Who Are Your Acceptable Victims and Who Do You Choose to Believe?

It is some time since I last wrote anything in long form – and whilst it has been mere months in reality, I look at the glare of the blank white screen, eagerly consuming the the letters I type, and I smile at it like a long lost and much adored lover. I have missed writing intensely, but for many reasons it has been a long way down my list of priorities.

But I’ve had some thoughts crystallising in my mind of late.

I was at my PIP assessment today and I wanted to scrub myself with a wire brush after.  I’m sure the chap who conducted the assessment is nice to his old Mum, and he seemed like the type of bloke who has a muscular, slightly ugly mutt at home he adores, and he wasn’t… unpleasant as such.  Its just that he hasn’t had to sit on my side of the table and would probably be personally offended if I had told him I found the whole process utterly dehumanising. Because it wouldn’t matter how nice the person conducting the assessment is (or how truthful they may, or may not, turn out to be).

When you go to these assessments (or – if you need one, and have jumped the endless hoops you are required to jump through to get one – had a home visit), you go as the person with the disability/disabilities, and/or chronic illness, and/or mental health issues. Your physical/medical/mental health has prevented you from working for a whole host of reasons, the vast majority of which are not your fault. Nobody asks or wants to be disabled, chronically ill, depressed, addicted, be involved in life changing accidents, or the (repeated) victim of crime – or whatever unexpected life altering thing it is that you couldn’t possibly have seen coming. You sure as hell don’t want to be in that office discussing whether or not you wet yourself, or cannot with the best will in the world fill in a form without hyperventilating.  And you would rather gauge your eyes out with a rusty spoon that sit there hoping the assessor will decide you are sick enough for some small amount of help, but you hope for it anyway because the alternative is being told you aren’t sick enough and should be working, and you’ve probably half killed yourself working for longer than you should of already, because you anyway live month to month and the roof has to stay over your families head.

You are only at that assessment because, metaphorically, your house is burning and the flames won’t go out.

But the benefit system as it is now is based on this simple premise: you have to prove you are on fire.

Its archaic – literally. The powerful, demanding that the powerless (who cannot conform to the prescribed behaviour set out by the powerful) prove their truthfulness/need for assistance by performing the claimed ‘weakness’* to the satisfaction of those with the power to help.

(*In this context, it is the powerful who perceive and promote the disability/illness etc as a weakness in a negative context. The idea of illness/disability/sexual and/or gender difference as a weakness or failing, is promoted by the powerful to maintain control).

Yet no matter how archaic it is – and to some extent, irrespective of the ideologies attracted to this method of achieving and maintaining power and control – it perpetuates, re-invented in some new form every few decades, but surviving largely intact and otherwise unchanged no matter what century it is.  And there is an uncomfortable truth at the centre of that.

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When I was writing more regularly about my experiences of rape culture, I was then – and remain now – utterly perplexed by how normalised it is for victims and survivors not to be believed.  There are those who would tell you that its simply hysteria to suggest that sexual abuse, assault, and rape are as much of a problem as they are. And whilst it means that those who should be taking responsibility are not, it is not the expected intransigence, arrogance or duplicity of a system that will of course seek to protect itself, that causes most perplexity. Or even, arguably, is the most difficult thing to resolve.

There is an extraordinarily simple reason why a rape victim needs to hear the words “I believe you”.  If you believe them, then (setting aside, just for a moment, the positive impact on the victim), you have acknowledged that there is a problem. If you have acknowledged the problem, you are more likely to accept the problem needs to be resolved. If you accept the problem needs to be resolved, you are more likely to look positively at what will resolve that. Because whilst prevention is better than cure, you still need the cure.

But since prevention is better than cure – what happens if you believe that most people would rather swallow a bottle of castor oil than lie about being raped or abused, and that (however uncomfortable it might make you feel), the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual violence are telling the truth?

What happens when we all acknowledge that? And what’s stopping that?

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The thing is – it isn’t just rape victims who need to be believed. That’s not the only systemic abuse problem. For disabled and chronically ill people the benefits system is inherently abusive, predicated as it is on the presumption of guilt. For Black/of colour/LGBTQ+ disabled and chronically ill people the problem is still more pronounced.  The politics of belief around chronic illness and hidden disability is a minefield. You are reduced to someone who has to permanently prove yourself innocent of a crime that never occurred, far less was ever committed.

But if we accept that most people would rather work than put themselves through the Dickensian benefits process, and we believed disabled and chronically ill people, then would we really continue to tolerate and normalise the thousands upon thousands of disabled and chronically ill people dying, every year?

What happens when we believe black people and people of colour about racism, and about how we as white people, need to address our internalised racism and do something about it?

