I’m not a side story

… But going by the stories out there, you’d never know it.

A few months ago, I had a dream. There was buddies and lovers and hijinx and fabulous clothes and lots of fun. Sounds like a pretty cool dream, right? Except when I woke up, I realized it was a nightmare.  For having seen all these fabulous things happening in my dream, when I woke up I came to the realization that it was not my narrative arc that the dream was following. I was a side character in it- a part so small I barely had a name in it, a character so minor that even in a romance novel series that pairs a couple up per book, my character wouldn’t have a book. I was the character who existed only in order to give reactions to the actions of the character the narrative followed, more object than person, more context than character. When I woke up, I sobbed silently into my pillow for more than an hour in the pre-dawn morning.

The framework this nightmare was built on didn’t blossom up from my mind alone. It grew out of a lifetime of the media we, as a society, consume seeding itself there. Very rarely are stories- particularly love stories- the stories of disabled folks living their lives. Too often when they are, they become pity fests, or the disabled love interest exists primarily to teach the non-disabled love interest a lesson about life. (And primarily these are still white, hetrosexual relationships.)

Living without seeing your reflection in media is hard. Trying to picture what it would be like to marry, or parent, when there’s so little media to help us think about those things realistically is hard. It’s soul crushing. And it permeates past your conscious efforts, right into what’s inside of you. Eventually, hopes that look pretty normal seem like fantasy. You stop being able to picture yourself doing the things that you hoped for, which makes working towards them that much harder.

And it’s not like it’s easy to begin with. Beyond just the difficulty of life in general, when you are a person with a disability there are additional factors.

There’s a moment in your life when you are disabled- or trans, or queer, or a PoC or…- when you realize that in most of the media you consume the people who do actually seem like you aren’t there to be fully realized characters. You are the comic relief, or an instrument of change. You are the reason that the “real” characters learn to grow up, or take their first stand against an enemy. You aren’t the protagonist yourself.

When the story is over, the characters like you go unremarked or are carefully wrapped up and put back where they “belong.” This goes for Rain Man as much as for the recent Bones episode “Heiress on the Hill”- while they deal with different disabilities and were made more than two decades apart, both end with the surprise brother going back to the “nice” private institution where it is said that they “belong.” That Bones decided to do this, more than two decades and the Olmsted decision since Rain Man, broke my heart. I stuck with the show, but now… I’m too disgusted to go back. There are less restrictive settings for people with that level of MH support needs. I would know- I’ve helped write policy about them. And even if there weren’t, we could have seen Bones and Booth put money towards FUNDING the development of less restrictive settings instead of how it went down. I feel betrayed. I started watching the show because there weren’t many women like Bones on TV, women with a lot of autistic traits who uses her special interest to understand the world, and now… I can’t.

I’m not the only person who has talked about this, about finding characters who are like you, who move like you, who live like you. Who have talked about the first time they met themselves in literature or film. It can be empowering, and it can also be harrowing- empowering because representation matters, harrowing because too often it’s sterotypes, because when we grow up and look back we realize our relief clouded things, because it’s so hard to find.

*When I read Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, there was one thing that really suck with me about it, and that was the protagonist’s father. Too often, parents with mental health disabilities are displayed as incompetent at best, often pitiable and where not as villain. But here I felt like he was considered a good father by the protagonist- a man who might make some mistakes, yes, and one whose MHD impacts his life a lot, yes. But in the end he is a good father, and a good man. This was very powerful to me- when I was younger, I figured perhaps it would be best if I didn’t have children. I’d only seen bad things happen in the stories I saw or read about parents with MHDs, and assumed that it would be horrible for my kids. That the pattern I had at that time of going to the hospital every 2 years for a stay would stretch out forever, that my kids would end up bouncing in between me and my mother forever. I thought I should plan hard enough to not want kids, and tried to squash down any desire to.

*And then my niece was born, and I realized that I really do want to be a parent some day. Because of physical health issues there’s a chance I’ll need extra help to become a parent, but it is something I want. And it’s funny- I haven’t been in the hospital for MH stuff since before then, and she’s 5, and will be 6 in the fall. Along the way I had begun uprooting the ableism that was embedded in me, and continue to do so. So finally seeing a positive yet realistic depiction of someone with an MHD (aka Serious Mental Illness or SMI) being a loved parent- even if he’s one that needs help sometimes- was very affirmative for me.

*There’s still that his story was a side story, yes, and it wasn’t exactly a life full of romantic relationships for him. Which is why I want to talk about The Fault in Our Stars super quickly. (I know some people hate the author, but I don’t so I ask that you keep author critiques on your own pages thanks!) It’s a book that treats people whose lives are often seen as tragic and cut too short as being full people. That their lives are or are likely to be short doesn’t make their lives less meaningful or valuable or worth living. It doesn’t prevent them from having complex thoughts and feelings about their lives. And it doesn’t prevent them from falling in love and *gasp* having romantic relationships that include being sexual. That was really powerful for me, as it was for a lot of other people.

Atop a pile of boxed up books is a red sign with blue-ish text reading, "We need diverse books because without them, I have trouble being the protagonist of my own dreams." With sheep turning into "Zs" around it are a cane, a Fluttershy plushie, and a Dora doll

This week, there’s an effort called #WeNeedDiverseBooks going on. May 1st, they are putting out submitted pictures (mine is above) talking about why it’s important that marginalized people are represented in literature, especially in children’s and young adult books. May 2nd, there will be a twitter chat at 2pm under the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks- though the tag has been active since at least April 28th so feel free to join any time. (I’m @nicocoer.) On May 3rd, there’s going to be an effort to have folks buy, request, and share books about marginalized people and by marginalized authors. (You can find more details in this post.) I encourage you to check it out and to submit to the efforts as well.

It was this effort that helped me finally finish this post after months of working on it. I’m sure I could write more on this. I’m sure I could write more on how impactful it can be. But there’s too much to do that and ever really feel like I’m finished. And it goes, obviously, beyond disability- as many of the others involved in #WeNeedDiverseBooks can and are testifying, there’s too few representations of PoC, of people who don’t fall in the peak of the size bell curve, of people whose faith is not Christian (in the USA at least), or of a wide range of other folks. And what representations there are too often suffer from the same, similar, or analogous issues to those described above.

And none of us- none of us, period- should see ourselves as sidekicks of our own stories.

______

It’s also, coincidentally, Blogging Against Disablism Day on May 1st. Please go forth and check out the other posts being entered.

*Edited in. Forgot I hadn’t written it yet, oops. ~Bad Brains Princess at work~!

 

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It Goes All Ways

Content: ableism, internalized ableism, mention of hospitalization and depression, mention of denials of reproductive justice to people with disabilities. 

When I was 20, I did not love myself.

I was tired. I had been in and out of hospitals, been under the care of providers hopeful that a pill would fix my brain. I had been told repeatedly that there was something “wrong” with me. That there were somethings it wasn’t “right” for me to do.

I had moved back home, having had my stint trying to be what I thought an “adult” was fail. A lot of my plans had failed: I’d been so unsuccessful at maintaining a home that I became deathly ill; I hadn’t sought out the support I needed at college, and had to drop for lack of funds; and I couldn’t get a job. I saw myself as incapable enough that I wouldn’t be able to kill myself, and went to the hospital again. Case management was better this time than they had been in the past. They were involved, and we worked on a self care plan.

“What about having kids some day?”

