Feminist Aspie

Does what it says on the tin.

The S Word, Tip Of The Iceberg

Yesterday afternoon, someone complimented me on my necklace. “Sorry!” I blurted out. After a few moments on the receiving end of her confused look, I amended my response to “Um, thanks!” I spent the rest of the day wondering why the heck I’d done that.

- – - – -

I walk mainly on my toes. I’m pretty sure I spent the first, say, ten years of my life blissfully unaware of this fact. At some point during the Asperger’s diagnosis, it was pointed out to me, or at least I read it somewhere, and then I probably went back to whichever Pokemon game was out at the time. It wasn’t until secondary school that it became a big deal. Somebody must have noticed, and somebody must have decided that it was worth obsessing over and making fun of. Having realised this, well-meaning family and friends thought the best way to resolve the problem was to magically make my tiptoes go away; however, without any actual magic powers, this could only be done through shouting “Feet!” at me every so often, and even then only for a few seconds. It didn’t occur to anyone that my problems weren’t caused by toes that hadn’t ever bothered me before, but by the people giving me hell for it. Or by other things, the loneliness, the meltdowns that then still occurred frequently, the sensory issues I didn’t know were even a thing because autism is still largely defined only from the perspective of a neurotypical outsider. All that, and everyone was interested in my foot position.

- – - – - 

Twice yesterday, I ran into the same person at the same part of the hallway where I live. On both occasions, the dialogue was the same. I saw her, jumped a little, said “Sorry!”, held the door open, and she said “Thank you”.

- – - – - 

I still walk mainly on my toes. Nothing’s changed, except now, the people I meet couldn’t care less. Apparently nobody even notices until I mention it myself. Its only impact on my life, other than never having to wear heels, was to teach me that people tend to only care about the tip of the iceberg. The bits they can see. They’d like to not see it because it’s weird and makes them uncomfortable. The rest, they already can’t see, and that’s fine by them.

- – - – - 

In between lectures this morning, I passed someone I know. He said “Hi Georgia!” or something along those lines. I replied with “Oh, um, sorry! Hi! Sorry!” I thought back to yesterday, in the hallway, and realised that the word I was looking for was “Hello”.

- – - – -

I’m sure I didn’t apologise too much before uni. At least, I’d never noticed it, until other people started pointing it out. Even then, I was just apologising for things that weren’t my fault, sliding “sorry to be a pain” into requests, things like that. Usually, people were laughing with me rather than at me. On its own, this didn’t bother me. What bothered me was that the growth of the S word, or at least the growth of the pointing out of the S word, coincided with a growing fear. I couldn’t put my finger on it then and I still can’t now, but I’m hurtling towards adulthood with absolutely no idea what I’m doing with my life and most of my friends graduating before me and executive function all over the place and generally not being able to take another second by the end of term, and it was scary to think about. At some point, I conflated the two things.

- – - – -

I was waiting for the microwave to finish this evening when someone else came into the kitchen, got some salt from the shelf, then left. The one thing I said to her was “sorry”. I wasn’t in the way. She’d just arrived.

- – - – -

Things have… developed since first year. The summer wasn’t great, for various external reasons I don’t need to go into. Last term obviously had its highlights, but generally was all kinds of horrible, and again, I can’t quite articulate why. On the plus side, this term’s going much better so far, although it’s far too early to tell if this will last. Meanwhile, resurfacing to the tip of the iceberg, the S word is now my general response to anything that happens. I’m not actually sorry at all, it’s just the noise I make. Like the tiptoe thing, it’s inspired many well-meaning people to “help” by shouting “STOP APOLOGISING!” and wrongly believing that actually makes a difference. Unlike the tiptoe thing, I think it would be inaccurate to call this a stim; it’s more of a practically involuntary back-up sound effect for when there’s too much going on to make actual words with meaning happen “properly” which, apparently, is most of the time these days. Also unlike the tiptoe thing, I’d also like to make it go away.

NOT because it’s weird and wrong and embarrassing and everyone’s going to laugh at you if you keep doing that, but because it’s getting in the way of my ability to string a sentence together. There’s a huge difference. Oh, and that it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

- – - – -

Tonight I was at a discussion-based meeting. Fitting enough chairs in a circle around the room was, well, interesting. I curled up a little. “Sorry.” “It’s… fine…” “…Yeah, sorry.”

- – - – -

I think it’s probably, for want of a better word, a symptom of whatever-the-heck-my-head-is-doing, the best explanation for which so far seems to be “demand > current coping mechanisms” which apparently isn’t uncommon amongst people on the spectrum. So it’s not a case of “have you tried speech therapy?” or “there’s no point feeling bad about it” or, my personal favourite, “STOP IT!”. It’s about sorting out the underlying stuff, and I don’t even know where to start with all that. Anything else is just a tiny inadequate sticking plaster.

