It is everywhere, the societal shaming of people. I could title this victim shaming or victim blaming yet, there is an aspect to being a survivor beyond the aspects of being a victim. The part of me that is a survivor identifies with John McClain, it wants to die hard if it has to die at all. The part of me that identifies as a victim couldn’t fight hard enough to survive. Same coin, two sides. When I advocate I must be a survivor, the victim aspect is too fragile to risk exposing to the shame.
You may have already run into this, at least once in your life. Something happens to you, and instead of being happy that you are alive, someone you know or must deal with reacts with disgust that you had to do things to survive, things that hurt you or went against the grain of society. The person that defends herself against a violent man and hurts him is not lauded but is feared by the patriarchy. Society moves to shame the survivors, keep it hidden away, don’t talk about it. This aspect leaks into other things. Surviving rape is immediately putting yourself at risk of being accused of deserving it. Rape can be deadly, therefore, to live you must have given in slightly, this is the myth. You asked for it and enjoyed it or you would be dead right? Wrong.
There is overlap with victim blaming yet, I haven’t come across a discussion about shaming the survivor. In a country/culture that has fat shame, thin shame, skin color shame, hair shame, race shame, gender shame, sex shame… it is hard pressed to find anything that is not seen as shameful. Other things are never acknowledged. Perhaps it is in that the feminists who are able bodied or did not endure domestic violence or… (insert qualifier here) cannot put it into ideas. Perhaps it is that these same women who attempt to speak for everyone with a vagina but only if they were born that way and are able bodied and white… do just that. They exclude. Before I was disabled I felt excluded because I have survived. I felt shamed for having questions and not having picked up books on the subject. My nascent moment of identifying with the feminists died the moment one of them shamed me. I remember the words, the tone, and the sting. The woman was old enough to be my mother, she was blond, tall, and pretty. The topic was how to raise awareness about domestic violence, which resonated with me. I asked this question: “What if we pooled some money or raised funding via grants to open a shelter that gives access to women who aren’t married?” I hadn’t been homeless as an adult yet, I hadn’t known I would be in a sinking boat. I went further, the room had fallen silent so I stood up. In that moment I was appearing as able bodied, straight, white, and pretty by the societal standards. “Most of the shelters in our city cater only to those with children, and there needs to be a place for everyone.” That was what they were preaching. I thought the idea would be great. The response instead was as follows.
“Women like us never use shelters, we don’t need them, because we won’t ever lose our jobs or our families.” In that moment, the words said in this acid tongued manner that curdled by gut, I sat down and wondered why they called themselves feminists and why they bothered trying. I was excluded by class, my clothes were fashionable but I was not in the class I appeared to be. I was excluded by experience. Obviously the woman who spoke had never been in need, and in that moment I was cut adrift from feminism. I tried many times to reconnect but, despite some correct things and other incorrect things I did not belong in their puzzle. The ideals fit, but the people did not. There was discussion of how to further how to protect, but never the action that would help lower class (financially and educationally) women. Instead there was a pandering aspect to their own able bodied white privilege.
It hurt. It left me feeling so alone in the world. Months later I was further away from their ideal woman, deserving of help. I began to advocate alone. I have only worked with someone else during my advocacy rarely, because I do not want to be shamed for my experiences and I have yet to find true intersectionality. Sometimes my methods for getting my voice heard horrify people. To me there is nothing wrong with being a bit loud, or refusing to move when the police order me to as long as it is legal for me to do so. I am a rebel with many causes, and I see it everywhere I turn with the larger groups, if I do not fit their expectation of survivor there is shame.
Thankfully advocacy groups are rarely seen from this angle, I know I have the benefit of being a social chameleon, and that cuts down on people accusing me of things, assuming the wrong thing, or I just don’t admit what they do not need to know. I should say didn’t, as, in the last few years I have stopped hiding the parts of me they won’t like. I lost allies, but they weren’t true allies as a result.
