“If It Isn’t Healing, It Isn’t Justice:” What If Solidarity Meant Healing for Us All?

healing justice, solidarity

Content note: general discussion of oppression, trauma, death

Source: https://www.alliedmedia.org/news-tags/healing-justice

I want to start by saying that I love you.

It isn’t easy, always, to love you or anyone else. Love is hard work.

But I do.

It’s just in my being, like my breath—at least when I remember it’s there.

Other times, it feels like there is no love left in the world from or for anyone.

This movement we’re holding, it’s about love. It’s about us living full, healthy, yes, loving lives. It’s about all of us having the chance to hold each other better, to access the fullness of life more fairly and more deeply.

We can do those things now. We may not be able to change all the structures today or stop all the microaggressions today. We will do what we can with those things, as we can. We always can remember love, love for ourselves, love for each other. We always can be rooted in deep living and joy, even in the face of terrible odds for survival.

It’s not easy, always, to be rooted in this way. It’s hard work, sometimes, and other times it comes as easily as the beating of all our hearts. But it’s how we’re going to get through.

What does a healthy relationship with community look like? What does a healthy relationship with ourselves look like? When some of us have so much and some so little, and some in between and in all sorts of ways, when there is such a rocky terrain of difference and having and not-having, how do we still hold each other in this reality?

“It is no sign of well-being to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

“My job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

What is going on with these ideas? Why is it that we all must be disturbed and unhappy to be good movement members? What happened to healing? What happened to love?

What about: “My job is to love the disturbed and love the comfortable.”

What about: “Let’s figure out how to heal, love, and hold each other in this profoundly sick society.”

We have deep heartbreak, loss, death, every day. It’s survival only for many of us. Why does that NECESSITATE removal of love? Why does that NECESSITATE removal of joy?

Miss Major talks about not letting all the BS of life take away your joy. She should know about that.

What if, in addition to having space for anger, we had space for trauma, we had space for grief, we had space for loss… and we had space for a big old party where truly everyone was welcome and held the ways they needed to be? We had space for little and big moments of appreciation—for everyone, and we held open space for the possibility of abundance even when everything seems scarce?

That would probably stick it to the man. The man is definitely most happy when we’re busy judging ourselves and each other so much that we don’t even have room to hold each other’s sadness, let alone our joy.

As Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha says, “If it isn’t healing, it isn’t justice.”

This must mean healing for all of us—healing for the direct oppression we face, and healing for the bigotry we’ve been taught as privileged humans.

So let’s talk about solidarity in the age of one right kind of activism. Solidarity where we all show our love for each other as best we can. Solidarity where that love means we care for both ourselves ad each other. Solidarity where we all are working towards healthy relationships, not only with society, but also in our communities, also in ourselves.

I’ll say what you know: oppression hurts us. It hurts us all, and it directly and deeply and immediately hurts the oppressed person. That pain is different from the pain that comes from bigotry enveloping privileged communities.

It is different because while it seems more dire, and certainly has more immediate and direct consequences on material life, the pain of the bigoted is just as deep. Trauma inflictors and trauma survivors both have deep healing to do. This is on an interpersonal and institutional level.

Remember the words of Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha: “If it isn’t healing, it isn’t justice.”

Now, what that pain manifests as and what the process of healing becomes may end up appearing very different for privileged and oppressed folks—or similar, who knows. Healing always requires deep listening to self and community, then following where that compass goes. There are paths from others’ journeys to learn from, but no map for yours, for ours.

You job when working in solidarity is not to heal us. Not directly. Only we can do that.

Your job is to heal yourself. Your job is to heal your community.

It may not seem as life-or-death, it may not seem as important, but it is. Heal yourself. Heal your community.

Only you can do that work.

Of course you will feel things about the oppression your loved ones face. Of course it will pain you to witness them hurting. Of course it will break your heart when shared community turns their backs on the very people who have no other community to go to.

This all will hurt. And the cost of staying by our side is deep and real. You will never lose your privilege, and it will never hurt the same way as it does when it’s lived reality. But, yes, it will hurt, and there will be prices to pay. Solidarity isn’t free.

