“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

OK, so YOU ALL.

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!)

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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.

The Thing About “Crazy” (Part 2 of 2)

ableism, accessibility, accessible movements, mental illness, privilege, saneism

TRIGGER WARNING: saneism, ableism

Note: This is a summary of various ideas from a conversation I had a few months ago with the person I was dating at the time. Sometimes there are direct quotes, sometimes there’s paraphrasing. Thanks so much to them for agreeing to make this available for other people to browse, and for their contribution! 

Say yes to “craziness” in our lives! Break yourself free from the control saneism likes to exert on all of our behaviors! Why? How? What does this mean? Take a look below…

  • It makes us more comfortable with each other.
  • Alone or with others, do something in public that your inner social norms tell you that you aren’t supposed to do. Jump, dance, skip, hum, wiggle! Cry! Shout! Rock! Don’t conform to expected behavior when you want or need to do something else! Keep in mind, though, that this should be something that comes from you–this isn’t a chance to “make fun” of how “those people” look or act.
  • Remember that, although saneism directly oppresses people with mental illnesses, everyone is shoved into a box of behavior because of trying not to look “crazy.” If it wasn’t seen as “crazy,” how many behaviors would people engage in that they don’t engage in now?
  • I’m not talking about skydiving or revolution or starting a new business or whatever else people put the word “crazy” inaccurately onto (although that linguistic/psychological divide is there too, and you should do those things that you want but don’t allow yourself for, too). I’m just talking about those things, literal behaviors that mark people as crazy, that are “against social convention.”
  • Remember also that “crazy” is more often applied to people who experience other kinds of oppression as well, as a way to discount them. People can be considered “crazy” due to their defiance of norms/oppressed status, people who may not have mental illness. Just think about stereotypes of “crazy women,” or racialized stereotypes that also include “crazy” somewhere in that list of bigoted adjectives. Remember that refusing to police your own behavior based on this list of norms can be lessening this divide too. (That’s not to discount the fact that people often non-consensually read or label others’ personhood or behavior as “crazy,” and that there are many different ways that people try to survive in a world that has this reality. Stay safe, everyone. As safe as possible in the moment, anyway.)
  • You may feel frozen even thinking about stepping outside of the “sane” behavior box, a box you likely have tried very hard to conform to. That’s OK. Start small.
  • When we say yes to “crazy” behavior, in the literal I-don’t-mind-looking-like-I-have-a-mental-illness-right-now way, and in the figurative, bigoted way it’s used as well, we are saying yes to ourselves and others, just as they are. We are saying yes to the needs we may have to sob or shake or lie in bed all day or rock or hum. We are saying yes to our dreams, to the impossible, the fantastical, all these things that we deny ourselves and relegate to the supposedly illegitimate, impossible, unintelligible, ridiculous, even magical/exhilarating world of “crazy.” These are our realities, our literal realities as mentally ill people. These are also the realities of the world around us, who has closed its doors to literal insanity and anything else it doesn’t want to welcome with that word, thrown casually, “crazy.” “I cannot love crazy things,” we say. “I am unlovable if I am crazy, unhearable, illegitimate, not worth listening to or having around.” We say these things when we say the word “crazy.” Not only are we being saneist in terms of shutting people with mental illness out, we are shutting ourselves out too.
  • When we hold ourselves to these confines, it hurts us and the people around us, people we care about. We feel closest to the people we can be really genuine with—and that includes being open about our mental illnesses and being free to express parts of ourselves that are otherwise labeled as “crazy.” Make room for others, too, to be like that around you, to be their genuine selves.
  • It hurts others when they feel like they have to apologize for their craziness, when they feel lucky to have people that tolerate craziness. Don’t simply tolerate it! Celebrate it! It is about treating people decently, about treating everyone as whole people with entire selves that contain so much. It’s not a favor to do this. At its best, it’s a deeper, more loving holding of everyone around us. At minimum, it’s treating everyone like a person—which hopefully is loving! Haha, you aren’t getting out of love on this one!
  • Keep in mind that at all times, this is a practice of being true to yourself—not of appropriating, imitating, or making fun of others’ behaviors. Set yourself free from the grip of saneism on your life—but don’t make ugly imitations of what that might look like for people with mental illnesses that are not your own.
  • All of this has varied intersections and relevancies to physical disabilities and autism, but as that is not a part of my experience, I don’t want to delve into it more. I just want to recognize the closeness of policing of behavior and bodies and how it relates to other forms of ableism.

