Feminist Aspie

Afraid

TW: Murder, violence

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

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

Not all men.

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

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

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

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

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

I need to be braver.

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Crashing Down To Earth: Sensory overload and its aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image

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

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

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

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

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When You Tell Me…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So don’t. Please, please don’t.

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On Autism, Boundaries and Consent

Before I start, I should probably apologise for abandoning FeministAspie for several months… again. Sorry about that. I don’t have a particularly good excuse for it, either; just being really busy with uni then worrying so much about neglecting the blog that I was too scared to sort it out, I guess. In an attempt to reduce all this worrying about it and actually maintain a consistent blog again, I’m planning to focus more on actually writing and reading blog posts as opposed to attempting to keep a fast-paced and often-full-of-conflict Twitter feed under control, so I probably won’t be on Twitter that much apart from posting links to blog posts I like, at least at first. Anyway, the following is an attempt to coherently write about something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently.

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I generally tend to be very wary of the rhetoric surrounding teaching autistic people to be “socially appropriate”; often, this is merely code for “preventing harmless stimming because neurotypical people think it’s weird” or “forcing eye contact because that’s what neurotypical people do” or “do everything in your power and more to magically be neurotypical regardless of what actually helps you” or, well, “conditioned compliance”. (For more on that sort of thing, see “Socially Inappropriate” by Musings of an Aspie). As a general rule, if so-called “behaviours” aren’t actually causing any harm to anyone, it’s none of your business. Yet there often seems to be so much more emphasis placed on suppressing harmless autistic body language than there is on encouraging actually important social skills that can and do cause upset for all involved parties if things go wrong. In other words, amongst all the “if you just try harder you’ll become like us and we’ll see you as a full human being” ableist stuff, there are aspects of social appropriateness which are important. Consent and respect for personal boundaries is one of them.

It makes me really uncomfortable when people (especially neurotypical people) try to explain away incidents of harassment, disregarding lack of consent or sometimes even assault with the “autism is to blame” mentality, particularly when the perpetrator’s neurotype is unknown and people are making huge assumptions often based on probably-false stereotypes. (The plan is to keep this gender-neutral for the most part; I do think it’s really important to take patriarchy into account, but I’ll get to that towards the end.) For a start, it’s hugely ableist to assume that autistic people are incapable of understanding boundaries and/or consent issues. By no means am I saying this isn’t an issue at all. In hindsight, my early teenage years and first few crushes were a series of messy, steep learning curves about how to handle those feelings, how personal space worked, and general Not Creeping People Out 101. It wasn’t pretty. But eventually, after a few bad experiences, rounds of “you can’t do that” from other people and later being introduced to consent issues through feminism, I picked that stuff up. I imagine this is much easier for some people than for others, and I’ll get back to the importance of education on consent issues later, but for now, my point is that equating “autism” with “not taking no for an answer” does a lot of harm to autistic people in terms of stereotypes.

It also overlooks that autistic people are often more susceptible to being victims of this sort of thing than our neurotypical peers, for various reasons. Firstly, there’s the whole “not picking up on ‘obvious’ social cues” thing. Secondly, many autistic people, even those who are normally very verbally fluent, begin to lose verbal ability under stress, when overloading or for countless other reasons; in a society where even a clear “no” or “stop” is often discounted and anything short of that is seen as a “yes”, this can be and has been exploited. Thirdly, sadly, conditioned compliance is a thing (TW for description of rape, abuse, compliance training and ableism in the link), making it even harder to “escape” these situations.

In addition, this mindset takes the blame away from a much wider culture which contributes to lack of respect for consent. Not all autistic people show complete disregard for boundaries (although, as with any group of people, of course some do) and likewise, not all people who show complete disregard for boundaries are autistic (although, as with any group of people, of course some are). Further, to assume that problems such as these are caused almost solely by being unable to read social cues is to ignore other factors such as the more general male entitlement phenomenon and, well, a society which tends to not really let people say “no” very much (and not just in sexual/relationship contexts, either). In fact, the “autism is to blame” fallacy is also guilty of favouring the perpetrator; there’s a lot of emphasis on the possibly-autistic perpetrator potentially not picking up cues any less subtle than a clear “no”, but little thought for their possibly-autistic victim who, having gradually learned (or been actively taught) over time that their dissent is just over-reacting and that they should cause as little fuss as possible, unwittingly finds themselves being assumed to want something they don’t and doesn’t have the tools to object. I’ve been there. It’s pretty awful.

As well as, you know, not massively stereotyping autistic people and throwing us under the bus unnecessarily, what we really need is a shift towards consent culture, where clear communication of consent (or lack thereof) is the norm, as opposed to simply assuming consent unless stated otherwise. We need more widespread education on these issues, for people of all genders and neurotypes, and this includes giving people the tools to set boundaries without fear as well as to respect them. We need to get rid of the “boys will be boys” mentality, and I think that in particular ties in really well with the concept of presuming competence in neurodivergent people. Assuming that somebody is incapable of understanding boundaries so not even trying to discuss it only creates a vicious circle. And that contributes to stereotypes which, frankly, we could really do without.

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