Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Response To "I'm Coming Out (As Autistic)"
When I wrote the article, I knew the intentional association I made with the movement for QUILTBAG/LGBTQAPI* Equality would cause some anger. Yesterday, Monday, was the first meeting of Abled-Disabled-Alliance, and I did get a question about the post, if indirectly. A friend of mine, and co-founder of the club, had a conversation with someone who was "offended [by the association]." I would like to take some time to explain why the comparison of gay rights to the Autistic rights movements are both apt and not complete. I did not get much of an idea of what they said, so I have come up with a sort of FAQ list about why I wrote the post. They are in no particular order.
1: Autism is innate and discriminated against from an early age.
Have you ever heard the song "Born This Way" by gay-ally Lady Gaga (and, yes, I do realize the intent of her ally-ship is in question)? The idea behind the song is that people are beautiful despite not following the expectations to be heteronormative. Essentially, if you were born to love whom you love, then denying you the right to feel normal is heinous. I bring up this song, because, when the song came out in 8th grade (before I had realized I actually liked some guys as well as girls) I identified with the song, because I was born "this" way. Sure, it felt like cultural appropriation, and it totally was, but why should I feel lesser just because my social interactions were stymied by my initial inability to understand the language of social interaction; or that noises and lights are perceived differently, so that a good time for one person is torture for me; or that in order to stay calm I need to stim? I reasoned I should not, because that is who I am and it does not hurt anyone.
2: Verbal Autistics like me, for the most part, can not be identified as such on spot, except by other Autistics.
Just as it is nearly impossible to recognize someone who is lesbian; gay; bisexual/pansexual; transgender--assuming they have "passing privilege" or wear clothing like the gender they were assigned at birth; and/or asexual, or any of the other myriad of different sexuality and genders, from just glancing, unless you know what you're looking for, Autistics can not truly be distinguished from NTs, unless they are non-verbal. This gives us what is called "passing privilege--" the ability for people to assume we are exactly like them. I've certainly have had people say to me "you're not Autistic, I couldn't even tell!" as though it is a compliment. No, it's not a compliment to tell me--with the experience that I have had, which you may or may not be aware of--essentially: "I'm so impressed that your years of exclusively working towards communicating in my way has resulted in you acting normally!" Similarly, many people who are intrinsically gender-nonconforming can be bullied and corralled to the point where they wear a dress, even if they wanted to wear jeans. Strict expectations are poisonous for everyone. Although distinct forms of oppression, the oppression of queers to act heteronormatively can be considered similar to neurodivergents being forced to act like neurotypicals. Which brings me to why I think it was a fair analogy to make:
3: Under certain frameworks, being gay, transgender, and including but not exclusive to being asexual can ABSOLUTELY be considered a "disability."
This was essentially the crux of this person's offense--if I interpreted it correctly: disability means not being able to do something, but gays are just like everyone else [i.e. heterosexual, cis-gendered, able-bodied, etc.]. You see, my impression was that someone who is gay can't enjoy sex with a cis-female. I don't know, maybe I'm somehow wrong here, but since asexuals don't derive pleasure from sex, they can't fulfill the heteronormative standards of enjoying sex with their opposite sex partner. Isn't that the inability to do something--enjoy sex with someone who meet society's requirements, but not the requirements of your sexual orientation? In fact, the term "homosexual" is considered by some to be incredibly offensive because it was in the DSM until 1973. Gender-dysphoria (transgender, essentially) is still, wrongly, in the DSM-5! So why is my inability to do things that are completely superficial different from someone else's inability to do things that are completely superficial? The Social-Mode of Disability is essentially stating that disability should be thought more as humans dividing people into groups and determining their worth based on what the dominant--not necessarily majority--group thinks is valuable. Under that framework, and the thinking at the time, not only would Blindness be a disability, but so would Homosexuality or Asexuality or Being Transgender, etc. So, when I hear "oh disability is completely different from being queer" I can adequately translate that as "queers are people because whom you love is no determiner on your validity of being human, but [superficial thing] totally is." To paraphrase a source I don't remember: "if your movement isn't intersectional, it's selfish bullshit."
4: It's still different:
The myriad of ways LGBTQAPI youth and adults are discriminated against are different from the oppression of the disabled. Yes. Almost no one fears that being near an Autistic or a Blind person will make them Autistic or Blind, but that is the case with queers. This fear, entwined with patriarchal expectations, make violence against drag queens, for example, distinctly different from Autistic adults. No one fears that if they think we're hot or something that it makes them Autistic. I'm not sure how to make the analogy work, because this is a real distinction. No one fears me the same way they fear trans* women. Sure, I can be thought of as some emotionless murderer, but at least no one will kill me because they think they might like me. The fact that Autism and other disabilities are extremely different in how our parents and society acts towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals/pansexuals, and asexuals is that they can tell we are different from almost the beginning. If we survived past being a toddler, that means our parents love us unconditionally, not despite our "condition." This is very, very different from homosexuals, bisexuals/pansexuals, and asexuals (and to less of a degree, trans* folk, because gender-nonconforming is "detected" at an early age). I could have come out at any time about being Autistic, already knowing and accepting my differences by my teen years; whereas being "bisexual/questioning/okay but I'm really bi--wait a second/okay pretty sure/this is getting annoying/bisexual" only bubbled to the surface recently. The oppression of queer youth is intrinsically different from Autistics, because of the timing. Society still believes, at least sub-consciously, that impressional youth can "catch the gay." That is not truly the case with Autistics and individuals with Down Syndrome, etc. and a very clear distinction. I, still, do not think I overstepped the analogy between the oppression of Autistics and Queers, but I am also adamant in the belief that the analogy was not perfect. Ideally, equality movements build on each other, in reality, it's seems as though pulling yourself up means pushing us down. (Don't even get me f'ing started on how lesbians and gays have gotten more equality than transgender, asexual, and bisexual communities, even though they're supposedly under one, diverse, intersectional, rainbow flag.) I was only trying to make a comparison for people to have a frame of reference to judge my words by, not to disparage the real differences in how queers are oppressed as opposed to the disabled.
If there's anything I missed, still need to clarify, or misrepresented, please feel free to yell at me in the comments and/or send hate mail. I actually like being called on my privilege, so that would also be appreciated.
*In LGBTQ, the "Q" stands for both queer and questioning. In the lesser-known acronym "QUILTBAG," undecided is the term for "questioning." <sarcasm> Although, everyone knows that it all totally stands for Macklemore, 'cause Macklemore. </sarcasm>