Another Entry For My “DWP Diary”

Sometimes this blog of mine is just a diary of my interactions with the DWP. I’m even considering going back and tagging such entries “”DWP Diary” for ease of reference.

I got a letter this morning inviting me for a(nother) face-to-face assessment – or Work Capacity Assessment scheduled for three weeks from now. Already I am feeling powerless and scared. I’ve done this before and I know it’ll probably go my way but the potential consequences if it doesn’t are terrifying. If I were to somehow end up in the Work Related Activity group, the results could even be life-threatening. It’s a heck of a huge thing to have to try to keep from thinking about. I got the right award last time. I’ve only got more ill since then. I’ll be being backed up by my boyfriend and by letters showing that I got referred back into long term therapy *partly because my GP and therapist expect my mental health to plummet in response to being reassessed*. Yeah.

I suspect it will all be terrifying and awful and make me very ill… and get the right result because it’s pretty obvious what the result should be.
But nonetheless, the system is set up to put me through this torturous examination of every task I need help with and why and ask me these same questions every couple of years.. quite possibly for the rest of my life.

How can anyone think this is a good idea?

“I’d never date an asexual person” – Guest Post by NeswtQueer

​I hear this a lot.

“I’d never date an ace person.”

“I’m not sure I could be in a relationship with someone who’s ace…”

“Ace people just aren’t for me.”

Working on raising awareness and creating support in my student community, I’ve heard this from strangers, friends and people I respect. As an ace person, I get it. I understand what you mean. But it always hurts, and here is why.

The problem is that you don’t mean what you say. You mean that sex is an important part of a relationship to you. You mean that you, personally, cannot imagine a relationship working for you if it doesn’t include sex. Often people mean that they cannot imagine a casual relationship without sex. Sex is important to you. That is valid. Everyone experiences relationships differently, and people know what is important to them. It is okay for sex to be important to you in a relationship. However, that is not what you said.

“I would never date an ace person” and “I do not want a relationship without sex” are not synonymous. For one, sexual attraction can have very little to do with the amount of sexual activity a person engages in. You don’t have to be sexually attracted to someone to have sex with them. You don’t even need to be sexually attracted to someone to enjoy having sex with them. Not to even mention the vast amount of ace people who experience sexual attraction rarely or under certain circumstances ­ such as grey­ace or demisexual people.

Would you be willing to have a relationship with someone who may grow to be sexually attracted to you in time? Would you be willing to be in a relationship with someone who was only sexually attracted to you if they felt extremely close to you in that moment? For some people, the answer would now be yes.

Saying that you would never date an ace person seriously hurts. Not necessarily because we want to date you specifically, I personally would never want to date someone who valued sex in a relationship much higher than I do, but just brings echoes of all the acephobic things we’ve heard before. It brings back all the times we’ve been asked whether we can still have relationships, painful visions of when people ask if we’re robots, or plants, every time we hear “Wow, are you even capable of love?”.

“I’d never date an ace person” screams “I believe ace people are lesser due to their identity” and “I think sex is such a fundamental part of humanity that not having sexual attraction makes you less human.”

In future, pick your words carefully. You have every right to know that sex is an important part of a relationship for you, and that you would not want to enter a relationship with sex off the table. However you do not have the right to discriminate against an entire identity which houses a vast amount of people who are all as different and wonderfully unique and diverse as any other.

Five Years

Five years ago today, I graduated from my BA.
Four years and about eight months ago, I broke.
I had a nervous breakdown that was soon diagnosed as PTSD. The nagging pain in my legs spread to every part of my body. Fatigue made everything hard work and slowed down my brain. I got a rash across most of my body that appeared suddenly and left suddenly a full year later. The rash is the only symptom that has ever gone.

I am tired and in pain and easily scared and easily confused. I have been for nearly five years.
I’ve been unable to walk unaided for nearly five years.

It’s kinda bittersweet to realise that I did graduate and did get a degree because of what had already started to happen to my body when I did. Because it would be too easy to dismiss the last five years of my life as “and then I never did anything else of note” because I live in a society where only (paid) jobs and grade-based study counts as an achievement worth being proud of.

I’ve done 2/3rds of an MA that I will probably never be able to finish. Making that happen was a huge achievement. Knowing when I should walk away? That is a gigantic achievement.

In the last five years, I’ve moved house four times. I’ve fought for and arranged my own social care despite the general awfulness of that system – twice. I’ve been assessed for ESA once and PIP twice. I had a year of living on emergency loans from the University and not having enough money for anything past food and rent. I’ll call getting through all that an achievement.