- – - – -

Fitting the chairs *back* into a circle was basically impossible. Thirty seconds of freaking out later, it was sorted, I sat down, I rocked a little, I started waving my feet in front of me, like swimming, I guess. Not sure what it with me and stimming and feet, but there you go. “I like your shoes!”, someone said. Inevitably, “Sorry!!!” followed. But not before I instinctively hid away my legs back under the chair, back upright, apologising for that weird embarrassing not-normal thing.

Immediately I wondered why. I mean, he’s not exactly going to be horrible about my stimming; he’s autistic too.

I’d already chosen to blog about this tonight, but that was when everything clicked into place.

I’ve gotten too used to hiding as much as possible for as long as possible, to the point that I do so even when people don’t require it from me. Because the tip of the iceberg is weird and silly and pointless enough as it is.

And now, even if someone were to ask about what’s beneath the surface, I couldn’t talk about it. Even when I blog about it, I can’t find the right words and I settle for “close enough”. People want to see me as a person, so I shouldn’t talk about these things.

Only what they can see.

So now all I’ve got to describe it is “Well, I keep apologising for no reason.” And that doesn’t cover it at all.

15 Comments »

Echolalia, stimming and… erm… Daleks?

I’m back at uni, so I’m starting to try and think of short post ideas so, well, I can stop just abandoning the blog for weeks on end. This is one such post, so it’s really just a list of links, and hopefully I’ll keep posting around once a week.

Echolalia, explained in more detail here by Musings of an Aspie, is basically the repetition of words, either immediately or from remembered language such as movie lines. Such repetition is common in autistic people, both as a form of communication and as a stim; today I’m going to focus on the latter. Here’s a brilliant demonstration by Yes, That Too; “ladle” is a great word, isn’t it?

Personally, one of my stims is echolalia, and one of my special interests (not a big fan of that term myself, but I haven’t thought of anything better…) is Doctor Who. This leads to some really fun times on YouTube:

Exterminate! - Every time a Dalek says “Exterminate!” in both classic and modern Who (until the end of Series 5).

Fantastic! - Every time Nine/Christopher Eccleston says “Fantastic!”; this one includes more of each scene rather than just the word itself, so there’s less instant repetition, but here it is anyway.

Well… - A compilation of Ten/David Tennant saying “Well…” (with surprise John Barrowman at the end for some reason).

Tenth Doctor Says “Sorry” 120 Times – Does what it says on the tin. Also an accurate portrayal of what would happen if David Tennant were to star in a film about my life.

The Title Of The Episode, In The Episode - Every title drop in modern Who (until the end of Series 7). Stimming-wise, I think I’ve saved the best until last. There’s an episode in the first series called “Dalek”. You can imagine how many times that gets said. DALEK DALEK DALEK DALEK DALEK DALEK DALEK DALEK DALEK… I was shown this one and, much hand-flapping later, made a cup of tea whilst sort of bobbing around repeating the word “Dalek”. Possibly more fun for me than it is for most people… :P

I did look for a “bow ties are cool” montage, but I couldn’t find one. Instead, here’s a completely irrelevant but nonetheless amazing video demonstrating why Haddaway’s “What Is Love?” is incredibly well-suited to 50th anniversary “The Day of the Doctor” puns.

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Boundaries

(Content warning: Rape culture, harassment)

I spent all morning thinking about how to write this post in a way that didn’t feel uncomfortably personal and detailed. Instead, I’ll say this.

Life isn’t actually a romantic movie. Repeatedly pursuing someone is scary and intimidating and generally not okay.

No means no. Obviously. Also, consent isn’t like one of those puzzle games where you have to move blocks to free some sort of trapped item. “No” does not mean “ask me why”, especially if you’re going to decide that whatever they answered isn’t really a problem anyway. “That’s fine, it’s fine, come on, I love you, come onnnn.” Incidentally, “no” also does not mean “how about now? how about now? how about now?”

Oh, and “no” isn’t just about sex. Consent can be given, or not given, for all sorts of things. Boundaries need to be respected.

Yes, sometimes we pesky mysterious women have these weird things called “feelings” and “opinions” which – shock horror – can cause us to not absolutely comply with what you want. This doesn’t automatically mean it’s all going to blow over and I’m going to change my mind. It also doesn’t mean I’m on my period, but even if I am, that still doesn’t mean it’s all going to blow over and I’m going to change my mind.

