Category Archives: issue

I wrote a letter

So after the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade, I was crushed. Devastated. Just… I don’t even have words. Women, trans men, and non-binary people are going to die from this. There are huge implications. And at least two justices lied under oath.

I really wanted to do something. I feel so helpless – what can I possibly do? Well, the answer is to write to my CongressPeople. So that’s exactly what I did, and now I am sharing my letter if you want to do the same.

Dear CongressPerson:

As with many Americans, I am devastated at the recent decision SCOTUS made to overturn Roe v. Wade. An individual’s right to full autonomy over their own body is absolutely vital to maintain a just democracy. The implications of this decision are far-reaching, including matters of medical privacy, contraception, and more. 

Another matter of immediate concern is the sanctity of testifying under oath, and how absolutely unacceptable it is to lie under oath. Both Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch explicitly lied under oath during their Senate confirmation hearings. They both made statements regarding respect for precedent, which they clearly did not truly believe. 

Therefore, I am asking that you stand with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and move to impeach Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch. If a democracy is to stand, no one can be above the law. 

Thank you

I am supposed to feel patriotic this weekend, but I just don’t. I’m struggling, just in general. So if even one of you uses this letter, that would be amazing. Also, here is a link to help you find your CongressPeople if that would help.

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I am working on being impulsive

I’ve written about this in the past, years ago, but I don’t feel like rummaging through my old posts to link them. Suffice to say – I’ve been working on this for a long time. 

Normally when I see people writing on the topic of impulsive actions, it’s about how to curb them. I’m lucky enough to be the opposite – I am not impulsive at all. Ever. Or at least, I didn’t used to be. I’m working on it. 

I don’t think I’ve ever read or heard anything about encouraging people to be MORE impulsive. The general societal idea seems to be that impulsiveness – especially if it crosses some invisible boundary into *too much* impulsiveness – is a bad thing. Except impulsive behavior is part of a larger category of behavior that very much IS valued by neurotypical society. It includes things like being spontaneous and adapting to last minute changes in plans. Basically, it’s a category of doing-things-that-were-not-planned. I’m sure absolutely no one will be surprised when I say that this category of behavior is a weakness of mine.

Sudden changes in plans are truly TERRIBLE for me. I have managed to develop some techniques that help me cope so I at least CAN function when plans change without warning, but I will never be a person who can happily just “go with the flow” (whatever that means). 

I am not spontaneous. Ever. I don’t want to be.  Right now I’m just leaving this one alone. I know it limits how much I can participate in neurotypical society, but I honestly just don’t care. Why would I want to participate if it involves doing something so unpleasant? Ugh. No thanks. I’ll plan everything I do, thanks.

Of course, that is closely linked to impulsivity, and that is something I AM working on. And yes, sometimes the line between the two is very very blurry. 

Years ago when I first started working on practicing being impulsive, I decided to try to make an impulse purchase at the grocery store. This was remarkably difficult, but I did manage it. I’m not sure how much it still counts as “impulsive” when I’m agonizing over my decision for at least 10 minutes, but still. Anyway, I got a sweet snack.

Can you guess what happened after that?

I made that particular snack part of my weekly shopping trip. Yep. Leave it to me to plan my impulsiveness. 

Eventually I figured out that if getting Snack was part of my weekly plan, that meant it wasn’t an impulse purchase. Whoops!

Anyway. Now it’s several years later and I’m trying again. I’m actually doing much better this time! This time around I make a point to NOT deliberate more than a few seconds on what I’m grabbing, and I vary what I get from week to week. It’s generally a salty snack of some type (look, I still need SOME structure, ok?), but which one will vary depending on what’s in stock, what I happen to spot, and what I “feel like.” Ok, that last one is a bit mysterious to me, but I’m still trying to use it. Do I “feel like” having some doritos? Or maybe some pringles? Maybe the fritos just look reeeaaally good one day. 

I’ve only been doing this for a few months, so this new attempt is, well, pretty new. I was SO damn proud of myself when I managed to be impulsive twice in two weeks. 

Now, I said I have no desire to be spontaneous, but maybe that’s kiiiind of not true. Some of my impulse practice is, I think, crossing that line into spontaneity. Sometimes I think “hey, it might be nice to go to the ice cream shop and get some ice cream!” And then! I do it! WOW! 

