“means well” means nothing

 

You know how you point out to someone, or their superior, that what they’re doing is hurtful to you? And they say “well I/they meant well” as if that’s the end of it? And you feel that little curl of rage?

 

I tried to go back to dance. I found a small school that was meant to be “a great community” and had rave reviews from people who said they felt accepted and like family. I wrote to them to say I have a disability, can I chat to someone to explain it and see if I fit? I heard nothing. I tried again. Nothing. I signed up for a trial class.

“Oh, you’re the one who emailed me! I starred it, and I meant to get back, because I thought ‘I really want this girl here!’ but I was so busy!” Strike one. It also involved hugging. Definitely strike one.

We went around in a circle and said our names. I signed, and people murmured. “ohhhh that’s so pretty!” Uh. What?

 

So then my (former) psychiatrist found out and made it a part of my therapy, despite me explaining carefully as best I could how I had this thing now that was mine – not therapy, not paid for and monitored by my mum, but a thing I wanted to do that I was doing that I could look forward to because it was mine. That was where I found the spoons to finally break ties with him, because spending one’s entire life as ‘treatment’ is exhausting and fruitless.

 

I kept going with it, because I’d been cornered at the end of the trial lesson and interrogated on whether I was coming back and only allowed to leave once I’d agreed, so I’d paid for the term anyway.

In about the second week I stopped for a drink and the teacher stopped the class and asked if I was okay, several times, even though in that time I had gone, retrieved my drink, had a drink, and returned to my spot. “Oh! I forget to let people go for a drink, so if you need a drink, just go get it,” she’d said, the week before. …

 

Then came a really hot day, so naturally my head hurt more. I had a drink and I rubbed my forehead as I walked back to my spot.

“Are you okay? Are you sure? Have you had enough water? Do you want to sit down?”

“You can come sit with me! Come sit down! It will be fun!”

“Are you sure you don’t want to sit down? You  know you can sit, right? Are you sure? Are you sure you can keep going?”

 

 

Strike two. I tried to talk about this on an anon support site, and got told off because apparently this wasn’t supposed to make me feel uncomfortable because they “meant well”. I called them out on invalidating my feelings, and then I got dogpiled because people can’t do that online. Or something. I don’t go there anymore, so I don’t know what the ultimate fallout was. A few people did agree that the one telling me off was rude.

But when I started crying and couldn’t breathe when it was time to go back, I put it down to that, and I promised myself that if it happened again I would walk out. It didn’t.

I was isolated in class – nobody talked to me, and instructions like “like in the video from last year” and “like we did in the other class” meant nothing to me, since I was new. The class, despite being intermediate, was far too easy for me, even after my break and having come from intermediate at another studio (which I left after a whole other set of harassment, from people telling me what to wear, laughing at me for not talking, telling me off for being rude for not talking or trying to talk and failing, pushing me out of choreography because I couldn’t argue, and being put in classes well above my capabilities… when I spoke up, I was told it was my fault for not being social enough, so you can infer that going back at all was a huge step for me). I didn’t have any trouble except for getting my brain to understand choreography cross-body, which meant that I had to do a lot of extra practice at home so I could move my right arm with my left leg, and so on, but the actual choreography wasn’t challenging or physically difficult, especially in comparison to my own warm up.

 

But then it happened again. And again, my nod in response to ‘are you okay’ was ignored. Repeatedly.

 

And then again, because my knee, you know, the one that buckles randomly and generally doesn’t hold me up so I limp all the time? It buckled.

Except then another student (the teacher’s mother) started in, as well. “Oh no, she’s just tired! She should rest a bit!”

As if she knew anything. She had insisted that I friend her on Facebook, because practice videos were distributed via a group chat on Facebook, and she =had= to friend me in order to add me to it. I had unfriended her after being subjected to a bunch of spam chain messages and after the first ‘incident’, where she’d been the one insisting I sit with her.

I went and stood in my spot and ignored everyone, waiting for the class to continue. It did, but then afterward…

“Are you sure you’re okay? Can you get down the stairs?”

Because, you know, this ongoing medical condition will suddenly stop me going up and down the stairs after doing so (slowly and carefully) for the previous eight weeks. I kept saying I was fine. I pulled out my phone and explained that it was normal. She still didn’t stop. I walked out.

 

I went back because I had had to pay for the term, and I promised myself I would keep trying. I was wearing an ankle brace and wrist brace and a corset, with no trouble up until the end of the last lesson. While I was changing from my dance shoes to my outside shoes, that same student came and stood in front of me, preventing me from leaving or continuing to change unless I headbutted her. She pointed at my ankle and started asking what happened and why I was wearing it. I refused to even look at her, and she went to sweep the floor, because there was a discussion about whether to do it or not and she always did it anyway.

 

So in all this we have the following:

  • the teacher and students invading my privacy by repeatedly asking about my medical condition when it’s not necessary to the class
  • the teacher and students ignoring my self-assessment and bodily autonomy by refusing to accept that if I say I am okay that that means I am okay
  • being isolated and excluded by the other students because I can’t talk

 

I had tried to catch the studio owner when I attended another class, but I gave up on doing so when she had spent twenty minutes socialising with that teachers’ husband and after a particularly awkward introduction where she felt the need to disclose my disability to that teacher in front of everyone and gotten it wrong. ‘She can’t hear, but she makes do with the vibrations on the floor… or something? You can hear a little bit!?’

