support

We need to be as good at lifting up as we are at calling out

In advocacy/activist space, we’ve gotten really good at noticing and naming oppression. We’ve gotten really good at criticizing the things that people are doing wrong, and demanding change. We’re also good at noticing organizations and people who shouldn’t be supported, and explaining why people shouldn’t support them.

This is important — and it’s not enough. We need to be equally good at noticing and naming things that *are* worth supporting. We need to be equally good at noticing what people are doing well, describing why their approach is good, and finding ways to support it. Calling out isn’t enough. We need to seek out things to lift up.

When we focus exclusively on finding things to call out, we send the implicit message that nothing good anyone is doing is worthy of our attention. But none of the work of building a better world happens by itself. It depends on the people who are putting the effort into doing the work. When we ignore the value of the work people are doing, we both harm those people and the work itself.

The work is hard, exhausting, and vital. It’s also often thankless — because we’re not acknowledging it in the way we need to be. Often, doing activism and advocacy means signing up for a life of being paid less than a living wage (or volunteering your very limited time), having your work ignored, and being noticed by your community only when people are angry at you.

This is particularly common when the work is done by marginalized people. Our culture socializes us to ignore the work that women and other marginalized groups do, except when we find reason to criticize it. This dynamic carries over into activism/advocacy spaces. It’s just as toxic when we do it as when corporations do it.

There’s nothing inevitable about this. We can make it stop. We can pay attention to the work people are doing, and we can show respect to the people doing it. We can describe the worthwhile things people are doing, and talk about why they should be valued. We can seek out ways to support what people are doing, whether that means donating, signal boosting, going out and voting, connecting people to each other, or any number of other things. By getting just as good at support as we are at call outs, we can make the world much better.

you don't have to earn support with a diagnosis

If you were hurt and you’re struggling to cope with the aftermath, that matters. It’s ok to be struggling. It’s ok to need support.

You don’t have to earn support with a diagnosis of something trauma related. You don’t even have to fit diagnostic criteria for a mental health condition to be worthy of support.

Getting hurt matters whether or not it results in PTSD or other diagnosable mental health conditions. There are a lot of different ways that people respond to trauma. In particular, not everyone who experiences abuse or other trauma develops PTSD. It’s ok to want support and to talk to other people whose struggles are similar to yours, whether or not your experience involves PTSD.

It’s also ok if the thing that hurt you wasn’t abuse, or if you aren’t sure whether you think it was abuse or not. It’s ok to need help and support even if it *wasn’t* abuse, or even if things are ambiguous, or even if what happened to you wasn’t anyone’s fault. Not all trauma is the result of abuse. Not all trauma is anyone’s fault. You don’t have to earn support by fitting a particular narrative. You don’t have to earn support by being ideologically or politically useful, either. You matter, it matters that you got hurt, and it’s ok to want help sorting things out.

It’s also ok to relate to and benefit from things that match your experiences partly, but not entirely. (Eg: it’s ok if something written about homophobic bullying helps you to deal with the medical care you experienced in the aftermath of a car crash; it’s ok if something written for people with intellectual disabilities helps you to cope with being the target of transphobic bullying. It’s also ok to use a type of therapy that was initially developed or is usually used to address a different problem than the one you have.)

All of this stuff can be hard to sort out. It’s ok to be struggling. It’s ok to seek help and support where you can find it. You matter, and your experiences matter.

Finding things you can fix when things are really wrong

ischemgeek said to :

Advice on expressing sympathy and lending emotional support to a family member whose child may be facing a serious illness? Both for the “dunno for sure” phase and for the “know for sure either way” phase. Comforting is not my strong suit and halp plz because this can’t be fixed so soothing is only way to be helpful.

realsocialskills said:

This is the second part of my answer to this question. The first part was about emotional support. This part is about practical support.

I think that there are probably some things you can fix in this situation.

The problem of possible illness can’t be fixed. Secondary problems surrounding the situation *can* be fixed.

When a child is facing a serious illness, all kinds of practical things get complicated. Diagnosing and treating illness involves a lot of medical appointments, tests, insurance wrangling, and other complications. And it happens with no warning, when people are already busy with other things. They’re probably both physically and emotionally exhausted. They probably could use a lot of help.

