Feminist Aspie

Does what it says on the tin.

Make Me Scream Your Screams: Why “auties can’t lie” couldn’t be further from the truth

For this week’s blog post title, I was massively torn between the entirety of the lyrics from two Muse songs; so, this is Showbiz, this is Citizen Erased, both really resonate with me for reasons I’ll discuss below, and both are really worth a listen. [SPECIAL INTEREST INTENSIFIES]

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I never really got the “autistic people can’t lie” stereotype because, I admit it, I think I’m quite a good liar. I mean, I’ve kept this blog hidden from almost everyone I know (I only know of two real-life friends, and one online friend from outside my FeministAspie stuff, who are aware of it, all by choice) for over a year and a half now. In my teens, I used to write song lyrics (in hindsight, pretty awful with a side dish of internalised misogyny) and also kept those hidden. For some reason, in the early stags of a special interest, I tend to keep that hidden too. Then there’s the usual “I’m fine” stuff. Sometimes, I think being autistic actually helps; I’m constantly fidgeting and I never make eye contact anyway, so all the traditional neurotypical-centred “tells” get lost in my usual mannerisms. Autistic Stereotype In “Not Always Absolutely True For Absolutely Everyone” Shocker.

But frankly, that’s all a little bit beside the point. This stereotype particularly bothers me because, for a group of people who are supposed to be unable to lie, we’re very rarely believed.

Autism is, and has always been, defined and discussed almost entirely from the point of view of a neurotypical outsider. We’re seen, not as autistics living in an autism-unfriendly world, but as defective neurotypicals. I’ve essentially always known my diagnosis, yet it wasn’t until I ventured into the autistic community on Tumblr, aged around 16, that I was told sensory issues are an actual real thing. Autism is seen as a social disorder, a behavioural disorder, with no thought for how we experience the world, why we behave the way we do. Hence why stimming is seen as a bad thing, meltdowns are seen as tantrums, and any attempts to avoid or minimise sensory overload are seen as manipulative.

A lot of things held up as almost universally fun, I find overwhelming. Summer. Parties. Summer. Crowds. Summer. People. Summer summer summer summer summer. I’m a giant bundle of sensory overload wrapped in panic wrapped in a very thin layer of “I’m fine, why wouldn’t I be?” because the alternative would be attempting to explain it and getting mocked and ridiculed and told I’m over-reacting. But when I’m overloading like that, I’m, well, not that good a liar; I’m too drained for that. From my point of view at least, my entire tone and body language is a giveaway; not really making much of an attempt to continue conversation, muttering to myself, fingers fluttering, that ubiquitous “sorry!” and an occasional “ugh” noise and a facial expression that’s probably very blank. Most other people, who are supposed to be amazing at picking up non-verbal communication signals, either don’t pick this up at all, or just pick up “she’s being Visibly Neurodivergent and this is A Bad Thing and she needs to stop that”. Most other people, who are supposed to be better than me at really thinking about a person’s motivations and feelings rather than taking their words at literal face value… just take my words, fabricated out of a learned desperation to not be Visibily Neurodivergent, at literal face value.

So I get desperate, I get frustrated, I get really moody and blunt and pushy. It’s not something I’m proud of, I feel awful once I feel safer and calmer, but I feel like I’ve run out of options. Everyone else seems to interpret this as “Well, as you all know, I hate fun, and I don’t have the social skills to be nice and polite and quiet about it, so I’m going to threaten a tantrum because I’m just that manipulative” when the reality is “This is really painful and horrible and I’ve managed to cope with it for this long but now I’m seriously worried I’m going to have a meltdown if I don’t get out to somewhere safe right this second”. For a long time, I even believed the former interpretation myself, and thought myself to be a pretty horrible person for acting in that way.

These problems are constructed, through viewing autism only from the outside, and then used to justify our elimination.
We’ve been taught to put “looking normal” before our own needs. To hide away.
To lie at all times, at all costs.

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My Writing Process: A Blog Tour

I was invited to take part in this blog tour by Kat from Ask an Aspergirl, a blog which mainly discusses autism and generalised anxiety. I’ve related to so many of her posts, and would thoroughly recommend giving the blog a read. Go on. I’ll wait.

