The Problem with White Women

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After last week’s election there have been many calls for white women to check themselves and stop voting to uphold the patriarchal monsters strangling democracy. This not long after Republican women, except for Lisa Murkowski who lost her job as a result, voted to confirm Kavanaugh. I assure you roughly half the white women in America are in a rage at the other half, who are gleefully voting away the rights of all women.

I touched on the subject of duplicitous, self-oppressing white women shortly after the 2016 election. Since we haven’t solved sexism in the interim, I was expecting them to shit the bed again, and they did. Before I get into it, I want to make it very clear where I stand on the subject of white women:

I am a white woman who is more afraid of what white women might do to me in the long run than what any man might. Men have transgressed against my body, intelligence, and voice in myriad ways, but women – primarily the conforming white ones – have transgressed against my very identity, safety, and trust in profound ways I am still only discovering. Men are brutal, but simple to understand; women are brilliantly cruel on a social, conversational, psychological, and emotional level.

It is devastating.

The punishment for being a woman who does not conform to gender expectations, the prevailing socio-political norms, or even fashion, is still the equivalent of death, even if we’ve done away with the Malleus Mallificarum and burning at the stake. Women who betray the patriarchy, especially if they are white, are facing isolation, public character assassination, and pulling of protective support. Powerful white men, unfortunately, find women of color easier to see as ineffective and dismissible. But when a white woman uses her voice to challenge authority, she is seen as being a bigger threat. She might get the other white women on board, after all.

New York Times columnist  Alexis Grenell writes, “Betray the patriarchy, and your whiteness won’t save you.” In other words, our much-cited proximal power is instantly stripped from us and we are left without community or protection, resources or reputation. We are no longer white ladies. We are “sluts” “feminists” “witches” “accusers” “problems” and “race traitors.”

Ask Kathy Griffin – she poked the eye of the Establishment through a single image and was treated by the scariest sectors of government as a potential treasonous criminal. Most tellingly, supposed male allies threw her under the bus – her fellow comedians and Anderson Cooper to boot. Ask Amanda Knox. She was the roommate of a raped and murdered girl in Italy and lost so much, almost her own life, in the modern-day witch burning that her literal trials turned out to be. Because she didn’t behave “normally” shortly after finding out about the fate of her roommate.

As a white woman my behavior is strictly proscribed regardless of the lip service we give to the false idea that a woman can be however she wants to be in our “enlightened” times. As an opinionated, weird-ass chick I can promise you this is utter bullshit. If you are off by one iota in how you communicate, behave, dress, move, think and address authority, you are tossed into the darkness.

Ask any trans woman, trans man, or autistic person how bad the consequences can be.

Most frustrating of all is the scolding white women – all white women, not just the enablers – are getting right now. Save your breath angry white progressives who have taken up the racial struggle. Just because you mostly see oppression through the lens of race does not mean that other forms of oppression, those which are less visible and publicly acknowledged, do not exist. I want to point out that although every three days a trans person is murdered somewhere in the world, in just 2015 nearly 4 women per day were murdered by a man they knew well. In America. Mostly by guns. During an argument. Perhaps about politics, sexual or otherwise. And six hundred women are sexually assaulted every day in the land of the free.

It’s so dangerous to be a woman in America that we still don’t give our level of misogynist violence the crisis coverage it deserves. Even in progressive discourse. The problem is so vast we have trouble seeing it all at once and instead separate it into different issues: domestic violence, work harassment, sexual assault (campus, military, domestic), serial murder, most terrorism, and reproductive restrictions are all predicated on hatred for women.

As a “community” women are also at a particular disadvantage for cohesion. Black people, having been made to live together, have one another – a sense of shared struggle and suffering. Women are distributed throughout the population differently. We are likely paired off, or desire to be, with an individual member of the group which oppresses us. White women are psychologically atomized, socialized from birth to be oppressed and oppressing, and threatened with violence or exile, in one way or another, every day. Especially within our communities and relationships.

It’s an extreme thing to ask a person who, without the approval of white men, has no leg to stand on and risks extreme social isolation and violence, to break rank. It has been difficult for the brave women I know who have already done so. We need to see how power is distributed overall in our culture – because race, gender, and class work together in complicated ways to influence our elections.

It’s no good to berate enabling conservative white women in think pieces that they will never read. It’s no good to berate the white women who are already putting themselves on the line in this fight more than you know. Besides, there is little productive discourse between these two types of women.

No. Instead, if we want certain white women to stop propping up toxic masculinity, everyone should do whatever possible to make the consequences less dire. We need to have better safety nets for helping women who lack to the resources to “go solo” for a while if need be should they become estranged from the Establishment, conservative families, or the men in their lives. Perhaps some gun control protections. Perhaps better wages for women. Paid maternal and domestic violence leave. Police oversight. Better housing and childcare. More enlightened education. More opportunities.

The missing rights that most American women are kept unaware they don’t have.

