Category Archives: opinion

On Insecurity

I think insecurity gets a bit of a bad rap. 

The first case that comes to mind for me is toxic masculinity, and it’s true that I can fall into it too. We see behaviors of toxic masculinity – things like excessive aggressiveness, suppressing emotions (or the idea that the only ok emotion for men is anger), feeling entitled to sex, etc etc etc – as being ultimately rooted in insecurity. And while I’m sure the roots of toxic masculinity are more complex than that, it’s at least partially true. I’m sure most, if not all, of us have seen examples of a man who is insecure in his masculinity feel that masculinity be threatened in some way, and respond by descending further into toxic behaviors. 

It’s pretty common for a general response to be an eye roll and a comment about their fragile masculinity or whatever – that is, their insecurity. I’ve done it myself. 

But I think I want to stop doing that, because it’s demonizing the wrong thing. I have put real work into separating feelings from behaviors, and it’s clear here in another place where I need to be better about it. 

Being that I am a human being, I’ve had any number of insecurities in my life. That’s honestly pretty damn normal. Who the hell isn’t insecure about something? And yet I also regularly see people demonize people who “are insecure.” I’m pretty sure the thought behind it is an assumption that the feeling of insecurity will automatically translate into toxic behavior

So let me just state it – you can be insecure about something and still avoid toxic behavior. 

My own history of this is a tad mixed. There are definitely times and points of insecurity that I’ve had that I did get pretty defensive about, and my behavior wasn’t always ideal. I’ve really worked on that – both on the feelings of insecurity and the behaviors. More recently I’ve struggled with insecurity around my gender and masculinity in general. Those feelings never translated into toxic behaviors. 

It’s never wrong to have a feeling. Feelings are never bad or wrong or incorrect or anything. They’re just feelings. They happen. I don’t ever want to judge someone for having a feeling. It’s a person’s actions that I am concerned about. And we have control over our actions. We have choices. 

Here’s the thing – I think this concept that insecurity is A Bad Thing leads to people feeling ashamed for having insecurities. This can make it particularly difficult for a person to willingly feel that insecurity, to sit with it and maybe even deal with it. Instead we shove the feeling away, because it’s “bad.” Of course, shoving feelings away doesn’t actually work particularly well, and then we get those behaviors we don’t want! 

This was one of the first things I had to address when I really started working out how to deal with the areas I feel insecure about. I had to give myself permission to FEEL those feelings. I have to embrace them, be aware of them, know myself well enough to know what is tender. Only then can I make sure my behaviors stay kind. Only then can I do the work to heal those insecurities. Only then can I become more secure in myself. 

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Gender: An Opinion

I want to talk a bit about how I view gender. With pictures! 

First, the requisite prelude: gender is a social construct. To be clear, gender is still entirely REAL. People would still experience gender in some way, shape, or form if there was no society in which to experience it. However, the society in which we are raised and live plays a huge role in how we conceptualize that experience. To elaborate on this, I’m going to use some illustrations to help me.

This is my representation of gender absent societal influence. Each dot represents a possible experience of gender. The dots exist entirely on their own, but right now they lack a context or conceptualization.

Now let’s look at what gender might look like in “traditional” western society.

It’s the exact same dots (literally. I used layers!). But we have a gender overlay that divides the dots into two groups – men and women. It surely works for the vast majority of people, but there is an issue or two. A few dots in the middle don’t fall neatly into either category. And possibly some individuals existing very close to the line might not feel quite right in their assigned category.

This one is my personal conceptualization of gender. “Et al.” is me just broadly lumping non-binary genders together. The boundaries of “man” and “woman” are made rough and murky on purpose – I think that harsh lines always end up leaving some people existing on those edges, unsure of where they fit or feeling like they don’t fit anywhere. So I fix that problem by just not having harsh boundaries. Personally, I would say my gender exists in the lighter area right on the edge of “man.” Sort of a murky area where, yeah, I’m basically a man, but the division between my gender and non-binary genders is pretty weak. 

I also find it important to point out that my conceptualization of gender is still heavily influenced by the society in which I live. It comes from a combination of the man/woman binary concept of gender I grew up with, plus my time spend in queer communities, plus my friendships with non-binary people, plus my own gender journey, and probably more. The point is, it’s a construct. And while it’s the one I use and prefer, it would be incredibly arrogant for me to declare it the “correct” construct. It is simply A construct. 

