Colorado Adventures

For the last month, my friends and I have been trying to rally support for a friend of ours that due to unfortunate circumstances, was left temporarily homeless. In that time we had been working hard to help her find a place to live, preferably somewhere where we could keep her child in the same school.

It can be hard going for single moms who make their money on the internet to find a place to live. Especially in an area that prides itself on being a good school district. Our attempts were met with ridiculous compromises, like having to raise a full year’s rent up front. Or prove that you make three times the rent in an area that charges nearly 15 hundred dollars a month.

If you don’t have a car, the search becomes even more difficult as you have to factor in bus times that it takes to get from one place to the next, and getting home in time for the school bus.

The situation was further complicated however, when in the midst of running errands, her wallet disappeared along with her ID.  It was too much, and suddenly a difficult situation seemed impossible. Unwilling to see my friend and her son struggle more than they already had, and empowered by help from both my friends and our mutual friends, I undertook a sudden trip to Colorado. With my car and ID, I could help her get set up.

Essentially at 3 pm on a Monday I decided to drive down from Ottawa, to Colorado, and by 6pm that evening I was on the road. All spread out, the drive took three days, through Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, before reaching Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. All told it came out to about three days of driving, with a stop for each night.

What do you do when you are alone on the road for three days? In my case, I spent a lot of time listening and singing along to music, doing math in my head to figure out how far I am from a location based on my speed using fractions, and thinking about how to develop my blog.

The drive down was a bit frantic, what with this being my first time in this area of the US, not having a lot of money, and trying to race the clock to get to Colorado before my friend’s hotel reservation ran out. Not having access to my meds, meant that I was eating almost nothing thanks to nausea.

The drive was mostly uneventful and I made it to Colorado, where I proceeded to spend the next several days running errands with my friend while her son was at school. We went to the DMV, looked at several different apartments, and more.

No matter how hard you try, there are not many ways to avoid spending money when you don’t have a place of your own. Unless you can afford to stay in a hotel with a suite, most of them don’t have facilities to cook. You are stuck relying on restaurants, though in some cases you might have access to a microwave. Even at weekly rates, the cost of the room is high, putting an added burden on finances stretched to their limit. It adds up, and by the end of that time, both my friend and I were completely out of money, and at least in my case, a little overdrawn as well.

I finally got enough money to start heading back home yesterday. I made it to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where I stopped for the night. It wasn’t until I set up my computer and decided to get some dinner, when I realized that my wallet was gone.

Imagine that: You are in a foreign country and all of your money and bank cards just disappear. You can’t replace your cards easily, it can take weeks to send them to you. In the meantime, you have no way to buy food, and you certainly can’t afford to stay in a hotel that long. In that one moment, I felt for a second just a hint of what my friend must have been feeling for the past month. I spent the night with my Crohn’s punishing me for the stress I was under. I got almost no sleep, and spent more time in the bathroom than in the bed. Even when in bed, I couldn’t sleep, unable to feel warm no matter what I did.

In the wee hours of the morning, I came up with a temporary plan. I would see about extending my stay a day, hoping they had my information on file enough not to require my card, then find a bank. With luck, they would make it possible for someone to wire me some money to get me home.

I was saved when morning came, someone had handed in my wallet to the front desk. A sleepless night however makes me a hazard on the road, and so I am delayed another day.

In the meantime however, my good friend was banned from Facebook for complaining about men after her experience, something which puts her new found stability at risk. If you can, please consider donating to her GoFundMe.

 

Colorado Adventures
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Crime of Being Weird in Public

While we were at the DMV, a man was visibly stimming by chewing on his shirt, and readjusting it often. He was awkward and drew some attention and stares. He was also wearing an oversized shirt and shorts that made it look like he wasn’t wearing pants. The police were called.

He showed them the shorts he was wearing, but that wasn’t enough. They stayed with him while he was waiting to get his information. Throughout it all the police were drawing attention to themselves and him. Finally, tired of waiting, they got him bumped up. Then when he was done, loudly asked if anyone would give him a ride somewhere, then laughing when the people who were stuck waiting in line couldn’t.

