Thursday, November 1, 2012

Autistics Speaking Day Post One: Tone Argument is Bullshit

As today is Autistics Speaking Day and I don’t blog enough as it is, today will be a double header blog post.  This first one will be less formal/proper than the second, which won’t be too overly formal as it is.  So, without further ado:

First Blog Post (Second Post will probably come tomorrow)

In which I Chronicle Exactly Why Tone Argument is Concentrated Bullshit
(Just Add Water)

So, as you all know (or at least should know), the most excellent Neurodivergent K of had a sort of run in with a local fantasy/science fiction convention, the details of which are recorded on K’s blog and tumblr (  The resounding talking points that privileged folks and various super-reformist appeasers in our own ranks repeat is that people are reasonable, kind beings who will give us our rights and treat us with respect if we merely ask politely, appeal to their better senses of reason and decency, and give them due chance to be good people, we will get our rights.  The resounding argument of the “reasonable people” and “good Autistics” is that politeness and courtesy will always pay off and that there is really no reason to be in any way belligerent.

Of course, said people will be prompt to argue that I am painting too broad of a brush stroke, saying that of course there is a time for belligerence, but we merely haven’t reached it yet.  This is the problem that pervades “legitimate” and “reasonable” anti-oppression circles.  To the devout reformist, the traitor, and the pseudo-ally, oppressors are always just about to concede rights to the oppressed per their talks with the legitimate and reasonable representatives of the oppressed class.  I’m sure we all remember how the Wagner Act, the eight hour workday, child labor laws, minimum wage, and other such worker protections were won by Samuel Gompers, his successors,  and their AFL cronies sitting down with the bosses and the Democratic Party and negotiating for workers’ rights.  Sit-down strikes such as the Flint Sitdown Strike of 1937, any of the other hundreds of sitdown strikes that occurred that same year, or other such radical actions taking course over the early 20th Century labor movement clearly had nothing to do with it.  The simple fact is that the devout reformists and their cronies will never believe that there is a point in which radical or confrontational action is warranted; they may concede that such a point exists in theory, but I know of no historical example of a reformist being radical or confrontational without openly denouncing reformism in the process.

Reformists are always quick to point to Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence as an example of the great victories won by devout reformism, attempting to differentiate him from the “radical” voice of Malcolm X.  Aside from being thoroughly appropriative of the struggle against racism in the US (as most of the people articulating this philosophy are white), this viewpoint reflects a profound misunderstanding of the history of the struggle against racism in the US and King’s role therein.

The first myth about King was that his opposition to racism was not “radical”.  White liberals want to divide the radicals from the reformists by pretending that King was promoting a “harmony at any cost” line, contrasted with Malcolm X’s allegedly “anti-white” ideology.  These characterizations are purely political and divisive in nature.  Although they had ideological differences to be sure, by no stretch of the imagination did King hold this naïve notion that negotiating with oppressors would win liberation for the oppressed.  King writes in his letter from a Birmingham Jail, "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."  (

There are several historical points around King and the Civil Rights Movement that have been completely sterilized from history books to make King safe for Imperialists to teach to in their schools.  Herein I will right these historical inaccuracies widely believe by white “liberals” who seem hellbent on appropriating King:

1. King’s philosophy of nonviolence served a purpose other than moral/ethical purity.  Some historians have argued that King loudly preached nonviolence in an attempt to protect the Civil Rights movement from violence that was sparked by the media playing the “dangerous Black man” stereotype.

2. While King’s branch of the anti-racist struggle practiced nonviolence, they did still resisted racism confrontationally.  They did not sit in libraries and write letters to the editors, unlike what white liberals would love to think.  They were out on the streets and in the segregated rooms refusing police orders to move.  They might have been nonviolent, but nonviolence does not, nor will it ever, imply non-resistance.

The Martin Luther King Jr. that white liberals worship is a mythological figure that bore little resemblance to the Martin Luther King Jr. that actually led a major portion of the anti-racist struggle.  Given the mythologies that white liberals perpetuate about a nonconfrontational civil rights movement, is it surprising the Glenn Beck, ardent racist, capitalist, and anti-Semite, tried to “reclaim” the name of King to the political far right?  We have only privileged liberal activists to thank for this development.  The fact was that King was most certainly a radical in the struggle against racism in the US.  