 

(I have to say, the constant ‘she’ and ‘I love having a class with all girls!’ was a bit grating too, but it’s not material to the point here.)

 

So when it came around to signing up for term 2 I said I wasn’t doing it, and just said the class was too easy for me and since I had to miss a few lessons anyway I would try some other classes to see if there was a better fit.

Apparently, that wasn’t a good enough explanation, and so I decided to try to explain it better. At first the owner didn’t understand, and then she was like, “oh, they meant well! But I think I get it, you don’t want people fussing over you!”

 

I finally managed to find words to reply without swearing. It’s a bit like the whole thing with singing, where I was meant to accept sexual harassment as kindness, or when I complain about people insisting on opening doors because I can’t talk or otherwise ‘helping’ without bothering to ask me – “they meant well” as if the hurt they’re inflicting is meant to be negated because they didn’t mean it.

But if you mean well you don’t need to ask four times when someone’s already said they’re fine and has tried to continue doing what they were doing. If you mean well you don’t stop class and draw attention to someone who’s already said they’re fine – that’s, however “well meant”, making their disability public where they may not want it to be, and can pressure people into giving responses that they feel will end the situation instead. If you mean well you accept that someone who is an adult and clearly capable of managing their own condition is capably managing their own condition. If I needed a drink, I went and got a drink. I skipped the warm down because the warm down made recovery take longer, especially if I had to go out after. At no point ever was I actually not okay, or dealing with anything I don’t normally deal with. I adjusted some things to make them easier for me because my arm doesn’t go above my head, and when we were marking I only marked or watched (though in part that was because the teacher was terrible at explaining, counting, and breaking down, so it was my only chance to work things out). I was never so seriously out of it that it merited repeated questioning.

But, you know, they meant well, while they were highlighting to the entire class that I’m not the same as them, stopping the class to do so and taking paid-for time away from the lesson, and treating me differently because of my disability.

 

There are two extra factors that made me feel it was necessary to raise it with the owner:

  • in the first few weeks, there were ‘jokes’ with other students about ‘please don’t be injured, I’ll have to call the owner! we can’t afford injuries!’ If I wasn’t okay, and they couldn’t afford injuries, what was I meant to do, hide it? Why was that even a joke? Was it a joke? I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea that if I wasn’t okay, that they might not assist because they couldn’t afford it. Or something. It felt off, so I was less likely to admit it if I wasn’t okay. So if they can’t afford injuries, and they’re such a big deal that the owner has to come in etc etc etc, then why keep asking me if I’m okay when I’ve already said I am? That’s the desired outcome, isn’t it?
  • in the last lesson I attended, this ‘are you okay? are you sure?’ cycle happened again – but not to me. Another student, who hadn’t disclosed any disabilities to me, did apparently nothing wrong, and class was stopped so the teacher could question her. To stop this, she had to inform the entire class that she’d had an injection earlier that day, so her arm was sore. Which, you know, was none of our business. The teacher then lectured her on how to rest her arm.

I decided I can’t be around that. I don’t want to be in an adult-level class where adults have to disclose medical information that isn’t necessary to anyone to know in order to not be bothered about taking care of their own bodies. I don’t want to be in a class where my disability means I’m the one getting that most often. I don’t want to be in a class where my experience with my body is disregarded. If I’m okay to continue, I’m going to be okay the fourth time you ask, the eighth time, the twentieth time. I don’t get to stop everything when I have a migraine, because I always have a migraine. I don’t get to rest when my knee buckles, because it’s like that all the time. I am used to compensating for it. I am used to working with it. Someone who’s known me for only a few weeks and apparently doesn’t even know what my disability is doesn’t get to come in and decide that for me, or repeatedly insinuate that my own judgement is wrong.

I don’t want to be in an environment where I can’t be trusted to know and adapt for my own body. I don’t want to stay in that environment until it reaches the kinds of levels I experienced before.

And I don’t care if they “meant well”, because it still hurt, and it still resulted in me being treated differently, me being harassed, and affected classes. If they “meant well”, then they should also have the ability to respect me and not continue with questioning after I’ve already responded. “Are you okay?” Yes. I’m fine. Moving on.

 

If they “meant well”, they wouldn’t have asked in the first place, because “omg! you touched your forehead! you must have a headache! omg! class has to stop right now!” isn’t a thing someone who means well automatically jumps to. Maybe I was brushing my hair out of my face, or catching sweat before it hit my eye. Maybe I tripped on the floor, because it was uneven and dirty and squeaky. Maybe I’m the one living in a body that doesn’t work the same way as theirs and that means I’m the one best placed to know what’s going on with it. Maybe, if I’m capable of getting a drink when I need it and warming up properly on my own and adapting choreography for my body, I would actually know if I’m not okay enough to continue without you asking so many times that I think about walking out just to shut you up.

If they “meant well”. they wouldn’t be so terrified of injuries that it would be a joke-but-not.

 

If they “meant well”, I could have just said I didn’t feel the class was a match for me and moved on to discussing alternatives instead of repeating, in detail, what happened, and trying to explain why it was bad, because my own judgement of my feelings, capabilities, and status would be accepted.

 

But if someone “means well” and repeatedly tries to undermine your own autonomy, do they really mean well, or do they really mean “we didn’t mean to”?

Except, when someone does it repeatedly, obviously… they do mean to, and they have to have seen how people react to have the information to know that it’s not entirely welcome.

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