The Case for Not Giving Unsolicited Advice

Content note: examples of ableism and transphobia used to support arguments

Hi all,

One of the things that have been an issue as of late for me is something that marginalised people typically face when trying to improve a situation. I’m talking about unsolicited advice. Today I’m gonna explain in this blogpost why people really need to lay off with advice when it’s not explicitly sought. To provide supporting examples, I’m going to use my ongoing homelessness situation as it is an example of a situation where unsolicited advice is not helpful.

It’s not helpful

A lot of people who give unsolicited advice often do not understand the complexities of a situation. This comes from two angles. Firstly, the individual. Each person has their own individual circumstances that mean their case is unique in the eyes of professionals. While there are common themes in people’s stories, there are personal stories and access needs that make each case different. For some people, this makes their matters more complicated. For many, this also makes their cases sensitive hence details aren’t disclosed readily. This means that many people who other help do not know these complexities, which means their advice is unhelpful – despite good intentions.

The second angle is that many people do not realise how government policy – especially by capitalist, right-wing governments – has led to services being underfunded and understaffed. Hence demand often outstripping supply. So things are going to take longer because there isn’t enough money or people available to help. Furthermore, a lot of privileged people will not see this reality because they haven’t experienced it. Many people don’t have supportive family or friends nor the money and privilege to buy support quickly. Furthermore, many people get gatekept by professionals for who they are – such as trans people getting barred from single-gender spaces because they are trans.

The same things are said over and over again

Remember, when I said there are common themes providers find when people are close to getting the support they need? One of them is that they have been failed by services repeatedly. People expect solutions to be simple and happen instantly hence make things sound so easy – and this gets upsetting. I’ve had multiple people tell me to “get [my] housing sorted first” before doing anything else. One person even cited Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

These people do not understand the systematic barriers I’ve faced and the fact I need a lot of support to do this – something which I’ve only started to get after moving halfway across the UK (aka drastic action). It’s very unsettling that people act it is that simple for everyone. Still, for many in complex situations like mine, it merely isn’t, and it feels dismissive to have it oversimplified in this way. This is often done repeatedly, by well-meaning sources who don’t know each other so cannot discuss cases in depth.

Frequently hearing the same advice is demoralising and eventually becomes grating. They are scripts – often used to mock neurodivergent people when they are using them – yet ableds seem to get away with using them. It’s a double standard that impacts neurodivergent people in general, but it’s particularly noticeable here.

People feel an obligation to help, even when they can’t

I’ve found when I’ve talked to people, they do sincerely mean well and want to help. And that is a good thing and they deserve credit for that. But in many cases, they can’t and therefore give advice because they feel a social obligation to be helpful. Hence they provide the information to ease this pressure on themselves.

When people vent, they are often not asking for help. Yes, we’ve likely tried what you think is obvious and for many reasons, we haven’t got anywhere. You don’t have an obligation to help us a lot of the time. And if you do, we will often ask directly. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to listen and let us vent. That is more helpful than any advice nine times out of ten.

Sometimes we are gatekept, other times there are genuine access needs or extra barriers that we can’t overcome. A good example is how many services only offer a telephone contact method which is not accessible for many people. Therefore, a lot of emergency/crisis support is not accessible, like support lines. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been given crisis lines by people trying to support me only for me to explain that I can’t access it. I’ve had to start preemptively telling people not to offer them which has finally got people to back off.

Asserting needs is key for people in complex situations

Marginalised people have to assert their needs preemptively a lot – if it is even safe to do so. We aren’t “typical clients” – we are people dealing with the most challenging periods of our lives and we have additional support needs. So yes, that means telling providers not to contact people via the phone in advance before they suggest it if possible. It means telling providers what our triggers are in advance, so they aren’t likely to set them off by mistake. Sometimes it means not saying anything at all about certain aspects if possible. To give one example, trans people who have passing privilege are usually better off not disclosing to services they are transgender as it risks discrimination.

