Monkey Pliers

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Meet Me At the Intersection

A Post by Monkey Pliers
on November 23, 2013

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  November 2013 is the very first Autistic History Month. Autistics have probably been around for as long as people have been around, but the recording of our history as know Autistics could only begin with our being identified as such. That didn't happen until the 1940s. But I'm not actually writing this blog post to talk about that early beginning. We also have a movement going on, involving advocating for ourselves: our needs, our rights, our inclusion, our acceptance as people - the people we really are, not the one's we're mistakenly perceived as being or the ones others would like us to be. This has been going on for years, although most of the wider world has been unaware of it. In fact, until fairly recently, I was unaware of it myself. My diagnosis in July of 2012 and my contact with other Autistics, much of it through social media, have changed that. But this post isn't about that part of our history, either, because the ones who have lived it are much more qualified than I to tell of it. I leave it to them, therefore, to do so, and I strongly encourage everyone - whether on the spectrum or not - to learn from them. Whatever I do, I stand on the foundation built by the hard work of those who've been at this far longer than I, both Autistics and progressive parents (and others) who've listened to them, alike.

  I'm coming into this movement while things are already rolling, so I feel the need to look at where we are now. But that doesn't mean I don't have a historical perspective. It's just that it's informed by my understanding of the history of other movements, some of which I've been a conscious part of for a good deal longer. When I came out of the closet, at age 15, it was 1983. The Gay Alliance was a small room at the back of the local co-op, with a couple of even smaller offices and a tiny bathroom off the main room. To get there, we had to first go into a neighborhood that was, at that time, in the midst of one of its troubled downswings, then walk through a narrow passageway between the co-op and the fence next to the pizza place beside it, and finally take a short outdoor set of steps up to a door that led to a longer indoor staircase leading to the second floor of the back of the building. The outdoor steps had a railing to which the initials of the name of our Alliance had been attached. I remember someone mentioning once how risky it was to be seen going there, especially at night, by anyone who might know what those letters stood for or what was up there.

  When I was introduced to the community back then, there was no youth group. Adult volunteers had been hard to find during a previous effort to form one, due to their fear of being accused of abusing the bodies and corrupting the minds of young people. By the time I came along, though, the push from youth like me for the Alliance to provide meeting space and time resulted in a call for adult volunteers that produced an abundance of folks ready to help. Something had shifted. The Gay Rights Movement had progressed beyond its initial stages and begun to mature. Parents were beginning to get more involved on a supportive level. We were looking to be better seen and heard in more contexts than just protests. Amongst our ranks, we were talking about theory, culture, and diversity both internal to and intersecting with our community. I learned that coming out wasn't just a moment of truth and self-realization at the end of a long struggle to hide and conform; it was a process - and a thing to celebrate.

  Clinging to old attitudes and mounting a new backlash, homophobes responded to our increasing visibility and societal acceptance by stepping up their efforts at publicly spewing venom about us and demanding legislative crackdown. They wanted to undo our progress and prevent any further success, and they were bent on shouting us down with the same messages the mainstream had always been fed about us. They labeled our people child molesters. They said we were sick and sinful. They accused us of destroying the traditional family. They heaped blame for the ills of society upon us. They called us a growing threat to morality and decency. Within this atmosphere, people saw us as disgusting even for doing so much as holding hands in public, and we could be thrown out of any number of venues for doing so. As AIDS began to sweep through, causing devastation amongst us, they claimed we were the cause of it and that it was God's punishment not only of us, but of society at large for tolerating our existence. The taint of our association with AIDS made having HIV all the more stigmatizing for anyone found to be positive, whether a member of our community or not, and regardless of how it had been transmitted. While homosexuality was no longer universally considered a mental illness, as it once had been, some still clung to this ignorant view, and so it was still possible for parents to have their children committed to institutions in an attempt to cure them of it. Cops could still peek in the bedroom windows of consenting adults and arrest them for sexual acts they'd been caught committing privately, in their own homes. Beatings and killings took place on the streets, as they sometimes still do today. But back then, judges routinely let the perpetrators go, with the argument that the homosexuality of the victims was what caused - even compelled - the aggressors to act. Even heterosexuals could be made to suffer when merely mistaken for being otherwise.

  But we knew we were making headway, and the growing number of organizations that sprang up to oppose us was actually evidence of this. They were groups dedicated to villainizing us, shouting us down, and using the government and legal system to attempt to crush us out of existence. Some tried to convince us to believe we were damaged and that they could "heal" us into their version of normality. Some pressured us to think God disapproved of us and that we needed to abstain from our so-called "evil" ways, even if we would always have our nasty little feelings of love and attraction, and so we were told we should follow the model for addiction recovery in order to get right with God. Some tried to combine those two approaches into the notion that faith could cure us. Many of us suffered greatly while buying into these horrible notions. Others suffered while openly refusing to buy in. And many, many people suffered in secret, afraid to ever let anyone know the truth about them. Too many of those, sadly, used siding with our oppressors to help hide themselves, and only they can know what this truly did to them, though the rest of us might be able to hazard a pretty good guess.