I haven’t been shamed for surviving in a long time, but I had put distance between what I had survived and the moments I was living in. I see in my head snapshots of myself through the ages of my life, the phases, and the moments. They tumble down, twisting around each other before they burn up into a cloud of white smoke and I am still me. I let myself grow distant from them, focusing on living. Living became the act of surviving and once again I am being forced to justify my reason for not letting myself be murdered.
I realized that it was an attempt to shame me with the insurance. This week I had to justify the assessment for the wheelchair again. The woman on the phone asked me what I did to damage my body. “I had an abusive caregiver, I was starved and my first chair was damaged. It also never fit my needs or worked properly before that.”
“Uh huh, well did that caregiver beat you because abuse is just not reason enough for us to approve this chair.”
I wanted to scream, curse, cry, and shout. Instead I took a breath and said. “I was starved, are you aware of the ramifications on the body caused by starvation? I had less than 750 calories a day. My body consumed it’s strength to not die. My internal will to live also came into play, when I had to escape said abuser, I had to move. The replacement caregiver was also abusive, so I had to clean the entire apartment myself, I had to lift boxes, and I had to do this or I would have nothing left of my life with no way to replace it. I had to do this with a wheelchair that was broken.”
“So this is a self inflicted injury.” She started to go on and I let myself snarl.
“So you want your clients to just die when the options are injury that further disables them or death?”
She was quiet, I felt my anger and I let it be. I am working on that, as I fear anger. Anger usually means violence. I just felt it. It was about ten seconds, she was obviously thinking.
“No, it was just… you should have asked for help or something!”
It was my fault, in this woman’s mind. I have met her before, she is like the woman who shamed me for having an idea, like the reporter who didn’t understand that the ADA protects her too, and I had the click. Society wants survivors to stay silent, or to take the blame. It’s the same aspect, but in t his case the blame is the act of living itself. It is all tied like a spiderweb to the same isms, over and over again.
“I did, many times over. I begged, I pleaded.” I described the murder kit to her, I described my efforts of cleaning, lifting, dragging, crawling. Then, I turned it towards money. “So, now that you know all that, let me add something else into the mix. The chair will cost you less than the surgery and ER visits needed when I crack my head open because I lost my balance trying to do it your way, check my records I recently went to the ER. That costs you once about as much as the chair. That visit was preventable with treatment. You can approve me or deny me, I know others also have a say but if it comes down to my life being worth less to you than the cost of the chair, I will cost you more because I won’t die. I am a survivor. I plan to live a very long time, and as angry as you are that some disabled person gets help from your taxes… that’s just too damned bad.”
I was told it is too expensive. I was told over and over it is too expensive. My right to the freedom to move is too expensive. Even if it means I might die. I am hoping that my words left HER feeling shame, and anyone who hears the recording of that call. She and her company should be ashamed that my living is less important to them than profiting off of the illnesses of people. The capitalistic nature of my country has caused illness to be comodified. I am not a commodity item to the insurance company but I am to the wheelchair company and in a nursing home my name would be beds. I will now always be poor, but I refuse to be known as cost burden, potential profit or beds.
My name is Kateryna Fury. If you think it is wrong for me to have fought and dug and clawed my way out of abuse more times than I can count, fuck you. You heard me. I am breaking my own personal rules. It makes me edgy mentally to do so, a bit nutty feeling but FUCK YOU. FUCK YOU FOR THINKING THAT IT IS BAD FOR ME TO LIVE. When you break, because everyone does eventually in some way, someone will shame you for not dying. I hope you think for a moment and realize that you did the same over and over again.You are the cause of the term Survivor’s guilt. No one should ever feel guilty for living. EVER. Even bad people have a right to life, maybe you and your epic hatred of all things with a pulse made the person you think is bad act in that manner. Maybe it is all your fault you FUCKER. FUCK YOU.
My name is Kateryna Fury. I am glad to know that you also have survived, that you have fought and clawed and dug your way out of abuse, that you are a survivor. If you are in the act of surviving, then know you are not alone. I am proud of you. Your living has value not just to you but to me. It is so wonderful you want to live. As you recover, remember, you are loved.