Meditations on a Bullet: Violently-Injured Men Discuss Disability, Masculinity and Blame
R. Noam Ostrander, PhD, DePaul University.
Purpose: Violently-acquired spinal cord injury (VASCI) has recently emerged as a significant disability category. Since 1990, interpersonal violence, defined as gunshots, assaults and other penetrating injuries, has been the second leading cause of spinal cord injury (SCI) in the US, accounting for 24.5% of all new SCIs. Demographic research indicates that VASCIs usually occurs among young minority males, living in impoverished areas of an urban environment. Like other individuals who sustain a disabling injury, individuals who sustain a VASCI often struggle with the consequences of the injury vis-ŕ-vis redefining their identities and their role in society. The purpose of this study is to understand how men with VASCI incorporate disability into their identity following their. Specifically, this study seeks to understand how individuals with VASCI perceive the effects of the injury on who they are. Does the injury affect how they perceive themselves? How does the injury affect how the participants experience their gender or their race/ethnicity? Methods: To address the research questions, this study utilized qualitative methodologies. Eleven minority men were recruited from an inner-city rehabilitation hospital for this study. Each participant was interviewed twice, with an average of six weeks between interviews and each interview lasting about 50 minutes. A grounded theory approach was utilized to analyze the interview data along with ATLAS, a qualitative data analysis package. Conclusions and themes were verified through member checking and a work group consisting of colleagues and individuals who shared similar characteristics with the sample population. Results: A traumatic and disabling injury causes a schism in individuals' lives. The men in this study experienced that schism as they began living their lives on a “split screen,” in constant comparison between life as would be if they were able to walk and life as it is now. These men noted vigorously how the injury affected their masculinity. The injury and resulting disability violated social understandings of what it means to be a man in their environmental context. Additionally, the men noted the injury's impact on their sense of safety, sexual encounters, body image and choice of intimate partners. Their social context shaped what it meant to be a man, played a role in their injuries, and increased the challenges inherent in a life-changing event. For these men safely navigating their world proved impossible prior to the injury and now adds different challenges as they learn to be men in an environment that rejects them on multiple levels. This study's primary contribution involves how social contexts create internal battles among identity components. The participants in this study experienced an intense battle between their masculinity and their disability. Given their social context's value on masculinity, their “maleness” must prevail. Masculinity in their environment signifies power and privilege. The disability threatens that status. The men spent an enormous amount of effort re-establishing their masculinity to diminish and reject their disability. The ways in which men (re)construct their masculinity provide ample space for future research and enhance understandings about how vital this process may be.