Silence is not a “yes”. Freezing up out of fear is not a “yes”. Physically pushing you away is not ambiguous at all.

Break-ups are difficult enough. Trying to leave someone who won’t take “no” for an answer is terrifying. Having someone break their own rules about not contacting you during the “break” they’ve insisted on first is, well, disconcerting.

Insisting you’ll change and you’re a different person isn’t going to work. Repeated incessant attempts to “re-obtain” the, erm, actual human being is probably going to push them away further. Because, well, they’re an actual human being.

This should really go without saying, but repeated Facebook messages, letters, and unexpected visits to someone who’s expressly asked for space is really creepy.

If someone’s blocked you on Facebook after all of this, that’s a pretty obvious way of saying “DON’T. CONTACT. ME.” This doesn’t mean “message me via Mum’s Facebook instead”. This doesn’t mean “show up as our first-foot on New Year’s Day so it’s too awkward to not let you in”. This doesn’t mean “set up a Twitter account and follow me there instead.” (N.B. Thankfully this was my personal Twitter, although I’m now massively scared that FeministAspie is next)

It’s little things, just little things, tiny little things that do nothing but remind me of why I had to get out.

No means no means no means no means no.

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The inevitable blogversary post: Oh, Where Do We Begin?

The 2012 Christmas period was the first time I’d been home since starting university that autumn, and the combination of suddenly leaving the uni “bubble” and all of the inevitable socialising and Christmas/New Year celebrations made me realise that, despite identifying as a feminist and noticing the constant presence of sexism (and many other oppressions) far more than I used to, I still had a really hard time actually standing up to it, calling it out, questioning it out loud rather than just quietly to myself. So, in an attempt to start doing something about that (and, if I’m honest, out of procrastination), I decided to start a blog. I’ve always felt far more comfortable behind a keyboard with space to think than in front of people who can’t un-listen to what I say even if I totally mess it up, so I guess using the internet to vent in a way I couldn’t in real life seemed like an obvious solution. What I wasn’t counting on was that I’d remember the blog for longer that about a month and, shock horror, actual people would, for some strange reason, start reading the thing. Essentially, even one year on, I still have absolutely no idea what I’m doing and I’m still a little bit scared.

I have learned so much from the people I follow and/or talk to on both Twitter and WordPress; I’m more aware of my own privileges, and I hope this means I’m less likely to mess up. If I do mess up, please let me know so I can do something about it! Following on from that point, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve asked questions that are none of my business, I’ve waded into arguments when I shouldn’t have done so, and for that I can only apologise.

On the plus side, slowly but surely, I’m getting better at pointing out sexism as and when I see it, which I suppose was the primary aim of setting up this blog (at least from a purely selfish point of view). This, amongst other things, has led to a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing with regard to my anonymity (or lack thereof) which I guess is massively confusing. To clear things up: Nobody (well, almost nobody) in my offline life knows that this blog exists and for the time being I’d like to keep it that way, but at the same time, I talk about myself and my life perhaps a little bit too much, so people who, for some strange reason, actually read this thing regularly will end up knowing quite a bit about my actual real-life self. It’s basically one-way anonymity, it’s probably not sustainable, and I wouldn’t recommend it, but here we are.

I also tend to go off on tangents quite a bit. Since about February, I’ve been blogging not only about feminism but also about autism and the neurodiversity movement; again, I’ve learned so much more about neurodiversity and ableism/disablism from people I’ve interacted with as FeministAspie, and I don’t consider this particular topic as “going off on a tangent” because I’ve grown to see FeministAspie as a dual-purpose blog (as the name suggests). Unfortunately for the people who, for some strange reason, actually read this thing, I’ve also spent a lot of time moaning about the weather, rambling about Doctor Who, offering/enforcing entirely imaginary cups of tea, rambling about Doctor Who, whining about my life, rambling about Doctor Who, and occasionally shoehorning Bastille into my posts for no good reason (this is the part where you look up at this post’s title, say “ohhhhhh”, and roll your eyes). Oh, and did I mention Doctor Who? Sorry about that. Another thing I’m sorry about is occasionally abandoning the blog and/or Twitter. I’m aware that I’m really not very good at this. I guess life sort of gets in the way sometimes.

Anyway, seeing as the blogversary coincides quite neatly with New Year, I’ve actually bothered to make resolutions (which I probably won’t stick to, sorry in advance) and two of them are actually relevant to the blog:

  1. Stop constantly incessantly comparing myself to others and thinking about how they see me, because as you may have noticed from recent posts, it’s really getting to me, and all that inadequacy stuff really can’t be healthy. Sorry, this resolution is the one that isn’t really about the blog. Next!
  2. ACTUALLY BLOG REGULARLY. Post about autism one week, then feminism the next week, and so on. I know I said I’d do this back in October and that didn’t last very long, but hopefully I can find a way to make it a routine.
  3. Write blog posts that are actually about feminism and autism (and other intersecting oppressions and related social justice) rather than just rambling about my life… I am aware that this contradicts this very post. Oops.