I told her I didn’t think so. I feared. I feared that I’d be incapable as some people assume about people like me. I feared that I’d be stuck in a cycle of hospitalizations, and that having a kid would mean they would lose their mother every two years. I feared that I wouldn’t know how to get support— I certainly didn’t know then what my needs were well enough to articulate them. I didn’t even have a strong enough concept of disability to think of it in terms of supports. I just feared, and I hated myself, and I pushed both of those feelings away by ruling out the possibility. I told her no, and refused to engage in that discussion.

People like me aren’t just told these things. Some of us, like the poor and People of Color, are or were forcefully or coercively sterilized in procedures we didn’t want to consent to. Some of us were denied even the knowledge that we had something to consent to. Some of us are coerced with them, denied a valid choice. We are lied to about our health, about our ability. We have our lives reduced to a gene, to things not to want our kids to inherit. We are told that having or keeping our own kids is by definition abuse. We are even sometimes ordered to go directly against our choices, or threatened with those orders. Our attempts to speak back are often co-opted by groups we may or (as in my case) may not believe in. The idea that we might even be sexually active in a way that might lead to us being parents is even seen as remote.

To be clear: I know plenty of people who have chosen not to have kids.  They made a choice to be child free, of their own free will. It’s fine if they stick to it, and it’s fine if they don’t.

I don’t consider my choices when I was 20 about kids to have been of my own free will. My responses were societally coerced. I had so much self hate, self doubt, and fear that I had internalized that I didn’t feel like I even had a realistic choice. I thought that the choices open to me were to abort or put a child up for adoption. I had been told for so long that someone like me would by default be a bad parent, or an incapable one. So I felt like I had to reject the very idea of having kids when it was offered as a part of my future.

Around this time, I became more active in disability rights work. I’d been doing advocacy since I was very young, but hadn’t connected with the larger disability rights movement. I started writing and believing in disability rights, coming to identify as a person with disabilities rather than hiding them where possible. I even, at one point, had a friendship end because the other person kept arguing that people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities who need supports shouldn’t be having kids. I believed that People with Disabilities had these rights.

I just didn’t believe in them for myself. I had spent too long in choices dictated by fear and internalized ableism, and uprooting that is a long process that never seems to be over.

About 5 years ago, my younger sister found out she was pregnant. She was 16, and it wasn’t intentional. She was presented with her options— I know, as I was one of the people who went over them with her— and she chose to carry and keep her child. I won’t go into too many details about her pregnancy other than to note that yes, the hormones that come with pregnancy interacted with her disability (she has Traumatic Brain Injury). But she made it through, and the actual birth was relatively easy. My niece was born, and was and is gorgeous.

My sister has had the support of our parents and other family members in the 4 years, almost 3 months since my niece was born. I watched (and helped be a part of) the supports that she needs to be a successful parent.  During this time, I became less and less afraid to ask for supports and accommodation, and slowly gaining the words to communicate and to define what my needs were. I also was becoming aware of the “wants” that I had been avoiding thinking about because they didn’t seem reasonable.

I realized that I would like, someday, to raise a child. I began to think about what I would need to have in place to be the sort of parent that I want to be.

There are some problems, though, that I’m more worried about than others. I have some reproductive health issues that sometimes, but not always, result in infertility. It is treated through a combination of medications that includes Hormonal Birth Control. The reason, in fact, that I’m not currently passed out in my shower or vomiting in pain due to this condition is because of those pills. It raises questions, both about how I’d be able to handle/treat my health conditions when trying to have a child, and if I’d be able to birth the child my self. I’d like to, but if I’m not there are other issues involved.

Fertility treatments can be harder to get when you are disabled.  While it is against the law for a healthcare provider to reject someone on the basis of disability, this type of provider can reject someone for personal reasons. The Office of Technology Assessment of Congress did a survey of artificial insemination providers, which is one of several options in infertility treatment. They found that a large percentage screen for psychological, developmental, and chronic health issues when doing tests to decide on treatment recommendations. For example, 79% screen against hypothetical patients with serious genetic disorders. Another study found high rates of doctors deciding against treatment for or rejecting hypothetical patients with various disabilities, including past suicide attempts (around 40% answered likely to turn this group away) and bipolar disorder (34%).  Adoption, too, is more difficult.

And this is just in the seeking to have children portion of things. Even if my health issues have not impacted my ability to have children, biases against parents with disabilities result in higher inappropriate removal rates, unfounded reports, and evaluations that are not built to accommodate the adaptations that a parent with disabilities may have established. The Family Law system is simply not designed in a way that accommodates people with disabilities. (Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children from the NCD has several chapters on these issues.)

I continue to think about supports, as well as the sort of environment I’d want to raise children in. I know that I’d need a partner dedicated to the family we would build. I’m good with kids, even babies, but I do need times where I have breaks to restore my stress, anxiety, and frustration levels. An involved partner would help with this. I might need alarms and reminders, but these are things that are more an more on the market for any parent. I personally want to raise my child in a Jewish home, with a Jewish co-parent. And, of course, for our family to be one that is highly pro-disability rights.

I want to have children. I want to raise children. Even though I’m frightened. Even though people will challenge if it’s a right I, and people like me, should have. Even if it’s not going to happen for a while. Even though it will mean needing different supports than I need right now. It doesn’t negate the fact that I’m pro-choice any more than it would for any other person wanting to become a parent. To me, it is about choice— about choosing the option that is right for me, myself, rather than having my choices about my body and my life made by someone else.

This is a choice that I’m wanting to make and someday follow through on— and finally, it’s of my own free will.

I Was One of the Scary Kids

Content note: ableism, stigmatization of Autistics and other PWDs, the Sandy Hook shooting

I didn’t want to write about the shootings at all. I knew a number of people (who I’ll link to throughout this post) and organizations would be posting and writing, working to counter the inevitable stigma fail that would happen. I even was keeping to commenting on the links of people I care about, people who I know and who I want to have these sorts of discussions with. Then, it happened. I’ll leave the critiques of the post gawker promoted to others, but I feel obligated to make a comment about some of the assumptions it is based on and promotes.

That comment starts with a declaration: I was one of those scary kids.

It’s not some great proud thing to say. It’s a truth, a truth that when I reveal it makes people behave differently. Admitting that you were a “scary kid” means that people heighten their bar of behavior for you even more than a simple disability disclosure does. It makes even normal responses to threatening situations take on a sinister light to others. Telling someone to back off goes from angry to a threat. Pushing away someone who feels entitled to your body becomes violence rather than defense from it.

It makes people suspicious. It makes people question your ability to accurately report crime, abuse, or health concerns. When you are a former scary kid and let people know, they don’t want to hire you in meaningful positions — or sometimes at all — they don’t want you living in their buildings, and they don’t want you learning at their schools. Your opportunities are curtailed. You are told all the things you will never do.

All of these are true of having certain disabilities to begin with, but when you add in a confession of having been one of those scary kids it is heightened.

I was a scary kid. It makes me sad, but only because I actually don’t like scaring people, though I often can’t tell.

Before the age of 14, I was the sort of child that service providers recommend parents to place in a residential setting — that is, juvenile mental health institutions. Parents were — and are sometimes still — encouraged to relinquish them to the state, who would willingly pay for this kind of care. My mother fought it, and demanded community based services and the training my providers needed to provide it. But she was pressured the entire time, and when I was reviewing her records last year I found boxes of pamphlets and packets that she was given to encourage my placement in those settings.

