Feminist Aspie

If the New Year sexual assaults were made up, it reveals ugly truths about what white men believe

(I’m not going to manage the usual Friday evening blog this week, so instead here’s a great analysis by Stavvers of how white men are trying to have their cake and eat it over the New Year mass sexual assaults. See you next week!)

Another angry woman

Content note: this post discusses sexual violence, rape apologism and racism

News has emerged that the New Year mass sexual assaults by Arab men may have been made up or colossally overstated. If this is true, it’s a rare occurrence of sexual assault allegations proving to be false, and it’s utterly disgusting and unhelpful to everyone.

Except white men. Remember the frothing glee with which white men seized upon similar attacks, a year before. Remember how Nigel Farage, practically hard, threatened that this was why Migration Is Bad. Remember how the police rounded up brown men, ostensibly for the safety of women. Remember the wild-eyed excitement from the right, literally saying “told you so“.

And compare and contrast this with the reaction when an allegation is made against a white man’s idol. Donald Trump, Roman Polanski, Julian Assange… the endless list of beloved white men…

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Tara Palmer-Tomkinson was autistic – so why is this being erased?

It seems like a tiny thing, I know, but it’s really bugging me.

The late Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who died this week aged 45, was diagnosed as autistic in 2014. It did make news at the time, but apparently not as much as I thought, because in all the articles I read through about her death and describing her life, not a single one gave this as much as a passing reference. With all the coverage she’s had over the last few days, most people I’ve mentioned this to (including autistic people) didn’t even know.

And honestly, it feels a lot like erasure – of autistic adults, of autistic women, of late-diagnosed autistic people, of autistic people in general who don’t fit the rigid stereotypes. It feels strange that, alongside a couple of other autistic women I’ve seen on social media, I seem to be the only one who’s noticed.

Of course, a late autism diagnosis is hardly the most important thing about Palmer-Tomkinson’s life, and we can’t really know how she would have wanted it to be dealt with anyway. But leaving it out across the board is particularly interesting when we consider what the media have been more than happy to leave in.  More specifically, the meltdowns – here’s a more sensitive take on the Heathrow incident, written at the time by another autistic woman. Given that many of the obituaries eagerly discuss this and similar incidents in great detail, sometimes in a critical and almost mocking tone, it’s difficult to see why autism would be deemed irrelvant. And in prioritising this unwanted attention on a vulnerable moment in her life over the autism revelation given willingly in an interview, it’s incredibly difficult to frame this omission as a matter of respect. On a more positive note, several articles noted her charity work with autistic children – but still, despite the obvious relevance, leaving out the autistic adult in the picture.

In the interests of honesty, I had another quick Google before I started writing this up this morning, and I did find this clip from Good Morning Britain on the OK! website; Carrie Grant does note the autism diagnosis, and that quote is included in OK!’s write-up. It’s worth noting at this point that Grant has autistic children herself and is involved in campaigning around autism; it’s sad that this one mention has come from someone already in the wider “~autism community~” because nobody else seems to want to bring it up!

Representation matters – for combating stereotypes, and for ensuring everyone knows that they’re not alone, that there are others like them. Erasure prevents this. Stop erasing autistic people.

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A Law Student’s Guide To Free Speech (and what it isn’t)

Here are some of the main sources of the basic human right to freedom of expression:

Freedom of expression is formulated slightly differently in each of those documents so I’d encourage having a look for yourself, but basically, it means everyone has the right to hold and express opinions without interference from the state. This interference might include:

Freedom of expression means you are free to express your views in general, but it does not give you a right to specific private platforms or audiences. If I invited you into my room and you started yelling abuse at me, I could kick you out without violating your freedom of expression – you remain free to yell abuse everywhere else. Indeed, if I invited you into my room and you do nothing wrong but then I have to go to class, I could kick you out and end the conversation with me without violating your freedom of expression – you remain free to express yourself to everyone else. In fact, I don’t HAVE to invite you in at all – you can still hold and express opinions, you just have to do it outside or somewhere else. The same principle would apply if my space was virtual and my name was Twitter.