When the police were first called to the scene, most people were pretty entertained by the idea of a man at the DMV not wearing pants. Was it a protest of no shoes, no shirt, no service? Did he just forget? Nothing was hanging out, he just didn’t seem to be wearing pants. When the joke was broken and the tiny shorts revealed, most felt that that should have been the end of it. It was funny, but it wasn’t criminal.

The cops continued presence, and the way that they kept drawing everyone’s attention, however, soon made everyone uncomfortable. It’s one thing to respond when there is the potential of inappropriate nudity, but when it turns out that that is not the case, the continued mockery is just plain cruelty. What we were witnessing was a man with a presumed mental illness and/or cognitive disability, who was being tormented for being different.

We thought that was the end of it, until we left an hour later and saw him walking with his big bag trying to get to a bus stop.

We pulled over hoping to give him a ride somewhere, upset with how the cops had treated them. Just as I got to him and asked him if I could drive him somewhere, two police cars showed up. I had been in the process of walking away because he had said he was ok, but when I saw the cops, I hesitated and waited.

They asked if I was with him. He looked at me pleadingly while saying yes, so I answered that we had been together at the DMV, leaving it just ambiguous enough in case I was pressed for information. The young one got on his case again about his pants, telling him to pull them down and mocking him for wearing such small shorts. Uncomfortable, the man asked me if I would drive him, but the young cop cut him off saying that “the nice young lady isn’t going to want someone like you in her car.”

I started saying that actually I had just offered him a ride, but they had moved on to grilling him about why he was using a “stolen” Walmart shopping cart to carry his bags, and generally being unpleasant. The man insisted that he just wanted to get to the bus stop and then he would sit down and no one would notice him. The older one finally intervened and let him go while taking the attention of the younger one away from him.

I once again offered him a ride where he was going so he wouldn’t have to deal with the cops again. He said it was ok. Concerned but respecting his boundaries, I waved goodbye. At this point the older cop started lecturing me about offering rides to “people like that”. Seriously pissed and annoyed at this point, I pointed out that his behaviour at the DMV and on the way suggested the potential of autism spectrum disorder (specifically the stimming, the difficulty processing in the face of aggression, etc) and that people with autism or someone with a mental health issue were more likely to be victims of violence than aggressors. I was safer offering a ride to him, than an abled man.

The cop looked displeased and pointed out that he had been attacked by the very same type of people who he was trying to protect and they were mentally ill. To which I retorted that that was probably because they had bad associations with people in authority. Finally, not wanting to make him decide to go after me I smiled and said I guess I was just too Canadian for my own good, nodded to him and went back to the car. In the time I was talking to the cops, the harassed gentleman made it to the bus stop, hopefully not to be harassed again.

I left feeling extremely uncomfortable. Rather than being helpful, such as potentially by offering the man a ride to his destination. Or by telling the dispatch simply to let people know that he was in fact wearing shorts, or even just providing him an additional police escort just to show people that they are aware of the situation. There were a myriad of options open to them to solve the issue. Instead they actively got in the way of someone else trying to be helpful, created a shaming environment and openly mocked the situation. They were provoking him and looking for a reason to arrest him for the crime of being weird in public.

If I hadn’t been there what would have happened? If he didn’t have someone there to help act as a shield and step in front when they moved aggressively towards him, would he have been provoked in such a way as to create the perception of an excuse to take him down?

What makes this even more perverse, is that these men weren’t bad cops. The older one, in his misguided way had tried to look out for me. He probably didn’t realize all the ways in which he was making the situation worse.

The younger one was simply arrogant. Confident in his perception that he was the “better man”. How much of that act might have even been macho showing off in front of the “female”. His actions were creating a dangerous situation. He was actively provoking this other man. He was looking for any excuse to harass him further.