I also found her private journals about our lives at that time. These were journals she might only ever show excerpts from to a therapist, but were meant to be private accounts. It was scary for her. I cried when I read them, because it was horrible to realize that I had made my mother feel so horrible and hadn’t known. I had not realized that anyone would have interpreted my behavior in a truly scary way, that they wouldn’t see the same causes that I was reacting to.  But she was terrified in those pages — the ones she never meant for anyone but herself to read. Even in her advocacy work, she wouldn’t say that certain events were from my life, just that they had happened to “a young person” she knows. Even the things that she was terrified about.

In the pages of that private journal, she talks about the times I would charge at or by her. To me, I was desperately trying to escape a scary situation for me. To her, it was a charging at. I would throw things, and at the time didn’t have the impulse control to find soft things in a safe space. I never aimed at people, but to her I just had really bad aim. I screamed, and I said things that made little sense — I was scared and angry and frustrated that I couldn’t articulate it. These were seen as threats. When I was put in a scary situation, I would flail and push to try to get out of it — and these were seen as violence. When she left on trips, I was taken with her because she was worried what would happen if I was left with a babysitter.

Most of the episodes she chronicled for her private memory keeping were ones that she never saw the cause for. So many start with, “I came home from work, and Savannah…” It took me until into my twenties to be able to articulate what happened before — that her second husband had provoked responses and behaviors. How he would tell me I was fat, lazy, and that I would never be competent. How he would threaten me with sending me away.  How he did any one of a number of things that would set off my behaviors. There’s no coincidence that the behaviors dramatically decreased a year after he left- at 14, I even was off medication.

Not all the behaviors were triggered by him — some of them were reactions that I didn’t know how to handle internally. Some of them were because of how my internal state from incorrect prescriptions made things harder to deal with. Some of them were from being unable to handle fear, frustration, and change internally. Change was a big trigger for me, and set off the start of my fear responses. I just didn’t have the skills to handle those states. I would go on to develop them, but I didn’t have them yet.

For me, those times were scary because of the outside world, because of confusion at people’s responses, and because of people using my being a “scary kid” as a weapon. To her, I was scary and she didn’t know and couldn’t predict fully why. She understands it now — time, observation of me growing up and learning, my finally being able to properly articulate what was happening for me in those times.

My mother doesn’t regret keeping it private, between her and her private journal or her therapist. Today she was at  a consumer and family advisory for our behavioral health managed care organization (BHMCO). They read that gawker article, and my mother was appalled. She has scary stories about me, but the idea of sharing them in a way that associated them publicly with me was a horrifying violation of privacy and good sense to her. She was struck by the negativity of the piece, of the author. And she noticed how it relies on and perpetuates stigma, and jumps to conclusions.

Having been one of those scary kids is scary.

It’s not scary in and of itself. What made it scary to have been one is what people assume based on it — and what they assume when you don’t disclose.

I’ve had people try to justify things from the JRC’s electric shocks to denying someone an integrated learning environment, to defend seclusion/restraint to “therapy” induced injuries and even deaths using my fellow former scary kids as their reasons. The kids with “significant disabilities.” The ways that other people saw my behaviors — things I didn’t know at the time- are the same things I hear from people trying to justify violence and isolation towards kids and adults with disabilities.

They also project forward to futures that are inaccurate, contributing to the problems that us scary kids face when we grow up. They say we will become criminals, or will commit violent crime, that we will be a danger to society. That we are “sleeper agents” of mass murder. They say that of course people who have had such and such a diagnosis, especially when you are also a scary kid, will do certain things or will never do other things. That we couldn’t successfully ever live on our own, that we’ll never graduate, never hold a job for long, will never have successful, healthy relationships. That we are doomed. And while not all scary kids have mental health disabilities (and not all kids with MHDs are scary kids), those who have developmental disorders with the right behaviors are lumped in.

When I- and others who are autistic, have Mental Health Disabilities, or both — talk back with truth, we are denied. When we talk about how having xyz diagnosis doesn’t mean we will do stuff, when we point out that we aren’t mass murderers, we are shut down. When we talk about how yes, mental health reform is important but that it shouldn’t come out of stigma, coercion  and false equivalence, we are told that we are calling other scary kids lost causes. When we point out that we don’t have enough information, we are dismissed. When we disclose, we are called too close to the issue. Even when our mothers join us.

In reality, only 5% — or 1 in 20 — of those in jail for violent offenses entered jail with a diagnosable condition. The other 95% did not present as diagnosable on entry. Most of those with diagnosable conditions are there on non-violent and drug offenses, including a number of which are a symptom of a lack of supports rather than their conditions themselves. Some estimates place the rate of Mental Illness at 50% of the inmate population, and yet only a very small percentage are there for violent crimes.

In reality, these impressions of us make us targets of crimes. People with “Serious Mental Illnesses” are more than twice as likely to be a victim of a violent crime. We are targeted for sexual assault, particularly if we are or are seen as women. We are likely to feel stuck in abusive relationships, or to have people use our diagnostic status as justification for abuse. And that is just the violent crimes  — we are astronomically more likely to be victims of personal theft, and 4 times more likely to be victims of property theft.

In reality, the stigma and stereotypes that people are promoting mean discrimination in employment, in housing, even in healthcare and courts. It means having people turning their backs on friendships and relationships when they find out, even if you are relatively stable now, even if you have the supports that make it irrelevant. It means people leaving if you have a setback that they would stand by someone without your diagnostic history for.

It is facing stigma, or hiding from it, sometimes at great cost. I certainly made a lot of poor choices based on trying to hide having been a scary kid, even when I wasn’t hiding having Mental Health Disabilities.

Being a Scary Kid isn’t certain doom.

They told my mother and I that I would never graduate high school and I’d never get into college. Some speculated I’d need to live in a group home or a more intense, and that I’d never live on my own. Some thought I’d get sucked into crime based on my psych history alone. Some said I’d off myself before I turned 18, 21, or 25.

I graduated high school — my siblings, the non-scary kids, dropped out and either have or are working on their GEDs. I even aced a number of classes, and other than my last semester (which was sucked up in depression) was pretty much tops. I’ve had some unsuccessful attempts to live on my own in the past, but those had to do with daily living skills more than being scary. Right now I’m living relatively successfully on my own, even if it did follow a period of homelessness. I did get into college easily, even if I had to drop out for a mix of financial and ADL deficit reasons. I’ve never been in jail.

I celebrated my 25th birthday in August. I am alive, and though my health isn’t the best I am surviving and working towards my own personal wellness.

I have little in common with the things they assumed. My scary is now just the normal stigma that any of us, autistic, with mental health disabilities, or both, face. I do struggle, but not in the ways that were assumed when I was a scary kid.

Being a scary kid is just that — having behaviors that scare people when you are a kid. It doesn’t mean you have a particular diagnosis or neurotype. It isn’t predictive of being a mass murderer or anything else- heck, a lot of the people who are mass murderers, diagnosed with something or not, didn’t reach the heights of being “scary kids” when they were younger. Not scary the way I was, or others were.

When I point out to try not to link scary kids to criminal violence, particularly of the mass murder sort, I’m not saying that services and supports aren’t needed. I’m saying that they would be even if we never had a massive violent event. I’m saying none of us are doomed, if only we combat stigma and prejudice at every chance, be it ableism, racism, or classism that we are talking about.

When I tell you no, I mean that none of us are lost causes.

Payment

[Content: Abuse, ableism]

I don’t want younger Autistics to learn some of the skills I have- or, at least, not the way I learned them.