Other societies have other constructs. For instance, the Bugis society in Indonesia, which has five(ish) genders. Their gender construct might look something like this:

Here we have five distinct boxes that correspond to their genders. Now, the Wikipedia entry on the Bugis concept of gender says: “Oroané are comparable to cisgender men, makkunrai to cisgender women, calalai to transgender men, and calabai to transgender women” This is an easy shorthand way for a westerner with a western concept of gender to get a basic grasp of how the Bugis view gender. But it is not an entirely accurate view. 

A while back I read the book “Challenging Gender Norms: Five Genders Among Bugis in Indonesia (Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology)” by Sharyn Graham Davies. Unfortunately, my copy of the book is currently in a box somewhere so I’m not going to be able to cite it as well as I would like. In any case, the author spent (I believe) a year among the Bugis in Indonesia, learning first-hand how they experience their genders. And she did, in fact, ask some calabai if they viewed themselves as women or wanted to be women. The answer was an emphatic NO! They are NOT WOMEN! They are calabai, which is its own gender, not to be conflated with womanhood. So we may say they are “comparable to” trans women, but that is as far as it goes. To do any more (and possibly even that) is to impose western society’s construct of gender onto a society that has a very different construct. 

Also an important note – I even did a little of that right here in the name of ease of writing. To say the Bugis society has five genders is not accurate, as the Bissu is not technically considered a gender. Bissu is, instead, a meta-gender, considered to embody the four genders into one person. According to “Challenging Gender Norms” the distinction is important within Bugis society.

Other societies have different framings of gender. I have definitely heard of many different ways societies conceptualize gender, and I can’t think of any time I have heard of a society without gender at all. Gender is pervasive, because it is real. And because we are human and categorizing is just one of the things we do, we find various ways to categorize experiences of gender in order to make sense of ourselves. As part of our stories of ourselves

As a final thing – sometimes I see people claim that there would be no trans people if we lived in some kind of magical society without gender. I truly do not believe that would be the case. My physical dysphoria has been very real and very intense in my life. I didn’t get top surgery because of some idea that “boys don’t have breasts.” I got top surgery because having chest lumps was so intensely distressing that major surgery was a good choice for me. Even without the societal concept of gender overlaying those dots, I would still experience dysphoria and be trans. 

Because gender is real. And also a social construct. It’s both.

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Tentacle

I recently read Tentacle by Rita Indiana and now I want to talk about it. 

I can’t remember where I heard of this book, but I am really trying to read more books by authors of color, particularly women of color, and especially so if the author is in some way queer. Tentacle checked all those boxes, plus being written by someone from a different country than me which always makes for an interesting reading experience. 

And this was indeed an interesting reading experience. And by interesting I mean confusing. I was confused. A lot. The story takes place in The Dominican Republic – I place I have never been a know close to nothing about. The storytelling smoothly switches between past and present sometimes even within a single paragraph. 

After I finished reading it I proceeded to continue to be confused for a few more days, but eventually I pulled together various bits of it into something that had a lot of meaning for me personally. Before I get into that I do want to make clear – there is a LOT in this book. Really a lot. I am not trying to say what the story was about, only the meaning I pulled from it personally. 

Anyway. There are two characters who I found to be parallelling and contrasting each other – Acilde and Argenis. They are both queer characters living painful, closeted lives. They both struggle with their identity, who they are and who they want to be, and at least in Acilde’s case, trauma from their past. 

Then, they both find themselves with a community of people who are willing and able to support them, encourage them, and accept them for exactly who they are. 

What they do with that is where those two stories diverge. 

Acilde reaches out to his community. He allows himself to be helped by them, and simultaneously puts in so much work to follow his dream, to find his meaning, to become himself. 

Argenis, on the other hand, does not. He could, he has the opportunity and the support, but instead he spirals inwards and is consumed by his own bitterness. 

Acilde eventually reached a point where he was fully in himself, healed from his past trauma and able to let go of it all, choosing to live the life he had built for himself. Argenis was destroyed. 

And seriously, this speaks to me so deeply. For instance, I struggle with the importance of community, and I struggle with accepting help. I want to do everything alone. And I have, in fact, done many things more or less independently. Things I have gathered many people figure out with the help of a therapist, I figured out on my own. And now I am at a point where I am realizing I cannot heal from my past trauma alone, and I struggle with that. I feel like I should be able to. 