Good people will accommodate our needs. Good people will respect our boundaries. Good people will understand that unsolicited advice is often counterproductive. Good people that don’t understand any of this yet will take the time to learn and help their staff be better at supporting vulnerable people. If you’ve read this article, that’s an excellent sign. The world needs good people and active support networks. One way to do that is understanding the lived experience of service users. Hopefully, this post has gone a little way towards this goal.

That’s all for today,
Milla xx

When You’re Trans, Autistic and Homeless, Finding a Place to Live is Almost Impossible

CN for transphobia, ableism, abuse, legal discrimination, intrusive questions, executive function

Hi all,

Apologies for the inactivity on here for the last several weeks. Today I’m going to talk a bit about the issues I’ve had accessing housing – which is something I’ve had to deal with extensively over the last several months. In short, my living situation at home with my parents became toxic (mainly due to blatant transphobia, ableism and overall abuse, but that’s for another time). The major reason it took me so long to leave home were because I am hitting systematic barriers that makes it difficult for me to access any form of help. That’s not just my words. It’s the words of one of many housing support staff I’ve been in contact with. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

I’m going address them one by one:

Fear of the unknown:

One of the major things that stopped me from leaving sooner was the anxiety caused by the uncertainty of what would happen next once I leave. Where would I go and who would I stay with? How would I be able to cope on the streets if that came to pass? In a way, staying in the toxic household is better due to the routine and certainty of having a place to sleep. This is one reason autistic people find it difficult to escape abusive situations in general.

Most housing services have inaccessible contact methods:

Due to all the stress my functioning ability had decreased significantly. One way this showed is that I could no longer use the phone even to call people I had called before already. This meant I could not access emergency accommodation in my area for one as all of them had phone numbers only and email addresses are harder to find if they are publically available.

Additionally, when I did email housing services they are either slow to reply or don’t reply at all. This included a UK LGBT housing charity I referred myself to in good faith they’d get back to me but they never did. If a housing provider does not offer an accessible contact method they are from the fact excluding those with disabilities from applying to their services and condemning them to their deaths as a result.

Additionally, emergency accommodation is potentially unsafe for marginalised people because of the chances of being trapped in an even more toxic environment. This applies to the physical environment as well as potentially the people staying there. Hence not being able to verify this in advance means it’s a no-go for many people.

Women’s refuge services have transphobic policies:

Here is a bit of a sticky topic. In the UK’s Equality Act 2010, there are legitimate exceptions in the Act that let services to discriminate against minorities if it’s a “proportionate means to achieve a legitimate aim.” This includes potential discrimination against trans people when accessing refuges on the grounds of their gender. Or more specifically, their genitals. When i tried to get access to a women’s refuge in the summer, I visited once to sign up, but I had to disclose I’m transgender in part because the form required it – but also because I did not fully pass at the time and there was no way I could have gotten away with lying on the form.

As a result, I got barred from face to face contact with the refuge as a result due to the fact I’m pre-op (irrespective of the facts that many trans people don’t have surgery and that surgery isn’t something I could get access to for years if at all). They did offer signposting and limited telephone/email support but it upset me so much I am turned off refuges for life. They told me that this is due to their policy which ended up being based on reasons relating to biological differences and safety concerns which shows fundamental misunderstanding of trans issues at best and bad faith transphobia at worst.

Not able to rent privately:

There are a few reasons for this and many of them relate to personal circumstances which I will not elaborate on. However, I will detail some notable issues that affect people like me in general. the biggest reason is because I was trying to hold down a full-time job. I gave up on getting help to escape in the summer so I ended up banking on the money from a job to help me move however this was not possible long-term.
I did not have the energy or executive function to juggle trying to find a room as well as full-time work with a commute. It was too much for me having had to spend my lunch breaks and much of my non-working hours recovering. This meant I could not view rooms and thus could not make any progress.

