Charity is a dirty word in my world. My world meaning my particular life which includes but far exceeds my experience of being a disabled poor woman. Charity is demeaning, lost dignity, stolen power, abuse of authority, exploitative, harmful, it is the sickeningly pleased with itself happy face of systemic oppression and injustice. I hate charity.
Even when I have worked for charities, volunteered with charities and contributed to charities I hated everything that required anyone to need charity and almost resented myself for participating in it. When someone calls me charitable I ask them not to, unless I want to consciously and conspicuously assert power in that situation – as in, I am being charitable by assuming you did not mean to be an ableist asshat, it’s just you were unaware that I am in fact human. I know much of my hate for charity is attributable to Charity INC and their perpetual need to tweak at people’s emotions with images and stories about how pitiable or inspiring someone is for either succumbing to the systemic oppression they face or managing, by an undocumented amount of luck and usually also a lack of compounding levels of marginalization and/or layering of discrimination, to have survived it. I know there is a word and definition beyond Charity INC. I know there is charity that doesn’t include the condescending judgement of my betters but I have long lost the ability to separate one from the other. So I just hate all of it.
But some people, because of who they are, their sincerity and genuineness, manage to circumvent all of that history and wiring and breeze by the laser beams of the world’s most elaborate alarm system. Such was the case when Anne Thériault (@anne_theriault) offered to do a Go Fund Me for dental implants for me (back story here and here and here).
No aroma of ‘I pick you as my designated pet project de jour from the array of the pathetically helpless’. No clearing of throat before asserting her desire to ‘give voice to the voiceless.’ And no questions about what I plan to consume or do once I have those teeth. Just ‘Hi, I could set this up if you want?’
But then I started thinking about what people being asked would think. The explanations I would be required to provide. And within seconds I was feeling apologetic for my existence – and for drinking too much apple juice and not flossing while I laid in a hospital bed for month after month on medications that turn mouths into dry deserts. Then I imagined demands for before and after mouth photos and the indignity of it all just squished out the kindness and soon enough the alarms went off and the impenetrable bars locked shut.
Today I decided to pick my own lock. Here’s why.
Today I was scheduled to attend a meeting. It was important to me that I be there. It would have been the first time I left my home for non-medical reasons since my teeth were extracted in November. I was determined and steeled my resolve.
‘Source of some additional income. Subject area of interest and concern to you. Opportunity to be part of a project and developing a model you believe in. Who cares what people think? (Does that actually persuade anyone?)
I ran through the day over and over in my mind for at least a week leading up to it.
I practiced speaking in front of mirror so my lack of teeth wouldn’t be as visible. I could still wear my upper denture though it never fit properly and now moved around more than ever – but at least there would be white when I opened my mouth. The lower denture no longer had any teeth to hook onto so it is no longer wearable.
‘You just have to be careful how you speak and swallow.’
‘If you feel a smile or a laugh coming on, lift your hand and cover mouth immediately. You can do this. This is good project. You want to be there and you want to be part of this.’
I found something not suitable and quite worn but clean to wear. Dress codes in this city are ‘whatever’ but those people have teeth and walk.
Morning came. The alarm went off (one of three that were set). I had only had a few hours sleep because of pain but I got up.
I looked in mirror and the blocked tear duct that had been annoying the day before was much worse and the eye was almost swollen shut. It was also red and hard not to notice. Though inconsequential to my thought process, it also hurt. It felt like someone had wedged an almond into the corner of it. And, because the body is not merciful, for the first time in years a pimple had popped up overnight next to the other eye – a giant, red pimple bigger than a peanut. And alas, since my inconsiderate neighbour who is not supposed to smoke in our non-smoking building, once again spent the night chain-smoking, I was wheezing and my heart was racing and far too much of my body’s energy and muscles were engaged in trying to breath.
And then there were the other usual things – the constant uncertainty around when my bowels decide to listen to the medications that plead with them to move. The longer it’s been since that happened last, the worse I feel and the more reluctant I become to venture far (measured in feet) from the washroom. It had been nearly two weeks.
‘Put a compress on your eye, use your asthma meds, between gulps of air swallow the anti-nausea meds, drink coffee, deal with other things body is doing or not doing as best you can and get ready.’
But as time passed and the mirror was yelling “Hey you! Let me tell you more reasons on top of the usual long list of reasons people will have to judge you unworthy and find you to be a bad, pitiful person undeserving of respect.”
I tried to argue.
‘You are in denial and you are fooling yourself if you think you’re leaving this apartment.”
I gave up. The mirror was right. I was lying to myself.
I am fat woman. I am not mentioning this because I find it appropriate to judge a person by their body size. I am mentioning it because I live among others who do. (Also, while others may embrace their body with pride, the one I have at moment is partly a result of medications and perhaps for that reason feels…not mine.)
I am poor.
I am disabled.
Fat, poor and disabled – the first in that list is assumed to be the cause of the latter two when last is actually the cause of the first two.
I need a hair cut. My hair never grew back as full even when I stopped taking Methotrexate. And since salons are next to beaches and swimming pools in the list of places on earth you do not want to be if you feel bad – or have been made to feel badly – about your appearance, it’s been awhile. My hair was cut relatively recently though. When I had pneumonia I pleaded with my friend to grab my pony tail and just cut it off.
Plus poverty and out of style clothing and shoes I don’t even want to name (rhymes with socks), because everyone mocks them and those who wear them and I used to be someone who happily suffered for her shoes, but they are the only thing I can afford and that will slide over my feet that are no longer shaped like feet. When I first joined Twitter I came across a tweet and went to follow the account. The bio said if you are wearing them don’t follow him.
I am a visibly disabled poor, fat woman in worn out clothes and I have no teeth, a giant pimple, a bulging, red eye swollen shut, wheezing like Darth announcing he’s Luke’s father and I am going somewhere and wanting to be taken seriously and treated like a professional in Vancouver?
I was mindful of something else. I do not have much – if any – reserve left for when that inevitably fails to happen and instead I get a look of ‘OMFG!’
That’s when I decided to tell a different lie. I told the people I was to meet that I was sick and could not make it and, while technically that is not a lie, I knew ‘poor, fat, disabled, swollen shut red eye, volcano waiting to explode bowel, wheezing, gasping, heart racing, shaking, giant pimple, rash (oh yes a big one of those too and other things I have not mentioned like one leg that points left instead of ahead), etc. etc. other stuff people like to judge, me’ would have gone – with my chopped off uneven hair hidden up in a bun – if I had teeth.
I hate lying even more than I hate charity. Typing the one line email made me repulsed with myself and bothered me much more than other people’s judgment of me.
That’s when I decided it was time to pick the lock and face the chorus. I had to either learn to expand my definition of charity to include the possibility that people can give out of goodness and charity can be a legitimate and authentic act of kindness or give up pretending that I could have a life outside my apartment and stop trying to.
So here I am. Under the theory that sometimes more harm happens when you brace, I am going to try and relax and just be grateful someone gave me this choice.
There may be consequences for this confession – like whether the people I let down and lied to today will still want me around. But it was time to tell the truth – to them, to you – and most of all to myself. I can’t do this alone. I need help.