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Dangerous Compassions

what happened

what happened

Hello, how you doing?  I’m ready to write about what happened.  I mean what happened when Ming and I tried to move in June and failed, which launched our four and a half months of homelessness.

This tale is a bit long, so please make some tea or what have you and settle in for the read.

what happened

Ming and I left the Catholic Worker where we had lived in community  for seven years.  We needed to get out of Las Vegas because I intuited that another summer in the desert would kill me.  I want to live, so we needed to leave.

Also I had been partly burnt out for a long time, with the Catholic Worker and interfaith peace non-profit that Ming and I had been part of.  I gave too much early on, not knowing how to pace myself.  I didn’t show up skilled at setting boundaries and protecting my energy.  Nope–I showed up enthusiastic and starry eyed, overjoyed to be connected to to something important and much larger than myself.

Also, I changed a lot during our seven years there.  I got off psych meds, and learned more about who I am and what I need.  Also I changed spiritually, feeling more connected to Mother Earth and my ancestors than ever.  After I learned about the Trinity bomb killing my New Mexico relatives, and after my mom died, my ancestors became central to my life.

All this meant that I learned to speak up for myself.  What I came to need pertaining to mental health, autism, disability justice, fat liberation, and unconditional self-love was not in keeping with the culture that we were living in.

For example, I needed to wear way less clothing, dance in the sun in the driveway, and feel a lot of freedom.  I was living with some prudish people who were alarmed by cleavage.  You know, that’s not very comfortable.

When I arrived, I was a quiet, chill doormat.  As I grew up and became more outspoken and in touch with my actual needs, I was less welcome.

search

We searched for a new home.  Quickly, we learned about a re-opening Catholic Worker house in the Bay Area.  It took months of interviews, negotiations, and waiting as the house was repaired.  But finally in late June, it was time to go.  I’d wanted to move by May.  But I was so relieved to finally leave Las Vegas.

The board of our new situation was difficult.  A few times, I would feel concerned about something they were doing and wonder if this move was really the right choice for us.  I would feel anguish and talk to Ming and friends about it.  A few times, I decided that I didn’t feel safe.  The board was making harsh decisions that didn’t make sense and didn’t center the well-being of all.

I realized the project existed solely to care for the unfortunate poverty people.  It was a rigid “us and them” situation.  The people we were there to serve were the unfortunate poor, while we were the fully functional, giving Works of Mercy un-struggling people.

us and them

Wow, how unrealistic.  We’ve encountered this attitude in many charity-type situations, including Catholic Worker houses, way more charity than mutual aid.  It’s much simpler to pretend that a Guest is not competent, and a Worker is fully functional and has no needs.  But of course, all people have needs.  And anyone can struggle, sometimes.

Ming and I were warm bodies to feel a role.  We were not seen as the experienced, compassionate, devoted, brilliant people who we are.  We were there to do a job–no more or less.

When I brought up concerns about the board’s harsh management, the board assured us that they were actually hands off.  They told us that once we were in the house, we would have say over our lives there.

I prayed and planned.  I visualized our lives in this house, thought carefully about our needs, vowed to have a day off and visit the beach weekly, and made lists of the foods I wanted to cook for community.

trouble

Unfortunately, we encountered violence from another Catholic Worker we were supposed to live with–before we even got there.  As Ming and I and two friends were driving to the Bay Area in a car and a uhaul filled with our stuff, we got an email letting us know that the Catholic Worker we were supposed to live with had bedbugs.

That set into motion a series of events that led to the buggy Catholic Worker yelling at me on the phone, as he tried to convince me that bedbugs are no big deal.

Wow, I don’t agree.  Consent means I choose my level of risk.  Not him, by not informing us of his long term infestation problem.  The only reason he brought it up to us was that someone else on the org found out about it and made him tell us.

I spoke up to the board about what happened and how I felt, and the board was incompetent.  I saw them struggle to figure out how to respond.  Right away they made promises that they didn’t follow through with.  That was no surprise, because from day one talking with them months before, they were not actually realistic about needs or aware of who they were dealing with.  By that I mean they weren’t seeing us as we are.

demographics

They are mostly white elders, Catholic or Christian, and homogeneous as a board.  There was not a rich diversity with various ages, class backgrounds, religions, sexual orientations, or fresh perspectives.

Ming and I are somewhat younger, queer, disabled, actually anarchist, non-Christian, and Ming is a person of color.  We felt very different from the board, and they were not striving to meet us halfway.  Mostly they were not familiar with life in a Catholic Worker house.  Or more dangerously, they thought they were, as former nuns, or as people who had been part of religious groups.

Ming and I have years of experience in community, especially this type of community, with many kinds of people.  But the board didn’t value us as experts.  I felt unsafe, as I knew that living with the Catholic Worker who had chronic bed bug issues would be a constant struggle, not to get bedbugs ourselves.  I didn’t want to be a cop to him or anyone.

We weighed the pros and cons, consulted with friends, and it dawned on me that we had to leave.  We took a leap of faith.  Bravely, we left our new home after two days, before the bed bug person arrived.  That was very difficult to do.