As for HOW I’m managing this incredibly difficult task – part of it is definitely support I’m getting from my nesting partner. They know I’m no good at being impulsive, so they provide emotional support and encouragement when I grab that bag of chips. I also arrange structure AROUND impulsiveness. My partner and I go grocery shopping on the same day every week, at roughly the same time. We have a specific pattern we follow. So I feel like I have firm footing, so to speak, when I try to do something less than planned. 

Those ice cream outings? They are always at about the same time in the evening every time. It’s always to the same ice cream shop. I always get the same flavor of ice cream. 

I will always need a lot of structure in my life. But it really helps to know that I get to make my own structure, in the form that works best for me. And I can create structure even around unstructured things – I can create boundaries around them so I don’t just feel unmoored and out of control. 

In the end, that’s really what I’m practicing when I practice being impulsive. It is highly impractical (and possibly outright impossible) to plan and structure every single thing in my life and every single thing I do. I used to try, and would seriously fall apart when those plans went awry. So I build my plans with contingency plans, and contingency to the contingency plans, and flowcharts, and plans that are more about working within some pre-defined structure than an exact itinerary, and I am working on making spaces for No Plan. 

And I’m actually doing it!

I am very proud of myself.

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Another Empathy Ramble

Image by Tumisu, please consider ☕ Thank you! 🤗 from Pixabay

I know. Empathy is always being talked about on autism blogs, and here I am, also talking about it. Yep, I’m a cliche. It has been a while for me, though.

So one of my problems with the whole concept of empathy is how mushy of a concept it is. It means a wide variety of different things, and people often mean different things when they say it. Talking about empathy without elaborating on what one means by it is an exercise in futility.

For example, a therapist youtuber I used to watch would speak of empathy specifically as intellectually understanding what another person is feeling. He would refer to the concept of “feeling something with a person” as “sympathy.” Then there’s that popular Sympathy vs. Empathy thing by Brene Brown. She has a very different take than that therapist – according to her, “feeling something with a person” is empathy, and sympathy is… bad. (not really related, but I did not like that video for my own reasons, though I do understand that many people found it helpful) 

On a recent occasion I had reason to talk with my therapist about sympathy and empathy and, of course, needed him to elaborate on what he meant when he asked me if maybe I wanted empathy about a thing I was going through. In his case, apparently he means someone being “with” you in your feeling. 

So. Empathy means various things. That’s actually ok – lots of words mean different things – but it does mean that we need to clarify our intent.

For years now I have been using the ideas of cognitive empathy and affective empathy. Basically, cognitive empathy is what that youtuber therapist talks about – intellectually understanding what another person is feeling. The idea that autistic people lack empathy is specifically regarding cognitive empathy. I don’t always have a great grasp of what another person is feeling. I struggle to understand facial expressions. That kind of thing. Unfortunately, people often take it to mean that autistic people lack the kind of empathy that Brene Brown talks about. Or basically, that we don’t care.

That is affective empathy. It’s the emotional side of empathy. And autistic people tend to have that in spades (insert disclaimer here about how autistic people are individuals with individual variance, etc etc etc). I care about my friends. I care about my cats. I care about what they feel and why they feel it and I want, very much, to be a safe person for them to have those feelings near/around/with. 

Anyway. I was googling empathy again recently, I don’t remember why but probably in response to that conversation I had with my therapist, looking for sources about cognitive vs. affective empathy. Among the various other things I found, I saw an interesting article breaking empathy down into THREE types, rather than two! Fascinating! Now, I wasn’t the biggest fan of how the information was presented (this seems to happen a lot with me. Not sure what to make of that) but putting that aside, it was an interesting breakdown.

Basically, the author of that article takes what I think of as “affective empathy” and breaks it into two different ideas.

1 – Emotional Empathy. The “feel it with them” idea. 

2 – Compassionate Empathy. To care. More precisely, to care enough to want to help in some way.

This is interesting to me. I’m not sure I’m going to adopt this system over the two types of empathy that I’m used to, but at the very least it’s giving me something to think about. I enjoy taking broad concepts and breaking them down into concrete pieces that I can closely inspect. 

There is very little out there that will make me better at cognitive empathy. I have hypervigilance due to my own childhood stuff (which is to say, I am very observant), I have a general intellectual understanding of facial expressions that I have learned by rote. These two combined are enough for me to generally get by, on the cognitive level. Unfortunately, many people view cognitive empathy as the most “basic” form of empathy. So when cognitive empathy fails me, it is not uncommon for people to conclude that I must not care. Because if I don’t have cognitive empathy, how could I possibly have emotional or compassionate empathy? 