Except of course, community isn’t everything. No one can do your healing for you. All the help in the world won’t be enough if you aren’t willing to actually do the work. Which I can do – I am always trying to be better. I think anyone who knows me well could tell you that. 

Plus, just the acknowledgement that I can build my own life, from my own choices. And then, you know, I can live it.

This really is a remarkable book. I’ve read a few different blogs about it by different people, and what I’m gathering is that there is enough it in for everyone to pull something different from it. The meaning you get from it will almost certainly be different from the meaning I got. 

Maybe in a few years I should read it again and see how it speaks to me then. 

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I am a Story

I have a ramble about stories and storytelling wandering around in my head, but I’m not sure how to start it. I guess I’ll just do my best. 

I have been doing therapy work around unpacking and processing childhood trauma. One of the ways I conceptualize this process is that I am re-writing the story of myself. My entire concept of myself is of stories – I don’t think there is a huge difference (if any) between the concept of “me” and the story of me. I am the story I tell about myself. We are all the stories we tell about ourselves. 

Jumping a bit (and this is relevant, I swear) – let’s look at the concept of history. When I was young I thought “history” was simply events that happened in the past. But that’s not accurate at all. History is the STORY we tell about the past. Yes, it is about events, but it is also our ideas of which events were important. Who was the good guy, who was the bad guy, how did this event or that event impact who we are now. People who complain about “revisionist history” are missing the point. ALL history is revisionist. As societies grow and change, as our concepts of right and wrong shift and alter, the way we look at history changes as well. This is good and correct – it SHOULD change as we do. So the stories of history change as well, even while the framework of the actual events stays the same. 

The stories of ourselves are similar. I look into my past and I choose which events are Important enough to be part of the story that I tell, while other events fall to the wayside. As I grow and change, so too does my story. A villain may become a hero; a hero may become a villain. A memory that used to be connected to shame may change and become connected to pride. The events of my past do not change, but the way I understand the events does. 

I firmly believe that this is what stories are supposed to do – all stories. We tell and retell our stories – of ourselves, of our society, of our past, of our myths, of our beliefs, of our ideas, on and on and on – and over time those stories change and change again. 

My current favorite example is the Greek story of Persephone and Hades. The story that survives to us is a story of kidnapping, betrayal, and trickery. Within that story, Persephone has little to no agency and is largely a victim. Well, I have been seeing people retelling that story, giving Persephone agency and choice. A story of her falling in love with darkness and choosing to live with Hades. I have also seen people get very angry about this, because that is not the story! Stop adulterating the story! While it’s true that the original story (that we know of, who knows if the story we have is the “original”) is not like that, I actually LOVE the way people are retelling it. I don’t see it as forgetting the original story or romanticizing abuse – I see it that somehow this ancient story is still alive. It still speaks to people, and so we retell it in a way that shows what we love, what we value, what we need in our heroes, how we imagine our dreams ending. 

Which brings me to my next point – stories are things that we TELL. Stories are for sharing. This includes the stories that we create about ourselves. We all share our stories of ourselves any time we connect with another person. Yes, it can be literally telling stories of Important Events in our lives, but also in our songs, our fictional stories, our beliefs, our hopes – everything of who we are is part of our story. 

And like any other story, it is told collaboratively. People are telling their stories of Persephone to each other, and in each telling it changes. It becomes what people want and need it to be, and collectively people come together to create a story together. When an author writes a book, they share drafts of it, take the feedback and input, and make adjustments. Even with one author, the work has a strong collaborative element. 

Humans are interconnected and interdependent. So are our stories. We tell them to and with each other. Every person in my life has contributed to my story. Every person in your life has contributed to yours. The society in which I live shapes my story. The values I grew up with, even if I eventually discarded many of them, shape the Story of Me. 

Which means that if I choose to rewrite part of my story, that needs to be done collaboratively too. My story has always featured my own weakness and failure. I am trying to change it into perhaps a story of strength and survival, but the basic fact is that I can’t make those changes alone. The version of my story that was written when I was young got its start before I even took ownership of my story. Before I was even able to create my own story at all. I was handed a story of my own inadequacies when I was far too young to even realize it was possible to choose a different story. 

So that is what I am trying to do. And while yes, I am the author, like any author it is not a task I can undertake alone. Why would I even want to? 