Now that my direct polemics against the reformists have been aired, I will proceed to tell everyone the story about exactly how the tone argument fails.  So, as anyone who read about the Orycon incident knows, K was perfectly courteous to the Orycon organizers when extending the initial question and only became more confrontational as they showed their resolve to condescend in the extreme in explaining that they had parents, who were close enough, an issue which I will thoroughly address in my second post of today.  Now, someone could make the absurdly ableist argument that K, being Autistic, was unaware of how impolite she was being, but the pursuant story is direct contradiction to this claim.

So the first piece of relevant information to this story is, strangely enough, my occupation.  For those of you who don’t know, I work in non-profit development.  My position incorporates aspects of business management, public relations, and fundraising know-how.  The relevance of all of this is that my job requires a high level of social skills in order for me to be successful.  I am required to manage a staff of students, interact with prospective donors, interact with our client on a daily basis, interact with a remotely stationed data team via email and phone calls, and interact with my remotely stationed direct superior via email and phone calls.  Additionally, four times every year, we hold a meeting with the upper management within my client institution during which I must appear professional and after which I usually attend a business social lunch with the upper management of my client institution.  The purpose here, other than making myself look awesome and making every Autistic who reads this post cringe at the mere thought of what this is like (and yes, it pretty much just as bad as you’d imagine), is to communicate that I am required to communicate with professional level courtesy, something with which most allistics struggle.

The second set of relevant background to this story is that K is a good friend of mine and a fellow swing dancer and that people profoundly suck at make dances accessible to epileptics due to society’s collective inability to remember that they had fun without snapping eight hundred billion flashed pictures chronicling the fun event, an ongoing issue chronicled here (with related posts linked in that post).  K was coming to visit me to attend a swing dance event in New York called “Big Apple Balboa, Blue, and Lindy Exchange” or “BABBLE”.  We clearly had reason to believe that accessibility was going to be an issue, especially given K’s issues with it in the past.

Deciding to be proactive about the situation, I reached out to the dance organizer via email, utilizing the full extent of my professional level courtesy and communication skills.  Not only did I communicate the situation tactfully, but I managed to insert all of the irrelevant fluff that is so necessary in allistic communications.  This communication style, which the two of us have dubbed “content free speech” or “CFS” for short due to its excessive use of words and ideas that do not add any information or content to what is being said, was so effective that K found my fluency in the communication style somewhat unnerving when I sent her drafts of the emails.  To say that I was polite would be a profound understatement; I went against all of the communication methods endemic to my neurology with the express purpose of being “winning”.  Eventually, after a long string of emails explaining what was needed and an extended delay in communications that prompted us to make other plans for that weekend, we got an email letting us know that BABBLE was planning on making sure that the Saturday night dance was accessible.  My reaction was that this was all a day late and a dollar short; K (who is constantly accused of being unreasonable) was the one who felt that we ought to go because of the positive reaction from BABBLE’s organizers.  We made plans to get there after eating some East Village sushi (because we are both sushi junkies and the East Village rocks for that) on Saturday.  “A victory for courtesy, reasonableness, and respect!” exclaim the devout reformists.

As we arrived at the dance venue on the greatly Autistic and epileptic unfriendly 34th St. in Manhattan amidst the plethora of tow trucks with strobing lights, sirens, and the 34th St. buses which have strobing lights on the front of them, we walked into the venue, which was playing recorded music (rather than the expected live music) with a strong subwoofer, something which I had explicitly communicated was an accessibility violation.  K and I grabbed a taxi to Union Square as quickly as possible and spared ourselves the cost of attending an inaccessible dance in Manhattan, but we had already spent major spoon reserves dodging the inaccessible midtown Manhattan and dealing with a singularly frustrating night.

Somehow, despite my professional level courtesy, BABBLE did not make their dance accessible.  In fact, they even directly lied and said that they planned to make their dance accessible when it clearly wasn’t.  One self-advocate likes to profusely make the analogy to Aikido (often while flagrantly ignoring the culturally appropriative nature of such analogies), drawing quotes from Japanese texts about the ethics of self-defense.  These analogies clearly fail to understand the reality of the situation; when one is entrenched in a war against an oppressive society, extreme courtesy, which is often mistaken for extreme passivity, is taken as a license to walk all over you.  If my cautionary tale does not serve as warning enough, please let the plethora of abuse victims testify to the falseness of the claim “if only you didn’t provoke your abuser”; this is an excuse again and again.  An abuser will abuse you, regardless of what you do.  When you make these victim blame statements, you are moving blame from the abuser to the victim.  You are failing to hold the abuser accountable for their actions.  You are enabling their abuse.  You are effecting abuse in the future.  It is no different with oppression.