Some possible problems that might be solveable:

Childcare:

  • If you live nearby and are comfortable babysitting, offering to watch their kids some could be really helpful
  • If they have other kids, someone has to watch them while they’re at medical appointments with the possibly-sick kid
  • Suddenly needing more childcare than you expected to need is a logistical nightmare, and it is very likely that they don’t have as much help as they need
  • Even if they only have the one child, more childcare would probably be helpful
  • The obligations of life don’t go away when a child gets sick, and there are likely many things they’re behind on that are hard to catch up on while caring for a child

Helping kids with homework:

  • If their kids go to school, they likely have a lot of weekly homework that they need adult support with
  • This can get very complicated if parents are suddenly very busy and emotionally exhausted
  • Even if you don’t live nearby, if you can be available for some homework help over email or Skype, that could take a *lot* of pressure off of the family.

Communicating and running interference:

  • When a kid gets sick, a lot of people want constant updates
  • This is generally exhausting and burdensome to the kid and the parents
  • Sometimes it helps to have a point person for updates and boundary-assertion
  • Or someone to run a CaringBridge page so they don’t have to
  • I don’t know if they’d want this or if you’d want to do this; some people find this helpful but I don’t know what they want or what your relationship with them is like

Helping them with the insurance company and other bureaucracy:

  • If they are in the US, an insurance company is probably being awful to them and refusing to pay for things
  • Or making things needlessly complicated and confusing
  • They also might need to apply for government or charitable assistance at some point
  • Which is hard to do when you’re overwhelmed and exhausted and have never done so before
  • If you’re good at navigating that kind of thing, you might be able to help them
  • Or you might be able to do research and find out things that can help them
  • Again, I don’t know if they’d want this kind of support from you or not. Some people do; some don’t

Money:

  • Illness is expensive no matter where you live, even under ideal circumstances
  • And unexpected major expenses make life really hard
  • If you are in a position to help them financially, it would probably make some things significantly easier for them
  • Money can’t fix the biggest problem, but it can go a long way towards fixing the secondary problems

Other general life logistics: There are a lot of things that get hard when there’s a crisis, that they might welcome help with:

  • Keeping their house clean
  • Cooking some food (or ordering them the occasional pizza)
  • Mowing the lawn if they have one
  • Getting groceries and supplies
  • Picking up prescriptions
  • Getting kids to and from school
  • Keeping their computers and network in good working order
  • Making sure bills get paid on time

These are the things I can think of offhand. I don’t know which, if any, it makes sense for you to do. I don’t know the extent to which your relationship with them makes help appropriate. I think it is likely that there are things that you could do to be materially helpful — and also important to realize that you don’t have to do all of them (and probably shouldn’t).

tl;dr When someone’s facing a major life problem that you can’t solve, they’re generally also facing secondary problems that it’s possible to help them with. Scroll up for some specific suggestions.

Coming out at Christmas?

hobbiten:

realsocialskills:

I’m planning to come out at christmas before dinner. How do I do it without it becoming awkward or making the holiday all about me? Also I’m very bad with spoken communication when I’m put on the spot or nervous so I don’t know how to deal with the string of Straight People Questions I might get.

realsocialskills said:

I’m not sure what kind of situation you’re in. I’m assuming that you’re gay or lesbian, that you’re probably not out to any family members, that you don’t currently live with family, and that you’re talking about a big family gathering. Some of this might not apply if I’m getting some of that wrong.

Coming out will probably be at least somewhat awkward, no matter how well it goes and no matter how you do it. Coming out to people who aren’t expecting it is inherently awkward. If you’re not sure whether or not they will react positively, it’s especially awkward. Akwardness isn’t something you are likely to be able to completely avoid. That’s not your fault. It’s a problem with our culture. 

That said, making an annoucement at a family gathering is one of the most awkward and risky ways to come out. If you make an annoucement, then you become the center of attention in a group of people whose reactions it might be hard to gauge. Also, at big family gatherings, it’s fairly likely that people will be drinking, and alchohol can greatly magnify bad reactions. For most people, coming out by making an annoucement on a holiday is a very bad idea.

