I Need Allies

First of all, I feel like I’ve been shooting myself in the foot and actually creating barriers to my continued blogging here. There is so much I want to say on so many topics, and trying to organize it all coherently has turned into a displacement activity. I come up with more and more topics I want to cover, and meanwhile I’m not writing articles.

There’s also the very real issue that my time and energy resources are limited and a lot of that is sucked up with survival. But this blog is very important to me in terms of getting my voice out there, sharing my experiences and speaking out about what’s going on while I’m able to do so.

I don’t know I can do this topic total justice right now. There’s so much to unpack about needing the support of allies, and how heartbreaking it is every time I meet someone and go through the dicey ‘getting to know you stage’ and then inevitability hit the wall of their unwillingness to accept that they’re more economically privileged than I am, and the fact that they can remember ridiculous minutiae about me but yet keep forgetting that I am disabled and homeless and I’m in constant pain and living precariously.

I have decided that this is not okay. I cannot accept this. I’m fine with people not remembering my name. I’m even okay with people occasionally forgetting I don’t like to be touched, I can physically block them and they apologize. (If they don’t, they’re outta here.) But I am not okay with people forgetting that I’m disabled, any more than ‘colorblindness’ is okay.

It invalidates my identity. It invalidates my lived experiences. It invalidates my limitations. I sat with a woman who seemed determined to do just that, offering unsolicited advice and even snapping at me when I was shooting these unwanted and inappropriate ideas down with valid reasoning.

But I think the real kicker was when she said, “I don’t think I’m privileged.”

I tried. I really did try to get heard, and to tell this person no to the things she wanted me to participate in. I tried to explain to her that I’m privileged too, because we’re both white and cisgendered, that we can be both marginalized and privileged, or not have the easiest lives but still have privilege, but she talked over me and ignored what I had to say. I cannot be assertive in the face of unwillingness to listen. I don’t have the stamina. I don’t have the spoons. I don’t actually have any fucks left to give.

I realize that talking about this here instead of talking directly to her could be construed as passive-aggressive, but the thing is, she would not hear me. (And I have a lot more to say about passive-aggression, power, oppression, and marginalized identities, but that’s another story and shall be told at another time.) I tried to talk to her, and she would not take it in, just kept arguing. And I’m absolutely exhausted with trying to talk to and preserve the feelings of people who will not listen, who have hurt me and pushed me and compared their struggles unfairly to mine.

I’m so angry. I’m worn out and in pain. I don’t have an outlet for that anger except my writing. This is important to talk about because this is not the first time this has happened, but it’s the last damn time I’m going to be silent about it. I’m going to speak up and speak out, and do it more and more. I will respect myself enough to walk away from people that don’t respect who I am and my reality, that don’t ask how to support me, and don’t stop when I’m saying ‘no.’

I’m done. I’m calling out what needs to be called out, because ‘calling in’ has not worked. If you feel defensive reading this, chances are this may be stuff you have gotten away with so far, but it’s time you heard that it isn’t okay and won’t be tolerated in my life any longer.

I’m homeless. At the end of the day, I’m homeless. No ridiculous scheme of just selling some artwork at a one-time show is going to magically wish away the reality of my inability to work enough to earn a living or my financial worries. I am too disabled to work, and that includes work as an artist. I know this because I have tried. And it hurt, oh it hurt, it hurt so badly to fail at the thing I love most, but there is more to making money as an artist than I can physically and psychologically do. It may seem easy to you, but I am here to tell you that it is not possible for me.

All this experience did was rub my nose in those heartbreaking realities and my inability to get respect for it.

I need allies.

What Do I Want in an Ally?

Listening is an excellent start, and an excellent place to come back to whenever you don’t know what to do.

Recognize that if I say something is classist or ableist, I know what the hell I’m talking about, because I am impoverished and I am disabled. I’m not angry at the inadvertent unconscious classism and ableism (well… maybe a little), I’m angry at the unwillingness to stop. I’m angry at the rejection of me saying ‘no’ and trying to call a halt to all this advising I didn’t ask for. I’m angry that I wasn’t respected enough to be asked, and I am very angry to be snapped at for dismissing a suggestion I didn’t ask for that I can’t do.

I know my limitations better than anyone. If I say I can’t do something, I don’t want to have to explain it further to anyone. I don’t have to. I don’t have educate someone else in what it’s like to be me. Accept that there are going to be things you don’t understand about me but that are still true, like it or not. Besides which, it fucking hurts me and makes me feel low and vulnerable and incapable when I explain in detail what my limitations are. I feel like I’m showing someone who’s behaving in a very dominating way where my weak spots are. I explain myself when I’m feeling attacked and I want it to stop, but it’s a habit I want to replace with telling someone, over and over again, just ‘no’ and ‘back off.’