The history of abuse and oppression might be the direct fault of abusers and oppressors, but it cannot continue with the long line of victim blaming that privileged bystanders and devout reformists have made endemic to their ideology.

The author is a white Autistic blogger.  Should any person of color feel that the statements made about King and the struggle against racism in the US were inaccurate, inappropriate, or otherwise problematic or should they have anything that they wish to be added, subtracted, multiplied, divided, translated, rotated, resized, or any other way transformed, please alert the author and such transformations will be enacted post haste.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Rhetoric Around Carly Fleischmann

To all readers who are unaware, the phrase “intellectual disability(ies)” refers to the condition formerly known clinically as “mental retardation”, which is defined as having an officially tested IQ under 70.

Attention people of the world—there is an issue here that needs to be discussed and publicly. There is a video that is (re)surfacing about Carly Fleischmann, a young non-speaking Autistic woman who at the age of 11 showed her family that she was able to communicate in the English language by using a computer and later, if memory serves, an iPad. This is awesome. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) is something that needs to be talked about more, to be more widely researched, and to be more widely propagated. This is a distinctly good thing that has arisen from Carly’s story.

The not so good thing is how it’s propagated in the media. The title of the particular link that I see everywhere is “Girl who was Thought to be Mentally Retarded Finds her Voice.” I am truly glad that Carly found a way to communicate to the speaking world. I am likewise glad that her abilities, which had been profoundly underestimated because of ableism, are being recognized. These are the sorts of things that Autistic activists live to see and want for all of our fellow Autistics. We fight for this every day.

My issue is this—the way this video and the media in general frame Carly’s story gives me the distinct impression that most people’s thought process goes a bit like this—“Oh, she’s not retarded. How awful it must have been for her to be undervalued as one of them.” Essentially, that she was wrongfully undervalued because everyone thought that she had an intellectual disability, but now that she has shown that she does not have an intellectual disability, she is considered more deserving of human dignity than before.

I want you to pause and think about the ableism inherent to that whole piece of discourse.  The way that everyone frames this story only serves to reinforce the idea that people with intellectual disabilities are not valuable people and that in order to be considered a valuable person Carly had to demonstrate that she did not have an intellectual disability. In fact, it reminds me of this video where Amanda Baggs explains this whole issue much more eloquently.

Yes, Autistics who cannot consistently speak should have access to AAC so that they can navigate the world. It’s terrific that Carly got that. But that didn’t make her a more valuable person once this metaphorical Schrödinger’s Box was opened and showed that the cat wasn’t intellectually disabled. The lesson here shouldn’t be “don’t undervalue people who might have intellectual disabilities because you don’t know if they are actually of average ‘intelligence’ and therefore valuable.” Rather, we should recognize that all people have value, regardless of their intelligence. The fact that the former seems to be the lesson, the fact that “not a retard” is considered a compliment, says absolutely nothing good and everything bad about this society.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Why Trying to be Normal is Positively the Worst Idea Ever

Okay, so this blog has not been put to use in years, but I figure now is as good of a time as any to post here, so here you go.

All right.  So...

To preface the content of this post, a life update and a geography lesson of sorts is in order.  I live in New York City, I'm still Autistic, still an Existentialist, and I work in a Real Job (TM) now.  Also, New York City is a lot to deal with some times.  I mean, a lot to deal with.  Anyone who knows NYC at all knows that there are five boroughs (sometimes spelled "boros") and the borough that everyone thinks of when they think of New York City is Manhattan.  Manhattan is bright lights and yellow taxis (making yellow car here the most horrific/awesome thing ever) and marquises and sections of town that look identical at 2 AM and 2 PM (non-New Yorkers think I'm kidding about this).

