Just Stimming…

A land we can share (a place I can map)

“Congratulations on your human decency”

with 5 comments

The correct reaction to hearing about systematic injustices or oppression experienced by an autistic person is not to turn to the autistic person explaining this and exclaim: “but I would never!”

That this response is in any way considered a legitimate one will never cease to baffle me.

I’m thrilled that you aren’t revolted by the idea of an autistic person having sex. I am really, genuinely, honestly excited. You know why?

Because you are rare. You’re like a unicorn. If everyone felt like you, my friend would be permitted to be alone in another room with her boyfriend of seven years.

But…oh. She’s not.

She’s turning twenty one, and she’s never been told what “sex” is.

She’s also not an isolated example. She belongs to a specific group of people–autistic, intellectually disabled, in a supervised living situation–who are routinely and almost by default denied agency over her sexuality. Other groups experience the same abuse in different ways.

You think that’s wrong? Congratulations. Then I’m probably not writing about you.

I am honestly overjoyed when a parent or an educator tells me that they don’t practice quiet hands. I am also frustrated past the point of tears, because you are not enough. You are one person refraining from abuse in a culture where these practices are expected. Your actions have an impact, yes–they also do not negate the reality I and the autistic community have grown up in. A spot of light in the darkness is invaluable, but it’s just that–a small spot of light. I’m not writing about the spots–I am writing about the overwhelming, consuming darkness.

I really don’t understand how we’ve gotten to a point where some sort of acknowledgement is expected for the teachers, professionals, and parents, the service providers and the allies, who manage to show some basic human decency. Such a state of affairs is an insult to everyone involved.

If I describe a broader, troubling trend in society that has a profoundly negative impact on me and my community, a reply of “but surely I am not a part of this trend!” is nonsensical. It says absolutely nothing about anything I described. You aren’t a part of the problem? Then what I’ve said doesn’t apply to you. Why are you bringing yourself up? It’s as if you commented that the sky is particularly blue today, and I mentioned that in Australia it’s midnight. They’re both technically true statements, but mine really isn’t conducive to a discussion of the weather here and now.

In fact, if I make a habit of such statements, I’ll probably be seen as needing some speech therapy or behavioral intervention.

You will probably be seen as a very, very patient ally.

It’s an absurd situation. It’s like a straight parent wanting praise for not kicking out their LGBT+ child, a man expecting me to finish an essay about rape with a p.s. most men aren’t rapists, it’s like me as a white person expecting a Japanese friend to finish a recounting of racial violence with a quick oh but I know you’re not like that, Julia.

Guess what! I don’t get points for meeting the bare minimum requirement of ethical human behavior! No one does! It’s the minimum. It’s what the default is supposed to be. We should be able to take it for granted.

Yet in discussions about ableism and autism, I am repeatedly confronted by this problem. When I refuse to qualify my statements with but of course some parents would never kill their child, or not that life is always perfectly easy for neurotypicals either, I am told I am being too blunt, angry, or antagonistic. Probably, it is theorized, this is because I am autistic. I must have difficulty understanding that my experiences aren’t universal, or that other people have feelings and a right to different opinions.

No, actually. Speaking–well, typing–truth plainly and as concisely and directly as I can is not the same as harshness. It probably feels unpleasant when read by a person in a position of immense privilege. I am frankly more concerned with the systematic injustices I see all around me.

I mention privilege. Privilege is a word that has a lot of meaning. I’ve been told I’m privileged for being able to articulate what has been done to me.

I really cannot think of anyone luckier.

Privilege is actually very different from luck. Privilege is a lot like water, to paraphrase Amanda Baggs. It’s been described as “not having to know” or “being able to forget”–not having to know that nothing will change for you unless they leave a bruise where someone can see, being able to forget that someone was institutionalized. A useful description here, however, is simply “used to taking up space.” People in positions of privilege–and enabled people are by definition in a place of immense privilege over disabled people–are used to taking up a lot of space. This does not mean that they are bad. It does mean, though, that when a minority attempts to claim a little bit of space for themselves, the privileged people will feel attacked. They might feel that the minority is, by trying to exercise their own voices and claim their own space, calling the privileged group intrinsically bad.

