Feminist Aspie

Autistics Speaking Day 2015: IRL

(As always, 1st November is Autistics Speaking Day – please do check out the other posts on the website!)

I haven’t been on here much recently; university is really hectic at the moment, and the time and energy that isn’t going into my studies is going into various other little side-quests. I don’t feel too disconnected though, because some of those side-quests are autism-related. Firstly, whilst I don’t want to go into details for anonymity reasons, I’ve recently embarked on a new project which involves writing about autism someplace else – publicly. It’s still online, and yet it feels more, y’know, IRL. It’s me, not just an alias I created specifically to express what I never felt I could around the people I care about, and it feels like a big step. The second thing I’ve been doing recently is starting, slowly and tentatively, to properly address some of the problems I’ve been having over the last couple of years and, I suppose, seek support through more formal channels. It sounds big and scary when I put it like that, but in reality it’s more like tiny baby steps that, taken individually, don’t seem worth worrying about.

I bring this up because I’m thinking about the year that’s passed since last year’s ASDay and realising that, in seemingly small and unconnected ways, I’m beginning to accept and embrace my autistic self not just in theory but in practice. The idea of learning now, as an adult, what sets me off and how to minimise the risk and how best to recover afterwards and how to explain all that to people seems like a bizarre concept, but it’s been happening to me for a while and it’s an ongoing process. For those of us who grew up believing that passing for neurotypical was the ultimate goal and that our differences were purely behavioural without considering sensory and other underlying differences in autism, it’s surprisingly common to have to re-learn how your brain wiring works and how to work with rather than against it. Some things that I thought were harmless need to be dealt with carefully or they can build up and lead to overload; on the other hand, some things that I thought were Very Very Bad can be mitigated and dealt with or even sometimes enjoyed, with some forward planning and supportive family and friends. My biggest challenge, as perhaps made evident by the whole “secret WordPress” thing, has been and is still opening up to people IRL (by the way, I include online communication with people I know in my definition of IRL, because why should that communication be less valid?) and again, the progress is slow, but steady, and perhaps increasing in pace. Even if the potential worst-case-scenarios never arise, I’ve found that just knowing there are people on side makes a world of difference.

What does this all mean? Well, in short, I’m one month into term and haven’t gone into shutdown yet (although who knows, maybe I’ve spoken too soon), I remain absolutely terrified of the future but I’m working towards making the future seem like an actual possible thing, and I’m feeling more like myself, like this version of me, in the big and scary realm of IRL.

Baby steps, as it turns out, can go a long way.


10 Downsides Kids With Autism Get From Bullying (because apparently it isn’t obvious…)

Autism Daily Newscast has published an article by an ABA practitioner entitled “Ten Perks Kids With Autism Get From Bullying”. Yep, really. That’s a thing that now exists. (I won’t link, but I like Wandering Autistic’s “honest version” if you want a quick summary…) So, in the interests of balance, and because it apparently isn’t obvious, here are just some of the negative effects bullying has on autistic children:

  1. The physical and emotional abuse. Honestly, the list could just end here. No ~important skill~ or ~valuable life lesson~ is worth that. Ever.
  2. You learn, very quickly, not to trust anyone. If you are your honest self, they might turn against you. If they seem friendly, they might be using you or laughing at you behind your back.
  3. You get the impression that everyone hates you and/or thinks you’re whatever the bullies call you, it becomes so ingrained that those thoughts begin automatically wherever you are and whoever you’re with. In other words, the foundations of an anxiety disorder.
  4. The realisation that the adults who are supposed to help you just agree with the bullies, even if they use more technically-polite words to express it. Everyone seems to be taking the same victim-blaming stance – if you could just “act normal” you wouldn’t get bullied, and because you won’t or can’t, you must deserve it.
  5. Low self-esteem – because if everyone constantly tells you that your way of being is wrong, you start to believe it, and you start to believe that it’s your fault for being who you are.
  6. All of the above is likely to be detrimental to engaging in social activity and making friends in the future.
  7. The fact that we have to justify not being abused by saying it’s detrimental to social skills, because our social skills (often used just as shorthand for “passing for neurotypical”) are seen as more important than our humanity.
  8. Other people deciding that everything’s fine because they can use your pain for their ~inspiration~ or ~teamwork~ or ~awareness~.
  9. The frustration of adults telling you “we can’t stop bullies” when they’re not even trying; treating bullying as if it were a natural disaster they are powerless to stop, when in fact it’s a product of a society they created. Where do you think bullies learn their prejudices from?
  10. Knowing that the bullying of people like you never totally goes away even in the adult world. We just stop calling it bullying and refer to it as what it is – ableism.

