I don't think I'm one of them either. I'm one of mine.

Month: March 2024

Dumb Dichotomies: the settler/Indigenous construct

When you divide Americans (as well as others from similar culture) into “settlers” and “Indigenous,” you are unintentionally excluding Black people, who were brought to this continent by force. Stolen people did not steal this land. Instead, we were stolen from our own lands. This kind of good-and-evil, dichotomous thinking doesn’t stop anti-Indigenous racism. Instead, it just drives wedges and ends up alienating Black people.

(There is so much about “anti-imperialist” and “decolonial” cant that makes me want to pitch something out of a window—and I come from a miscellany of colonised cultures. I do not feel represented by these people at aaaaaaaaall. It’s sad when you have friends and colleagues talking like this, but you don’t want to make them feel bad.)

Why I’m post-autistic

I’m post-autistic. Saying I’m not autistic is disingenuous, but I’m not in love with the label and use it only for convenience and politics. Here’s why, in classic bullet-point form:

  • I keep finding myself thinking, “What the hell do you mean by autistic, anyway?” This is because there are several neurotypes associated with the diagnostic criteria for autism, not one. (But I also don’t think the old structure was ideal, either, since the Asperger Syndrome construct was also heterogeneous—and connected with a Nazi collaborator.)
  • The accommodations each autistic person needs are too heterogeneous for a single label. People with intellectual disabilities have relatively straightforward accommodations: slower instructional pace, easier materials, more explanations, more patience, more adaptive supports. Autistic people, on the other hand? Make it faster, make it slower. Be more abstract, be less abstract. Be more explicit, be less explicit. Be more linear, be less linear. Use a firm and even tone, be sensitive to your tone of voice and adapt it as necessary. These accommodations are sometimes self-contradictory.
  • I have honestly had an easier time with many non-autistic managers than autistic ones, despite our both being autistic. This is because some autistic people in positions of authority use an ABA-like approach to managing. Your feelings don’t matter, only your behaviour, and they never sit down to try to understand why you may be responding a certain way.
  • Attributing all my eccentrities and atypical abilities to autism reminds me too much of my early childhood, where everything, everything, that wasn’t standard issue was attributed to PDD-NOS, and therefore ready to be restricted, tamed, denied, or suppressed.
  • I hate the “high-functioning”/“low-functioning” bullshit. The same goes for “you’re not like my child.” But acknowledging that the autism label is imperfect, or that it shouldn’t be used in a totalising way, is not the same thing as that.
  • Autism isn’t always a developmental disability. It’s better described as asynchronous or differentiated development, especially among certain populations.
  • I have less in common with hyposensitive autistic people than I do with neurotypicals. I’m hypersensitive, that’s why, and NTs and hypersensitive autistic people are better at picking up tone of voice and body language than hyposensitive autistic people. (My affect is calm, though, and it’s hard to get a rise out of me despite my sensitivity.)
  • I think some people end up using the autism label to pathologise being highly intelligent, creative, or sensitive—and the saddening part is that I keep seeing creative, sensitive, and intelligent people using the diagnosis to apologise for themselves. That’s heartbreaking.

I’ll write more about post-autism later, but these are preliminary thoughts, always subject to change and refinement.

 

Conversion therapy is bullshit

(These are old memories, once thought to be lost, but they’re back again. Trauma tends to do that to people.)

I’m a survivor of conversion therapy.

No, I wasn’t diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, but I did have a childhood diagnosis of Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), otherwise known as atypical autism. And it was the PDD-NOS diagnosis that my family used to suppress anything that was “abnormal,” including my gender dysphoria. They used Applied Behavioural Analysis, which uses operant conditioning (aka, the methods used in dog training) to get people to conform to a particular behaviour pattern. If I did anything that was “for boys,” I’d be punished with an aversive stimulus, like having water sprayed in my face or forcing my hands to touch glue. (I’m transmasculine.) The goal was to get me to act traditionally feminine, even though I’d been androgynous or masculine before then. I’d never really liked dolls or anything like that before ABA. But after that, I was showered with doll after doll after doll on Christmas and birthdays. I did end up liking dolls after a while, but they were mostly characters for me to enact stories with, not a thing to enjoy in themselves. (I kept getting into trouble for giving them weird haircuts and drawing tattoos on them anyway.) If it wasn’t normative, if it wasn’t prissy, if it wasn’t cutesy, it had to be stamped out.

Everything was treated like a symptom, and therefore invalid and in need of cure. Of course, every single bit of the conversion therapy washed out. I was still masculine. I still preferred to play with other boys, since girls were socialised to be dainty and refuse to blow things up or get dirty. I still preferred to run out and play in the mud instead of have tea parties. When Mattel came out with Flying Hero Barbie, I was disappointed that she was rescuing cats from trees instead of beating up supervillains. (Not long before that, I’d drafted a letter to Mattel asking to create a superhero Barbie who defeated gun-toting evildoers. My mom confiscated it for her own amusement.) And whenever I imitated voices on TV, they were virtually always those of deep-voiced men. Of course, tomboys exist, but I wasn’t a tomboy. When I was much younger, I could tell that I wanted to be like the deep-voiced, flat-chested adults who were called “he.” Everything else matched that.

