Feminist Aspie

On Condition

Content note: This post discusses rape culture.

There’s a tendency, particularly amongst the “I’m a feminist/ally but” types, to respect women if, and only if, said women appear to be invulnerable, perfect machines.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she dedicates all her time and energy to her work and/or to other people. Self-care is viewed as selfish.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she does not show emotion under any circumstances, because emotion is considered feminine and feminine is considered bad, so she’ll get every stereotype in the book thrown in her face.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she “respects herself”, a phrase that usually seems to have nothing to do with actually respecting herself and everything to do with following all the old tired nonsense rules about how to Not Get Raped, which doesn’t sound a lot like respecting her to me.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she is “strong enough”; that she “can take it”. Nobody stops to question exactly what she has to take and why she should have to take it.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she does not make requests, whether that’s accommodations for childcare, for disability, or anything that even as much as puts her on a level playing field with others. She has to just take it, otherwise she’s considered weak.

A woman is deemed worthy of respect on condition that she doesn’t “let herself be a victim”, which is apparently still a phrase that exists and is used on a regular basis. Victim-blaming in its purest form. In order to not “let herself be a victim” (again, what???) she has to just take it, not make a big deal out of it (read: keep quiet). Any trauma she has experienced must not manifest itself, for example in the form of PTSD, because (even though she obviously doesn’t have a choice about that) then she’s “letting herself be a victim”. And woe betide her if she asks for trigger warnings.

I use “a woman” because, if she goes against any of the above, she’s suddenly considered to be representing all women – in many cases, she’s told she’s “letting her gender down” or “making women look weak”. The aim of this is to turn other women, sadly including feminists a lot of the time, against her in order to protect themselves (because women are already deemed to be weak too much as it is), leading to a situation where we’re all competing for scraps of respect and validation because we have no other choice.

Meanwhile, at least in terms of his gender (other axes of oppression may of course apply), a man is deemed worthy of respect… full stop.

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Scary Thoughts I Had In A Group For Autistic Women

(TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses ableism, misogyny, harassment, relationship abuse, and sexual assault)

If you grow up surrounded by social norms you find confusing, unnecessary or uncomfortable and are told you just have to learn to accept it, then patriarchy and gender roles might not seem any different.

If you’re constantly mocked and teased by people who assert that it’s “just a joke” (and therefore your fault for not finding it funny), then you might also blame yourself for reacting wrongly when men insist that catcalling and harassment is “just a compliment”.

If your facial expressions are always perceived as wrong and as a problem to be fixed, then “smile, love!” might seem like helpful advice.

If your requests for people to meet you halfway or even 10% of the way in an ableist world and make minor accommodations for disabilities have always been deemed uncompromising, selfish, manipulative or controlling, then you might not notice a problem when requests for a partner to do even part of their fair share of the housework are met with a similar response. Or you might have learned not to make requests at all.

If you’ve been taught to move, speak and act exactly how other people want you to, you might not recognise this sort of control as wrong, or as anything less than normal.

If you’re always told your autism isn’t enough to count, you might assume your abuse isn’t enough to count either.

If you’re taught that standing up for yourselves isn’t worth it, you might not stand up for yourself anymore, and then everything must be fine because you’re not arguing over it, right? Why don’t you just confront him?

If you’re told that things you find painful don’t really hurt at all, that your feelings and perceptions are incorrect, that nothing is as important as passing for neurotypical which usually means compliance, if you were never given the tools to say no, then… you do the maths.

In “Quiet Hands”, Julia Bascom uses the phrase “And when you’re autistic, it’s not abuse. It’s therapy.”, something that I think could be extended to other disabilities too. This pervasive ableism leaves all disabled people vulnerable to further abuse. Throw in the prevalence of gendered abuse and violence against women (as well as other intersecting oppressions) and the way we treat disability becomes all the more chilling.

Because if you’re constantly told you’re a burden, you’re always to blame, you should be grateful when people don’t outright dismiss you and laugh at you, then you might start to believe it.

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Aestivation

Honestly, I’m not sure I really want to publish this post now that it’s written; so fair warning, it may well end up being part of my fairly small group of previously-published hidden posts soon. But at the same time, I think I needed to vent like this, and I haven’t blogged for a while because of exams and kinda feel like I should explain why I didn’t rush back to the blog as planned once I’d finished. I promise I’ll be back writing proper posts that aren’t just pathetic-whining-about-my-life really soon, though – there’s an outline sitting in my drafts already!