It doesn’t work like that. 

To diverge a little bit – I find myself wishing there were a word for a kind of empathy that understands that not everyone responds the same way in the same circumstance. The article I linked above talks about putting oneself in another person’s shows – imagining how you would feel in their circumstances. This is, of course, a really great practice. It just falls short sometimes. People imagining themselves in my shoes often seriously miss the mark on how I’m feeling, because they would feel something wildly different. This kind of falls under cognitive empathy, but then it ends there. By the article, emotional empathy would be impossible in a situation like this, which is just not the case. I can empathize with people just fine when they react to things differently than how I would, because I understand that different people respond differently and that’s ok. Their truth is still entirely real. I just have to approach it a little differently. 

Anyway. I’m not sure I have a huge point here; I just wanted to explore these ideas a bit. Do you have a model of empathy that you work with? Do you have any ideas for what to call “I cannot directly understand what you feel but I accept that it is your truth and care very much about how you feel” empathy?

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Roe v. Wade – some thoughts

I grew up in a pretty conservative Christian denomination/cult. It doesn’t really matter which one – the point is they were Conservative. As in, they considered themselves downright progressive because they allowed women to wear pants. They unironically thought that having an “open mind” was a bad thing. Because it “made your brain fall out.” And they were absolutely dead against Roe v. Wade. Abortion was murder and there was no convincing them otherwise. 

They weren’t the type to protest and scream at people outside of abortion clinics. They WERE the type to have an annual abortion protest along a highway. Of course, my family went, which meant I was there as a young child. I was completely steeped in it. 

My view has completely changed as an adult. I really am progressive now; left enough that Democrats annoy me with how conservative they are. Even so, I remember clearly what it was like. What their thought processes were. And, sadly, the things I used to say when I was parroting what I had been told. 

They do focus really hard on the idea that abortion is murder. Many of them truly do believe it. A fetus is a person and that’s just all there is to it. The fact that it relegates anyone with a uterus into little more than an ambulatory incubator was not given any consideration. Of course, I say “anyone with a uterus,” but they certainly didn’t. I had no idea trans men existed at that time. My own loathing of womanhood was A Problem. But that’s besides the point. The point is, if you had a uterus, you were a woman. And if you were a woman, you do not really own your own uterus.

Obviously, they didn’t feel this way about any other organ. No one was expected to go through mandatory liver donation in order to save lives. Donating your organs after you die was considered a personal choice – because you own your own organs, even when you’re dead. Even if you don’t need them. Even if it would save a life. Even if you would probably be fine afterwards, or wouldn’t miss it at all (because, you know, dead). The obvious double standard went by completely unnoticed. 

I can remember saying trite little things, nice pat answers to the protests of why abortion should be legal. “A fetus is a person” I would say. In the case of assault, “don’t punish the baby for what its father did.”  Yeah, it was awful. I saw awful things, and I regret them. I was also seriously brainwashed by the environment in which I was raised. I am so very glad I escaped.

And yet, here we are. The people who think that way are in the minority in my country (the US, if that wasn’t clear), but it’s starting to look like that might not matter. And that TERRIFIES me. 

People having autonomy over their own bodies is so incredibly vital. Ok, this one point is about abortion, but the greater landscape it sits on covers so much more. It used to be illegal to be gay; for two people of the same gender to have sex. But because we should get to decide what we do with our bodies, people pushed for that to change. 

And yes, it also touches on autism, because we are STILL fighting for autistic people to have the right to own our own bodies. Things like “quiet hands” and training children to not rock or stim in general. Training children to tolerate being touched by anyone who wants to touch them. Training children to be compliant, to be obedient, that what other people want is more important than their needs or their safety or their own claim over their body. 

I was lucky (if you could call it that) in that I was given that training implicitly. I did not have to go through ABA or the other therapies that are explicitly about training autistic children to hide their needs and their pain and to assimilate into a culture that does not care about them at all. Even so, I entirely internalized that what other people want from me and my body is more important than what I want or need, and that I do not truly have ownership over my own body. 

It led me to be in some bad situations.

It led to me getting hurt.

And I still struggle with it. I will quietly endure pain and sensory overload because I know other people are just enjoying the music being that loud, or the lights being that bright. I KNOW, deep down inside where my logic can’t touch, that what they happen to like is more important than my pain or my ability to also be in that space. 

