Category Archives: activism

This is Hard

I sat down this evening to find some stuff I could write a few posts about. I went to google news and did a search for “mental illness” and one for “bipolar disorder” and looked through everything that had come up in the past week.

There was a fair amount of stuff – some workers in the CA Department of Mental health are working enough overtime to double their salaries, continuing involvement in your field of work after retiring may help mental health, some news updates on the British guy scheduled for execution in China – so I just picked out a couple of stories to look at.  I was specifically looking for something that would be positive or at least neutral – something that wasn’t about people with mental disabilities being violent criminals, or about how pharmaceutical companies are making money.

So I picked an article that seemed positive: a piece by Glenn Close in the Huffington Post about ending stigma. It’s titled Mental Illness: the Stigma of Silence, and there’s a lot in it that’s great. She criticizes the movie Fatal Attraction (in which she starred) for portraying her character as a dangerous psychopath and misrepresenting the reality of mental illness. She points out how other “topics that were once unspeakable,” like breast cancer and AIDS, have gained wide acceptance and awareness, while there is largely silence on the issue of mental illness. She is frustrated by the societal assumption that people with mental disabilities are lost causes. She even calls out ableist language like “‘crazy,’ ‘nuts,’ or ‘psycho’.”

But. She opens the piece by saying that “mental illness and [she] are no strangers” – and then cites her “challenge — and the privilege — of playing characters who have deep psychological wounds” as the basis of her authority. She also mentions that her “sister suffers from a bipolar disorder and [her] nephew from schizoaffective disorder” (emphasis mine). Which … isn’t great and made me frown a bit. But I could have overlooked that – it’s an article with a lot of visibility that makes strong arguments against stigma, it’s connected to an organization “that strives to inspire people to start talking openly about mental illness, to break through the silence and fear [and has] the support of every major, American mental health organization and numerous others.”

Except then I clicked through to the website of the organization, Bring Change 2 Mind. And here is the first thing I saw: (screencap of a video, so excuse the graphics)

Bring Change 2 Mind

I literally gasped out loud. She is a mom, his mom. And he is not even her son, not even a person, not even a person with schizophrenia, not even a schizophrenic, he is labeled with his diagnosis. There’s other photos on the front page- someone with a “post traumatic stress disorder” shirt, and Glenn Close (wearing a “sister” shirt) sitting next to her sister, who is wearing a “bipolar shirt.” And I closed the window. Any kind of anti-stigma campaign that would involve me wearing a shirt saying “bipolar” on it is not a campaign I want to be a part of. More power to those who did choose to be involved, but it just feels wrong and isolating to me. Like that is the only relevant characteristic of the person with mental illness, while people without mental illness are defined in terms of families, relationships to other people.

And that’s why this (and by ‘this’ I mean being a person with a mental disability) is so hard – even those allies who genuinely want to end stigma and address ableism can do things that feel like a slap in the face. We are embedded in a culture so steeped in ableism with institutions providing a long term structure for discrimination and dismissal that it shows up everywhere you look – even when you’re intentionally looking for something good and supportive. So some days it seems easier not to pay attention to mental health issues at all, because around any corner could be something like this.

Ableist Word Profile: Intelligence

Welcome to Ableist Word Profile, a (probably intermittent) series in which staffers will profile various ableist words, talk about how they are used, and talk about how to stop using them. Ableism is not feminism, so it’s important to talk about how to eradicate ableist language from our vocabularies. This post is marked 101, which means that the comments section is open to 101 questions and discussion. Please note that this post contains ableist language used for the purpose of discussion and criticism; you can get an idea from the title of the kind of ableist language which is going to be included in the discussion, and if that type of language is upsetting or triggering for you, you may want to skip this post.

Wait! you may be saying to yourselves. Kaninchen Zero, what the hell is ‘intelligence’ doing in the Ableist Word Profile series? Intelligence isn’t a disability!