This is the world that people with disabilities, and especially neurodivergent people grow up in. One where they are not who the police are protecting, but who they are protecting others from, even though violence is much more common in the other direction. A world where being weird is a crime.

Crime of Being Weird in Public

The Terror of Instructions

My autistic brain faces a whole series of seemingly ordinary situations with annoyed, helpless dread.  Gatherings with friends-of-friends that involve changing locales, especially if some of those locales are nightclubs, set my mind into panic mode—do I stay, do I go, which group do I stick with, if they disband again what happens, if I lose them do I wait, how much does my opinion of where to go actually matter, do I even want this evening to continue?  Phone calls from unexpected people disproportionately mean something has gone horribly wrong, and leaving my apartment when the neighbors are in the hallway means I might face the specter of small talk during the contemplative silence of my morning walk to the bus.

Those nightmares pale before the noctilucent stomach churn that is neurotypical people telling me how to do things.

Continue reading “The Terror of Instructions”

The Terror of Instructions

Bathroom BS: How Bathroom Bills Affect the Disabled

It happened again.

I was at the drive thru at Starbucks getting myself a small treat as I ran errands, in the hopes of waking myself up, when I felt a strong pain in my abdomen. I hoped it would just be pain but as I paid for my drink I felt the painful stirrings that warned me I needed to get to a bathroom fast. I told the cashier that I would pick up my drink inside, pulled my car into a space, and ran inside just in time to see someone step into the free washroom. I danced anxiously, hoping that one of the two rooms would be free soon.

I didn’t make it.

I avoided sobbing audibly when my control was lost and I felt the shameful feeling of losing control of my bowels. I stood there, ashamed. Waiting for a door to open so I could go clean up and finish going to the bathroom.

In some ways I was lucky. My clothing, my body shape, is such that as long as the accident is relatively small, it won’t drip to the floor the way I have seen it happen to others. The mess would be contained to my underwear, which I could remove and clean up in the sink.

Living with a bowel related disability, I am more aware than most of the importance of access to public restrooms. I’ve written before about what it means when that access is restricted for someone like me. Someone with a disability.

It is part of what makes the bathroom bills targeting transgender people so insidious.

The bathroom bill, for those who don’t know, is a name given to pieces of legislation restricting access to public restrooms for transgender people. The laws are usually presented under the guise of protecting people from predators who might try to take advantage of someone by pretending to be one gender to gain access to a restroom. Realistically the laws are a bigoted response to a problem that does not exist.

A Trans woman, using a woman’s restroom, is a woman using a woman’s restroom. She has as much right to be there as anyone else. To deny her that right, is to claim that she is not really a woman. It is an act of discrimination.

When it comes to predatory behaviour and violence, it is not Trans people who are its instigators, but rather, its victim. Using either the restroom of the gender they identify with is incredibly risky for trans women, as is using the restroom of their assigned gender. Either choice can lead to being the victims of violence from verbal assault to outright murder. It’s not cis people who need protecting in bathrooms but Trans people.

The only reason for these laws, is to satisfy the bigotry of transphobic, and particularly transmisogynistic, members of the population. It is because the people making those laws, don’t want to risk the possibility of being in a room with a trans person and want to make the world more and more dangerous for them so that they stay hidden. It is because they assume that all trans people are actually faking it or that trans people are inherently criminal or dangerous or unstable.

That there are laws being made restricting the access to restrooms just goes to show how dehumanizing our society is towards trans people. In these privileged parts of the world, we take access to washrooms for granted. So much so, that when manners make people visiting with others ask to use the facilities, the possibility of refusal is mocked. When we mock people who bring up having friends belonging to a group they are accused of being prejudiced towards, it often includes references to the restroom. “I have black friends, I even let them use my bathroom.” The idea of sharing one’s washroom with someone else is seen as such a matter of course, that the idea that you wouldn’t even if you were prejudiced, is seen as ridiculous. And yet this is exactly what is happening to trans people right now across North America.