Manhattan is also loud.  It's really loud.  Those yellow taxis that are the embodiment of all of the charm of New York City are also the worst sensory offenders in the universe.  You see, those taxis often don't have their brakes in particularly good repair because fixing brakes costs money and city driving is hard on brakes, so a red light on Sixth Ave. is literally audible because all of those brakes start squealing at exactly the same time.  Taxi drivers also tend to be the angriest drivers on the street because, hey, driving in Manhattan is stressful.  In fact, it is so stressful that I refuse to do it if I can at all help it.  However, stressed out drivers like to honk their horns.  A lot.  And those horns are loud, especially considering that, for being outside, Manhattan is a pretty live area acoustically.  Then there is the ambient noise pollution of the city, the sounds of subways rushing underneath your feat, people talking really loudly (and brightly too), and people who think that the whole world wants to be subjected to their awful music or even just their awful music's bassline.

Now, despite this horrific picture that I've built up of Manhattan, it's usually fairly tolerable as long as one avoids certain parts of town (any place between 30th st. and 50th st. should be ventured to at your own risk) and avoids staying on avenues (the wide north-south roads that contain most of the traffic) for too long.  It's still rough, but, like that one co-worker you have, it's manageable.

Or rather, it's manageable if you are running with a standard spoon reserve.  However, ideal situations are generally rare and I don't always find myself in Manhattan with a high balance showing in my spoon checking account or just can't find the spoon ATM (whatever that means in this metaphor).  So then I have to brave the streets of New York, the subway systems, and the everything in a way that leaves me unduly exhausted and emotional.  It's not a good scene.

So that was the situation tonight.  I was in Manhattan and got into a super-upsetting conversation with someone and ended up severely short-spooned.  In fact, I was so short-spooned that I refused to take the subway, which was too noisy and crowded for me tonight.  Instead I opted to take the Long Island Railroad (LIRR).  However, there is a slight trade off here: while the LIRR is much more sensory friendly than the subway, there is only one stop at 34th st., meaning that I had to walk uptown from where I was at 13th st. and I could not avoid spending some quality time on an avenue.  Everything went okay for a while, but eventually, the noise of the avenue got to me and I took refuge inside an open door, which happened to be the door to a CVS pharmacy.

While in the pharmacy, I got the idea to buy earplugs.  I've had this idea before, but for some reason never acted on it.  While a number of factors were at play, I suspect that some notion that "I have to function as much like a normal person as I possibly can" was a major part of it.  However, the situation was bad enough that I decided that I was over it and I wanted earplugs.  After spending some time looking for them (as finding things in stores is hard), I managed to get a pack (along with a drink), jam that shit into my ears, and set off for the train station.

The difference was staggering.  Truly.  I was in disbelief that making this one sensory accommodation which any person with five dollars and the right to enter a pharmacy can acquire could possibly make such a difference.  Yes, I was still frazzled.  Yes, taxi brakes and car horns and sirens still hurt, but they were (again) manageable.  I made it to Penn Station, took my train, got a cab, and made it home without being auditorily assaulted by the machinations of this commercial municipality.

So what is the moral of this story?  Well, part of the reason that I didn't get earplugs for the longest time was this notion that I should attempt to be as normal as possible.  It wasn't conscious, but I think that I kind of felt like it was a failing on my part that I couldn't handle it like everyone else does.  Even though anyone who knows me knows that I am not ashamed of my neurology, this aspect of internalized ableism prevented me from making the a major portion of my city greatly more accessible to me.  So fellow Autistics, please take advice from my experience weathered mouth (I say this slightly tongue-in-cheek): if something that minor is going to make that big of a change, it's probably worth doing and you will probably be in equal disbelief at how much it helps.

But, more importantly, to parents, guardians, teachers, friends, families, pet iguanas, parrots, maids, butlers, employers, and acquaintances of Autistics, you bear the burden of making this aspect of internalized ableism, if not a non-issue, then at least as small of an issue as is humanly possible.  Encourage your Autistic child/student/friend/relative/master/employer/employee/acquaintance to do these things and create an environment where no shame is attached to doing these things.  Teach them that it is okay and even good for them to live Autistically rather than imposing this idea on them that they need to live normally.  Remember the goal is to "get the job done", so to speak.  Attempting to get the job done "normally" will often result in the metaphorical job not getting done and almost always in a great deal of unnecessary strife.