YetAnotherLefty Celebrates 1000 Ausome Things

I’m going to choose just one thing that is “ausome” (awesome) about being an autistic person in the twenty-first century.

And that thing has to be Autistic Community and Culture.

For me, being autistic means never, ever being lonely. I know that sounds strange, I know that people think of autistics as “loners”, I know we struggle with the day to day social interaction demanded of us by others, I know many of us found teenagehood and young adulthood hell. I’ve been lonely and I’ve felt condemned to it myself – but not any more. How can I feel lonely when I know that more than 1% of people – maybe even 2% of people – have brains that work like mine? When I’m melting down in the supermarket, there’s probably three or four or five other people there struggling not to melt down themselves or at least knowing exactly how I feel. When I flap my hands in delight at the beach, there must be a dozen people there who do the same or wish they could express themselves in the same way. As I walk around my University campus, I do so in the knowledge that hundreds of other autistics are doing and have done and will do the same.

I feel like I’m a part of something. A community, a tribe.

We have our own language – of flapping arms, rocking bodies, hums and buzzes and shrieks, words repeated over and over and over, phrases and facts plucked out of the air for just the right occasion. We understand each other, even if others haven’t learnt to yet.

It’s through the internet that this culture and sense of community is growing. We connect with each other here, talk about our experiences and name them – stimming, meltdown, echolalia, aut-dar. We have words for things we didn’t know we needed words for – neurodiversity, NT, “Nothing About Us Without Us“, self-advocacy. We have people *like us* we admire, role models of autistic adult hood to follow so we know we don’t have to stop being ourselves when we grow up. We have people like us who we know – found all across the world – people who will listen and understand and help when we are struggling and celebrate with us when things go well.

Autistic community was a life-saver for me. I found open arms ready to welcome me (without assuming I liked to be touched) and people who could say “It’s okay, you’re okay and you don’t have to change any way you don’t want to change to grow up. You’re an amazing human being just as you are”. People who would make suggestions on how to get a good teething ring as an adult, who’d say “It’s okay to leave the supermarket with only half your shopping if you’re going to have a meltdown”, who’d affirm “Yes, that’s a good idea” when I suggested making myself step-by-step picture instructions of my morning routine because I kept missing steps.
I needed this alternative way to be an adult. I know there are hundreds and thousands of teens and young adults who need the same advice and help and welcome.

I’m @AutistLiam on twitter and I am there for any autistic person who needs some support and advice. Because we’re a community and that’s what we do.

Check out the other blogs people are writing today here: http://autismpositivity.wordpress.com/ The list of participants is your guide to the many people out there who love you and want to help.

My Yarmulke Is Not For Your Entertainment

I wear a kippah / yarmulke every day. I wear it to remind myself to act as morally because G-d is watching me. My yarmulke marks me out as different from others – most people here don’t cover their heads unless it’s raining. I started wearing it in full knowledge that doing so might engender stares, questions, maybe some hostility and other Jews seeking me out.

I somehow forgot to expect to be fetishised. I should maybe have guessed it would happen but I didn’t and now I’m fed up of it.

All you men out there with a thing for observant Jewish guys, who think Jews are “soo cute”, want to know what sex with a circumcised man feels like and are looking for a Jewish man to help you with that or who want to add a Jewish guy to your “list” – guess what? I don’t wear my yarmulke for your entertainment. 

My yarmulke is not a sign which says I’m up for talking about my genitals (and it’s wrong to assume all Jewish men are circumcised, many aren’t not least because some of us are haemophiliac or intersex or trans). It’s not a reason to assume I need special Jew-specific chat up lines. It’s not a stand in for my personality.
When you treat Jewish men like we’re all the same or we’re interchangeable – you’re being antisemitic. When you seek out a Jewish man because of some idea you have about Jewish men, whether it’s that we’re sensitive or we’re smart or whether you think we’re all circumcised or we’re all feminine – you’re being antisemitic. When you refuse to believe I’m Jewish because I have blue eyes and straight hair and you swear that all Jews have curly hair and brown eyes or you won’t accept it when I tell you that most Jews aren’t Hasidic and look (gasp!) more or less like everyone else – you’re being antisemitic.