________________________________________________________________________________

Nope. First comes the initial panic. Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope. But funnily enough, repeating “nope” and other stronger words to the screen does nothing to change it. The internal panic button has already been pressed. Fine then. It will come, and it will pass, and everything will be okay. If I know it’s coming, I can prepare.

So that’s me for a few days; knowing it’s coming, knowing I have to do all in my power to avoid it, and knowing that avoiding it isn’t possible – but at least I can plan ahead. The days stop having names and start having numbers, and everything’s leading up to a peak. I prepare for the event, cramming all adulting tasks into the space before it arrives, making sure the clothes with materials I’ll tolerate are clean and I’ve got in enough food I’ll be able to make myself eat. I joke to myself that I feels a bit like a hedgehog preparing for hibernation, except with absolutely awful timing (hence the post title – a word I never seem to think of at the time). In the early stages, I push through the anxiety and the sensory overload as much as I can so that when it really begins, I’m ready. Part of me knows that I’ll never be ready enough, though; it just inherently makes me panic and it already has, and the fact that I’m already not handling it terrifies me.

…And usually, that’s it. The End. Everything is okay. The only thing that brings me down at all is my own silly irrational terrified brain, which I spend the next little while beating myself up over because how can I still be this pathetic. The reality doesn’t match up to the Absolute Worst that was in my head.

Except, of course, for when it does – and I think I’d forgotten how that really feels.

I woke up at 6am yesterday morning, and time had slowed to a crawl as the world around me warmed up at an alarming rate. There was one last bit of admin which I couldn’t get under control in time, but I was with a friend, we were going early and we didn’t have to go far so I was feeling positive. I psyched myself up for The Outside World with music and selfies. It went really well. Within an hour of that, all the air around me seemed to disappear and sensory overload was setting in and I felt sick. The cool-shower-and-a-nap plan maybe sort of made everything okay for about half an hour. I spent the next five or six snail-pace hours hovering over full-scale-meltdown point, wanting desperately to be unconscious but not being able to sleep, or eat, or think straight, being fully aware that I was lucky to have just finished exams beforehand and to be able to hide away and not have to be a fully functioning adult and feeling absolutely pathetic because clearly other people have more to deal with and yet are dealing with it so much better than me, taking an hour to type out a simple gift message because I kept freaking out and moving away from the laptop and rocking and clawing at my neck and shoulders because icantbreatheandeverythingsburningandnothingidoismakingitstop, and when it began to slowly ease off, that turned into slightly more articulate-able panic about whether the storm would come or whether I’d be stuck in this mess for a day, an hour, a second longer. Then there was a really loud downpour, and then everything was okay. Today, I’m a bit post-meltdown-drained but those feelings are starting to fade now, and everything is okay.

Well, except for the reminder of why I’m so ridiculously afraid of a little screen full of big numbers in the first place.

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What Self-Care Means To Me #AutismPositivity2015

This post is part of the Autism Positivity Day Flash Blog; this year’s theme is “Acceptance, Love and Self-Care”.

This post has been a frustrating one to start, because at the moment self-care is something I have a lot of feelings about, but it takes so many different forms that I don’t know what to focus on. Self-care varies, because people vary, but here are some ways in which I (at least try to!) practice self-care:

Disregarding “normal”. This might sound obvious, but it’s easier said than done when the neurotypical standards aren’t just present in your own minds, but in the minds of others and in the very fabric of a society not designed to accommodate people like us. This year I’ve had to try and unpack every single “I’m not X enough” standard I have – I mean literally typing out every single one I could think of – and counter them, one by one. I am learning to compare myself to me, six months ago, a year ago, three years ago, but not to my peers, because they’re not me, they’re all their own person, and most of them are neurotypical. This year, I have grown – my experience wasn’t necessarily what I expected, or what was expected of me, or what my friends have experienced, but I have grown.

Special interests. (No, I don’t like the term either, but nobody’s thought of anything better yet…) Escaping the rest of the world, engaging, pacing and spinning around the room and *gasp* not feeling guilty or childish for it. If they can have their big night out, I get to have this.

Accepting online interaction as real, valid interaction. Because it is.

Actually genuinely really being honest. This is a very very VERY recent thing for me, and it’s been brought about for two main reasons. Firstly, to cut a long story short, there is a space where friends are dropping our socially-acceptable masks and talking about our worries and fears and realising we’re actually not alone in them. Secondly, out of necessity, because I haven’t exactly been feeling 100% this week and I needed to have somebody here who understands and can help me out where necessary. I have definitely internalised the idea that if I am still capable of asking for help then I obviously don’t need it and nobody will believe me; I also often fall into the trap of assuming an allistic person probably doesn’t really understand whatever my problem is. Neither of these things are true. Showing vulnerability is hard for me, and this is going to be a slow process, but you’d be surprised by the level of support and empathy that’s there, given the chance – and who knows, you might encourage others to do the same.