Don’t You Mean “Person With Ableist Derailing”?

Earlier today, I came across this great comic strip by Christine Deneweth about her experiences with schizophrenia and neurotypical privilege (link includes a transcript and image descriptions), in which she discusses the media’s damaging portrayal of schizophrenia, the pressure to “act neurotypical”, and the risk of workplace discrimination and even unfair incarceration faced by schizophrenic people. It’s really worth a read. Go on. I’ll wait.

After I read the comic strip, and because apparently I never ever learn my lesson, I read the comments on Everyday Feminism’s Facebook post promoting the piece – only to discover that most of the comments didn’t engage with the actual content at all, and instead criticised Deneweth’s use of the identity-first term “schizophrenic” (as opposed to person-first language e.g. “person with schizophrenia”). In other words, mostly neurotypical people telling the artist she’s somehow managing to stigmatise herself rather than thinking about the actual stigmatisation and ableism she’s described as coming from neurotypical people. Because obviously neurotypical people themselves are never the problem amirite?(/sarcasm) To be fair to Everyday Feminism, they responded to the worst offenders with this article by Caley and Creigh Farinas about the problems with policing disabled people’s identities (also really worth a read), but the fact that articles like this have to exist just goes to show that this same thing happens to disabled people talking about their experiences all – the – time.

Personally, I am autistic and I (like many others, although of course not everyone) prefer to use identity-first language to describe this fact. This is because I don’t think “autistic” is a bad thing; it’s not a negative quality, it’s a neutral quality. I feel that shoehorning in “person-with” where an adjective better suits the sentence sends the message that you can’t see “autistic” as a person without trying to separate the autism from the person, which isn’t possible; autism is a part of who I am, and I wouldn’t be the same person at all without it. Using identity-first language doesn’t mean I’m defining myself exclusively though autism – to give just one example, my gender doesn’t define me either but you don’t often come across the term “person with femaleness”! In my opinion, if neurotypical people are so keen on “putting the person first” then they need to demonstrate that in their actions, not just their words.

But my opinion doesn’t matter one iota here. The only person whose opinion matters is the person describing their own disability, and nobody has the right to police how someone identifies. It doesn’t matter if you’re some sort of professional expert on the relevant condition. It doesn’t matter if you know someone with the relevant condition (something that neurotypical people, apparently unable to imagine any of us having our own perspective, often equate to being that someone to claim authority). I don’t even think it matters that much if you share the relevant condition, although of course you remain free to use different language to describe yourself. You do not have the right to police how someone else describes themselves, especially regarding marginalised groups you don’t belong to.

The main reason this infuriates me so much has nothing to do with any of my concerns about person-first language itself. Instead, it’s because abled people seem to use this same-old-same-old argument to prevent meaningful conversation about disability and ableism, and to conveniently avoid engaging with the problems being highlighted (and, in turn, their possible roles in those problems).

Neurodivergent people are saying, over and over again, “we are being discriminated against, we are being portrayed unfairly and harmfully, we are not given adequate support and accommodations, we are mocked and bullied, we are excluded from the workplace and social spaces and other aspects of public life, we are sometimes incarcerated or abused or even killed just because our brains are wired differently to yours”.

But the only thing neurotypical people ever seem to take from that is “you’re the one oppressing yourself with your sentence structure”.

Telling someone how they should and shouldn’t describe their disability – especially at the expense of what they’re actually saying – is ableist. Or maybe it’s an action with ableism. Either way, it really needs to stop.


People, Not Burdens

A person is more than just the sum of the resources they need to survive.

