Where we last left our bumbling heroine, she was living in Dubuque, Iowa with her brother and parents. In junior high, I found my elementary school friends growing apart from me. They had discovered the fascinating trio of Clothes, Boys and Makeup, oh my! These failed to impress me (junior high boys, really?), so I focused on my studies- particularly enjoying art class and social studies and immersing myself in fantasy novels and mythology. I also had a few years earlier, failed to see how wonderful puberty was supposed to be- it mostly just seemed messy and smelly and annoying. Kinda like junior high boys. I enjoyed being a girl with free mix of tea parties with dolls and dress up as well as playing with mud and collecting bugs with my brother. Becoming a “woman” seemed like a joke when “gifted” with just with the physical features and none of the social perks. It just seemed like a longer to-do list- shave your legs and arm-pits, dealing with acne, wearing a bra, wearing make-up and “the right” clothes.
In elementary school we heard this on the playground:
I Love You, You Love Me! HO-MO-SEX-U-AL-IT-Y! People Think That We’re Just Friends, But We’re Really Lesbians! Ha-ha and that is SOOO GAY! (That’s the Barney Dinosaur theme song, in case you are from a different time or place and are blissfully unaware) Things were also “retarded” about as often as they were “gay”. That was about it, as far as my awareness of other sexualities were concerned. They were just slurs, playground taunts.
In junior high we graduated to rumor-mongering!
I bet that art teacher is gay! He wears an earring, and has long hair! Whoa…he must be a (gasp!) hippie!
At this point I realized that this was actually A Real Thing, that some people were attracted to the same sex. Cross-dressing was also A Thing that apparently some people had a big problem with, though I thought their objections were pretty silly, considering how I was coming to view gender roles and expectations!
Then after junior high we moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota. Instead of Central in our neighborhood, we chose Arlington Senior High School. It was brand new, with lots of computers and was organized into “houses” so you would take your basic classes together with the same group of students, and had block scheduling so there were only 4 classes a day instead of 7, which made things easier for me to handle. There’s far more I could say, but I’m focusing on identity development.
At some point I went to a movie with a friend, a re-make of The Haunting of Hill House. One of the characters in it was played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, and I realized while watching it that I felt about the actress the way I felt about, for example Brad Pitt. It’s possible I’d felt that before with other women, but the character she was playing in the film was a rather embarrassingly stereotypical bisexual- promiscuous, trying to seduce people of both genders and so forth. My friend was vocally grossed out by this, so I naturally did not confide my new found feelings.
There was, according to a bulletin board, a gay and lesbian (not sure if B & T were featured) student support group at our school. It wasn’t a Gay Straight Alliance, it was a Top Secret Support Group. To get into it, you need to go talk to the nurse. This was well-meaning of the Powers That Be, perhaps to protect the privacy and safety of the students. But I had already been dragged to enough doctors and therapists, I didn’t like the idea of having to go to the nurse to discuss my sexuality. That seemed to imply that I had a “problem” that I needed help with.
My parents while this was going, had switched some of their church-y social justice gears to getting Hamline United Methodist to be a Reconciling congregation, with a statement that gays and lesbians were accepted. The topic had never been broached from the pulpit, from what I was aware of as a kid, nor had anything been mentioned in the church-sponsored sex ed class I had taken in junior high. So as I realized my own sexuality, I knew my parents would be accepting. It was just a matter of accepting and understanding it myself!
This is part 2 of a series of posts on my personal identity development – previous one here.
The reason I wrote the previous post is, I cannot say enough how important the concept of intersectionality is to me as a bisexual disabled woman who is considered “white”. I have tried to articulate these types of ideas before, “interconnecting identities” I believe is the phrase I used. But it seems as if I knew no one else who was talking about it. Intersectionality is a term coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, a legal scholar who researched how Black women experienced both racism and sexism within the legal system, but that the system would only recognize those as separate forms of discrimination without seeing how they interacted. Yet as I watch various conflicts unfold between feminists and other activists, I sometimes wonder if intersectionality is a concept I can truly share in, because I am socially and legally classified as white. I have noticed that some Black feminists resent white feminists using this term. But more about feminism and my place in it (or lack thereof) later.
As I’ve discussed before, I grew up with my parents being involved in racial justice in the NAACP and in the United Methodist Church in particular- in both Topeka, Kansas and Dubuque, Iowa in the 1990’s. This may have been where I started to get the idea of the Civil Rights movement as the Holy Grail to which all social movements cannot be compared.
While we were living in Topeka, my brother and I were both labeled as being on the autism spectrum. I was noticed as having anxiety problems (fragile moods, the doctor called it) and my brother had various developmental delays including with speech. At the time it was very unusual for so-called “high-functioning” autism to be identified, and we were lucky that my Dad was working for the Menninger Foundation, a mental health organization where we had access to more state-of the art psychologists. So while my parents advocating for justice along racial lines, they also began advocating for my brother and I’s inclusion as students with disabilities. They attended state autism conferences (and once my mom made it to an international one in Toronto). They developed a small social network of other parents with autistic children, particular with Asperger’s Syndrome. I was always the only girl. I never thought about that fact that everyone we seemed to encounter in the “autism world” was white- this was Iowa after all. This was not really questioned or commented on.
