Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Little Something Called "Ally Fatigue"

Hello lovelies!

i'd like to talk about something that i think has been percolating some time, something i'm going to call: "Ally* Fatigue".

What is this, you ask? i think it's this: folks who want to be in alliance with disabled folks (or any marginalized group of folks for sure, but im gonna keep it as focused as i can here) get down, overwhelmed, tired, of dealing with the constant realities of being "an ally" to disabled folks.

It makes sense to me, especially if you happen to be lucky enough to have a few outspoken gimps in yer life!

Some people want to acknowledge their support, love, respect and willingness to work in solidarity with people with disabilities, have lived with a disabled person/s forever, or are thrown into it when a lover, friend, family member becomes disabled, and so involve themselves to varying degrees in the issues being put forward by those disabled folks. Sometimes it can be as simple as reading posts we make about the issues, talking one on one, or it can be engaging in legal battles, marches, personal care, collaborative work, you name it; friendships, sexual relationships, families, workmates, whatever the relationship, there are ties that draw us to one another, and at some point we [hopefully!] recognize that we want each other to be happy and respected and not treated like trash, so we [hopefully!] work together on making that happen.

One thing i've noticed over the years of being around all the amazing non-disabled folks i've had the chance to hang with, is that sometimes it gets overwhelming for them, this "ally" thing. People get tired of hearing about the issues. They get saddened by it, and people usually want to avoid feeling sad. They also sometimes feel guilty about it, and their place in the over-arching systems of ableist oppression in which we live and they participate and benefit from. And people definitely try to avoid feeling guilty. i get that. i lolled around in guilt a long time without doing anything useful with it. i get it.

The problem is that, rather than use that guilt on a regular basis as a tool to turn into positive action and change, too many folks use it to defend stepping back from actual solidarity and alliance that has real meaning, and sometimes turn it into snarking about how mouthy or demanding or "unfair" gimps are being when we talk about this stuff.

So i'll use my mouthy self as an example. i've been writing about and otherwise sharing my perspectives on disability since the 90's, and especially so in the last decade or so. In that time, i've witnessed a lot of shit. i've watched well-meaning non-disabled folks freak out, break down, revise history, backpedal, and otherwise lose their shit when confronted with the sheer depth and breadth of this stuff. Some of them have yelled at me, chastised me, and "de-friended" (lol) me in various ways, because they couldn't cope. It's quite true that i've had a... shall we say... speckled history regarding how i talk about this stuff lol. We all come at it differently, and my particular perspectives (which also include anti-capitalist, anti-oppression stances on the anarchist end of things... which is particuarly tricky sometimes) can be hard to swallow, because they encompass more than simply talking about access, but actually doing soemthing about it (which can often be really fricken inconvenient for even the most well-intended ENabled person!), and are definitely not about placating ableism or well-meaning cluelessness. [You know, because people with disabilities are truly a diverse group, with equally diverse political viewpoints! Just like non-disabled folks!] But i keep talking about it, because it keeps informing my life, and i need the folks in my life to be on side with this, to the varying degrees they're able, or at least to not get in my and other disabled folks' way while we do it ourselves.

So i've seen variously able-bodied folks come and go in these discussions, these movements. And i want to acknowledge that it can be overwhelming, draining, saddening stuff; and that the sometimes difficult, personally and politically challenging conversations are a part of that.

But let me be entirely clear: those difficult conversations are NOT the reason able-bodied folks remove themselves from alliance with gimps. It is not the fault of gimps that non-gimps leave. And those conversations are not the reason for "Ally Fatigue"

The reason, quite simply, is ableism and access to able-bodied, ENabled privileges.

It truly is that simple, and yet it means there's even more work to do. If it was only about the "tone" of our dialogue, things would have changed a long time ago. If it was only about gimps being "nicer" or "fairer" or "more educational" or "less confrontational" etc [ever wonder why so many of us are pissed off instead of calling us out for it?], about how we talk about it, things would've changed dramatically ages ago. But it's not. It's about an entire system of oppression, and all the little ins and outs and difficulties and bullshit that brings.

So when recognizing you are tired, overwhelmed, sick of hearing about it, check yourself. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself for sure, but please don't take it out on gimps. Some tips:

  • If you ever hear yourself saying any version of "if disabled people would just _________, i would be more inclined to support them!", please remember where that comes from, how you are able to access that level of control: able bodied, or ENabled, privilege.

  • Take a break, come back when you can let this stuff go, and continue working together. You're super lucky to be able to walk away, because we can't. Don't abuse it.

  • Allow us to have the spaces we need to be with each other [i.e. don't complain about how gimps are oppressing you by having caucus space etc]. It is so rare to have spaces where gimps can come together, you getting your knickers in a knot about it doesn't help. How about yuo offer resources on spaces instead?