Right, now that’s out of the way on to the blog questions:

1) What am I working on?

I blog once a week (although admittedly it’s been fairly erratic) on a blog not-so-imaginatively-titled FeministAspie in which, as the name suggests, I discuss feminism and autism. (Sarcasm: I bet nobody saw that coming). I try and alternate between the two topics each week, but to be honest it often doesn’t quite work like that, and there’s occasionally overlap, such as this post on autism and consent issues. In terms of upcoming posts, next week I’ll probably be discussing the stereotype that autistic people can’t lie and how, thanks to a world which tries at all costs to force us into a neurotypical mould, it often couldn’t be further from the truth; I’d also really like to tackle the sexist imbalance of domestic labour in the near future. Oh, and if this counts for anything, I’m also working on an extended essay for uni at the moment (about feminism – yay!).

2) How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I guess most feminism blogs don’t talk about autism quite so much, and vice versa. Most blogs seem to be much better at posting more often and more consistently, too, so there’s that! I’ve also noticed that I seem to do lists a lot, with almost every sentence being in the same format; I think this habit started when I first wrote about neurotypical privilege back in February 2013 but can also be seen hereherehere and here.

Aside from that, my special interests always seem to end up worming their way into my posts one way or another! Doctor Who is one recurring theme, having been given a post all to itself on several occasions, whilst I occasionally weave song titles or lyrics from special-interest-bands into my post titles (last week’s “The Small Print“? That’s a Muse song…) too. Oh, and I apologise a lot…

3) Why do I write what I do?

I set up this blog at the very end of 2012, having finished my first term at university; on coming home for the Christmas holidays and leaving the uni “bubble” for the first time since arriving in the first place, I grew frustrated with seeing misogyny, amongst other forms of oppression, everywhere but not feeling able to call it out there and then to the relevant people because of all the nerves and being a bit rubbish with words in real life. I started blogging so I could speak out in my own way; if I couldn’t get the message across to whoever I wanted to, at least I could get it to somebody. I later realised the same could apply to ableism and just generally venting about autistic stuff. These days, I’m a little bit better at IRL saying-things, particularly at uni, but I still find this safer space invaluable.

4) How does my writing process work?

If I’m lucky, I’ll have a short “queue” of ideas in my head. For example, three weeks ago I’d been planning all week to blog about the new Pantene advert on apologising, but it was really warm and my head tends to just fixate on that so I ended up writing about that instead, pushing the Pantene post back to the following week. In that time, a spate of high-profile rape and sexual assault cases brought the problem of victim-blaming back to the forefront, and I was invited to take part in this blog tour, so I ended up having my posts planned out three weeks in advance which, if I’m honest, probably hasn’t happened before ever. It’s usually a case of thinking about something at some point during the week, and thinking “hey, I could blog about that at the weekend”.

Once I’ve got a topic, I tend to type out a rough plan. Most of the time, this is just a list of topics on which to spend a paragraph, maybe with a few little sentences or phrases I’ve already thought of. In the “list” style posts, I tend to just bullet point small points to make and then re-order them in a way that flows better. Then it’s just a case of fleshing it out.

Titles often don’t get finalised until I’ve finished the post, or sometimes halfway through – and as I’ve said above, if I can think of a Muse/Bastille reference, I will use it, although as a general rule they tend to be reserved for the less serious, more personal posts.

Next week’s blogger

Next Monday, this blog tour will head over to Heidi at Geeky Scribbles, another autistic woman currently studying Creative Writing at university. There, you’ll find posts on autism, writing, feminism and university life, so please go and pay her a visit! :)

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The Small Print

(Content note: Rape, sexual violence, victim-blaming)

This society purports to be against sexual violence; you’d be very hard-pressed to find somebody who doesn’t, at least outwardly and on the surface, consider sexual violence to be morally reprehensible.

But not if the survivor was too scared to say no. Or was repeatedly pressured and coerced until they felt like they had no option but to submit. Or if they’ve had a lifetime of being told not to say no directly, to let people down gently, to be nice and polite and compliant. Or if they said no but didn’t say it enough. Or if they didn’t physically fight back, even though doing so is often dangerous and freezing up is the most common response. Or if they didn’t scream and shout and make a fuss and run away afterwards, even though we’re socialised to be as non-confrontational as humanly possible.