Here are some other things free speech does not include:

These are privileges; the majority of us won’t ever receive these privileges, but that doesn’t mean we’ve all lost our rights to free speech!

As noted above, the right to freedom of expression protects against interference from the state – it cannot be violated by private parties. Having said that, it’s true that some private actions might impede a person’s ability to express themselves freely even though this cannot amount to a legal violation of freedom of expression, for example:

Neither of those violate the right to freedom of expression (although they may violate other laws), but you could certainly argue they go against the general spirit of why freedom of speech is so important.

Which begs the question – why is freedom of speech so important? There are various reasons for this. Firstly, there’s the importance of self-expression for developing autonomy and self-fulfilment (although it’s probably worth mentioning at this point that media corporations are not human beings developing autonomy and self-fulfilment). Then there’s the argument based around democracy – in a democratic society, we should be able to hear a wide range of views in order to evaluate them ourselves as opposed to, say, far-right white men shouting everyone else down and creating an atmosphere hostile to other voices.

This is where those restrictions I mentioned earlier come in – at least at a UN and European level, a proportionate, legal restriction on freedom of speech is permitted where this is  necessary for a specific list of aims – both the ICCPR and ECHR include the rights of others in this list. A common example of a situation where this balancing is needed is the tension between freedom of the media and the right to privacy of the individual they are reporting on. However, some speech can also reinforce or increase existing damage to the rights of others; for example, trans people are already at high risk of sometimes fatal violence and are frequently denied healthcare, and high-profile transphobic speech (such as this high-profile transphobic speech…) perpetuates the belief that these human rights violations are acceptable. So transphobes may have a right to express their hatred, but this has to be balanced against the rights of trans people to, in many cases, literally continue to exist. I don’t imagine freedom of expression would prevail there.

 

Basically: All free speech really means is that an opinion is legally allowed to exist without state interference. And if the best defence of an opinion you can think of is “it’s legally allowed to exist”, perhaps it’s time to start looking around for some better opinions.

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So I had a huge shutdown and now I have a lot of feelings…

(CONTENT NOTE: This post discusses an autistic shutdown and internalised ableism)

I won’t be around this Friday, so I’m being prepared for once and writing this on Tuesday night! I’ll publish now too, because apparently I’m more impatient than I thought. On the other hand, I’m afraid this is going to be one of those whining-about-my-life posts, because it’s safe to say the past few days have been a bit of a mess!

So: after I’d already had an intense couple of days, some (relatively new) friends from uni started planning to go to Women’s March and I decided to go with them too. This was a Very Obviously Bad Decision. I was overloaded and panicky the second the packed tube doors closed, ended up non-verbal and frozen stiff on the outskirts of the huge crowd, and ultimately found myself zoning in and out on a tube back home before any actual marching had even started. Everything had fallen apart.

Firstly, I know I’m not going to be the only one who’s had similar experiences, and even the fact that I could get there at all is a huge privilege in itself. There’s a lot to be said about inaccessibility in activism; about how some forms of activism are prioritised over others and seen as more “real”, to the detriment of the disabled people (and people in general) who carry out important activist work in other ways; about how instead of add-on tokenism so disabled people can feel included, we need to actually BE included and have our needs considered from the start of activist planning; the list goes on.

For now, though, I want to focus on the shutdown itself and the torrent of internalised ableism and self-loathing that followed. For the rest of the day all I could think about was how terrible and useless and silly I was – not because I couldn’t participate (like I said, inaccessiblity is a thing), but because I couldn’t participate and I tried anyway. If I’d stayed home in the first place I could have at least got on with uni work and perhaps been more vocal online, but instead I put myself through all that stress and ended up writing off the whole day (and, I think, reduced productivity for several days) only to ultimately contribute nothing. If anything, I’d contributed negatively, in that my friends (who were in this situation with me for the first time) were also held back while they tried to figure out what was going on and how to help.

