I was raised to be nice. To go “above and beyond” for people. To be physically and mentally available, and above all, to be emotionally available. Withholding emotional labor was presented to me as a form of actual cruelty.
I’ve written about emotional labor before. At the time, I was still coming to terms with the ways in which my upbringing focused on emotional labor, and especially the ways it focused on constant availability as a form of emotional labor.
What I learned from it all was that the only way to be accepted and acceptable was to do for others, mentally and emotionally.
This, of course, landed me in a bucket full of crabs.
Since I climbed out of/kicked over the bucket by deciding I was no longer going to participate in free, unappreciated emotional labor for the autistic activist community, two interesting patterns have developed.
1. I’m getting asked for free emotional labor a lot more.
I archived Autistic Academic when I left, but it is still available online. I also left up the Autistic Academic Facebook page, even though I noted in a sticky post at the top that I was no longer updating it, because it contains some decent information, and I saw no need to destroy all that work just because I was no longer interested in adding to it.
For the 3-4 years the blog and FB page were active, I got 1-2 message requests for free emotional labor every year. The most common were requests for advice, followed by requests that I help promote the sender’s project and requests for a shoulder to cry on.
In the 3-4 weeks since I stopped engaging, I have gotten multiple message requests for free emotional labor every week.
The requests for advice and promotion still happen; the requests for a shoulder to cry on have disappeared entirely.
2. I’m getting paid for emotional labor I already did.
The response from the autistic-activist community to my novel was tepid at best, even though the response to the idea of it was extremely warm. Looking over the publisher’s numbers, I’m actually not surprised; it’s obvious that while the activist community is happy to talk about books in their niche, actual sales of those books occur outside the activism circles, in a much broader community. Exceptions exist, but they’re rare enough to be considered exceptions, not to constitute a market.
In the two years before I kicked over the crab bucket, my Patreon got attention only from people I already considered personal friends. My Ko-Fi got no attention at all.
In the month since, my Ko-Fi has contributed $21 to my bottom line: not enough to live on, but enough to make me appreciative of those who did contribute, and especially of the ones who specifically noted how blog posts I wrote for the activist community helped them. My novel sales have jumped too. (My Patreon is offline.)
Here’s what the pattern tells me:
- My emotional labor has value. People didn’t know what they had in me till I was gone, and now that I am, they’re looking to get it back.
- My emotional labor has value. People are willing to express their appreciation for my work in the form of U.S. currency.
- “Fuck you, pay me” is a viable business model. Drawing boundaries, doing emotional labor for myself in the form of blogging what I need to articulate at the moment, and conserving my energies for audiences that actually engage with me instead of wanting me doing for them offers returns in a way that merely throwing my energy at the Void never will.
The boundaries-conservation model is anathema to everything I was taught as a child. Then, the lesson was that boundaries themselves were unkind, even cruel, and that the only way to be appreciated or to get ahead was to give, give, give. I’m going to call this the Underpants Gnomes model of business:
Phase 1: Give ’til it hurts.
Phase 2: ??????????
Phase 3: Profit.
Except here, Phase 3 is “get enough crumbs to survive on” and Phase 2 is “burn out completely, wind up in the hospital, and lose the ability to enjoy Phase 3 even if you reach it.”
“Fuck you, pay me” came into my life when I wrote it on an index card and stuck it to one of my boards as a joke. Turns out it actually works.
Thank you to everyone who has expressed their appreciation by buying me a coffee and to everyone who would like to do so by clicking that link.