  I sat in meetings. I went to marches, demonstrations, rallies, and parades. I put up flyers. I was very out and spoke openly to the people I knew or casually encountered about the truth of my being whenever the subject arose. I wore T-shirts with slogans. I contacted my representatives. I participated in various political actions, some serious and some filled with humor and fun. I watched things change before my very eyes, such as marriage moving from something considered so ridiculous that almost nobody even bothered to discuss it, unless it was to make a joke, to becoming a reality in many states and no longer being banned on the Federal level. We're not anything like done yet, with all the violence and oppression that still take place. But what an incredible ride! See how far we've come! Look where we are now!

  I've been a member of various marginalized groups all my life. To begin with, I live in a female body. What's more, while a person in that body, I'm attracted to others who are also in female bodies. In addition, I don't conform to society's expectations regarding how people in female bodies should look or behave in general. Furthermore, my inner concept of myself doesn't match that body. However, I'm okay with that and prefer not to change my body to match my inner sense of self; in other words, I'm gender juxtaposed, and I like it. I don't feel offended by anyone's choice of gender pronouns with regard to me, as long as they're not trying to be disrespectful, so don't anybody stress over it, okay? And I generally prefer the women's restrooms (which I tend to find to be a bit nicer - no offense, guys), so don't worry I'll show up somewhere and freak anybody out, unless I look boyish enough to unintentionally pass as physically male to those who go by things such as clothes and hair. In that case, just deal with it. You'll recover, I'm sure.

  I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia at the age of 19, back when it was still called fibrositis. The majority of doctors had not yet heard of it, and a good many didn't believe in it if they had. As something mostly women were diagnosed with, it was easily dismissed, especially since no one could find the cause of it. Most people diagnosed at that time were more like the age I am now, so it was even harder for those around me to grasp what was wrong and why I couldn't, as such a young person, do more as they did and better meet their expectations for me. I learned then what it meant to have a disability the world couldn't see and didn't understand.

  I'm also the product of a mixed marriage between a Christian mother of mostly, perhaps entirely, varied European descent and a Jewish father of mostly, perhaps entirely, Semitic descent (as opposed to one who converted to Judaism or whose family converted to the religion at some point). Because of the sociopolitical nature of what people commonly refer to as "race", as well as the drop law mentality that can sometimes be involved in racially oriented thinking, this creates a situation in which I'm only as white to white people as they would like me to be. If, with my light skin and hair, I look like I could be a good ally against people of color (You're on our side, right?), or if seeing me as a racial "other" feels awkward to those interested in my friendship, I magically become as white as they are (as though my heritage were only European, or as though my other heritage could be generously overlooked). If I encounter a more, shall we say, exclusively minded crowd, my skin and hair will never be light enough for me to "qualify" as being one of them. Of course, this is all about what happens whenever my heritage has become known. Even if I never mentioned it, which I casually do whenever the subject comes up for some reason, it would be easy enough for someone who wanted to know to find out about it. It's not as though it's been hidden. However, until that information is revealed, my appearance usually causes the same assumptions to be made about me, and the same privileges to be extended, as would be with any person of entirely European descent. Uh, this actually feels a little weird for me whenever I discover it's happening, folks...

  While I'm at this, I might as well mention that I find the statement, "Perceiving Jews as not being white plays into the hands of anti-Semites," (a thing I've actually been told) to be patently racist. For one thing, why do I need to ask whites not to harm me because I'm supposedly white like them? That's a reason? Really? And for another, why should I not only forget or distance myself from Jews of other skin tones with this kind of thinking but also reject association with others categorized as Semites who are not Jewish and are not considered white by most whites, regardless of skin tone, such as Arabs? The bottom line seems to be that the ones who ultimately get to decide who's in this club and who's not are the ones with only European ancestors, because they're the ones with the institutionalized power. Do I fit that description? No.

  If you're Jewish and light skinned, I'm not telling you that you can't think of yourself as white if you want to, but I don't. I also don't think of myself as a person of color, because I've come to feel that I occupy a sort of nebulous, complicated territory that leaves me always on the fringe, or in a precarious middle, in some sense. Some of the white people I've tried to explain this to have had trouble understanding what I'm talking about. However, though it could happen at some point, I have yet to tell this to a person of color who doesn't "get it". To some people, I'm an example of why mixed marriages should never occur. Others don't really seem to care. Speaking for myself, I'm used to seeing others get confused or uptight over something about me because I'm not what they expect. Big deal. I just know that the only way for me to have both the necessary freedom and the right perspective to examine things such as the way I benefit from privilege and how I actually connect with others is to abandon the notion of clinging to a fickle designation that feels like only a façade, while also refraining from adopting another categorization that might indicate, to some, the claim of a type of ongoing experience and struggle that I haven't had.

