“Should I die in my bed tonight, be I remembered for it or not, my life and endeavours will have laid the legislative foundations in our law for the significant enhancement of the rights and prospects of people who are intersexed. Knowing this, when I go gently into that good night I can go proudly” (Gross 2011: 237).¹
In memory of Sally Gross, who passed away a fortnight ago. She was a hugely valuable activist and a warm, humble, kind and honest person, who was always more interested in others than herself… right to the end. She posted a few words of comfort to my social media perhaps a day or 2 before passing away and right then I was in a crisis but wished I had the spoons to write and catch up with how she was doing at that time, she was battling with bigger unresolvable health issues that I was then.
I want to write about disability, illness and isolation but it’s too overwhelming in my own life currently. I disagree with one thing in this tribute and Sally would surely disagree with me. I think guilt would be healthy, it can prompt us to enact well-needed change. I learned from someone that Sally didn’t have a lift to and from hospital on occasions, then I didn’t know her well enough but eventually offered her a lift. It may’ve been awkward to insist when it may have been odd for her to have me ask in the first place, I learned this fact about her from someone else after all and I realise now that other friends of hers didn’t know. She occasionally took a cab, as did I (I am and was unemployed but that’s the way it is with disability and illness, asking for a lift when in need is hard, I did anyway and it became clear I’m an inconvenience, for me it becomes easier to get help from strangers than ableist friends). I found out our dear maxi taxi driver knows a Sally when he took me to my GP, the same she went to. I guess he assumed I knew all the disabled people he did, or for some reason talked about them a lot. I knew the others, and had met Sally but couldn’t tell and didn’t ask which Sally he kept referring to until he disclosed to me that she was intersex.
I’d met Sally at events we attended, once at a talk she gave on intersex issues – I was thrilled when she said she was asexual (she had been describing it in other terms since about 2000 but I had not read about her really), I went to introduce myself at the end as a fellow asexual among other things. It was huge for me to meet another ace in flesh for the first time (who was also aromantic -and- walked with a cane!), asexuality was not a big deal for her though and we were both in a rush. I’d see her at events now and then but I got to know her better only in the months before I left South Africa sadly.
Coming back to the subject of isolation, I had 3 individual farewells. Odd in a place where I had lived my whole adult life, I had friends (though had had my share of foreigners too – other Africans) but not since I said I was moving out of the country or it was my latest disability that made some uncomfortable, and when that was clear I became withdrawn too. I was already multiply-disabled and felt I must stop revealing this one, I bore the health consequences of that and this too limited me socially.
I had a most memorable farewell with Sally – a drive through my favourite part of Capetown, lunch and a chill session at one of her favourite places, the Buddhist eatery in Simonstown. She was saying it’s probably her farewell too, and while I hoped I would be back and visit her again, it was refreshing to have frank conversations about death. She was, she said, ready to leave this realm and only concerned about leaving her cats. She was speaking in the context of Buddhism, she didn’t mention her fear of dying alone, later reported by her friends. Perhaps she avoided making me think of my own prospective situation.
It’s hard to ask for help or company in times of need in places where there is no disability justice movement; that said, I didn’t know her friends in Capetown – a mutual one had ceased to interact with me when I mentioned my last disability while access need was still easy, another who had been introducing me to people as her new child was back to being a stranger when she became aware of my lived reality. So many people get uncomfortable speaking about illness, especially illness that doesn’t end or other “negative things”. Instead of being immediately ableist they could’ve first told me there is a fundraiser for Sally. I found out about this fundraiser only after Sally’s death. Please note that it is ongoing, Mani Mitchell is carrying on her work as well as Nthabiseng Mokoena in South Africa.
A last visit to Sally was something I was really looking forward to. I regret that too many issues came in my way and then I boarded a 1-way flight I thought I would postpone.