Refugees are more than just burdens, they are people, although the way the government and the media have framed the issue would have you believe otherwise. Migrants generally are seen as “coming over here and taking our jobs/benefits/houses” – despite evidence suggesting immigration can actually create jobs – and headlines about the refugee crisis in Calais are more concerned about British holidaymakers than the refugees themselves; essentially, many of those of us lucky enough to have safe homes to go to are hearing these stories from Syria and around Europe and never bothering to think beyond “but how does this affect ~me~?” as if the devastation of those people actually affected doesn’t matter. They might be slightly less likely to refer to the refugees as “a swarm” or “cockroaches” in recent days, but the dehumanising attitude still remains.

An argument I’ve seen a lot recently goes along the lines of “I bet all these people signing petitions wouldn’t be happy housing refugees personally in their home”, again viewing them only as burdens on others. Firstly, this is a really unfair comparison considering that very few people have the same level of resources (financial or otherwise) that governments have. Secondly, refugees are not burdens, they are people, and many would be very much capable of looking after themselves if only they were allowed the chance to settle in a safe place and get back on their feet. On the “Syria is Calling” Facebook page set up in Iceland this week, Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir writes:

Refugees are human resources, experience and skills. Refugees are our future spouses, best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022, the carpenter who finally fixes our bathroom, the chef in the cafeteria, the fireman, the hacker and the television host. People who we’ll never be able to say to: “Your life is worth less than mine.”

I would add that even if a refugee doesn’t become a carpenter or a chef or somebody’s spouse, they are human. They have likes and dislikes and hobbies and memories and experiences and thoughts and feelings. They have intrinsic value. A person is more than just the sum of the resources they need to survive.

Of course, people do need various resources to survive, as is pointed out relentlessly by the “but we’re not even looking after our own” crowd, which seems to mainly consist of people who call for benefit cuts and funding cuts right up until immigration hits the headlines, at which point they suddenly become outraged about poverty and homelessness because they can blame immigration rather than the real causes… But the thing is, we do have the resources. The UK government is spending millions of pounds on keeping out the refugees in Calais, and is considering military action in Syria; imagine how many refugees that money could feed and house, or how it could improve infrastructure to meet the demand. Austerity and government cuts are more than simply “sorry, we’re out of money”, they involve political and ideological choices, and refugees are not to blame.

There seems to have been a general shift in popular opinion this week, but that hasn’t been total; many people have simply shifted to “I feel sad for them now, but it’s for other countries to deal with, not us”. Somebody else’s problem – do we not realise that those other countries are saying exactly the same thing about us?

While we’re all squabbling over who should “deal with” a perceived burden, people are dying, drowning, suffocating, as a result of a crisis fuelled by racist, xenophobic anti-immigration narrative across Europe.

People, not burdens.

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Expectations, Expectations Everywhere!

Being autistic, like being human in general, comes with a lot of false and contradictory expectations to meet.

I often find myself caught between the belief ingrained in me for years that my autism means I’m Being Neurotypical Wrong, and the the more recently-developed feeling that I’m Being Autistic Wrong. In the past I rarely bothered asking for accommodations or disclosing disability beyond the standard equal opportunity tick-box in applications, worried that people would think it was fake, but now I’m also worried that not doing that makes people think it’s fake. I still can’t quite shake off the passing-for-neurotypical mask I put on automatically around other people, which makes me feel insincere and (again) fake, but at the same time I still stim and generally am sometimes more obviously autistic and people react badly to that too. Some people who only see me in certain contexts think I’m too quiet these days; others see me in certain contexts and think I’m too loud. And, of course, neurotypical people have that tendency to either only see an autistic person’s weaknesses but not their strengths or vice versa, creating a tightrope of constantly trying to prove “I’m not faking” and “I am capable of these things” to other people at the same time.

Like it or not, the expectations of others are powerful. We often look to what other people are saying and doing in order to work out what is required of us, what the ideal outcomes are, and what is and isn’t appropriate. Importantly, though, looking at what other people do shows me what is considered to be normal – in a world that’s also constantly telling me that “normal” should be my ultimate goal.

So by extension, I feel like I have to generally do what other people are doing. Blend in with other people. Wonder what other people think about me, to the point of fixation. As it turns out, there are lots of potential reasons for people to judge you – what you do with your free time, how you socialise and how often, how you look, what you eat and drink (or what you don’t), the extent to which you express emotions and how, how you carry yourself generally, how you react to certain events and experiences in your life, how vocal you are (or aren’t) about various topics and issues… and in case it wasn’t complicated enough, different people expect different and often contradictory things from you. I can’t please everyone even if I wanted to.