I can’t possibly be as vocal or as blunt as I want – it is a constant struggle to determine just how much hot water I might get myself into depending on what I say to whom and how. Being incorrectly female, incorrectly white, and disabled, I have to walk the fine line between liberation and exile in my every thought, word, and deed.

Just as every woman, even the white ones, must do in this America.

 

 

On Being an Unaccompanied Woman

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I’ve always been my favorite companion. I want to be by myself the majority of the time. After I’ve been around people I have to go home and pace around until I calm down and sometimes this can take hours. I enjoy most interactions with the people I choose to meet with, but like I said in my last post, people’s treatment of me varies a bit. So it’s always a gamble.

I know that being a woman who goes about her life solo is it’s own kind of oppression.

I go on vacation alone, to restaurants alone, to movies alone, to museums alone, to concerts alone, to bars alone, to community events alone. ALWAYS. This is highly unusual behavior even in our “post-feminist” landscape. I see all the “independent woman” memes and cringe though. We give a lot of lip service to being strong women who don’t care what other people think about us, but the truth is that most women, and men, still see an unaccompanied woman as bizarre, tragic, lame, and sad. 1000% of movies with “strong female leads” have her hooking up with a partner and having at least one quirky best friend.

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And a confident woman never lacks company.

Since I have been alone so much in public spaces, I know how differently I am addressed both when I am “with” someone and when I’m not. And then there’s how people treat a woman who is known to be habitually alone. We still burn witches, after a fashion. There are  archetypal and patriarchal explanations for this, but I won’t get into all that.

Being popular and having people desire your company while you desire theirs is the default social goal of neurotypical people. As if everybody is the gregarious kind.

It’s strange to see people out in pairs and groups, looking at me with either petty pleasure or condescending pity when they see me out by myself. Paradoxically, I look at them and I feel so sad that they have to be accompanied in public to enjoy themselves. I feel people can be a distraction if I’m looking at art, watching a movie, or listening to a band. Even eating a meal with others can ruin the experience. Why would I want to pay for fancy food or an overpriced movie ticket if I have to try to hold up a damn conversation that distracts me from savoring the reason I’m there?

People feel like a prison after a while.

Think I’m kidding about the bad treatment? Nah. There’s the little stuff like every hostess saying “just one?” when I come in. Then there’s the big stuff like being followed by strange men when I depart somewhere. And the medium stuff is how I always get shit service when I sit at a bar by myself. Or how people see me conducting my life solo and assume I have low worth, social or otherwise, so they don’t hear me when I speak and shut down any sort of communication.

The core of female identity is based on our interpersonal relationships, not our individual merits. Every little girl, socially impaired or not, picks up on this very early as if our lives depend on it. Because our lives do depend on it. Women have to rely on more protective layers of society in order to survive because, well, all the rampant gendered violence. And poverty, etc. Just as a white person will never quite understand the anxiety of getting pulled over like a black person, a man will never know the anxiety of being a woman out by herself. Or living by herself.

Isolation can be a death sentence for a woman.

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And we can’t fuck around with time machines.

A single woman with no children is practically a non-entity. Unless she’s young and hot or has a high-powered career, why is she even here? What’s she good for? Get the torches and pitchforks!!!! Think I’m kidding again? I applied for TennCare once and they called me back and the only question I was asked was, “Are you pregnant or do you have a child?” I said no and that was the end of the conversation. They don’t help jobless single women without children. No one does.

A rule of thumb in social theory is that if you are a woman – ANY kind of woman from any group or background – and you don’t conform to a degree that isolates you, you are generally in danger of poor childhood and adult outcomes. Women are expected to be accompanied in spaces where social activity occurs. When you are not, the freaks looking to separate the “weak” from the herd perk right up and even kind people do not know how to address you respectfully.

A week ago when I started writing this I had far more hope for changing how society and power structures view independent, intelligent women, but damn if this isn’t a painfully disappointing juncture in history. Whether you have the protection of a social circle or not, take care of yourselves out there, and keep your chins up!

 

 

On silencing the neurodiverse in “woke” organizations

hypocriteIn my last post I addressed the problem of white-savioring and gatekeeping in social justice movements and non-profits.  Now I want to discuss otherizing behavior toward those with neurological differences in the same spaces.

For the past year I’ve been attending and helping out on several local committees and in non-profits which have an open-door policy, meaning anyone willing to help is allowed to attend. (Some of these orgs are for women only, though.) If that’s not the case then they don’t know how or where to express exclusivity – other than by shutting down “interlopers” through hostile interrogations, passive-aggressive bitchery, scare tactics, and conversational stonewalling. All intended to get me to stop participating or say less.

It’s not going to work. I have no qualms about embarrassing myself. I’m not participating to be popular or make friends. I’ll never stop expressing my perspective because my story has immense value.

Invariably, I have been transparent about who I am, what my diagnosis is, what my experience is, what my intentions are, and exactly how I can help. I’ve always observed the behavior and responses of neurotypical people, not just for shits and gigs, but for my continued survival. Their responses to meeting me are incredibly varied and fascinating – and often depressing.

