Sandra Alland

          

Personal Assistant 

            When the doorbell rang that first day I was only half-dressed. It was taking a long time because I didn't have a PA. Sherry had quit without notice because she'd been invited to a party in Ibiza. I asked her if maybe there was a party in Glasgow she could go to instead, but she'd just rolled her middle-class eyes.
            Holding on to personal assistants was difficult. PAs like Sherry worked for weekend coke money, bolting for every overpriced gig down a warm flight of stairs. Others quit when they found out I was queer, either because I told them or because, well, it's an intimate job. Or they left because even though they'd known exactly what they'd have to do, they decided it was beyond their dignity. To be fair, Sherries were rare. Most PAs have lives more fucked-up and precarious than mine. And let's be honest, the amount the government pays is no grand incentive for loyalty.
            The day Sherry's replacement arrived, I didn't have high hopes. I'd been unable to decipher her response to my Gumtree ad. Though it seemed an agreement to meet on Tuesday ("Toooooos daiiiiiiiiii"), the email was otherwise all vowels and no punctuation. But it was signed clearly at the bottom, 'The Hurricane, Pronouns she/her.' There was also a YouTube link. I clicked, and a title appeared: "Personal Assistant, Includes Some Cleaning." Then it was 45 seconds of visual and aural whooshing, followed by a photo of a bedroom so immaculate it looked unreal. I'm getting desperate, I'd thought.
            But as I rolled slowly to the door in my pants and t-shirt, I realized I was being dead negative. Only wankers would assign worth based on writing and speaking. Plus, clearly a mysterious force of nature was better than no PA at all.
           When I reached the front hall, the letterbox started to flutter. There was a scraping knock, like by hands shaped from a thousand leaves. I finally slid the deadbolt open, and The Hurricane was past me in a windy blur. I had trousers and socks on before I knew it, my wheelchair's wheels were shining, the washing-up was done, and breakfast was served. I was like that. [1]

[Image description: a footnote that reads, “This a Glasgow expression and I’m now taking the face that goes with it. Looking to the side; mouth open in a mix between incredulous and disgusted.”]

[Image description: a footnote that reads, “This a Glasgow expression and I’m now taking the face that goes with it. Looking to the side; mouth open in a mix between incredulous and disgusted.”]

            But The Hurricane hadn't just washed the dishes – she'd disappeared them. She served my jelly piece on a napkin. I looked everywhere for my favourite mug after she left, even over the edge of the balcony. There was no trace. It's not that I wasn't a bit weirded out, or that I could afford new plates. But if you know just how hard it is to find a good PA, or one who stays, you'll get that my priorities were elsewhere. I ate my breakfast and smiled for the first time in weeks.
            Pure magic happened with The Hurricane around. Instead of spending money I couldn't afford on accessible taxis and trains that often turned out to be not-even-vaguely accessible, she'd just scoop me up and suddenly we were at a Glasgow Disability Alliance LGBT meet-up near Glasgow Green. Or we'd land in the Lidl parking lot, having conveniently erased an abled person's car from the disabled space. The hoovering got done.
            It was well hard to understand The Hurricane between all the gusts and howling, but over time I got the gist. She hadn't chosen a name for herself, she said, because hurricanes with names wound up as puddles. She liked lesbian genre films, chip butties and anarchy. Seeing as she wasn't a regular storm from around here, people always thought her over the top. They even stopped wanting to talk about the weather, it was that bad. All of which made her as fed up as me – and made us thick as thieves.
            Things did get strained for a wee while. The Hurricane just couldn't make it through a day without disappearing items that mattered. Even though shite austerity cutbacks meant I could only afford her seven hours a week, she'd almost emptied my flat of clothes, books, dishes, even furniture. I was running out of pants with cute sayings on them. And though The Hurricane was doing her best, I could see she was feeling bad about ruining and losing my things. It was getting us both down.
            The day after my gin swirled and vanished into The Hurricane's depths for what needed to be the last time, we went to the pain clinic. While the Australian doctor talked shite about replacing my painkillers with constant physiotherapy, I fantasized about The Hurricane disappearing his head. [2] Luckily, when the useless doctor turned his back, his assistant whispered something calming: "Find a way to funnel your rage, hen." It gave me ideas for The Hurricane. I knew there had to be a way for her to learn selective, victimless destruction.

[Image description: a footnote that reads, “I looked at The Hurricane, sat in the corner trying not to destroy anything, and pointed at the doctor with my lips. Like this, you move your lips but not your eyes in the direction of what you’re referring to. But she didn’t get my message.”]

[Image description: a footnote that reads, “I looked at The Hurricane, sat in the corner trying not to destroy anything, and pointed at the doctor with my lips. Like this, you move your lips but not your eyes in the direction of what you’re referring to. But she didn’t get my message.”]

            The Hurricane wasn't funnel-shaped like tornadoes, but I'd seen her manage precise moments with disabled parking spaces. I had hope for her. The next Monday I announced we'd go on a 4AM trip to Merchant City so that she could get the hang of things, get some practice in. I didn't really think it through, but sometimes you go with your gut.
            When The Hurricane landed us on the corner of Wilson and Virginia, I pointed to a doorway. Polo Lounge was rumoured to employ dodgy entrance policies, turning away queer and trans people they didn't like the looks of – especially if those looks were non-white. Also, they were made of stairs. Like most of LGBT Glasgow, Polo didn't have accessible toilets or think about disabled people in the slightest. But they'd gone the extra mile of kicking out some disabled queers who'd managed to get in. They even got sued, and lost.
            Despite compensation payments and bad press, word on the street was that nothing had changed. But people still went there, even some of my pals. It's depressing how little disability justice matters to folk [3]. But The Hurricane seemed to think it was more wrath-making than sad. Sometimes shite from the community made her angrier than shite from the powers that be. Anarchists get like that. As I told her the story, she began to spin faster. She started to rain and suck rubbish from the peopleless street as she turned round and round with a force I'd never seen.