On a side note, I also have Thoughts about this idea that it only means it will become up to the states to decide. I find it sad just how much the rallying cry of “states rights!” has become a red flag for me. I mean, I may be very far left, but I am still an American. I like decentralized government. I like leaving matters up to the states if they can be. But human rights IS NOT a matter that can be left to the states. And somehow, the cry of “states rights!” always seems to pop up when we’re looking at denying a group of people some right or another. Somehow, those are people who only seem to care about states getting to choose their own laws on a matter when they are hoping the states will choose oppression. 

I don’t have a uterus anymore, and I am VERY glad for it. Back when I did have a uterus, I had a whole series of things I would do if I somehow ended up pregnant – the first option was abortion, and the last option was s*icide. THAT’S how serious it was to me. And it’s not just me – it’s that serious to a whole lot of other people. 

So yeah. This is horrifying to me, on many MANY different levels. 

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Social vs Medical Model of Disability

My favorite lens to look at disability through is the social/medical model of disability. I have recently been reminded that these models aren’t as universally known as I imagine them to be (I mean, I’VE known for years, so surely everyone else knows too, right? Yeah, that’s not how it works) so I just want to talk about it.

So, what does “social model of disability” and “medical model of disability” mean, anyway? In simple terms, the medical model of disability is the idea that disability is something wrong with the disabled person, and the correct solution is medical interventions to fix them. The social model of disability is the idea that disability is something wrong with society, and the correct solution is ensuring accessibility for everyone.

I have met/encountered people who fell hard on both sides of that divide. Personally, I used to be pretty firmly in the social model camp but now I think they both have their uses and their truths. 

Disability is a BROAD category. There are many ways and many reasons to be disabled, and so it seems to just make sense that there need to be a variety of solutions and responses to disability. Sometimes that will look like accessibility – ramps, mobility devices, communication devices, heck even just simple awareness that disabled people exist and are ok. 

Other times it will look like medical interventions. It can look like trying to fix what’s wrong. I firmly believe that it’s ok to be disabled. That disability doesn’t make you have less worth as a person, that the role of society is to take care of each other, INCLUDING those with disabilities. 

I also firmly believe that if you have a disability/are disabled in some way, it is ok to want to be better. It’s ok to seek out treatments and it’s ok to want a cure. 

I firmly believe that both of these concepts can coincide. That they do not have to contradict each other and it’s up to each individual to navigate what the right answer is for THEM. 

For me, specifically in terms of autism, I don’t want a cure. I have spoken about this a lot. I want accessibility, I want support, I want a world that accepts me the way that I am instead of demanding that I be someone else. Since my difference is fundamentally about how my brain works, “curing” me would mean turning me into someone else. The “me” who is writing this would no longer exist, and in essence be dead. Instead there would be some other person. I’m not interested in that.

But despite the accusations people have levelled my way, I am still in favor of treatment and help. I mean, not ALL treatment (Just Say No to ABA), but I do need help. 

I ran into a reddit post a while back that I think really highlighted this whole issue. A person with dwarfism talked about a limb-lengthening surgery that can be used to “fix” dwarfism, except that while it does lengthen one’s limbs it’s a very intense surgery that often comes with any number of negative side effects. Apparently in Italy, limb-lengthening is simply considered standard treatment for people with dwarfism, with no real thought given to the idea that maybe it isn’t the best solution for everyone. 

I want to highlight one particular part they ended their post with:

“What I did need was my legs straightened, and spinal decompression surgery – to mitigate pain and reduce numbness in my legs. Limb lengthening to me just seems like a barbaric, extreme measure to act as a band-aid for a society that refuses to be accessible or accepting.”

Here they advocate for both medical interventions AND social supports. For finding the balance between the two. 

Another aspect of this is because I believe we need both, and because I believe that society exists for people to support each other, social supports need to be socially implemented. It’s on all of us, not just disabled people, to ensure accessibility. This gets into a post I wrote ages ago about my own exploration of the concept of disability rights being civil rights, specifically centered around the idea of businesses with signs saying “disabled entrance in rear.” Or rather, about how upsetting all of that was. Basically, every single time I tried to talk to people about it, they were far more interested in EXPLAINING to me about how it just isn’t that SIMPLE and I need to UNDERSTAND and my question wasn’t fair and and and and and somehow my attempt to say “hey, maybe the concept of most people getting the main entrance but disabled people only able to enter from the rear isn’t great” was just never heard. Like, people weren’t even listening to me enough to disagree with me – they just weren’t listening AT ALL. It was a bad time.

