Category Archives: ponder

Dragged in two directions, neither of them good

I feel like I’m in the middle of a tug of war, being hauled on by two groups, neither of which actually care about me or what I have to say.

So there’s a topic that has been churning around in my head for a while now. It’s the one where people will say “ah, but really we’re all a little bit autistic” and how horrible it is to say. I’ve really been struggling to give voice to that, why it’s so icky, and eventually I went and asked for help. In the process I learned that I am not the only person who struggles to put it into words.

However, as this has all been churning around, another topic sprang to mind, and that’s the one I’m going to talk about now. Hopefully sometime soon I’ll figure out how exactly to explain that no, we are not all a little bit autistic.

So increasingly I feel like I am being tugged in two different directions, both of them icky. And trying to pull back on either of them risks me falling in the other direction. Or, just as bad, risks people thinking I am going in the other direction, even when I’m not.

See, on the one hand we have the people who talk about autism as a “tragedy.” They’ll use words like “disease” or “holocaust” to describe us. They’ll talk about us as though we’re lost or broken, diminishing our lives and our personhood to nothing more than fear mongering talking points. We’ve all run across it, I’m sure. I’m sure many of us have been hurt by words like that in some way or another. So we resist. We say we aren’t a tragedy. We explain we have strengths. We say we are different, not less. We insist our voices be heard, even as they try their best to silence us.

And people see us resist those tactics, and just wind up thinking we are on the other end of things. The end where people say things like “we’re all a little bit autistic” as though autism is nothing more than a bundle of quirks. This is the side that diminishes our very real struggles, how much things can hurt when you’re autistic, how extremely difficult some things can be.

I’ve had people see that I am against the “cure” idea, and accuse me of being against therapy, treatment, and other sorts of help. I’ve seen people claim that “different, not less” is treating our differences like hair color – something shallow and cosmetic and not actually a major impact on one’s life. At times when I’ve explicitly rejected people saying “we’re all a little autistic” I’ve had people able-splain at me that since it’s a spectrum, everyone is on it.

I’m tired of feeling like I’m the middle of this terrible tug-of-war, but I don’t know how to leave. I don’t know how to make it clear that I’m not on either side – that I see BOTH sides as being harmful. And I know so much of it is because so few people are willing to listen to autistic people. When they do, so many come in with their preconceived notions of what we’re saying, with the straw men that have been constructed by the people in that tug-o-war, that they are more interested in accusing me of saying things I’m not than in actually listening to what I am trying to communicate. It’s frustrating. I don’t know how to fix it.

So I guess for those of you that do listen – thank you. Maybe we’ll find a way out from those two sides and forge our own path.

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Let’s be more understanding

There is a thing that people do that I do not like. And by “people” I mean “everyone.” Me, you, that random stranger down the street, your friends, your family, everyone. EVERYONE. In my general efforts to increase my compassion, I am trying to be more aware of it and to stop doing it. Refraining from doing so takes effort and can even be uncomfortable, but I believe that it is worth it.

That thing being – when seeing people do a thing that we do not understand, deciding that the thing is stupid or worthless.

Yeah, this isn’t really an autism thing (though I do plan to relate it back to autism, of course. this is part of my speaking out). It’s an everyone thing. I talked about it a little when I spoke of social rituals. I see autistic people looking at unfamiliar social rituals and deciding that the ritual they are looking at must have no meaning, simply because we cannot see the meaning. I see it so often. I’ve done it myself. It’s such an easy way to think.

I’ve known people who thought that simple “thank you’s” had no meaning, because they could not see the meaning, so they did not say “thank you.”

Many people have declared the “how are you?” ritual stupid and meaningless, because they could not see the meaning (to reiterate – it is a way to ritually acknowledge a person’s humanity if we are not otherwise strongly connected).

I’ve seen people declare the fast-paced chattering of teen girls meaningless, because they could see no meaning.

And that’s so easy to do. Such an easy thing to think. But think about the times when it is turned against autistic people.

