Just less.

I’m not linking the story, but there’s a lawsuit out of NYS that a school bus driver used zip ties to restrain a non-verbal kid, and when that kid acted out, the bus driver beat him WHILE HE WAS RESTRAINED.

I bring it up because we’re really worried about queer rights and BLM and a few other things that seem like they’re super-immediate issues b/c of how they’re in play in the media. But there’s a reason that you don’t see politicians defending the right of adults to hurt kids with disabilities: it’s because that right is still largely unchallenged. Wait! you say. WHAT? you say. But wait for it.

The parents in this case may be suing on their son’s behalf, but it’s not like when your fucked up uncle shows up at Thanksgiving he rants about how you’re not allowed to hit kids anymore, because even if the family does push back, the jackass uncle says, “But the kid CAN’T TALK, and he’s been told not to act out, so what are you doing to do?” And the realistic thing is that around most of those Thanksgiving tables everybody gets quiet, not because they’re comfortable with what Uncle FuckFace is claiming about a right to hit kids with disabilities, but because they don’t actually know the answer. Because how to work with non-verbal kids is a complex topic practically (they can be productively non-verbal for different reasons and the ability for receptive communication of productively non-verbal kids can differ widely), but also because we don’t know **morally** what we want for those kids.

This moral uncertainty derives not least from the capitalist/Calvinist mythology of lifting oneself up by one’s bootstraps in which we are so steeped that when confronted with a situation that the average person who hasn’t educated themselves on these issues recognizes as impossible to lift oneself out of, that average person doesn’t actually have in mind a good list of alternatives. Instead they’re stuck. They literally don’t know what to do with or for people with serious disabilities because if they can’t capitalism then how they fuck do they even fit into our system? Many persons with disabilities can become profit-producing employees, even if it requires a bit more upfront investment before they become productive for shareholders. But what if you can’t? Those persons are as much outsiders to a capitalist society as trans people are to a gendered society.

And so, not having a snappy comeback to Uncle TaintFilth, we who recognize the limits of our knowledge, we who have some humility, we who have sufficient self-awareness to say, “I actually don’t know the answer,” shut up in the face of the “we’ve got to beat the kids” argument.

And look, this is COMPLETELY NORMAL. If you’re someone who admits you don’t have all the answers, THIS IS A GOOD THING.

But the lack of a major political issue over beating kids isn’t, I tell you, IS NOT because we’ve reached some universal societal agreement that kids with disabilities deserve respect. Rather it’s because the people who are terrible toward people with disabilities in general and kids in particular aren’t paying the same social costs right now that they are for their racism or their anti-QT bullying.

I recognize this. There was a time when I was the only trans person most of the people I knew knew. And that wasn’t enough. Instead of thinking all transsexual women were like drag queens, they thought that all transsexual women were articulate, pedantic, activists who bopped around the city on Tri-Met. Because one person doesn’t actually break down stereotypes, whatever the after school specials say. If there’s only one person, and they don’t seem like the stereotypes, others will simply refashion the stereotype so that it describes that one person. And, lo! And behold! The stereotype will seem 100% accurate.

But it’s not. Life is always complex. Life is always intersectional. And so knowing me wasn’t enough for people to go home for Thanksgiving and have an answer to every fucked up anti-trans thing that Uncle SlimeBucket said.

It is only NOW when we’ve got multiple trans people speaking up from multiple directions, with multiple priorities and perspectives that people who weren’t experts in the anthropology and sociology of gender feel like they have enough information to push back around the Thanksgiving table. And thus it is only now that the millions of Uncle DoucheCanoes are feeling a desperation that a politician can exploit — defending someone who feels in need of defense and winning their loyalty in return.

The people who think that hitting a child who can’t speak is a perfectly fine thing don’t feel sufficiently threatened to need defenders yet, so the politicians are silent, and the media is silent, and it seems like there’s some achieved consensus that hitting kids is bad.

But guess what? No one felt sufficiently threatened by the trannies to make a political issue out of access to trans-related health care in 2010.


We know that because now, many years after access to these services became open to those who could afford to pay (and not a few years after these services became more routinely covered in your better health insurance plans) we have the threatened people begging their politicians for defense against trans health care, and their heroes are passing legislation banning access to win the loyalty of the Uncle Abominables of the country.

This is how it works. It’s a version of “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”. I have seen it during my lifetime I am just barely old enough to remember the arguments over whether “Gay Pride” should be “Gay and Lesbian Pride” and more than old enough to remember the arguments over B & T inclusion.

I’ve been there, is what I’m saying.

And I know that this doesn’t seem like the fight right now. I get it. And I also know that lots of us honestly don’t have any money or energy left for taking up a new fight when there’s so much fighting happening already.

But I want you to know that I’ve seen the long journey, from tightly controlled access to trans-related health care centralized in gender clinics to liberalization to an attempt to return to tightly controlled access. I know what actual liberation looks like, and I know how hard it is to achieve.

And I’m telling you right now that kids with disabilities don’t have it.

And I’m telling you that I waited 25 years for the improving situation for trans folks to become a rapidly devolving and more dangerous situation, and that dangerous situation isn’t over yet now 5 years in. The whole cycle might take 40 or 50 years before we’re through and pride is just a party.

And while I can be hopeful (we’re a little over halfway done!) or pessimistic (you mean we have years left?) what breaks my heart isn’t where we’re at for QTs. No, we’re out and we’re not going to go back in the closet and we’ll win this eventually, whether I live to see it or not.