As I head into my final year at university, the future is becoming more real and more scary, and the bigger long-term expectations of other people are playing a significant part in that. The combination of what and where I’m studying means I’m currently in a world of “well obviously you’ll want this career and these are the steps you have to take and even though it’s not statistically possible that everybody does the same thing it’s all we’ll ever talk about ever“. In the graduate recruitment context, everything seems to have rough ages and degree stages attached to it too, and the fact that I’ve just done an Erasmus year abroad (which, of course, I spent constantly worried about whether or not people thought I was making the most of the experience!) makes me feel like I’ve fallen behind my graduated friends, and watching them all go on to do these great impressive things just adds to the pressure.

Having said that, over the past year I’ve learned that other people’s expectations are mostly rubbish and it’s not healthy to constantly compare your whole reality to other people’s Facebook statuses, funny anecdotes and general highlight reels. Slowly but surely, I’m starting to think “You know what? This stuff really doesn’t matter. I don’t need to fit exactly what everyone else expects of me, and it’s better for all parties for me to be honest, be myself and work towards goals I really do want to achieve.” Sounds good so far, right?

One small hitch: I’m so used to relying on what other people want me to be that if you take all that away, I’m not sure how to figure out what I want to be anymore.


Sometimes, We Don’t Say Anything

Maybe I’m stating the obvious here, but most women don’t actually mention every single sexist thing that happens to them. Sometimes we confront it directly, sometimes we vent to a friend, sometimes we talk about it online, but a lot of the time… nothing.

There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, there’s the issue of everyday sexism being so normalised that it goes unnoticed in the first place. Secondly, we have lives and don’t particularly want to be here talking about sexism all day. Saying “this shitty thing happened to me today” isn’t always convenient – people aren’t always around, internet isn’t always available, you don’t always have the time or the energy to say something. Sometimes we mean to bring it up later; sometimes we forget.

Sometimes, we think to ourselves, it’s “not worth it”, which can mean a number of different things. Sometimes it’s just not worth the effort of starting the conversation or sending off a tweet; evidently, sometimes we just have to pick our battles, and when other people can’t fix the problem anyway it can seem a bit pointless to bring it up. Sometimes it’s not worth the energy spent on yet another same-old-same-old big argument about how we’re not being over-sensitive and hormones have absolutely nothing to do with it and this stuff does add up and is harmful and their intentions don’t erase the harm done and it shouldn’t matter what we’re wearing and other things we’ve already had to deal with a million and one times before. Sometimes it’s not worth being considered “a bitch” or “a killjoy” or “irrational” or whatever women who stand up for themselves are being called this week, especially as we’re called those things for bringing up even one feminist issue, let alone everything; and even when you don’t care what people think of you, there are still situations (such as in the workplace) where other people’s opinions of you matter and have knock-on consequences. Sometimes, especially for direct confrontation or in public forums, it’s not worth the harassment and the abuse we might get for speaking up.

Sometimes, we decide it’s too insignificant to mention. Sometimes it didn’t have much of an impact on us personally and we don’t really care enough to go out of our way to mention it. Sometimes it seems so small that we don’t think anyone else will care to hear about it. Sometimes we think it’s unlikely that we’ll be taken seriously. Sometimes the significance of whatever happened, only becomes clear in the context of a larger inequality, from housework to harassment, which can be really difficult to communicate to others, particularly to those who seem to be actively trying not to listen. Sometimes there’s no way to articulate this pattern without at some point mentioning that the perpetrators are men, and when we say that, many people completely ignore our initial point in favour of a mass of “not all men are like that” as if we didn’t already know that, as if a generalisation (where it even exists) by a few people has anywhere near the same power as the stereotypes and roles forced on us by society itself, as if semantics matter more than the problem we were talking about in the first place.

So when someone does speak up, remember they did so despite the huge number of reasons not to, which demonstrates the impact the relevant event had. It might have been particularly severe or obvious. It might have been one of several “little things” to happen in one day. It might have been the final straw for someone who was already upset or angry or anxious because of something else entirely. Whatever the reason, when you do hear about everyday sexism, it probably means the woman in question has seriously had enough of putting up with this stuff day in, day out, and keeping quiet about it.