Throughout my life, people’s responses have fallen into three extreme categories:

  1. Deep admiration – Since I have raised my public presence by speaking at symposiums, attending council meetings, and re-partaking of the fun social events happening in my hometown, some people have really taken to me and are not shy about expressing their admiration for my resilience, intelligence, and personal insight. Because they decided to hear me out before passing judgement. These people tend to be the best types of people, the most compassionate, the most inclusive, and the most intelligent, well-read, and genuinely woke.
  2. Open hostility – People who are honest and enthusiastic can be terrifying to those who are full of shit. Fear of the unknown and frustration with different social presentations make immature, territorial, and socially-obsessed people uncomfortable and prone to all the myriad forms of bullying and exclusion. I dismiss these types of people out of hand. They aren’t ready to help anyone yet. You can’t harbor contempt for one group of marginalized people and effectively help another marginalized group. (BTW, I include passive aggressive behavior in “open hostility,” because, although more subtle, it’s still pretty visible to others and obvious to me.)
  3. Confusing ambivalence –  I can’t decide who is worse; people who privately befriend me, but publicly deny supporting me, or people who’re kind to me when others are around, but quietly bully me. They both do harm and need to make up their goddamn minds.

The entire time I was growing up I received extremely polarized messages about who I was. Since I spent most of my time without positive friendships to counteract these messages and put them into social context for me, I never developed a clear sense of identity or voice until rather recently.

My current “social presentation” is that of a nervous, enthusiastic, honest, and non-conforming young, white woman. No one immediately supposes I’m a person with autism or a survivor of the criminal justice system and police brutality. I seem like a weird white chick who’s probably not experienced any deep prejudice and is trying to horn in or “insert” myself. I get it. I’m very forward, but I don’t like to waste my time or the time of those in need by being peripheral, coy, and “appropriately” female and white. Either you understand what I have to offer or you don’t want to.

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But actually I’m not all that nervous (it’s just how I talk as an autistic), I’m not that young (I’m over forty), not that female (I reject the gender binary), and not that white (I was never accepted among white people; not even in my own family). The rest is accurate. You see, people fundamentally misunderstand who I am based on superficial observations.  Adult autistic women and minorities are by far the most marginalized people you will ever meet – we are barely known to exist. We have insanely high rates of poverty, suicide, sexual assault, hate crime victimization, early death, addiction, homelessness, police brutality, and unemployment.

No fucking joke, either. Here’s some info from the links above:

  • Autistic girls and minorities are likely to be misdiagnosed with multiple incorrect disorders rather than autism because the diagnostic rubric is for white boys.
  • Half of all adults who have experienced at least one year of poverty are disabled,  and two-thirds of those with longer periods of poverty have a disability.
  • Compared with the general population, adults with Asperger’s syndrome were nearly 10 times more likely to report suicidal thoughts. 66% of newly-diagnosed adults obsessed about suicide. 31% planned or attempted it.
  • “Rates of autism among the homeless population are 3000% to 6000% higher than in the general population – a percentage so overwhelming I don’t have words adequate to express my outrage.” 65% of the homeless in Devon, England were diagnosed with autism. In America, autistic homeless are misdiagnosed with mental illnesses.
  • The disabled are 1.5 times more likely to be a victim of violence than those without a disability, while those with developmental disabilities are at nearly 4 times the risk of experiencing violence. And much of that violence is extraordinarily cruel and sadistic.
  • A new study from the American Journal of Public Health found that the average life span of an autistic person is 36 years. Up to 50 years for “high functioning” Asperger’s. Suicide and neglect are the main factors.
  • “Yet a whopping 85% of college grads affected by autism are unemployed, compared to the national unemployment rate of 4.5%.”
  • Over 83% of women with developmental disabilities are sexually assaulted, over half of those more than 10 times. One third of men are.
  • One-third to one-half of police shooting victims are disabled – not mentally ill – disabled. Mostly in ways that are not visible – deaf, blind, or mentally affected.

Most woke people are unaware of what me and my brothers and sisters on the spectrum face. Bias is especially discouraging in spaces where the people feel they are aggressively open-minded and inclusive. They are usually not when it comes to neurodiversity. I either get a chance to “explain myself” and educate them about the cutting edge of civil rights or they dismiss me out of hand and shut me down or undermine me from then on.

Perhaps I expect too much from normals.

A lot of young social justice folks are also in it for less-than-noble reasons: for social perks, dating, self-exoneration from white supremacy, exploitative recognition, and absolution by the oppressed. Grow up.

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It’s like being back in 8th grade.

[Important note to the “woke” whites: Black people don’t owe us absolution or comfort for our inherent white supremacy and remorse over it. They don’t have to reward us with social acceptance for virtue signaling in the right way. They don’t have to put you at ease about the kind of white person you are. Stop trying to get them to hang out with you. Let them decide if you are the type of white person they want to know better.]