When people cannot see why we flap our hands, so decide it must be meaningless.

When people cannot understand why we may need to escape from sensory overload, so decide that the best idea is to just force us to stay in the situation.

Or, going a slightly different direction, when people cannot understand why we cannot understand some social formula, and so assume malevolence in a simple mistake.

It becomes easy to see the problem when we see it used against us. However, the problems are not single, isolated things. They are part of an overarching behavior set that is entirely pervasive in society (at least American society. I cannot speak to other countries or cultures). I mean, even the sentence “I don’t understand why people do that” is code for “that thing people are doing is bad.” It’s used even when the thing in question isn’t harming anyone. When the action in question is just *strange* to our eyes, in some way.

I want to advocate for acceptance of our autism. This means that society needs to learn to accept how we are different. People need to learn that just because we look or act differently, that doesn’t mean the things we do have no meaning. A neurotypical may not find any meaning in flapping their hands, but that is not adequate reason to conclude that no one can find meaning in flapping their hands.

The thing, though, is that because I think it is a part of this overall failure to accept differences just in general, it is that overall failure that needs to be addressed. So if I don’t understand a thing that a person is doing, I make an active effort to conclude that the problem is on my end and not theirs. It is my failure to understand, not their failure to make sense. As I mentioned above, this can be uncomfortable. It is easier to blame other people so that I do not have to see shortcomings in myself. Especially when society at large is so quick to shove all my shortcomings in my face and blame me for every misunderstanding, every cruelty someone perpetuates on me, every awkward moment that happens between me and anyone else. People blame autism far too often, but that is a rant for another time. The point is, we want people to accept their failure to understand and not shove it onto us. We want people to accept us, and realize that if they want to understand they will need to take the time to do so.

This means that we need to be willing to do the same. It is not ok to ask others to do a thing that we are not willing to do ourselves. So when I see something I do not understand, I assume that the fault is mine. I do my best to accept, regardless of my level of understanding.

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I have a business idea

Though honestly, I do not believe I will ever actually do it. I like to believe I could do it if I had help, but I do not see myself as capable of doing the whole thing on my own.

That said, I am excited about my idea so at the very least, I want to share it to see if other people think that it is nifty too.

It all started a little while ago when I was trying to shop for a keyboard. I wanted to try them in person because the amount of noise the keyboard I use makes is a huge issue for me. The entire experience was overwhelming. Loud music, confusing store layouts, echoey sounds, visual confusion, and I realized that shopping is always like this. It seems that sensory friendly stores just do not exist.

Which became my idea. A sensory friendly store! I want to be able to offer people a sensory-friendly shopping experience so that shopping can be as low stress as possible. I have a number of things I would want to make sure are included:

  • no background music
  • carpet and sound dampening tiles around to reduce noise and echoes
  • a simple layout to make navigating easy
  • a smooth ceiling with recessed lights so that it is visually easy to distinguish overhead signs from background
  • no fluorescents! This store would have lights that do not flicker.
  • Small time-out rooms with sensory friendly furniture and lights that can be turned off, in case people need a break.

I don’t think I would want it to be specifically for selling sensory-friendly items – it would be a more general store than that. However, I do think I would want to make a point to sell sensory-friendly items. Things like sensory furniture, weighted vests, compression clothing, etc. If I sold clothing, I have split ideas for how to organize it. I think that I would not want to organize the “normal” way, with juniors, misses, women’s, etc. I think I would like to organize either by fabric type or by color. Fabric type because many people have specific needs for what they can deal with wearing. For instance, I almost exclusively wear soft knits. If a store had a “soft knit” section where I could find shirts, pants, capris, skirts, dresses, etc, I would spend lots of time there! The color idea was more to emulate some thrift stores that organize their clothes by color first and size second. Want a black shirt? Just go to the black shirt section! This is good for people who wear very limited color choices – which happens to also be a group I fall into.