I wonder if things have changed enough since then for the conversation to be possible. I’m honestly a little afraid to check. Last time was just so unpleasant. Still, maybe I’ll try at some point. I wonder if fb still does polls. Or maybe use google forms? Hrm. ANYWAY. 

This post has wandered around a fair amount. This is honestly mostly an exploration of my thoughts on the matter, plus just yet another person shouting about these disability models into the void in the hopes that just a few more people will hear. 

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Being A Man – Complicated Feelings

Ok, I had a recent experience that I really want to talk about. But to be honest, this is really not an easy thing to talk about at all. Like, it might end up sounding like a humble brag or complaining about people respecting me or something. But it is a real thing, and I have since learned that other trans men have also had this experience, but it seems like we just don’t talk about it. Because again, it might sound like we’re complaining about something that “should” be good. So it’s hard to talk about. Well, I’m going to try anyway. Here’s hoping it works. 

Now, to be clear, I did not transition in order to gain male privilege. It was, however, something that I knew would come with it. And yes, no longer dealing with sexism or sexist assumptions about me when dealing with random men was something I was (still am, I’m still not always gendered correctly in person so I’m not actually there yet) looking forward to.

But there is another side to random strangers seeing me as a man that I actually hadn’t thought about. And I feel incredibly silly that it hadn’t occurred to me before because of just HOW MUCH I’ve experienced the female end of it all. 

OK, I promise I’m getting to the point. So while I am not always gendered correctly when people look at me, I am always gendered correctly on the phone because my voice dropped and it dropped hard. I have a Man Voice now. Which is great! I love my voice! But here’s the thing – women treat me differently now.

Women don’t treat me with more respect, exactly – they treat me with more fear. And… of course they do. So ok, I had to call my vet to make an appointment for my cat. Turns out they didn’t have any slots open for weeks thanks to the pandemic plus they lost one of their vets. And the poor lady on the other end of the phone was noticeably nervous to tell me this. Am I going to be ok? Or am I going to be, you know, one of THOSE guys, who yells and hollers as though that will make any difference at all? 

But see, here’s the thing – she sounded EXACTLY HOW I DID when I was talking to men I don’t know, particularly if I had to give them bad news. Her nervousness was my nervousness. My caution was her caution. Yet despite that, despite the fact that I have spent literal decades tiptoeing around men’s feelings, it still caught me completely off-guard to encounter a woman tiptoeing around my feelings.

I don’t like it. At all.

I’m not upset at HER, to be clear. Not at all. I know EXACTLY why she sounded like that because I sound like that. I probably still do; my vocal patterns are definitely still feminine and I have not put any effort into changing them. But knowing how she feels, knowing that I am causing those feelings, knowing that while one segment of the population will suddenly treat me with more respect another segment of the population will be nervous around me – it’s just really sad. 

There’s this youtube video I recently watched by Shaaba called “scary men being more than okay.” It’s just Shaaba reading lovely stories about men being decent human beings. Here’s the thing though – just about all of those stories started out with the woman being nervous because she isn’t sure if that man is going to be ok or be a jerk. She isn’t sure if she’s safe. She’s on her guard. She’s careful. She’s cautious. Because that’s just how it is for women. It’s how it was for me.

I wound up talking to my therapist about this (he is also a trans man) and he shared that he has had similar experiences with similar feelings. Women being nervous when needing to talk to him. Women crossing the street to keep their distance. We talked about how we can display respect and just be ok men, but in the end we can’t fix the problem because it isn’t really about us at all. It’s not about ME, it’s about the society in which I live and the gender dynamics and how male privilege runs deep. 

It also got me wondering how man cis men notice any of this. Or even – would I notice it if I had been born male? The thought that I wouldn’t notice it – that I would just see it as normal and unremarkable – is downright distressing to me. I know I’ve heard of cis men noticing the more obvious things. Things like crossing to the other side of the street or a woman walking faster if she’s alone at night and there is a man behind her. But what about the quieter things? Like that little tone of caution on the phone, or that extra bit of care when having a conversation? I can’t say I’ve ever heard any cis men comment on that – even the horrible cis men who get ANGRY when women fear them. As much as the dynamic makes me sad, I definitely prefer to notice it.