But here’s the catch–if the minority group devotes their limited attention and energy on reassuring the privileged group and helping them manage and process the transition…then the privileged group is still taking up all of the space!

There is not actually a way for the minority group–and to be specific again, I am talking about disabled people, about autistic adults–to win here. Either we let ourselves be co-opted into soothing decent people that they are in fact decent people, or we are a hostile force to be at best ignored and at worst fought. Either way, the privileged group–non-autistic people–is still the center of the conversation and still makes the rules.

It is completely unacceptable.

So, for future reference? If someone positions themselves as an “ally” and expects some sort of acknowledgement or praise or thanks for it: I disengage. I could not be less interested in having conversations which adhere to this power dynamic. I’m busy: I have a liberation to craft.

I would love it if you could join me.

Written by Julia

October 7, 2011 at 3:31 am

5 Responses

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  1. “I must have difficulty understanding that my experiences aren’t universal, or that other people have feelings and a right to different opinions.”

    Oh, how I hate this “opinion” thing.

    I had a therapist who sat and asked me, in the tones of a patient infant-school teacher, why I couldn’t accept that not everyone shared my opinion – the opinion that trans people should be addressed by their proper pronouns and that I had a right to finish a sentence without being told to “Shut up!”. It’s probably my undiagnosed Aspie tendencies at work, but I can’t wrap my head round the idea that someone’s dignity is a matter of other people’s opinions.

    …Yeah, sorry to rant. I just wanted to make it explicit how much the so-called “right to different opinions” is misused as a justification for letting cruelty slide.

    Nicholas Kiddle (@ksej)

    November 14, 2011 at 2:44 pm

  2. Oh YES. Sometimes I get sooo frustrated with the hideous circular nature of it that I sit here and say out loud with vehemence “HATE HATE HATE HATE”. I have coined a word for “neurotypicals” which I like – “ableoid”. It sounds like a diagnosis of something “not quite there” in a similar way to “disabled” or FFS “autistic” do and in fact are. I am 55 with physical disability and have come to know that there is no escape for us in our lifetimes. And I dare say for some generations to come.

    I am sooo tired of looking after the ableoids’ feelings.

    Glenda Lee

    May 7, 2012 at 2:41 pm

  3. Oh, Julia, I think i’m in love with you! I’m on a midnight bender reading everything you’ve written. It started following a random link to learn more about my (undiagnosed) Aspie son. Your stuff is the first i’ve read in nearly a year of sporadic random web-trolling that is sincere and useful. I could rant about the useless crap i’ve come across, except that you already know so much more about the crappiness of what’s out there.

    Obviously my son has other issues and pleasures than yours, but there are some deep similarities. Mostly, though, your writing is just so wonderful! It’s really a pleasure to read. And, as a bonus, I finally understand so much more: about my son, about you, about others i haven’t treated fairly based on my privilege … about me. Thank you so much.

    swampmama

    June 16, 2012 at 1:18 am

  4. Dear Swamp Mama:

    I don’t know if you will come back to see this, but just in case:

    I’m another reader (though not a Mom) who really enjoys “Just Stimming”

    Another three blogs by autistic authors you might enjoy (as well as learning from … not just about what it is like to be on the spectrum but also about a wide range of issues that affect people with disabilities in general):

    http://ballastexistenz.wordpress.com

    http://aspergersquare8.blogspot.com/

    http://abnormaldiversity.blogspot.com/

    The next one is not an autistic person, but you might still find his blog enjoyable (and thought provoking) in any case — Dave Hingsburger has worked with people with intellectual disabilities and other developmental disabilities for more than 30 years, is a staunch advocate for independent living and de-institutionalization and works to end abuse against people with disabilities. He himself has also joined the disability community as of a few years ago when he started riding a wheelchair:

    http://davehingsburger.blogspot.com

    Hope you come to like these blogs also.

    Andrea Shettle, MSW

    June 17, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    • Yes, Andrea, I signed up to be alerted when anyone posts here since I can’t read enough!

      Thank you very much for the links. I did find Andrea’s site (ballastexistenz) the other night and read through all that i could find there as well. The other three look great too. Perhaps it will be another late night …

      swampmama

      June 17, 2012 at 7:44 pm


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