Other access issues are that I could not work out what listings on the housing sites like Spare Room were legitimate plus many landowners specifically ask people to call them to enquire. This meant I had a lot of access issues even finding places to view so contacting them were largely inaccessible just like housing services. That plus the ensuring anxiety and lack of support meant processing the listings for red flags became very difficult. Same applies for finding houses that are trans friendly.

Finally, there is another legal loophole that meant many more listings weren’t accessible to me. Many of the listings were by live-in landlords and if the “small premises exception” applies they can discriminate on all minority characteristics (bar race) under the guise of a “preference.”
The conditions where this applies are the following (based on the info here):

  • The landlord or a relative of theirs will be living in another part of the same property and intend to continue living there
  • The landowner (or their relative) share part of the property with the other residents. This doesn’t include common accessways (like corridors and stairs) and common storage areas
  • The most likely shared parts will be kitchens or bathrooms; and either:
  • The property includes accommodation for at least one other household, which is separately let, but cannot accommodate more than two other separately let households; or
  • The property is not normally sufficient to provide residential accommodation for more than six people (in addition to the landowner or their relative and their household members)

Seeing as many of the listings I found fit into those categories – alongside the fact I couldn’t pass fully then – meant that I had to rule out a lot of listings. As many landowners are older, more privileged cis people and thus more likely to misunderstand, I did not feel safe putting myself into that situation which is before considering my autism-related needs. I very highly doubt I am alone in this although I can’t confirm personally.

The system for finding accommodation for housing related support:

The current system in the UK for someone who needs housing support to fill out a form via the council stating the needs people have and where they’d like to stay. Then housing providers can view applications on their systems so that if they can contact the applicant to request an interview. I haven’t been to an interview so I don’t know how that goes down, just the initial application meeting for one provider. In that meeting I was asked more about my needs as well as what steps I’ve took to undergo transitioning which includes social, legal and medical. I didn’t particularly want to give any details on the medical side – and the person I saw was very apologetic about having to ask it – but I believe that is a requirement too. Regardless, in the end that didn’t go anywhere as they didn’t have room for me either. However that was only one provider so hopefully there are more out there.

Being declared as unintentionally homeless:

The gist of this is that if I’m declared as intentionally homeless, the council would not help me and this would affect what support I’d get. It’s the same for any homeless person even though the circumstances will be different each time. My circumstances of fleeing abuse is one of a few instances where somebody leaving home when they aren’t being kicked out is not becoming intentionally homeless. It did mean that me and my parents had to meet with a council rep to have some kind of “mediation” even though I knew going in it wasn’t going to be feasible. It was annoying but I entertained the mediation idea and it paid off.

Wider political context:

There is a housing shortage in the UK and has been for some time thanks to the Conservative party. Nowhere near enough affordable social housing exists as the demand for that considerably outstrips supply. The same also applies to supported housing and other types of accommodation. Additionally, there is a lot of homes that are lying empty due to being owned by the mega rich and not occupied. Hence even if I was not marginalised I would still have some problems.

With all the above said, the only option left for me for now is to sofa surf and frankly if I didn’t have friends to help I would have been in a seriously bad place. And being autistic and trans even having friends is a privilege because social anxiety and dysphoria makes it hard for friendships to form.

In some ways, my experiences with my friends the past couple of months have somewhat restored my faith in humanity because it shows that people will step up where they can. However, it also shouldn’t be this way and that’s sad. It’s one reason I’ve written this post because it’s this kind of first hand testimony that spreads awareness of these issues so legal reform can be done. Most people are not even aware of these issues in any real detail especially if they are not involved in the disability, LGBTQ+ or housing communities. Hence I am providing some of the detail.

For me personally, I don’t know what the future holds. I’m hoping to no longer be homeless by the end of this year but I really can’t say for sure yet. Regardless, hopefully 2020 will be a happier, more prosperous year for me. Happy New Year to you all and hopefully 2020 is just as prosperous for you too.

Kind regards,
Milla xx