I have no good conclusion to this post. It’s just an unfortunate part of the world. I am crossing to the other side of a divide that shouldn’t exist in the first place. And while the side I’m moving to is the “better” side, I can’t say that I love it. I guess in the end, I just wish things were different. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to be an ok man.


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5 Simple Driving Tips

Ages and ages ago I wrote out a few simple driving tips for myself and people who (like me) are maybe not super comfortable driving. I then proceeded to not post or share it anywhere. Well, largely due to… ::gestures at everything:: … I’ve barely driven at all in over a year. What little comfort I had with driving is now long gone, which means I’m going back and reviewing those old tips. So I figured I might as well post them here as well.

  1. Keep as many things as possible “always” or “never.”

When I was growing up, my dad had this fairly complicated set of personal rules he used for whether or not he was going to use his turn signal, that even he couldn’t keep up with. I’d write it out to share, but seriously, it was a lot. Having that complicated ruleset was, I think, was not actually good. 

There is a lot of multitasking in driving, and part of being autistic for me is that I am bad at multitasking. So I reduce what I need to think about by simplifying what I can. If I’m turning, I ALWAYS use my turn signal. Even if I’m in a parking lot, even if I’m turning into my driveway on my tiny little road and no one else is around. Always use it, so that I don’t have to process whether or not to use it, which would be far more complicated for me and take much longer.

Of course, that one is obvious, because you’re supposed to always use your turn signal anyway. Some others I have are

  • Never pass someone who is driving in front of me
  • I am never in a hurry
  • Always drive with my right foot (another legal one, but I’ve seen people break it).

2. Stick to a routine as much as you can.

I need routines. I also like routines. What other people call ruts, I call comfort. But really, sticking with a routine helps keep me stable and functional. It’s a thing.

I keep my driving in a routine as much as I can too. Which, in my case, mostly means doing the grocery shopping on wednesdays. I do my driving on the same days, at roughly the same times, for the same tasks, going to the same place, every single time.

3. If you have to break the routine, plan ahead as much as possible.

Some people do impromptu stuff. Some people like being spontaneous and just… going places. I am not one of those people. If I am going to have to do something that is not part of my weekly routine, such as taking my cat to the vet, I try to plan it out as much as possible. Yeah, I’ll be driving outside of my routine, but I’ll know it’s coming, I know the route, and I’m not surprised by it.

4. Find routes you are comfortable with.

There’s still a lot about driving that really stress me out. Things like highways and merging. One thing that is a huge deal to me is planning out my route to be as comfortable as possible. Again with grocery shopping – there were two routes to the grocery store that I could take. I was fully capable of driving either of them (and had done so, when I had to), but I was much MUCH more comfortable with one of them than the other. So that is the one I made sure to learn as well as possible, and is the one I used.

5. Keep extra spoons in your pocket – and be prepared to use them.

Sometimes a road will be closed. Maybe a tree fell right across the road and now you can’t go. Sometimes the store might turn out to be closed. Sometimes something will go wrong with your car. The point is – stuff goes wrong. Do your best to be prepared for contingencies, plan out possibilities as you think of them, and be ready for stuff to go wrong. Because once in a while, it will.


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Accountability and Autism

Getting straight to the point here – if you have caused someone (or multiple someones) hurt or harm, you have a responsibility to take ownership, apologize, and try to make it better. Even the purest of intentions does not negate this fact, nor does it provide you with absolution.

When I type it out it seems so painfully obvious to me that it shouldn’t even need to be said. And yet, there are people out there who disagree.

I stumble across people who think that saying “but I didn’t MEAN to hurt anyone” excuses them from any responsibility every so often and it always really bothers me. Recently, though, I came across someone who thought that with an additional specific autism modification. According to that person, an autistic person needing to take responsibility and apologize for any hurt/harm they caused, even if they didn’t mean it or understand, is just demanding that autistic people bend over backwards to accommodate NTs. 

It isn’t. That person is wrong. 

To be clear, autistic people do need to accommodate NTs a LOT. A WHOLE lot. Seriously, just so much. We adapt to NT social norms, we conform to NT body language, we change ourselves to make NTs more comfortable. 

This, though? Apologizing, taking responsibility, regardless of intent? Is NOT that kind of accommodation. It’s just being a decent human being.

And to be clear – NTs need to do this too. NTs are also capable of hurting others or causing harm without intending to or even understanding at the time that what they did could be hurtful. And NTs need to take responsibility and apologize when it happens. And yes, sometimes NTs are bad at doing that and it’s frustrating.