Advocacy for disabled student inclusion in schools was a matter of civil rights and justice too, and yet it seemed to exist in a parallel world from the NAACP- or the United Methodist Church for that matter. I remember my mother describing the pain and isolation she felt from other church members, when she tried to explain the emotional outbursts, the embarrassing questions, the sensory issues. Somehow all this didn’t seem to be a part of the church’s social justice mission- they were just her parenting problems.
My parents also advocated for multicultural education, following the lead of a controversial new superintendent in the Dubuque Area school district. I believe this encompassed including the perspectives of Black, Hispanic and Asian-American and possibly Native Americans in the social studies curriculum, and perhaps the roles of women in American history. I mostly remember February as Black History month, and little insets here and there in our textbooks about African-Americans and American Indians and women of various ethnicities. It was certainly, more advanced than the education my parents had received. I don’t believe multicultural perspectives were incorporated into other parts of the curriculum, such as art, music and science. But it was a start, I suppose. While controversies over “political correctness”, the lascivious behavior of Presidents, and other matters raged on, we quietly went about our lives in “flyover country”. Diversity included race and ethnicity, perhaps religion (if you were allowed to discuss it) and the most exotic religion I was aware of at the time was the Bahai’i Faith, due to friends my parents had made in peace and racial justice movements. And gender- which mean men and women- no other options.
Gays and lesbians (bisexual and transgender people were barely on the radar) were just starting to emerge into the national spotlight to demand their rights, though I wasn’t really aware that homosexuality existed until I was in junior high. At the time, no one would dream of breathing a word about the existence of gay people in K-12 schools. Just mentioning it would magically cause young children to decide that they couldn’t possibly resist this decadent “lifestyle choice”. And disability- well that existed in the form of Linda on Sesame Street, the Deaf lady that taught us bits of American Sign Language, various characters and people in real life who used wheelchairs and canes or were blind or had Down Syndrome. Sometimes when a kids TV show wanted to show how awesome and modern it was they would have a multiracial cast with bonus- one white male in a wheelchair! It was truly radical.
To be continued…
I’ve often seen the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 60’s held up in a sort of strange but lofty isolation from other social justice movements, to the point where people almost seem to regard it as the only real legit social movement to which all others look silly and petty in comparison and Martin Luther King Jr. is the Best Activist Leader Ever, and the whole thing including him as prophet was anointed and blessed by God. I’ve seen this portrayal by everyone from Black men and women to both white liberals and conservatives. Along with this ideology is the belief that racism is the worst form of oppression, and anyone who tries to compare it with other forms of oppression or their own movement with The Movement, is being racist and appropriating from Black people.
It’s hard to articulate exactly where I’ve seen this, though I think it was a more common tactic in the earlier 2000s and 1990s. As I’ve read and listened to more writing and speeches by women and queer people of color, in particular I have come to realize the disrespectful attitudes white feminists and white GLBTQ movement activists have had towards communities of color and their struggles. When we hear this narrative, we need to question who is promoting it and who is framing it, and what is their agenda? Who are they trying to win over or alienate? Likewise, women, queer and disabled people of color are in the strongest positions to critique these ideas- they can speak from their own experiences about how racism is similar and different from other types of oppression. The view of MLK as the Best Leader the Black Community Will Ever Have is very self-defeating and oversimplified. He was a great man surely, but like any man he was flawed. He is given way too much credit while many women such as Ella Baker, and Bayard Rustin, a gay man who was responsible for much of the organizing of the March on Washington, are all too often forgotten by historians. This is the case with *every social movement* or field of art or science for that matter. Each one has many people who played key roles, but were more introverted, too ill or disabled, or female, or queer, or radical to be in the spotlight, or did not have the means to access education or travel or media coverage. That’s why I really enjoy reaching into history and remembering those who have been forgotten as my activist ancestors.
I just ordered some buttons from Young Soul Rebel/ Odd Mod Out (Ruadhan J. McElroy’s shop) He has a special going on thru March 31st (coupon code EQUINOX) You can buy 5 buttons at the price of 4. Lots of neat stuff, especially if you like 60’s-80’s punk/glam/mod/goth music*, as well as political/queer and pagan related stuff. He also does custom work for bands, DJ’s and other artists.
(Music snobs- please pardon me if I get these wrong! I can obsessively sort books into subgenres, but music not so much!)
Reliable Transportation it says. Must Have Reliable Transportation.
So smug, with your Reliable Transportation.
Never fails, always starts, always works.
Always on time. Good worker.
One cold day it fails. Won’t start. Taxi. Late.
Still, good worker. Like one of us.
Another time, you met a client after work.
Late again. No parking! Can you believe it!
I park and lock my bike to any vertical object.
No, sorry we can’t hire you. You don’t have- Reliable Transportation.
Well I suppose, you actually know how to ride the bus?