  • keep chill when a gimp in your life calls you on some ENabled shit [see it as the gift it is]. No really. You're lucky this person is taking the time out of their day, out of all the many opportunities for educating that have probably already happened that day, that you are the one we're talking with. It means we give a fuck that you understand how you've hurt us, and that means something.

  • certainly don't allow yourself to be abused, but do learn to differentiate between what it means to be schooled on ableism as opposed to being abused. Being uncomfortable or embarrassed is not abuse. It's growth.

  • continue to learn on your own [reading, conversation, however you do it, and don't expect gimps to answer all your questions, and don't get pissed when we soemtimes don't want to talk with you about it]. Many of us make a habit of talking about this stuff, sharing our experiences, opening ourselves up. That doesn't mean you have free-reign on our time. Don't take it for granted, and don't insist that the conversations happen on your schedule and with your rules in place.
  • do learn more about what ableism is and how you actually do participate in it [no matter how many disabled friends you have]. It makes a difference when you come to me with a little understanding, that you've taken the time to learn some stuff, that you are invested in the conversations.
  • remember that you do have power to change things both personally and politically, if you choose to use it. If enough people get together on something, pretty well anything can change. Don't underestimate your power, and don't underestimate the amouint of influence you have in your communities as an ENabled person.
  • don't get in the way of gimps trying to live our lives as we choose. Really. Don't do it. If you've nothing useful to add, don't add.
  • don't think for a minute that you know what's best for us. You don't.
  • don't speak for us unless we ask you to.

  • bein in alliance with folks is fucking gnarly sometimes. It just is. It isn't all rainbows and kittens and brownie points. It's hard, challenging shit. It's sometimes the kind of thing that kicks you right in the ass, forces you to confront some pretty nasty things about yourself. It's about being honest. And you need to be able to do all of that to even begin to call yourself "in alliance" with me.

There are many more things, but you get the idea. Basically? Take responsibility for your own shit, apply to gimps the same or similar expectation of understanding or solidarity you would want for yourself. If you're queer and have ever been angry about the shit you face, apply that here. If you're trans and have ever been disheartened and frustrated by the shitty treatment you receive, use that understanding here. If you're fat and are sick and fucking tired of having to explain to people why you need spaces that accommodate and celebrate your body, apply that here. If you have ever sought a heart space with someone, ever wished for more kindness, more understanding, ever wishe=d that more of the folks who do not share an experience you live, apply that here.

Look, we are all angry, pissed, tired, raging, for one reason or another. We are also all celebrating, cooperating, changing the shit out of our conditions in this world. Recognize that there is so much you don't know as an ENabled person, be more forgiving when gimps want to talk about our experience. Or scream about it. Or just cry it the fuck out. Because that openness, that forgiveness, that willingness to help us hold (and access!) space or stay the fuck out of it is a huge part of what is going to get us better, to heal and release all of us from this fucked up ableist system. For my part, i offer you all of those things as often as i can in return.

In love and solidarity, through even [and especially] the rough shit,


*i'm not going to go into my thoughts about people identifying themselves as allies here, as i've already gone off about it elsewhere lol. Perhaps another post is in order!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Background Noise and Defensiveness

So, i don't know if you experience this, but ableism and inaccessibilities are sort of background noise for me: there all the time, always informing me, always on my mind, always impacting my life; and then there are occasions when it really flares up, then returns to background noise. This week has been like that.

Several incidents of dealing with queer, trans, feminist groups and events that are totally inaccessible when i expected something else (sometimes because i'd been told they'd be different) and other incidents where claims of things being inclusive of "all bodies" falling way short of the mark.

i often find it hard (scary, saddening, vulnerable, exposing, frustrating, useless) to talk about the ableism and inaccessibilities of my communities, and a large part of that difficulty has to do with the defensiveness, no matter how i and others approach the topic. The defensiveness that assumes that being told your event is inaccessible and that that's not ok and how can we change it is somehow oppressive or mean or uncalled for. The defensiveness that says "instead of 'just complaining', why dont you DO something??!!". The defensiveness that says "why even bother? Someone will always complain!" The defensiveness that assumes i'm even talking about just your event when talking about this stuff, instead of a whole mess of incidents that week. The defensiveness that pulls out all the reasons why it's acceptable to hold inaccessible events yet say we're "all" welcome. The defensiveness of the ENabled.

People often say "maybe if people talked about their concerns more nicely/ less angrily/ etc then we would listen and things would change?"*. i cant even tell you how many times i've heard this. It's called tone policing, and communities all over have called it out for what it is: a derailing tactic**, an attempt to deflect the conversation back onto the person bringing up an issue instead of dealing with it directly and respectfully and effectively. It hasn't changed, it is still the #1 immediate response, no matter how kindly, how sweetly, how carefully the commentary is worded by the huge variety of folks who comment on ableism and inaccessibilities. And we are a hugely diverse group of people who talk about this stuff, with equally diverse methods of addressing it, and yet things so often remain the same. i can't help but imagine that it's about something else, like, i don't know, systematic, community-wide ableism perhaps?

