My birthday is quickly approaching, and much like every other human with a Facebook account, I’ve been asked if I want to start a birthday fundraiser. I do not. I do have a different request of you all, though. In lieu of a Facebook fundraiser, I ask that you the reader — whether you be friend, family, coworker, or random person on the internet who happened across this piece — give directly to someone in need.
Choose a day in Gemini season (or multiple days) and find someone to help. Not just any kind of help. Specifically, monetary support. Cash! Take the $14 you would’ve used to buy me a birthday drink, and give it away. Yes, that is a pricey drink, but I deserve the best for my birthday, don’t I? If you’re not sure where to start or what to do, just walk down the street in your city and find someone who is struggling. You will know them when you see them. I ask these things of you as you make your way through the world:
- Give to a homeless person. Remember that homelessness exists on a spectrum. It can mean living on the streets, in one’s car, or bouncing back and forth between shelters and cheap motels. Don’t tell yourself that they must not really be in need because their clothes are clean and they smell nice. Remember that homelessness does not have any singular look. It’s not always dirty clothes and tattered shoes. Sometimes it’s a cheerful nine-year-old brown girl with the flyest Princess Jasmine backpack you’ve ever seen.
- Give to someone who is begging regardless of whether they are homeless or not. Some people can pay their rent but can’t pay their electricity bill. Maybe they need to buy non-perishable foods because the eggs, the milk, the meat have spoiled with no refrigerator to keep them cold. Maybe they need Our Lady of Guadalupe prayer candles to provide light for the kids to do their homework at night.
- Give to someone who is not begging. Those in need will not always explicitly ask. Maybe they say something; maybe they don’t. Maybe they have a sign; may not. Maybe they make eye contact; maybe they have their head down in their lap. Don’t always wait for someone to ask for help. Offer it.
- When someone asks for money, be willing to give money. Don’t insist on buying them food instead. Don’t tell yourself that they’ll probably spend it on drugs or alcohol. There’s no need to question where the money you give will go. They know what they need. You do not. I don’t mean to suggest that you shouldn’t give or buy food at all. Simply remember that those in need do not only need food. They also need soap, and tampons, and socks, and medication. Remember that it is patronizing to attempt to dictate how another human spends money. Consider how shitty it is to refuse to help someone in need because you disapprove of what they buy with the few dollars they have. Think about how much you need a drink at the end of a stressful day and how much more you would need that drink if you were destitute. Don’t reduce someone to a stereotype by assuming they’re an addict or alcoholic, but even if they are, if those few dollars you probably won’t even miss go to drugs or alcohol, so be it.
- If someone does specifically ask for food, don’t get upset when they refuse your apple and half-eaten sandwich. Remember that the poor and homeless can still have dietary restrictions. They can have diabetes, and IBS, and food allergies. They can also just hate the taste of apples. And that’s totally fine. Some will take what you offer; others will not. Some will be grateful; some won’t be. Some will be picky; and some will eat anything you put before them. These are all acceptable outcomes. Don’t let one person’s reaction prevent you from offering to others. Keep in mind also that some will be hesitant to accept food from someone without having seen them purchase it. People often treat the poor/homeless cruelly, so some are cautious about the food they accept.
- Don’t get upset or annoyed when someone asks for help. So what if if they approach you during your lunch break? So what if they interrupt your conversation? So what if you’re in the middle of reading a book? A human being trying to survive shouldn’t be an inconvenience to you.
- Put yourself in the shoes of someone in need, particularly those of a homeless person who is forced to beg to survive. Think about how difficult it can be to ask people for help. Many of us ask favors of our friends or family. We ask them to housesit, help us move, or give us a ride. Now imagine asking, not just for something that will make your life easier, but for something you desperately need. Imagine having to ask strangers. Think about how vulnerable you would feel and how embarrassed you would be. Now think about how it feels to be told “no.” We’ve all experienced it in some way. Maybe someone you asked on a date turned you down, or maybe you didn’t get a job you interviewed for. Being told “no” can be annoying, frustrating, and sometimes painful. Imagine being told “no”, being refused help, by dozens, hundreds, or in a city like New York, thousands of people a day. Every day. Imagine that some don’t even take the time to acknowledge your existence, but rather ignore you instead. Imagine people going out of their way to avoid you as if you’re some kind of rabid animal. Treat humans humanely. Regardless of their socioeconomic status. Regardless of how they look or smell. Regardless of whether they have mental illness or not.
- Help the working poor. Give a nice tip to the deliver person who walked up 3 flights of stairs to bring food to your door. Already tipped through Seamless? Tip again in cash. Buy something from your local elote man or the woman selling churros in the train station (or whatever your city’s version of this is). Give them a hefty tip. Remember that they probably can’t afford to take a day off.
- Help those with a street hustle (or train hustle). Buy some cookies or M&Ms from kids teenagers selling them in your neighborhood. When it’s showtime on the Q train, watch. Don’t worry, they won’t accidentally kick you in the face. Probably… When the show’s over, tip.
- Don’t choose not to give because you don’t have change for a larger bill. Go ahead and give the whole $5. Give the whole $20, if you can.
- Don’t choose not to give because you saw someone else give. It’s not like the person in need met their money quota for the day.
- Don’t let internalized prejudices or respectability politics prevent you from giving to those in need.
Look, I know you’re not a baller (Or maybe you are. I don’t know your life). Maybe you weren’t going to buy me a $14 bougie cocktail for my birthday. For some, $14 is nothing. For others, it’s a few days worth of food. I simply ask that, if you are able, give to someone with less than you, be it $14 or $0.14. When someone asks you for change, don’t do that thing where you turn to the person next to you and say “Do I look like I have money?” because yes, you do look like you have money. You may not be wearing an Armani suit or carrying a Givenchy bag, but if you’re not begging strangers for money to survive, then it looks like you’re better off than the person who is. You don’t have to be rich to give. You don’t have to be rich to be kind.
If you’re struggling too much to give money, give something else. Pay a genuine compliment. Swipe someone in with your unlimited Metrocard. Promote the work of your artist friends. Tell everyone you know about Marsha P. Johnson. Don’t know who she is? Learn. It is Pride Month, after all.
For those of you who are ballers — or planned on buying me two birthday drinks — go a step further. Join a reparations group and meet a request for aid. Donate directly to an activist putting in physical, emotion, and/or intellectual labor to dismantle systems of oppression. Those artist friends of yours, see their shows and buy their wares. Give some coins to a fat, trans, queer, disabled femme for simply existing in a world that hates them.
Also, I know I asked you to do this all for my birthday, but maybe it could extend past Gemini season. Like, maybe all the time?
TL;DR: I’m not doing a Facebook birthday fundraiser. So, do me a solid and give the money you would’ve spent on a birthday drink directly (not through a charity) to those in need.