Okay, so maybe you’re not saying that. But I’m serious. I hate this word. Hate the concept. With a hatred that is a pure and burning flame. True, part of this is because I get told all the time that I’m like wicked smart. When it’s some of the more toxic people in my family saying it, there’s more to it: You’re so intelligent so why are you poor? Other people use it as an opportunity to put themselves down: You’re so smart; I’m not; I could never do the things you do.

Does intelligence exist? At all?

Maybe it doesn’t.

There are tests that measure… something. They’re called Intelligence Quotient tests. The idea is that these tests actually measure some fundamental, real quality of human cognition — the people who believe in IQ believe that there’s a single quality that informs cognition as a whole and that people who have higher IQs have more of this and think better and perform better generally while people who have lower IQs have less of this quality and perform more poorly. Sorry; it’s a muddle of a definition, I know. Partly it’s a conceptual and linguistic problem — some things are not well defined and these things tend to be the things we consider to be fundamental. It’s much easier to define smaller things at the edges; it’s easy to define a fingernail. It’s harder to point to where blood stops flowing away from the heart and starts flowing back towards it.

The man who developed the first intelligence tests, Alfred Binet, wasn’t actually trying to measure intelligence. He’d done some work in neurology and psychology and education, and in 1899 he was asked to become a member of the Free Society for the Psychological Study of the Child. Primary education in France had become mandatory, so a lot of work on educational psychology was being done due to the large demand and the large available sample population. Binet, and others, were assigned to the Commission for the Retarded. (Again, please accept my apologies; I wouldn’t use the word if it were mine.)

The problem he was trying to solve was how to identify — consistently, without having to rely on the judgment of people who could be swayed by all sorts of personal biases (as we all are, including me) — those children who needed extra help. Maybe they had developmental disorders, maybe they had learning impairments along the lines of ADD/ADHD, dyscalculias, dyslexias, maybe malnutrition, injury, or childhood disease had caused neurological damage or limited development. The specific etiology wasn’t the point; the point was to be able to know who these children were and get them assistance. Which may be ascribing too-noble motives to him, but he doesn’t do so great later.Read more: Ableist Word Profile: Intelligence

Time and Energy, or Lack Thereof

This amazing post and its follow-up by Anna at Trouble in China (she is also a contributor here, as you may have noticed) got me thinking. [In the interest of full disclosure, my Shakesville post is in there as an example of the problematic nature of inclusiveness.]

Whenever I mention my personal blog in, say, a contributor’s or artist’s bio, I nearly always include the qualifier “sporadically updated.” Regular readers will know that this is partially my style–the dash of self-deprecation–but it masks something else. Namely: I very rarely have the energy to write a whole blog post, to respond to comments, or, hell, to comment on other blogs with wit and insight. This does not mean that I do not exist. It only means that I, quite simply, don’t always have the mental or physical energy to contribute to a medium that is, by and large, designed in favor of the non-disabled.

Before the inevitable questions of “why don’t you just quit?” arise, I keep and have kept blogging for a very specific reason: I cannot just give up. Certainly, there are better writers out there than me. There are better blogs. I have blog friends who are more articulate, more stylistically clever; some of these folks who blog more, or have more readers. Yet I know that the blogosphere is a bit wicked in that one is only as good as her or his last post (to use a worn cliche). Some of us can crank out quality posts nearly every day. Many of us cannot.

I often cannot keep up with a ‘sphere in which other voices–more able voices–have the luxury of time and actual emotional/physical energy to blog. The conspiracy theorist in me wants to chalk this up to the blogosphere’s–and to a lesser extent, the internet’s–design as yet another space where able-bodied folks can “fit,” and can be “productive” in terms of number and quality of posts. For all the talk of the internet as a utopia where one is free to not be embodied, the same old shit seems to keep coming up, along with the big ol’ Cthuluphant in the room: that the world is designed for able-bodied (and preferably white, straight, middle-class, and male) individuals. Productivity, fitting in, responding quickly: These are things that non-able-bodied folks may not be able to do, whether because of issues of time, energy, ease of access, or many other factors. What happens when one cannot type because of searing pain in her hands, wrists, arms? What happens when one finds that he is too brain-fogged to write a post, much less comment on an existing post that many other people have already commented upon? When one is confined to bed because of nausea or all-over pain that forces her to lie for hours, staring at the ceiling, doing nothing because it’s all too much? What happens is that much-needed voices are not part of the conversation. They are lost, but not because they are not there.