Above all fellow do-gooders, examine your motives and actions very deeply when you are advocating for a group of people of which you are not a member. “Getting woke” is a deeply uncomfortable, tedious process that should last your entire life, not a few realizations in your twenties that give you a pass on shouldering the onus of white supremacy while indulging all your other ignored biases.

Your contempt silences the geniuses in your midst.

 

 

 

 

On Gatekeeping and White Savior-ing

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“Suffer the little minorities to come unto me for approval and rescue.”

My passions (and vendettas) have led me to lend my talents and testimony to many local organizations fighting injustice. All social justice groups are flawed in some ways – we are only humans trying to help other imperfect humans. However, some orgs and non-profits with the goal of helping targeted minorities are inexplicably headed up, even in 2018, by white, cis, straight, able-bodied, neurotypical men.

Most of them start out with noble intentions. They have a transformative college class, an indirect experience, or read Chomsky and/or Zinn, and then the rage kicks in. Rage that doesn’t necessarily belong to them and they can’t ever fully understand. Unfortunately, when white men with no ax to grind get het up about injustice they assume the way to help is for them to be in charge of activist groups and efforts. And don’t think for a second that non-intersectional white women are immune to this impulse either.

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At a time in my life before I was diagnosed with an invisible disability, I really wanted to help lift up the downtrodden because I felt my privilege put me in a unique position to do so. I went to school to become an “inner city” high school teacher, but in the teacher education program at college I found myself uncomfortable with how we were taught about economic and racial inequality. The tone was condescending and we were given assignments wherein we went out into predominantly black neighborhoods to study them like they were specimens or a different species altogether. From all the shade I saw the few black teaching students throw at our old white male professor, I could tell they disapproved as well.

It’s fine to utilize privilege if you are a luckier member of the same demographic, but cross-demographic advocacy, while vital, can be problematic.  At some point I realized all high school kids are evil monsters and the black community doesn’t want or need my help. I dropped out of the teaching program with one semester to go and finished up my useless English degree.

Now I’m involved in criminal justice reform, not because I feel guilty about what people of color deal with, but because I’m an especially lucky member of another demographic  also targeted by police and the system. I’m appalled at what black & brown people experience, but I can never truly know enough about their perspective to loudly insert myself into their campaigns for change – and the idea that a white person(s) would take charge of their activist space is disgusting, but it happens. A lot.

But because I’m an autistic woman, I’ve directly experienced police brutality and entrapment in various broken institutions. However, I’ve still had to convince the far less oppressed people in charge of activist efforts that I’m worthy of speaking and taking up space when it comes to these issues. Some of these “interviews” have been darkly hostile. For instance, not many white guys invested in helping black people are aware of disability issues and a few have been bigoted towards me – an intersectional feminist covered in police brutality scars.

Truly, there are no completely safe spaces yet. Say a social justice bro corners you in an inappropriate manner and shows you the kind of guy he really is when the other do-gooders aren’t watching: lots of women and minorities won’t say anything about it to other members for fear of thwarting the cause or being accused of doing so. Especially if that ableist white man is threatened, territorial, and totally in charge of the space.

Every time I join a new organization I go through this heartbreaking process of “winning over” the white male (or normal female) leader. It’s not like these are paid positions and most orgs purport to be accepting of all people willing to help – so why am I having to fight so hard? Why do I feel oppressed in places where everyone in the room has read Chomsky and Zinn? (BTW, Chomsky is also on the spectrum bros.) Speaking the social justice gospel isn’t the same as embodying it. Open-mindedness doesn’t stop at one or two new realizations – it means continual self-examination for missed blind spots.

So to the well-meaning minimally-oppressed out there: Thank you for your time, talents, and work, but the minute you begin setting requirements for participation and excluding those with a greater stake in the cause, you are falling back into the ideological mire you brag about having escaped.

Perhaps you’ll heed a message from a fellow white guy, so . . .

ht9L9Ps

 

 

Why I write about upsetting subjects

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The past month or so I’ve been over-exerting myself because I have some wonderful opportunities coming up. I applied for a writing fellowship and, this past week, prepared my presentation for the 2nd Annual Southeast Adult Autism Symposium. If you are in the southeastern portion of the U.S. around the 21st of this month I highly recommend registering.

The fellowship is about my negative experiences with various powerful institutions as a neurodiverse woman. The presentation is about my experiences with sexual assault and social manipulation (and how to avoid it). So it’s been pretty intense having to deeply examine and write about these adverse incidents again. All the statistics are grim and it’s very clear that the two groups of people that are the most disadvantaged in America (besides, of course, people of color and women) are the cognitively disabled and the imprisoned. I’ve met people who are all four of the above minorities, and they are royally fucked. They never even get a chance.

Well, I screwed up my life so much that there was no way I was ever going to build a typical career from the ground up. I have massive employment gaps, a criminal record for a very stigmatized crime, I take medications that show up as illicit drugs on pre-employment drug tests. Since I’m not an automaton or snitch, I don’t ever do well on those mysterious pre-employment personality surveys, I fail the math test every time, and, being an isolating person, I don’t have any personal or work references.