Writing notes to myself. This is something I’ve done on-and-off for a couple of years, mostly just on my phone and laptop. I look back over them when I’m feeling useless and pathetic, and they remind me that I’m not.

Lists. For when there’s so many thoughts competing for my attention that I have no idea how to proceed with my day.

Acknowledging invisible strength. That is to say, feeling proud of having done something that scares or overwhelms you even when that’s not noticed because to the neurotypical majority, it’s just normal and everyday. Sometimes, for many of us, that stuff is everyday – and even if I do say so myself, that is really, really brave. Recognising that helps me to recognise when I need to step back and recharge, why I’m feeling crappy and how to fix it (where possible), and how best to prioritise when spoons are low.

Taking things one day at a time. The next couple of months have very scary elements, next year seems impossible, and the future is a dark and terrifying void. But today? I can do today. The chances are I can even do tomorrow.

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Yes, You Do Mean Me

People I know will talk at length about how ridiculous and over-sensitive and overly angry they think feminists are, or social justice activists more generally, and often expressly refer to specific views I share or groups I’m a part of, but, well, obviously we don’t mean you.” They don’t mean me because I’m not confrontational, I’m not argumentative, I stay quiet and let everything slide because direct confrontation is something I really struggle with. They don’t mean me, even though if I spoke my mind more often, they’d know they do mean me.

They don’t mean you, yet, they just want to check you’ll laugh along and keep the part of you they clearly do mean out of their sight.

They don’t mean you as a disabled person either. Certainly, when misogynist and/or ableist trolls came after the NUS Women’s Conference for using BSL applause to accommodate various disabilities“well, obviously none of them meant you” although, being autistic and hypersensitive to sound, I’m amongst the people who would benefit, and my friends often end up making very similar accommodations for me, albeit on a smaller scale. People, even those who campaign for social justice and claim to strive for intersectionality, make sweeping catch-all criticisms of people who don’t follow a healthy enough or ethical enough diet, who spend a lot of time online, who didn’t vote* or go to a protest or something else which involves being able to leave home and get to another place that may be inaccessible in any number of ways, and when someone points out the inherent ableism in that and how it affects them personally… “Well, obviously we don’t mean you.” Sometimes that’s also accompanied by a thorough assessment of whether the individual in question tried this, tried that, tried hard enough, or whether they actually really genuinely have a good enough excuse.

They don’t mean you, so long as your disability and your experience has their approval. They don’t mean you, but all these other disabled people need to just try harder, or also come forward as individuals and hope they’ll be believed. They don’t mean you, as long as you’re in a position to willingly disclose your disability in demand. They don’t mean youunless your invisible disability hasn’t been spotted or diagnosed yet, because everyone’s abled by default, right? They don’t mean you, they approve of your excuse so they don’t have a choice about it, it’s not your fault you’ll never be as good as your abled peers in their view.

Believe me, “well, obviously we don’t mean you doesn’t make a jot of difference to those of us who have to put up with this stuff from all angles, day in day out, always the afterthought they didn’t really mean. Unintentional harm does happen, and in a society where oppression and exclusion is so widespread it goes unnoticed, I’d go so far as to say it’s inevitable that we all cause unintentional harm at some point, but that doesn’t make it any less harmful. We need to learn from our mistakes, take care not to repeat them in future, and apologise where necessary; getting defensive and claiming we never meant you doesn’t solve anything.

Because when faced with the reality that their ideologies are hurting actual real people, they never mean you. They just mean everyone else like you, and they expect you to be okay with that.


*Just so we’re clear, I managed to arrange a postal vote on time, used it, and felt it was important for me to do so, but that doesn’t mean I’m a fan of blaming non-voters, even where it was by choice – it’s not something I want to get into here though, so I’d recommend reading Stavvers on the subject instead.

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Regeneration

(CONTENT NOTE: This post discusses abuse and harassment)

I’ve been thinking about something today and I thought I’d share; it’s a difficult subject for me to put into words, so apologies for the vagueness.

There’s nothing in the world quite like an autistic special interest. At my worst, it’s a safety net; at my best, it’s an easy go-to source of total, obsessive, geeky delight. For some people, they come and go quite quickly, but I have a couple that are definitely here for the long term; such a constant that I can barely conceive of a time before, never mind fully consider how they started.