So in a nutshell, that is the idea. To bring people a shopping experience that they do not get elsewhere. An experience that will hopefully never leave anyone dropping everything they have and running out of the store because they just cannot handle being in there anymore.

So what do you think? If a store like that existed, would you shop there?

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Am I Aromantic?

Question mark

Ok, at some point this is going to intersect with autism. You’ll just have to trust me (I’m still pretending that I can keep this blog exclusively about autism, but more and more I’m wanting to write about broader topics. They would be autistic only in that I am autistic and therefore everything I do is autistic. Anyway, I digress).

First of all, let’s get a few things about sexuality and relationships out of the way. It’s always bothered me that sexual preference and romantic preference are frequently treated as one in the same, and I am very happy to see the idea that they are, in fact, separate getting more traction. This is delightful!

Up until just a few days ago, I never thought of myself as aromantic – that being, a person who does not feel romantic attachment. I’ve been in relationships in the past that were, presumably, romantic, so of course I’m not aromantic, right? Then I was pointed to this blog post (a good post in general if you are interested in sex-positivity, written by an asexual), which contained this brief section.

Some aromantic sexual people love the idea of having a best friend who they can also fuck, and they may even strongly prefer that the relationship be sexually monogamous. Are they in love with their friend? No. Do they want to do all the standard romantic crap with their friend? No. Does Celine Dion speak to their feelings about their sexual friendship? No. But they sure as hell can still feel attachment, closeness, caring, even (nonromantic) love in a friendship with someone they’ve known for months or years and who they’re having sex with on a regular basis.

I noticed that the way the author was describing aromantic individuals fit me very well; one might say extremely well, or even “Get me wondering if I should consider finding new words to express my identity” well.

So I did some looking. I found all sorts of new words, which is always fun. There are two in particular that really stood out at me that I want to get into a little bit.

Queerplatonic: A queerplatonic relationship is a relationship that is not romantic but involves a close emotional connection (platonic) beyond what most people consider friendship. The commitment level in a queerplatonic relationship is often considered to be similar to that of a romantic relationship. People in a queerplatonic relationship may be of any romantic or sexual orientation. A partner in a queer platonic relationship is called a zucchini.

WTFromantic: WTFromantic is a term to describe a person on the aromantic spectrum who does not see the lines between romance and friendship. Other definitions include: cannot define romantic attraction and therefore do not know whether they experience it, have emotions between platonic and romantic attraction, or want to be in a queerplatonic relationship.

Once again, I found myself looking at those words and the definitions and thinking about how very, very well they fit me (also, I think we could come up with something better than “wtfromantic” but that is neither here nor there). I mean, I really don’t know the difference between a romantic relationship and a very close friendship. It’s always been very easy for me to slide between friendship and relationship with people, because I see no dividing line. Nor has anyone ever been able to explain one to me. I do not see how a “queerplatonic” relationship is any different from a romantic relationship, though I trust that they are different simply because other people seem very insistent that they are. I just… don’t really see it. That’s the way my relationships tend to look. That’s the way I like them. Also, apparently I’m not alone. Enough other people want relationships like that so have made a word for it.

Does that mean I might be aromantic?

Thing is, I’ve generally figured that my confusion is simply related to my autism. I have trouble with social things in general, so maybe that is why I have so much trouble understanding romance and what a “romantic” relationship really is. I have no idea how to disentangle the idea that I might be aromantic from the idea that it might just be autism. They seem intertwined. And who knows, maybe for me they are intertwined. Maybe one of the ways my autism manifests is in aromanticism (or wtfromanticism. whatever). While obviously not everyone who is aromantic is autistic, and not all autistic people are aromantic, maybe for me they go hand-in-hand and trying to separate the two would be fruitless.

I think about these things because I find identity to be important to me. I find labels helpful and useful in giving me broad descriptors and contexts in which to describe and understand myself. It helps me to find words to describe to other people who I am and what I need. So this is a new way of looking at myself that I am exploring. It might give me an additional context in which to put my particular confusion and difficulty regarding “romantic” relationships. That might be useful.