For many spectrum people, trying to fill out a simple job application is enough to trigger a meltdown. I don’t remember names, dates, phone numbers, or the order they came in. In addition I was heavily, incorrectly medicated for most of my adulthood. A lot of it is indistinct except for the bad stuff. I don’t have any idea what to write down. I panic.

Once I got a diagnosis, I realized I was still on my own and had to create my own opportunities. No help was coming. So I read books about leadership, compromise, communication, building movements, and lots of other relevant subjects. I basically voc-rehabed myself. I was privileged enough to have the time and space to do this by not having to work and being left alone to heal for several years. And it took that long.

The reason I speak and write about tough issues is that most people who’ve been as marginalized as me are never spit back out of the Leviathan. They don’t have the words or the resources that I do. Absolutely no one else who has been that low is visibly advocating for them – the forgotten spectrum men and women who are swallowed by failed institutions ranging from inadequate and misguided, to malicious and punitive.

I’m also playing the hand I was dealt.

My family is not happy that I don’t “just move on.” They don’t like people who “dwell on things” and “stir shit up.” What they don’t know is that “voice feeds on the lack of opportunity for exit.”  I can’t take a traditional, and probably safer, route to accomplishing anything and thus exiting my circumstances. My past and my disability have trapped me. I have no clear exit. But I do have a voice. Voice is draining and has consequences, but it’s better than dying anonymous without ever having risked something for someone else.

 

 

Why our local government still jails poor people even though they lose money doing it

 

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I attended the meeting of a local organization of different faith communities who are deeply concerned about the fact that poor people sit in jail due to lack of money for even the lowest bail bond, which amounts to poor and mentally ill people sitting in jail before being convicted of a crime. There were a lot of good questions and comments by a lot of good people, despite this being such a complicated issue.

Facts and figures were discussed, including the price of keeping one person in jail in our county for one day – $87. This was mentioned in passing, but this dollar amount must have made an impression on one older, very professional looking white man in the corner. He piped up and asked probably the best question of the evening: [paraphrasing here, he had all the math worked out] So if it costs so much to keep people in jail, why are we still doing so even though it’s not economically smart and the taxpayer loses money?

A tepid silence fell over the room then, and since I abhor a vacuum, I softly muttered three words, “It’s an industry . . .”  Several of the people doing most of the talking nodded and expressed grim agreement with me, but didn’t expound. The truth is that we didn’t have time to get into the particulars of bed quotas, the prison-industrial complex, political corruption on every level, and the apathy of those people not affected by criminal justice problems. I would personally recommend he delve into some Chomsky.

A disability activist I know went to a different meeting recently which aimed to start a dialogue about affordable, appropriate housing for the disabled, who are often homeless in my town. The mayor was there to answer questions and listen, but at the end he explained how his hands were tied as far as any housing solutions for us. The money and political will simply isn’t there.

I completely believe him about the lack of political will and concern for people like us, but there is plenty of money in our coffers. However, those funds are being diverted towards projects which directly target this population in a destructive way. I read the local paper and it is constantly crowing about new expenditures by the city, such as paving over and eliminating the one place downtown where the homeless and mentally ill can find shade from the southern heat and simply exist.

Or the new plan to spend tens of millions to expand the local CoreCivic (formerly CCA) prison facility capacity to “reduce overcrowding.” (Another way CoreCivic reduces overcrowding is by allowing people to die on their watch.) A tax hike was approved for this “public service” but no alternative or restorative solutions even make it up the ladder of power for consideration.

All the groups trying to change this stubbornly entrenched system of maltreatment and injustice towards the vulnerable have several big obstacles at the moment:

  • Republican control of pretty much everything right now – hence the lack of “political will” which just seems like garden-variety compassion to me
  • how to organize and who to involve – it’s been decades since the last round of sweeping civil rights reforms in America and we are rusty at this
  • lack of charismatic leadership in key communities – we (minorities and the disabled) are so beaten down and robbed of our power and credibility that it is difficult for community cohesion to happen
  • where to even begin – criminal justice problems are complicated and it’s difficult to find a chink in the armor of such a well-established system of institutions backed up by those with money, power, and many lawyers

But it doesn’t matter. These are times that define who we are and if we can’t find it within ourselves to correct atrocious treatment by our own leaders, locally and nationally, we don’t deserve our sense of American entitlement. We are no better than the multitude of countries we look down on for dystopian maltreatment of their citizens and those seeking asylum.

If you are concerned about these problems, roll up your sleeves, do some internet research, and call meetings in your communities. Don’t forget to cooperate with other helpful organizations in your area and share information. Show your local politicians that your city isn’t just about new businesses, nostalgia, and building projects for tourism and gentrification. Define your community by how “the least of these among you” are accommodated and saved from horrible circumstances.