And finally, THANK YOU! Thank you for being the people who, for some strange reason, actually read this thing, and like and comment and share and whatever else. Thank you for putting up with the sporadic updates, the bad paragraphing, the going off on tangents, and that “temporary” profile picture I never got round to changing. But most importantly, thank you for teaching me so much about feminism, and intersectionality, and blogging, and everything in between. Thank you so, so much.

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Equality Laws: They’re Not Magic Potions

So last night someone very helpfully explained to me that equality laws exist, so feminism is unnecessary and outdated. This was a revelation! I had no idea that equality laws were even a thing! It’s not like I’m a law student or anything…

Attempted sarcasm aside, equality laws help, but they’re not magic potions. For a start, the laws that exist depend entirely on where you live (so this post will probably be really UK-centric, sorry about that!). Secondly, whilst equality laws obviously help, they can’t necessarily change the mindsets and ideas that uphold the patriarchy (and other systems of oppression) in the first place. “Equal before the law” doesn’t necessarily mean “equal in society”.

In the UK, the first Equal Pay Act came into force in 1975, yet the gender pay gap still exists, and in many ways has increased from last year. Maternity discrimination is also still going strong. Furthermore, unpaid domestic work is still assumed to be “women’s work”, and anything perceived to be “women’s work” loses value on that basis alone. And that’s before we get started on all those tired stereotypes that limit girls’ ambitions right from early childhood.

Globally, one in three women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. For being women. Despite all the laws against it. The general attitude to consent is appalling. There’s the idea that silence and even unconsciousness “isn’t saying no” and when a woman does say “no” it means “try again later” or “tell me everything’s okay and I’ll change my mind” or anything else that isn’t “no”. There’s the idea that women are mystery puzzle games in which the goal is to obtain sex, and any woman that doesn’t want to have sex with you is a friendzoning bitch. And to top it all off, victims of abuse are often dismissed or even blamed.

Women are under-represented in boardrooms, in politics, in courts, in virtually all positions of power. There’s also the huge under-representation and objectification of women in the media. We’re judged by what we look like rather than what we do, mocked for failing to fit one impossible mould of “normal” beauty, then mocked for even trying, called vain and silly and weak for worrying about looks and weight when that’s exactly what we’re being constantly told to focus on. Women’s sport is also under-represented and drastically under-funded and under-publicised compared to men’s sport.

It sounds like nitpicking, but it all adds up. Sexist jokes. “Blonde” jokes where, coincidentally, the blonde person being mocked always happens to be female. Anything based on the idea that angry women are funny. All the rules about “real fans” and “fake geeks” that only ever seem to apply to women, especially teenage girls. And medical research, and therefore medical signs and symptoms, is often based solely on men. There’s the double standards.  The expectation that all women want to marry and have children. The assumption of “he” as the norm. Even the word “girl” is used as an insult towards men and boys. To be a girl is, apparently, demeaning.

And when any of this is pointed out? We’re called hysterical, irrational, over-reacting, humourless, out to stop fun. We’re told to calm down, stay nice and quiet and compliant. Silenced at every turn. In fact, various studies have found that men interrupt women more than vice versa - this probably isn’t deliberate, it’s just how we’ve all been socialised to behave, what we’ve been taught to accept as the norm.

So yes, I still need feminism. And no, we’re not done yet.

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Opening Up

I’ve never been very good at opening up. Well, to be honest, I have two extremes; there are a select few people to whom I whine incessantly about life, but with most people I stay very guarded. This explains the odd yo-yo-like status of this blog’s anonymity (or lack thereof). It also explains why I sometimes turn into a living breathing PR machine, sweeping the negative aspects of life under the carpet or skipping over them entirely when relaying stories to other people, regardless of whether or not the bad stuff is my own fault. I have no idea whether that’s an autism thing or not; it could be, although I certainly don’t think it’s limited to people on the spectrum. So, several weeks ago now, when I thought “When I get home from uni, I really need to tell my parents that perhaps I’ve been struggling just a tad more than I’ve been letting on”, it was a bit of an eye-opener to me as to just how big that “tad” was.

