What A Flat Tire Taught Me About Intersectionality

I first became acquainted with the concept of intersectionality this summer when I was taking a course on gender at the Radboud University Nijmegen. As identity politics are increasingly becoming a topic of discussion, not just in academic discourse but all over the internet, I think it’s important to shed some light on my understanding of the concept, especially since I was confronted with it in my day-to-day life recently.

Or, to make it a bit more complex:

Intersectionality refers to the simultaneous experience of categorical and hierarchical classifications including but not limited to race, class, gender, sexuality, and nationality. It also refers to the fact that what are often perceived as disparate forms of oppression, like racism, classism, sexism, and xenophobia, are actually mutually dependent and intersecting in nature, and together they compose a unified system of oppression. Thus, the privileges we enjoy and the discrimination we face, are typically facilitated by our unique positioning in society as determined by these classifiers. Source

Intersectionality is a way of describing how parts of a person’s identity intersect and how these intersections influence their position in society. A woman with a disabiltiy will experience her womanhood differently from an able-bodied woman or a man with a disability and a man with a disability will experience his disability differently from a  woman with a disability or an able-bodied man, etc.

Additionally, you might experience different parts of your identity in different contexts. You feel young when you’re out partying with friends, you feel especially disabled when you have a flat tire. And that’s exactly what happened to me a few weeks ago. Because my disability influences my balance and I live in Amsterdam, the city of cyclists, I ride an adult tricycle. It looks sort of like this:


One early Monday morning, on my way to university, I rode my front wheel into something sharp. Maybe it was a shard of glass, but whatever it was punctured the tire. I got of the trike, inspected the tire, which was flat as a pancake, and almost started to cry.

My friends get flat tires all the time. They then borrow bicycles from their siblings or parents, sometimes they even rent a temporary bike or they just buy a secondhand one for under a hundred euros. When all else fails, they just walk places.

I don’t know anyone who owns a trike and even if I did my guess is they’d own it because they need it. I can’t just borrow one from somewhere. I can’t rent it, either. Sometimes bicycle repairmen turn me away because they’re not equipped to deal with trikes. I’ll leave it up to you to guess what buying an adult tricycle costs, but it ain’t cheap. Without one, I feel totally and utterly handicapped. It’s not a feeling I’m used to, and in a vague sense, it’s humiliating.

I found a repairmen who was able to replace the tire within a few hours. After it was fixed, I felt like I could breathe again. The context of a flat tire had drastically shifted the way I experienced my identity. It had made me feel terribly helpless. That is intersectionality.

This story is important because it explains the differences between people. When someone has a reaction to something that you consider disproportionate to you, please consider that everyone experiences the world differently. I’m twenty years old and I know a flat tire is nothing to cry about. I hope you now understand why it does make me cry. In other words: try to always be understanding and kind.



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