Let me explain- it’s not that I’m against someone deciding to learn a new skill that they want or need to learn to achieve things that they want. I’m not against teaching a kid of any neurology new things as they explore their world. But there are some things that aren’t worth the trauma- the long term emotional damage- of how they are taught. Or, at least, of how they are taught to Autistics.

Recently, I was teaching a friend how to do dishes. Step by step, gently, with examples and tips. Feel as you wash- if you feel any grease or food bits, it’s not clean yet and you need to keep scrubbing. Later, I paused in the middle of pouring myself some water. You know, that’s not how I learned to do dishes. I learned it traumatically.

My mother was working when we first had “big” solo chores. We rotated chores between all three siblings. My mother’s second husband, whose death I talked about in my last post, was the adult on hand for chores. He herded me into the kitchen, and told me to do the dishes.

It wasn’t “casual” ableism that he used then. It was fierce and directed. He loomed over me when I said I didn’t know how, and used it as “proof” that I wasn’t really smart- the only alternative had to be that I was lazy. So I tried doing the dishes while he went off to do his thing. I pondered on the fact that there’s cross cultural archetypes of Cinderella while I tried. When I finished, I would declare it with relief.

He would loom again, and wave the dishes in my face. He would tell me I was obviously trying to get out of doing my fair share, because they weren’t done right. And so I did them again, over and over. I think I threw up a couple of times at first- I hate the oily texture at the bottom of the sink when people fail to scrape their plates, and the smell of used dish water. Letting the water run was not allowed if Rick was watching, so the smell and oilyness of the first rinse was there, while the soap bubbles waited in the second sink for a rinse. Not even gloves were an option- instead, I was to learn to deal with the sensory assault that was my “fair share” of keeping the household.

I believe he enjoyed his use of humiliation. His combination of verbal and physical intimidation was effective in eventually teaching me basic skills like this, the very technical skills that are the building blocks of independent living skills. The process was repeated with a lot of skills and “skills”. Vaccuming and laundry went hand in hand with passing, with not looking “crazy” and not echoing “nonsense”.

The Wise man doesn’t speak what he knows. And I wanted to be wise, because according to Rick, no one would believe I was competent.

It was better when my mother was home, but there would be little reminders that would just seem stern without the context that happened when she was at work. But the repetitive enforcement of my lack of skills, of how bad I was at covering, at passing, was just as destructive if not more than the times he loomed over me. The same things I observe being used to teach kids with similar behaviors today were the hardest part.

When the inevitable meltdown happened, it seemed, from the notes she took, unprompted or triggered by things that were relatively innocuous. That’s not to say I wasn’t easily triggered before, but they were always specific things, things she could figure out.

Rick had been gone for more than 5 years before I could articulate half of what happened to me. It was two more before I could do it well enough to get it across to my mother how much she had missed.

The damage done in the name of teaching me skills isn’t worth the skills. It isn’t worth the years of self hate, the years of denying myself the services and supports I needed in order to prove his tirades wrong. It isn’t worth the nightmares I still have of his eyes when enduring forced eye contact.

Look me in the eyes. If I let you grab my chin and point it somewhere- especially at a face- you know I trust you.

You want to talk about how hard it will be for your son? How you just want your daughter to get married some day? Stop. Stop thinking about your own wishes, your own images of how your kid’s life will go. Look at the skills they show interest in. Find what they are personally ready for, instead of what some book says is “developmentally appropriate.” Let them build their own image of what success is.

Because the trauma of forcing someone into a schedule they aren’t ready for? Of forcing unneeded skills? Of removing non-harmful but socially difficult coping skills? Of holding up your own wishes and ideals as the goal?

Isn’t worth the trauma.

Quiet No More- The Loud Hands Project

“Remember, you weren’t the one / who made you ashamed, / but you are the one / who can make you proud.”  – Laura Hershey, You Get Proud By Practicing

I think a lot of the people who read my blog are also people who have read Quiet Hands by Julia Bascom. (I actually already linked to it in my own Rocking (and Flapping) at a 1000 Revolutions a Minute.) If you haven’t yet, please go do so either now or after you’ve finished reading this post. Julia got a massive response, as Quiet Hands went viral. It became very obvious that it was describing an experience that a lot of us have either experienced or have observed, sometimes unaware of the emotional and communicative consequences.

One of the devastating effects of the phenomena that Quiet Hands describes is how it silences Autistic communication. For many of us- and particularly those of us with verbal communication difficulties- our hands are our primary communicative tool1. We stim with our hands, we supplement our language with gestures and pantomime, we use languages like ASL with our hands, we type with our hands, and even utilize AAC devices with them. Things we do with our hands is how we connect with one another- even if that community building isn’t recognized by others. So when our hands are stilled, we are silenced and isolated.

What, with this context, does having “Loud Hands” mean? Obviously it would have to embody the opposite of- and possibly counter to- the silencing described above.

The Loud Hands Project (which is being run as a project of ASAN) demonstrates a pretty good idea of what it could mean to have Loud Hands. The project description defines Loud Hands as “autism acceptance, neurodiversity, Autistic pride, community, and culture, disability rights and resistance, and resilience.” Essentially, efforts that work counter to the silencing and discrediting that comes with a culture that denies Autistics the ability to communicate in ways that are natural to us.

The Loud Hands Project (LHP) is planning on being a transmedia project, spearheaded by Julia Bascom. The current focus is on putting together a written anthology that will serve basically as a foundation document. Submission guidelines/call for submissions for the written anthology went live on January 8th. They include a number of prompts on what it means to be Autistic and aspects of Autistic culture, but they welcome submissions that aren’t answering the prompts while still reflecting “questions about neurodiversity, Autistic pride and culture, disability rights and resistance, and resilience (known collectively as having loud hands.)”

From there, the plan is to focus on multiple mediums as a way of documenting and curating Autistic culture and community, particularly as related to the afore mentioned concept of what Loud Hands means. And I do mean curating- one of the stated goals is to collect and store some of the founding documents of the Autistic community.

Another major direction is looking to be video projects, starting with the trailer (more on that in a moment). I’ve noticed a lot of brain storming for future videos for the LHP media collection, but the actual non-written media submissions aren’t open yet. (Opening of those submissions is still to be determined.) They are welcoming your ideas/brainstorming for future non-written submissions though! Eventually I believe that they will join the trailer on the Loud Hands Project Youtube channel.

Fundraising efforts- LHP is using indiegogo– were launched December 26th with the video below. (You can read a visual transcription/description on tumblr or at the youtube page itself.)

In the first 24 hours, the indiegogo campaign raised over $3000- and over $6000 at the end of the first week. As of 9:30pm January 10th (when I’m composing this entry) it hit $7463 USD. Fundraising ends March 15th with a goal of $10000 USD. UPDATE:  January 14th the $10000 goal was met. They are still collecting funds though- see the bottom of this post for more on this!

You can see the support levels, along with the number of people contributing at each level, at the LHP indiegogo page. Each support level has a different corresponding “reward” for your donation, ranging from a thank you email, to PDF pre-releases of the anthology, to signed hard copies donated to libraries in your name.

I personally feel that it is a much needed project, and am totally excited about it. As such, I’ve been trying to contribute in any way I can to this effort. I wrote the Visual Transcription mentioned above, as well as designing the Blog Badges (shown below) and writing most of the how to on using them.

Blog Badge- large. A large white person is holding a sign up that says "The Loud Hands Project". Below this image, text reads "The Loud Hands Project" and "Autistic People, Speaking". Below that it reads "Watch the Video. Read About the Project. Support the Work. Visit indiegogo for more about The Loud Hands Project."