Or if they’re unhurt, because then clearly it wasn’t “real” rape. Any signs of getting on with everyday life are proof that it wasn’t “real” rape.

And certainly not if they’ve been drinking, because then they must not remember what happened properly (you know how hysterical women can be) or they’re just regretting sex the next morning. Or if they drink at all, because that’s just irresponsible. Or if the perpetrator was drinking, because surely they can’t be held responsible for their actions.

Or if it happened at night – what was the victim doing, walking alone at that time? I mean, it’s not like she has a life to live or a job to go to (or come home from), is it?

Or if she was was wearing clothing considered revealing or attractive, because wearing that is “asking for it”; it certainly wouldn’t be something silly like staying cool on a hot day, because women dress only for the male gaze. Same goes for make-up, even though women are often pressured and shamed into wearing it.

Or if the survivor would be considered conventionally attractive, because what do they expect? They deserve all the “unwanted attention” they receive.

Or if they’re deemed unattractive; after all, they should be grateful, and anyway, who’d want to touch them?

Or if they’re sexually active and promiscuous, because consent to sex with one person is of course consent to sex with everyone all the time.

Or if they’ve kissed the perpetrator at any point, or even as much as touched them, because consent to that equates to consent to sex with that person all the time. Or if they’ve even talked; that’s just leading them on, even though women are socialised to be tactful and accommodating and just accept that he only wants a nice chat, why are you being such a bitch about it?

Or if they’re in a relationship with the perpetrator, or ever were, because consenting to a relationship is the same as consenting to sex, and consenting to sex once is the same as consenting to sex forever.

Or if they were at work and risked losing their job or reputation if they tried to stop it or report it, because they’re just being selfish for putting their career first.

Or if they’re a sex worker, because it’s their job, right?

Or if they’re a celebrity, because then they’re just making these allegations to further their career, for publicity and attention. Or if the perpetrator is a celebrity, because that also means the survivor just wants publicity and attention – even if they’re anonymous. And accusing famous people of sexual violence is just a witch-hunt, right?

Or if the violence happens so regularly without consequence that it’s just accepted – because women get groped in clubs all the time, and this somehow makes it okay.

Or if the survivor goes through the completely normal process of taking time to realise and accept that what happened to them was a form of sexual violence – if, just after it happened, they told the perpetrator who probably still terrifies them that it wasn’t rape, then they can’t just change their mind.

Or if it happened in the past, because the world was just like that then. Back then we just called it “wandering hands” – we accepted it then, so you have to shut up and accept it now.

Or if it happened recently, because that stuff doesn’t happen anymore.

Or if survivors speak out, because they must be lying, especially given all of the above. False allegations are no higher than for any other crime, but everyone knows people lie about sexual violence, women are liars and the shockingly low conviction rate is just some feminist conspiracy, certainly not a result of any systemic failure of the justice system.

Or if they don’t speak out immediately, because why not? Suddenly we live in a world where survivors are believed, taken seriously, and not made to suffer further abuse, so there’s no reason at all to keep quiet. Unless you’re lying for publicity and attention, of course.

Or if the perpetrator is yet to be convicted in court, because everyone is innocent until proven guilty and that means survivors are liars until proven otherwise. Even though there couldn’t be a conviction without reporting in the first place.

Or if the perpetrator is already convicted, because then the survivor is just jumping on the bandwagon, and they’re selfish for not speaking out sooner. They’re just as bad because they could have prevented future violence. We’d have believed them. Honest.

This society purports to be against sexual violence, until you read the small print. The phrases - sexual violence, assault,  rape – are seen as morally reprehensible, but their definitions are restricted so narrowly that they’re almost impossible to satisfy. Being accused of sexual violence seems to warrant more sympathy than actually suffering it.

This society isn’t against sexual violence at all.

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Sorry to be a spoilsport, but…

(Content warning: gendered slurs)

I’m a bit late to the party with this post. Sorry. Anyway, I thought at some point I should probably give my thoughts on the latest video from Patene’s #ShineStrong campaign, which asks: why are women always apologising?