And before you respond with “why are you making such a fuss” or “stop being so sensitive” or “not all men”, you should probably take that into consideration.


A Headcanon Named Autism: In defence of finding our own representation

Let’s start with a trip down memory lane. When I was in Sixth Form, I studied Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire for A-Level English; being one of few people in the classroom who didn’t really mind reading out a particularly large share of lines, I ended up reading Blanche DuBois every lesson. I’ll be honest, Blanche is basically the dictionary definition of “your fave is problematic”, and yet she became one of my favourite characters in the whole syllabus; I sort of identified with her in a way I couldn’t really put my finger on at the time. Before long, I was combing through the text over and over, reading far more articles and criticisms online than was really necessary for the coursework, and developed a theory that I eventually felt confident enough to share with friends, only to receive a perplexed look and a “…Really? Are you sure?” in response.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I’d accidentally reinvented the autistic headcanon.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “headcanons” are reader interpretations and theories that aren’t expressly stated within the media itself (i.e. it isn’t “canon”). So an autistic headcanon basically means “I interpret this character as autistic” and it’s also worth noting that the headcanon-er is usually, though not always, autistic themselves, because we’re the ones most invested in autistic representation. I’ve noticed a strange backlash against autistic headcanons, mostly from neurotypical people. “Stop glorifying/romanticising autism!” they say, just like they do whenever we talk about autism as anything other than the horrifying-tragic-burden portrayed by organisations like Autism Speaks. “Stop mocking autism!” they say, telling autistic people that they’re somehow mocking themselves whilst ignoring all the actual mockery of autism that neurotypical people do all the time. Self-insertion is another accusation thrown around (although somehow never at neurotypical people who insist a given character has to share their neurotype…) but that’s rarely the case; often, apart from being autistic, we aren’t actually all that like our autistic headcanons. It’s almost like autistic people aren’t all the same or something…

Which brings me to the current state of canon autistic representation which, like the representation of many other marginalised groups, is very poor. The main problem, of course, is that there isn’t enough of it. Then, when there is a canonically autistic character, it’s often the same-old-same-old “gifted at maths/science/technology but inept at every single human interaction” stereotype. I don’t doubt that some autistic people happen to fit that stereotype, but when that’s all the representation that’s available, many of us will continue to struggle to relate to even the few characters that are supposed to be like us. They’re often defined by the neurotypical point of view, with little or no mention of traits such as sensory processing issues. They’re also virtually always cis white men. Sometimes, characters are very heavily coded autistic (albeit in very stereotypical ways) to the point that it can’t be an accident, but it’s never expressly stated; this increases the stigma around the autism label (the idea that it’s too horrifying to speak of), allows the writers to be as inaccurate/stereotyping/offensive as they want with no consequences, and allows neurotypical people to continue to ignore autism and even try to take this very limited and very flawed representation away from us. Because yes, many of us cling to such characters anyway despite all these issues, because it’s all the representation we’ve got.

Representation issues are often dismissed as “just fiction” but this does matter; this does have real-world consequences. If, growing up, you are never or rarely shown people like you, it reinforces the idea that you’re abnormal, that you’re somehow wrong. If people like you are only shown to be one narrow type of person, you assume that that’s all people like you can be, and you start to feel that not only are you a failure for not being neurotypical, you’re also failing at being autistic. It also shapes how other people think about people like you; if they are only shown this one stereotype of people like you, they will believe that that’s how all people like you are, and that’s how they will expect you to be. We do get expressly compared to autistic or heavily-coded-autistic characters all the time – if I had a pound for every time my name was put in the same sentence as Sheldon Cooper or Christopher Boone or Sherlock Holmes, I could buy a plane flying a banner which reads “SERIOUSLY I WANT MORE FEMALE AUTISTIC CHARACTERS” – which only goes to show that these characters do send out a clear message about autism, good or bad, right or wrong, to neurotypical people. Personally, I’m frustrated by the fact that so many canonically autistic characters have a ~special talent~ that somehow redeems them; when I was younger I genuinely thought that was true of all people like me (it isn’t; see this post by Unstrange Mind), so as a straight-A student who didn’t (and doesn’t) have any glaringly obvious ~special talent~, I assumed mine had to be school and therefore I would be doomed shortly after I turned 18. And I’m speaking as a white cishet woman who has no other disabilities besides autism; autistic people in one or more other marginalised groups are often rendered completely invisible.