Ultimately though, I think a lot of those feelings just boiled down to frustration. To put it bluntly: I came up against a huge barrier that would not have been there if I were neurotypical. Of course, in many ways you could argue that happens all the time, but, at least in my case, it’s rarely so blatant, so clear-cut, that the only thing standing between me and the goal was my brain. It makes me feel vulnerable; well, I guess it makes me aware of the vulnerability that’s always there.

The other reason I feel vulnerable is because I suddenly feel very visible; it didn’t help that I posted a lot about autism on my Facebook last week for reasons I can’t really go into here. As soon as I had the typing words, I was venting about what happened in practically every space I could think of, to the point that I was a little worried about this post in case parts are recognisably lifted from posts and comments under my own name. But immediately after doing so, I’d feel embarrassed, whiny, silly, looking for attention (why is that even a bad thing anyway?) and if I’m totally honest, I still feel a bit like this now as I write.

I got some really lovely messages on the day from the people I’d gone with, and they were all really nice about it when I saw them again in class, but it didn’t stop me feeling… weird. Weird: My go-to word for a feeling I haven’t quite identified yet. Self-conscious. Guilty. Ashamed. Yep, I felt ashamed that I’d shut down like that so obviously in front of them, even though I know on a logical level that I shouldn’t. Telling the whole story to others has also been…weird. Difficult. Misunderstood. I always forget until I have to talk about autism-related concepts like meltdowns and shutdowns that most people don’t really know what it means without you explaining it (which is something many people struggle with, including myself), and even then, they don’t necessarily get it. It’s not their fault at all, they just can’t relate, it’s not within the realm of experiences they have had. And it makes me feel so alien.

If today’s energy levels and executive function are anything to go by, I’m still not quite over it yet. (Okay, so I wrote a long blog post, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I actually had to do today!) I’m not sure if I have actually been more sensitive and less able to handle social situations over the past couple of days, but I’m definitely more consciously aware of other times when I might be visibly different, or other things I find difficult that “should” be easy, and it feels… y’know, weird. Again, frustration and vulnerability and shame and feeling bad for feeling bad, because I really know I shouldn’t.

Sometimes, the most useful contribution you can make is to take care of yourself, and that’s okay. Sometimes, you have to just accept yourself for who you are, and who you are is okay. I just wish I knew how to put that into practice.

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Everything is the worst – and we shouldn’t have to just put up with it

By the time this post goes up, Donald Trump will be President. Yep. Really. Remember how ridiculous and impossible that was three months ago? I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you why this is terrible and dangerous, but I do worry about how easy it is to normalise it, to buy into all the awful “marginalised groups provoked this by asking for basic human rights” rhetoric when it’s everywhere. So, for the record:

  • You don’t have to “just learn to live with” the fact that someone who openly admitted to sexual assault has been allowed to reach one of the most powerful positions in the world.
  • You don’t have to engage in “respectful debate” over the “controversial” views that climate change isn’t real or that vaccines cause autism. Those views aren’t controversial. They are objectively, scientifically, wrong.
  • You don’t have to “just get over” your healthcare, even your means of survival, being taken away.
  • It’s not “demonising” to point out that people in power think conversion therapy is okay and to point out that it really, really isn’t.
  • You don’t have to “get along with” people who think you and people like you are an acceptable target for open mockery.
  • And you DEFINITELY don’t have to “unite as a country” with people who support literally actually really building an actual fucking wall to keep you and people like you out. (Or with people who put their own economy at risk to keep you and people like you out, for that matter… and they say WE “want to stay in our own echo chambers”?)

The far-right and its supporters want you to think that it’s irrational, unreasonable or childish (cleverly playing on the insecurities of many millenials who haven’t had the same socio-economic opportunities to reach “adult” milestones as in the past) to stand up for yourself and your rights. It is NOT irrational, unreasonable or childish to stand up for yourself and your rights. It is NOT irrational, unreasonable or childish to resist.

