Everyday, we all make compromises. We compromise on what coffee shop we’ll meet our friends in, on our schedules to accommodate our coworkers, on our film choices when at the cinema with others. Compromise is an essential part of communication and cooperation with other people. However, there are those of us that have to make more compromises than others.
People with intersecting identities, that aren’t always provided with spaces in which all aspects of our identity are welcome, are forced to compromise on which parts of ourselves we will express in any given space. A disabled trans person of colour might find that their gender identity is not openly welcomed in spaces where their disability is celebrated, that they are marginalised in trans spaces because of their skin colour, that their disability prevents them from accessing or being comfortable in spaces where their race and/or gender identity is celebrated. These kinds of compromises, in which aspects of our identity, whether visible or hidden, are denied a space to be expressed or celebrated, oppresses us in spaces that are otherwise safe, in which we can celebrate ourselves openly.
I am a white partially-deaf queer non-binary trans person living with mental health issues and I am also a recovering addict. The aspects of my identity that are oppressed or are used to oppress me on a daily basis are my disabilities, my queerness, my transness and my addiction. In all spaces, included queer and trans spaces, being non-binary is misunderstood, oppressed, ignored or erased completely by dominant binary narratives of gender. My hearing has always impacted upon my interactions in all spaces. Even in many queer and trans spaces, in which there is often greater inclusion of disabilities, my partial deafness is a disadvantage that makes social interactions difficult to impossible, or results in self-exclusion, particularly when films are being shown (as subtitles are often an afterthought) or talks are being given without adequate voice amplification (I don’t understand sign-language).
Despite all this, I find that being a recovering addict is the hardest aspect to integrate into my daily life, particularly in spaces where the more oppressed aspects of my identity are welcomed and celebrated. In queer and trans spaces, my addiction recovery can be put at risk, as most queer and trans spaces are centred on active substance ab/use. My mental health has drastically improved since starting addiction recovery through anonymous 12-step groups, and this community has been incredibly important to my overall sense of well-being, but being queer and trans can be misunderstood. Although I am not stealth, I am not particularly open about being trans and I very rarely mention my non-binary gender identity or gender neutral pronouns in addiction recovery spaces because I don’t want to take focus off my recovery, nor do I want to alienate myself from this new-found community.
Finding spaces in which I can truly relax, in which all aspects of my identity are welcomed, is difficult. I don’t expect people to change their whole life in order to accommodate me, but sometimes the smallest accommodations can make such a difference. These accommodations are not ‘normalised’, so they are often seen as intrusive to those who do not experience these oppressions or who are not disadvantaged by a world focused on centering the most privileged.
Such accommodations could include introducing oneself using name AND pronouns e.g. “hi, my name is Naomhán and I use they/them pronouns”; in group settings, asking people to speak loudly, clearly and to avoid covering their mouth (for lipreading, which many partially deaf/ D/deaf people do); only using wheelchair accessible spaces or working with inaccessible spaces that are willing to listen to disabled people‘s advice on how to make the space accessible; changing the language used in everyday speech from gendered to gender neutral e.g. hi folks vs hi ladies & gentlemen, dropping the sir/ma’am from the start/end of sentences when addressing a customer, replacing ‘men and women’ with ‘people’ or adding ‘and other genders’ in written text; providing alcohol- & drug-free spaces for evening socialising e.g. ecstatic dance is such a space that otherwise functions like a nightclub for dancing.
I often find that allies trying to accommodate everything at once can become overwhelmed, and simply give up rather than persisting in collaborating with marginalised communities. I believe it is necessary to start with small actions that can make significant positive impacts for those communities usually excluded from normative spaces. Communication is key to this process, and it’s necessary for all involved to have empathy with each other’s experiences. We need to realise that, although we may not understand one another’s experience, understanding is not necessary for acceptance, but acceptance of another’s experience as told through their own words, is a necessary step towards achieving satisfactory compromise.