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”
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!