Now, anyone who’s read one of my posts or comments or looked at my Twitter or, well, spent at least two minutes in real-life conversation with me will understand why this really piqued my interest. I’m sorry. I’m soso sorry. If I were any sorrier, I’d literally be David Tennant. I definitely apologise more than the average woman – I’ve written about this (and why) before - but as with every other woman, patriarchy’s made a big contribution to this. So, I have to admit, it’s great to see the issue being addressed; women apologising for generally existing and taking up space is so commonplace and normal that you often have to get to my extreme level of sorry before it’s even noticed, so it’s normalised and perpetuated constantly.

However – and sorry to rain on your parade – I have a few reservations.

Firstly, there’s the whole “beauty industry co-opting a feminist message to make you buy their products” thing, which was been widely pointed out elsewhere on the release of the first video on sexist labels and double standards. This one, though, creates an additional problem; it almost veers into blaming women for the effects of patriarchy. Overall, the message could be construed as “if only you would just magically overcome an entire lifetime of social conditioning, you’d be taken seriously and treated as a human being”; whilst pointing out the problem is helpful, it’s really not easy to break the habit of a lifetime, especially when doing so could mean you’re seen as pushy, aggressive, selfish, and whatever else apparently warrants the “bitch” label. The general “stop apologising” rhetoric, although very well-meaning, may unwittingly create yet another sexist double bind; if you don’t pre-empt every action or word with “sorry”, you’re a bitch, but if you do, you’re a doormat.

I’m really worried that attitudes towards the unnecessary “sorry” will morph into the attitudes currently surrounding the unnecessary “like” - another speech pattern commonly associated with young women, most likely due to having our self-esteem undermined at every turn (and that merely pausing for thought often results in being interrupted and talked over by men, but I digress), the “like” filler and “upspeaking” are constantly mocked and treated with disdain with absolutely no consideration of why they’re so prevalent. It also reminds me of the fairly recent advert for a product aimed at men, I forget which one, which begins with “Girls – why so many beauty products?” This is another common double bind – women are pressured into using these products to look “normal” and are then mocked for doing so.

Again, I do think the “sorry” conversation is one that needs to be had (although maybe not as a marketing ploy to make us all buy shampoo…), but it’s massively important to go to the source, refer to the structural inequalities, microaggressions and impossible standards that are really behind all this apologising. Otherwise, there’s a real danger of descending into “LOL WOMEN ARE SILLY” mockery whilst absolving the patriarchy/men of all responsibility; indeed, it’s very telling that the advert begins with the question “Why are women always apologising?” when, once you’ve seen the whole thing, it’s apparent that the question is rhetorical, much like the patronising remark about women’s use of beauty products above.

I’m sorry to say this interpretation of the problem falls into the same old traps.

 

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My Weird Heat Thing 101

Yes, I know, I know, I know. I use this blog and its Twitter for whining about the weather all the time. But I’ve just read this by A Quiet Week, about her experiences with summer-onset depression, and it made me realise that I’ve never actually attempted to explain “my weird heat thing”; I really don’t think it’s that, the symptoms really don’t match up (as I said in the comment, its presentation far more closely resembles anxiety, and I don’t have any problems with light in its own right) but it’s definitely more than just “I’m autistic, and heat and humidity overload my senses just like sudden loud noises do”, too. Actually, I’d quite like it explained myself!

So. Let’s start from the beginning, with that sentence as the foundations; I’m autistic, and heat and humidity overloads my senses just like sudden loud noises do. Except more. And for longer. And it’s much more difficult to get away. And I have no idea when it’s going to end or, once it does, when it’s going to come back. And I don’t sleep very well, to boot. In short, heat and humidity overload my senses just like sudden loud noises do, but constantly. As you’d expect, this is exhausting and draining and generally not fun, so once I do feel better (generally after a cool shower), I’d very much like to avoid the cause of it.

So I do that – or I panic about it. Obsessively.

