"Oh, they let you have a key, that's nice."
It was just a casual chat with a stranger, over tea, at a small café nearby. It began with weather, as it always does and moved on to the 'what do you do?' conversation. I listened politely to a story, proudly told, of work, before retirement, in senior management at an investment firm. I mentioned that I worked as a director in an agency that serves people with intellectual disabilities. In the course of our chat I was asked about my hours and I said that I went in very early. "Oh they open that early?" "No, I have a key, I let myself in?" Now there was a surprise!
Apparently it was nice that 'they' let me have a key.
It's not uncommon for people to assume there is this great 'they' in my life; a 'they' who allow or disallow me to various things in my life. Let me give you some examples about how liberal and 'empowering' my 'they' are:
"Oh, they let you go out all by yourself!"
"Oh, they let you handle your own money!"
"Oh, they let you eat that?"
"Oh, they let you travel on the subway by yourself?"
Don't I just have a wonderful 'they.'
I was talking with a woman with an intellectual disability the other day about this. She was very surprised that people thought I had a 'they' too. Her parents, her friends, the people she works with always assume that what she does is approved of after multitudes of meetings have been held, dozens and dozens of forms filled out, hundreds of donuts dunked in gallons of coffees in thousands of consultations and, of course, a stamp of approval from 'they'.
For her, who has lived under the regime of 'they' it's really important for her to establish herself as the person who controls her own life, who makes her own decisions, and asks for help seldomly and only when she needs it.
For me, who transitioned from being my own 'they' to existing under the control of an assumed other 'they' ... it's a matter of maintaining ground, refusing to be seen as other than I am because I am now other.
In the café I said to the fellow I was amicably chatting with that 'I' was 'They' ... I was a Director of the agency.
He looked at me, surprised again, "You mean it's like a real job?"
"Yes," I said, watching his coffee freeze in his cup from the frost on my breath.