Saturday, January 30, 2010


For anyone who wishes to be in solidarity with me as a disabled person, as opposed to being my ally, i really hope you'll read this.

Every day i leave my apartment sighted people stare at me. They stare at me, ask intrusive questions about my body. They expect answers, and when they don’t get them, or the ones they wanted, they get angry with me. They hiss and tsk and shake their heads and dismiss me and laugh at me and swear and occasionally they spit and hit. This stuff happens all the time. It's especially brutal when i’m alone. This happens Every. Single. Day.

Because i'm disabled in a way that sighted people can perceive, they behave as though they have ownership over my body. They behave as though my body is here for them to scrutinize, to judge; and they expect me to feel the same way and act according to their ableist framework. And they do so with the knowledge that most of the people around them will back them up.

This stuff happens all the time, because i am ALWAYS disabled in a way that sighted folks can perceive.

But it doesn’t just happen with strangers, certainly none of whom are telling me they’re my "ally". Strangers are one thing, that’s tough enough to deal with, but at least i’ll be getting off the bus soon, only have to interact with this person a few more minutes, at least i'll be able to get to the safety of my apartment soon. When it's friends and lovers and “allies” who do these things, it follows me into my home. It eats away at me in a way no other person could. When “allies” refuse to learn, refuse to listen, refuse to shift, it burns my throat. When friends allow the reality of living ENabled in an ableist society to bleed into their interactions with me unchecked and without doing the actual work necessary to be in true solidarity with me, it literally aches.

i am disabled by a society that says i'm not worth it. Every. Single. Day.

Yet when i speak to this daily lived reality (even as relatively infrequently as i do, compared to how often i could), i've been told, by self-identified “allies”, that my words are “too much”; that they “can’t hear it all”; that i swear too much; that i “expect too much” from people, and ultimately, that i am “too sensitive”.

When you can grasp what an incredibly teensy percentage of actual incidents these posts articulate, maybe then you'll be able to appreciate how fair, kind, reasonable they really are.

[al-ahyz, uh-lahyz]
1. pl. of ALLY.

2. (initial capital letter ) (in World War I) the powers of the Triple Entente (Great Britain, France, Russia), with the nations allied with them (Belgium, Serbia, Japan, Italy, etc., not including the United States), or, loosely, with all the nations (including the United States) allied or associated with them as opposed to the Central Powers.
3. (initial capital letter ) the 26 nations that fought against the Axis in World War II and, with subsequent additions, signed the charter of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945.
4. (initial capital letter ) the member nations of NATO.
al⋅ly [v. uh-lahy; n. al-ahy, uh-lahy] –verb (used with object)
1. to unite formally, as by treaty, league, marriage, or the like (usually fol. by with or to): Russia allied itself to France.
2. to associate or connect by some mutual relationship, as resemblance or friendship.
–verb (used without object)
3. to enter into an alliance; join; unite.
4. a person, group, or nation that is associated with another or others for some common cause or purpose: Canada and the United States were allies in World War II.
5. Biology. a plant, animal, or other organism bearing an evolutionary relationship to another, often as a member of the same family: The squash is an ally of the watermelon.
6. a person who associates or cooperates with another; supporter.

i don’t want allies, i want people to be in solidarity with me.

sol⋅i⋅dar⋅i⋅ty [sol-i-dar-i-tee]
noun, plural -ties.
1. union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests, as between members of a group or between classes, peoples, etc.: to promote solidarity among union members.
2. community of feelings, purposes, etc.
3. community of responsibilities and interests.
1841, from Fr. solidarité "mutual responsibility," a coinage of the "Encyclopédie" (1765), from solidaire "interdependent, complete, entire," from solide.

What that means to me is that we understand we're not an “ally of _______ people”, but that we're in solidarity with each other; that you and i have had conversations about what it means to be in solidarity with one another, in all our complexities; that there's been some exchange, some understanding, some agreements made.

i am not a member of Group A. i can't be an ally to the group "A". It's an impossibility. Unless i believe that members of Group A have one mind, one set of desires, of expectations, have one way of expressing themselves. i don’t believe that, and so i do the work of understanding on an individual basis what it takes for me to be in solidarity with individual people who are members of Group A. The hope is that that work translates into my broader understanding of the multitude issues faced by, and the multitude realities of people who are members of Group A, learning about Group A's rights, projects that are happening in my city and beyond that are about support, empowerment, community, and listening to some tough stuff. And of utmost importance, that i do not harm members of Group A with my ignorance. That i listen when they tell me i have, and that i take steps to change my behaviour. That i'll take all of that, be constantly updating my information, my connections, that i'll in return share my own stuff. It’s a back and forth arrangement, we both learn, challenge, change. We both perceive each other, support.

It doesn’t count when we're not both engaged in the work. It doesn’t count when you can and do back out anytime it gets uncomfortable or downright painful. If i backed out of being in solidarity with you every time i felt like it was too tough, or too inconvenient, where would we be? How long would you want me around if every time it really counted, when you truly needed me, every time you wanted to just speak your mind about the kinds of shit you deal with, the anger, the frustration, the sadness, and to simply be heard, i took off?

i make promises to myself and my communities about the kinds of work i'll engage in. i take advice on it, change and challenge, be challenged. i STFU.

i respect you - that’s why i ask and expect you to check your shit.
i trust you - that’s why i share my life with you, even the really hard stuff.
i love you - that’s why i refuse to give up.
i love myself - that is why i expect more.

If i am in solidarity with you - that is why i do this.
This is the work of being in solidarity with people. It's not an identity we can claim for ourselves. It is work. It has been and always will be work. Our individual responses to the work will always cause variations on pain and anger and resentment and shame and guilt and defensiveness that we'll need to check for ourselves. And it'll always be worthwhile. Every. Single. Time.

Please, don’t be my ally. Be in solidarity with me. It’s not semantics, it makes an actual difference in the real world. i want solidarity, nothing less will do.


Dexter said...

Thank you. Is it okay if I repost this on my Facebook page?

romham a bear said...

thanks for the comment :) feel free to link to it :)