A really crucial post about this from Real Social Skills talks about ‘The power of “I can’t.”’ This, and ‘no,’ are the two most important verbal tools I have as someone who is disabled and impoverished. I think they’re two of the most important things for anyone with a one-down identity, and maybe two of the most important things in any mutually respectful and safe friendship.

Here’s what I need in any friend/ally (and if you’re not my ally then you cannot have my friendship):

  1. Listen. Listening is justice. Listening is loving. Listen first, foremost, and always. Take time to think before you respond. If you don’t know what to say, listen.
  2. Ask. Ask permission before giving advice. Ask permission before doing things to ‘help.’ If you don’t know what I need, please ask. Asking is a sign of respect I don’t get enough of.
  3. Believe me. Believe what I tell you about my experiences, my limitations, and what hurts. Believe what I tell you about what I can or can’t do. Don’t argue with my reality.
  4. Validate. I can’t get enough of this. If you can’t or don’t want to validate my experiences and feelings, at the very least do not, do not EVER, invalidate me. That is a huge no-no with me. The relationship will never be the same. You can call me out if I say something problematic but don’t invalidate my internal lived experiences and feelings, no matter how uncomfortable they may be for you to witness. Good emotional boundaries helps with this, and understanding that we don’t need to be ‘rescued’ from my pain, fear, or anger. These are all messages about needs.
  5. Know how to apologize. You’ll screw up, I’ll screw up, it happens. We all make mistakes. But when I call out something you’ve said or done or set a boundary, don’t make it terrifying or nasty for me or sob hysterically or retaliate or bring it up endlessly after the fact or I’ll know that I can’t set boundaries with you, i.e. you’re not safe. This is the number one place where people fail. No one likes confrontations, but that doesn’t make it okay to do all the shit people do to me when I confront them. A confrontation is not an attack. A confrontation is a setting of a boundary. Boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships. (Whatever those are. I’m not sure I’m going to find any of those.)
    1. You need to be able to disidentify with your behaviors—in other words, to realize that I am calling out the behavior, not your character.
    2. You need to recognize the difference between intent and impact, and that once I’ve been hurt, intentions don’t matter. The fact that I am having this conversation with you means that I assume you did not intend to hurt me. If I thought you intended me harm the last thing I’d do is let you know you’d succeeded. If you leap to defensively stating what your intentions were, it’s going to be a red flag to me that you might possibly be trying to derail the conversation and get out of taking responsibility for the consequences of your choices.
    3. You need to apologize without excuses, and most importantly commit to changing the behavior.
    4. You absolutely MUST follow through with this commitment. This is the number one thing I need when I get hurt. This is the MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE APOLOGY. If you do the same shit over again, and I get hurt again, then it’s clear to me that you are not safe for me to be around. And I don’t keep unsafe people in my life.
  6. Have my back. When someone says something to me and I’m trying to stand up to them, and they’re not listening, don’t just sit and watch me struggle, support me. Use your privilege to amplify my voice, and help intervene with others who may listen more to you as someone who is on an equal level to you. Don’t make excuses for people who hurt me. Believe me when I talk about the everyday discrimination I face that chips away at my heart and soul. Don’t out me to people I haven’t chosen to out myself to, or discuss things that impact me behind my back without my consent. Be on Team Kassi. Even if I’m not physically there. Sometimes you’ll have to check your privilege too. I’ll do my best to help you, but you have to meet me halfway. That’s what equal friendship is all about, isn’t it?
  7. Know yourself, take care of yourself, and set clear boundaries with me. If you’re uncomfortable with something we’re talking about, be honest and upfront and do it promptly. I can and will self-censor if you’re triggered or overloaded or not in a place where you can hear what I’m going through. That being said, if you can’t handle hearing any of my stuff then it’s not a mutually beneficial friendship and not good for either of us. What I really don’t want you to do is go over your limits, build resentment, or project your discomfort onto me and then judge or try to ‘fix’ it. You need to take care of your feelings. I will take care of mine.

These are things I give others. (I still struggle with the last one, and I’ll talk about the problematic aspects of setting boundaries in a future post.) Because that’s what I want. If you want to be treated differently, then let me know. But if you can’t do these things, then let’s not waste time. I’d rather be alone with my books than waste my time on people who undermine Team Kassi.

If you value who I am and what I have to offer, get on the team and play by the rules, and I promise you I will go to the fucking mats for you. This sort of ally is so damn rare in my life I’ll be the person you can call at four o’clock in the morning. I may not be able to do much physically, but I can damn well listen and validate.

What I DON’T Want in an Ally

This is going to be the stuff that generally we’re socialized to give, the stuff I have had more than enough of, the stuff that is problematic.