Stories are important.

Stories are collaborative.

Stories change.

Stories are Us.

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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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Self Care – what is it, anyway?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Ok, fairly regularly I’ll see things about self care. Specifically, the importance of self care and various examples of self care. These are great! I love self care and I love seeing people promote self care.

But sometimes I then see arguments about self care. Different people have different needs, and so self care often looks different for different people. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, sometimes Group A will declare that THEIR needs are more real and important than the needs of Group B, and so the self care of Group B does not actually “count” as self care. For example, taking meds vs. taking a bath, or keeping doctor’s appointments vs. drinking a hot cocoa.

I’ll be honest – that irritates me. Kind of a lot. The reality is it’s ALL self care. ALL OF IT. Self care is simply identifying your needs, and then fulfilling them yourself. No more, no less.

Let me use myself as an example. I deal with pretty severe depression and anxiety. So my self care involves taking my meds every day and keeping my appointments with my therapist, as well as working hard in said therapy. 

Something is wrong with my sense of thirst, so it’s way too easy for me to get dehydrated. Like, to the point that it’s landed me in the hospital in the past. So my self care is also working hard to remember to drink water. Since I can’t trust my body to tell me how much water I need I simply make a point to drink 64 ounces of water a day. By extension, my self care also means not listening to the people who try to tell me that the 64 ounces thing is a myth and I’ll totally be fine if I just drink when I’m thirsty. I won’t be ok if I do that, I haven’t been ok doing that, I am taking care of myself in the way that I need to. 

I have been experiencing pain for several days now due to a muscle in my thigh being about as tight as an iron rod. This means that self care might be (if I actually manage to do it) taking a hot bath or maybe going and getting a massage. Oh, and it’s legitimately way easier for me to take my meds every day than it is for me to go draw and take a hot bath. Why? One is in my routine, and one isn’t. 

Self care can mean that I carefully limit my exposure to stressful news – being as informed as I can handle, but taking breaks when I need to. It can mean having a hot cocoa and doing breathing exercises when my stress levels get too high, or maybe when I get too irritated at people telling me that I don’t need to worry about my water intake (seriously, this drives me bonkers). 

Ultimately, just to really hammer in the point here, self care is taking care of myself. It involves a wide variety of things in order to address my various needs. I am a human being, just as complex and contradictory as any other human being, so my needs reflect that complexity. 

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Another Rye Post

Rye. Napping. In my lap.

I don’t know if I’m making a point with this post or just rambling, but I’m going to write out what I’ve been thinking about anyway. 

But let’s start with a brag. Rye’s comfort zone has grown again! It now includes (drum roll please) my lap! For over a month now she has spent time in my lap every single day. And by “time” I mean hours. I mean hanging out, taking baths, and sleeping. This is absolutely INCREDIBLE. For years I literally would say “Rye will never be a lap cat” and now look at her, blowing every limiting expectation I ever had out of the water. Sure, she doesn’t develop socially on the same timeline as other cats – but she still develops. 

Anyway, while developmental timelines are certainly an important thing to talk about, it’s not why I’m writing right now. It’s just been the trigger for some feelings I’ve been having. I mean… it’s been a trigger for a LOT of feelings, but I just want to talk about one in particular. Specifically, I want to hold her.

This is nothing new. I have wanted to hold her a lot since I adopted her. It’s just that now that she sleeps in my lap, the desire to gather her up in my arms and hold her close is SO INTENSE. I love her very, very much and I want to express that love with hugs and cuddles.

Rye would not react well. With a lot of work and a lot of trust I can kind of hold her in small ways. Like, if she’s sitting in my chair when I want to sit down, she’ll let me pick her up and put her in my lap (itself such a huge thing for her! seriously!). But scooping her up and hugging her close? She would probably panic. If she didn’t panic, she would definitely hate it. She needs to feel safe, and part of feeling safe continues to mean not being confined or restrained. She knows she can run. 

So because I love her, I don’t hold her. My desire to hold her is all about me. I wouldn’t be showing her love at all if I did it – I would just be fulfilling my own desires. The thing that matters most is what she needs from me. What I can do so that she knows I love her. That means paying attention to what she responds to, not just stomping all over her with what I think she “should” respond to. 

Like other people have done to me.