This is shameful. There is no other word for it.

Do I know where to begin in pursuit of a solution? No.

Does anyone? I am not sure. I would like to hope that someone does, but I remain unsure.

We’re here. You just might not know it, yet.

Originally posted at Ham.Blog


The topic of mental illness came up again with the latest large-scale hate crime against women to make national news. It’s a nice easy narrative for George Sodini to be a psycho, to be crazy, to be mentally ill because then we don’t have to understand him. We don’t have to relate, because we’re not like that.

Thing is, we’ll never know if Sodini was mentally ill or not. We can’t tell from what he left behind, and he’s no longer around to ask. The things he wrote aren’t all that unhinged; he just took the workaday hatred of black people and women that is everywhere in our society and picked up a gun and went hunting.

And the mentally ill means violent narrative is false anyway. Mental illness correlates with an increased risk of being a victim of violent crime, not of committing it.

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating because there’s so much silence and stigma and ignorance surrounding mental illness. I’ve had kind of a lot of experience with mental illness and the mental health professions. Some of it may be triggering.

I have taken (in no particular order) Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Effexor, Serzone, Xanax, Ativan, Risperdal. I’ve self-medicated with alcohol a lot and smoked cannabis and taken LSD when I could get it. I have been diagnosed, at various times, with clinical depression, bipolar type I disorder, bipolar type II disorder, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, gender dysphoria disorder, depressive psychosis, and paranoia. I strongly suspect that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which would explain a lot of my symptoms, behaviors, and difficulties. I have spent time in private and public psychiatric hospitals and spent years in weekly or twice-weekly therapy. I have damaged myself in ways ranging from very small — pulling on my hair repeatedly — to very serious — shooting myself in the left hand between the third and fourth metacarpal bones. I still have PTSD-like symptoms from the last and from growing up in an abusive environment, though episodes of it get farther apart as time passes. I have had suicidal thoughts that became elaborate plans. There were times that the only thing keeping me alive was someone needed to feed the cat. I am not alive for big important reasons; I am alive for small stupid reasons. I am alive because I didn’t want whoever found me to suffer the trauma of it. I have suffered delusions and intrusive thoughts and I have always had minor hallucinations (words printed on a page are red instead of black, patterns on a floor or wall shift while I look at them). I often have trouble understanding people when they talk and try to pass it off as being hard of hearing. I’m not; I hear fine. I have trouble processing auditory information and especially picking conversation out of background noise.

You’d think I was dangerous. I’m not. Really. I’m not even dangerous to me. Damaging myself — like it is for so many people who self-harm — is a way to stay alive, to cope with trauma. I have better ways to cope now and I don’t do that any more, but sometimes when I’ve had a really hard day and I hurt a lot and the noise in my head is very bad I remember how comforting it was to draw a blade across my arm, to feel the skin part, to see the blood well up, and how it made the noise go away for a while. Maybe it makes me crazy, but that is a warm fond memory for me. And it is what I needed to do when I needed to do it. I have the same memories about smoking, and I don’t do that these days either.

I’m much better now than I was. There are long periods where I don’t need psychiatric meds at all. But I am not cured and I never will be. I will always have mental illness in my life, just as I will always have fibromyalgia and physical pain. I’m back on an SNRI now and it’s helping and that’s good, because I could feel the old illness patterns coming back. Things have been bad lately with the economy. But I’ll be okay. I know how to cope with the bad things in ways that aren’t so drastic. There are people I can ask for help. I’m not alone.

Even if I am crazy.

Feminists With Disabilities Love Their Bodies

Today is Love Your Body Day, so a few of us are going to talk about why we love our bodies!