And I’m so glad we made that choice, as he did bring bedbugs with him.  And he has since been asked to leave for violencing a young Catholic Worker at the house.  More about that later.

suddenly homeless

We had no place to go.  That was a gutsy move.  It was also ironic because it began a four month time period of travel, homelessness, and learning while housing insecure.  By becoming homeless, we became the population we had been trying to serve.

Hmm, wow.  Do you mean homelessness can happen to anyone?  And that violence from white men in addition to deep irresponsibly of well-meaning people can affect others’ lives that extremely?  Yes, it can happen to anyone.

The irony is so strong, it hurts.  The buggy Worker had said he would quit smoking when he arrived.  Of course, he did not.  When he left, his milk crates full of alcohol bottles were found.  It’s just ouchie, how Ming and I are devoted, skilled workers.  We arrived ready to focus on the task at hand.  But the board’s incompetence means they lost us and got an irresponsible asshole instead.

all’s not well that ends not well

What’s worse is that they welcomed vulnerable immigrant families to live there, without solid support for them.  So the families are suffering.  The young person who was violenced is suffering–she has a restraining order against the buggy man, last I heard.

He is an elder Christian lay minister white man.  He was not seen as violent initially because he’s the same demographic as the board.  It took a while for them to notice who he really is.  For the victim / survivor’s sake, I’m very sorry that the board didn’t see what I saw from day one.

I’m sorry they didn’t view me and Ming as insightful, experienced, brilliant people who could do good work  They viewed us as expendable disabled people.  When I asked for things, like my own room, they said no.  When we asked to be on the first floor to skip the stairs, they said no.  They made promises that they didn’t fulfill, then made excuses for why it was ok what they were doing.

thank you

Thank you for listening to what happened.  We have learned so much from this situation.

Good intentions, reassurance, and smiles will not make an incompetent board competent.  We were not there to play tiddleywinks.  Actual people’s lives and housing are at stake.  If you have low listening skills, planning skills, organizing skills, modern technology skills, and no experience living in this type of community during modern times, then will go on vacation and be unreachable when needed, please don’t try to control an organization that houses vulnerable people.

And all people are vulnerable, right?  The young person who showed up to do the Works of Mercy didn’t show up to be sexually harassed.  That never should have happened to her.  It’s not neutral, that the board missed the violence of the man they invited to come live with the 22 year old young woman.  It’s a huge error, and it harmed many people.

mistake

My mistake was: I believed that with clear communication and good hearts, we would be fine with this unskilled board.  We all were showing up to love one another and help the world.

But you can’t make people listen to you.  If respect isn’t there from the other persons, you can’t create that for them.  Lack of deep, connective respect is not safeI can bake a cake and make dinner.  I can model respectfulness, clarity, vulnerability, and gentle care.  But I can’t make someone pull their head out of their ass and actually connect with other people who are different from them.

White, straight and cis, non-fat, non-disabled Christian and Catholic people are living in a bubble of privilege.  Even if they’ve endured heartache and times of poverty, this culture is set up for them.  They are missing huge swaths of perspective.  They’re in a privilege bubble.  That makes them dangerous!  I’m so glad we escaped, and my well-being and Ming’s well-being isn’t dependent on their ignorant whims.

power

Understanding power in groups is more important to me than ever.  Now that I know who I am, what I need, and how to advocate for the mini-family of me and Ming, I can’t settle for less.  I can’t put us into a situation where we’re treated in a whacked power way ever again.

Not that I need things to be perfect.  More like I need what happened in the Bay Area not to happen to us again, in a worse way.  Or the burnout I endured in Las Vegas either.  Love is a skill.  People who are stuck in their little world of privilege are not good at loving people like me.  I have differences and know how to articulate them.  Ming and I both need to be understood as we are and met halfway respectfully.

Praise Mother God we left that unsafe Catholic Worker house before we got bedbugs, and before the sexual harasser turned his beam of violence on me and Ming.

regret

My only regret is that we couldn’t protect the young person who he sexually harassed.  But I couldn’t have sacrificed my well-being for her well-being.

I think of what I could have done differently.  What if I had gone Kali and opened a can of whoop ass, on the buggy, yelling, sexually harassing man?

what happened

Opening cans of whoop ass is not really my skillset.  I don’t need to make myself be who I’m not.  I love myself as I am, and I have other skills.  But I wish sometimes that powerful goddesses who open cans of whoop ass were closer at hand.

homed

We are housed now.  Feels great to have a home, after what happened.  We have been here in Oregon for one week.  Our new place is respectful, and we love it.

But Ming wanted me to mention that this is not a neutral thing.  We created a happy ending at our own expense.  We’re thousands of dollars in debt from our travel, using credit cards to pay for petrol and airbnbs.  We did great managing those four and a half months, and we learned so much.

But I would prefer to learn those truths in a slower, safer way, on my own timeline.  I carry trauma from what happened.  On top of all the other trauma I carry from long ago, that’s too much.  We never should have been in a position where we had that painful delimma–to stay and be violenced by a chronic bedbug haver, or hit the road.  What would you have done?

By Laura-Marie

Good at listening to the noise until it makes sense.

7 replies on “what happened”

Very glad you are in a much better place. Sounds very horrible to have to go through, maybe the people who abused their position will have learned something.

Always so touched by your storytelling style and sincerity.

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