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Archive for October 7th, 2011

“Congratulations on your human decency”

with 6 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