When “Small” Disabilities Add Up

How many “minor health aggravations” do you need before you become an official Person with Disabilities?

I’ve been identifying as such for a few years, but I always feel like a total impostor. Not because of the reactions of other PWD: everyone I’ve met in the disability justice community has been amazing about inclusion, and folks within the community tend to be aware of invisible disabilities. But I still wonder to myself: do they assume I’m sicker than I am? Do I really have a right to be here?

Health care is so broken in this country, but so is culture. I’m only now, in my early thirties, starting to realize that there are a number of health problems I have that I shouldn’t “just accept.” At first, it was the looming spectre of the pre-existing condition (I can’t even bring myself to acknowledge that said spectre is back, I just can’t). Then it was the feeling of “hey, I’ve been ‘fine’ with this for years, it’s no big deal.”

My turning point was an issue with energy that sometimes put me in the position of sleeping 14 hours at night, then needing a 4-hour nap in the middle of the day. In other words, I wasn’t able to convince myself to seek medical help until I reached the point of a serious threat to my function, something “disabling” enough to affect my work hours. Once I hit that point, I realized that I couldn’t just keep “dealing with it.”

Read the rest of this entry

White Millenials: It’s Time to Rethink Gentrification

Whenever I’m talking with other white millennials about race, I’ve noticed that a key (and probably the most personal) anxiety that comes up is around gentrification. A lot of young white folks living in urban areas with limited funds end up in historically black and brown communities, and those who are aware of their role in the systemic force of gentrification tend to be uncomfortable about that and at something of a loss for what to do about it.

In a lot of ways, I get that anxiety. If you’re priced out of other neighborhoods, and you need to be in the city to work, then it’s understandable to move into an affordable apartment in an area that’s either largely non-white or in the process of gentrifying. But what does make me want to call my peers in is a tendency to want to make their new neighborhood more like where they came from, to blame black and brown residents for being “unfriendly,” or to use racially coded language when talking about urban geography.

I’m sure there are good arguments for white people not moving into these neighborhoods at all, but most of what I’ve seen is not telling white folks not to move in–a lot of residents just want these folks to respect the history and culture of the community and tamp down on that white entitlement instinct. It’s not just about physical movement, it’s about who gets to own a community’s character, and who has the right to change that character. So if you’re a white person concerned or unsure about gentrification, here are a few pieces of unsolicited advice:

Read the rest of this entry

Sex with Me Will Turn You Queer

I’ve said before that I don’t really have a sexual orientation based on gender, that I’m attracted to queer people of all genders. But what about people who aren’t queer? Well, sometimes I’m attracted to them too, but much more hesitant to hook up or start a relationship. Why? Because I’m sick of people, typically cis men, making the assumption that I’m a “safe” choice because I’m not too “obviously trans.”

I used to say, essentially, “don’t worry, being with me doesn’t turn you queer. You get to pick your own identity, as long as you don’t try to misrepresent mine.” But you know what? No. I’m tired of protecting cishet identities. I’m tired of fragile masculinities. I’d rather say I will turn you queer. That queerness, like a glorious disease, will spread from my body to yours and that you cannot share intimacy with me and stay “safe.” You don’t get to have those two things simultaneously. I’d rather be a threat than silent. I’d rather be scary than fearful.

For the most part, that means that I don’t want to be intimate with those who aren’t queer anymore–or at least not with those who are terrified of queerness, who are uncomfortable with queerness. I can’t sacrifice my survival for someone else’s comfort. If you’re in my life, the queer will rub off on you, at least a little, and that’s a deal breaker.

Writing Through Guilt, Spoonie Edition

All right, y’all, it’s confession time. While I’ve never found it super easy to be consistent in my writing and activism, the past year has been especially hard. I’ve struggled with extremely low energy, sometimes sleeping as many as 16 out of 24 hours in a day, and rarely fewer than 11-12. I was always a big sleeper, but this is getting ridiculous. One day, my roommate said to me “God, if I slept as much as you do, I’d never get anything done!” and a lightbulb clicked. Not only is low energy a legit medical issue, but it’s also pretty disabling.

Even when I’m in a healthier place, I have trouble getting everything done. I live a fairly typical millennial existence of FOMO, decision fatigue, and constantly rebooting my productivity processes to optimize, optimize, optimize. I came to terms a few years ago with the fact that activism was never going to be my full-time gig, but I’m still holding on to a lot of guilt when promises come in late or not at all, e-mails go unanswered, and my TBR shelf remains very solidly TBR.