 

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Some Twitter threads on transphobia

CONTENT NOTE: This post discusses transphobia and conversion therapy, and also mentions anti-vaxxers. The first linked thread mentions transphobia, healthcare gatekeeping, ableism and sexism. The second linked thread mentions transphobia, healthcare gatekeeping, gaslighting, suicide and ableism.

Three weeks into the whole “new post every Friday at 7pm” thing, and I’m already messing it up – a lot’s happened this week and I have a few deadlines coming up, so here I am with an imminent Blog Time and virtually zero Blog Ability.

Instead I’m going to link to two Twitter threads by two autistic trans people, Harry Giles and @Scattermoon, broadly about the BBC’s decision to broadcast a documentary entertaining the idea that cis adults know what’s best for trans children better than trans children do, framing abuse of trans children as a ~~debate~~, and suggesting that autism is a valid reason to disregard gender identity, amongst other things.

You’d have thought media organisations would have learned lessons from the whole Andrew-Wakefield-claiming-MMR-causes-autism thing, but apparently not.

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Uncertainty, risk, and consequences

(CONTENT NOTE: This post discusses autistic meltdowns)

Uncertainty doesn’t mean that something bad is going to happen.”

This is one of the main points I took away, word for word, from my uni counselling service sessions last year. I find it very helpful to remember because, well, it’s true. Sudden changes with no advance warning can be pretty awful in terms of sensory overload, but on the other hand, sudden changes with advance warning can lead to days of slow-burn, pit-of-the-stomach anxiety which, most of the time, turns out to be completely unfounded. I find it helpful to remind myself and to be reminded that, realistically, there’s a big chance that nothing bad is going to happen to me at all.

Having said that, there is a huge difference between reassurance and denial. A dismissive “stop worrying, it’ll be fine” or a laughing “you’re worried about THAT?” from neurotypical people, however well-meaning, is incredibly frustrating. The main reason for this is that these people don’t understand what I mean by “things going wrong”. They don’t understand the consequences of things going on. I’m not just worried about inconvenience, discomfort, general less-than-perfection. First and foremost, I’m worried about meltdown.

Autistic meltdowns are experienced differently by different people and in different situations. For me, meltdowns mostly involve a lot of crying, the intense feeling that nothing is going to be okay ever again, and a horrible all-consuming headache that makes me feel sick, makes it difficult to speak coherently (in a situation that may attract the attention of well-meaning people pressuring me to speak coherently so they can understand what’s going on) and means I can’t process more sensory input (in a situation that’s usually provoked in the first place by some ongoing source of sensory overload I can’t get away from). It can take days to fully recover from. These days, I experience true meltdowns rarely, so I know the risk is low, but the very fact that it could happen is terrifying. In addition, if I get into this state away from home, there’s really no guarantee that I’ll be able to make it home or to a place of safety myself, so the prospect of that happening when I’m on my own is very scary indeed.

“Why on earth are you so on edge about it? It’ll be fine!” always makes me think “Well it’s alright for you, you don’t have to deal with the consequences if, by chance, it’s NOT fine”. But articulating that in the moment is difficult, especially after years of it being mocked and dismissed as over-reacting even by people who really mean well.

Of course, in reality, it’s almost always fine. Uncertainty doesn’t mean something bad is going to happen. Uncertainty only means risk. But that risk is very real, that the severe effects should that risk actually occur are very real too. By all means, offer reassurance that it will probably be fine, but understand that it might not be fine, and that risk is not to be erased.

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Blogversary/The Annual Resolution To Post More

This blog is officially four years old! *raining confetti*

On a related note, this blog still exists. I kind of dropped the ball again, so this is my first post since Autistics Speaking Day on 1st November, and of course since then the world has gone even more to shit than it already was, which is maybe part of the reason I feel like the gap between posts is longer than it really is.

I feel like it’s usually around the same time of year when my blogging lapses, and I think that’s because for me autumn still means a new year at university (and this year, a new university!), so routines take time to change and the blog gets lost along the way. My other excuse this time round is that I’ve been focusing on my own Twitter rather than hiding away under the FeministAspie alias, which I guess is a good thing, but I think I still find the more anonymous space beneficial and I don’t intend to completely abandon it!