I’m meloukhia, and I love my body because, well, without a body, I wouldn’t have nearly as much fun, seeing as how we haven’t quite gotten to the state of being able to exist as floating brains just yet. Sometimes, my body and I fight. We disagree on things like when I should eat, how far I should walk, whether or not I am allowed to breathe, whether or not I should stumble into things, when I should fall down, how to get out of a car in a short skirt. But, you know? My body is pretty cool even if it does seem to have a mind of its own sometimes. It’s kind of like a cat, that way, sometimes it really pisses me off, but, you know, it always comes and lies on the bed at night, and that makes up for it. My body tells a story, my story; it has marks that I put there, that other people put there, and each one tells a history. That scar on my upper right arm is from fencing without a jacket. Those white marks in my left hand are from when someone put a fork through it. That tattoo behind my ear, it speaks to my love of language and history and the printed word. Sometimes, I stand in front of the mirror, mesmerized. This is my body! It’s all mine! And I can do what I want with it. That’s pretty terrific.

Chally here. There are so many ways in which I love my body. I love it because it is utterly mine and no one else’s; it is mine to love. I love this body that got me through endless rehearsals and pracs, my actor’s tool, I revel in it. I love these long toes, this mole on my earlobe, these pianist’s hands, my breasts, my back, because they have been my companions. I love my fabulous, gravity-defying hair, the inheritance of my foremothers, even if I otherwise don’t look much like them. This body and I have been friends on balance, no matter how much magazines, snide comments, cultural influence tried to make it otherwise. This body has been uncontrollable and put me through pain and fatigue, but I’ve learned to look after it, take care of it, keep in touch with it and respect the pair of us. I love this familiar face in the mirror. I love to see my body change, and I love that it reminds me of my mortality, so I must keep on. I love to nourish it, I love to keep it safe. Mostly, I love it because I have taught myself how valuable loving my body is, how revolutionary, how affirming.

Hi, I’m Kaninchen Zero, and I love my body. I love how tall I am, love my narrow feet and long toes, love my small breasts and sagging belly. I love the crow’s feet around my eyes and the discolorations on the backs of my hands. I love how each scar has a story behind it: This one on my knee is where my knee caught on a nail on a low-rent apartment’s cheap playground and almost tore off a piece the size of a penny. These here, on the knuckle, there were paint mixer things when I worked paint crew at university and they were all broken. Everyone who worked paint crew jacked it up at least once, pulled the shaft out the paint mixer and tried to jam it back in — zip! diced knuckles. The other ones on my knuckles are rabbit-inflicted. This on my leg was when some kid with too-jagged-for-regulation cleats stepped on me in a rugby match. The left hand? I shot myself. And I suppose I probably shouldn’t love my body what with the fibromyalgia beating me up and stealing my lunch money, but I do. Because it’s my body. A woman’s body (and a darned attractive one!). My wife’s dyke lover’s body. And it’s my canvas for tattoos. There are five so far but I’m nowhere near done yet.

I’m abby jean, and I love my body. I love that my body gives me more tangible and concrete ways to identify when I’m stressed or upset than the sometimes swirling and contradictory emotions in my mind. I love the way that using my body for yoga, or hiking, or most especially dancing, lets me get out of my head and my sometimes obsessive and circular negative thinking and forces me to focus on my sensory input. (A hot sweaty dance floor where the music is so loud you can physically feel it when lights are flashing and my hair is flying in my face and I’m just dancing, no room or space for thinking, is one of my primary self-care methods.)  I love my body because it experiences things directly and immediately instead of processing and filtering everything. I love my body and its immediate and undeniable needs (hunger, sleep, etc) as a contrast to my sometimes paralyzing indecision and uncertainty.  I love my body for the counterpoint it provides, for its ongoing insistence that I not get lost in the clouds of my brain. I love my body.