When you approach me because I’m Jewish and ask me why some other Jewish man broke up with you *six months ago* like I’m going to magically understand the motives of someone I’ve never even met because we happen to share connections to a broad and ancient religious tradition – I reckon that’s pretty fucking antisemitic.

I am not all Jewish men. I am a Jewish man and I demand to be treated as an individual. Yes, I wear a yarmulke and that means you can see that I’m Jewish – but that’s all you can see. You can’t see my politics or my genital configuration, you can’t see what denomination I am or how often I pray. You can’t even see for certain that I believe in G-d.

If you’re ever going to get to have sex with me, you’re going to have to treat me as a person, not a stereotype. I will not settle for any less than that.

Update on NUSLGBT13 and Religion

I reckoned the dozens of people who read my previous post on LGBTQ People and Relgion might want to know how things went at conference.

So, to the best of my recollection, the motion which contained the text of the original motion *and* Emma’s amendment and another amendment  passed with all its parts intact. Correction: with CR1 removed.

What was strange was that students who had been abused in religious contexts said that conference resolves 1 and conference resolves 5 were actions that would make them and people like them feel unsafe and asked for those parts to be removed but conference voted to keep them anyway.

Conference resolves 1 was “To condemn anti-religious sentiments found within LGBT communities and the LGBT rights movement”. The argument to remove this was that condemning “sentiments” seems an awful lot like condemning the people who feel that way or at the very least suggesting that the way they are feeling is wrong. There are many reasons, some of them very understandable to have and express negative feelings toward religion or religions, the argument went, and this is totally different from having / expressing negative feelings about a person because of their religion. Condemning peoples feelings seems t=like telling them how they should feel and is erasing of the experiences of people who have very understandable reasons to feel negatively toward religion – it’s simply incompatible with affirming in Conference Further Believes 8 “Rejection of any and all religious practice is a legitimate response to abuse experienced in that context”
The argument for keeping Conference Resolves 1 was that condemning sentiments was not the same as condemning people who have those sentiments, that whilst it may be very understandable why someone might feel that way those sentiments are still harmful and they should be encouraged to change how they feel about religion and that it is necessary to condemn these sentiments in order to properly work with students of faith and faith-based organisations.

Conference voted to keep Conference Resolves 1. CORRECTION: Conference voted to remove Conference resolves 1.

Conference Resolves 5 states “To commend and promote religious organisations supportive of their LGBT members.”

The argument to remove this was from Emma. She argued that there was no point commending groups for doing the “pastoral bare minimum” of supporting their members – all religious groups should be doing this anyway or they’re failing people they committed to supporting and nurturing. She further argued that “promoting” religious groups is inherently unsafe for those who’ve needed to leave religion because of abuse.
The argument to keep Conference Resolves 5 I couldn’t hear very well but seemed to be essentially “if we don’t promote LGBT-friendly religious groups, how will people find them?” and that commending groups for being inclusive was somehow essential to working together with people of faith.
Conference voted to keep Conference Resolves 5.

So now the NUS LGBT Campaign has active policy to be mindful of the needs of survivors of faith-based abuse and in the same motion active policy to condemn any anti-religious sentiments those students may have and to commend and promote religious organisations that abused students may struggle to see as any different to those who hurt them. Right.

Comments very welcome from people who heard / remember the debate better than I did. I have further thoughts about these arguments and about what the NUS LGBT campaign as a whole and your local LGBTQ group or faith group can do to follow the best possible understanding of this policy but those thoughts can wait.

Intersectionality – How to do it

I’ve been part of the feminist and queer parts of the internet for as long as I’ve had unsupervised access to an internet connection – despite my age that’s actually only been five years. I mention this because both the idea of and the termintersectionality” have been part of online feminism for much longer than I have. However, for reasons no one seems to be really sure of, 2013 seems set to be the year that intersectionality gets recognised as essential in feminism, not just online and not just in the grassroots. Grassroots feminists all over the English-speaking world seem to have got the hang of using this term and trying to put intersectional feminism into practice.