I’ve written a little bit about this before, way back in June when I first began to notice the problem, but it’s developed almost out of all recognition since then. It’s not just about social events, although that’s still a worsening issue; it’s sort of all-encompassing. I don’t really know how to explain it, but this term was defined by a general sense of NOPE TOO MUCH CAN’T COPE EXCUSE ME WHILE I HIDE IN THIS CORNER AND VAGUELY ATTEMPT BREATHING even when I was just in my room. Especially when I was just in my room. It’s still largely in the form of completely pointless fear, but towards the end of term there was a shift towards feeling totally drained, nothing left to give, whatever you want to call it. And I’m in two minds as to whether or not all this actually happens to most people and I’m just over-analysing as usual. Either way, I’ve also changed my mind about it being somehow separate from and/or in addition to Asperger’s because, I don’t know, the general “overwhelmed” feeling of it all seems pretty autistic to me (although again definitely not limited to autistic people), which is why I’m writing about it really. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t all been bad. As usual, I had some fantastic times this term. I know I still love uni really. I just couldn’t have taken another minute of it, is all.

Anyway, one particularly bad weekend, whilst perched in a corner in my room trying not to cry over some sort of laundry-based crisis (not that crying is a regular occurrence at all, I don’t know, it was a bad weekend), it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t kill me to actually talk to someone about this when I get home, because otherwise something has got to give. For the remainder of term, every so often I tried to formulate an explanation, almost rehearsing it, basing it mainly on specific incidents like the huge panic spiral on my first night back (quickly escalating from general justified worrying about work to feeling like I can hardly breathe because I didn’t know where to put my alarm clock or something). Except now I am home, and I have absolutely no idea where to start. There are a number of reasons for this.

  1. It’s probably nothing anyway. I over-think and I over-react. I don’t know, it’s what I do. Even writing this makes me feel like I’m just reversing the living-breathing-PR-machine thing by putting a negative spin on it all, and I do feel like I’m just using the blog to whine about my life because it saves having to get real-life people involved. Uni is stressful. Growing up is stressful. Life is stressful. Besides, being back home and not having just so much to think about feels so much better, so it’s probably just a natural part of growing up and becoming vaguely independent. Other people are just better at coping with it, and I make things worse through over-thinking.
  2. I just can’t quite find the words. I suppose asking for help requires an explanation of a.) the problem and b.) what you’d like the other person to do about it. At the moment, the first part of that is really difficult to articulate. I haven’t worried too much about my description for the purposes of this blog post, because mainly I want to focus on the opening-up issue, but I don’t think it’s quite accurate enough. Like I said, there are a handful of people at uni who must be sick of me whingeing at them by now, but even with them, the words I’ve used  just don’t quite seem to capture it.
  3. I don’t know what it’s going to solve. Not only is “the problem” seemingly impossible to describe properly, but “what you’d like the other person to do about it” isn’t even really a thing at all. It would just be an awkward conversation that goes nowhere.
  4. It’s awkward and difficult to admit that actually, I’ve been hiding something. I haven’t been outright lying (much), but I’ve definitely been omitting quite a lot of the truth and generally being a living breathing PR machine. It’s hard to go from that to “oh, by the way, things aren’t as fantastic as I’ve deliberately misled you to believe”, although actually I’m not sure it would surprise people much given my track record of, well, being a living breathing PR machine.
  5. There is literally no appropriate time to mention it. Over dinner? During an ad break? In the car? Really?
  6. Something else I can’t put my finger on. I don’t think it’s lack of trust. Or fear of judgement, apart from the whole over-reacting thing or because I’ve been economical with the truth for quite some time now. Maybe it’s to do with not wanting to worry people needlessly?

I’m still not entirely sure why I’m blogging about this, and I’m trying to justify it to myself by wondering whether or not it’s vaguely autism-related, so I’d love to know if anyone else on the spectrum does the whole living-breathing-PR-machine thing – or is that something everyone does? I have no idea. To be honest, mainly I’d just like to know how to stop being a living breathing PR machine and start actually sorting this out.

Hitting “Publish” is always so, so scary.

9 Comments »

Here’s To The Fangirls

Here’s to the fangirls.

Because fandom isn’t really an exclusive club which is entered only on the permission of other fans. And even if it were, what business does anyone else have to exclude you?

Because being a fan is about liking something. Not knowledge, or ability to afford merch or go to conventions, or whether or not you happened to be born long enough ago to remember the beginning. You just have to like the thing. That’s it.

Because female fans, especially teenage girls, are policed at every turn. But how many comics haven’t you read? How much trivia are you not yet aware of? People will try and trip you up.