If I can help it, I sort of gravitate towards the shade as a force of habit; if the road is small and minor enough, I’ll cross for it. Think of it as one giant game of “the floor is lava”. If I can’t do that, it’s not necessarily the end of the world, but I’ll worry about it until I can. If I have to go out there at some point, but not at a specific time, I’ll put it off. The same applies to buildings/rooms that I know set me off, although they tend to fit more into “worry and procrastinate” than “avoid”. At the very least, if heat is present, it’s always a consideration. I also end up wearing and re-wearing, washing and re-washing, a fairly small section of my clothes, those which at some point were deemed loose enough and thin enough and breathable enough to not pose a risk. And, as my Twitter followers will know, I don’t ever bloody shut up about it. It takes over.

Then the guilt and self-consciousness and self-loathing start. Because, well, it’s only June. And you’re only in England. It can’t be that bad. I mean, it’s not like it’s actually made you feel ill. You shouldn’t have to psyche yourself up to go to the shop ten minutes from here because it looks really warm outside. You really over-react, because you’re as pathetic as usual. I guess I see it as a sign of weakness that, if it can’t be eliminated, should at least be vaguely hidden. And it’s only going to get worse. Quick, magically make yourself less pathetic before it gets even worse. There’s a lot of frustration about not being able to make the problem go away. I end up feeling trapped, and that makes me panic even more; I’ve also got a bit of a thing about being trapped and/or suffocation, so it’s probably that.

What’s more - and this is where things start getting really weird - that panic arises almost to the same level at the thought of other people being vaguely too warm. Even other people who I know couldn’t physically care any less and are therefore almost definitely fine. Maybe it’s because that means it really is “that bad”, but this also crops up when it’s not currently warm where I am, when I read or hear about it in another place, another time, fiction even. So many things can “set me off”; not in a way that’s at all debilitating, just a few minutes of “okay, I’ll pretend I don’t know that information and deny any feelings related to it” to “AAAAAAGH IT MADE ME THINK ABOUT THE THING AND I’M AWARE OF THE THING QUICK MAKE ME UNTHINK IT I CAN’T UNTHINK IT” followed by “WHY DID THAT FREAK YOU OUT, SILLY PATHETIC BRAIN”. For example, the weather-related bits of the World Cup coverage sometimes set me off. Festival sets sometimes set me off if it looks like a hot day. Other people’s posts about the weather sometimes set me off. Stuff about much more extreme weather elsewhere sometimes sets me off. A particularly Tumblr post during last year’s UK heatwave explaining that yes, America/Australia, it really is that bad because nobody’s used to it, set me off pretty badly; I should probably blacklist the topic, but I have no idea how people would tag it, and it’s really hypocritical of me considering I talk about it all the time. I’ve been set off by a fairly small part of a novel before, too, although that had the effect of making me read to the end of the chapter, so the character in question would be out of there and – in theory – I wouldn’t have to think about it any more. Again, this isn’t really major, but it’s confusing. If it’s just about my own hypersensitivity, which I know isn’t typical of most people, why do I get so obsessively concerned about everybody else?

Not really sure how to conclude this, other than “answers on a postcard please”. Sometimes it feels like it’s such a big deal and it’s inescapable, and other times it feels like a minor inconvenience that sometimes freaks me out a bit too much. At any rate, I guess this post will come in handy for linking to in future posts. Because believe me, this topic’s going to come up again… and again… and again…

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Entitlement

(For the sake of honesty – this post has been edited quite heavily. A previous version included what was fairly clearly a personal experience, and on reflection I’ve decided I’m not all that comfortable with such detail being out there; especially as, although I see this blog as anonymous, in my opinion I’m still sort of identifiable, and consequently so is he. I would also like to make clear that this is not due to pressure from anyone, but to do with several unrelated events in the past week that have made me think about whether or not it was generally a good idea to put that information out in the public sphere.

TW: Descriptions of harassment and sexual assault, and reference to rape and rape culture.)

Entitlement is the numerous stories I’ve heard or read about women being physically trapped by a stranger until they give up their phone number. Or a kiss. Sometimes more.

Entitlement is the well-known reality that being “taken” is often the only form of rejection respected without further questioning (although even that’s not always the case; sometimes the response to “I have a boyfriend” is “Well where is he then?”, because heaven forbid a woman exist in public without a chaperone). It’s not about her feelings, but about whether he can claim her or whether she’s already owned.