What happens when we believe trans women and trans men, believe that they are who they say they are and that they receive the abuse and discrimination they are telling us they receive?

What happens when we believe the refugees who tell us of the brutality and wars they are escaping?

What happens when we actually do think of the children, and believe them when they say they are being abused?

What would happen, if we chose to believe them all?

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The uncomfortable truth is this: we choose to believe the victims we are comfortable believing. And we choose to acknowledge the oppression’s we are comfortable enough to acknowledge.

And whilst its the system that sells the lie, it only keeps working because people keep believing it. And all of us do, at one level or other: some people will believe disabled people about the how the benefit system is killing people – but not a person of colour when they say that something is racist, and won’t believe the refugee escaping war and brutality; and some people will believe disabled people and people of colour, but won’t believe that trans women are women and trans men are men . Or they will believe a person can be gay – but not bi. Or accept all that, but won’t believe that the respectable man up the road with the good reputation could possibly be an abuser, and will tell you how terrible it is that he has to live with that accusation…

And the still more uncomfortable truth is this – because we choose to believe some people are living under oppressive systems, but do not, cannot or will not believe the same of others – the cycle of abuse across the multiple layers of society continues. It might be chipped away at, in piecemeal fashion – but you only have to look around you to understand that the foundations of that system remain as strongly entrenched as ever, and that all we have successfully and systemically managed to do is disbelieve black people, rape victim, the disabled, trans people, LGBQ people, women, the sick and refugees.

We believe who we are comfortable believing. We believe those who don’t challenge our world view – and we definitely don’t believe those who challenge more profoundly our view of ourselves. We believe those we perceive as being acceptable to believe.

And we can choose to ask ourselves why we don’t believe the black person, or the disabled person or the trans person, or the refugee – and then answer that honestly, or not.

Because belief is a choice. So the perplexity remains.

 

 

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Poem: We Are The Bodies That Tell – a poem for #CripTheVoteUK

We are the bodies that tell

Of the lies to us all you would sell;

We are the price, we are told,

Both hostage and ransom

The flesh and the blood,

Yet silence can never be bought, or be sold.

We are the bodies that speak

No matter how seemingly lowly or weak

you perceive, or have beaten us down to become

Our stories are many

And often unsung

Of our dead, we count and sing out, every one.

We are the bodies that value

What truly cannot be bought;

We are the bodies that love and support,

Creating and giving, reaching

stretching, though never quite meeting the end,

Yet still with the strength to stand up, and defend.

We are the bodies that tell

Of a far better truth than the lie you would sell;

We’re not the blame, or the shame, or the guilty –

We’re the flesh and the blood that pay for austerity,

And we’ll give voice even when we cant sing,

We are the bodies, no matter how broken, that never ever give in.

 

On @PiersMorgan and The Power of Ignorance About #PTSD [CN]

Piers Morgan, who "fears [PTSD has] become the latest celebrity accessory".
Piers Morgan, who “fears [PTSD has] become the latest celebrity accessory”.
I was accused of witchcraft once. As in an actual, the-spirit-of-Matthew-Hopkins-is-alive-and-well, genuine “I truly believe you are witch who suckles at the devils teet” accusation. It went on for a good few months – I got followed by people in town saying it loudly and pointing at me, for all to hear, on occasion.

I was okay, eventually. Took me a good few years not to get twitchy around that particular religious community, although truth be told I withstood that particular bout of spiritual abuse because I decided, in my own slightly… idiosyncratic… way, to embrace the role to which they had ascribed me. And, having ignored and ignored their ridiculously medieval brand of misogyny (and trust me, the women were way more vindictive about it), I turned round just one single time to see what would happen, if they thought I was about to actually (in whatever way they imagined it) cast a real (in whatever manner they interpreted it) spell.

And I never saw them again.

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Piers Morgan is what happens when the opinion of the journalist becomes more important than the news the journalist is supposedly reporting. Piers Morgan thinks he is the news.

So now that you have a pretty clarified idea about what I think about Piers Morgan, let me get to how that plays out, in the context of his recent tweets about PTSD, and the possible interview with the Lady Gaga, whom he had essentially accused in those tweets of being (at best) dishonest.

First, lets just recall for a moment, what happened when Mr Morgan interviewed Janet Mock – and then what happened where constructive and genuine criticism was met by a rousing performance of Piers Morgan, the aggrieved white liberal man, without whom we could not possibly do without.