This week my labs came back and I found out that I am very B-12 deficient and also a little D deficient. I don’t know yet if supplements will be the magical pill that cures everything, but of course I quickly started dreaming about what it would be like to have more time in my day. Time to check items off my to-do list, but also time to do silly things, to watch TV, to read books. That said, even if I get a few hours back in my life, it doesn’t change the underlying fact that I feel guilty when I don’t do things. And why, really?

Yesterday, I nearly had a breakdown when I realized that I’d let my feed reader go unchecked long enough that some items are gone and unrecoverable. Noooo! What if that blog post held the meaning of the universe, life, and everything? (Say it with me now.) But then today, I looked at my much-shorter unread count and actually read the articles. And I was done. And while there’s still a lingering desire to punish myself for losing something forever due to slacking off, it’s also nice to see that empty queue. And maybe it’s okay, just like every time I e-mail someone apologetically after radio silence, they tell me that it’s perfectly okay. Okay? Is it okay to be okay? I think it might be. So this isn’t an apology for the sporadic nature of my contributions of the Internet, but more some thoughts and feelings to put out there about spoons, disability, and the nature of communication. If you’re feeling the same way? I give you permission to release as much as that guilt as you can. You’re okay too.

Is It Possible to De-Center Whiteness as a White Presenter?

name badge reading "Hello I'm White (and privileged)"The other day, a white friend reached out asking if I had ideas around how to acknowledge as a presenter that a particular course’s content might be especially loaded for Black folks in the room. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert in the topic, but I have been experimenting over the years with different ways to acknowledge my whiteness and position of power as a presenter, facilitator, or speaker. Some of the things I normally do include:

  • Regardless of course content, mention that the course is taking place on occupied Native land, acknowledge my privilege as a white presenter, and call attention to the number of white people in the room if it seems to be a majority white space. This is mostly for the white people in the room, to draw their attention to whiteness since whiteness is often invisible or the assumed default. I also hope to signal to POC that I’m aware of these things, though I know that doesn’t make me a “safe” presenter.
  • Acknowledge where a particular topic may have loaded or just different meanings depending on cultural context and give examples. I hope that doing this again is a flag both for white folks and for POC, and makes space for bringing up cultural specificity where participants feel comfortable doing so.
  • Explicitly say that as a white person, I can’t comment on some things, beyond offering perspectives I’ve read or heard from POC, because I don’t have that experience. Acknowledge that the course content is less rich because of this. I’m just trying to offer some honesty here, and avoid falling into the “well X culture practices X way…” trap.

Read the rest of this entry

Why Do We Have to Gender People to Be Polite?

Today’s gender pet peeve: why does being polite in so many languages have to require gendering?

I mean, in historical terms, I know the answer. Gender has been infused into everything we do as a society for so long, and manners are just one part of society and culture. A lot of languages use gendered terms to refer to people, and so it make sense that polite forms address would follow this pattern. But it’s still annoying.

Earlier in the day I’m writing this post, I had a server who called everyone they presumed to be female “my lady” or “my ladies.” Not only gendering, but ownership, too! Gee, how refreshing. It was particularly cringe-worthy when he did it to folks of color.

Slowly, queer communities are starting to come around on this language. Terms like “Mx.” are available, and neutral terms like “friends” are being used in place of “ladies and gentlemen.” But the mainstream is still going to Mr./Ms./M./Mme./Herr/Frau/Signore/Signora everyone, and it’s frustrating. Personally, I think misgendering is much more rude than “casual” forms of address!

It’s always one of the most frequent questions I get when I talk about personal data and gender: “I understand that calling someone by a first name avoids the gendering, but my boss insists that we need to address people politely if they’re giving us money.” And sadly, this is frequently where things come down. My only answer is to keep pushing, try to demonstrate the impact (including financial) of misgendering, and hope that the culture will continue to evolve so that “casual” forms of address are no longer inappropriate. Or hey, if nothing else, ask folks how you should address them! When you collect addresses, offer a “prefer first name” choice next to all your salutations. That way, nobody gets offended.

How Travel Has Made Me Uncomfortably Aware of My Racism

sticker held over a map of Asia and Africa reading "MINORITY. A term applied to the majority of the world's population."Recently, I wrote up a travel bucket list, and in the list of places I want to go, found my own racism staring me directly in the face.

But before I get to the contents of list, first some context. When I started traveling abroad, I set a personal policy that I would not go anywhere where I couldn’t at least speak enough of the language to have a logistical conversation about travel-relevant topics. I think that policy initially came from a good place–I was frustrated with the xenophobia I saw in American travelers who complained about how terrible Paris is because the French are super rude, but didn’t bother to learn a word of the French language. “Everybody speaks English!” always struck me as deeply wrong, and I was struggling a lot as a teenager with the meaning of American empire and my complicity in it.