Passing Means Always Passing: How Disability Systems Punish Functionality

Aut of Spoons is a lady after my own heart. Here she explains EXACTLY what it’s like trying to pass and function as a “high functioning” autistic person. We can “pass” for normal just long enough to convince every institution designed to help people like us that we don’t actually need help. There is no temporary respite for people with variable functioning levels in America. Please enjoy!

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I’m hitting the edge of some burnout right now, which is not really news in and of itself (there’s a lot of shit going down in my life), but what’s different this time around is that I’m very actively involved in an advocacy program and I’m seeing a. the types of services and programs that people who are less functional than I am receive and b. how hard it is to access services. Mixed in is the realization that most people don’t think of me as disabled. When I act disabled they get confused, frustrated, and angry. If you’re disabled, you’re generally expected to be exactly the same amount of disabled all the time. But that’s not how it works.

I can generally pass for neurotypical. I can be independent. Until I can’t.

There are two ways that this comes back to bite me in the ass: one is in…

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Why it’s not cool to roll your eyes at awkward people

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For a while I’ve wanted to discuss one of the most frustrating aspects of having a different social presentation: gestural aggression. What’s that? It’s something just about everyone engages in on a daily basis. I’m not talking about obscene or threatening gestures. I mean the ones that we drop into conversation to let the other person know that they are mildly perturbing or that they are crossing an invisible boundary. It includes all sorts of “shade” –  huffs, sighs, arm crossing, and, of course, the eye roll. These actions can often accompany snarky, muttered, or condescending remarks.

Although this sort of passive-aggressive body language is the expert territory of teenage girls, I see people of all demographics and cultures using this suite of gestures. This is not so much a form of instinctive communication as it is a form of learned social and conversational policing by those who are more able to conform to the unspoken expectations of the interaction.

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Although sometimes an eye roll can be priceless.

For instance, I tend to get eye rolls when I get “overly” enthused during an interesting conversation. Interesting conversations are few and far between for me at times, so when I find myself speaking to someone about a favorite topic I can get “carried away” and go on excitedly after the other person is ready to speak again or change the subject. This is par for the course when dealing with an Aspie and we all do this regularly, but there are consequences that others might not be aware of.

When people roll their eyes at me it hurts, and though I don’t read body language as instinctively as others, no eye roll ever escapes me. I can fucking hear them. I just have no earthly idea how to respond in real time to something that feels so hostile to me when I am sincerely trying to be as agreeable as I can.

An eye roll says, “You are weird and inappropriate and are now on thin conversational ice.” It says, “I don’t have enough respect for you to be patient with you. You are not worth listening to.” Once more I am quietly “told” that I’ve somehow screwed up my talking again and another person is growing tired of me.

While one eye roll or exasperated sigh isn’t enough to derail my mood, the silent censure adds up and I get the overall impression that regular people don’t want to interact with me as much as I want to be included. Gestural aggression sends a harsh message over time that you are not welcome or tolerable. It makes you more nervous and less confident when you try to talk to people later on.

Don’t get me wrong: I know better than most that conversing with a socially impaired person can be laborious and frustrating. I try to make it easy on other people I’m around by putting forth a monumental effort to not draw any eye rolls or bore anyone. I consciously, meticulously try to match the tone, topic, and appropriateness level the other persons sets. I make an effort to let the other person have their say without compulsively interrupting.

But it’s exhausting, and I don’t always succeed. Paradoxically, I can police my own social presentation better when I’m less familiar with someone, but as I grow more comfortable my more exasperating conversational differences start creeping in because I feel safe being myself with that person. In the past, those people to whom I let slip my awkwardness may become confused and annoyed and pull away. Let the self-flagellation begin!

I want the socially traditional among us to understand that most weirdos are doing our damndest and attempting to offer something of our carefully guarded, loner selves to other people. I long for positive interactions and better communication skills, but when people express conversational disdain and censure, it derails those attempts to not be an isolated, squirrelly freak. And it’s not my fault.

I’ve watched so many otherwise kind people rudely shut down the conversational efforts of those autistic or simply awkward people they have decided not to extend social tolerance to. This is an insidious form of ableismPeople mostly think of ableism as being insensitive to those with physical disabilities, but people with invisible disabilities – like social and communication disorders – are still boldly discriminated against by even those who love them using social judgement and unconscious exclusion.

What I’ve discovered in my own long history of talking with other awkward people is that it’s entirely worth the extra patience and occasional misunderstanding to get to know the fascinating and insightful people trapped behind uncool exteriors. Please try to meet us part-way because enjoyable, meaningful communication always depends on the efforts of everyone involved.

 

 

What it’s like to be autistic in jail

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We are now accustomed to seeing people of color suffering at the hands of ill-applied policing techniques on the nightly news. A lot of us are still trying to process incidents like these and others are actively defensive on behalf of the blue lives in our communities. However, we seem unable to see police mistakes and misconduct through any lens other than race in America at the moment, and that’s leaving out entire vulnerable populations who might not be people of color or people of color who are targeted for reasons other than (and including) race.