I have my own limitations too. I also do not do well with being held. Additionally, I absolutely cannot stand being lightly touched or brushed. Sometimes people have wanted to express love or affection for me via those things that I really can’t deal with. And sometimes instead of respecting that I need affection to come in other forms, they’ve gotten angry with me! Or tried to explain to me that I SHOULD find those things enjoyable. Or thought that they should “fix” me by forcing me to endure it until I “realize” that it’s actually nice. Or even decided that they just can’t be close to me, because to be close to a person they have to be able to express affection in a way I hate. Honestly, that last one is almost understandable. It’s certainly less bad than the other ones. 

In any case, none of those reactions were rooted in love or affection for me. They were about the other person putting their own desires above my needs. This happens to autistic people entirely too often. Our needs are weird or strange or feel wrong to other people, and people don’t always react well to those who are weird or strange or feel wrong.

But the fact is, part of loving someone is knowing that what they need is more important than what you want. Showing my love to Rye means (among other things) putting aside my own desire to hug her in favor of the simpler pets and ear rubs that she enjoys.

To add – recently she has actually begun to allow me to hold her in small ways for brief periods of time. I ADORE this. I also recognize that I am still not showing her love when this happens. SHE is showing ME love by letting me do it.  

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Do I “Deserve” To Exist?

Have you ever noticed that it seems we need to justify our existence?

And by “we” I mean everyone. Literally everyone. It’s just that some people seem to have a head start and find it easier to make that justification than others. 

Ok, I think it’s easiest to explain what I’m talking about by starting with minority representation in fiction. The “default character” is a white, straight, cis, fully abled, gainfully employed man. The more a character deviates from that starting line, the more people will demand that the deviation be explained and justified. Sometimes this is extreme – there won’t even be a woman or a character of color unless the plot demands it. But even when it isn’t so extreme, it’s always there to some degree. Disabled characters are incredibly rare in fiction, and even MORE rare when the story doesn’t demand it. The more a character deviates from the default, the more people find it outlandish. “What’s next, a deaf lesbian Lebanese character?” I have even seen people say that they are ok with diversity in fiction, but not “forced” diversity. Ok, how do they define “forced diversity”? Apparently that is any diversity in the story that isn’t justified by the plot. 

I’m not even kidding.

So of course, then you have people saying that hey, maybe you don’t need to justify the existence of varying types of characters. Deaf lesbian Lebanese women EXIST. Disabled people EXIST. People just ARE, no compelling plot reason required.

Buuuut… I want to take this a step or two further. See, the attitudes people have about diversity in fiction extend to their attitudes towards people in real life. Not only in terms of the various forms of bigotry (I mean, totally that too, there’s just more) but in terms of people needing to justify their existence. Just in general. All the time. 

The example that first got me thinking about writing this blog post was how “contributing to society” is considered synonymous with having a job that earns money. Do you have a job that makes money? Well no matter what it is you’re doing, you are contributing to society. Do you not earn money? Then you are NOT contributing to society, no matter what else you are doing. It’s an incredibly toxic concept, but it’s absolutely pervasive. 

It shows up in other places too, though. Like the concept of having to earn our basic survival needs. People will say that we must EARN our access to healthcare, earn the food we eat, earn the roof over our heads, earn the clothes we wear. These are all things that we need to survive. When people say that we must earn those things, what they are really saying – the idea that is behind their words – is that we must earn the right to exist. That we must justify our existence in this world by being “worthy” of existing.

As I’m pretty sure is obvious by now, I disagree. I REALLY disagree. I firmly believe that everyone should have access to the basic necessities of living. I believe that this is what society is for. I’m not looking to go into detail in this post, so I’ll just mention that there is increasing amounts of evidence that this attitude is also extremely economically practical. In the end, when the poorest among us does better, we ALL do better.

You can stop reading here if you want. I mean… ok, you can stop reading any time you want, obviously you don’t need my permission. What I mean is we got past the bit that’s about me being opinionated and now is the bit where I get more personal. 

See, I really, truly believe all those things I said above. I apply those beliefs to everyone…….

Except myself.

Apparently I have internalized the whole concept of needing to justify existence enough that I really feel like I need to justify MY existence.

And I feel like I’m not managing it. 

I can’t justify or defend the space I take up in society, in my friend circles, hell sometimes even within my own home. I know, intellectually, that I shouldn’t HAVE to justify or defend my existence. While plenty of random strangers have acted like my existence isn’t worthwhile, those closest to me don’t act like that at all. In fact, they seem to like that I exist. 