It started with you.

It was yours, I was just being taken along for the ride, but we both know very well that fandom is contagious. Our Saturday nights were either cuddled up in front of the TV or frantically calling each other afterwards. In hindsight, I feel like there were signs I should have noticed, or shouldn’t have just presumed were okay: your assumption even in our teenage years that we’d just get married and live happily ever after exactly as you’d plan, and also the jealousy. You were jealous of male friends I had no romantic feelings for. Family friends much much older than me. Celebrity crushes. And yes, fictional characters. You didn’t like that something of yours had become ours. I suppose I just thought that was all just my own fault, for not being dedicated enough to the relationship.

But as your jokes became possessiveness, as your ideas became entitlement, as everything got scary, something else was happening too. I took that enthusiasm elsewhere;  it became my social crutch in a new unfamiliar place and it worked, it laid the foundations for many more friendships, it became my thing, in a big way. By the time the real awfulness started, it was tied to many things, places and people other than you. It was tied to me, and that was more than enough on its own. When I tried to leave and you refused to accept it, when I actually did leave and you soon refused to accept that, when I had little choice but to cut off contact altogether, when you kept trying anyway even months down the line, I lost mutual friends, I lost mutual hobbies, I lost the majority of my (already limited) social life at home to protect myself; and being autistic with rapidly rising anxiety levels related to you or otherwise, I still haven’t replaced that. But this was one thing I didn’t lose; it didn’t really even take a dent.

Over the last couple of years, like a boiling frog, I’ve gradually accepted my fear and my hypervigilance and my sense of total inadequacy as my new normal, only occasionally realising that this probably isn’t the case. Maybe I’ll never know how much of this was you and how much of it was other things entirely, but when I try and recount this little story to others, even in the vaguest, most sugar-coated of terms, it reminds me that my trauma is real.

Then, as well as everything else a special interest does, the primary obsession becomes hope. It demonstrates that I can take something of yours and make it mine; that something inextricably linked with a negative part of my past can be a source of, well, total obsessive geeky delight in my present, without as much of a second thought. It shows that maybe I’m more capable of dealing with stuff than I think.

My ability to heal is bigger on the inside.

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The Internet Is Real

(Sidenote: I’m really off schedule for the next couple of weeks, so this blog will be too. I’ll try not to abandon it totally!!)

The internet is real. For some reason, we seem to have a tendency to treat it like some frivolous side-life that’s totally separate from the “real” world, but that doesn’t make much sense. It might not be a physical space – I’m writing this in one place and now you’re reading it in another place entirely – but you’re still reading my words. The internet is a method of communication, and it is real just like phones, radio and TV are real. Like everything else in the world, it has good and bad aspects, and shouldn’t be dismissed as some Awful Silly Bad Pointless Thing just because it’s relatively new.

Online social interaction is real. Maybe it’s a sore point, but I will not believe that Skyping my family regularly when I’m away at university, or long deep Facebook conversations with a friend, or having ALL THE FEELINGS over a blog post and sharing it all over the place, is arbitrarily less valid than frantically apologising face-to-face to someone I’ll only ever meet once because sometimes “sorry” is the only word I can just make happen on the spot, because the latter takes place offline.

Online activism is real. Personally, it was (and is) online activism that educated me on feminism and other oppressions and led to involvement in offline activism too. However, online activism shouldn’t be seen as a gateway to “real” activism – many people have no or limited access to physical protests due to disability, financial reasons, abusive partners, abusive parents, institutionalisation, the list goes on. Online activism in and of itself is a form of communicating your opinions and information to others. This is useful, and it matters. In the same breath, this (real!) communication cannot be accessed, fully or at all, by many people for the same reasons listed above, and this is an issue that we need to take seriously.

Online harassment is real. Online harassment often includes personal details that could be used offline, and can sometimes be part of a more general harassment campaign by someone known to the victim, but online harassment itself is no less real. It might seem less real to the perpetrator, because it’s easy both to do and to distance yourself from offline, but to the person on the receiving end, it is all too real, and all too scary.

Online boundaries, such as blocking, are real – and demanding people stop setting that boundary because you feel entitled to their time and energy is really creepy.

“SJWs” are real people. Many of them wouldn’t even consider themselves that much into social justice, they’re just people from at least one marginalised group talking about their life and experiences in those groups. People talking about their own experiences isn’t an online fad, it’s people talking about their own experiences. They’re just given a slightly louder voice now, very slightly more equal to that of their oppressors.