Now, the “understanding” aspect of this is definitely a complicating factor at times. There have definitely been times in my life when I’ve accidentally hurt someone and not only did I totally not intend to, but I was entirely lost as to what exactly it was that hurt them. It’s hard to take responsibility for my actions if I don’t even know what I did that was wrong. And it can be incredibly frustrating when I genuinely want to know – I don’t want to hurt anyone! But I can’t learn how to avoid it if I don’t know what I did! – but people aren’t willing to tell me or just insist that “you know what you did.” No I don’t! That’s why I’m asking!

Even so, even with all that frustration, it’s still on me. If I hurt someone or caused them harm, it’s still my responsibility to take ownership, apologize, and try to be better in the future. Even if I don’t know exactly what I did, I can at least apologize for hurting them. In fact, that’s often a really great step one if I want them to tell me what I did wrong. If I make it abundantly clear that I genuinely am regretful and I truly didn’t want to hurt them, I have found that people will be far more willing to believe me when I say that I don’t understand but I want to. And yes, part of this is deliberately communicating in a way that NTs will understand. The simple question “what did I do wrong?” without any padding will, to NTs, look like excuse-making or dodging responsibility. I suspect that when NTs say that, they really are making excuses or dodging responsibility. That, at least, would explain why they take it that way when autistic people say it. So I add padding. It helps.

I do that because for real – I don’t want to hurt people. If I do something that hurt or harmed someone, I really am regretful. If I don’t understand or know what I did, I want to learn so I can avoid hurting people in the future. You know, because I’m not a jackass. And because it’s my responsibility.

To make the usual analogy – it doesn’t matter if I intended to step on your toes or not. If I stepped on them and hurt you, I need to apologize and maybe look out for my feet better. To extend the analogy – maybe my feet are ridiculously tough. Maybe it never hurts me when someone steps on my toes, so it doesn’t occur to me that it might hurt other people. Nevertheless, it will hurt other people, and when faced with that it’s on me to learn, to do better, and to apologize to the people I hurt. 

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Empathy 101 and 201

I have some Opinions on how I see some people talk about empathy and I want to talk about it. Of course, there are LOTS of things I could say about empathy, so to be more specific, I want to talk about some of how people conceptualize empathy – ways that I mentally call “empathy 101” and “empathy 201.”

Empathy 101 is where you imagine yourself in someone else’s position and think about how you would feel if you were experiencing whatever they are experiencing. The idea is that you should consider that they are likely feeling something similar to what you would be feeling and you can begin to empathize with them.

Empathy 201 is where you take in that different people react to situations differently, and not everyone will feel the way you feel in various circumstances.

The thing that seriously irks me when I see it is when people skip over Empathy 101 and try to go straight to Empathy 201. It might sound great in theory, but in practice it doesn’t tend to go well.

Here’s the thing – a major point of Empathy 101 as a deliberate practice (especially for children) is realizing that other people are just as real as you are. Other people feel things just as vividly as you do. Other people have just as rich of an inner life as you do. Small children sometimes need to be coached through this idea and in my experience, some adults still haven’t figured this out. 

Now, Empathy 201 is great. It’s super important. But it doesn’t really work unless you’ve fully internalized the concepts behind Empathy 101. And unfortunately, I’ve seen people use the basic idea of Empathy 201 to excuse their own asshole behavior. It generally goes something like this:

Derriere Hole: ::does a thing that is hurtful, mean, or otherwise unkind::

Random Observe: Wow, that was a mean thing to do. How would you like it if someone did that to you?

Derriere Hole: Well everyone feels differently about things, so how I would feel isn’t necessarily how anyone else will feel, so I refuse to even consider the question.

Derriere Hole has MISSED THE POINT. The point is to genuinely consider the impact your actions have on others – keeping in mind both how you would feel AND possible other reactions people might have. This can be a lot of work sometimes, I won’t deny it. But it’s also VERY important to do, particularly when interacting with others or doing things that will have a distinct impact on others. 

Having said that, I do feel the need to add that I have seen the switch side of things as well – People using Empathy 101 as a way to dismiss other people’s feelings that don’t line up with what they think people “should” feel. “If I were in your position I would be feeling X. You are clearly Wrong when you claim to be feeling Y.” Heck, my own dad has done that to me.