But nobody affirmed my gender identity and expression, and the only thing that changed when the conversion therapy wore off and I came out at 20 was that they were blaming Satan instead of autism, thanks to years of right-wing evangelical radicalisation. Regardless of whether it was Satan or autism, they saw it as a matter of behaviour that could be changed, not something integral to me and who I was. (Anti-gay conversion therapists think the same way. Virtually all sexists see gender nonconformity as correctable behaviour, not anything connected with a true self.)

I wasn’t even a person to them, just a flesh robot to be programmed. That’s what happens when you have a weird kid and want them to look normal and be compliant instead of wanting them to be happy. This is what happens when J.K. Rowling is connecting autism with trans self-discovery among youth. Leelah Alcorn’s suicide is what happens when you refuse to acknowledge who a trans youth is. And it’s what’s happening when Donald Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene make trans youth a political football in the run-up to this year’s elections.

But there is a word for parents who don’t care about their child’s happiness. And that word is “abuser.”

Conversion therapy is abuse.

 

On using the “latest and greatest” language

I understand wanting to avoid offence, but the best way to do that isn’t by using the most up-to-date terms if community members aren’t even using them. I see terms like Latinx and even Latine being thrown around, and these terms are not popular outside progressive and leftist organising. Latine is particularly rare. People still use Hispanic if they’re from a Spanish-speaking Latin American culture like Mexico or Argentina. Not to mention, the best thing to do is refer to a specific ethnicity, such as Puerto Rican, Mexican, or Costa Rican instead. Latinx? Rarely. Latine? Practically never. I understand why people want to use gender-neutral labels, but there are more elegant ways to do that, including “Latin American” or even “Latin.” (Seriously, why bother with Latinx and Latine when you can just drop the final vowel and make it “Latin”?)

Over the past several years, some mental health advocates have shifted toward “psychiatric disability” from “mental illness,” but some international nonprofit organisations have already moved on from this and are now saying “psychosocial disabilities,” a term that your average person with a psychiatric condition will not recognise. There are enough people and organisations still saying “mental illness” that a term like “psychosocial disabilities” will seem alien to them. Even “psychiatric disabilities,” my preference, is still novel to them. You can’t hit people with too many novel terms or you’ll confuse them. This is one of my biggest problems with the state of left-wing activism these days. You need to introduce ideas to them slowly, with simple language, and all this jargon isn’t helping anybody get closer to understanding neurological or ethnic minorities (yes, I still use the word “minorities,” despite all the pushback I get outside this blog).

There are some cases in which the common term should be changed—for example, most of the terminology referring to high weight should be scrapped, since the primary term is a pejorative masquerading as a neutral medical term. But in this case, the community has roundly rejected it. This is not the case for expressions like Hispanic, Latino, or psychiatric disability (or even mental illness). None of these are pejoratives, and all of them are used by community members in ways that Latine is not.

A random list of political bullshit I’m tired of

  • Promoting “decolonial” or “postcolonial” movements that are just racist, nationalist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, chauvinistic, fascist, religious fundamentalist, reactionary, intolerant tripe that merely mirrors former colonisers’ crimes. Or if they’re not regressive right-wing juntas, they’re capitalist, “reformist” states that sell the country out to the highest imperialist bidder, as long as that imperialist isn’t one that they were recently ruled by. And, of course, some countries can exemplify both these tendencies. (America, Burma, Jamaica, Ukraine, Nigeria, Israel and Palestine, I’m looking at all of you.)
  • Related to the earlier point, promoting a “decolonial” (I actually hate this expression) approach that comes primarily from highly educated, upper-middle-class or upper-class members of colonised cultures. (Uh, like me. Just the highly educated part, though—I grew up working class and am now part of the squeezed middle-middle class.)
  • Thinking that all social injustices can be solved by voting in the right politicians.
  • Refusing to vote when one candidate is a milquetoast liberal and the other one is a borderline fascist. I don’t like centrist Democrats either, but Donald Trump was and is more dangerous. This kind of voting is harm reduction. (Unfortunately, it’s practically impossible to do foreign-policy harm reduction in American electoral politics—this needs to be a long-term project—but at least you can do something about domestic policy.)
  • Stringing together a lot of jargonistic terms that cause people to shut down. It feels as though I’m being hit over the head with words like bourgeois, settler-colonialist, base and superstructure, decolonial, carceral, cisheteropatriarchy, kyriarchy. You shouldn’t need a master’s degree in women’s & gender studies or political science to get involved with activism. I hate cops as much as the next leftist, but you should be clearer.
  • Repeating terms like neoliberal and bourgeois as though it were self-evident what they meant. (Admittedly, I have referred to neoliberalism here, and I probably shouldn’t have, since it’s vague.)