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by Angela Lemus-Mogrovejo
AFO content wrtier
Having spent the last few days in bed due to various mental health issues, I've been wondering lately how terrified people must be of my existence. As prone as political leaders like Trump are to say that my mental health is an "under-considered factor in gun violence," I don't think it has hit me until now how scared others are of people like me. Given my years of witnessing mainstream conversations regarding mental illness and disability that lean towards the negative, I should be accustomed to how little the general public values my humanity. I should be used to being considered what "pulls the trigger" when it comes to mass shootings like El Paso, Texas and Denton, Ohio and the idea that my life will require surveillance and rights infringement in order to protect normal people. I should be used to being thought of as horrifying.
But I'm not.
I'm not used to being thought of alongside the hateful monsters who killed others in the various shootings that have happened since 2019 began. No, what I'm used to is belonging to one of many populations who see this kind of ableist rhetoric around mental illness and gun violence as a smokescreen for the true horrors that plague us all.
Because the violence that many people with lives considered worth protecting fear has already been unleashed on more vulnerable immigrant, and disabled communities living under precarious conditions. As recently as August 2019, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services began ending deportation deferrals under the category of medical deferred action, placing the lives of immigrants with HIV, cancer, epilepsy, and other disabilities at severe risk of losing vital healthcare services. For those who maintain access to public assistance for housing, food, or other long-term disability related services, the risk of losing a green card or having their visa denied has already increased given recent public charge rulings under the Trump Administration. Furthermore, while Trump and other conservative leaders continue to parrot ableist rhetoric regarding the connection between mental illness and mass shootings, their administration has already halted programming evaluating evidence-based treatments for substance abuse and behavioral health problems. Resources and practices which may prove helpful to disabled people with mental health issues will no longer be stringently evaluated and the consequences will likely be devastating.
All of these instances of state violence are not simply bugaboos summoned up discursively to generate fear about what may happen in the future. These are things which have already happened or are ongoing and will continue to threaten disabled people, especially immigrants, until lives are assuredly lost. People like Maria Isabel Bueso, who received needed medical treatment for a rare genetic condition while under medical deferral, will assuredly die if they are sent back home without needed healthcare. People with mental health challenges worsened by the ableist rhetoric Trump and his followers put forth will face the same routine backlash they always face whenever mental illness gets brought up after mass shootings. This administration will continue scapegoating mad folks like myself until the only monsters people recognize are the same people who have been dehumanized by their violent policies.
So, what do I do from here? What do any mad creatives do from here in order to avoid being crushed under the weight of such demeaning rhetoric and the political consequences it entails?
Above all else, there is a need to recognize that the state as it currently exists will not protect us, least of all those of us who are the most marginalized. Rather than address the longstanding structures of white supremacy and colonization which allow mass shootings to flourish, the Trump administration lets its followers get away with literal murder. Trump and his political base are content with emboldening a gun culture fueled by racism while they rob disabled people and immigrants (and people of color who belong to both groups) of their rights and resources. Furthermore, such historical harms will not cease simply by doing away with the current administration and electing a different political party. The ongoing exploitation and violence committed by a nation founded on egregious historical travesties can only be undone by putting forward new solutions. While it is important to to make do with resources and political avenues that can be secured to improve conditions for marginalized communities in the current political atmosphere, alternatives must also be created. We must imagine and create different futures for all of us.
But in order to realize those futures, burnout must be avoided. Succumbing to the despair fostered by being thought of as disposable or monstrous must be made unappealing. Instead, hopeful options must be devised.
To this end, I turn to what has always brought me comfort in a world that wants to see me locked away from those people it deems worthwhile: my communities, more specifically my various marginalized, creative communities. While many have known suffering and lived through the apocalypse time and time again, these same communities have also known what it means to watch out for each other. Despite being deemed disposable by mainstream society, countless disabled people have found ways to create adaptive tools within their means and navigate crisis without the resources others have. Marginalized communities have demonstrated that the kind of bigotry being put on full display is not new but rather part of systems of domination that have long existed before normative society reacted with surprise at its existence. Most importantly, these communities have asked perhaps the hardest questions beyond survival and beyond making it to the revolution: what will we need to be to thrive? Who will we need to be to live with one another?
The answer is simple: to create hope and a livable world where no one has to be deemed a monster in order for others to maintain their power, we must all be lovers. However, our lover is not a partner, a triad, or even a polycule. Our lover must be social change.
If the world in its current form sees nothing but monsters in disabled people, immigrant communities, and other marginalized people, then it is the job of a mad creative like myself to imagine otherwise. To realize those more hopeful futures, I and others who create must actively practice acts of care and love that are absent in the world as it currently operates. Not only to survive until the revolution but to make the possibility of more hopeful futures inevitable, irresistible to those who haven't felt hope before. Hope must be found through social change, through realizing what feels impossible by courting it through the tenderness of watching out for one another and creating freedom for all. In essence, survival and thriving beyond the present regime of violence rely on creating a loving future founded in believing otherwise. This is perhaps the most critical goal of a mad creative in the face of violence: open the imagination of others to a future free of hatred, free of competition, and free of an inability to care.
If I am a monster under the current administration, then so be it. I will be a monster who cries out a call of freedom, who rallies those of us who see what terrors await us, and finds hope elsewhere. I will create to realize love for all of us. I will create so that we all have space to rest so that we can meet these challenges... and win.
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