One year ago I left my non-profit job and secured myself a medical leave. I know that my experience of burnout was one of common occurrence in “the helping professions”, as I have seen many friends, loved ones and co-workers melt and spiral in similar ways. In the year since leaving my job I have attempted to access numerous avenues of assistance including programs for self employment, job readiness and disability benefits. The process has included high level comedy-of-errors type interactions. And here’s what I learned from all of this:
The systems that are supposed to make up this country’s social safety net are intentionally made difficult to navigate and degrading to those who need them.
My experience jumping through the hoops showed me the ways that many people working in the systems know only what is in their limited purview and that most often the different branches have little to no lines of contact.
I navigated the help streams on the way to the PWD [persons with disability] designation that exists here in BC. One of the most important steps is finding a doctor. For me this included both a stroke of luck and also the helpful advocacy of community members. Doctors are incredibly challenging to find in many rural parts of BC. I had previously been very lucky in finding a really good doctor, thanks to a friend encouraging his doctor to consider taking on trans patients in addition to her standard family + maternity care patient load. As this doctor’s practice closed (providing another instance of helping professionals burning out) I was left without a GP.
The application for PWD requires a member of the college of physicians and surgeons’ participation. In small communities like mine where holes in service provision have been addressed with expanded Nurse Practitioner service (which is a great thing and solves a lot of problems), gaps still exist for things like disability applications and prescribing of controlled substances (like methadone and testosterone). Luckily with another encouraging conversation at the hands of an advocating individual, I saw my case load picked up.
Finding a doctor and having her agree that my list of ailments would make me suitable for benefits was a first big step. Once I had that part figured out, I needed to ride out being on EI (employment insurance) before transitioning to the social assistance (welfare) stream. Being on social assistance is a necessary pre-cursor for being on PWD, and one that often works to discourage people from seeking PWD benefits, because the welfare benefits are extremely meager and nowhere near a living wage.
Much time passed between steps of the awkward dance that is government process. I found that as that time passed, I was internalizing the notion that I was, fundamentally, incapable. I was doing this because, on some level, it allowed me to believe I was deserving of the help I was asking for from the government. And gradually, this internalization of my own lack of capacity was wearing down my self perception. I felt afraid to take the steps towards starting this blog, crafting my professional offerings or networking amongst potential business contacts. The systems offering help were very clear.
The state want folks who are accessing benefits to have exhausted all other options. To have demonstrated that no other path is viable and then to come to the throne of the state on bended knee.
I could feel the ways that knowing I needed to appear at my worst was actually putting me there. All I wanted was to access the support of a system that supposedly exists to help folks, who like me, struggle with physical and mental barriers to participating in capitalism. People whose barriers are sizable enough that our ability to just survive in the system is threatened.
And let me assure you: I do struggle with those things. I find myself with overwhelming anxiety, debilitating depression and chronic pain. But here’s the thing: the closer I was getting to jumping through the final hoops, the worse all of those conditions got. Applying for the benefits that were supposed to help make my life easier, was actually making my life much more challenging.
Swallowing the stigma was literally making me sick.
One of the other big qualifiers in eligibility is marital/partnership status. 10 years after marriage equality in Canada, we now have common law status qualifiers that say that living together with someone of the same or opposite sex in a “marriage like” relationship for 12 months is enough to make a couple married in the eyes of the state. Since Andi Grace and I live together, organize together and collaborate on writing projects that exist in public spheres, I was nervous about how our relationship could impact my application.
When speaking with an advocate (which I would highly recommend if you are going to pursue this process), she outlined the issues with appearing partnered in the eyes of the state when applying for PWD. The process demands that partners must apply for the benefits together, with the joint monthly income cap equalling much less than 2 individual people applying separately. This places people partnered with people with disabilities financially responsible for their partners, even if they live near the poverty line.
In my initial stages of application I followed the recommendations, keeping the romantic, cooperative and mutual support aspects of my relationship from the public eye. I referred to Andi as a tenant in my house, a friend. I thought about Harvey Milk, encouraging his comrades to come out, let their friends and families know of their relationships so they could learn to support queer issues. I thought about closets. I worried about the radio shows that we have made about polyamoury and queer dance parties, wondering if these things would look “marriage like” to a third party investigator hired by the government.
All of these fears loomed in the back of my head and over my heart, when we went out to Halloween Party called DEATH//DANCE that was invoked with these words:
“All things are transitory. We are all going to die one day. Let’s dance. Let’s appreciate the fuck out of each other. Let’s let go of everything we do not want to carry into the void of winter. If you’ve still got a body, werk it. “
At the party, a sage friend stopped to specifically appreciate the ways that Andi and I exist online. He talked about the ways that he is inspired by our visible mutual support, our willingness to be vulnerable together, our ability to ask for help, and the ways we hold up each other’s work. He helped confirm for me what I was ready to let die.
I am finished with subjecting myself to a system that sees people working together and punishes them for it.
I want to live my life in the ways that my friend was commenting on, feeling free to love out loud, closets be damned.
(A note on this: The topic of closets and when and where and how people should come out or not is a huge and nuanced conversation. The ins and outs are something that I look forward to writing about here in more detail, in future. This perspective is just my personal feels about me and my closets.)