I’ve spent years negotiating my way through the NHS and the DWP and local councils and care agencies. Three years with all that and a University and Student Union bureaucracy as well. This is skillful and useful and an achievement worth celebrating.

I’ve had relationships. I’ve had the strength to end relationships. I’ve deliberately gone looking for love and found it. I’ve kept friends. I’ve made friends.

I’ve written this blog, even if I’ve written little else. I’ve read books even if fewer than I would like. I’ve tried new foods. I’ve made a serious commitment to learning a new language.

Every week I do things that make me leave the house and go somewhere I have to talk to other people. And every week I go to therapy.

This is not the after graduation life that I envisaged. This is not the adulthood I was promised. It’s strange looking at the young man in my graduation photos because I know what happens next and how very different it is from what he wants to happen next.
But it’s also strange looking at him and knowing that I now would not want what he wanted. The stressful academic career he wanted – I wanted – seems unappealing. Perhaps this is because I can see his breakdown coming. He’s been close to burnout for months and about to throw himself into more studying and more student politics. Sooner or later, he (I) was always going to break. It was just a question of how soon and how severely.

I like the life I have. I’m grateful for it. I think I manage what I have well and that I make myself and others happy. While it’s odd looking at the life I once wanted, I know that the life I am living is really quite close to being the life I want now.

Summer Guest Posts!

Hi everyone,

I realise that it’s been unusually quiet around here lately and the blame for that lies with DWP induced mental illness symptoms.  I know that they want to reassess me for ESA and they have lost the form in the post on the way to me.. Twice.

Anyway, there’s a couple of posts I’m working on and I also wanted to announce that from this summer Yetanotherlefty will be hosting guestposts in June, July and August. And hopefully also continuing to host 1 to 3 posts written by me a month.

I’ve offered guest post slots to friends and to people I barely know. I’m particularly keen to host for people who have no blog of their own or who need anonymity to talk about a particular issue that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to discuss.

If you read Yetanotherlefty or know me in person and/or online and you have a proposal for a guest post, contact me.

I’m particularly but not exclusively looking for UK based people who experience intersecting oppressions. People of colour, trans people and people under 19 or over 40 are particularly welcome.

Be Yourself! But Not Like That!

A while ago, I tweeted something like this:

“Cis society: Be yourself!
Trans people: Yes, okay
Cis society: No, not like that!”
It’s been running through my head a lot since. I figured it deserves a blog post.

I see this as a sibling post to my often shared post about the pressure I feel as a bi person to “choose” to “be straight”… Because I feel a similar pressure to “choose” to be cis.

There is a very strong message that often comes from within trans communities as well as from cis society that says that being trans is so, so intrinsically awful that nobody would (or *should*) be trans if they could possibly avoid it. Indeed, many people spend months or years trying to convince themselves that they don’t want to transition when they actually do because of this very prevalent idea.

And just as with sexuality where most people will concede that some people can’t choose not to be gay, it’s understood that some people can’t be cis but it is frequently suggested that some people do have a choice – and that the “correct” choice is to be cis if at all possible.

I would be rich if I had a quid for every time someone tried to convince me that I should be able to live as a cis woman instead of as a trans man.
People told me (as if I somehow didn’t know) that women can dress in men’s clothes, that women can do and be anything men can, that it’s okay to be a lesbian, that it’s okay to be butch, that women can be androgynous and still be women… And I don’t disagree with any of these things! They just aren’t reasons why I should be someone I’m not.

I also frequently get told that I’d be “prettier” as a woman, that more men would be attracted to me if I lived as a woman, that more women would be attracted to me… And I don’t believe that. Authenticity is much more attractive than forced cisnormativity ever could be and even if it weren’t, I wasn’t born to be attractive I was born to be my best self.

The ways people have tried to convince me to stop being a man say a lot about why they think trans people transition. I’m not trying to become more attractive, I’m not looking at the clothes I want to wear and trying to make my identity “match” the side of the shop I find my clothes in. I don’t think that men are any better than women and I’m not trying to avoid homophobia. I know that women can be butch or androgynous – I’m not trying to escape one set of restrictive gender roles by fitting myself into another set.

I am, quite simply, trying to be myself.

While pretending to be a girl / woman made me deeply unhappy and caused me mental pain and anguish, that isn’t even really the reason I live as a man. I live as a man because THAT IS WHO I AM. There is no good reason why I should try to “be” anyone else but me.

