Trans women, especially women of color and sex workers, disproportionately suffer from a lack of housing, health care, physical safety, jobs, family/support networks, education, positive role models/media representations, and more. These disparities mean we’re more likely to experience violence, poverty, and incarceration, and – by extension – mental illness. Just about every trans woman I know has experienced some kind of mental illness, especially post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and panic disorders. A great many have also been diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia and other disorders.
It’s hard enough to find a job when background searches out you as trans. It’s worse when you have a disability (psychiatric or otherwise) that means you can’t even work for the few people who are willing to hire you. (And why do we need to toil for other people’s profit just to survive anyway?) This is what it’s like to exist at the confluence of a world that concentrates wealth in the hands of a few and denies the basic means of survival to so many, a world that constructs gender as an absolute binary, and a world that punishes madness. We are trapped in precarity, and this violent social and economic instability expresses itself in our bodies and minds as anxiety and fear.
And yet, the existing systems built by the State and private for-profit ventures to provide mental health care locate our illnesses as a purely personal, apolitical pathology and offer only the most meager treatment (if you can pay the right price or are lucky enough to qualify for the ever-dwindling safety net in an age of austerity).
Worse still, sometimes it is impossible to fight back against these very unjust social conditions if we aren’t healthy enough even to take care of ourselves or one another. This is part of how the cycle of poverty keeps marginalized people, such as trans women, “in our place,” and thus perpetuates the economic system and social conditions necessary for the continued enrichment of the few at the expense of everyone else. As such, the focus of my revolutionary praxis is attacking these very intersections of capitalism, cis supremacy, and ableism.
Especially in times of economic crisis such as this, Capital needs a reserve army of unemployed and precarious labor to sustain low wages and the State needs a scapegoated ‘Other’ to fill its prisons and justify its violence. Our liberation is thus intimately tied to all of those who are exploited by this system, cis and trans, employed or unemployed, blue collar or black market. But trans women, especially women of color and sex workers, are most often at the very bottom of this pyramid scheme, and I believe we must take leadership from those who are most directly impacted by the systems against which we fight. In addition, it is here, in the lives of us at the very bottom, in our lives, that Capital’s structural weakness and brutal cruelty is most transparently revealed.
As disabled people, trans women, sex workers, people with psychiatric illnesses, our minds and our bodies literally bear the scars of this failed society based on the exploitation of the weak by the powerful. And this is precisely why we have the most at stake and the most to gain by destroying this hierarchical system based on competition. A society based on private profit and individualism, with its roots in patriarchy, slavery, and on-going colonialism, will never take care of us because it cannot. Disabled by a society that excludes us and is designed to privilege bodies/minds that are not like ours, pushed to the margins of an economy that does not care about our needs unless it can find a way to commodfiy and profit from them, violently pursued by a society that fundamentally mocks our very existence, we can’t produce or consume, so we can’t pull ourselves up by our own boot-straps. Our only option is collective empowerment. Revolution is our imperative.
I’m writing largely for my own benefit, because writing helps me deal with my own mental illness. But I also hope to create the space for others (whether you are trans or cis) who need it, too. We need to take care of each other, because the system won’t even admit it is part of the problem.
We may not be able to create a world where everyone is healthy all the time, but we can create a world where we have the support we need to get through dark times. And as we take on the ruling social order, let’s take care of each other too. Otherwise, our movements will never be sustainable or liberating.