Evidently, my blogversary coincides almost exactly with New Year, which means I always end up making and re-making the same resolution: Post on FeministAspie once a week. To be fair, this usually lasts at least a couple of months, but this time I’ve had the idea of giving myself a weekly deadline so that a blogging routine is incorporated into my existing routine. So, from now on, I aim for posts to be scheduled for publication on Fridays at 7pm (UK time). This will be the official FeministAspie timeslot. We’ll see how long it lasts!

Finally, given that it’s also the end of 2016 (which sounds reassuring, until you remember that Brexit and Trump haven’t even really happened yet and 2016 was basically just laying the foundations for the awfulness to start…), here are my five most-viewed posts of the year:

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Autistics Speaking Day 2016: Affirmations For You

(This post is for Autistics Speaking Day 2016 – check out the Autistics Speaking Day blog for loads of other contributions though out the day!)

My ASDay posts (and posts in general…) often just consist of me talking about myself, which is kind of tricky given that I’m supposed to be anonymous, so today I’m going to talk about you.

If you think you belong here, you belong here. If you don’t have a formal diagnosis, or if your diagnosis was lost or left in limbo by a mess of bureaucracy, you still belong here. If people don’t take your autism seriously, you still belong here. If you’re actually feeling pretty good right now, you still belong here.

You don’t need to feel guilty because you’re actually feeling pretty good right now. You don’t need to feel guilty because you’re not in a good place right now. You don’t have to feel guilty because the ways you respond on bad days don’t even make sense to you in hindsight on good days. You don’t have to feel guilty because you could do something one time and you couldn’t do it some other time. It doesn’t mean you’re fake, it means you’re human and subject to a multitude of other contextual factors.

You’re not just attention-seeking (and who decided seeking attention was such a bad thing anyway?), you’re not just running away from ~the real world~ (this IS the real world), and you’re not just trying to be a special snowflake (er, whatever that means). You’re autistic, even if you don’t fit pre-conceived neurotypical ideas of what autism is.

It’s okay to be uncomfortable with the latest TV show/film/book/whatever about autism. It’s okay not to like it or relate to it even if you don’t find it outright offensive. It’s okay to feel alienated by the version of autism that’s presented to us by neurotypical-led media. Again, it doesn’t make you fake or a Bad Autistic Person. At the same time, it’s okay to enjoy the representation while you can, to find solace in seeing someone vaguely like you even if it isn’t perfect.

The way you experience the world is real. It’s not over-reacting, it’s not wrong or weird or weak, it’s autistic and valid and real. Sometimes, the world can be downright scary, and this is especially difficult when the people around you don’t think it’s scary, they don’t recognise that you might feel differently (and they say we lack empathy?) and you’re left facing it alone because voicing your fears gets you judgement rather than support. It’s still just as real. But you’ve got this. You’ve made it this far, you’ve more than likely felt this way before, and you can survive again.

It’s okay to retreat sometimes, to focus on recovering from the constant overload, to take care of yourself. Abled people like trying to frame this as weakness or inferiority, but you’re only trying to achieve the same level of comfort that they have all the time in this society that was designed specifically with them in mind. It’s okay to be angry – there’s a hell of a lot to be angry about. But it’s also okay if you can’t fight back all the time. It’s okay if you have to choose your battles.

You are strong and kind and brave and capable and deserving of love.

And your special interests are amazing too!

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Cheese and O(pi)nion

(CONTENT NOTE: This post mentions racism and xenophobia, media sexualisation of children, sexist and racist harassment and sexual assault.)

This week, the 2016 Weird Awful News Machine has heavily featured Match of the Day presenter and crisp-advert-man Gary Lineker. Front-page tabloid headlines calling for him to be sacked, politicians attacking and defending him, debate still raging all over the internet… What on earth did Lineker say that was so huge and controversial it created this massive media storm?