  Enter my Asperger's diagnosis. (See? We've arrived at last!) Initially, I thought I was just getting some answers, so I could finally fill in some blanks in my understanding of myself and make the 44 years of my life up to that point make better sense. I had no idea what I was really in for. I knew early on that there were some matters of ignorance and prejudice to be overcome, both within me and around me. But I had no idea of the extent of that, by any means. No sooner had I begun to figure out how this new knowledge fit into my self-concept than I was suddenly hit with the wave of hatred that arose when the claim was made that various mass shooters of innocent people had had Asperger's. I immediately joined the chorus of Autistics and those who care about us in decrying the depraved and damaging image of Autistics created by that (probably false, though it doesn't really matter) assumption, and I was off and running. From there to objecting to the killings of our population by their caregivers and the sympathy afforded their murderers, while the victims went ignored or their autism was blamed as the cause of their victimization, to fighting back against the hate speech and other bad practices of Autism Speaks (and anyone else who tries to use devaluing and dehumanizing us to raise money and further their questionable aims), I've been trying to keep up with what's going on while coping with the fact that I now know myself to be a member of yet another group with a movement to carry on and a long way to go. All this, and I'm not anywhere near the end of figuring out my personal journey with autism.

  I'm not new to activism, as I've said. I'm also not new to seeing parallels between different kinds of oppression, though each one has its own unique flavor. That's why my politics are so intersectional, though I didn't always have that particular term at my disposal. "Othering" (another word I didn't have before)? Check. Fear of the "other" as somehow inherently dangerous? Check. Villainization, including claims that the "other" causes destruction of some valued institution? Check. Fretting, for one reason or another, over the threat supposedly posed by this "otherness" to children? Check. Speaking of the "other" as diseased, as threatening to spread their "otherness" to an increasingly dangerous degree, and as an entity to be purged in some fashion (by "curing", preventing, or wiping out either the "otherness" or the "others" themselves)? Check. Exclusion, stereotyping, and bullying to "protect" the dominant group, justify doing so, and control/punish the "other"? Check. Efforts made by the dominant group at forcing assimilation and compliance on the part of the "other"? Check. And on it goes.

  One feature of my particular brand of neurodivergence is that, for most of my life, I've felt a sense of separation and foreignness between me and those around me. An advantage of this is that it makes little difference to me whether I feel foreign around people I'm supposed to think are like me or around those I'm supposed to think are unlike me. I understood my mother to be the same way, back when she and I talked about various moments of our lives and how we felt about them. I don't know if she would've been diagnosable, but I believe she definitely had certain spectrum traits. Maybe this initial sense of disconnection is what allows me to connect, in the end, with other "others" pretty much across the board. (I can't promise to be perfect in this, of course. I'm only human.) So, here I am, with a stock of terminology, some of which is new to me (such as "kyriarchy", a term coined by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in 1992, which refers to the circumstantially based way people dominate and oppress each other, based on the fact that members of groups that are oppressed can also simultaneously be members of other groups that are oppressors, so that there's a complex interplay going on in society at all times), and some of which I've had access to for some time (such as "powerism", my own term, which I invented in the late 1980s or early 1990s to refer to the use of institutionally derived power generally and to indicate that oppression is the result of the social acceptability within a dominant group of attacking any other particular group, rather than being caused by the other group's traits or characteristics). I'm also armed with the aforementioned activist history and awareness of a complex identity. Am I ready to face this new challenge? Do I feel equipped to try and help create change for a better tomorrow? You bet.

  I may not have been among the ones to start this movement, but I'm certainly on board for working together to carry it forward. I will bring everything I have to bear, be it tools, experience, creativity, or whatever guts and determination I can pull up in times of need, to put an end to the harm that's been done to us (much of which you don't have to be diagnosed to be exposed to, if you want to know the truth) and to bring our humanity and personhood to light, so we can be treated with the same dignity, respect, acceptance, and decency as everyone else. This means society will have to change, and I'll have to push for it to do so. People will have a lot to learn, and I'll have to be ready and willing to teach. Some groups and individuals might spread misinformation. I'll have to be one of many making the effort to counter that with correct information. And when their voices are loud and persistent, I'll not only have to keep on with my own voice, I'll be sure to make every effort to amplify the voices of others - especially the voices those of us who have the greatest difficulty being heard. And when those who have unnecessarily feared and maligned us are ready to question their previously held views, I'm going to be ready for some respectful, patient, open minded, open hearted discussion.

  November is Autistic History Month.
The movement towards
acceptance, accommodation,
and full inclusion is on.
Let's make Autistic history

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Jen at Down Wit Dat is doing another blog hop.
It is open to all blogs in the disability and special needs communities:
self-advocates, allies, parent advocates, and others
are encouraged to share posts.
The November 2013 theme is
Autistic History Month
- but if you can't participate in the theme,
other posts about advocacy or activism are also welcome.

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