Tumblr is simply a website on which (real!) people communicate, and every community of people has its problems. But often, when people are deriding “Tumblr” (even if they’re Tumblr users themselves), they really mean “people in marginalised groups I can just ignore offline due to structural privilege, talking about their own experiences”. It’s just that “Tumblr” (as well as being less of a mouthful) sounds less bad, because we tend to see the internet as less than real. “Tumblrina” means little more than “online and female” – think about why that’s supposed to be an insult.

Trigger warnings are real accommodations for real disabilities. Just because they’re not visible in the physical world, doesn’t mean they’re not real. Seriously, are we not past that yet?

Lastly, when people tell their stories online, this isn’t a reason to dismiss them as fake any more than if they’d opened up offline. Don’t act like you would totally have believed them if they’d used offline methods when, usually, these same people aren’t believed either.

The internet is real, and we should treat it as such.

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Wibbly-Wobbly Shutdowny-Wutdowny Stuff

This post is really long and unfocused and generally just a bit of a wreck, for reasons that will become apparent. Apologies in advance. So here’s how this week has gone.

Monday. Easter Monday, everything’s shut, I’m just in my room doing this week’s reading. It’s almost the end of term – and by “term” I mean “a period of exams, then a couple of weeks of just lectures, and then full term” so in practice I’ve been in Grown-Up Uni Student Living Away From Home mode (context: I’m currently on a year abroad in France) since the new year. I’m kinda crashing a little bit. I wonder how I’m supposed to manage Proper Adulthood if I can only just get myself through a couple of months away at a time. But I’m going home soon. Really not long now.

Tuesday. A couple of particularly stressful classes in the evening. Also, turns out the weather forecasts were right. The sun came out. And stayed out. Fuck. Fuck. Here we go again.

Wednesday. I get my essay done on time, but only because several lectures yesterday and today were cancelled. I’ve just had absolutely no energy recently. But regardless, it’s all worked out in the end. I go to the class, followed by a short lecture. I was going to clean my room when I got back, and then didn’t. It’s really bright and warm outside, and it’s freaking me out, mainly just worrying about the months to come rather than the present. It’s all over the internet, too; it feels like an addition to my general sense of “I’m doing all of life wrong in comparison to these people”. But hey, at least I’ve got this week’s deadlines out of the way.

Thursday. A morning spent trying to make myself clean my room and ending up just repeatedly watching the same YouTube videos over and over, vaguely looking at Twitter, and trying to work out where all my energy’s gone. Eventually, a friend from uni back home floats the idea of “weather” over Facebook. I realise he’s probably right, feel horrible about the sheer inevitability of impending summer, but this ends up motivating me into a prove-him-wrong/go-into-denial burst of productivity. I make a playlist, thoroughly clean my room, spend a little while agonising (by my standards) over what to wear because now I have to actually go out there, and head off to lectures feeling quite proud of myself. The area around the university building is really busy, probably because it’s opposite a park, but it wasn’t the horrendous journey I’d prepared myself for. While I’m at uni, someone asks me (in French) to direct them to the toilets, and I only really manage to do so with gestures and pointing. I spend the rest of the lecture worrying about how I can understand this language really well now but often can’t speak it totally off the cuff and unscripted, and it feeds into that fear of How I’m Going To Do Life that I still haven’t managed to shake yet. I’m startled by the traffic noise on the way home; I don’t know if it’s got busier since it’s got warmer, or if I’m just more sensitive. I get some shopping on the way in, I have dinner, I briefly go to a friend’s room and we mainly just talk about uni. I come back to my room. I’m fine. Just tired, and too bloody anxious to make myself go to bed because then tomorrow will happen and I don’t know if I can deal with tomorrow. Friend back home eventually talks me through getting into bed and watching some YouTube videos for a bit. It sort of works.

Friday. Still wake up before my alarm – thanks, brain. And I don’t really feel any better for having slept. Friday’s quite a long day, but regardless, I’m feeling really anxious right now and think following a structured routine at uni will make me feel better, as it briefly did yesterday. It’s warm out, and bright, and crowded, and there are loud motorbikes everywhere. I arrive at the lecture hall and it takes me a few minutes to calm down; eventually, I send out my weekly Snapchat story speculating over whether or not this particular lecturer will even turn up this week (he does). My head is killing me, I’m feeling really drained and anxious and awful and want to curl up somewhere dark and cool and quiet and not have to worry about All The Things. In the break, I refill my water bottle. It doesn’t help. I don’t get much of the second half of the lecture at all; at some point I think “I can’t focus anyway, I might as well just go back after this one and try and sleep”. I get myself back to my room with a combination of London Grammar, muttering to myself and miracle power; I’m thankful I’m on my own and don’t have to explain myself to people, because saying meaningful things verbally wouldn’t happen. I’m in. Window open. Shutters all the way down. Pyjamas. Bed. Right hand scrambles around the table for earphones. YouTube rain noise. Safe. Safe.