They’ll assume you’re straight, and then they’ll assume you only like the thing because you like some attractive man that’s involved. Like everything a woman thinks revolves around men. Like it’s not possible to simultaneously like a fandom and be attracted to a person anyway. It’s usually only ever heterosexual women’s attraction to men that’s used to literally try and kick them out of the fandom. For instance, I didn’t see or hear a single remark from a teenage girl (or anyone) that Peter Capaldi was too old to be the Doctor,  but the Internet was full of people attacking teenage girls for this allegedly predominant opinion.

They’ll tell you that you’ve just jumped on a bandwagon,  you’re too late, if you weren’t there right at the beginning, you shouldn’t be there at all. Astoundingly, Whovians under 50 exist. They’re everywhere. If you’re reading this on the day it was written, that means you’re online today and THAT means you’ve probably already heard from several. Not many fandoms can claim to have existed for that long, so it’s probably not a fair example.  But still,  again,  why does it matter when you started?  You’re here now, and nobody can take that away from you.

You’ve probably heard “Are you really a fan or are you just wearing the T-shirt?” “Are you really a fan or are you just pretending?” And some of you will even be pop-quizzed on the fandom. Again, people will look to catch you out. People will presume you’re fake, something they would never presume of a man or boy.

For what? What do people gain from this, other than shutting women up and keeping them out?

And it’s often coupled with remarks about boybands and other fandoms dominated by teenage girls. These fandoms are constantly mocked and ridiculed. The “Tumblr-speak” often used by teenage girls online is mocked and ridiculed. Teenage girls in general are mocked and ridiculed. For being girls. “Fangirl” has almost become an insult.

Sadly, this fan-policing and general fangirl-hate can often come from other female fans trying to prove their own worthiness, trying to gain entry to this exclusive club by distancing themselves from this hated group; it’s for the same reasons that “you’re not like other girls” is seen as a compliment. “Not like other girls” is synonymous with “an actual human being”, and clearly there’s something massively wrong there. I get it, I’ve been there, but instead of competing for male approval the way we’ve been taught to, how about we challenge the rhetoric that’s led to this competition and elitism in the first place?

So here’s to the fangirls.

Whether you’re spending today being excited about the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special,  the One Direction livestream, or anything else in between.

With every “I CAN’T” and “MY FEELS” and “I SHIP IT”, you are finally making your presence known and inescapable.

Better yet, you can challenge the bullshit “feminists v fandoms” rhetoric by fighting for representation and respect from within the fandom.

And don’t you ever, ever, ever let yourself believe that you’re somehow not a worthy fan. Because you are.

Fangirls rock.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to dash to an appointment with the Doctor…

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Autistics Speaking Day 2013: You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party

For those of you who aren’t aware, 1st November is Autistics Speaking Day; it’s really worth heading over to that blog over the next few days for a wide range of social media posts to raise awareness and acceptance of autism, advocating the inclusion of autistic people in the ongoing conversation about us. So I thought I’d blog about something I’ve been thinking about for some time now; maybe I just notice this more because I’m at uni, but the entire culture of “proper” social occasions at the moment seems to be built around what’s actually a fairly narrow group of people.

Again, this might be more pronounced in a university environment, but “party” seems to basically mean “vaguely meet up at some point in some noisy overcrowded room, get drunk, and overwhelm all but the most extroverted/popular almost out of the group entirely”. Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong at all with that sort of thing in and of itself, I’m sure some autistic people really enjoy it, and to be honest I can find sometimes find some of it quite fun, on the right day, even if it’s basically just watching, but it seems like that’s all that there is. It just doesn’t occur to people that some of us can’t handle that much input, can’t filter out all that background noise and follow the conversation, can’t just magically know when and where to go like everyone else seems to be able to (hint: it’s not when and where the club ticket says it will be), and all sorts of other stuff I haven’t worked out how to articulate yet. Or, as I keep telling everyone, “I can’t people“. (People-ing is a verb in my vocabulary now, sorry about that.) It’s also worth noting that, at least to a certain extent, this isn’t necessarily a problem specific to those of us on the spectrum; I have several allistic/neurotypical friends who also seem to “get it” and, for various reasons, also “can’t people” even if they do manage to hide it better than I can, and in my case not liking alcohol probably plays a massive part in it too. Like I said, the whole thing is inadvertently excluding all bar a fairly narrow group of people.