One thing that really must be said is that the people I saw saying and doing intersectional feminism when I hit the internet as a trans, queer 19 year old who didn’t even know the words “trans” or “queer” were almost invariably women of colour. I owe a lot to those women – Little Light, Brown Femipower, Pamela Merritt, TransGriot and the many writers at Questioning Transphobia along with countless users of tumblr.

More recently, the now well-known piece at Tiger Beatdown by Flavia Dzodan with it’s famous refrain – “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit” had me screaming back at the screen “Yes, this! All of this!” That was over a year ago and somehow between then and now intersectional feminism seems to have gained enough ground to be considered to be a “wave” of feminism.

Now that it’s clear that I’m indebted to many, many people before me, I’d like to add to what’s been/being written about intersectional feminism.

At it’s heart is the idea that sexism is not the only problem facing women. Getting rid of sexism alone, but leaving racism, homophobia, transphobia, disablism, classism, ageism, whorephobia etc etc standing would not be true equality or justice for women. Women would still be oppressed for other reasons besides their womanhood. That simply wouldn’t be good enough. Relatedly, an intersectional approach to feminism recognises that getting rid of sexism whilst leaving other forms of oppression still standing would not actually be possible as all these different prejudices feed into one another and reinforce each other. This can be best seen from the experiences of those who live in the intersections between different kinds of oppression – such as women of colour who live with both sexism and racism and with the ways that the two can join together to form specific kinds of racist sexism and sexist racism.

To try to apply intersectionality to feminist practice involves accpeting that other people will experience the world differently from you. In particular that other people may experience intersections and oppressions that you don’t. This means that you might have a great idea for how to solve a problem or a way to campaign against something that actually isn’t such a great idea after all because it actually furthers or marginalises or erases the oppression that someone else experiences. It’s your job to try your best to think to ways to solve problems and campaign (and, yes, even ways to talk about the problem) that are inclusive and don’t further anyone’s oppression or erase or downplay the importance of other people’s oppression. You will, almost certainly, get this wrong from time to time. People will tell you what you did wrong and you’ll have to apologise and try to fix it. People will be angry because they want a feminism that fights hard for all women – and if that’s what you want too then intersectional feminism is a good way to go about it.

Ways to avoid getting it wrong on big things:

  • Read lots of very different feminist blogs. And not-necessarily feminist blogs too. Try to keep vaguely up to date on what’s going on against racism, disablism, homophobia and transphobia and other human rights struggles in your country.
  • Talk to lots of people.
  • Get involved. Find groups you want to be involved in, online or off. Whatever issue gets you really fired up and determined to do something, go do that and take what you’ve learnt from reading and talking to people with you.
  • Share and talk about the work of people who are facing different struggles from you and especially people who’s struggles are not often touched on in mainstream media.
  • Remember “Nothing About Us Without Us“. Listen to people talking about their own experiences and that of people like them – and trust them to know better than people who are talking about other people. I.E. listen to what disabled people say their lives are like and their ideas of how to make things better more than what non-disabled people think will help, listen to sex workers talk about their lives and what they think needs doing etc
  • Talk about yourself and your life but realise that your experiences quite possibly don’t generalise to other people.

That’s it. I know it sounds like a lot to do but it basically boils down to “Trust people to be experts on their own lives (and that you don’t know better than them). Try to fight for everyone’s lives to be better, not just yours. Don’t accept solutions that only help some people and leave others behind or make things worse for others. Accept that you’re going to make mistakes and try to fix them when you do.”

I’ll end with a paraphrase of something I heard long ago that stuck with me and I think sums up intersectional activism:

No one is free if one person is in chains.

PTSD and Disclosure

Rather than continue with the demoralising and exhausting task of writing down all the little things i struggle with for my Disability Living Allowance form, I’m going to put it aside for the night and write a blog post that’s been going round my mind for a week or so.

I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and I’ve been fairly open about my diagnosis since about six months after I received it (prior to that I kept things between myself, my therapist, my girlfriend and some carefully chosen close friends). If I feel up to it, I will describe how my PTSD affects my life, how I cope with it and even what it was like at its worst. I can and will talk about what it’s like because I know that there’s a heck of a lot of other people quietly going through the same thing and *someone* has to be willing to talk about it and that might as well be me.

