Wednesday Jun 29, 2022

The Pandemic Made Me Realize My Brain Is Already Cyborg

Hard to say when my brain became cyborg. I noticed it during the pandemic. We were, around the globe, flipping out. I was in the middle of changing legs. My old leg, an Ottobock C-Leg, began to make whirring noises. I could hear my leg thinking, or whatever the word is for when our machine parts complete tasks.

I went to the prosthetist and he told me about a new device called Freedom Innovations Plié Knee. Of course they’d name the knee after a fucking ballet move.

The selling point? It had removable batteries. I could have an extra battery in my purse. I would no longer need to plug myself into a wall for a charge.

Why was the prosthetist enthusiastic? Money, probably. But he didn’t say that. They never say that. He told me I would love the new leg—they always say that—and that it would be lighter. Much lighter.

I weigh 100 pounds, so any excess weight from machine matters.

The salesperson from Freedom Innovations gave me swag—a T-shirt, a keychain.

In the next appointment, she had no idea why the Plié was fucking up. Why had I fallen on my concrete driveway while getting the mail? Why did the leg not understand inclines and declines?

I imagine she attributed the fall to “user malfunction.” That’s how prosthetic companies say “It must be your fault. The technology is fine.”

I left the house, in those early months of pandemic, for leg appointments. I did all the driving for errands—the grocery store, the gas station—but I did not get out of the car. My submissive went in. I sat in the car with a leg I did not like and my pill box for chronic pain. I was born disabled from Agent Orange. I’m an involuntary combatant in two wars: Vietnam and the War on Opioids. One war gave me the pain; the other war threatens to keep me in it.

I watched people walk in and out of the store. How easily they walked. This one in a hurry, fast, get in and get out. That one dawdling, stopping to put his mask on, looking back at his truck.

Would I get used to the new leg? Did it just take practice? Why did everything hurt more?

For the first time, changing legs, I had a cyborg companion. I hired the cyborg Amy Gaeta to be my assistant. She is a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There’s so much we do not have to explain to each other because we both occupy the cyborg subject position. So we can skip the bullshit convos about access, access, always access, and get theoretical.

I always follow Yoshiko Dart’s lead: If you have the money, hire disabled people.

It is only because I was in conversation with another cyborg that I realized my brain is already cyborg. Amy is autistic. She studies drones, so our conversations often led to how war technology is an extension of the human brain, neurodivergent and neurotypical modes of thinking, and why it’s hard to hold a conversation when one is in pain. 

So I already knew my body was cyborg. I had known since 2010, when I published “Going Cyborg” in The New York Times. It was even getting easier to explain my cyborg personhood to anyone.

Monlaa

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