I've found the last months really difficult, and this post is going to cover some of the incidents which have made things a lot harder for me. I've had to quit my job and take a leave of absence from university and this combined with various ableist incidents have really made me reflect on just how ableist the world can be and what I feel called to do about it.
At university many events are specifically designed with accessibility in mind, but there is still a great deal which is inaccessible to people with a range of needs. In the wider world, it is a lot worse especially for those of us with invisible disabilities.
Over the summer I attended a paid summer school in cyber security and unfortunately there were several incidents which made me seriously question whether I would want to work for this organisation in the future. I was very open about my disabilities when I applied and even had a assessment with an occupational therapist to see what my needs were. I know he provided a report to the people running the course so they were aware of my disabilities and needs. So far, so good. However the initial team building day was horrendous for me as it involved a lot of standing and moving about as well as some very loud activities.
When we went on a trip away, I was told there wouldn't be much walking, but there was more than I expected and I ended up in quite a lot of pain. I was then harassed by a member of staff for not walking fast enough, leaving me in tears. Despite raising this incident with the welfare contact and being told that what happened was unacceptable, I never received an apology from the person involved and I did not receive any further contact reagrding this incident from anyone running the course.
After this incident I was given the option of not going on the next excursion as it was likely to involve a lot more walking. I decided not to go, as I knew if I went I would most likely have a similar thing happen again as no adjustments to the activities were offered. I didn't feel supported in accessing the aspects of the activity that I would have been able to participate in and I feel I missed out on a day which others gained good memories and team building from.
Later on in the course, there was a further incident with a different member of staff who publicly humiliated me, after which I escaped to the toilets and had a panic attack. As well as these significant events there were many more microagressions from fellow students and staff alike, where ableist assumptions and comments were made.
I didn't get invited back to do another placement. As they didn't give feedback I have no way of knowing whether it was because my disabilities caused them too much inconvenience, some of my views made me unattractive, or just because I wasn't quite good enough in the interview process. Overall I was quite disappointed as I found the work very interesting and would have loved to go back, if it weren't for the pervasive ableism I'd experienced.
As I mentioned in a previous post I also travelled to Krakow in Poland for World Youth Day and whilst this was an amazing experience, I wasn't able to fully enjoy it because I spent most of it being utterly exhausted and in a lot of pain. There was a lot of walking and most of the time it just wasn't possible to use public transport because of the sheer number of people. The weather was very hot and I developed a rather severe heat rash on my feet, covering them in small painful blisters and causing my feet to swell up. I pushed myself hard, but I still had to miss many events and take time out to rest because of the pain and exhaustion.
I didn't feel as though my needs were taken into account enough, both in advance and whilst we were there, by group leaders and members of the group I was with. A lot of them are my good friends, and while they were sympathetic on the most part, I felt there was not always enough forward or creative thinking. It seemed assumed that young people would be able to walk long distances and stand for extended periods of time.
There is also a common impression I have gained at multiple religious events where your holiness seems to be measured by the distance you can walk or the amount of time you can spend on your knees worshipping. As someone who finds kneeling even more painful than walking it was quite discouraging to get this impression from people. I know they probably don't intend it, but when people insist that everyone should go on a pilgrimage which involves walking thousands of miles, I feel very alienated.
I assume these experiences are symptomatic of many workplaces and environments, and I can see this being something I am going to have to work to combat throughout my life. Whilst I am at university I have the opportunity to explore my limits and be supported in learning what my needs are. I am learning how to advocate for myself successfully and how to work with governing bodies to effect change.
Something that came up during my most recent counselling sessions was how talking about the activism I was involved in really made me come alive. I have always felt a very strong sense of justice and the need to rebel against rules for the sake of rules. I feel called to follow this and continue to fight for change in all areas of my life where I, and many others, face difficulties.
In order to make the world a less ableist place, we all need to stop and think about the assumptions we make about people's abilities. Just because someone looks or sounds a certain way doesn't mean that they can or cannot do something. Provide different options for people, different activities or different ways of doing something. Ask them what they would prefer to do, ask them if they have any needs that might need to be taken into account. Society plays a huge part in disabling people, and we have the power to begin breaking down these structures that are holding us back from being fully compassionate and thoughtful.
I'm Catholic, trans and bisexual, but becoming comfortable with all of these parts of my identity didn't happen overnight. It's been a long process, with many bumps and difficulties along the way including many times where I've wanted to give up completely on at least one aspect. There have even been times where I have given up, but God means so much to me that I always seem to find my way back to them.
I was brought up Catholic, having been baptised when I was just over a year old. We attended church pretty regularly on sundays. For almost my entire school life, aside from 3 primary school years, I went to Catholic school. It was pretty normal to me, and I don't really remember questioning whether I actually believed it or not until I was around 11 or 12.
I started to dislike church at this age because I found it boring, and I was also forced to be an altar server, which I hated because it meant I had to sit up at the front and remember what to do at the right times. I remember trying to find excuses not to attend, or not to have to serve.