There’s something that I don’t talk about though as a rule. I don’t answer any form of the question “What caused your PTSD?”

Unlike most other mental illness, PTSD is caused by and about something that happened to a person. Depression typically isn’t “about” anything at all, it just is. Anxiety can come out of nowhere. But PTSD is an illness that means that at some point in your life something awful has happened to you, typically something that made you feel like you were going to die. An event or multiple events that either snatch away suddenly or slowly erode your sense of being safe and leave you with the feeling that you will never be safe again – that’s how you end up with PTSD.

So, people are curious. And I sort of understand that. But. Please, please if someone you know discloses to you that they have PTSD do NOT ask them “What caused your PTSD?”. Don’t ask “How can you have PTSD?” or “Why do you have PTSD?” or “How did this happen?”.

Just don’t.

Got that? Don’t.

Even if you are really close to that person. Even if you’re shocked. Even if you can’t think of anything bad that ever happened to them. Do. Not. Ask. What. Caused. Their. PTSD.

If they feel able to tell you, they will. If they want to tell you, they will. If you really need to know, they’ll tell you.

It takes a huge amount of courage in our society to admit to struggling with mental health problems at all and PTSD is a particularly difficult mental health problem to disclose for many reasons. Not least among them is that PTSD itself can make trusting people incredibly difficult and the fear of perhaps having to say out loud what happened to cause it and risk triggering a flashback. There’s also the fear of not being believed – a significant and loud minority of people think PTSD is a “made up illness” invented either by people who wanted to claim disability benefits or by drugs companies in order to sell more pills. Then there’s the shame – the feeling that your past shouldn’t still be affecting you after all this time. It takes bravery to say to anyone “I have PTSD”.

So, if someone tells you about their PTSD please remember they’ve thought about it for a long time and decided they want you to know. During that thinking time they’ll likely have thought about how much they want to tell you about the cause(s). They may have decided, as I have, that you don’t need to know.

Asking puts people in the difficult position of either refusing to answer a direct question or giving you sensitive information at a time when they feel vulnerable, scared and disinclined to trust people.

So; I’ll turn this round on you. Why do you want to know?

  • You’re just curious / just making conversation. That clearly isn’t as important as making sure the person with PTSD feels safe. Try saying something supportive instead like “That sounds very hard for you. Is there anything I can do to help?” or “Would you like to talk about it?” or even “I’ll make a pot of tea”
  • You want to help and feel you’d be more useful if you knew exactly what you were dealing with. See above for ways to help. The person with PTSD is better placed than you to judge how much you need to know. Ask specific questions like “Would you like me to read reviews of the film before we go? What kind of content might you need warnings for?”
  • You don’t believe them because you’ve never seen or heard of anything *really* bad happening to them. First off, it’s close to impossible that you have actually been with this person every second of their life unless you are their conjoined twin – and even conjoined twins could have been affected very differently by things that happen to them. Lots of things could have happened while you weren’t watching or you may have misunderstood the significance of events that happened while you were. If you don’t know what the bad thing/s is.were, then perhaps the person has deliberately kept them from you. They have the right to do this, to protect you or them or someone else. You don’t have any right to this information until and unless they want to tell you. If you’re surprised say something like “This is surprising news. I thought you were okay / I knew things were bad but didn’t know things were this bad” or stick with being sympathetic and helpful – even if you don’t believe it. It’s better to assume they’re telling the truth than accidentally confirm their belief that they can’t trust anyone and should keep these things to themself.
  • You’re worried that something you did caused this. That worry can wait. Be sympathetic and helpful or excuse yourself if you can’t. I understand the worry but it’s not a question for the first time someone talks to you about their diagnosis.
  • You can’t think of anything else to say. Be honest and say “I don’t know what to say”

What I want you to know about PTSD before you encounter someone else with the diagnosis – especially someone newly diagnosed – is that you need to trust them to work out what they want to tell you and when. On their terms, not yours.