The large blog badge, which I'm using in my own side bar; 170x300 pixels

Blog Badge- Small. A large white person is holding a sign up that says "The Loud Hands Project". Below this image, text reads "The Loud Hands Project" and "Autistic People, Speaking"

A smaller Blog Badge; 170x193 pixels

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I’m also (obviously) writing this blog post, and sharing it in my networks. Right now, LHP is on Twitter as @loud_hands and there’s a Loud Hands Project facebook page as well. (If you clicked through on my original link, you’ll notice that the Loud Hands Project is on tumblr as well.)

I think another interesting feature of the campaign is how various accessibility measures have been added.

The visual transcript for the trailer was requested before the campaign went live, which is kind of a big deal- while captions are becoming more popular, visual transcriptions are not as common. After all, they are time consuming to create- more so than image descriptions- and like image descriptions can be hard for people with visual processing issues to write. But they can be a big deal for visually based messages becoming accessible for the Blind, visually impaired individuals, and those with visual processing issues.

Additionally, there has been a recognition that language processing difficulties can be a barrier in sharing stuff like this. Two days after the campaign went live, scripts for sharing LHP‘s campaign went live.

This isn’t as uncommon to be accommodated, though outright recognition that it is an accommodation is, I think, less common. More often scripts get framed as “We recognize you are a Busy Professional Person™ who doesn’t always have time to handcraft sharing emails, so here’s an example you can use!” It has become something that, when present, isn’t seen as an accommodation, which would be great if it wasn’t for the resistance that those who do need this particular thing usually get when they have to ask for it. I think that in this context, the fact that the scripts are openly recognized as having an access function as well as being given in an overwhelmingly supportive manner in response to requests is significant.

And, of course, the blog badges have image descriptions and I’m going off to caption the lyrics to the song in the trailer via Universal Subtitles tonight. (Which means they’ll be up by the time this post goes live.)

I hope you’ll join me in supporting the Loud Hands Project. I hope you’ll link it, share it, tweet it, blog it, and post it. I hope, for those who have the money for even the lowest level of support ($10) , that you’ll donate. That you’ll encourage others to donate. And, once the fundraising campaign is over, that you’ll continue to support the projects of the Loud Hands Project.

I believe that we all should have Loud Hands, and that LHP is a great way to facilitate that. Not everyone is in a position where they can go and be safe stimming in public, or writing long blog posts, or have the supports to do speeches or attend protests or go to conferences like Autreat.  But it is possible for some of us to do some of the little things- making a video or a painting, answering a mini-prompt, constructing things in our own natural languages that say, “I am here. I exist. I can be proud.” These are the core of what it means to have Loud Hands.

The big things are great. But sometimes it’s the little ones together that end up being the loudest.

1 I recognize that some of us also have mobility difficulties that make using hands in particular not something that is doable. If you can think figuratively, hands is a stand in for all the other non-verbal techniques that people use to accomplish the things we are talking about. Our hands here are not just literally our hands, but our own means of communicating. The same goes for words like “voice” and “speaking”.

UPDATE (January 16th, 2012): On January 14th The Loud Hands Project met their $10000 USD goal. That’s right, in 19 days you- the supporters- met a goal that was planned to take 80 days. Great Job!

Seeing how much our community needs LHP, and with encouragement from indiegogo, LHP is going to continue fundraising through the original March 15th deadline with benchmark goals at $15,000, $20,000, and $25,000. You can read the details on the projects at the Loud Hands Project blog, but they include more videos, more documenting of our community, more supporting Autistics pursuing community, and the launch of the website and all of the resources that will bring.

It’s exciting- exciting because we need it, and exciting because it means that we won’t have to wait for the anthology to be a success before LHP will be able to start bringing more projects to us.

A bit of this and that

My posts here tend towards single issue posts. I rarely post small things, or things I haven’t thought through or so on. (I use tumblr for that…) As a result, I post fairly infrequently- I post on big ideas that take a long time to find words for.  But I feel like I ought to post something, so I am putting this post together out of pieces. Maybe it will lose me some of the things that people think of me but… well, I need to think something of all this as well, don’t I?

So, you are getting a post abut my latest DC trip.

I came down via plane on Sunday. I had NARP meetings all day Monday and half the day on Tuesday. I went down to the Occupy/decolonize DC  site Tuesday afternoon, which I’m writing another post on.

Wednesday night was the ASAN 5 year anniversary dinner. I do have an album for pictures people took of me at the dinner on Facebook, but I didn’t have a camera myself. I believe that Melody Latimer is looking for photos from this event for the ASAN anniversary edition newsletter? (If you have any, send them to mlatimer@autisticadvocacy.org- or you can link/tag them?)

Savannah, a large white looking person in a grey dress and black kerchief over reddish hair, and Claudia Alderman, a short Latina woman, in a fancy dining area standing

Since I arrived early, Claudia had me help with some set up stuff.

I personally was a little exhausted by all the social-making there, though Ari Ne’eman’s and Sharon Lewis’s speeches were fabulous. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and had stepped out of the room for Alexa Posny’s speech, though. The desserts included creme puffs shaped like swans and chocolate covered mousse shaped like mice. Corina did take pictures of our desserts, but Corina hasn’t uploaded her pictures yet.

I also got to talk to Lindsey Nebeker, Lori Berkowitz and her partner Karen Hillman, Corina Becker, Lydia Brown, Lauren Gilbert, Melody Latimer, Kathryn Bjørnstad and her fiance Sean, and lots of other people. Food-wise, I rather liked these spinach things? I also discovered that Scotch and ginger ale is better than just Whiskey and Gingerale. Who knew?

Nancy Thayler was given the Outstanding Ally award, and Corina and  Kathryn were awarded the Exceptional Services to the Autistic Community Award.

For anyone who was unaware, it was at the National Press Club in DC.  It was probably the ritziest place I’ve ever been, and I’ve been to a dinner at the Ritz in NYC before.

Thursday night, 8 Autistics and one Allistic (Kathryn’s Fiance) descended upon Lindsey and Dave’s house for a total of 10 Autistics for dinner. Emily Titon cooked a Mango Curry Chicken dish. It was interesting to have so many of us all in that house being community.

A view from over the back of a chair of a bunch of people of varying genders, sizes, and ethnicities on floors and chairs and both using and not using computers.

Scott and I on our computers, while Melody, Kathryn, and Lydia... Do other things while being all Autistic community-y.

At the beginning of the night, we had a bit of a show and tell about stim toys and stuff. Lindsey also graciously let us on her and Dave’s wifi. We spent time in a couple of different rooms on the ground floor. The food took a long time to make, but it was delicious.

a large white person in a colorful kerchief folded over themselves, barely recognizable from a pile of fabric, head on a pillow facing a computer, through the legs of a piano bench.

Between the Stim toy show and tell and later, I curled up like I do sometimes next to Lindsey's Piano. Lydia then took this photo.

The Next morning, I went to the Alliance for Full Participation conference with Emily and Scott. (Ari came later and helped facilitate a session.) The topic was inclusive employment, and it was rather interesting. I also got a chance to see my friend Bill Krebs while I was there, and introduced him to some ASAN people.

Speaking of “ritzy” places, it was held at the Gaylord National Harbor Hotel and Convention Center. Apparently it is the biggest Hotel and conference center on the eastern sea board?  I don’t know but there’s basically a whole village in the atrium. They do have nice couches? Though I sat on the floor  for the “Town Hall”. . .

Savannah, a large white person, sitting on the floor while wearing a brown cardigan and a colorful handkerchief, her netbook perched on her lap.