I’m Anna, and I love my body because it’s the part of me that keeps me in the here and now. My mental health condition causes me to often lose the sense of where I am, and what I’m doing – I get caught up in negative thinking and reminding myself of past mistakes to the point of self-destructiveness. My body reminds me that I am here, that I am in this place and this time, and not 10 years ago or even 2 months ago. I love my body because it reminds me of how far I’ve come from those negative times and places. My body is also pretty awesome in terms of way of carrying my brain around at the moment, and since my brain and I have to go, I’ll cut this off there. I love my body.

I’m amandaw. I love a few things about my body. It is squishy and fun to play with, for one. But my body has also taught me to respect myself. To love myself and care for myself. No healthy person has the pacing ability a chronically ill person has, and there is a reason for that. And that self-care, that pacing, that evaluation of whether something is good for you (eff whether it’s “objectively” good or not) is something to admire, no matter who you are or what body you live in. My body has given me that and for all the negative that I’ve gone through, I am grateful for that hard-won respect and self-knowledge.

I’m Annaham, and I love my body. We may get into rows from time to time, but it allows me to do many things that I love: eating, listening to music, drawing, swimming, sleeping, and hanging out. It allows me to experience certain tactile sensations that I especially treasure: the comforting touch of a loved one; my dog’s (admittedly stinky!) fur running through my fingers; my fingertips on the fretboard of my guitar; gripping a pen in my hand as I prepare to draw; preparing food using the best mixing utensils that evolution has given me; fresh grass under the soles of my feet when it’s warm enough outside to go barefoot. Oh, and my body also houses both my brain and my hands–used together, they allow me to write, even when getting the words out seems difficult.

By 15 October, 2009.    activism, bodies  , ,  

This is what an activist looks like

[Hi folks! I hope you’re enjoying FWD. Thought I’d start my time here with some meta activism.]

I’m disappointed when I hear activists prescribing what other activists ought to do. I’m surprised it doesn’t all come from rich, white, etc, etc, men, and here’s why.

Traditional forms of activism are often not possible or difficult for a given individual. Is a single mother going to go to a rally for paid maternity leave when she can’t find someone to look after her kids? Is someone with chronic pain and/or fatigue going to take kindly to being told they ought to attend a protest? Is it reasonable to expect that everyone has the time, energy, resources and know-how to do research or a survey? Is someone struggling to get by going to have the money to pay to get into a event? Is the crowded, loud meeting held in a room up a flight of steps going to be accessible to everyone?

You see, if you’re claiming to be progressive, but your organising unthinkingly excludes chunks of vulnerable and oppressed people? You are not being progressive. And if you are nevertheless insisting that some other form of activism is not a proper one? You are a douche. If you’re low on resources, and really trying to include folks, that’s one thing. But if you think you have the one true way to save the world, that is quite another.

What I am suggesting is that there are a lot of forms of activism in the world, and looking down one’s nose at some of them is detrimental as well as being offensive to those of us working hard to make valuable contributions in any way we can. It goes beyond ‘well, everyone should do what they can’. It’s not even a case of ‘if you can only contribute a little, that’s fine’. It’s not even just about the privileging of particular modes of contribution. It’s this: I do not know where anyone gets off saying that what another person does to heal the world is less than proper.

Now, I sign petitions and write letters all that sort of thing. I buy badges and do bakesales, too. (These forms of activism have various levels of “proper activism” quotient attached to them. Discussion questions: How much do they tie in with what you do? How traditional do they seem to you?) I do traditional activism – sometimes. I am disabled, and it is not always physically possible to do so. I’ve never attended a rally, for instance (see meloukhia’s related post). Here is a short list of some forms of activism in which I engage that traditional thinking doesn’t call activism:

  • I call out people when they use “ism”-based language.
  • I attempt to be an ethical consumer (and frequently fail, but I’m getting better! And it’s a feature of economic privilege that this form of activism is even possible for me).
  • I try to centre marginal people/experiences/voices in any given situation.
  • I engage with the world, and learn as much as I can about what I can do to make it better.
  • I look into myself and work at unravelling oppressive ideas I have taken on as my own.
  • I assist those around me with their activism where I can and should.