Entitlement is present in the idea that “excuses”, whether true or false, are necessary for turning down unwanted advances; the implication being that you can automatically claim anyone, unless they have a good enough reason. And with every “no” being subject to intense questioning, you don’t really think any reason is good enough. You’ve just been told it’s polite to ask.

Entitlement is a culture that relies on the absence of a direct “no” instead of a clear, enthusiastic “yes”; effectively, it’s the presumption of consent. This, combined with the pressure, with the coercion, and with the socialisation of women to put everyone else’s feelings before their own, to “let them down gently”, to not give a direct “no”… well, I hope the problem is clear. And if she does say no, she’s dismissed as a friendzoning bitch.

Entitlement is sometimes most apparent within existing relationships. In the UK, a husband could not be convicted of raping his wife until October 1991. More recently, there were George Galloway’s comments stating that once two people are “in the sex game”, failure to obtain consent is merely “bad manners”. This sort of attitude is prevalent. Consent to a relationship is often viewed as consent to sexual activity, and consent to sexual activity once is often viewed as consent to sexual activity forever. Those who do not consent, or no longer consent, are often made to feel at fault, that there’s something wrong with them. Maybe, sometimes, they’re put off because it’s become literally the only part of “relationship” you care about.

Entitlement is expressly asking about sex (after all, it’s good manners) but not really offering a free choice, instead just repeatedly trying various different arguments – ridiculous as it is that you still think there’s consent if you have to argue about it – until they eventually give in. No? Why not? Don’t you love me? It’s fine! It’s okay! Why not? Come on! It’ll be fine! How about now? How about now? How about now?

Entitlement is having defensive hands ignored. It’s having to lie about being on your period to stop him from going any further

Entitlement is refusing to accept separation. It’s the same attitude of “I want you, so I should be able to have you”. I can’t really be leaving permanently because then you can’t have me anymore, and that’s just out of the question. It can only be a temporary break – and, as with everything else, you can use pressure and coercion to get what you think is rightfully yours. Not at home? Use the internet. Blocked on one site? Use another. Can’t send Facebook messages directly anymore? Go through relatives. That doesn’t work? Start showing up at the house again. Reclaim control by any means. If you are Robin Thicke, this might involve naming your next album after your ex-wife and repeatedly announcing in public that you want to get her back, and this will, by and large, be accepted as entirely normal behaviour. Entitlement is, by and large, accepted as entirely normal behaviour.

It’s control and ownership and assault and rape and dehumanisation… and it’s something most women know all too well.

Entitlement is fucking scary.

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Some Doctor Who obsessing instead of an actual blog post

(EDIT: Turns out this is actually my 50th post, so let’s all just pretend I totally already knew that, and this is a celebration rather than just my own uselessness at blogging.)

I woke up this morning and realised it’s Tuesday morning and I still haven’t written a blog post, which I was supposed to do on Friday evening… then Saturday… then Sunday… and so on. As you can see, it didn’t happen, and now I’m feeling massively inadequate for various other reasons, so I thought I’d better post SOMETHING so I don’t end up feeling too guilty and abandoning the blog again.

So, here’s a video from Doctor Who Online compiling every title-of-the-episode-in-the-episode incident in Doctor Who. Ever. Over 50 years. This is TOTALLY worth 13 minutes of your life…. right? A particular highlight is 0:16-1:05, when you’ll hear the phrase “The Daleks” so many times it no longer sounds like real words. You’re welcome.

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Afraid

TW: Murder, violence

It seems that the misogynistic Santa Barbara shootings evoked powerful, painful, visceral feelings in all of us. For me, still reeling from family issues which I’d really rather not talk about in any detail but to which misogyny is (in my opinion) inextricably linked, these feelings consisted mainly of frustration and hopelessness. A realisation that this stuff is very real, it’s everywhere, and it kills.

Although, of course, outside of the internet I haven’t really spoken about it. Because, well, not all men. It’s not even that I’m worried about not having an answer for that sort of response; the Tumblr post I’ve linked to above pretty much nails it. Choice quote:

Not all men.