Except, well, I actually can people, I’m just not very good with that one situation that’s usually the only option for people-ing. Last week, having gone to law drinks to catch up with everyone and meet the new freshers, only to spend the entire time focusing on just barely coping and intermittently screaming and despairing at the inevitability of it all, a friend and I ended up leaving after an hour, but on returning home we inadvertently ended up sitting on the stairs (she lives on the floor above me) and talking for hours. (And I don’t just mean infodumping about Doctor Who, either!!) It really made me think. This is far from a new occurrence. That post I wrote the other week in which I mentioned a party that night? As it turned out, I didn’t actually even make it there, because everyone had already gone for pre-drinks somewhere, but not where I guessed they would be, and nobody could hear their phones, and usually I keep being told to arrive later than the stated time because people logic but then pre-drinks are also a thing and they’re earlier and it’s all massively confusing, and I felt horrible about it afterwards because it genuinely seems like everyone else has telepathic communication, but then I thought – would it really kill you to just be a bit more clear about what’s going on beforehand? That issue is probably more autism-specific that the first one (literal-minded and all that), but there’s just so much that isn’t accessible to a lot of people. And when that’s all that there is, taking the sensible route and just not going leaves you feeling massively lonely.

So yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about all this (and, I admit it, part of me just really wanted to use that blog title…) and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, particularly if you’re autistic (that’s kinda the point of Autistics Speaking Day, after all!) but it seems to be an issue with a really wide scope and different perspectives would be great. What would make people-ing more accessible to you?

(Post reproduced on the Autistics Speaking Day blog. It’s also really worth reading Coffee Zombie’s response to this post, which I can hugely identify with.)

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Turtle Mode: For when everything gets a bit much

It’s that time again when I remember I’m supposed to be blogging every week (Saturday nights are likely to be when blog posts happen, actually), so I thought I’d talk about shutdowns, basically because I had a pretty bad shutdown earlier this week so it’s all still fresh in my my mind.

I should probably discuss my experiences with meltdowns first, seeing as that tends to get talked about more often. This post, “Anatomy of a Meltdown” by Musings Of An Aspie, explains the feelings really well and also notes how the ways in which meltdowns manifest themselves can change over the years. When I was a kid, I got pretty aggressive (although thankfully I don’t think I’ve ever properly hurt anyone) but these days meltdowns mainly consist of crying and lots of it, which is something I never normally do. They’re now few and far between, too; I think I hit meltdown the day I came back to uni because we had issues finding my new room but other than that, my last full meltdown was back in August, the first time I tried to leave my ex, and the time before that was back in March 2012, in the middle of the school library due to a student-council-initiative-gone-wrong (it’s a long story). I guess as I grew up I just learned coping skills, to breathe, to stim, to control it, and if all else fails to just get out of there as fast as I can.

For me, especially over the last few years, shutdowns are much more common, and they feel almost exactly the same, bar the inevitable horrible crying headaches that follow a meltdown (or any crying for that matter; those headaches are just horrible, aren’t they?). As Musings of an Aspie puts it:

It feels like my whole body is thrumming, humming, singing, quivering. A rail just before the train arrives. A plucked string. A live wire throwing off electricity, charging the night air.

Thinking about it now, most shutdowns start with me being stuck in a noisy, crowded room (so party situations, then) and that was the case a few days ago, too. I don’t know how to explain it other than everything gradually got a bit much and then, as my friend put it, I went into full-on turtle mode.

turtle in shell

Well, I would have done this if I was actually a turtle with a shell I could hide in, but I’m not, so instead I just sat there and vaguely attempted to sing under my breath to try in vain to calm myself down.  Didn’t really work, because people kept pouring in, for ages and ages and ages. I remember telling said friend that I wanted to curl up into a tiny ball and not take up any space. That must have been roughly when the “thrumming” started, like every cell of my body was vibrating. Then there were introductions, there was quiet, there was calm, in theory I had a minute or so to regroup. It doesn’t really work like that, though; there were still people coming in, still, and there were still so many people around me, and as a mere human being I couldn’t just disappear and take up no space. After that, getting up and talking to people. Talking to people. Right. That wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t find the person I was looking for so I sort of wandered around aimlessly, staying around the edges of the room where it was less dense, resisting the urge to hide behind or under chairs, just about breathing, never mind anything else. I sort of knew that I needed out, I thought about how I could grab my phone and step outside for a few minutes and calm down and text my friend to let her know where I was/ask to be rescued, but I couldn’t just make that happen, I was too far gone.

Then I ran into someone I knew; I don’t think she knows I’m autistic unless she’s worked it out for herself, but I was visibly distressed, so she had to do a bit of guesswork:

“There’s a lot of people here tonight, isn’t there, is that stressful for you?”

You bet it was.

“It’s really warm in here, isn’t it, are you too warm?”

Probably, and to be fair that’s always a very good guess with me, but frankly at that point I was solely concerned with all those people.

And, finally, “Do you need to go out for a while?”

YES. YES I DID.  THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED TO DO. THAT’S IT.