The same weekend that I decided to drop the game – letting their reporting structures and application procedures go in favour of following my truest path – I came to the end of my EI benefits. I got my last payment 3 weeks earlier than their system had prepared me for – Proving once again that their systems are series of algorithms and check boxes and call center employees with limited judicial influence. The pieces don’t communicate, they don’t line up, they don’t compute, they have flaws, they have limits. In some ways reaching the limit should elicit stress. Knowing that I don’t have an immediate concrete income stream to depend on has the power to instigate an existential-investigation-of-purpose and a scarcity-driven-panic around my material survival.
But this time around it actually doesn’t feel that bad.
As all this transition has been happening I’ve been working on counting down the days til I turn 30, on my facebook. The inspiration came from an observation that I had, watching my reaction to other people using social media as a platform for supporting their personal growth and healing. I heard a voice in my head cattily respond to a list of gratitudes, and commitments to post similar lists for 30 days. It said “Well that’s gonna get old really quick, you’ll run out of things before you get the end of the month.” Another friends post of affirmations evoked an internal response of, “Uggggh why can’t they keep that shit to themselves?”.
When sitting with these “cops in the head”, I wondered what more I could achieve if I challenged them. What if I worked to embody that which I was feeling resentful towards? Starting on the 30 day mark my posts included the following:
“Looking out the bus window to a growing stack of cured, split and stacked firewood is a type of security that runs deeper than 0s and 1s in a bank account. Looking 200 feet up the hill to where the tree lived and died and feeling the warmth generated by stacking the little pieces just right is a groundedness that allows roots in place to tangle with the mycorrhizal wealth and complexity. Using my body, my tools and my sense of creative innovation to problem solve these basic issues (like how one does not freeze to death in a school bus [into the wild styles]) gives me a sense of accomplishment that I can use to help re-learn about my competence and capability.” -day 30
“Trying to keep in perspective the ways that I understand productivity, creative engagement, measurable outcomes and goal setting.” day 27
“Makes me dream for a society where a living wage for an individuals participation in society, not stratified along ableist lines could allow us to bring our truest offerings to the table without worrying about how well it is valued in the capitalist market place.
Knowing that creating this shift requires each of us to believe in our offerings, and also to find ways to appreciate the offerings of the folks who are doing things that we value.” day 25
Remembering that I know shit.
I have a powerful voice.
My wisdom is of value.
I have vision.” day 24
In trying to find ways to put my knowledge, my voice and my wisdom to use I have created this online platform. As I continue to explore the challenges of operating as an independent educator and consultant, rural queer, and psychedelic explorer I will write here about the observations I have. My work here will build off of previous writings I have done online and serve as a hub for my professional offerings. I’m also assembling my collections of resources and am stoked to share tools that I have collected with you.
I hope to generate and help facilitate important revolutionary conversations about how we move into the world we desperately need.
Argentinian psychologist Graciela Balestra speculates that the life expectancy of trans people is between 30 and 32 years old. These dark-ages numbers are influenced by the ways that privilege and oppression overlap and intersect in the lives of many trans folks. Adding aspects like race, location, gender expression, ability, work, and class mean that some of us have better odds of outliving those predictions. As a trans person of European ancestry, with white skin, middle class upbringing and conditional male passing privilege I have access to a lot of things that my comrades in this struggle do not. That will always be true and my work will always work to center and acknowledge that reality.
I have made a conscious choice to not become a part of the statistic listed above – and trust me, this choice was and is not always easy. I’ve backed away from suicide attempts multiple times and these days, I’m choosing to live.
I want the ways that I approach living as a #reallivetransadult to create opportunities for others to have access to that choice too. And that brings me to my new life plan and a big part of my online offerings.
In the new year I am offering this course. The learning I offer here is meant to address startling and painful truths, like these:
- approximately 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ*
- more than 40% of trans people have attempted suicide
- in 32 states you can still lose your job for being trans.
It’s about looking at these numbers and unpacking the systems that create them. It’s about working at dismantling the toxic mythologies we have come to know. It’s about becoming acquainted with our ancestors in struggle. It’s about understanding our resistance in a historical + intersectional context and working together to build the resilience that we need to turn those numbers around.
It is also my intention to offer my community development skills for your businesses and organizations. I have seen well meaning organizations and projects get caught in the trap of replicating our systems’ defaults. We have been socialized, schooled and indoctrinated into a culture that falls back on oppressive practices. When these practices haven’t had a chance to be looked at, taken apart, and replaced with something better the defaults persist.
The defaults are that voices go unheard, workplaces can feel anywhere from unsupportive to toxic and finding ourselves constantly applying band-aids to huge systemic wounds. I am looking forward to working with organizations, businesses and community groups that want to proactively improve their effectiveness, reach and inclusion. Consider getting in touch with me to help you develop policies, curriculum and best practices that can help your organization step into the change making that we know is needed.
So here I am. Here is my vision. A place where I can negotiate my “value” in the world on my terms, and connect with folks who see that value and want to appreciate it, with kind words and proposals for collaboration. A place where we are helping ourselves create the sort of world we want to live in, putting our resources where our hearts are.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for supporting. Thanks for helping me believe that I am capable. Thanks for helping create a world where we can all bring our gifts to the table and be secure in each others care.