I open my eyes. I try and think back to earlier. I didn’t realise until now just how overloaded I was. I’d properly, properly shut down. Did I fall asleep or pass out? Is there a difference? I feel rested, anyway. I’m not going to make the other lecture now, and the idea of going back out there is unthinkable, but I can probably start the next lot of reading. I do, eventually. I encounter a photocopying issue, go to ask some friends here, and then realise I can’t because they (doing different options) think I’m still in a lecture, and I don’t want to have to explain myself, so I ignore it. I’m productive that evening. I get some reading done. I accidentally start a hashtag, and get ridiculously excited when other people begin to use it. I Skype my parents, and put on a half-convincing Everything Is Fine act. I post a relevant article on the Facebook group the people here set up for ourselves. I have a Facebook conversation with a friend back home about the pressure to pass for neurotypical, and how impossible the world seems right now, and it culminates in a full-blown crying/panicking session. I suppose I sleep at some point.

Saturday. It’s overcast – though apparently not for long – and none of the vaguely-planned socialising ideas have come to fruition. Thank goodness. I still can’t do all of life, but I can do today. Just think about today. I make slow but steady progress with reading. I do some file-backing-up. I vaguely plan out a blog post (entirely separate from this one) and can’t motivate myself to write it up fully. I realise I need to do some shopping, and greatly underestimate how silly an idea it is for me, in these circumstances, to attempt the supermarket on a Saturday afternoon. On the way there, someone I’ve only met a couple of times stops to ask me (in English) where a mutual friend’s room was, and it startles me because I can’t place his face and can only blurt out a room number. The supermarket was, at least, survived. A car beeps at me on the way back, the only logical explanation being that I was existing outside whilst female, the noise startles me and I run off. When I get back to my room, I message the mutual friend to finally establish who the guy who spoke to me was, and that means vaguely admitting how I’m feeling, so it took several drafts. Eventually I do some more reading. I go on Tumblr for a bit. I open WordPress, intending just to vent and make a quick point about shutdowns. I write, I write, I write. I write for too long. I think I really need some sleep.


Okay, that really wasn’t supposed to go on for that long. Sorry. Anyway, there is a point to all that, which is that during sensory overload, before, after a shutdown or even a meltdown, sometimes even during, abilities vary. I might have typing spoons but not verbal spoons, work spoons but not people spoons, or the opposite. This also varies from person to person, always depending on a million and one other factors because we’re multi-faceted human beings. I often find myself beating myself up about this, or feeling like I have to continue an Everything Is Fine act, because if I did this one productive thing or seemed fine when communicating with someone earlier, what will they think if I’m just suddenly not okay now? It’s a habit I need to break.

To totally butcher a Doctor Who quote, neurotypical people assume that shutdowns are a strict progression of in to out, but actually, from an autistic viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly… shutdowny-wutdowny… stuff.

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Autism Acceptance 101: What’s The Big Deal?

The previous post in this series, “Functioning Labels 101: What’s The Big Deal?” can be found here. Once I’ve established that I actually will write a regular series of these posts and not just abandon the idea, I’ll create a tag.

Today, 2nd April, is the UN’s annual World Autism Awareness Day; by extension, the whole of April is Autism Awareness Month – or, as you may have heard it being called by autistic activists and our allies, Autism Acceptance Month. You may also have noticed that many autistic people have reacted against certain “Autism Awareness” campaigns. So, what are the problems with Autism Awareness Month as it currently stands? Why “acceptance”? What can you do this April to help autistic people in a meaningful way? Welcome to Autism Acceptance 101.

Surely more autism awareness can only be a good thing?
Not if the only things being brought to public awareness are misinformation, stereotypes, and fear. Many autism awareness campaigns and events, notably the popular Light It Up Blue, are run by Autism Speaks, a hate group that sees autism as a tragic epidemic that takes away the “real” (read: neurotypical) children, and carry out research to eradicate us. Here is a well-known masterpost by Tumblr’s Goldenheartedrose outlining the ways in which Autism Speaks harms autistic people. There are many. Yet Autism Speaks continues to be the most popular autism organisation in the USA if not the world, which means April often serves only as extra amplification for their hatred, sometimes dreaded by autistic people ourselves.