But enough men that all women are now afraid of most men.
It’s gotten so bad that we have to be afraid of even telling you we are afraid.

It’s a fear that I still haven’t been able to articulate in a way I find satisfactory. The particular, unique fear of speaking out about patriarchy; a fear I’ve had to analyse recently. I can’t put my finger on it. I’m not expressly thinking “I can’t say anything in case he turns aggressive/violent”, although of course many do have that in the forefront of their minds. It’s more… implicit, subtle, ingrained. Learned gradually over time. Normalised. And if this weekend has taught me anything, it’s that this fear is a very common and very gendered experience. “Not all men” becomes irrelevant; the actual threat of violence doesn’t need to be present, because enough men are like that, along with our entire culture, for virtually all women to have good reason to be afraid. Because the very possibility of it, as well as stereotypes and double standards supporting the idea of women catering and submitting to men, has been drummed into us all our lives, often subconsciously.

We don’t talk about this fear enough, precisely because of this fear. Instead, we assume there’s something wrong with us. Anger, fear, guilt, shame, self-loathing.

And it applies to all of it, be it something as major as the events of last week, or the more seemingly minor everyday incidents. I say “seemingly” because I don’t find them to be minor at all. They add up. They’re based on the same attitudes, the same foundations, as those which make the headlines. There’s still the same unidentifiable, inescapable, entirely normal fear. We’re too used to it to notice anymore.

I spend far too much of my life terrified, and it seems I’m not alone.

I need to be braver.

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Crashing Down To Earth: Sensory overload and its aftermath

It seems there is one lesson I’ll never learn: if it can be helped, don’t plan to do anything after doing something I know will be massively overloading. I mean, I know not to plan to do anything stressful. I’m vaguely grasping the concept of not planning to do anything involving other people. But when it gets really bad, even that blog post I was planning to write and that bit of work I was planning to finish are not going to happen. They won’t happen. Nothing you can do. They just won’t. Do. Not. Plan. Anything.

Generally I get two types of sensory overload (your mileage may vary):

Same reaction, different threshold. For example, jumping at a loud noise that didn’t startle anyone else. Or arriving at the lecture hall and immediately flushing up. The former is over in a split second, the latter is a bit more horrid but still fades away after a few minutes, and both are very quickly forgotten about as I generally get on with life. For me, the main problem here is self-consciousness rather than anything else.

A Huge Draining Longer-Term One. For example, arguments, unpredictable crowds, parties… oh, and that weather I’m trying in vain not to talk about. At least all the other stuff exists in finite spaces for a finite period of time, and can be escaped from. Anyway, this is where my reaction to The Overloading Thing becomes, at least internally, really different from the standard neurotypical not-liking-this-much reaction. There is, somewhere, a threshold at which a meltdown will happen, but luckily I don’t tend to reach it all that often. Throughout The Overloading Thing, I might be coping pretty well; in fact, it’s pretty likely that I’ll still mainly be enjoying the event as a whole, seeing The Overloading Thing as simply a drawback that’s worth it overall. Sometimes I even get used to it and think I’m absolutely fine.

And then I get home. And. I’m. So. So. So. Drained.

As those of you who follow my Twitter and have had to put up with my whining for the past couple of days may know, I don’t handle heat well. I mean, my body is okay; to be fair, this is probably because it’s stuck with a terrified obsessive controlling brain that only lets it out of the shade when it absolutely has no other choice, but I’ve never actually had sunstroke or similar, I vaguely remember dehydration happening on holiday once when I was like 4, and sunburn is very rare too. My brain, on the other hand, just goes all over the place. It’s an sensory overload thing, and then a panicking-about-sensory-overload thing; consequently, it both worsens and is worsened by my other hypersensitivities. I was out all afternoon yesterday at a garden party, and I had a great day, but realistically it was too much people-ing and too much sun (seriously, if you’re doing outdoors-y stuff, make sure there’s a bit of shade, it’s a tiny silly little thing that not many people understand and it’s massively frustrating) to handle in one sitting.