Sitting on the floor at the AFP Town Hall.

The Town Hall was HUGE- most of the seats were filled and I didn’t want to have to attempt navigating to find a seat since there were already people standing. The crowd was a mix of self advocates, employers/business people, and providers. It was… interesting.

I also had a few side conversations with both Scott Robertson and Betsy Valnes (at different times) via my netbook and word pad. In fact on my facebook the above photo is labled, “At the AFP Conference Using word pad to communicate in a load crowded room.” (Emily, who took the photo, labeled it “Savannah, looking lovely as always.” I think I look like I have liver failure and no sleep.)

Later on, in a break out session, I sat in a group that focused on starting your own business. It was interesting I Think. While in that group, because it was an anxiety producing situation, I used my netbook and word pad for communication.

I am not at the conference today- I need the day to decompress before I take the train home tomorrow afternoon. (And yes, I do love taking the train- it is less expensive than the plane, too!)

I hope this not-so-issue centered post was okay to read. I find that I don’t particularly find this post all that great, but I did want to get the little slice of Autistics having/building community out there, and wanted to share a DC trip with everyone.

Decolonizing Our Voices

Today is Autistics Speaking Day, a day when we are particularly asking our allies and allies-to-be to step back to allow the voices of Autistics ourselves to be heard and listened to.

When ASD started last year (2010) we were in essence protesting an “awareness” campaign that people who purported to be our allies had designed and promoted with heavy pity language. They had asked people not to post at all, to be silent and non-speaking online to draw attention to the communicative issues many Autistics face. I believe our response was pretty understandable not only was this basically online “crip drag,” but it also denied the fact that for many Autistics, online resources such as social media sites have given us a voice.

I myself had great strides in my personal development after getting online. I know a number of people who are Non-speaking Autistics whose ability to communicate was greatly augmented by online resources, and a number whose involvement in virtual advocacy have made the people around them rethink everything about their care. In short, Social Media and other virtual resources have done for us what having a ramp in a public building does for our chair using brethren. (I will freely admit that it doesn’t solve all our problems, and we still face hostility online and off that prevents access just as having a ramp alone doesn’t make your building wheelchair accessible.)

This year, Autistics Speaking Day is taking place at a time when we have people in the streets protesting economic disparity and corruption. For some of the protesters, there are harsh economic realities in their own lives motivating them-  Homelessness, lack of accessible health care, and unemployment. Others feel that their voices as citizens have been infringed upon by corporate interests, particularly when it comes to our elections in the United States. Still others are driven by a need to undo injustice.

This movement of protests is popularly called “Occupy Wall Street,” so named for the action of camping- or “occupying”- public places such as Zuccotti Park in NYC or Mellon Green in Pittsburgh, or a wide number of other Occupying sites. However, a number of indigenous groups quickly pointed out that Wall Street has been occupied for centuries- it was originally Lenape tribal land.

So when their site started, Boston issued a solidarity statement with Indigenous Peoples, and were followed by a number of other sites. In light of this, some people have been using the term “Decolonize” rather than “Occupy” so that the voices of marginalized Americans- such as our indigenous populations- can be better respected and more easily centered.

People of Color are especially hard hit by the economic environment, and in a number of places the living conditions on reservations are deplorable. People with Disabilities too are feeling the economic burden our services are being cut, our programs redefined to limit our involvement in our communities, and supports being withdrawn under the excuse of “budget issues.”

After some thought, I’ve decided that there’s too much of a cross over for me in the work of Decolonizing Wall Street and of our voices as Autistics to not write this post today. While people in general are seeing their demands of their political representatives co-opted or diverted by corporations, Autistics routinely have our voices co-opted by our allies and diverted by large “non”-profits such as Autism Speaks. Many of us are frustrated by the lack of Genuine Voice that the general public hears from us. Instead of looking at the things that help us live our lives and improve the quality of it, research funding is sent to projects that could potentially prevent us from being born in the first place.

Indeed, when we speak we are dismissed using logical fallacies so that the voices of those who proclaim themselves working for our “own good” can be prioritized. Obviously, not all of our allies are like this. But some are, be they parents, professionals with pet theories, or Organizations whose bottom line would be affected by what we are saying. Those are the ones we are talking about when we talk about how our supposed allies need to step back and stop centering themselves.

The Protesters in the Occupy/Decolonize use  consensus building as a process. This does have flaws by itself- those with pre-existing privilege can still flaunt it- but there are some principles that can and at some sites are added to mitigate those flaws. One of them is the concept of “Step back, Step up.” This means for people who have privilege- white people, straight people, cis people, men, and so on- to take a step back in the conversation, and to encourage those without your privileges to step forward so that they can be heard- something that won’t happen on its own. Without taking this into consideration, the same hierarchies that divide us out in the world will be reproduced in our movements.

This saying is the reason I’m bringing up the consensus process in this post- because the conversations we are having in the Autism and Autistic communities need to utilize the same principles. Otherwise no matter how good natured and well meaning people are, those who have less privilege will not be heard. And to me, this Principle is at the core of what Autistics Speaking Day is about.  It is about us being heard when we try to step up, and about our allies supporting us doing that.

I’ve been involved from afar with the Occupy/Decolonize activities at Pittsburgh, PA’s site, working especially with the Marginalized Communities and Allies workgroup.  The Safety workgroup took most of my comments about safety concerns for PWD and added them to the safety document. I’ve been encouraged to stay involved in the processes and networks being formed.

Most encouraging to me is that our site’s working groups have been prioritizing ways for people who can’t stay on site to be involved. Instead of the sentiments that if you aren’t at an action you aren’t really committed that have characterized some other movements I’ve tried to be involved with, I have gotten reassurance. Paul O’Hanlon, a protester with disabilities who has been very active both on site and off, told me to remember that they know that every person there is representing people who can’t.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t people who assign high value to people on site. There are still people who fail to recognize that even when we are eliminating our class barriers that our other oppressions and privileges are still intact. There are still people who don’t get the anti-ableism, anti-racism, and so on work is still very much needed. But I’ve seen what feels like great strides. Objectively, perhaps they aren’t that huge, but for someone who has had their voice sublimated repeatedly it feels huge.

Just as as a young teen blogging, instant messages, and other internet resources helped me to gain a sense of community and skills, the internet is enabling me to be involved.  I’m someone who has not been able to physically be on site because of a number of reasons. I’m rural, I have to have access to certain services on a regular basis that would not be present on site, and I also have fibro Myalgia, which would make winter camping a mobility and possible safety hazard.

So I’ve been doing support work, editing virtual documents, and organizing accessibility work. I started a cross disability group called “Occupy Disability/Decolonize Disability” for people with Disabilities to network resources on both being on site and working off site. A friend with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities started #Occupy at Home to help people like us find ways to be involved. There’s even an “Occupy Autism Speaks” page to highlight the issues with that organization.

All of these things keep seeming to parallel to me the ways that Autistics have built community online when our physical environments have been barred to us. We’ve worked to create venues to be us in, to see the value of our forms of communication. To be involved as we are, not as others think we “ought” to be.

Today is the day we take back our voices. Now is a time when “The Whole World Is Watching” what is happening. Tomorrow is when we will continue to speak out- so please, keep on listening.

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When I wrote this, I was working along side Native and Black activists who preferred the Decolonize language over the occupy language for things to do with the various wings of the “Occupy” movement. I’ve been informed more recently that there are problems with using that, particularly since that context has passed, and won’t be using decolonize in this way in the future – Nov 1, 2013

Inside and Outside Safety

[Content warning: Mentions of violence towards PwD, both external and internal. Passing mention of the R-word and of a cat dying.]