But the criticism of autism awareness campaigns isn’t just limited to Autism Speaks – why is that?
Basically, April amplifies the autism campaigns and narratives that happen normally – the good and the bad. Things to avoid include cure-based rhetoric, equating “autism” to “a burden placed on neurotypical people who are forced to deal with autistic people”, harmful compliance-based therapies, functioning labels, that sort of thing. There’s also the issue that many autism awareness campaigns focus exclusively on children, or more specifically on young white boys, alienating everybody else. Finally, consider accessibility; if your autism awareness event passively excludes autistic people by not taking into account issues like sensory differences, we’re going to wonder who it really benefits.

Why is your immediate reaction to the innocuous “like and share for autism awareness” Facebook pictures just eye-rolling?
Here I’m referring to the picture memes which contain no actual information whatsoever, just “like and share for autism awareness” or “like and share if you know/love someone with autism” (because everyone knows there are no actual autistic people on Facebook… /sarcasm). They seem pretty harmless – at least they’re not spreading misinformation. But the former is basically “hey everyone, autism exists!” which doesn’t solve anything if the majority of information immediately available to those who see it and want to know more is Autism Speaks or similar, and the latter is basically “look everyone, I know one of these people, I’m so great!” which just feeds into the “burden on neurotypicals who have to deal with us” narrative. Mainly, this sort of thing (with no additional information around it) is just self-congratulatory neurotypicals who click “like” and “share” and then expect an ally cookie whilst they then go about the rest of their day participating in the ableist world without a second thought.

Why “acceptance”? What’s the difference?
In recent years, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and other autistic-led organisations have set up Autism Acceptance Month in order to directly combat the harmful “awareness” campaigns. This includes events designed to specifically counter Light It Up Blue, such as the #WalkInRed campaign. These campaigns use “Autism Acceptance” to signify that they do not view autism as a tragic burden to be eradicated, but a neurotype and a group of people who want to be accepted for who we are, as opposed to “awareness” which has so often just been amplified misinformation. It’s a way of explicitly distancing these campaigns from the “awareness” brand which many autistic people are now wary of.

But how can people accept something if they’re not even aware of it yet?
Probably more easily than accepting something if they’ve already developed strong but false beliefs about it, to be honest.

So should I reject everything with the “awareness” label?
Not necessarily – many autistic people and allies (often in addition to supporting autism acceptance campaigns) are preferring to reclaim autism awareness, especially by dispelling myths and misconceptions and spreading acceptance guides via autism awareness hashtags on Twitter, so that they’re seen by the wider audience “autism awareness” brings. In particular, I want to draw your attention to Quarridors‘ tweets today under #WAAD2015, providing some simple but important ways to make the world more accessible to autistic people.

What can I do this April to actually help autistic people?

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Dear Anyone Who’s Ever Had Their Disability Accommodations Ridiculed…

I’m afraid I’ve finally succumbed to The Open Letter. I was originally going to write a post aimed at the people who have spent the last few days trolling the NUS Women’s Conference hashtag, its organisers and participants, or just generally laughing loudly all over the internet, because they (like all NUS conferences have for years) requested the use of British Sign Language applause (“jazz hands”) rather than clapping, due to the impact sudden loud noises can have on people who have anxiety disorders, who are autistic and/or have other sensory processing issues, who are hard of hearing, the list goes on. I was going to write something about how all this mockery is massively ableist and horrible and should not continue. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few days, it’s that there’s little point trying to reason with the aforementioned ableist douchecanoes (some of whom have sadly been fellow disabled people; I’ll get to that later) – most of them are just trolling for the fun of it, quite a few of them seem to just hate activists/students/feminists/women and have taken the opportunity to be awful towards us without giving much thought to why, and all of them are a lot like the horrible school bullies I’m sure you’ll be all too familiar with. I didn’t fancy feeling like I was banging my head against a brick wall anymore, so instead I’m writing to you; disabled people who, this week or otherwise, have been subjected to that sort of treatment for requesting an accommodation abled people aren’t necessarily aware of – so most disabled people, I would imagine.

Bullies (let’s just call them what they are), especially in large numbers, can plant seeds of doubt in our minds and make us question ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I constantly find myself asking close friends for validation against those people. “Am I ridiculous, over-reacting, childish, selfishDoes the fact that I even need to ask you these things just demonstrate that they’re true? You’re nice to my face, but are you all laughing behind my back? Would you laugh at me if one of the adjustments you make for me was instead presented to you out of context on Twitter?” I’m sure I’m not the only one, so I thought I’d try to offer some of that validation to the rest of you.

