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!)
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.