Fantastic, problem solved, right? …Wrong. You see, my annoying habit of insisting I’m okay when I’m not okay even extends to when I am clearly, visibly, obviously several thousand miles away from “okay”. That, and I could barely make words happen at all. I could think all that stuff, but I couldn’t say it. The help I clearly needed was being handed to me on a plate, but even then, still, my body was having none of it, which is always massively frustrating for all parties involved. Instead, I froze, and panicked, and didn’t say a word, and then just continued wandering.

Eventually, to cut a long story short, I got out and was immediately distracted by something else, which on the one hand was really bad timing (as you can tell, my conversational skills weren’t exactly brilliant at this point) but on the other hand, at least it was a distraction, and a positive one at that. After that had happened, the event was almost over, so I left; my new room is much further out than my old one, which on this particular evening was a good thing because for a while I could just focus on putting one foot in front of the other without having to think about anything else. I got back to my room and even though the “danger” was over, everything was still on a go-slow. I slowly thought about getting into my pyjamas, then eventually did so, then slowly thought about making tea before deciding that was just more input I didn’t need, so I slowly got myself a glass of water instead, then sat on Tumblr for a bit, then got into bed, cocooned myself in the covers (deep pressure for the win), and attempted to explain all this to the person I was with via Facebook (hence “turtle mode”). I always forget how long it takes for the “thrumming” to stop, for my body to catch up with my brain and realise everything is okay.

I should probably just give people here some vague instructions as to what to do when this happens, because like I said, there were people doing everything right and I just couldn’t accept the offers of help. Basically, if it’s possible to get me out of there, get me out of there. I actually tend to be okay with touch for the most part, so if I need to be sort of guided feel free to do that, but obviously if I flinch that’s probably a sign you should stop. Once I’m out of there, I can probably take care of myself, breathe, stim, whatever. Maybe sit with me if you’re worried, don’t ask too many questions at first because you won’t get any helpful answers, let me process it all for a little while and then I can start telling you what’s wrong and we can do something about it. I guess for meltdowns (you will know if this happens, trust me, it’s really obvious!!), again you’d need to get me the heck out of there (although that might prove difficult), obviously I’m going to need tissues and water would be nice too (for the headaches) but other than that, once I’m out and I’m safe and I’m not having all that information thrown at me anymore, it’s best to leave me alone for a bit, let it happen, let me slowly calm myself down and then, finally, I might actually have the words to tell you what happened. Of course, everyone on the spectrum is different – it’s a spectrum – so please don’t take anything I say as a strict template to follow for other people.

So I guess shutdowns and meltdowns aren’t that different, internally. And not being able to ask for or even accept help is really not nice.

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On fitting the mould

Earlier today I was concerned that I’d planned to blog once a week, but that week had passed and I really needed to write a post about feminism. Turned out I needn’t have worried, because the good old cliché of “it came to me in the shower” just actually really happened in real life. See, tonight there’s a huge party (eeeeeeek!), so I shaved my legs, which I onky bother with when people might see them, and I realised I always feel guilty for doing so, because it’s an attempt at conforming with one of the ridiculous patriarchal beauty standards for women so I’m probably complicit in all that, right?

Then I realised how fucked up that line of thought is. From a young age, women are taught they have to “fit the mould” or face ridicule and rejection from others; then, when we attempt to fit the mould, we’re shamed for that too. Take all the jokes about women taking ages to get ready or that advert (I think it’s for Head & Shoulders, please correct me if I’m wrong) that begins with “Girls – why so many beauty products?”; erm, maybe it’s because most girls have to use so many beauty products just to look like what the media calls “normal”?! (Incidentally, I really like this song about the whole thing) It should be said that a great deal of this body policing can sometimes come from within feminism too, though; the idea that all women who wear make-up, wear sexually revealing clothing, shave, or do anything else the patriarchy expects us to do with our bodies are, therefore, complicit in these patriarchal expectations. So, if women don’t look 100% perfect all the time they are harassed and ridiculed, and if women even try to evade this they’re told they’re vain and silly and setting back feminism. In other words, women can’t win. For a change.

In addition, it’s important to consider that, well, women should be able to choose what they do with their own bodies, and some women actively choose to do all this stuff. HJ Street wrote a post about shaming women who wear revealing cosplay costumes a while back, and the same principles apply here. Yes, it should be noted that these choices aren’t made in a vacuum, but that’s not the fault of these women, it’s the fault of the culture surrounding them. That’s what should be criticised here.

If a woman chooses these things under her own free will, to shame her for this removes her bodily autonomy. If she only “chooses” these things under the constant pressure of patriarchal beauty standards, to shame her for this is victim-blaming.

Right, now to fix my hair…

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