We should be rethinking traditional methods of activism, because progress means rethinking the traditional to make sure we have the very best for ourselves and the world. Even where we’ve assured ourselves we’re progressive. We need to keep thinking, keep examining, not only the world but ourselves.

Because it’s not just pressuring governments that’s important, as important as it is. Central to my activism is what I do right here, right now, in my life and my communities. When it comes down to it, progress is not only in the big sweeping changes. It’s in our souls. It’s in relating to each other with kindness.

I just don’t get it when people say that blogging isn’t real activism, because it is a big deal to this activist. I’ve reached and been reached by so many people, sharing lives that would never otherwise touch! Because the Internet is not composed of individuals shouting into the void. The Internet is composed of people, and we use it to direct attention to issues and petitions and all sorts. And we take what we learn with us to the offline world. Even if this wasn’t so, there is important work to do inside our minds. We have to tease out the oppression we’ve stored in ourselves. We have to understand and learn. Blogs have given me tools to put language and frames to my experience. For instance, reading the work of my co-bloggers amandaw and Lauredhel gave me what I needed to talk about my experiences as a disabled woman, and now we’re doing activism together. You know. Writing isn’t useless. Writing is a good part of humanity’s process and progress, how we connect, how we relate to ourselves. Whether you’re writer or reader – and how often those roles intertwine in a sphere such as blogging! – writing is not just valid, but vital.

[An earlier form of this post was published at Zero at the Bone.]

The Bystander Effect

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist; Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist; Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me. -Martin Niemöller (probably, in some form at least)

A couple is standing in the street, having what appears to be a heated discussion. Passerby skirt them, glancing at them as they move past but returning into their own affairs once the arguers are out of range. The tone of the conversation rises, and abruptly, one partner begins slapping and punching the other. The abused partner cringes away, drawing arms around the head for protection.

What do you do?

If you’re like a surprising number of people, you do absolutely nothing. You may watch them, you may feel uncomfortable, but you will take no action. If the abused partner begins screaming for help, you may step, roll, or otherwise move forward. If the abuser leaves and the abused partner falls to the ground, you may move forward. But if you see two people arguing violently in the street, you are, statistically, not going to do anything.

Don’t get offended. It’s nothing personal.

It’s just how people are. The bystander effect, as it is known, occurs all over the world, in many different cultures. Put bluntly, when people see something questionable, disturbing, or upsetting but they are in a crowd, they are less likely to act. Not because they are heartless individuals, but because they think that someone else will do something. It’s not even a conscious decision like “I don’t want to call the police because then I will have to stand around waiting for them” or “someone else will do something” or even “this isn’t my responsibility.”

That’s why cities have “if you see something, say something” signs in an attempt to get people to report suspicious behaviour. They realized that individuals throughout a city, collectively, sense all sorts of things, and that if information about these things was collected and analyzed, it might reveal important patterns. Interesting trends. The sign of something about to come. But they also knew that people wouldn’t report suspicious activities unless they were prompted to do so; speaking as someone who has broken a car window in during broad daylight in the middle of a street, I can say with some certainty that people have a fairly high threshold of tolerance when it comes to ignoring peculiar things.

But the bystander effect doesn’t just involve the safety of a society as a collective, or the security of public transit. It also plays a direct role in acts of abuse and violence all over the world, every day. The failure of someone, anyone, to take action sometimes has lethal consequences, or tragic social ones. On a grand scale, the bystander effect is what contributes directly to genocide, as no bystander will lift a hand to protest or to provide shelter to refugees.

I am not, as we know, an advocate for a nanny society. I’m not a fan of spying on others and reporting them for things like watering during restricted hours or failing to park within 18 inches of the curb (guilty on both counts, incidentally). But I am a big fan of taking action when it is evident that someone cannot take action, when someone needs help, when I sense a threat. I am not going to advocate for someone when ou can do so independently and clearly does not need/want my help, but I can going to take action on behalf of someone who is clearly in need of assistance.