  1. Pity. Pity is not respect. Pity reinforces a power dynamic of one-up, one-down. Pity is not needed or wanted. When I need pity, I take care of it in-house in the pages of my journal. If some of my pity party seems to lurch in its Sobbing Conga Line of Sorrow into the words I speak or write it is not a tacit invitation to join. Do not pity me.
  2. Unsolicited advice. And let me be clear about this: it includes moralizing, comforting especially of the religious variety, platitudes meant to make me feel better, rationalizing, ‘suggestions,’ telling pointed stories about your friend who was in some similar situation to mine (or yourself, for that matter.) And when I say unsolicited, I mean if you don’t ask for and get my consent, or if I don’t specifically ask you for advice on that specific matter, it’s unsolicited. And just because I ask for it or consent once does not mean it’s carte blanche to do it everywhere. When it comes to me, it’s like other forms of consent—it has to be given explicitly and every time. If you’re an advisoholic I will bounce you out of my life pronto.
  3. Condescension, especially privilege-splaining. Do not explain aspects of my experience to me. Especially when I’m calling you out. There are respectful ways to share your knowledge, and there are times when you need to realize that I know more than you and close your mouth and listen and learn. Also please don’t condescendingly tell me how ‘strong’ I am. I know I’m strong. What I want from you is to see how strong you are.
  4. Judgment of my choices. You don’t have to live with the consequences. You don’t have the limitations of choices I do. If you do this, your privilege is showing in a let-them-eat-cake way. Don’t presume you know more about the impact of what choices I have to make. I seriously consider what I do and I work very hard to find the best possible options. You don’t have the same experiential understanding of my life and my needs and my limits to be in a position to know what’s best for me—or, really, anyone else. Unless my choices are impacting you directly, check your judgment at the door.
  5. Comparisons. Seriously, don’t. Not to yourself, not to anyone else. Even if you believe you or someone else has been where I am, only I am me. See and hear me. Comparisons can lead to a world of hurt and problems and it’s better to just not go there. Especially don’t compare your financial difficulties to mine if you are not in point of fact homeless and impoverished, that is such a dick move there aren’t even words. But people still do it.
  6. Charity. I am not one charitable act away from turning it around. I am also not here to be a prop for your savior fantasy. I’m going to write an entire article on how controlling and manipulative non-consensual ‘surprise’ charity is, for example giving someone a present of cleaning supplies after visiting their house. That’s an extreme example, but even gifts of picking up the tab on a meal can be problematic for me. It can alter relationships. It can lead to unvoiced expectations of reciprocation that ambush me later when I’m asked to do something and when I say ‘no’ that ‘gift’ is brought up. I’ve seen it happen, sometimes instantly: someone gives me a castoff or pays me for a piece of artwork, and then starts giving me advice, or excessively monitoring my actions and commenting on them. Never ever decide what I need without asking and then expect me to be grateful. I have had a lot of bad experiences. I have good reason not to trust charity that doesn’t come from organizations with some measure of accountability.

Being an Ally and Friend to Someone Who is Different

Being disabled means there are specific things I can’t do that you may not understand. There are things that are extremely unhealthy for me (like having interactions with people that leave me hurt and humiliated and unheard). Even other disabled people don’t all have the same limitations.

Being poor means that I’m going to have different boundaries and needs than other people more economically privileged. Because everything takes on a different connotation when one person has more power and privilege than the other. (Here’s a good article: ‘Nine ways to be a good friend in the face of economic differences.’)

Now that I have fewer physical possessions, and less money, what I do have is worth a lot more to me than the same things owned by someone who can afford to lose or replace them. I’ve had a lot of experiences where economically privileged people, especially strangers, just pick up or borrow my things without permission. This is really not okay. It’s a consequence, I think, of entitlement, and of being used to people who are always okay with that. It’s a habit. But it’s not good. Those are my things. It’s not respectful to just pick them up. This is not me calling you a thief—this is me saying that I absolutely hate it when people touch and pick up my stuff, or when they get offended if they can’t borrow my things. What is not yours is not yours. Please be an adult about this. I do not have to share anything with you.

Maybe other poor people don’t have this problem. I don’t care, this is my boundary, and I resent being shamed for having my boundaries where I have them. I don’t like being touched, I don’t like my stuff being touched. I have precious little that is mine in this world and I routinely wind up having to sacrifice my dignity just to survive.

I’m So Tired.

I am sick at heart from having these same disrespectful encounters and relationships with people who expect more from me than I can give and will not listen to me. I am sick in my soul and angry to the core that people I’m just beginning to form friendships with don’t remember or respect my limitations, and give me asinine advice without asking. This isn’t what respect or friendship looks like to me. I don’t care how many over-the-top compliments someone showers me with, if the next minute they’re trying to shove me into doing something after I’ve said, “I can’t.” I’m sick of being verbally hounded into a corner, and forced into defensiveness and feeling small and unheard.