I only mention it because, whilst Lady Gaga wont have to deal with Morgans brand of racialised transphobia dressed up as ally-ship, she will be dealing with a man who will frame the interview as a ‘debate’; ostensibly on the ‘hook’ of PTSD being treated too lightly by celebrities, but in reality because women who don’t report the abuse, assault or rape are laying themselves open to suspicion of lying, and that therefore the claims they make about having PTSD must automatically be considered equally dubious.

Because woman = liar is a pretty hoary old trope, and Morgan’s interviewing style can be pretty accurately be described as the journalistic equivalent of “if she sinks, she’s innocent, if she floats then she’s guilty.” Its a nasty little trick that can be made too look like justice (or in the this case ‘journalistic balance’) in the hands of a self important showman, and the eyes of the frightened and gullible.

It’s not witchcraft, to be able to see Morgan’s argument for what it is: misogyny, dressed up as entertainment, presented in the guise of liberal tolerance. And just for kicks, let’s make it a ‘debate’, because another humans life and reality is supposed to be ‘debated’. Or something.

Whether or not the interview with Lady Gaga happens, I am willing to put money on it being a dumpster fire: and even more money on Morgan refusing to take any responsibility for that afterwards.

I could be wrong.

But I doubt it.

Deep Fried Mars Bars (Pt 3): Battle Scars [#TW/#CN]

This post includes references to flashbacks, and how I experience them. I am finding writing therapeutic again, but reading what I write may not necessarily be so helpful, so please take care.

At least once a week, on or offline, someone will ask me why I ‘claim’ to have PTSD, since I have not served in the armed forces.

To start with, the question bugged me: we live in a society that deems people ‘scroungers’ for the least sign of ‘weakness’. The assumption in the first instance, systemically, is to disbelieve. If you own up to a disability, its because you want a way out of work. In an of itself, that’s a brutalising system under which to live, so on first glance, accusations of lying because you haven’t been on a battlefield, a battleship or war plane, is just another form of disbelief.

What really rankled, however, was the sexism, misogyny and homophobia behind the question.

I am perfectly capable of taking a step back from my anger and seeing the moving parts of the bigotry: sexism, misogyny, homophobia and abelism are all present and correct; but I have also noticed that the men who accost me with the question (and its been exclusively white men so far), have never themselves served in the armed forces either.

Not a one of them.

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In the grand scheme of things, fools who will not stop and think before speaking are merely an annoyance. There are days when all the various forms of bigotry that are encountered when you live in a body that is not so valuable, do sometimes pile up. At times like that it is important to see something as clearly as possible, lest your vision get so narrow that you fail to acknowledge some of the many other burdens to which you are not subject.

This condition to which I am subject – with its various attendant symptoms – is not something I need to justify, in either its cause or effect. I will – in the right context – share about how some of those symptoms manifest and how they impact. Flashbacks, for example, are a full body experience and not simply something in my head: the trauma’s (and that is the right word) did not occur on a literal battlefield, but the impact on the pysche and body was still very real. When your whole self finds itself jerked back in to that trauma, repeatedly, that is not the result of ‘weakness’.

We live in flesh and blood bodies, imperfect ones that are not built to withstand the kind of violence to which we subject each other when groups of people (and so often those people are white), try to assert dominance over another group of people because they do not meet with some ideological dogma about what a body should look like.

When your identity does not match that dogmatic ideal, that identity is suspect and subject to erasure.  Where those who assume I am lying about PTSD do so ‘because I haven’t served in the armed forces’,  it is not ignorance of the impact of violence that drives the question. Were that the case, then they would instantly recognise refugees (so often escaping the actual battlefields they claim to be the only place one can be exposed to something which would cause such a condition) as being traumatised people.

But refugees are often not white, and certainly not Western or Christian enough to be deemed worthy of such humanity.

Hence the question is – at heart – racist to its core: and whilst I am not subject to the racism at the heart of the question (or its colonial context), it is important to challenge it.  The world in which we live has become a much more dangerous place, and to be black, brown, Muslim, LGBTQ, disabled or a woman (or any intersection of those), means the horizon, never that welcoming, looks a lot more intimidating than it did.

Populism, nationalism, White Supremacy, Nazi ideology – all these things suffuse the air we breath and it is all too easy for it to infect those of us who aren’t black, or brown, or Muslim, or transgender, even if you are disabled and queer and a woman. It matters not to lose sight of that, because that’s where the trap is: its how you end up on the side of the Sith Lord, instead of the rebel alliance. Anti-trans feminists, for example, long ago failed to recognise just how easily they have found themselves in bed with Trump supporting bigots who are about to take control of the most powerful country on earth.

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When living in or with a body and/or mind that is considered dysfunctional, how clearly we understand the prejudices that entails we face, matters. And whilst it matters that I take care of myself for my sake and my loved ones, self pity is dangerous.