“The treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. What’s happening to our country?”

 

…Oh.

Yep. That’s really it. Very non-confrontational, doesn’t blame anyone or anything directly, he even includes the phrase “by some” which you’d think would combat the usual not-all-white-people-not-all-Brexiters-not-me-not-me-not-me brigade.

Here, Lineker was criticising people and publications who responded to the arrival in the UK of fourteen – yes, fourteen – teenage refugees from Calais by scrutinising their photos, declaring them to “not look like children”, and then being all furious and hateful because they must be lying about their age. (Heavy sarcasm incoming…) It can’t be because people grow and age at different rates and adolescence is a particularly awkward time, with some children barely in secondary school being deemed fully grown (usually by those who want to sexualise them – the Daily Mail is particularly familiar with the “all grown up” trope) while some young adults are told they don’t look old enough to have left school. It can’t be because these refugees have seen horrors and devastation that no child should have to go through. Nope, apparently they have to be liars, because we as a society assume all refugees are lying about their situation (which conveniently means not having to feel guilty about the UK’s part in creating and maintaining their situation) and secretly after “our” money, “our” jobs, “our” resources… wait, who is this “our”? There’s the racism. I would then say the heartlessness is the fact that *fourteen* refugees arrive and the immediate response is anger over the fairly slim chance that a few of them are adults, because heaven forbid we help an 18-year-old get a roof over their head and the chance of a fresh start rather than a 17-year-old, right?

This leads us nicely into the often overlooked distinction between offence and harm. If Lineker is wrong (which he isn’t) then what are the consequences? At worst, an adult refugee gets the assistance they need. You could make the argument that a child refugee would be missing out on that assistance, but frankly the problem there is how limited the numbers are in the first place because immigration even to escape war and persecution is so demonised. As for the people who are angry at Lineker’s statement, I’m not sure the arrival of f o u r t e e n refugees, whatever their age, affects them or the “general public” they claim to represent much at all. It’s not about the risk of harm. It’s about offence.

I’ll make that clear: The Sun (which, as awful as it is, does for some reason hold a lot of sway over public opinion and, in turn, political opinion)  called for a man who talks about people kicking a ball around to be sacked from that job because they’re offended that he had a completely unrelated opinion different from their own. That’s the situation. So where the heck are the free speech brigade?

They were out in force when Richard Keys and Andy Gray, who also talked about people kicking a ball around, were dismissed for making sexually derogatory remarks about women and stating a female linesman was not fit for the role due to her gender – remarks that reinforce prevalent sexual harassment of women and existing barriers to women in male-dominated careers, i.e. causing harm rather than just offence, but were still seen by many as just “banter”. They were out in force when alt-right pundit Milo Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter for repeatedly violating its terms of service, culminating in sustained racial abuse and harassment against actress Leslie Jones – such harassment and abuse can and does cause long-lasting psychological harm, but as the tweets in the link show, that was seen as suppression of free speech over offence. And, of course, a couple of weeks ago *actual US presidential candidate* Donald Trump pretty much admitted to sexually assaulting women – I hope I don’t need to tell you that sexual assault is harmful, but Trump and his supporters dismissed this as “locker room banter”, and he’s still running for President even though I could continue this “harmful statements defended as free speech” paragraph forever just on the Trump campaign alone.

As the above incidents and many more show, there are a lot of people around who apparently care about nothing more than freedom of expression, no matter how much these views can cause real harm to the rights and freedoms of others (or “special snowflakes looking for offence” as they’d put it). These people use their (mistaken) conception of free speech to attack everything from combating harassment to using trigger warnings. So in comparison to that, you’d think a football presenter and crisp enthusiast who just said refugees are people and should be treated as such would be an easy case, right? But nope, just silence.

Apparently “some people are being racist and heartless towards these refugees” is just too radical a statement.

It’s almost as if those who criticise taking hate speech seriously don’t actually care about freedom of speech; only freedom to hate.

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