I’m really sick of being unheard. This is why I have this blog, and why I really hope to scrape enough energy together to continue writing, and to start vlogging as well. Because I don’t think I’m going to find many allies around here that I can count on when it matters. And by and large it’s too draining to go out and meet people. I need my energy to take care of me. I’m sick of getting hurt and not being able to do a damn thing about it. I’m sick of the time and gas it takes to get to a place to meet someone, only to come away even more scarred and paranoid and drained. It’s not worth it.

You know what I’d really love? I’d love allies who would actually do something to help me, like write to my congressional representative George Holding about the fact that I’m living homeless and impoverished while I’ve been waiting for two years for my SSDI hearing. It doesn’t always happen, but congressional inquiries can and have in the past sped up this awful process. I’d love for allies who actually took meaningful action to show their support.

But I’ll happily settle for someone who can really listen, ask, and apologize. Because these are qualities I want to nurture and grow in myself, too. I know I take on the qualities of people I surround myself with, so I decided long ago that I want to be around people who display qualities I want to develop, and listen and watch respectfully. I want to better my allyship skills for people I’m more privileged than. I can’t do that hanging around people who treat my disability or poverty as something that I can solve just by trying harder, or trying whatever awesome ideas they have.

I’m so tired. I’m so tired of being in this situation again and again. I’m tired of being on my own. I’m going to try, tentatively, to meet up with other activists in the area, but I’m concerned I’m going to run into all the same problems—every single person is going to be more economically privileged than me, and a lot of them probably not disabled. But I’m tired of having support’s opposite dragging me down and making me feel even worse about my situation.

I’m a strong person and I want strong friends. And nothing says ‘strength’ to me like respect for my truth and my boundaries, and having the strength of character to demonstrate respect for me through asking, especially asking permission. Nothing says ‘strength’ to me like taking my ‘no’ in stride. That, to me, is a person who is whole and centered in themselves.

P.S.

Don’t come up with ideas for jobs or money-making schemes for me. ‘Disabled.’ Remember ‘disabled.’ Forget my name, forget my birthday, but don’t ever forget that ‘disabled’ for me means I CAN’T WORK. You can’t miraculously solve this with your idea, no matter how perfect it seems to you. You don’t understand how my disability impacts my capacity to work. You have not been there through all my years of unsuccessful work attempts. You have not watched work killing me. You have not paid the price I have for trying everything I could think of.

It’s insulting to me to have ideas pushed onto me without my consent, just as if I were in a wheelchair and people were coming up with these plans for me to hike the Appalachian Trail.

Maybe some people are disabled but can still work: this is not me. I CAN’T WORK. Period. The end. Please don’t treat my disability like a problem you need to solve. This is part of who I am so please, accept it, and move on to finding out how you can actually support me. (Hint: ask!)

If this isn’t you, and you’re thinking, “Well, yeah, I’d never do that to you!” then thank you! I want you to know that there are a lot of people out there who have been in my life, especially recently, who do this to me. All the time. I want you to know how much that hurts and humiliates me, and why it may make me a little gun-shy of everyone.

I feel bad for the people coming in the wake of all this toxicity who may be hurt by my standoffishness and aggression and not understand, but this is who I am after what I’ve been through. Patience is helpful, but even more helpful is knowing in yourself whether you can handle who I am with my disability and with all this anger and trauma, and still take care of you.

P.P.S.

I really want to make something more positive soon. It’s hard right now. There’s a lot going on in my life that’s causing me a lot of pain on all levels. Blogging helps. I hope you have something that helps you.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post; I have found it not only interesting, but useful. I live with someone disabled (my sister) and although she’s been disabled for nearly ten years and I obviously know her needs and preferences well, she’s really the only disabled person I have any experience with apart from babysitting a girl with Down’s Syndrome in my teens… In a way, though, you reassure me. The things you say, I think I could do. I mean, I don’t imagine that I’d get it right always or be a perfect friend, but I always prefer my friends to tell me if I’m doing something that upsets/offends them because if they don’t, how will I know?! To me, that’s a way of building a stronger friendship. Anyway, thank you very much for this post.

    • Thank you for your words. I so appreciate everything you’ve shared here. I’m really glad to hear you’re able to support and be there for your sister in the ways she needs. I hear so much sensitivity in what you write. (Weird, right? ‘Hearing’ words printed on a screen? Oh well, my heart hears!)

      Welcome to Team Kassi! I wish I had a spiffy jersey to give you. I will definitely respectfully let you know if I feel any offense in response to something you’re doing. What would you like from an ally and friend for your team?

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