In high school, I was drawn to the study of French because it had always seemed like a rather sophisticated, romantic language, and I already had some exposure to it. I picked German pretty much out of a hat because I needed another elective and it worked for my schedule. So I’m not going to blame myself too hard for starting with European languages, but I do think it had a role in how Eurocentric my perspective skewed over time.

Read the rest of this entry

Pacifism in the Context of White Privilege

three brown individuals approach a police officer in riot gear, one kicking the officer's shieldI’m a pretty extreme pacifist. Beyond not believing in violence as a general solution, I practice non-violence to the extent that I don’t plan to defend myself (beyond running away!) if I’m ever violently attacked. I’m on a slow but steady trajectory, as well, towards veganism for this reason.

But that said, I don’t advocate pacifism to others. Please, please punch Nazis. And if you are black or brown and your means of resistance is violent, then I fully support your right to use violence as a part of your resistance strategy. White people have systemically engaged in horrific and unconscionable violence against black and brown people for hundreds, and I assume thousands, of years. So any white person who suggests that black and brown folks must resist using non-violent means is frankly full of shit.

I think it’s important for white pacifists to acknowledge that we’re coming from a place of enormous privilege. Many of us have never actually been in a violent situation, or in a situation where our only means of resistance was violence. We don’t have any lived experience of structural oppression and violence of the kind that black, brown, and Native folks face on the regular. So while I still believe in pacifism as a philosophy, my belief has shifted from something universal to something situational and specific. I want to avoid, as an individual, perpetrating violence, while at the same time being aware that I will spend the rest of my life complicit in extreme structural violence and genocide. Pacifism doesn’t wipe my slate clean of that fact, and it’s a choice made in context.

The Cost of Access

A Black person signing in front of a screen with CART captioning.Dear organizers, event planners, and company representatives:

Stop assuming that access is too expensive.

Build access into your budget from the start of planning, not as a reluctantly tacked-on afterthought. When you seek funding or set prices, determine the cost of your event with a range of access services included.

Ask actual people what they need if you don’t know, and be broad in your call for input. Many people aren’t attending your events because they assumed they wouldn’t be included. It takes a lot of energy to reach out and ask for a particular access need to be met when your lived experience has been constant rejection. And not everyone who would benefit knows to ask–plenty of folks who don’t identify as disabled will have a more pleasant event when you consider things like captioning, designated quiet rooms, and nutritional variety. That means that they’ll come back, recommend you to friends, and spend their money on your event. They may think of services as “luxuries” rather than accommodations, but the principles of universal access don’t require anyone to identify as disabled. The point is recognizing that keeping access in mind benefits everyone.

Oh, and if you say you’re going to provide a particular kind of access, but fall through because you didn’t take the cost into account? You look like a jerk.

If you belittle the person asking for services, make value judgements about their request, suggest that they pay for the service, or tell a Deaf person to find their own interpreter? You look like a jerk.

If you say you’ll provide access, but ignore the actual request and provide an alternative (cheaper) service that doesn’t fully meet an attendee’s needs? You look like a jerk.

If you’re a big company and refuse to provide types of access that plenty of small non-profits bend over backwards to provide, even digging into their own limited pockets, because it’s “too expensive?” You look like a really, really big jerk.

Access matters. Do the right thing.

 

Legible Identity Privilege

comic about a lesbian woman confused about her partner's fluid gender. "Yeah but what is your GENDER? Right now?" "My gender doesn't fit on one side of the spectrum or the other. It's easier to just say that my gender IS Marco!"

Is there such a thing as legible identity privilege?

This thought was tumbling around a lot in my mind for a while, particularly in discussions of what it means to be femme and presumed as female, but also when cis folks would ask me about assuming pronouns when you’re “pretty sure you know” someone’s gender versus when it’s unclear.

As a starter, I’ll say that if there is a legible identity privilege, it’s certainly not anything like as strong as other privileges such as being white. As a white non-binary person, I am less vulnerable to violence and harassment than any black or brown person, full stop. I explicitly reject any arguments that white non-binary people make around “binarism” putting them in a riskier place than a black trans woman, for example. See b. binaohan for why that’s fucked up.

But considering this as its own possible thing, I have a few thoughts. One is that, like “passing privilege,” this has a lot to do with specific cultural context and how other people perceive you. The two are also related. A trans man who is presumed to be a cis man might experience “passing privilege” alongside legible identity privilege, because he “passes” for a cis man and also “man” is a legible identity. Conversely, a trans woman who doesn’t conform to particular beauty standards and expectations might not “pass” for a cis woman, but could have a legible identity in cultural context–it is clear to most people around her that she intends to be read as a woman, and she is a woman.

Read the rest of this entry