So: your disability accommodations are valid. You’re not ridiculous or selfish for simply wanting the same level of access and comfort as abled people already get all the time, because the world is designed to meet their needs already. Sure, maybe you’re in a position where you can do without it if and when you have to, but at what cost to you? Abled people don’t have to just deal with it, and neither should we. Anyway, surely making your life easier in a way that doesn’t harm anyone else at all can only be a good thing? Remember that the only reason there’s been such a big fuss in the first place is because abled people are so insistent and and relentless in refusing to even allow a conference they’re not at to make a minor change in hand movement that harms nobody – they are the ones over-reacting. Please keep that in mind; just because they’re so numerous and vocal doesn’t mean that they’re right.

“How do you expect to survive in the real world?”, they might tell you. “You just need to work on your difficulties!” What they don’t know (or wilfully ignore) is that you already are doing that work, more than they could ever knowSociety or the “real world” (which, let’s not forget, is a human construct so shouldn’t be accepted as a given) is inaccessible and harmful in a multitude of ways. It is designed to exclude people like us, and even though it often goes un-noticed, you are working your socks off to live and to thrive in it anyway – and again, abled people don’t have to deal with that stuff at all. Most of them genuinely don’t realise this privilege, so it doesn’t occur to them that maybe they could move some of the way towards you. With apologies to Muse, they like to give an inch whilst you give them infinity. It is absolutely not selfish to more evenly distribute some of that load.

To disabled women: I’ve been saddened to see a lot of this ableism and bullying coming from abled feminists, who think that improving accessibility at the NUS Women’s Conference “trivialises feminism” or “makes women look weak”. I’m really sorry about them. I can’t believe this even needs saying, but you are not letting your gender down just by existing. You didn’t create a society which sees women as lesser – men did that. I think feminists really need to work on this ableist (and sexist!) idea that women have to be completely invulnerable, with no concept of emotions or physical or mental health or self-care, just to “earn” the respect that men automatically receive. You’re not trivialising feminism; in fact, by acting like you don’t exist and by holding women to an invincible-machine standard, it’s feminism that’s trivialising you. For what it’s worth, given that you’re facing patriarchy and ableism, and maybe some other oppressions as well, yet you’re still here trying to make a change, I think that if anything, you’re making women look amazing.

Going back to all genders now, I’m also really shocked by how many disabled people are willing to join in, say “but I have *relevant disability* and I don’t need this, they’re being ridiculous” and throw other disabled people under the bus; though maybe I shouldn’t have been, because a few years ago I probably would have been one of those people. Internalised ableism is something I’m still working on. Anyway: your access needs do not make other disabled people “look bad” – that’s based on the assumption that accommodations are a bad thing in the first place, and that assumption comes from abled people, not you. In addition, you are not the reason abled people don’t take disabled people seriously; abled people are the reason that abled people don’t take disabled people seriously. Your disability and related adjustments are not silly, cutesy or made-up just because they don’t match somebody else’s.

Having said that, it’s important to remember that the reverse is also true; other disabilities are not silly, cutesy or made-up just because they don’t match your own. I know it’s tempting to take out your frustrations on other disabled people with access needs you personally have never heard of before, to blame them for “making us look bad” whilst also potentially making yourself seem more “reasonable” and more likely to be taken seriously by abled people (“Look, you can’t call me ableist because this person agrees with me!”) – like I said, I’ve been there too. But the truth is, it’s a lot easier to attack each other than to confront abled people, because of the privilege structures involved. Think about where the structural power lies; it’s abled people and an ableist society that deny and/or ridicule your accommodations, not other disabled people.

Lastly, if it helps, something else I’ve learned this week is that the online trolls are not representative of humanity at large. It may be true that the dominant reaction of abled people to stories like this is confusion and maybe an initial “that’s ridiculous”, but most of the time, it isn’t out of malice but out of genuine ignorance, and that is something that can be changed. In amongst the awfulness of the past few days, I have been pleasantly surprised by how many of my friends took an interest in this, and were willing to listen and learn. Also, whilst it’s sad that this is the case, it seems that most people tend to be more accepting of people they know and interact with offline than of people they just find out about online, if that’s any comfort regarding the “Are my friends laughing at me behind my back?” question. Playground bullies do seem to grow up and follow us out into the world beyond the school gates, but please remember that being powerful doesn’t mean they’re right about you, or that they’re impossible to overcome.

So keep your heads up, keep fighting the good fight however you can… and then, just because it seems to annoy abled people so very much, might I suggest we celebrate with jazz hands?

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