And yet, it somehow doesn’t sink in. I don’t work. I don’t have a job. I’ve done other things, like transcribing for the National Archives or house/pet sitting for people or heck, even this blog, but I don’t earn money. 

And even though I don’t think this about literally anyone else, somewhere deep inside I think this makes me a burden. On everyone. 

The thing that’s saddest of all is that I am far from the only person who thinks this way about themself. We’re taught that we need to earn our right to exist. Even if it shouldn’t be that way, even if we don’t actually believe it, somewhere deep inside so many of us still think that about ourselves. 

Something needs to change.

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Just a ramble about V-Day

(hearts represent love, right? right???)

So according to all the ads I’m seeing and various things my friends are posting on facebook, it’s Valentine’s Day. For the most part I don’t actually have strong feelings about V-Day either way, but as it turns out I DO have opinions and thoughts. Also as it turns out, I rather want to express those thoughts somewhere. As this is my blog and ultimately it is about me and my opinions, I am putting them here. If you’re purely here for autism stuff… sorry. This only relates to autism in that these are my thoughts as an autistic person. Of course, all of my thoughts are as an autistic person. Anyway. On to V-Day stuff.

I am on the aromantic spectrum. The best word that describes me is quoiromantic, which in my case largely means: “Being unable to pin down a clear understanding of romantic attraction, so being unable to say whether or not you experience it.” I have never in my life understood what romantic attraction or romantic love was supposed to be, and I have never had a clear idea of how it is different from love I have for my friends. The whole thing just baffles me. I experience love, I love people deeply, and I am in a romantic-appearing relationship. I just can’t really say how the love I feel for my nesting partner is quantifiably different from the love I feel for my friends.

For the most part, however, I am not romantically repulsed. I am fine with other people experiencing romantic love, I don’t mind romance or love stories in my media – I can even enjoy such stories to some degree or another. Sometimes I might end up confused by the things characters do or care about, but NTs often confuse me so that’s fine too.

What DOES frustrate me is the way romantic love is treated as somehow better or purer than other types of love. I don’t care for the way different loves are ranked, with romance love as being “above” friend love. That shit genuinely pisses me off. The love I feel is just as real and meaningful as the love romantic people feel.

And then there’s Valentine’s Day. A holiday that I’m told is all about celebrating romantic love. My own experience with V-Day is pretty meh, to be honest. I have tried to care about V-Day back when I thought I was supposed to, but somehow I never quite managed it. Romantic gestures mean nothing to me. (after I typed that sentence I froze for at least 10 minutes as I tried to figure out what “romantic gesture” actually means and what makes an action romantic or not. eesh)

I have friends who really hate V-Day. I respect that though I cannot entirely relate. I have managed to seriously shelter myself from ads, so if people are bombarded with ads to buy things as V-Day approaches, I am not aware of it. Since I don’t pay much attention to it, as romantic love is meaningless to me, I am also blissfully unaware of commercialization or commodification or whatever other unpleasant things that may have been attached to V-Day. I’m sure if you’d prefer to celebrate genuine and authentic romantic love, those things would be frustrating.

That said, there is something that frustrates me about Valentine’s Day, and you’ve probably already guessed what it is. That’s right, it’s the way it centers romantic love above other loves. I mean, yes, I’ve heard of “gal-entine’s” day or “pal-entine’s” day, but let’s be real. Even the people who do that see those versions as silly, less important alternatives to V-Day. I take V-Day as an opportunity to tell my friends that I love them because it’s never wrong to tell my friends that I love them. But I am also entirely aware that to my friends, my expression is a small, silly little thing that doesn’t really mean much of anything. (it suddenly occurs to me that they might see it as more meaningful if they knew I was aromantic, but it’s hard to say. I just don’t bother to talk much about my romantic orientation/lack thereof)

I want to celebrate the love I have for my friends and chosen family. I want to honor it and center it and have it be seen, really SEEN, as the profound and meaningful thing that it is.

Anyway, thank you for reading my rant. I’d love to hear about what you think or feel about Valentine’s Day. Is it meaningful to you? Or is the holiday that it has become feel like it cheapens romantic love? Do you, like me, also not feel romantic love or attraction? Do you just hate the holiday altogether? I’d love to hear what you think!

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