Image

Still, though, I figured after getting in, having a cold shower, putting some cream on the burned shoulder and continuing to underestimate just how much water I am in fact capable of drinking, I’d feel several billion times better and could, well, get on with the aforementioned stuff I’d planned to do. I have a tendency to think “hey, looks like I survived that without a meltdown or a shutdown, hooray for me” and assume I’ll be fine afterwards. I always forget just how much a massive sensory overload, whatever the cause, wipes me out totally. “Tired” doesn’t quite cover it.

Instead, I end up doing, well, not much. Check Facebook. Check Twitter. Check WordPress. Go back to Facebook. There’s nothing new. Scroll down anyway. Put more cream on the relevant shoulder. Stare blankly at Facebook. Think “Okay, so I overdid it”. Think very little else. It’s a state of “nope, that’s it, limit reached, no more input please”. I’ve found that sometimes, for some reason, a little positive input seems to help; despite the many quiet gentle relaxing songs in existence (and, well, the “silence” alternative), last night nothing did the trick quite like this, or this, or this (which is where I got this post’s title from). I have no idea why that is, especially when there are quiet gentle relaxing Muse songs in existence too, but there you go. I even paced around the room a little, which is my standard “MUSIC IS HAPPENING YAY” stim, but perhaps less ideal when you feel like you’ve used up every last drop of energy. Senses are odd. Other than general sensory oddities, though, I tend to just… sort of… want… nothing… to… happen.

Of course, eventually it starts to get better. The only completely reliable “cure” I’ve found is a good night’s sleep; having said that, the vast majority of my Overloading Things are in some way related to big social events, which tend to either take place in the evening or at least go on until then, so that’s probably why. I suppose, eventually, a lot of time to hide away and recover and regulate would have the same effect. In a way, though, it isn’t totally over; most of the time, it gets filed away under “Things That Made You Feel Awful Which You Should Try And Avoid Where Possible In Future”. If something has gone consistently wrong in the past, I guess it’s natural to perceive it as a threat, to worry about it, to plan ahead and specifically go out of your way to avoid it. Even where that’s not always 100% possible. Or  50% possible. Or possible at all. Or possible at all with no firm knowledge of when it will become possible.

No wonder the slightest bit of sun freaks me out so much.

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When You Tell Me…

When you tell me about “the weird ones” and name only people in the group who are openly neurodivergent, you remind me that in any other conversation between most other people, I’d be included and my responses dismissed just as easily.

When you tell me “they’re weird”, you make me wonder if you think of me that way too, if you all do, although of course none of you would say it to my face. You might not mention the word “autism”, but if you’re only talking about people who are autistic and lumping them together as one “weird” entity, then we both know exactly what you mean.

When you then tell me “weird isn’t a good word, it has negative connotations, let’s say different“, you’re vaguely getting somewhere, but it doesn’t change a thing if the same old attitude remains.

When you tell me “but you’re nothing like them”, you’re missing the point entirely. I don’t want to be told that I’m “not like them” like that’s supposed to be reassuring. I am like them. I just want to be told – I want you to know – that it’s not a bad thing.

When you tell me you have more sympathy for me than the others, you’re making it clear that I’m only a full person in your eyes because it just so happened that you got to know me before you got to know my neurotype. You’re making it clear that I can only be a full person in the eyes of people I’ve just met if I manage to pretend to be someone else.

When you tell me I’m less “oblivious” and “uncaring”, I hear “you’re alright, at least you have the decency to apologise for your own existence.”

When you tell me that I’m not like the others, that I’m somehow better than another human being, that I’m somehow more acceptable, you remind me that your acceptance of me is conditional. You remind me that I can’t put a foot wrong, lest I fail to pass your test. You become part of the reason why I’m so self-conscious about how people think of me, why I’m convinced I’m some sort of combination of whiny, annoying and incompetent, why “aaaaaagh I’m so awful” is part of my daily vocabulary, why I’m constantly seeking validation from everyone else, why I know that I shouldn’t need to feel like this but I do, why you wanted to comfort me in the first place.

You may not realise it, but when you feel the need to insult other autistic people to try and make me feel better, you’re actually making me feel a whole lot worse.

So don’t. Please, please don’t.

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