That couple fighting in the street? All it takes is a call to the police. Moving into an adjacent business and asking the person behind the counter for help. Or, for people feeling braver and more ready to engage, a challenge to the abusive partner, a “hey, what are you doing?”

But taking action isn’t just about directly averting or addressing violence. It can also occur in more subtle ways. When a man with his group of friends says “hey, I actually find that statement/behaviour kind of offensive to women,” that’s taking action. When a racist comment is made in a mixed group and a single person speaks up to say “you know, that’s racist, and not appropriate,” that’s taking action. When you’re having dinner with the family and someone says something kind of ignorant about fat people and you take an opportunity to say “you know, the latest studies actually contradict that, do you want me to send you some information,” that’s taking action. All of these actions have the benefit of potentially preventing greater social harm, the potential of possibly changing a mind.

This has really been brought home to me recently, as I’ve spoken up on an issue and endured an amazing amount of vitriol over it. Just for speaking. And I think about the fact that it is sometimes incredibly hard to be in a crowd and to say “I do not support, condone, or approve this.” I think about the fact that people have been speaking up long before me and have been enduring the same amount of vitriol and it has beaten them into submission. About the fact that I am not the first one to speak up about this, and definitely not the most widely read person to speak about it, and the fact that nothing has changed.

And I wonder what would happen if more people would speak/type/letterboard/sign/etc up. Right now. About things that are not ok. If more people would communicate “yeah, you know what, this is enough.” We can give courage to each other by advocating. We do the right thing when we communicate “this is wrong” and we do the right thing when we see or hear someone else doing it and we communicate “I agree, it is wrong, and it needs to stop.”

Every time you act up for the oppressed, the beaten, the tormented, the silenced, the excluded, you are taking action. And you can take action at your own comfort level, whether that’s getting in the face of a street harasser on behalf of yourself or someone else, or writing a post on a website somewhere. Taking any action at all is better than being a silent bystander, because one of the reasons that horrible behaviour thrives is that people take silence for tacit consent or even support.

The tagline of the Fund for Animals used to be “we speak for those who can’t,” referring specifically to animal victims of violence. But sometimes humans can’t communicate  either, and we need to step forward to communicate or to help them communicate. To give people a metaphorical voice and to show that we will not tolerate wrongs as a collective society. To communicate that we will be bystanders no longer. And sometimes, they can communicate just fine, and all we need to do is add our communications to the chorus, to let people know that they are not alone.

I felt pretty fucking alone recently, people. For every person who cosigned, reprinted, and distributed my words, there had been a corresponding clutch of people who have attacked me for it. And it gave me some seriously new found respect for people who started speaking up a long time before I did, who have endured what I endured for years. Oh, I respected them all along and thought that they were awesome for doing that they were doing, but I did it from the sidelines. This is something which people cannot understand until they actually experience it: Speaking up is incredibly difficult. I have been so upset that I have cried, shaken with anger, had to go stand in the shower for 20 minutes. I have been so upset that I gasp for a rescue inhaler which I cannot afford and therefore do not have.

I’m lucky: I found a great crew of awesome people who spoke up with me. Not everyone has that.

I understand, now, that when you communicate, every single person who communicates with you matters. Even if it’s just to communicate a single word, like “yes,” or to communicate a sentence like “I agree with you,” or “I cosign this.” I understood this on an abstract level before, but I understand it on an immediate one now. Thousands of people have viewed my words. A fraction of that number commented. How many of those thousands read the letter, thought “I agree,” but didn’t say anything?

If you know someone who is speaking up for what is right, you go and find that person, right now, and you tell that person that they are awesome for what they are doing, and that you agree with that person. You might be thinking that this person knows, but, trust me, ou doesn’t. And, you know, why not do one better, and actively join that person in advocating for what is right? If you’re a blogger, post about the issues they talk about on your blog (and don’t say “my blog is about x and their issues are about y, so it’s not a good fit,” because everything is interconnected). If you’re a member of a social group, trying making sure that this person is not always the first one to challenge problematic language and ideas. Even when this person isn’t around, when you see/hear something, communicate something. You have that power. You have the power to communicate, and no one can take that away from you.

