Fake It ‘Til You Make It.

Woman sits in a manual wheelchair.

Britain has many troubling obsessions; retaining artifacts stolen from other cultures decades ago to fill the “British” museum, demoralising the working class, and blaming minority groups for everything that goes wrong. There is also another obsession that Britain, America, and many other Western countries may have that causes many issues; the notion that everyone is a fake.

An immigrant who has the right paperwork to remain in the country? Fake.

A black or brown person better qualified for the job than a white person? Fake.

A homeless man begging for money? Fake.

As a culture we are completely fixated on the idea that people are trying to cheat us out of money, work, or resources like education and healthcare. Or worse, they’re just doing it for attention.

This is something I have personally been accused of on numerous occasions. I claim to be bisexual but am married to someone of a different gender, so clearly I’m straight and only claim to be queer for attention. I also say I’m non-binary, but that label is also just an attention-seeking strategy, obviously. Worst of all, I use a wheelchair but can stand up and walk; plainly I have committed over a decade of my life and thousands of pounds to maintain the illusion that I am disabled, simply to get some money from the government that doesn’t come close to covering the many additional costs that come with a disability.

Being accused of faking my sexuality and gender does cause problems, especially when it comes to accessing certain aspects of healthcare, as well as taking a toll on my mental health. That said, being accused of faking my disability has caused me even more trouble.

As many people with chronic and mental illnesses know, it is a struggle to find a medic who will listen to concerns about your health and actually believe you. The notion that people fake conditions to receive a few painkillers or other medications is so deeply ingrained that chronic pain patients are often left in constant, debilitating pain, even when there is indisputable evidence that the patient has an illness. I have seen photographs of the endometriosis that causes me so much pain, but was still sent to a clinic where I was advised to meditate and relax as the pain was clearly all in my head.

The obsession with catching fakes makes it difficult to even obtain a diagnosis in the first place, especially for marginalised groups such as women, LGBTQAI+ people, and minority ethnicities. The general disbelief delays diagnosis to the point that diseases are often far worse than if they had been caught and treated early on, and in many cases this ultimately results in death. Despite this, the medical community remains more focused on rooting out fakes than it does on rooting out the biases and discrimination that kills their patients.

However, disabled people face overwhelming scrutiny not just in healthcare, but every aspect of their life. As previously mentioned, benefit schemes are available to help disabled people gain the resources they need to live and help cover the additional costs that come with having a disability. Unfortunately, the process for obtaining this assistance is gruelling and wildly inconsistent, with even those with very visible and permanent disabilities being made to go without lest they be fakes. Every few years I must prove to a complete stranger in half-an-hour that I am still sick, and the cost of transport and obtaining paperwork in order to prove my illness is not re-imbursed.

Even after a successful application, the threat of being reported to the government for “faking” is used against disabled people. The Department for Work and Pensions know I can stand and walk for a very limited time, yet I still feel self-conscious if I leave my wheelchair in public, however briefly. I often feel the need to emphasise (not exaggerate) my disability due to the threat of such an accusation, and ironically this emphasis often puts me at greater risk of falling than if I could just stand and walk as I do behind closed doors. I always have to be careful of what I post on social media, and my attendance at protests puts me at risk of being reported to the DWP by police. It is impossible for me to exist without being constantly aware of who is around me and how they might perceive me, all because of the obsession with catching fakes.

The truth of the matter is that this obsession is a tool of oppression. It holds marginalised communities back, and creates extra barriers that get in their way on the path to equality. By accusing people of fakery you are not helping those communities by uncovering some kind of traitor, but are actively harming members of that group.

Indeed, while it pays not to be completely naive, the world would be a much better place if we could start to trust one another again.

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