Solidarity isn’t free, but it should be healing. (“If it isn’t healing, it isn’t justice.”)

Remember that, no matter how much you stay by our side, no matter how much a price you pay within your own community for speaking out, the pain we’re experiencing is not your pain.

The pain we’re experiencing is not your pain.

And thank God for that! I don’t want any more people to face what I’m facing.

Let me say that again: I don’t want you to have to deal with the shit I deal with every day. How is that justice? Are we looking for more people to deal with more BS? Is that our movement? Or are we looking for more people’s trauma to be lessened?

I don’t want you to experience this, at least not firsthand. I’d love it if you could be a shield, when you are able. I’d love it if you did all you could—within your privileged spaces—to prevent such things from happening in the first place. Not that any one person is responsible or any one person can change it all. But you can do something.

But I don’t want you to hold the pain of oppression I hold every day. There’s more than enough of that going around. Besides, that’s some kind of sin-based, punishing ideology that says the only way we deal with Bad Things is by suffering more.

Nevermind that it would be pretty weird if you tried to say my pain was your own. It really wouldn’t work out too well. Messy emotional boundaries and all that.

What if the way we dealt with Bad Things, in addition to holding space for trauma, was through joy?

Ohh, a celebration, a lovefest, a party of epic proportions that held everyone well and deeply, and the way they needed to be held. (Even if sometimes that meant not being physically held at all!)

Besides, you have your own pain from being trained since birth to enact trauma upon us. Your community has that pain. It hurts you all and closes off your souls in ways you don’t even know yet, ways you don’t know because you are preoccupied with trying to feel our emotions.

Empathy doesn’t mean swallowing someone else’s pain. It means holding space for it. It means doing your best to understand.

You can’t feel our emotions. You haven’t faced the same thigns. Feeling our emotions would be weird, appropriative even.

But you can feel yours.

And the more deeply you are connected to your own feelings, your own emotional process, the more you will be able to help your community overcome the things that are leading them to produce such trauma for others and themselves.

The more you approach yourself with compassion, the more you will be able to approach them with compassion.

And that is vital. Because you are the best person to do that healing work with them. We can tell them our stories, cry out in pain, but we can’t reach them in the same way.

One other thing: it’s OK to rest. Wait—YOU MUST REST.

You can’t do it all—not all the time, and not on your own. You are not a lone hero.

How will you heal without rest? Yes, we are dying every day, and no, we don’t get a break from the direct onslaught. Yes, you have the privilege of being able to retreat sometimes.

Use it.

Of course, be conscious of how and when. Communicate with us so it doesn’t feel like yet another betrayal, another loss.

But none of us will heal this stuff—our communities, our selves—without rest.

So give yourself a break sometimes. Be accountable, for sure, but accountability doesn’t mean 24/7 duty. That’s, practically speaking if nothing else, unsustainable. And we need you for the long haul.

Because as shitty as this stuff is, it won’t be over tomorrow. It won’t be over next week. It’s not like a final exam week where if you study extra hard and push through you’ll pass at the end of the semester. If you keep pushing that hard forever you will die or you will disengage from movement spaces.

It’s not going to be over next year, either. Many more people will die. We will keep on holding and healing all of our suffering until, hopefully, things get a little better.

That’s what we’re here for. To hold each other as best we can. To help each other heal, in the smallest gestures and the biggest actions.

That’s justice.

“If you want an Oscar, they give those for supporting roles.”

#blacklivesmatter, ableism, accessible movements, allyship, disability justice, healing justice, intersectionality, racism, saneism, solidarity, transphobia, white supremacy

TRIGGER WARNING: ableism, racism, white entitlement, transphobia


I have had a radical shift in thinking. A radical shift that is also a continuation of the path I’ve been wandering, a fitting in of a puzzle piece that was waiting to be placed there. (I recently had the honor of hearing the founders of the #blacklivesmatter movement, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi, speak. They were SO amazing!)