Also, check out this picture (source below):

https://www.facebook.com/MysteraMagazine/photos/a.260956163935285.67825.163953310302238/738865629477667/?type=1

We are not useless. We are fabulous!

ableism, accessibility, accessible movements, activism, dehumanization, disability, privilege, saneism

TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of ableism, classism, trauma in movement spaces

Just today I was talking with the person I am dating, who said, “I just wish I could do more of those things, be able to go to protests and organize and work on the things I care about.”

I know I have often felt this. I know many others feel this, this uselessness. If we do not have the energy to spend on what is often seen as activism, then we are not committed to the cause. Then we are not, actually, useful.

Supposedly.

I say, though, that the idea of people with disabilities as useless is an idea that stems straight from capitalism. Not all aspects of oppression stem simply from capitalism, but capitalism is all wrapped up in many forms of oppression. It finds different ways to control each group, to make each group expendable. In particular, we are expendable because we are useless.

But we are human beings, not dollar signs. We are human beings, not the products we put out. We have lungs and stomachs and hearts and brains, and they are churning and working and thinking, breathing and beating, making us live each day. They may not work the way we find most comfortable or efficient all the time, but they work all the same. Efficiency be damned! We are miracles!

We are most certainly not flat pieces of paper with writing on them that get passed from hand to hand in a frenzy of abstract value.

The very meaning of justice work needs to be changed. The idea of what constitutes activism or organizing needs to be changed. How many organizers have I known who organize at the cost of everything else in their lives—their own care, the care of their families, and, in a perverse way, even the care of their communities. While at a meeting, they didn’t give their friend a ride to the doctor. While at a conference, they missed helping their kid with homework. I know that for some organizers, this is their livelihood and they have to go to these events. For many people who do not have organizing jobs, they need to choose between work and caring for others as well. What I am saying is that ideas of what organizing is need to be expanded, both for paid and unpaid organizers. The movement not only needs an accessibility check–it needs a priority check. We bring more people in when they are cared for, when they are in community. Caring and creating community IS organizing work.

The agitating that organizers do is important and it can have results that make a difference in daily life. But I say that truly good results cannot happen without everyone there, and these results start with people living in a community where they care for themselves, their families, and the people around them. They care deeply. They show up. They cook food for each other. So much of this work is about improving conditions at an institutional level, and that is direly needed work. But it is not the only kind of improvement that is needed.

These movements do not include me when I cannot show up, and I may have “skipped out on the movement.” These movements do not include us when they are not accessible. What happens when we don’t make space for everyone? What happens when we are asked to show up at the courthouse to try to free someone from prison, and we do not support people with experience being incarcerated in the wholeness of their trauma? They should be heading this work, and we need to make space for that support. We also may need to wait to take to the streets while processing trauma, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t organize! What happens when the spaces we book aren’t accessible for people with mobility devices, or children, or a bus pass, or interpretation needs, or mental illness? Many people who are dealing with intense forms of oppression are just trying to survive, just putting food on their table with multiple jobs—or have no money because they can’t work. If the people most directly affected by an issue can’t show up, we know what kind of bad shit can go down. These are not the movements I want to be part of. We cannot leave anyone behind.

Let’s organize for communities of care. Organizing can look like making food for a friend when you can. I say organizing is hanging out and talking about these issues, or shooting the breeze about nothing in particular. I say organizing is slipping in these topics whenever you can. Organizing is watching mindless TV with a friend. Organizing is watching someone else’s kids—or your own. Sometimes, organizing is simply existing. Sometimes, simply existing is really hard; it’s a huge success in itself. Sometimes, organizing looks like lying in bed all day, and sometimes it looks like getting out of bed.

Some may say we are useless, but they need to expand their vocabulary. We are fucking fabulous, and we are existing every day, caring for each other every day. We cannot let anyone out of our net. Let’s hold each other in all our fabulousness and need, however we can, whenever we can. This is building communities of care. This is making the change we need. This is caring for anyone who’s left behind by a capitalistic model of organizing, or just plain oppression. Let’s hold each other fiercely.