[PLEASE NOTE: I am NOT saying that we should stop looking at policing through the lens of race, but we do need to add other at-risk types of people to the conversation who keep suffering at the hands of law enforcement and the criminal justice system. I am also NOT anti-cop or unaware of the horrific shit police deal with on a grueling daily basis. I believe poor training and funding are to blame, as well as a criminal lack of mental health and disability services.]

For instance, being black in America instantly, visually places you in a marginalized underclass regardless of actual economic status or intent, but there are other ways to enter a targeted group other than having a different skin color. Being disabled or mentally affected in any way also puts a person at a greater risk of being victimized by a series of interconnected and deeply broken institutions. The other main groups affected by police misconduct are school children and very poor or indigent people of any color. God help you if you are some combination of the above.

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Yes. School children.

While I have discussed the prevalence of police misconduct involving disabled people before, I’ve never talked about what the consequence frequently is when it’s not death: jail. Not being taken to a mental hospital or even a regular hospital. Not being connected with helpful services or a concerned case worker. Jail. The place where our society sends the people it doesn’t want to see anymore.

Sometimes I think there’s just two types of people in the world – those who’ve been held captive by a hostile force and those who haven’t. Either jail is something that makes your favorite shows more interesting to watch or it’s something that changes the course of your life forever. And makes all those shows look dumb as hell afterwards.

I’ve been to jail a few times. OK, more than a few. I’m not going to go back over why I ended up there, so let me tell you what there is like. People with autism have traits that cause serious problems in a captive situation:

  1. Sensory sensitivities
  2. The need to be in control of what is happening to us and our environment
  3. Difficulty understanding and immediately responding to questions or commands
  4. The need for medications to be administered in a timely manner
  5. Physical disabilities
  6. Not understanding unspoken rules
  7. Meltdowns

Jail is a sensory nightmare even for completely normal people who can mentally block some sensory input and regulate their emotional response to it. To me it was bright, loud, hard, and so very cold. All the time. Day and night it was buzzing artificial lights, slamming metal doors, clanking chains, people screaming and vomiting and weeping and laughing, COs shouting stuff I might need to hear. The smells and tastes ranged from pitiful to foul. The lights were never off and everyone had to put tube socks (called eye-socks) over their eyes to block out the light to sleep. I didn’t sleep.

This input alone caused my blood pressure to go into dangerous territory during all my stays. It was never treated although they were aware of it and concerned.

In jail you (and your concerned family) are never told what’s going on, what’s about to happen, where you will be taken, or who can be of help. The jails are not running a customer service model, in other words. Your concerns about what’s happening to you are purposely ignored, even exacerbated. This utter confusion and lack of control is horrible for anyone to endure (in fact, used by the Nazis as torture), but imagine you are someone who depends on a strict schedule and/or familiar surroundings to keep from having a serious meltdown.

Trust me, don’t ever have an autistic meltdown in jail.

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They’ll drag out this puppy for you.

In jails around the country, any person exhibiting recalcitrant, repetitive, or any unusual or simply annoying behavior can be put in four or five- point restraint chairs and tased to within an inch of their lives. I still have my scars. I was in no way a danger to myself or others at the time, I simply, very politely asked for some time to calm down before they started sticking needles in me. They didn’t grant me that wish. I’d already told them I was having a “mental health crisis” which was the best way to describe it at the time.

In law enforcement lingo, this is called a “pain compliance technique.” Nice.

Strapping someone down for any reason and tasing them is still apparently legal even though the UN Council on Human Rights and Amnesty International have roundly condemned this practice in the USA.

Y’know. Because it’s torture. That’s right, America. We don’t just torture in Guantanamo Bay and other “black sites”; it happens in every city and county in America right in the middle of your community to the most vulnerable people you can imagine – the mentally ill and disabled. Because we can rarely fight back literally or legally. (No one believes what we tell them, if we can tell them, anyway.) So they get away with stuff like this and a million other malicious slights and dangerous inefficiencies.

Like denying vital medications even when breathless family members rush them to the jail with instructions about administering them in a timely fashion. This also happened to me with an anti-convulsant and several psych meds that one should absolutely not be suddenly taken off of. Or in many cases humiliating the physically disabled by not providing the most basic medical supplies they need.

The point of jail is not to keep you away from society to keep society safe: it’s to insert you into an economic system that profits from you being there, as long as you are someone who lacks credibility and agency. As long as you are a warm body that can be kept barely alive (if not entirely sane), you are treated like a product to be processed as efficiently as possible by understandably depressed and scandalously under-paid, under-trained staff.

Right now in my town which I love so much, a young autistic man is being held in jail after an altercation (domestic assault) with his aunt who couldn’t calm him down. This young man is underserved and now sitting in an environment that will traumatize him for years to come, without his family, surrounded by a bunch of tough customers who will not know how to deal with his differences. (Did I mention that jail is also a socially brutal place?) He is being denied needed medications and the jail is keeping his mother in the dark about his condition.