However, I then began to become more engaged with my faith. I started following the mass more closely, reading some of the Bible, and learning more about what the Church taught. I began to read books and articles and listen to podcasts with a Catholic or Christian theme. I started almost exclusively listening to Christian music, and soaked up a lot of the views of American purity culture. I found some kind of comfort in all the rules I think, and to my shame now, became fairly judgemental of others' behaviour. I also held myself to a very high standard.
I still believe that it was only through prayer and my relationship with God that I was able to get through some of the toughest periods of my life. With God's help, I gained the courage to reach out again to find new friendships after being bullied for years. My faith provided solace to me, and I believe it kept me alive at this time, if only because I was too scared of going to hell to kill myself.
I continued to attend church regularly, even when the rest of my family stopped going so regularly. I was confirmed when I was 15; it was a lovely service which I got a lot out, but this was to be one of the last times for a while that I would feel this close to, and at peace with, God.
Everything I knew came crashing down when a few months later I finally admitted to myself that I liked girls and watched porn properly for the first time. I couldn't see how my faith and my sexuality could coexist and I felt so immensely guilty.
I went to church to ask God for forgiveness and I remember walking home feeling lighter. However, it soon happened again, and the guilt was back. It led to me self harming and sinking down into a dark place. According to everything I had believed up to this point, I was disordered, and could never have a healthy relationship with a girl.
For a short while I nearly lost my faith entirely, and questioned whether I was even a Christian anymore. However, I only briefly stopped believing in God I think, because I felt that they were a large part of my life and I couldn't imagine doing life without them there, supporting me. I was self harming regularly by this point, and continually struggling with questions of how God could make me like this, and what they wanted me to do with it.
I began to really pray in earnest, seeking an honest answer from God, rather than parroting the book knowledge I had gained. I realised I had a lot of the head knowledge about religion and God, but I was lacking a deeper connection with them. I spent a lot of time in tears, begging God to reveal to me what they wanted me to do, and a lot of time shouting angrily at God.
Then things slowly started to change, I began to get messages of love, in my private prayer times, and through other people. It took quite a while for them to begin to get through to me and make a difference to me. I found it hard to comprehend, but I felt God really wanted me to know that they would always love me, and that there was nothing I could do to make them love me more or less.
Knowing I was loved was incredibly powerful, it gave me a foundation to stand on to ask the more complicated questions, about what to do next. It had never crossed my mind to ask for my identity to be changed, I think I always knew that this was a part of me that I somehow had to live with. The question was always how.
The sticking point was I didn't know whether it would be okay for me to have a relationship. Eventually I found I could break this issue down into three possibilities. Either:
- God is a dick and had created me attracted to girls and also didn't want me to have a relationship with them, thus putting me through a lot of pain and suffering deliberately.
- God didn't create me attracted to girls, and I was wrong and/or something had happened to make me this way and thus I should try to resist it because it was a sinful part of me.
- God created me attracted to girls and there was nothing wrong with this. My desire for relationships was the same as any heterosexual person, and the Church was wrong in its teaching.
I dismissed the first, because I continued to believe in God's love. They had supported and got me through some of the hardest times in my life up to this point, and I couldn't believe that They could be so cruel. So I was left with trying to figure out whether I was wrong about my sexuality, or whether the Church was wrong.
I knew what I wanted my answer to be - that it was okay, and that I could have relationships. However, I didn't know whether this was what God was telling me or whether I was just projecting my own thoughts onto them. I spent a long time exploring this with the school chaplain, and it was so helpful having someone to talk about it with.
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that God had created me this way and so I decided to pursue relationships for a while, ignoring the remaining uncertainty I still felt about my sexuality and gender.
Several months later, I came back to discussing sexuality, and I spoke for the first time about how I'd been feeling that I wasn't female, and how I wanted to transition to present as male at school. I spent a lot of time with the school chaplain exploring gender, talking about things like whether the soul has a gender, and whether transitioning is against God's creation or plan for me.
I couldn't find a great deal of teaching on this, but through prayer I began to form my own view on how this fit into my faith. Now, I believe that the soul, the very essence of our being, may have a gender. For most people this aligns with their physical appearance, but for some people like me who are trans, it does not. To begin with my view on this was very binary, because Christian teaching tends to be, but I can't see why it has to be.
I came to realise as well, that even if God created us male and female, that does not mean that we are all completely one or the other. We all have a mixture of typically masculine and feminine characteristics, and gender is far more complicated than a some of the simple definitions provided by parts of mainstream Christianity.
I became very angry with God again over this, however. I couldn't see how if they 'knit me together in my mother’s womb' (Psalm 139:13) they had managed to make such a fundamental mistake. Again, it took a lot of prayer and talking to people to reach a conclusion. I realised that there are many things in this world, that people can be born with that I do not believe are God causing them, or the result of God being neglectful, and so this is similar. It's the result of the fallen, imperfect world that we live in.
The conclusion to this is that I can pursue the medical intervention I need with a clear conscience. I feel safe in the knowledge that God does not want me to suffer, and they helped us to create medicine so that we could alleviate suffering.
My identity is in God, and I know that they see me for who I truly am.
you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up (Psalm 71:20)
During my daily Bible reading this was part of the Psalm that really stood out to me. I've been experiencing a lot of ups and downs in my mood lately and today has been a bit of a low day so this made me feel like God was reaching down to me and promising that things will get better again.