So, is it any wonder we resort to finding our own representation? Sometimes we aren’t even looking for it, it just happens, but sometimes some of us do just randomly decide a character is autistic because-why-not, and that’s okay too – because, well, why not? Why is neurotypical the default unless expressly stated otherwise? Believe me, there are headcanons out there a lot more far-fetched than “I see a lot of my own autistic traits in this character” that don’t get anywhere near the same level of scrutiny and people desperately trying to prove them wrong. I suppose if you’ve always been told your neurotype is the default to which everything else is “other”, you’d react negatively to being told you’re not. Autistic headcanons aren’t hurting anyone – unlike the currently poor canon representation, and of course the real-world ableism routinely ignored or perpetuated by the same people who are so against autistic headcanons – so why else would there be such a backlash from neurotypical people?

Representation matters, and I want to see a world where books and TV shows and films depict autistic people of colour, LGBTQIA+ autistic people, autistic women, autistic people with other disabilities, autistic people who can pass for neurotypical and who can’t, autistic people who are verbal, non-verbal, partially verbal, autistic people with all kinds of special interests, autistic people who use special interests in their work and those who don’t, autistic people who are hypersensitive and hyposensitive and sensory-seeking, autistic people of all ages and all occupations, autistic heroes, autistic villains, autistic geeks and autistic sports captains and everything in between, with good qualities and flaws that are related to autism and those that aren’t related to autism at all – realistic, multi-dimensional autistic characters that don’t feel hollow or like the butt of a joke.

I suppose, unlike Blanche, I do want realism. And until that’s achieved, autistic media consumers everywhere will keep working our headcanon magic.

(Also, I’m interested to hear your autistic headcanons, or favourite canon autistic characters – let me know in the comments!)


The Illusion of “Neutral”

A huge part of privilege is that we are able to totally ignore the fact that we have it. If you don’t have to deal with any given oppression – sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia etc – day in day out, if it doesn’t affect you, you might not notice microaggressions (or even larger structural issues), or you might notice but look the other way, or you might notice and think to yourself “that’s a bit iffy” then forget about it and get on with your day – bear in mind this is a privilege not afforded to the marginalised group in question. Until, of course, the people directly affected point out the problem and ask for change – then, because you can’t ignore it anymore, you might think they are the problem for “creating divisions”“starting arguments” or “making it political”. Honestly, I’ve been there; I think we probably all have at some point.

This demonstrates two things. Firstly, we should listen to marginalised groups we’re not a part of, because they know their own oppression better than we do. Secondly, those arguments are necessary. Because here, “neutral” or “apolitical” means “don’t rock the boat”. It means just passively keeping things the same. And that means continued oppression.

Yeah, I know. Conflict is always unpleasant, and it’s sad and frustrating that these conflicts keep cropping up. But the solution isn’t to simply suppress the conflict; the solution is to tackle the oppression that’s causing the conflict. To reiterate: the oppression causes the conflict. People seem to have this idea that marginalised groups just love arguments and get angry all by themselves. Unless you just happen to be a white, straight, cis, abled, financially comfortable man who also has whichever other privileges I’ve forgotten to list, you’ll know that’s not true in terms of your own marginalisation(s) – so why do we have such difficulty in transferring that knowledge to situations where our group is the oppressor?

To be told that your words or your actions are harmful is uncomfortable, but it’s nowhere near as uncomfortable as actually being on the receiving end of that harm time and time again, every day, everywhere, even in supposedly “safe” spaces because many people think that “safe” means “neutral” and argument-free. Safe spaces should be safe for all the people they aim to support, including those who are marginalised within that group. This means that structural oppression has to be addressed, and that can mean conflict. It might seem theoretical and pointless to you, but for others, it’s the first steps towards making a space safe and positive again.