This is why I think it’s so important to keep both ideas in mind when thinking about what other people might be feeling. Empathy 101 on its own isn’t enough. It doesn’t get replaced by Empathy 201, though – only modified. 

Of course, the real problem is that some people just don’t care about what other people think or feel or experience. And those people like to have excuses for their lack of caring. Still, I find it particularly irksome when they use the trappings of empathy as their excuse. That’s just not ok at all.

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Involuntary hospitalization, a response

I was perusing youtube, as I do sometimes, and stumbled across a video in which a psychiatrist talks about his approach to involuntary hospitalization, and makes some generalities about how the mental health profession approaches involuntary hospitalization as a whole. 

To put it briefly, he claims that involuntary hospitalization is only used in extremely dire cases of suicidality. Cases where the patient has immediate risk, and it looks probable that things will change in a week so it’s really a matter of getting them through that week.

And I have FEELINGS about this. Strong enough FEELINGS that I want to write about it. Now, I am going to go ahead and assume that everything this psychiatrist said is totally true for him – but it is very much NOT true for the mental health profession as a whole. 

So I’m going to go ahead and talk some about my history. I have been involuntarily hospitalized three times in my life. One of those times was honestly justified, the other two were not. None of them actually helped me. 

The first time was when I was in middle school, and I didn’t yet have any real concept of needing to hide suicidal thoughts if someone directly asked about them. I was in a special ed program due to being “emotionally disturbed” and one day my special ed teacher sat me and another student down to just have a casual conversation with us. At some point in the conversation, the teacher oh-so-casually asked us if we had ever thought about suicide. We both answered in the affirmative. Then she asked if we’d ever thought about how we would accomplish it. The other student looked a little surprised at the idea and said that she had not. I, being entirely too naive, said that I had and happily launched into an extensive explanation of all the ways I had considered of how to unalive myself and the reasons I had rejected each possibility or kept it as an actual possibility.

Now, I can certainly see this freaking the teacher out. It’s probably alarming to hear! I could definitely see recommending therapy or something in response. To be clear – I didn’t have anything resembling a plan or any kind of intent to act on it, just thoughts that, while alarming, were not immediately dangerous. In any case, maybe a day later I found myself in a hospital for “suicidal thoughts.” 

The second time was in high school. This time I really had tried to unalive myself, so it’s hardly surprising that after my ER visit I was whisked off to a psychiatric hospital for a while there.

The third time was in college. I was depressed and self-injuring (which was nothing new, I had been doing that since elementary school). That was apparently enough to wind up locked away yet again

I consider myself extremely fortunate that none of my experiences caused me significant trauma. There are many people out there who are not so lucky. I still had to deal with doctors and nurses who openly did not care about the patients, some who even had open contempt for their patients, hearing care providers loudly mock me from just past an open door, plus the overall dehumanization that seems to be part and parcel of psychiatric hospitals. 

While I can see how one of my hospital stays was justified, absolutely none of them actually did me any good. They taught me better ways to hide my pain, the importance of not actually telling people when I’m not ok, and that there are limits to how much I can trust the people who are supposed to be taking care of me. 

I am in therapy now. I am genuinely happy with my therapy and I like my therapist. But I will never, ever tell him if I’m suicidal or pondering being unalive. I have actually thought about how nice it would be if I could ask for help when I’m feeling like that, but the reality is that it’s not worth the risk. Because I will NEVER go to a psychiatric hospital ever again. I am so serious about that. Never ever ever. 

When a mental health professional says that they only consider involuntary hospitalization in the most extreme of circumstances, the primary thing I hear is that they consider involuntary hospitalization sometimes. They consider it a valid tool and they will sometimes use it. Which means that when it comes to suicidality, I will continue to go it alone. This is even more true now that I am transitioning, as I would definitely not call psychiatric hospitals to be safe for trans people.

The comments section of the video has quite a few people with experiences similar to or worse than mine. I am clearly not alone here. And I’m saddened to see that the youtuber did not appear to respond to any of those comments. This is clearly a serious issue that mental health professionals NEED to address.

I do want to add a final note that while all of this is my truth and extremely serious for me, I do know that there are also people out there who have benefitted from psychiatric hospitalization. Their truth is theirs, and I don’t intend to invalidate it. Nor am I trying to influence anyone on what is right for them. Only to say what is right for me, and to point out that regardless of what is right for any given individual, there is clearly a systemic problem going on and it needs to be addressed.

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