What breaks my heart is that I don’t really know if that 40 or 50 year cycle for kids with disabilities has even started yet.

I know we’re going to see a time of backlash and retrenchment and justification where the bus driver that committed those crimes is actually taken to trial by prosecutors rather than sued civilly, but the internet fundraises $5million over a week for him and his legal defense just like they did for the racist white woman who racistly murdered a good mom standing on her porch. And politicians will scream nonsense about how kids who aren’t productive to the economy can’t be economically damaged by abuse, and therefore aren’t entitled to compensation from courts or whatever the fuck stupid shit they want to say at that point.

I know that disastrous day when politicians say the worst things justifying the worst behaviour towards vulnerable kids is going to take the form of attacking kids with disabilities rather than trans kids.

I just don’t want it to take 25 years for us to get there. I want us to educate ourselves just a little, each of us, one at a time. I want a few more of us ready this Thanksgiving. I want the Uncle Shitheads to get pushback sooner, harder. I want them desperate in 5 years not 25. I want the issue of whether we’re going to turn the corner forever on treating human children with human respect to come to a head in 7 years, not 30. I want our total, smashing victory to come in 10 years, not 45.

Why? Because I want this to happen while at least some of these kids are still kids.

There’s a scene in the movie Spotlight where a reporter realizes that he has written stories about the sexual abuse of children by priests and other Catholic employees. He just always wrote about them as if they were isolated incidents. And he’s stunned. And he’s disappointed in himself. And he knows he wasted 10 years of progress on ending the Catholic rape machine. And he hurts. And sure, he goes on to write his share of the new story and the new story brings the horror of the catholic rape machine into the light. That made huge and necessary progress toward a better world. But still, the reporter hurt, because he knew that he could have done better. If only he hadn’t treated every crime like an individual tragedy.

I see many stories pass through my news feed about this or that lawsuit seeking justice for a child with disabilities abused by the system. And they’re all crimes and they are all treated like an individual tragedy. And today I feel stunned. I am wondering why I haven’t — more and sooner — treated these differently. And I want to protect not only those children who have been hurt and the ones who will be hurt, but I want to protect you, my reader, from the heartbreak of knowing that there was a much bigger issue here that couldn’t break through to reach your attention. I want to protect you from feeling that you lost years that you could have lived better, that you missed opportunities where you could have done better, where you could have advanced justice.

We’re the good ones here. And I know we get exhausted and I know we have limited spoons, but less and less I feel my job is to speak up on trans liberation and trans feminism, areas in which I have legitimate expertise and a long memory of events that could provide useful perspective in our current battles. But I think we’re going to win those battles no matter what I do. The time is long past when I was the only trans feminist in Portland, or the only person speaking up about intimate partner violence targeting trans people when the people who were talking about violence targeting trans people at all were still talking about stranger danger as if they’d never read a damn word of feminism in their lives.

I think now the most useful thing I can do is watch out for those groups who are in the 2020s at the same stage of their liberation and acceptance that trans people were in the 1980s and 90s.

And you’re not wrong, and you’re not bad, and I love you all and I know you’re fighting like hell. But if you can find time in your reading for one more book, or time during your lunch hour for one more conversation with a co-worker, maybe instead of a book about stand your ground laws or trans rights or even some wanky diatribe from me about gender liberation through the years, maybe learn something about kids with disabilities. Right now non-verbal kids seem in the most desperate need to me, but I’m not an expert. I could be wrong. I’m open to hearing more and learning more and if the most vulnerable are ones we haven’t even heard from yet, not even indirectly, that wouldn’t surprise me.

It won’t win a ballot fight this year, but it might make Uncle ShitHead a little less comfortable a few years early. It might, if we’re very lucky and very determined, shorten the cycle from isolated victim hood to organized resistance to intense backlash to victory. We know about how long it takes. Stonewall was 1969, Obergefell was 2015, and in 2021 the bigots and bullies gave up attacking the gays and the lesbians to focus on the trans people.

52 years.

52 years it took to win convincingly, and for much of that time it didn’t seem like a crisis. It didn’t seem like a priority.

52 years is a long time to wait for a schoolkid who can’t make themselves understood.

Let’s make it less. We don’t have to solve it all today, but let’s make it less.


  1. says

    i often have similar thoughts about fatphobic oppression – this conversation has barely begun. does it have to go through all the same terrible stages on the way to a more just world?

    activists for the rights of the disabled have achieved great things, but ableism is still so broadly accepted. those victories (by no means complete) are at the level of law and policy, while the conversation in society at large is still totally nonstarting.

  2. jenorafeuer says

    so what are you doing to do?

    “I may not know the right answer, but I do know that beating a child into submission is not it.”

    People have been talking about the cycle of abuse for decades now… since when did violence against a young child teach them anything other than that violence is an acceptable option? And likely that anything they do can and will be considered ‘wrong’ for reasons they haven’t necessarily even figured out yet?

    I’ve long felt that there’s effectively an ‘uncanny valley’ effect that’s part of the problem with mental health discussions: some people just react really badly to a person who doesn’t act the way they ‘should’ act, considering them creepy/disturbing/inhuman/etc. Add that on top of all the other issues with parenting and the way too much conflicting (and often known-bad but ‘traditional’) advice on how to do it…

    No, I don’t know what to do, but treating children more like people rather than property of their parents would be a good start. Though the bus driver above would be in trouble in either category.

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