It is inevitable that someone else will – because of bigotry and ignorance – accuse me of claiming a condition for myself which (they will insist) I have no right to, and it will be important that I see what is behind the question as clearly as possible.

It matters.

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Deep Fried Mars Bars (Part 2): Let Me Be Weak [CN]

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 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Matthew 11: 28-3

As I adjust to the parameters that PTSD imposes – physically, mentally and emotionally – it is in navigating the responses of others which offer some of the greatest challenges.  I am very blessed – with so many friends in the disabled community, I am fortunate that those who have walked this or similar paths are ceaselessly generous with their love, and give freely of their hard won wisdom about surviving practically and emotionally within a society geared toward the able bodied and mentally ‘healthy’.

As a woman, and a parent, the intersection of disability and gender is brought in to sharp relief: in the patriarchal system under which we live, the ‘women as the weaker gender’ trope is an implicit standard, yet there is a perilous dichotomy under which we live. Women are constantly punished for any perceived weakness – disbelieved when victimised, yet parodied when performing ‘strength’.

In parallel to this, the ‘man as the dominant gender’ remains explicit, and males who do not conform to crude masculine cliches, or experience dysfunction emotionally or physically, are shamed: ‘man up’ is a phrase I loathe, carrying a toxicity which too easily grows to abuse. I have 2 sons, one of whom battles depression, who both bear the scars of a world that tells them they are ‘less than’ for being something which they are not.

It is a reality of living under capitalism that only those who can produce, sustain themselves, and contribute financially, are valued; as such, sexism and misogyny throw a sharper and more brutal light on those whose bodies and minds are perceived as ‘taking’.

Disability = weakness = burden is the equation that gave ‘austerity’ –  do not underestimate the brutality of the word ‘scrounger’. The writing, activism and creativity of the disabled is most usually treated with disdain – unless, of course, it is deemed to ‘inspire’ and even then, the price of inspiring others comes at a cost which is ignored.

From those outside of the disabled community, the reaction runs along a spectrum between assuming me a liar and a scrounger, offering pity, to expecting survival as though weakness were not an option.

Outright discrimination has been daily: for now I continue to work full time, but have been exhausted by work practices 20 years or more out of date. Whilst that now improves, it has taken its toll, particularly physically.  No doubt someone will think this reflects some degree of self pity on my part. It is not. It is a simple statement of reality.

There are still frequent indignities – having to sit on the floor of the toilet cubicle at work whilst having a flashback, because these things are no respecter of time and place, for example.

Other prejudice’s mask themselves as ‘reasonable questions’: why would I ‘claim’ to have PTSD when I have never served in the armed forces? (Discrimination is never more blunt when delivered in wilful ignorance).  The suspicion that I would prefer to absent myself of life’s responsibilities is odious. It is like sandpaper on the soul.

At the other end of the spectrum, are those who expect survival because, even where there is some degree of compassion, weakness is treated as a transitional state. My ‘brokeness’ is accepted on the assumption that I will be strong enough to overcome it, and return at some point to being ‘fully functional’ and ‘whole’ again.

Whilst I do not shun ‘strength’, I do not accept it in the form I am supposed to. On the days when I am weak, when my body, mind and spirit are battered by a flashback, strength is not an option. Acceptance of such weakness is all that allows me to survive. When my intestines and bowels constrict with the spasms brought on my IBS – a physical manifestation of the rigours of flashbacks – acceptance of my bodies failings is what prevents the corrosive bitterness  of genuine self pity from tainting my spirit. When intrusive thoughts mount another invasion, all I can do is wait until it passes.  My resources are not finite. My ‘strength’ is not endless.

As a society, we are collectively ashamed of what is perceived as weakness – and yet weep, pity or deride those who then feel shame when their body or mind cannot ‘perform’ as we are told they must.

Were my body also black, of colour, presenting as a gender other than that which had been ascribed to me – this perceived ‘weakness’ (through white supremacy and transphobia) would come with an even higher price.

Prejudice and discrimination is rooted is wanting to suppress (or erase) what is considered weakness, and that pressure is exerted financially, culturally and systemically, interwoven through white centred, patriarchal norms that demand binary bodies which meet some idealised notion of strength, and minds that conform to a ‘healthy normality’.

Talking ’bout stupid things
I can’t be left to my imagination
Let me be weak, let me sleep and dream of sheep
Ooh, their breath is warm
And they smell like sleep
And they say they take me home
Like poppies, heavy with seed
They take me deeper and deeper  Kate Bush – And Dream of Sheep

I am tired. I am weak. It is enough for me today.