I’m very concerned that the above story will be the last we hear about this boy. When, O when, will we stop and take a look at the larger, more frightening portrait of American criminal justice and realize that absolutely anyone who is powerless or misunderstood is unsafe? Jailing is an industry and, as such, needs to both grow and find new sources of “raw material.” When you are sick or disabled, and therefore can’t either produce or consume enough for the economy, you become the commodity itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Super Dark Times

I had a bad April, folks, and I’m glad it’s about over.

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The last day of March I was really feeling my oats and had a wonderful, productive day. It was one of those days that make me glad I’m still around. But in my experience, no good day goes unpunished.

Easter fell on the first and therefore was also April Fool’s Day. It was also the day my grandmother began to actively die. My mom called me up in a panic and said we needed to get her to the emergency room from the assisted living home she had recently moved into. For some reason the home couldn’t authorize it and there was some confusion. For someone with acute emotions, I can usually rise to emergency situations by shutting down somewhat and saying to myself, “Well. I guess this is happening. Ride it out like everything else.”

I got her to call an ambulance (I wasn’t going to transport both of them) and drove us to the hospital, as her car was totaled the week before in an accident she was lucky to survive. When my grandmother arrived, they let her lay around without being seen even though the place was deserted because no one gives a shit about really old, sick people in America. She was in horrific pain from an infected spleen (a complication of leukemia) and they took their damn time in making her comfortable. It was clear to me that she didn’t have long at all. My mother and I decided to not proceed with any drastic life-saving measures.

The next day I worked as they moved her into hospice care. After work, I logged onto Facebook (they’ve had a bad month too) and saw that my penpal and writing partner had died in the middle of my wonderful Saturday from an apparent heart attack. I’d been in a tif at him over a recent piece he’d sent me to critique. Long story short, he was going to publish something beneath him that didn’t paint him in a good light. He cared only about the truth and didn’t consider how it would affect his public image. I tried to be gentle, but he took it hard. So did I. His last post on Facebook was uncharacteristically gloomy and hopeless, but I never got around to reaching out to him because I was being petty, as it now seems. His heart gave out, but I’m certain his mental state was a factor.

Sometimes the Universe taps you on the shoulder and whispers in your ear, “You’re still an asshole.”

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Later that evening, my mother texted me to say that my grandmother had passed away.

I guess I’ll point out here that April is also Autism Awareness Month and both my penpal and my grandmother were on the spectrum. I want to write something profound about the similarities and differences of their deaths, but death is just messed up and sad no matter what your brain is like. My grandmother had been depressed, lonely, and far more ill than we had suspected. She was terrified of being alone, but too socially anxious to go to a facility where she would have to meet new people. It was hell for her and it had gotten to the point where I was too emotionally overwhelmed by the anxiety she projected onto me to look after her anymore.

My penpal was going through a divorce and striking out on his own again. We met at the Inaugural Southeast Adult Autism Symposium last year. We hit it off instantly and I was attracted to him. Although he was older than me by about twenty years, we were intellectually simpatico and his energy felt good. We started corresponding (he’s in Atlanta) and I really wished he was with me on my phantasmagoric New York trip. He used to live there. He was working again, as was I, and I was looking forward to hanging out at a conference later in April as we’d planned. He swore to me the last time I saw him that the next time we met we’d both have jobs. I was doubtful, but damn if he wasn’t right.

I skipped out on the conference.

I suppose the difference between them is that one lived long enough to suffer and one suffered enough to die. God save us from dying too young or dying too old. From dying too swiftly or dying too slowly.

I had a bad meltdown the next evening after it all sunk in. I got into some old brown liquor I found in the back of my freezer. I hate brown liquor (it was for a recipe really), but I was beyond caring. I went into a walking, raging black out. I’m sure I left some messages on my penpal’s voicemail that are pretty epic. Somehow I ended up locking myself out of my house buck naked, but somehow still (presumably) holding my cellphone, because I woke up in my parent’s spare bedroom sans the bed. (They don’t have a key to my place, so I ended up there). I was in some random clothes that didn’t fit, lying on a pile of broken picture frames and dust bunnies. I had to pick some staples out of my arm.

I was the sickest from a hangover I’ve ever been for the next two days. I didn’t make it to my grandmother’s funeral. I had a few abrasions and the power on my block went out for some reason, but I’ve had much worse meltdowns, just not in a while. Only in the last week have I felt a bit better.

It’s been a slog.

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Other shit happened this month, but I will only mention one more thing because it’s the least boring and most believable. A semi-famous Scottish author I hooked up with in my youth wrote a memoir about his time living in America and I’m in it. It’s not flattering (or accurate), but he was a #MeToo creep and I was going through the most messed up stage of my life. I guess the lesson is don’t have “empty sex” with a globe-trotting douchebag and then poke around on his author page years later.

Happy May, people.