It can only be about something more insidious than a perception of bad manners, when ENabled folks call inaccessibilities "inconvenient", "unfortunate", "regretful" or "oops!". It can only be about something more structural when ENabled folks insist that there must be better ways to deal with it (than how we're talking about it), and that until we find those ways or until we agree that ENabled folks know what's best, shit will stay the same. It must be about more than that when ENabled folks are running the conversation, no? 

The thing is? Gimps know. We know what we're talking about. We know what it means, we know what it costs, we know how it happens, we know how to navigate it, and we know how to detect [however well-meaning] bullshit when we encounter it. We know it because we live it, every single day.

We know that inaccessibilities are actually oppressive, not just inconvenient and unfortunate. We know that the language ["you calling me out on this is oppressive/ not ok!"] simply doesn't work in reverse [like, "reverse racism" or "reverse sexism" don't actually exist, for example]; we know that it's not some kind of hardship to have folks come to you and share their experiences and feelings around inaccessibilities, but that it's a gift. And we know that already-fucked-with people dont like to think of ourselves as capable of fucking over others, but we can & do, every day. The point is to be honest about it instead of treating folks as though they dont know wtf is up.

We know what we're talking about when it comes to this, and usually we're not out to fuck you over or shut you down or make you feel bad or defeated [and honestly? if you think YOU feel all those things about this, you truly need to check some privilege. Gimps are at the shit-end of the stick on this one, every single time].

So next time, instead of complaining about how gimps come to you with our concerns, how about you do some work on how you accept those concerns? How about you say "ok, i see what you're saying, can we talk? what can i do? how can we work together to change this? how can we sustain relationships with gimps so it's not this piecemeal haphazzard approach every time, only something we consider when we need you or when you insist on showing up? How can we create real community around this?".

Yeah. That sounds good to me? How about you?

* Here's the deal: When you refuse to participate [meaningfully or at all] in the collective work of creating and maintaining the kinds of relationships with disabled folks that could help ensure ongoing resource and info sharing, connections across differences, and increased community, you don't get to come to us complaining about how you think disabled folks are being "mean" or "unfair" or "angry" or "unreasonable" etc when we point out ableism. If you do the work, while it can be really challenging at times, it also has its benefits.

If it's worth it to you, you'll do it. If it's not, you won't. And we will be right back where we started with each other. And that seems an awful waste of time a energy to me. So let's do the work ok?

** i do have a problem with the "_____ For Dummies" language (specifically regarding the "dummies" part). It's unnecessarily ableist and pisses me off in general, and specifically when dealing with issues around ableism and inaccessibilities i am hesitant to include it. You decide.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"visible" and "invisible" disabilities

Today someone commented how "much harder it is to live with an invisible disability[sic]* than one people can see". 

Now, this kind of comment happens pretty regularly. And every time it makes me fucking cringe.

Here's why:

a) The ableist language surrounding "invisible" and "visible" disabilities squicks me. It presumes that the "viewer" is sighted, and that shit is boring and yes, ableist. That's why i use [sic]*, not because i don't think it's "real". And really? If we were coming at things from a non-sighted, from a blind point of view, everyone would have "invisible" disabilities. i happen to live with both so-called "invisible"and "visible" disabilities, and i just want to find more expansive ways of talking about this stuff, ways that do not centre sightedness etc. 

b) It's actually not easier. It's not easier to be seen by sighted folks as a gimp, to always be perceived as a gimp, to always have that on you no matter where you go. It's not easier to always be a literal fucking target, to be called really fucked up things because people can perceive you as disabled, and to have all of their shit dumped on you -physically, emotionally, verbally, sexually-- because you are what they perceive to be a problem. It's not easier, believe me. 
There are a whole host of things that folks with "visible" disabilities have to deal with that folks without generally do not, and there are things folks who don't have "invisible" disabilities don't necessarily deal with. So let's just knock it off with the "you have it easier" bullshit.

c) most importantly, how exactly does this unnecessary, ableist-based hierarchicalization help any of us? i mean how does it help us really? How does it get us closer to getting the services we require? Into the communities we have a right to be in? How does it help us feel welcome and lifted and understood? 
When disabled folks, however you define that, cut at each other's throats to get to the meager resources out there, to justify ourselves, to find ourselves in community with people, or for any other reason we do this to each other, we do the exact opposite, and we set up a situation where we can't even trust other gimps to do right by us. We set up hierarchies --based in completely ableist traditions-- to keep each other down. 

And that aint liberation.