Think about it, especially if you aren’t trans. Can you really imagine people telling you that who you are is wrong and you should be someone else instead? Imagine for a minute being told to act like someone else for the rest of your life and being told that the other made up, false “you” was actually more real than anything you thought or felt about who you are. Like going undercover or acting, say, but forever. It’d be doable, sure, but could you be happy? Could you be even satisfied with a lifetime of being someone else, even someone almost but not-quite like you? Or would the not-right-ness wear you down? Would the pressure of hiding anything that might blow your cover eat away at you? Would you be tempted to call it quits and just be yourself and hang the consequences?

I could, in theory at least, live as though I were a cis woman. But why on earth would I trade my integrity and authenticity for a thin veneer of cis privilege?

If you feel like you’re pretending to be someone else and you want to try being yourself, you don’t need to wait for the facade to be killing you to be “allowed” to drop it. Whether that’s a gender, a sexuality, a religion, a relationship, a career or something as simple as having a name that isn’t working for you, you don’t have to wait for things to feel completely intolerable to make a change. You deserve to be your self, with integrity and authenticity, right now.

I don’t need to earn the right to be myself or to suffer through every possible attempt to find a way to me kinda like myself but not trans before I can be the trans man that I am. No one should have to exhaust every other option before being who they are just because who they are is trans.

To expect otherwise (and many people do expect otherwise) is to insist that being cis or appearing to be cis is innately better than being trans. It’s not.

We all deserve to be ourselves. So don’t you dare tell me it’d be better if I was someone else instead.

Actually, yes, I DO have a job…

It’s not a surprise to any of my frequent readers that my income is (and looks set to remain) almost exclusively from social security payments (or “benefits” as most of the UK press call them). I get paid by the government because I am too severely ill an disabled to be fairly expected to look for, find and manage full time work. Should be simple enough, right? I got ill, I can’t look for work, I get paid until such a time as I can do (even though that time is likely to be “never”).

However what both the public and many politicians and media people who should know better have managed to twist this into is: “Liam doesn’t work and the government is taking money from people who do work and just handing it to him for nothing!” That’s not what’s going on. But the idea reveals what various people think it is that I and other sick and disabled people do with ourselves – they think we do nothing and especially that nothing we do is “work”.

Well, you know what, I DO work.

My job is staying alive with a malfunctioning body, nonstandard brain and a damaged mind while living in a broken system. My job is maintaining a decent quality of life. My job is the upkeep of my relationships. My job is being the best human being I can be during my one life.

If that’s not enough for you, let me break it down.
Per month I do:
16+ hours of therapy, processing, meditation and planned exposure to things that scare me.
4 or so hours talking myself out of self-destructive urges.
8 hours written and email correspondence with my care agency/social services
5 hours getting to and from medical appointments
2 hours attending planned and unplanned medical appointments (other than aforementioned therapy)
2 – 4 hours collecting and collating pieces of paper that can be used as “proof” that I’m ill, disabled and poor
12 hours researching aids, appliances and services that might help me live (more) independently and trying to work out how/when/if I can afford them
3+ hours emailing places / events I want to go to trying to find out necessary access information
3+ hours arranging for other people to do things like phone calls and planning travel arrangements for me
8 – 24+ hours lying on the bed resting because I’m too exhausted to do anything else no matter how badly I want to
3 hours writing emails apologising for missing stuff / not replying sooner because I was too ill to do so
1 – 2 hours writing emails requesting copies of documents about me be sent to me in a font size I can read
4 hours trying to order groceries online because I can’t drive or carry more than one bag of shopping or go shopping every day
3 hours waiting around in pharmacies
2+ hours getting hopelessly lost in places I know well and have on googlemaps on my phone

…. plus hundreds of hours of pain , dozens of hours of nightmares, taking twice as long as my peers to do most things and all the time that takes up…
Oh and plus all the things non-disabled people do like meeting up with friends, going on dates, talking to family, eating etc
But you get the idea. That list of things above is what I’m doing instead of working in a month when the DWP isn’t harassing me into spending multiple hours a day trying to fill in their forms and photocopy them all the evidence they want and understand their latest demands. It’s a month in which I don’t have any huge crises or get acutely ill with anything. It’s a bare minimum of what illness and disability gives me to deal with in any four week stretch.
And at the crux of it, that is my JOB. I work full time at managing my illnesses and conditions and the way they interact with a structurally disablist society.

I also happen to volunteer but not as much as I would if I didn’t have all of this going in the background.

A lot of people want you to believe that those of us who get benefits spend our time “do nothing” and while I don’t actually see much of a problem with people doing nothing if they want to, that’s not what we actually do. Having a chronic illness or a severe disability is a full time job in itself.

(If you think you that you / people who talk about benefit scroungers “doing nothing” don’t mean people like me, you’re sadly mistaken and this will be the topic of my next post.)