I guess I’ll have to think about it.

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Science, Culture, and Differences

This is actually two or three different topics that I just can’t seem to separate enough to make them into separate posts. They’re all small enough, though, that I think one post going over the whole thing won’t be too overwhelming. However, I confess, I fear that my thoughts are still too jumbled and mashed up to be able to make a clear and coherent post. I’m going to try anyway. We’ll see how it goes.

Let’s start with culture. Autism culture. Specifically, the “autism is autism” part of the culture. By that I mean, the idea that all the different “types” of autism spectrum disorders are, in the end, simply autism. Classic autism, Asperger’s syndrome, PDD-NOS, are all autism and that’s all. Not everyone agrees with it for a wide variety of reasons, but it’s common enough to be a thing. Many people are quite passionate about it and quite firm in their “autism is autism” stance.

Next, there’s the DSM 5. As it quite well known by now, it merged various similar-but-distinct diagnoses into one – Autism Spectrum Disorder. I’ve been asked what I think of this change, and honestly, I’m not sure what to think. It certainly fits with the ‘autism is autism’ culture we have going on, but does it fit with the science? Well…. there is no science. Not really. Not yet.

Right now, while we generally understand autism disorders to be neurological in nature, we don’t really understand what is actually happening. We barely have any idea what the differences are, and the research is very new. Diagnosing autism relies entirely on behavioral markers. I really don’t want this post to get too far into the debate about whether or not they are “really” the same or different. Mostly, it seems a little of both. There are differences, there are similarities, and it all centers around a developmental delay in social processing and understanding. So there’s that. Are the differences distinct, above and beyond the similarities? We don’t know.

Then there’s the science. It’s just getting started, and admittedly, I find it fascinating. I rather wish I could participate in a study where they looked at my brain using any number of things (MRI, EEG, whatever else) to see how my brain is distinct, what makes it an ASD brain rather than a neurotypical or allistic brain. That would be so cool.

Anyway, I was going to talk a bit about a couple of studies that I’ve heard of. For instance, there was an EEG study. It was small, too small to really form strong conclusions or change how we diagnose or anything. But it was interesting enough that scientists want to do more. To put it briefly (as I understand it) scientists used an EEG machine to look at the brains of autistic children, children with Asperger’s, and neurotypical children, and compared the results. The results were, basically, that Asperger’s and autism brains are more like each other than like neurotypical brains, but that the two are still sufficiently distinct as to be noticeably different on the EEG.

There was also a small, exploratory study that looked at a small number of autism spectrum brains. To quote the wired article, “Now, a new study adds an intriguing, unexpected, and sure-to-be controversial finding to the mix: It suggests the brains of children with autism contain small patches where the normally ordered arrangement of neurons in the cerebral cortex is disrupted.” This study was very small – it involved post-mortem (which is really sad, right there) brain tissue from 22 children, 11 at varying points on the autism spectrum, and 11 as controls. The conclusion was, basically, that autism brains are distinctly different from neurotypical brains, regardless of “which” autism it was. They were also different from each other, in ways that basically means more study is needed.

I don’t really know what this all means. It’s all very interesting, and I like looking at the neurology, even if I don’t really understand it. I worry about the science of autism and the culture of autism coming into conflict if the scientific results fail to support the culture, just as much as I worry that the science of autism will careen off into an icky, “lets get rid of autism” direction. On both ends, I worry that an insistence on unity OR an insistence on distinct categories will lead us towards failing to see the individual needs of each person. People who are against “autism is autism” will point out that people on varying points of the spectrum need different types of help. This is often true. However, even people within the various categories often need different types or different intensities of help. When it comes to support, it all has to be individualized. When it comes to the science… well, we just really need to know more.

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Ponder

I like to think about how we think. It’s a thing.

Ok, so I’ve been getting increasingly curious about what goes on in people’s heads when they read. It all started when someone assumed that “voice” mattered to me in books. At the time I mostly just looked at them quizzically because I didn’t have the words, but it seemed to trigger a curiosity that just won’t quit.