“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

 -Zora Neale Hurston

I think sometimes when we talk about “passing” versus visibility we forget what that really means, what it is really about. We forget that it means a choice between being safe in the out there instead of being safe in the in here.

It’s a process of making a difficult choice for some of us. Which will destroy us sooner- the violence that others do to us or the violence we do to ourselves? How long do we defend ourselves from the violence that other people send us before we end up destroying who we are inside? Can we live in a world where we can be safe in our own heads without endangering ourselves from the violence of others?

A number of people have written about what it is to internalize oppression- ableism in particular. There’s one phrase I’ve seen that always strikes me- “outposts in our heads.” The place I remember coming across it was at Amanda Bagg’s blog, when it was used- along with the Sally Kempton quote- as the title of a post. Outposts in Our Heads was a big deal for me when I first read it back in 2008. It helped me form into language the things I was noticing about my own experiences, my own terrors, my own damages.

When we internalize the messages that tell us we are unreliable narrators of our own stories, that we are “bad” and “wrong” when we exist as ourselves, it creates violence inside of us. It’s not the physical kind of course- though sometimes people do hurt themselves as a result of this “inside” violence. But that makes it no less violence, no less an attack on our beings.

The more I reflect on my own behavior and the writings of others the more I feel as though a lot of our passing comes from this violence that has been pressed inside of us. Our passing is  an expression, in part, of the thousand little insidious things we were taught.  To remind ourselves that we are wrong, that we are “slow.” To remind ourselves that we don’t count as humans unless we take these “lessons” to heart.

With those lessons is one that gets pointed to as the “reason” for them, why it is so “needful” for us to find indistinguishable. Why the parent I will sit next to in a meeting next week will tell me that they just want their kid to have a shot at pretending to be normal. The outside world is violent towards us when we don’t accept these things, sometimes in more obvious ways.

I don’t think we have to go far to “prove” them their theory on how unsafe it is for us. Neli Latson‘s arrest- Young, black, and Autistic Neli- is proof in an of itself, however much it is also tangled up in racism. The bullying of kids who rock and flap are constantly held up against the bullying of queer youth by some parents, the violence that both populations face sometimes used to outline how bad it is not to pass. Sometimes I even hear the statistics about how 70% of women with developmental disabilities experience rape and that is used as an example of why we shouldn’t be obviously disabled. (Sometimes I even hear this from people who would fiercely remind you that how a person dresses or what they drink doesn’t make them responsible for the violence done to them.)

These things are brought out time and again, these dangers of the world. And too often- particularly when it is our families rather than disabled people ourselves- the solution offered is to teach us to pass. To not behave or exist as we are. To make eye contact and don’t flap or rock in public or don’t jump at loud sounds.

The solutions offered to individuals too often aren’t to make it so police know what to expect from Autistics (as well as unknowing the stereotypes of race), to end bullying through truly inclusive practice, to teach people not to rape and sexually assault people.

We are told that in order to save ourselves from the violence out there we must do everything we can to look normal out there.

And when we do look normal out there, they pretend that no violence is being done to us. Too often, they forget the violence that they did or dismissed to make us this way. Too often, they will always dismiss that it left us with violence in our heads.

As time goes on I try to unlearn the violence that was taught to me. I try to uproot the strongholds that tell me how wrong and bad it is of me, how selfish, to want to be okay with myself. This process isn’t helped by living in a society that reaffirms that all the bad things are because I’m wrong, I’m deviant, I’m disabled and I dare to try not to hide from it.

In June, I attended the Allied Media Conference as a Co-track Coordinator of the Disability Justice Track with A’ishah of ResistDance. Admittedly there were huge chunks of things that were issues in the physical world- for example, some people not getting what “scent free” meant, or staff members forgetting that sharpies can be toxic for some folk, or how incredibly echoy and not sensory friendly having closing ceremony in McGregor was. But the biggest thing for me had nothing to do with my external environment.

It had everything to do with my internal one. I was working so hard at uprooting the ableism inside of me, and yet while I was there surrounded by movers and shakers and hopeful justice makers I found more. I spent a couple of hours one afternoon sitting in a corner, crying and rocking and holding my arms tight. My outside was safe enough- someone even gave me a tissue as they passed. But on my insides the violence I had worked so hard to uproot from my mind was taking over.

I was alone and unworthy and bad girl. Of course you are having a hard time, I thought, you are wrong at the most basic level.  Remembered directives of Stop Crying and This is for Attention isn’t it? and You are selfish for wanting to be safe and everyone knows that retards can’t lead.

I eventually got settled enough to move, to look for my mum in the Healing Justice Practice Space. When I got there, though, it was obvious in ways I couldn’t know that there was a violence happening inside of me to some of the healers. I had some tea, and Mariposa had me do medicine on my self by way of chalking protection at my wrists. It is protection from the elements of the outside that give power to the violence inside, she told me.

And I did come back to me, to knowing that I am worthy and human and deserving of existance. To knowing where those thoughts were pressed into me from. To knowing that it is a violence taught to me.

I won’t discount that the violence outside of me is painful. I can’t pretend that I wasn’t devastated when the neighbor shot my cat Tribble knowing that he was in training to be my therapy cat. I will never deny that there’s still a spot on my back that when pressed makes me panic, to think that my mother’s second (ex)husband is going to put me in prone restraint again. But I think that the most devestating is the ways that violence is pressed inside of me.

I’m tired of doing violence to myself inside of me to avoid the violence that could happen outside of me. I’m tired of having no safe place inside of me because someone might believe that the demonstrations of my disabled person-ness gives them license to grant violence to the external face of me. I don’t think it’s right to give in to demands that I pretend that passing doesn’t hurt me.

This afternoon, I’ll go shopping. At checkout, while I’ll smile at the register and answer questions from the check out person, chances are I won’t make eye contact. Chances are I’ll startle when someone shouts or drops something. Chances are I’ll flap in line, wander in a way someone else’s parent would characterize as aimless and pathological, cover my face or eyes or ears when things are “too much,” flinch when someone touches me in passing unexpectedly. I’ll stare and not be able to process a shelf display or two, and forget how much I need to get some bottled water because it looks like there’s so much stuff in the cart already.

And I will  be safe.

_________

This Post was inspired in part by “Dear ‘Autism Parents’” by Julia Bascom, as well as other writings of her’s at Just Stimming. I highly recommend going over there and reading more of her stuff. I also want to direct people to the writings of Amanda Forest Vivian at A Deeper Country whose writings have been helping to “percolate” these thoughts all summer.

This has been reprinted at Shift Journal.

Sometimes it feels like Nice is a Dirty Word.

Being polite is this really tricky thing for me.

On one hand, I know that I struggle with being polite, even when I mean to be. There’s lots of little things that even after ages of studying, I miss. And those little things end up having big consequences as to how I’m taken. I miss a signal to stop, I’m “over bearing;” I miss that I’m supposed to say something/contribute, and I’m “Unfriendly.”

As a kid, I would try (when brave enough) to mimic the “playful” teasing I observed between my peers, and miss that it had slipped over that vague line of playful. I was shocked and hurt to hear my mother mention my on occasion “bullying” kids who were trying to be my friends. But the rest of the time, I was too “shy,” too “drawn into my own world.” It seemed as though there was no way to reach a happy medium in between, the one where other kids would presumably like me.