Crossposted (with some edits) from this ain’t livin‘.

By 12 October, 2009.    activism   

Why I’m Not At the National Equality March

I’m as queer as a snake’s suspenders, so you might think that I’d be at the National Equality March right now. It’s pretty much being billed as the queer event of the year, our chance to go tell Washington how we feel. It’s supposed to have a tremendous impact by unifying the LGBQTAI population in the United States to send a message in a clear, loud voice. But it’s not unifying, and I’m not going. Why is that?

Well, there are a couple of reasons, and a lot of these reasons speak to exclusionary attitudes within the activist movement. Activists, with the exception of disability rights activists, are not exactly known for putting out the effort when it comes to including people with disabilities. Few recognize the intersection between the social issues they are advocating for and disability rights issues.

There are a lot of LGBQTAI folks who are also people with disabilities. And something tells me that you won’t be seeing very many of us at the National Equality March. That’s partly because of accessibility issues. If you visit the organizing website, try finding information about accessibility. Try planning ahead to attend a very large event when you know that you are going to encounter accessibility issues, and that the crowd will be large, and that the organizers will probably not have thought about accessibility, which means that when you show up, they are going to have no idea what to do with you. Has anyone contacted them to ask about accessibility? I’d be curious to know what the response was, if that was the case.

In my case, I am actually not capable of attending large events. I have social anxiety. Attending an event of this size would require a lot of work on my part, and would probably also necessitate some pharmaceutical assistance even with yoga, meditation sessions, deep breathing, and all of the other techniques I use to manage my anxiety. Just thinking about attending an event of this size makes me start to feel a little woozy and sick to my stomach. Some days, just leaving the house is too much for me to handle. The idea of driving four hours to go to San Francisco, getting on a plane and flying to Washington, and then being in a highly charged environment for several days is essentially unthinkable to me. If I did it, I would be drained for days, and possibly weeks.

But I deserve equality, don’t I? And so do all of the other LGBQTAI people with disabilities. We’re effectively erased from this event, and we’re being told that if we “really cared,” we would try harder. Suggestions from people with disabilities such as organizing local solidarity events, blogging about equality over the weekend, and so forth have been neatly marginalized. “Well, if there’s nothing else that you can do, but it would really be better for you to come to the march, because then you would be showing solidarity.” Right, showing solidarity with people who refuse to recognize that people can hold multiple identities at the same time, that you can be LGBQTAI and be something else, and that this “something else” might impinge upon your ability to engage in the “right” kind of activism.

There’s another intersectional issue which is being ignored here. People with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty as people without disabilities. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is also much higher than that for people without disabilities. This means that those who are willing to overcome the accessibility issues to attend may not be able to because they are financially unable to. Traveling is expensive. Getting lodging in DC is expensive. Traveling and lodgings can be harder for some people with disabilities to arrange; it’s not as simple as “ok, great, there’s a hotel room and flight deal.” It’s “will my hotel room be accessible?” “Is there going to be a problem with the airline?” “Is my hotel room close enough to public transit or the march for me to be able to get around easily?” “Am I going to get to the hotel and find out that it’s not accessible to me, and, if so, what’s my backup plan?”

Part of the poverty trap for people with disabilities is the making of the government. Despite the fact that many of us can work and would prefer to work, we are ineligible for government benefits if we do work, or our benefits are severely restricted. We are forced to be unemployed to get benefits, but the benefits don’t actually cover the cost of living or meet our needs. So we can try to work, but then the benefits get cut or suspended. Which means we need to work more. Which means that we may end up unemployed again because work becomes too stressful. This creates a vicious cycle which keeps us living in poverty or skirting very near the poverty line.

And when you’re in this trap, you don’t have very much time or energy to go to a march in Washington with a bunch of people who really don’t want you there anyway.

By 11 October, 2009.    accessibility, activism, intersectionality   

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