Right now in Ottawa, the bill to include gender identity and trans people as protected under the charter, has been attached with an amendment that would make public restroom use by trans people illegal.

These laws are disgusting examples of the bigotry faces regularly on trans people, but they also highlight how often in the rush to discriminate against one group people will trample over the rights of others without so much as a second glance.

Bathroom bills are not just harmful to trans people but they can also be said to actively restrict the accessibility of public spaces to people with disabilities.

When faced with a situation like the one about, I don’t have the time to be concerned about whether the washroom I am using matches my assigned gender or not. If the choice is having a painful, uncomfortable, and embarrassing accident in public or using the men’s room, my choice in clear. Laws such as these would make it illegal for me to use to the available restroom. It would limit my access to restrooms when the women’s room is out of order.

Limited access to restrooms, means limited access to public spaces. I can’t physically go anywhere without guaranteed access to facilities, and these laws would make them less available.

In the case of trans people with bathroom related disabilities, this access would be hindered even further since most of these laws effectively bar trans people from all but gender neutral public restrooms.

Discrimination against one groups invariably affects other groups as well. Discrimination against one of us hurts us all.

Trans people have a right to safe and unrestricted access to the washroom of their choice, and I won’t let myself be a complacent back you step on to get to kick them when they’re down.

Edit: I forgot another important way in which these bills affect disabled people. Some people require assistance from a partner or hired personal attendant to use the facilities. In cases where the attendant is a different gender than the person requiring assistance, the attendant would be breaking the law if they did what they needed to do to assist.

Bathroom BS: How Bathroom Bills Affect the Disabled

Easter Reflections

The Easter weekend always brings back a lot of memories for me, some of them pretty intense. The Catholic Church was a pretty big influence in my life growing up. It always played some role in my life growing up. My family was very religious.

Growing up, my parents liked to go for long drives to pray the rosary. I remember several nights, falling asleep in the backseat to the rhythmic droning of their prayers. Road trip songs were often Latin religious rounds, although we also sang a lot of Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel.

Everything related to Polish culture that I experienced and absorbed was related in some way to the Church. Among all that, the most important time in the Catholic Church is Easter. It is the basis for the existence of the church altogether: Christ’s death and resurrection and thus conquering of death. But Easter is not Easter alone but also Lent.

It starts with Ash Wednesday, which for my family was a fast day. The light version of this fast was avoiding meat products for the day, while the more intense side saw one small meal followed by nothing else for the rest of the day. You were allowed to drink, but that’s it. We would still go to work and school during this time. The Catholic school I attended, participated by not serving meat in the Cafeteria. After my first communion, I was expected to start participating in at least the light version of the fast. After my confirmation, the more intense one, as I was now considered a full adult member of the church. I grew up knowing that the ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from burning the blessed palm fronds from the previous year.

I’ve always hated fasting. It’s not the hunger. Truth is that I often have to be reminded to eat, and will go most of the deal without food. It has to do with a sense of discomfort over the reasons for fasts. The stated purpose of fasting is to mortify the flesh.

‘The Rev. Michael Geisler, a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature in St. Louis, wrote two articles explaining the theological purpose behind corporal mortification. “Self-denial helps a person overcome both psychological and physical weakness, gives him energy, helps him grow in virtue and ultimately leads to salvation. It conquers the insidious demons of softness, pessimism and lukewarm faith that dominate the lives of so many today” (Crisis magazine July/August 2005).’ – Wikipedia

Basically, by reminding themselves of their mortality and weakness through pain, they were to give up fleshly or earthly pursuits in pursuit of freedom. As someone who struggles with daily reminders of weakness through ongoing pain, I find this idea to be profoundly insulting. There is this nearly fetishistic obsession with suffering as being a conduit to holiness: Christ suffered of the cross and in the hours prior; many saints are martyred in gruesome ways, the beatitudes canonize this by promising rewards for different types of suffering.

Continue reading “Easter Reflections”

Easter Reflections