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.

Goodness, a personal post? REALLY?(aka, father-daughter conflict)

[NOTE: I have removed some things from the Entry below after my father found this and expressed his discomfort with some of the way I took some things. I appologize.]

I am visiting my father this week. My biological father. A man who ideologically I have nothing in common with. A man who gave me a good portion of my genetics, for better or for worse.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my father, and his wife Rose. Their actions and ideology is suited to their position in their culture and among their peers. They care about me, even if their way of showing it irritates me, and my way of demonstrating affection towards them is not as they expect. (Apparently Rose was for years under the impression that I disliked her as I didn’t demonstrate affection in a way she expected- until my Dad reminded me when her birthday was and I sent her a picture of a muffin. She cried to know I cared, and I was shocked to know she didn’t know.)

My father is terribly of a conservative mind. Don’t get me wrong, he’s okay with homosexuality and he’s pro-decriminalization of Marijuana. But is personal ideology is inherently conservative. It is based on the idea that it is weak and wrong to rely on society or any one other than one’s self for anything- that in fact it is a foolish move to do anything that does not benefit yourself.

Under the umbrella of his ideology is a complete and utter rejection of the social model of disability. For those unfamiliar with the social model (and are too lazy to click the link),

“The social model of disability proposes that systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusion by society (purposely or inadvertently) are the ultimate factors defining who is disabled and who is not in a particular society.”

The first time I heard my father reject this thought was not in a disability context in particular. I was listening to music and mentioned that I loved the message of the song. His response was to ask if is was “one of those songs that blames society for problems” and that he thought that such a message was idiotic. It wasn’t, but then on I have heard him say further things in the past 7 or 8 years since.

In a more general sense, it’s rough for me. I’m a liberal, I suppose, though perhaps progressive is more acurate. While I recognize that there are a lot of parts of my ideal world that aren’t possible due to human nature, I still think it’s worth fighting for. And I am an advocate for “invisible” disabilities- many of whom are primarily disabled under the social rather than medical models.

While the individual has the responsibility to do what they can to get into a position that they are capable of and comfortable with, that does not exculpate society. And it doesn’t mean that conformity is ideal, particularly in a disability context. There are members of the disability community that would like to conform. For them, they have an entire system designed to suit that need. But that doesn’t mean that that is the only right answer, or that it is even a posibility for everyone desirable or not.

More particular to my situation of the moment has a more immediate effect that a worry about political issues and having to creep about when discussing work as though the topic is a mine field. My father does not accept Diagnosis. At all.

This has been a thing that has been consistent most of my life. My mother has always sought various services for me, even before she left my father. [content has been exized for privacy reasons.]

[Content about my father’s reaction to my sister’s TBI has been exized for privacy reasons.]

Fast forward to within the past 6 months. I was discussing a (now) ex-boyfriend and mentioned his OCD. My father went off about how OCD was made up to stigmatize people and several other things that I decline to repeat as they degraded into offensiveness.

I came out as on Spectrum last year. Most people I know know. My sister recently accepted it after a year of being convinced that you had to be non-verbal- She met some more people on spectrum and learned a few things. I’ve been living my life fairly openly- stimming in my own home and able to speak about what it is like publically.

I’m still not out to my father. I had him pick me up from Autreat last year, and I conveiniently left out that I was there as a person on spectrum. He knows I work with and advocate for us, but to tell him that I am a part of that us seems impossible.

While I have been up here, I have been unable to engage in activities that had become routine. I’m not talking about in public, I’m talking about around the house. I’m not allowed to be upset here by sudden changes in plans, and when I don’t respond as expected there are issues and a number of misunderstandings. And I can’t give a reason why.

It’s harder than coming out as bisexual was, by far.

A moment of Zen: The Imagine video.