There are other options that might go better:

Coming out casually in conversations with relatives who you think are likely to react well. This allows you to talk like you’re already out, rather than making an annoucement:

  • If you’ve been closested from family for a long time, you’ve probably been using linguistic tricks (like avoiding pronouns) to avoid outing yourself
  • One way to casually come out is to stop doing this, and see what happens
  • Some people will react badly, others will ask questions, others will treat it as no big deal
  • When this works, it’s the least awkward way to come out

eg:

  • Aunt Jane: Sarah, are you seeing anyone these days?
  • Sarah: No, I don’t have a girlfriend right now.

or:

  • Aunt Jane: Bill, are you still seeing Susan?
  • Bill: No, we broke up. I’m with Jason these days.

This doesn’t always work, but it can work really well.

Another option: Coming out via email ahead of time:

  • If you want to let everyone know that you’re gay without having to have a lot of awkward conversations, email has several advantages
  • If you send an email, you don’t have to be the center of everyone’s attention all at once
  • People see it when they see it, and react individually if they want to react
  • Relatives who might have a knee jerk negative reaction will have time to process. Some of them might be less inclined to be mean and more inclined to put family relationships ahead of homophobia if they have time to processes.
  • Once the actual Christmas gathering arrives, your coming out will be somewhat old news
  • If anyone has a really horrendous reaction, you will know ahead of time and will be able to take that into account when making your Christmas plans.

Consider coming out to a family member who you trust first:

  • It will be a lot easier and more comfortable if you know that someone is on your side
  • The most reliable way to be sure of this is to come out to someone you trust ahead of time
  • In particular, if you have a gay relative, it’s worth telling them that you’re gay too and asking for perspective on how to handle things.
  • But even if you don’t. If you’re relatively sure that one of your relatives will treat you well when you come out, it’s worth coming out to them first so that you won’t be alone at the gathering.

If you think you need to come out in person by making an annoucement rather than some other way, consider doing it closer to the end of the gathering.

  • If you make an annoucement early in the gathering and it goes badly, then you still have the rest of the gathering to get through
  • If you come out later in the event, the stakes are lower
  • (Eg: after dinner is likely better than before dinner)

If you can, have somewhere to go: 

  • If you’re staying with family at a big family gathering, that can get really overwhelming really quickly
  • Especially if they’re homophobic
  • Especially if things get awkward after you come out
  • If you have friends who live nearby, it could be a really good idea to make plans to spend time with them. (Or, to have that as a backup plan for if things go badly).
  • If you don’t, spending time with friends online is likely to be important. So, if you can, make sure you have reliable access to an internet-connected device while you’re at the gathering.

tl;dr Coming out is likely to be awkward no matter how you do it. This is not your fault. Coming out by making an annoucement at a family holiday gathering is probably a bad idea. Coming out more casually or emailing ahead of time might be a better idea. It helps if you identify supportive people ahead of time.

Anyone else want to weigh in? What ways of coming out to family members have worked well for you? Which ways have worked poorly?

hobbiten said:

I came out to (most of) my family via a letter a couple of years ago.

I had been out to my parents, brother and a couple of others (2 cousins and one uncle) before, but wanted to come out to the rest of them as well.

So I wrote letters to everyone / every “small family”. (I.e. one to my grandparents, one to my other grandma, one to the one aunt and her family, one to the other aunt and her family…)

The letters all had a lot of stuff in common, and then some personal things to the people addressed at the end, so they knew that it was also about them and my relationship with them.

I didn’t jump right in with the coming out, but prefaced with some general “so the holidays are coming up and this is what I’ve been up to” stuff, then the coming out, then the personal stuff to the addressees and a bit more about my plans for the next weeks, just general things that I would have told them over the phone as well if we had had a casual conversation.

It went really well. I was so nervous about sending them, but I only got neutral and positive reactions. Some of them called, some emailed me, others didn’t react directly, but came up to me during the holiday celebrations, gave me a big hug and a “we love you”.

I think, as realsocialskills pointed out, coming out via a letter or email ahead of time can give everyone some time to process. I think most people can then react more calmly. Some people might feel put on the spot if you announce it in a big way during the holidays and react badly because they feel put under pressure. I think if I had come out during the celebrations, a lot of them would not have known what to say and there would have been at least a long awkward silence, as well as having the rest of the evening be slightly awkward.