Don’t trust this worker. Not like us.
Bus breaks down. No need for taxi. Just wait for another.
Late. Only once. Fired.
Was this a necessary for the job? Or just a barrier?
Like a very expensive piece of paper, a very expensive piece of metal is required.
Responsibility. Reliability. Adulthood.
In one of my UU discussion groups, a couple of times I and others with mental health issues have discussed the support (or lack thereof) in our congregations. Fortunately in mine I feel pretty well supported and I encounter other folks who admit to having similar issues. It probably helps to have a community that tends to be into that…science thing instead of “oh you need to be magically healed/prayed over/exorcised etc.” One suggestion I made to others was networking with UU’s who work in helping or social service professions to get help. Another UU who is a (now retired therapist) kept chiming in and complaining that other congregants and clergy were always asking her for free therapy, and she comes to church to get a break from all that stuff. OK, I get that people should not be continually asked for free professional services- perhaps it should not be treated any differently than asking an accountant you go to church with to do your taxes for free. But still, I was kinda like, umm shouldn’t that be another thread? The No More Free Therapy Sessions Dammit! thread, rather than the I’m Mentally Ill and Some People in my Congregation Don’t Get it thread. Just seemed like there was some un-examined privilege going on there. Also, as a Millennial, I must admit that I didn’t understand the “retired” part. I guess I do have this vague recollection that some people actually stayed employed long enough at a place to gain this legendary thing called…retirement benefits? I’d ask my Baby Boomers parents to explain, but I know they too are pretty baffled by it. I mean, maybe if you work for the federal government for a long time. Damn union-card carrying socialists!
But y’know I thought more about it. I guess I should try having a little more compassion. After all, there is so much stigma in being a psychotherapist. They face discrimination in hiring, housing and all sorts of social services. They are rejected by their families after they discover their true nature as a psychologist. They lose friends after they try to psychoanalyze and diagnose them. They have tons of student loans to pay off. It’s a highly, deeply misunderstood calling that is sometimes criminalized and blamed for mass shootings. Sometimes therapists have their children taken away- just because of their job title! Even if they are undergoing treatment- err I mean continuing education, they may be told that they are not qualified to keep their children unless some expert from the state comes and evaluates them. They may not be allowed to buy guns, due to their past history as psychologists! And if they don’t subscribe to the accepted popular academic opinions about trendy labels like childhood bipolar disorder and such, they can be labeled “Noncompliant” and refused continued treatment, I mean err continuing education. Then no one will take any of their past work seriously! The worst part is, they get all this heaped upon them, but none of it was their choice! They were born that way! Their brains were just wired or chemically balanced in such a way that they had to becomes psychologists and therapists.
(In all seriousness, I am grateful for the good therapists out there- the ones who listen and make good allies and even the occasional psychiatrist that realizes that he/she/zie is a mere mortal. It is really hard work that they do! And they *do* have tons of student loan debt to pay off!)
So Naomi J asked me how the networking with disabled folks (for jobby things) is going (specifying at Paganicon) Well to begin with, I’ve actually switched gears re: the job thing. I’ve had a couple people hire me to do cleaning and chores for them, and I enjoyed doing it. I mean, yeah obviously its not super-glamorous work, but I really like having more personal control over scheduling, where and who I’m working with, helping people without the middleman of corporate policy that often gets in the way of helping people! It’s weird, because I’ve never really considered starting my own business. Everyone in my family works for someone else. The only real accommodation that I do for myself, is I prefer to use my own vacuum cleaner, because I have dust allergies and mine has a HEPA filter. And the neighbor lady I am helping (she broke her foot) has 3 cats, so lots of vacuuming! Later on if it seems logical/necessary/advantageous at some point, I may get a PCA* license. Ironically, that’s something people have suggested I do, but I didn’t want to do it! Probably part of the reason I changed my mind is I’m hoping to be a mom at some point, and a lot of the care tasks PCAs do is not so different than what parents do (which is part of why it’s rather socially and financially devalued work, sadly) though in this case, the client is the one in charge- they get to decide when they are going to bed!
I’ve been meaning to get my driver’s license anyway- I have seizure-free long enough, and hopefully once I get back on the ADHD medicine my brain will behave itself more! There are enough people I know that live close enough that I could probably be OK without driving for a while, though for the PCA part, driving is generally a requirement, which is one of the reasons I haven’t done it before.
I am just generally a major fan of the idea of disabled people being in social/health services, education etc. helping other folks with disabilities. I am meeting (online or in person) more and more of us who are getting social work, special education degrees, speech therapists etc. We really need more people with empathy for each other. I’ve dealt with various condescending pompous people with letters behind their names who thought they were always right and I know hard it is to tell them they are not, you’ve done your research, you know your rights, you’re an adult dammit and you want to make your own decisions!
*Personal Care Attendant There’s also HHA- Home Health Aides which I believe takes another layer of training (thus paying more) To do that I would also need work on my muscles, because you have to be able to lift people in and out of chairs, beds etc. Terminology, requirements et al may vary according to your state or country.