So I'm back from working at camp and I have been feeling more and more that I don't want to be staff for people with DDs--I was going to say more on this later, but why don't I just tell you about it now. I wouldn't pass up an opportunity to work with people with DDs if it fell into my lap (I wouldn't pass up any job if it fell into my lap obviously), and might volunteer if I can find any easy/convenient way to do it. I want to return to camp every summer for as long as I can, because there are some campers I consider friends and can't have a long-distance friendship with because they can't write/read/talk on the phone. But I don't particularly aspire to have another job with that population. What I'm thinking right now is that I'd like to do personal care stuff in a hospital, which might include working for some people with DDs, but wouldn't primarily be defined that way. It is the definition that really gets to me.
I became seriously interested in working with people with DDs when I was about 19 (I'm 22 now). At that point I didn't think of myself as disabled or really even as being on the autism spectrum, even though I judged myself much more in the frame of my not-really-autism than I do now. I just knew that I felt safer and happier with people who had DDs, regretted the lack of opportunity to be around them when I was growing up, and couldn't handle the stress of working with and for "normal" people.
Ultimately it was a way of cheating. When I went into spaces where I was in a staff role, I was categorized as non-disabled by other staff; I could do or say pretty much anything, sometimes including telling people I had a disability and what it was, and it would never stick long enough for me to be categorized as disabled. People would forget or ignore anything that muddled the division between disabled people (campers/students/consumers) and non-disabled people (staff). People I told about my jobs would always tell me how "special" and "patient" it was for me to work with people who had DDs. So I got to be someone who was officially, unquestionably non-disabled, who was even an especially nice non-disabled person, while being around disabled people which was what I really needed.
I think through the positive presence both of people I've met through anti-ableism online and people I've been staff for, I've become someone who can no longer be so disconnected from the fact that I'm disabled. When I'm assumed to be non-disabled by other staff I feel erased; not just by definition, but also because anti-ableism and disabled friends are a big part of my life so it can be difficult to even talk to people when that isn't recognized. When other staff say ableist things, I take it personally, and the gulf between me and the staff people I actually like suddenly becomes enormous because they don't--even if they see a problem with it, it isn't about people like them.
Now that I'm no longer hiding from myself I find this terrifying and depressing to be around.
There was an in-between period where I felt guilty about staff work--putting myself in a situation that was more comfortable for me as a disabled person but also making it much easier for myself to access passing privilege. It felt like I was doing it at the expense of the "clients" or officially disabled people or whatever you want to call them, since I was trying to get the benefit of knowing them while also keeping very clear separation from them. But at some point this conflict disappeared. I don't feel separate from them, or want to be.
Because of that my old ambitions can never really work out.