD I am harmed and treated badly because of it, I am considered something I'm not just because there is only one way to talk about people with the same condition as me and I can't see another way to call that except prejudice and stigma, this messages get to us so we could use some pride to fight the shame other tell us to feel.
    I think we need to see the good side too and that we are diverse people.
    Honestly as someone who was lucky to be autistic, have other disabilities and complicated psychiatric diagnosis I'm tired of seeing people talk about me and others like me as a problem, someone we are not, as limited broken versions of normal humans, I could use something to fight that.
    Have you ever read the poem You Get Proud by Practicing by Laura Hershey? It's from disability culture but I think it says something interesting, you can get proud by practicing even if it's something no one thinks someone should be proud to be. It could be the small things in adversity, surving something you dislike to have or embracing completely and trying to improve yourself without fighting a specific condition.

    I never imagined being proud of being mentally ill or disabled but I learned to be with autistic pride, it doesn't mean my life is easy or that I don't suffer but the bad parts are more easy to cope because I know there are good parts and that I am made to feel shame from too many things, I feel less shame so I can talk about the terrible painful parts which makes me more self-aware and helps me cope, improve and control myself.

    This comment is kind of long and I hope it makes sense.

    1. Absolutely, Alicia - it does make sense. I really empathize with feeling tired of hearing people talk about you as a problem or as you say a "limited broken version" of a human being. I have not read the Laura Hershey poem but will check it out right away. It sounds like a perfect fit for this conversation. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Thank you so much for writing this!!

    I have been struggling with the exact same concept. I think that your conclusion is perfect: BPD pride is a worthwhile concept, but it still does not quite make sense as an endpoint.

    Whether or not it is appropriate and accurate, I still think that it is useful as a concept. Through discussions of BPD pride on my own blog,, I have found people who did not know that it was possible to feel anything but shame regarding their diagnosis. Yes, BPD can be painful, but it is important to recognize that it is a diagnostic tool and not a damning statement about an individual.

    Like cancer, few people might be proud to have the diagnosis itself, but showing solidarity and pride with the community can help to decrease the stigma. Lots of people on chemo are bald, and that's okay. Lots of people with BPD face certain emotional struggles, and that's okay, too.

    I go into these thoughts in more detail here: as well as in several other places around my site. I would love to hear your feedback. I definitely look forward to reading more articles from borderlinePhD.

  4. I am fucking proud of having BPD, no two ways about it. Yes its painful, yes I probably would trade it given the choice but I know for a fact that I am proud of who I am, the fact that I have these intense feelings, that I see with exorcet precision and that the trivialities of life do not perturb me because they do not matter. People with BPD are intense creatures and often people want to run away from us because it scares them. Run the fuck away I say. Lighweights have no business in our presence for they are not worthy. I'm not grandiose, I don't lack empathy, I'm not manipulative and I have no fear in telling other people when they are just because they may choose to accuse me of sharing their flaws. BPD Pride is real and i have it. Stigma can go and fuck itself. I've written an article about stigma and I would love for you to read it, consider it and write something about it yourself as you have a public platform and I do not. The awareness raising movement has so much to answer for in terms of making us ashamed of having BPD. It needs to change and we need to change it x

  5. First, most people have no idea what BPD is or even that it exists. Second, anyone with BPD that is doing even close to okay has every right to be proud.

    BPD sufferers need to organize the way other minority groups have, to educate the public and provide support for themselves and their own loved ones and supporters.