In short, privilege matters. This is also why, in these situations, “compromise” is not a solution (that’s basically saying “we’ll be slightly less harmful/less obviously harmful and you’d better be grateful for it”) and why the privileged group in these arguments using “this makes me feel unsafe” as some sort of checkmate phrase just doesn’t work – usually they’re referring to the discomfort of having the problem (which they are complicit in and/or benefit from) pointed out to them, whereas the oppressed group are talking about, well, literal safety.

Basically, “safe” does not always mean “safe from criticism”. And “neutral” does not always mean “equal”.


Invincible: On special interests and secret weapons

Just to warn you, what you’re about to read is sort of a far-too-soppy post about love. I don’t mean romantic love, though. I don’t even mean platonic love, although I could just as easily describe how the love and care and support and patience of family and friends is absolutely invaluable when things get tough. But today I want to talk about something else entirely; the unique, concentrated, powerful, hard-to-articulate feeling of an autistic special interest.

The giddy joy of the initial phase of research-research-research-consume-consume-consume, the flappy stimmy delight of engaging with it again or in a new way, the happy relief of wondering whether you have special-interest-feelings for the thing anymore only for them to come rushing back at the first sign of new material, the excitement of talking about it to someone who’ll actually listen, the occasional realisation that I love this so so much that I don’t know how to begin conveying it to others, all that makes special interests valuable in and of themselves. Every so often I encounter neurotypical people who talk about special interests as if their only value is that they could be made into a career, usually followed by neurotypical parents of autistic children bemoaning the fact that not all special interests can be “made productive” in this way – something that I think is also true of my own even as an adult. But so what? Neurotypical children (and adults) are allowed to play and relax and have fun without having everything they like turned into either a job or therapy, so why can’t we? Even if that’s all a special interest does, it is still so, so valuable.

For me though, even as an adult whose special interests have absolutely no relation to my career choices, I find that they are productive in other ways. One of them in particular has worked wonders with my university social life and my general ability to strike up a conversation, for example. But again, it’s not all about meeting the requirements of a neurotypical world. Sometimes, it’s about getting through the impossible and surviving that world without falling apart. And for that, that feeling is a not-so-secret weapon.

This isn’t the case for everyone on the spectrum, but my special interests are quite consistent. I know they’re there, always, if I need them, and no matter what the rest of the world is doing to me at any given moment, I know that I have something to cling to. Something safe, but more than that, something that will make me incredibly and undeniably happy despite everything else. Yeah, it’s a crutch, but so is alcohol and dominant society gives people flak for not partaking in that one!

Past experience has shown me time and time again that I can get through pretty much anything armed with my earphones and special interest material. This feels a bit like a superpower. Not only can they get me through pretty much anything but they can also sometimes be the reason I’m trying to overcome something huge in the first place – my other big special interest goes against all my sensory issues, and yet I go through with it because I’m like a moth to its flame, and I cope because the cause of the problem itself is also like super-effective stimming. It’s a confidence thing too; in theory this shouldn’t work, but in practice it always Just Does, and the obstacle in front of me is downgraded from “basically a meltdown on a plate, literally impossible” to “really really difficult and at times it seems impossible but you’ve got this, your own obsessions have got your back”.

My brain last week was weirdly like the setting of one of those old legends; the most terrifying beast of all had returned far stronger than ever before and brought the whole city to its knees, but the beast was slain (er, for another year…) by a force that was, against all the odds, even more powerful still.

A force that I think of as love.


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.


Just one autistic girl

We are all unique down to our own fingerprints. Educate Advocate Love!

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I'm Autistic, I like walks, there's probably water nearby.


When I understand, I feel better. This condemns me to a lot of reading and thinking.


Im 21 and have Sensory Processing Disorder

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The (Trans)cendental Tourist

Transgender scholarship for the riotous of heart.


Dealing with Oxford and depression


killing joy as a world making project



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One mom, one child, one experience on the Autism spectrum

0olong Messes About On WordPress.com

but probably doesn't do any actual blogging


The trials and tribulations of a 40-something year old gurl


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Katharine Baxter

Almost writer/activist/artist/poet/performer/photographer trying to be content in the here and now. Fan of social justice, human rights and damn good coffee.


Writing and podcasting about feminism on the contemporary teen screen

Light-Headed Thoughts

Observations of a Philosopher-Geek


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