Sunday, July 22, 2012

Choked Voices and Dampened Fires

I write this not because I was to have a pity party. This is why I dipped out of the blogosphere for so long. It’s also the first time I’m writing any of this down. So, part of it’s for me.
You cannot, cannot use someone else fire. You can only use your own. But first, you must be willing to believe that you possess it.”- Audre Lorde

 I’ve never been one to hold back. I’ve always, always spoken my mind, even when it’s gotten me into trouble. I’ve learned, through strained relationships, how to tone it down, but I’ve always refused to be silenced. I had to. Words, my voice, were my fists. I grew up a physically disabled kid in a house with physically and emotionally abusive parents, a younger brother who tortured and teased me for as long as I could remember, and I had no one to talk to. So, I screamed. I screamed as loud as I could.

I moved to Atlanta in 2006. Atlanta. The city I’ll always love. The place where I learned that I was capable of being loved and loving in return—the place where I fell in love. The place where I learned to love myself. Love myself as the queer, disabled, chronically ill, trans* femme almost-Jew that I am. The place where I finally understood my white privilege and how I uphold white supremacy; how I live on colonized land; how I benefit directly from transnational slave labor. The place where I learned to hold all this shit together, at times barely.

 Like in 2010. My mom died a very painful death because of a very, very rare genetic lung disease. I became very close to  her after I became sick. She and I shared an language that no one else in my life did--even other crip folk without chronic illnesses, or so I thinkfeel. I was shattered. I was evicted from my apartment in a fucked up way two weeks later. Because Medicaid kept denying me, even after a massive kidney infection. I was lost. My lover at the time stopped talking to me without an explanation. I was numb. I was taken in by some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. People who held me when I was at the lowest I’ve ever been. They held space for me in my rage and sadness. And I’m sure I was emotionally draining. I left Atlanta for Maryland with a heavy heart—from exhaustion and regret.

A couple of weeks after I left Atlanta, I received an email from someone I loved very much. Someone I trusted without hesitation. In it, they said that they had talked to mutual friends and the consensus was that I talked about ableism too much, that I didn’t respect other people’s opinions, and other things I can’t remember. This was like a punch in the gut. Especially because I had defined my activism as emotional care giving ever since I gotten sick. I always tried my best to carry people emotionally in whatever they could. Yes, I can be intense at times. Sometimes I don't know how to control my fire. And sometimes I don't have a language for things that I'm feeling or experiencing so it comes out as pure rage. And at other times I refuse to be silent and refuse to sugar coat to make it palatable. After my mom died, I made a promise to myself that I would never again live (or die) on anyone else's terms. But still. Isolation is isolation. As Mia Mingus says:

I have watched ableism tear apart relationships with people I love.  I have seen access be too much of a barrier for people to be in relationship with each other.  I have made excuses for inaccessibility because I loved people and didn’t want to lose relationship with them.  I have excused racism, sexism, violence, homophobia because I didn’t want to, couldn’t afford to, lose access.  I have asked for access or raised ableism in relationships, only to have those relationships end abruptly. I have stayed in relationships for access and I have been too afraid to enter into relationships because of access. I have had access held over my head, leveraged for able-bodied supremacist means, or treated like a reward for good behavior.  I have had access made invisible or belittled by loved ones; I have had to make access happen so the person providing access didn’t know they were.  I have kept parts of myself from people I love because I was afraid to, didn’t know how to, be whole and complex in the context of needing access.
This is the cruelty of ableism: it robs us from each other.  This is the weight of access.  This is what gets said in whispers, not on the microphone and at the panel.  This is what gets shared in a fleeting glance between us, disabled, sick, crip folks; a recognition, a silent sigh, an unfocused stare.  This is what we don’t share, don’t know how to share, because it is so instinctual, so ground-level, so what’s-the-point-it’s-never-going-to-change.  This is the air I’ve breathed since I can remember, as a disabled child, never knowing it could be any different—never having been able bodied.
The weight of inaccessibility is not logistical.  It is not just about ramps, ASL interpreters, straws and elevators.  It is a shifting, changing wall—an ocean—between you and I.  It is just as much feeling and trauma as it is material and concrete.  It is something felt, not just talked about.  It is made up of isolation from another night at home while everyone else goes to the party.  The fear of being left by the people you love and who are supposed to love you.  The pain of staring or passing, the sting of disappointment, the exhaustion of having the same conversations over and over again.  The throbbing foolishness of getting your hopes up and the shrinking of yourself in order to maintain.  It is an echoing loneliness; part shame, part guilt, part constant apology and thank you.  It is knowing that no matter how the conditions around me change, my body will still not be able to do certain things—it will still need other people, it will still signal dependence, it will still be disabled.

So, for a long time, I felt as though the people in Atlanta—who I had grown to love so much—secretly resented me. I still don’t know what to think of it. Perhaps I still do.  So here I am. Exhausted. I don’t have the fire I once did. I shrug off the most of the fucked up shit people say to me anymore simply because I don’t have the energy to explain, to lecture, to educate. And a big part of me simply doesn’t care. What’s that mean, though. Am I, as Audre says, choosing to swallow tyranny? And what kind of relationship, friendship or otherwise, is it if it’s predicated upon my silence?

 While I may not be able to use other people’s fires, I think I can stay warm by them. And I offer mine to you.


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