Image description: a footnote that reads, “Once I was scrolling through this Facebook group, Queer Events Glasgow. Everything people posted was down a flight of stairs: Nice N Sleazy, 13th Note, Stereo. I was like that. (Which this time means I was lying in bed, staring up at nothing. Like this.”]

Image description: a footnote that reads, “Once I was scrolling through this Facebook group, Queer Events Glasgow. Everything people posted was down a flight of stairs: Nice N Sleazy, 13th Note, Stereo. I was like that. (Which this time means I was lying in bed, staring up at nothing. Like this.”]


            I got excited because I hadn't thought of the environmental benefits until then. But just as my mind was sinking into fantasies of a Glasgow recycling revolution, a blast blew my wheelchair backwards. I whizzed down the street of inaccessible cis gay men's clubs, and past the tiny plaque engraved with, "Tobacco lords worked here." I could almost touch the inaccessible sex shop as I flew between it and another plaque that said, "Tobacco and sugar were traded here in the 18th century," instead of, "This city got filthy rich off slavery and racism." Then Virginia Street was so full of rain and debris I couldn't see. Something hit my head, maybe a flying box of poppers.
            I came to at home in my bed, The Hurricane nowhere to be seen. Scrolling through Twitter, I discovered Polo Lounge was gone, too. The whole building, most of the street. No one was hurt, but the entire rampless, gentrified, slave-merchant block had vanished. I tried to be sad for the lost gay history, but I just couldn't muster feelings for a place that hadn't cared for hundreds of years if disabled, Black and poor people lived or died.
            The Hurricane showed up Wednesday as if nothing had happened. But I could tell she was anxiously biting the area where her lip might be if she ever stopped moving. When she saw I wasn't angry, we shared the most intimate, breezy smile. I realized I was in the Eye; it got pure calm and warm and spacious, and when I looked way up and to the side I could see my old copy of Living a Feminist Life floating next to some rainbow condoms.
            Over time, The Hurricane learned precision. There were plenty of buildings we didn't want to destroy, especially if they were accessible and pretty. Instead, The Hurricane replaced all TERF [4] publications with transfeminist manifestoes at libraries and bookshops, especially ones where they'd kicked out trans women. She sucked cash from the registers of public galleries – the ones selling colonialist Commonwealth knick-knacks – and floated it through the defunded door of POC-led Transmission Gallery. We planned and perfected the relocation of whole collections of queer, Black and disabled public art as payback for censoring or not programming queers, underplaying links to the slave trade, and having quota for how many wheelchairs could be in a room at once[5].

[Image description: footnote that reads, “I’m raisin my eyebrows if you’re lucky enough to never have heard of Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists.”]

[Image description: footnote that reads, “I’m raisin my eyebrows if you’re lucky enough to never have heard of Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists.”]

[Image description: footnote that reads, “Aye, it’s a real thing. I’m making a V with my fingers for the number allowed at Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art.”

[Image description: footnote that reads, “Aye, it’s a real thing. I’m making a V with my fingers for the number allowed at Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art.”

            In an inaccessible room at the top of Provand's Lordship on Castle Street, The Hurricane whisked framed drawings of disabled Victorian street performers off their nails. She blew them over the unmarked paupers' graves in the Necropolis and the old wall of Duke Street Prison and directly into my lounge. When apologies and reconciliation aren't forthcoming, there's always reparations through property redistribution.
            We blasted things off walls and toppled pedestals all over town. At Strathclyde University: the plaque dedicated to Brian Souter of the Keep the Clause 28/2A campaign to prevent the 'promotion' of homosexuality in schools. In George Square: statues of imperialists. At the City Chambers: the facade of Queen Victoria receiving gifts from people she'd colonized. Dennistoun's Buffalo Bill statue landed at the bottom of the Clyde, a fittingly aromatic place for someone who'd got rich forcing Indigenous prisoners of war to reenact their people's murder as entertainment.
            Eventually our spree had to end, you're thinking. The Hurricane must have got caught, or a better job, or tired of changing my pants. Or maybe I failed my PIP assessment with Atos or Capita or G4S or whichever Tory corporation was doing rigged assessments of disabled and D/deaf people that week [6].

[Image description: footnote that reads, “Sorry to be grim, but I’m spitting. Like the way my grandfather used to when anyone mentioned the Queen. It’s like an inherited trait, involuntary, always to the right.”]

[Image description: footnote that reads, “Sorry to be grim, but I’m spitting. Like the way my grandfather used to when anyone mentioned the Queen. It’s like an inherited trait, involuntary, always to the right.”]

            But good times don't always end. Maybe, when after many years we ran out of quality things to do in one of the Second Cities of the Empire, The Hurricane and I fell in love with twin genderqueers from Stromness and moved north. You must've noticed it's dead stormy up there.


Sandra Alland

Sandra Alland

Sandra Alland is a Glasgow-based writer, filmmaker and interdisciplinary artist. San has published three poetry books in Canada, and co-edited the UK-based Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches, 2017). Recent stories appear in Gutter: the magazine of new Scottish writing, and the anthologies Protest! (Comma, Manchester), Thought X (Comma) and We Were Always Here: A Queer Words Anthology (404 Ink, Edinburgh). www.blissfultimes.ca @san_alland


[Black-and-white photo by Tiu Makkonen. A white person stands with a cane, looking up and into the camera with a pleasant expression. They have short dark hair and an eyebrow piercing, and wear a collared gingham shirt with dark sweater, trousers and boots.]