My terms involve not telling most people what happened. My own family don’t know what happened and I intend to keep it that way until and unless it ever feels appropriate to actually tell them. Your terms or your friends’ terms may be different but that’s ultimately up to each person living with PTSD to decide, not the people around us no matter how they know us.

It’s worth saying…

Pretty much everything I said about acceptance in my previous post on autism acceptance applies pretty straight-fowardly to other ways that people can be different from each other.

You don’t need to understand why someone is trans or how transition-related medicine works or how people make decisions about gender presentation to accept that your trans friend is who they are and deserves to be treated with respect. You don’t need to know all about trans issues to learn to use the name and pronoun someone asks you to use because that’s how to treat a person with respect. To accept someone trans as who they are requires you to trust them to be the expert on their own experiences and believe that they feel how they say they feel. If your friend says he feels happier with a different name, believe him and get on with using his new name. It makes him feel happier and all people deserve to be happy.

You don’t need to understand why some people are only attracted to people of one gender, why some are attracted to people of many genders and why some are attracted to nobody at all, to accept your friend with a different orientation from yours. If she says she loves her girlfriend, believe her. Trust that she is the expert on how she feels and what she wants, you’re not.

You don’t have to know whether or not there is a G-d or know very much about different religions or about atheism to accept that your friend has a different belief system from you. Trust them to be the expert on their own experiences.

This doesn’t just apply to your friends, but to everybody. To everybody you must learn to believe that they know better than anyone else what it feels like to be them and that they deserve to be treated with respect.

 

An example: I have a lot of disabled friends. Most of them, I have no idea what their impairment is and those who I do know I often know very little about that condition. We get along by believing people when they say they need help and helping in the way that is asked for. We believe each other when we say “I can’t do that” without needing an explanation of why or arguing.

Basically:
Everyone is an expert on themselves. With very, very, very few exceptions you do not have a better idea of what a person needs than they do. Accept that people feel what they feel, want what they want and choose what they choose. Treat everyone with respect. We’re all only human.

Autism Acceptance Day

Today is, depending on who you ask, World Autism Awareness Day, Autism Acceptance Day or Autistic Awesomeness Day. I forgot to plan to write anything but I feel that I ought to.

So. I am autistic and I am pretty awesome.

I am autistic and all my friends accept me for who I am.

Both these things were true long before my friends became aware that I am autistic.

Understanding the whats and hows and whys of autism or even being all that sure what autism is, isn’t necessary to accept autistic people. If it was, then all of us autistic people would still be sitting around waiting to be accepted because even the scientists who study autism for a living aren’t all that sure what autism is or why some people are autistic and others aren’t or how many autistic people there are or… you get the idea.

You don’t need to be “aware” of autism or to “understand” autism to be able to see that some people have struggles and difficulties and also skills and abilities that you don’t have. You don’t need to know all the ways someone can be different from another person to accept that all people are different from each other and that’s okay. You don’t need to know why someone is behaving in a way you don’t behave to trust that there is a reason for their behaviour that probably makes sense to them. You don’t need a computer simulation of how I see and hear to believe me when I saw I see and hear very differently from how you seem to.

 

What do you need to accept autism if not ever more “awareness”? You need an open mind and an open heart. You need to trust people are most likely telling the truth when talking about their own experiences. You need to listen carefully to what autistic people say about our lives – not just when we phrase that in terms of “symptoms” or “behaviours”. You need to listen to yourself and others speaking so you can catch it when people accidentally say something that suggests that autistic people (or any group of people) are less than fully and beautifully human (for example suggesting that we are, as a whole group, stupid, soulless, emotionless or unfeeling). You need to treat every person you meet both in real life and online with respect and dignity because they are a thinking feeling person. You need to expect difference and diversity – maybe even learn to love it.

That’s why for me this is acceptance day, not awareness. You don’t need to know more than that I am a human being with my own life – you can accept me. You don’t need to understand why I am the way I am – you just need to accept that this is me.

I am autistic and I am loved and respected and accepted by people who’ve never even heard of the “triad of impairments” and don’t need to know much about autism at all to know that I am a person who behaves a bit differently from most but that’s just who I am.