I’ve gotten, I think, a little closer to a manageable compromise. I’ve decided against listening constantly and desperately to the coaching and pleading, and generally try to be nice, opting to withdraw rather than risk it.

There are exceptions, of course. I tend to have a highly developed sense of right and wrong, and sometimes there’s just a little too much *wrong* in the world. Then I seem to slip up.

Let me give you an example. Recently, I was visiting my Aunt in NYC. She married a guy who has done pretty well in contracting, and so yes, there’s a good bit of a class difference. In any case, we were having  conversation with my sister and step aunt, nd she started going on and on about how great “The Secret” was. She was recommending it to my sister.  After a while, I couldn’t handle it any more.

I stated that actually, a lot of people who are facing various oppression (Like classism, racism, or ableism around Mental Health Issues) find the culture around subscribing to The Secret to be very hurtful. Too often, people whose issues face against more than the white middle class abled “mainstream” are said to have not worked hard enough at it for the “Laws of Attraction” to have worked. The Secret in too many circles is used to both deny privilege and to blame oppressed peoples for their continued struggles.

That’s not to say that there aren’t people for whom it works and is mega helpful. But to hear it go un-critiqued when recommended to my sister- who like me comes from a different economic class and who has her own disabilities- was not something I could handle. I Had to say something.

I later found out that she thought I hated her, in part from this and in part because of not interacting otherwise as she expected. Which isn’t true- I love my aunt very much, I just get frustrated by what I see as obvious class differences and how they effect how we see the world.

In any case, I end up feeling as though I’m too mean.

Online, it’s a little bit different. Somehow, I feel as though I’m a little too nice compared to some of my friends and fellow advocates. Maybe it’s who I spend time with. I often feel like there’s so much of my conditioning from childhood of trying to fit in, to dodge some of the less than wonderful experiences of “treatment” that makes me try to be nice all the time. To educate instead of protecting my boundaries.

Most of the people I know in Social Justice circles know that it’s not an oppressed person’s duty or reason for being to educate those who hold privilege over them. It isn’t, for example, an Autistic’s (or other person with disabilities’) job to live as a “self narrating zoo exhibit” as Jim Sinclair would say. It is the oppressor’s duty to get educated, not the oppressed’s to educate.

But I cannot bring myself to not educate. Trying to establish boundaries like some of my friends have is something that leaves me feeling torn.  And I know that it is okay for me to educate people, but sometimes I worry it makes me seem too *nice* when compared to some of my friends. And I don’t mean nice in a kind person way. I mean nice in a too compliant way.

Nice in a way that would make people I love and respect look down on me as feeding into my own oppression. Or, perhaps, in a way that belies how deeply ableism has infiltrated my thinking. There’s a lot of things I keep stumbling across when I go to examine my thoughts that remind me how much of life as someone who- in my case- is an Autistic and has MH issues ends up being about compliance in order to survive.

How much of my desire to be kind is based on my beliefs, and how much is based on the feelings that I need to be “nice” in order to be worthy of surviving, of getting the supports I need?

I’m not going to stop being kind, or educating people.  I will admit I can get s little sharp- for me- on my tumblr, but that’s tumblr and a lot of it is reblogging other, sharper people’s comments. But I’m not going to deny that drawing the line between being kind and being compliant is difficult.

But then again, undoing the things we have internalized is never easy.

_____

Sorry if this isn’t at my usual standards. I just needed, for myself, to write this.

This has been republished at Shift Journal.

Why I’m not Blue.

I see a lot of “light it up blue” stuff being posted around the net today. It makes me sad, really. See, The light it up blue campaign is a project of Autism Speaks. Their name is Ironic, considering they do not have any Autistics on their board, and one Autistic on ONE advisory committee.

I am an Autistic Adult. I have an Asperger’s Dx. But any time I say this, people say things like “Oh, but you can’t be, you talk!” or “But you have so much to say!” This is particularly a prevalent response online, where I do communicate better. I sometimes hear it from people whose only experience around me is hearing me give a talk, not cognizant that there’s a huge difference between public speaking and reciprocal communication.

If they stay around long enough, though, and they know what Autism actually *is,* they get it.

Thing is it’s pretty rare for people to actually get what it is. They are given imagery and little information. Puzzle pieces, Statistics, and fuzzy photos of kids looking anywhere but the camera. They are told that being Autistic is somehow worse than life threatening diseases- which, to be honest, is bad on multiple levels- I wonder what my one friend who is both Autistic and HIV+ thinks when the advertising compares one part of her life to another?

Recently I posted a video on tumblr that Rethinking Autism did called “Autism Support Group.” It had all the usual things we hear said about us- How it seems like we aren’t there, that we don’t display affection in typical ways, That we just “don’t get” school. Throughout, an Autistic adult responds to these comments, only to be ignored and unheard by parents. Thing is, these are comments we hear about ourselves, and about children who were like we were as kids, all the time. The comments could have been lifted from so many parent support groups around the nation- possibly around the world.

Another thing is that it’s always children that are mentioned. The majority of the leaflets and flyers that do feature Autistics (or models) instead of a puzzle piece feature children. “These children,” “Help a child,” or “1 in 100 children” is mentioned. Thing is, it’s NOT just children. There’s no follow through on the notation that Autism is a life-long thing, just a margin in the notes.

The exception is the speculation. “She will never get married and have kids.” “He will never hold a steady job.” “My kid will never go to college.” While these things might be true for some Autistics, saying it’s true of all of us- or rather, all the 1 in 100 or 110 or 160, whatever number you recognize- is just an outright lie and speculation. The same speculation that had my IEP team pressure my mom, saying “She’ll never go to college. She’ll probably never graduate high school. Stop filling her head with the idea that she should pursue advanced classes.” My mom pulled me out to put me in first cyber school then Christian school, and never bought into what they told her about me.

I eventually went back to public school, and I graduated high school in 2006. In 11th and 12th grades, I even took Advanced Placement English classes, and got a perfect score on the AP English exam. (They thankfully didn’t have a spelling section.) In fact, had I not had a nervous break down- inconveniently after the school had pulled my support services- my senior year, I would have been ranked and recognized as such at graduation.

This didn’t come to pass because of an obsession with curing me. It happened because my mother supported me unconditionally. (Her second and now ex husband is a different story for another time.) She knew I was anxious and distracted in school, and that they refused to let me pursue my potential. So she arranged it that I could, and in an environment that suited my changing needs. She encouraged me to get up in front of people and start advocating. She didn’t ever show me doubts about my being able to accomplish things.

A year or two ago, my mother was approached by a parent. The parent was talking about how “of course, you know, you grieve your kid when you find out they have special needs.” This made my mother angry. She responded that no, actually, she didn’t grieve me. I was right there. The extra work was stressful, that is undeniable, but she never lost me so there’s nothing to grieve. She has me, just the way I am- Autistic, Queer, and living with Chronic Pain.

My mother was there when I would melt down and flail wildly- sometimes so much so that she was worried at times about her own safety. She had to deal with people telling her that maybe she should put me in residential placement. She experienced the fear when as a small child I would wander off, one notable time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. She heard the comments of “Why isn’t your daughter smiling?,” the “cheer up honey, it isn’t all that bad” and my response of “I’m happy, I don’t need to cheer up.”

Maybe she didn’t see what her second husband put me through, or notice the extra time I took in the bathroom, practicing facial expressions in the mirror so that the cheer ups would just stop. But she never stopped believing in me.

So, you know that Autism exists- but do you know what it means to be autistic?