Cullors, Garza, and Tometi. Source: http://www.blackalliance.org/the-new-leaders-of-social-justice/

Yes, I live at a particular intersection of trans and disabled.

But SO DOES, LIKE ALMOST EVERY TRANS PERSON. Trans people and disabled people are not separate. We are nearly THE SAME THING. Trans people are inherently traumatized by the world around us. It almost always gives us chronic illnesses. Even if we have no other disabilities, we very, very often have these ones.

Trans justice and disability justice are the same thing.

We’ll use some examples from my own life, or fears from my own life, just to illustrate a small amount of the overlap.

Trans disabled lives are lived whenever we can’t “work hard enough” to prove that we’re a “good trans person,” to make a good first impression on all those cis people.

Trans disabled lives are lived every time we are misnamed and mispronounced in the doctor’s office.

Trans disabled lives are lived every time there isn’t a space in the psych ward for our genders.

Trans disabled lives are lived when there isn’t therapy that lets us be who we are, when therapy itself traumatizes us.

Trans disabled lives are lived when we have GI problems and there are no safe bathrooms for us.

Trans disabled lives are lived when the only trans spaces are full of chemicals and fragrances that make them inaccessible for us, and the only disability justice spaces don’t ask for pronouns.

Trans disabled lives are lived when the only trans-friendly psychiatrist in your area won’t see you because they can’t personally separate the workplace discrimination you’re experiencing for being trans… and disabled.

Trans disabled lives are lived when we traumatize and retraumatize each other in the only trans relationships we have.

Our oppression creates our trauma creates our disabilities, living deep in our cells, in our bones, in our guts. Oppression disables us, in so many senses of the word.

We cannot have justice in any movement without disability justice, we cannot have it without healing justice. Each and every one of our oppressed communities has been disabled by our oppression. Often it’s some of the most vulnerable members who have borne this cost.

Oppression is not the only thing that disables us (and some of us are born with disabilities). And not everyone who is oppressed is disabled. But we cannot overlook the huge overlap, even if many aren’t ready to take on the identity “disabled.”

I’ve realized that I’ve been living narrowly in my ideas about what that means. I know all oppressions are interconnected, but I’ve been separating out my solidarity work from the anti-oppression work that directly affects me. On one hand, this is necessary—we can’t appropriate oppression, we have to work from solidarity.

On the other hand, this has created a myopic view of what oppression looks like and what interconnections there are.

The founders of the #blacklivesmatter movement are not just black women who are mostly queer, they are also mostly chronically ill and traumatized.

And they started a nationwide, global movement.

With all that inside their bodies.

I knew intellectually that queer disabled black people existed, and that they struggled. I’ve read some of their writing. But somehow, seeing these women who started such a successful, viral movement right in front of me, hearing their words, their inspiration—well. Our struggles might sometimes look different, but they are different heads of the same beast.

But here’s the thing: I’m not dealing with as many heads of that beast. They are just facing more shit.

I really do need to sit down and shut up, a lot of the time.

OK, I knew that, too, intellectually. But I really need to internalize this.

Because the movement cannot be led by people like me. It will not be led by people like me. I am still a person of privilege, even though I am queer and trans and pan and gray ace and disabled. Even though I am a survivor. So many of us are all of those things–and more.

They are the ones that need to be at the front. My voice can be part of a chorus. It can say my experiences, but it must always be informed by others.

And, as I think it was Patrice Cullors who pointed out (a point that she credited to Lourdes Ashley Hunter), “If you want an Oscar, they give those for supporting roles.” (loosely quoted)

Our place is in supporting roles. That is our non-oppressive place to be. Anything else is reproducing white supremacy, classism, the whole nine yards.

We don’t need that in our movement.

What we do need is more care for each other, more love, more support. What we need is holding each other despite it all.

So I’ll keep on moving and shaking and writing and listening and doing my best to keep my place.

Thank you so much, Patrice, Alicia, and Opal, for your work, your words, and your inspiration.

I am ready to begin again.