It also helped me to talk about this with my friends before I did it. That way they knew what was up and would check in with me. If things had gone badly, I would have been able to call any of my friends who knew and tell them. Having someone know things might go bad and you might need some support over the telephone or email or chat is a good thing, because then they can make sure to be reachable on the occasion.

When outreach programs don't get it or don't help you

So, when I read abuse prevention and recovery things, something that’s almost always recommended is “call a hotline”.

That’s good advice, as far as it goes. Hotlines help a lot of people, a lot. I don’t want to downplay that.

But I also know this: a year ago, I was afraid that someone in my life would become physically violent towards me, and a trained mental health professional close to the situation told me that I really needed to take that fear seriously. I called a domestic violence hotline looking for help figuring out how to assess risk and make a safety plan. They didn’t help me. The general attitude I got was “well, what do you want us to do about it?”

I had friends in my life who understood the situation. I had a certain amount of mental health support. I had access to validation and perspective and support from other sources. I was ok. But it hurt. And if I had been alone, if I hadn’t had other support, I think it would have been devastating.

I know that many other people don’t have the kind of support I did, particularly if the abuse they’re facing doesn’t fit stereotypical patterns. Some people are isolated and have no one in their life who gets it. And sometimes they call hotlines for help and the hotlines help them. But sometimes the hotlines don’t help either. Sometimes the hotlines are just another person who doesn’t understand. And that’s a horrible thing to go through, particularly if you fought through fear and feeling unworthy to find the courage to make the call.

So, if that’s happened to you, I want to tell you that you’re not alone. Hotlines don’t always understand abuse, they don’t always understand other problems, and they don’t always help. If they didn’t help you, you’re still worthy of help. It’s a reflection on them, not you or the problems you’re facing. If they didn’t understand, it doesn’t mean that you are wrong, and it doesn’t mean that no one will ever understand or help you.

If a hotline didn’t help you, all it means is that they didn’t help you.

tiraspark:

Real situations are complicated

realsocialskills:

I don’t think allies /ever/ need more support than the marginalized group? Yes, allies need support sometimes. But not as much as the people actually dealing with the oppression.
realsocialskills said:
In a general sense, I agree with…

tiraspark said:

I think the type of support needed changes, though, depending on if a person is part of an oppressed group or not. Like, getting fired for supporting a group of people feels very different from getting fired for being a type of person. Both are bad, both can completely wreck a person, but the type of support needed is probably different.

Also, folks can be allies and oppressed in other ways.

So like, a cishet guy may be an ally to my queer group, but also be disabled and need support in that sense. And support in being an ally (like his disability may mean he can’t speak up and call people out verbally, but in written or signing format he can, etc)

realsocialskills said:

I agree with all of this.

To put my initial point more clearly though, I think it is important for activist communities to understand that:

  • Allies matter, and they are part of the communities of people who fight a particular evil
  • Allies put themselves on the line for us
  • They pay a price for standing with us
  • And, sometimes, that means they need help dealing with the consequences
  • When people have our backs, we need to have theirs, to the extent that we can without undoing the work we’re fighting to do
  • Ally concerns should not become central in the community
  • Fighting evil comes first
  • But allies matter, they’re part of the community, they pay a price, and sometimes they need support, and it’s possible to give it without centering ally perspectives in activism

Someone contracting with you to do something is like a boss, but it’s a different relationship; such a person is a client and a client is more like a customer. It’s your job to do what the customer wants but the customer isn’t in charge of the business. Or maybe I’m off base. Of course, if the disabled woman didn’t hire and can’t fire this person, the person’s working for the parents, then, aren’t they?
I think the power relationships between assistants/PAs/whatever and folks with disabilities are a lot more complicated than that.
Even with a direct hire, it’s more complicated than other types of employment. For instance, hiring someone to write a webpage for you is really different than hiring someone to do things you need in order to survive.
Especially, given that when people murder folks who are disabled enough to need extensive care, they often get away with it.
And there are all kinds of complications I don’t understand well.
I don’t know more to say about this, though. Do any of y'all?