When I ask people, the answers tend to be a mix of “hearing” the words they are reading, and “seeing” images of what’s going on. I hadn’t thought to ask if those images are more like photographs or more like movies, but I’m interested in that too. (side note: words are in quotation marks because I am not trying to indicate hallucinations, only ways we think about what we are reading)

Much of my curiosity was wondering if I’m different from other people. What I’ve gotten so far indicates that I’m a little bit different, but maybe not by much. See, when I read, there is no “voice.” Or at least, I don’t like it when there is. If I’m reading something that is, for whatever reason, hard for me to process, sometimes I resort to “saying” the words in my head as I’m reading. It slows me down and I consider it a terribly inefficient way to read.

When I am reading something particularly engaging, however, it’s different. For one thing, there is no voice, which is delightful. As other people, I do get images in my head. I don’t know what they are like for other people, but mine are incredibly rich. Damn near movie quality rich. If I am REALLY into a book, I will actually lose conscious awareness of the words entirely. I will disconnect from the world and be in this other world, in the book, experiencing what the characters experience. It’s very immersive. For me, the mark of a well-written book is all about the ease at which this happens, or just how thoroughly it does.

Thinking about what happens in people’s heads when we read transitioned fairly smoothly into wondering how people think. This is a very old ponder for me – I remember being a child and wondering about the nature of a deaf person’s thoughts, though I was too young at the time to be able to properly articulate my question (I tried. I was accused to believing that deaf people don’t think).

I have read a few things by Temple Grandin, and how she apparently believes that different people have different ways of thinking. Word thinkers, picture thinkers, etc. I don’t think it’s quite as simple as all that, but I do believe that there are different ways of thinking and that different people may tend to one way of thinking or another.

I don’t know if word-thinking is actually the most common way of thinking, but it certainly seems to be the most acknowledged. Years ago I once was talking to a friend of mine about verbal thinking. Specifically, I commented that a particular person seemed to be very much a verbal thinker. Her response was “Isn’t everyone?” She was really quite shocked when I answered “Well, no.” Apparently it hadn’t ever occurred to her that thoughts could take a form other than words. That was when it really sunk in, why so many people think that if you don’t have words you must not have thoughts. They believe that words are the ONLY way to have thoughts.

I have word thoughts. I also have image thoughts. And concept thoughts. I rely mostly on concept thoughts. This blog post, for instance, mostly lived in my head as a concept until I actually started writing it. I had a few key words and phrases scattered through, attached to concept thoughts, but most of these words only happened as I’ve been writing. That’s how I write and frequently why I write; writing is how a concept turns into words for me.

This also gets into something that you might have guessed by now – written language is, for me, fundamentally different from spoken language. Or at least, I process them in ENTIRELY different ways. Trying to connect written language to spoken language is actually a rather laborious process for me, so it’s not something I care to do unless I have to. Reading is most pleasurable when it is least like listening.

I’m still curious, just for the record. What goes on in your head when you read? What structure or form do your thoughts take in your head?

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What am I?

So a while back I posted about self awareness and autism and how so many NTs seem to conflate social awareness with self awareness. Ya’ll seem to do it without even realizing it, acting surprised when people say “no, that’s not how it is, I don’t need social awareness to be self aware.”

I was thinking a bit where that might come from, and what’s involved in that. Ok, in that post I had said:

“mistaking what other people think of you for who you are”

Ok, so that’s a thing. Who you are and what other people say you are can, in all reality, be difficult to separate. When everyone around you says you’re a duck, it makes sense to take a look at yourself to see if maybe you are, in fact, a duck.

And I think many NTs don’t really question this all that hard. But I also think that NTs don’t actually run into a huge number of instances where large numbers of people around them insist that they are something that they are not. Off the top of my head I can see it for trans* issues, which certainly is a big deal, but that’s about it.

But when you are autistic, you have to do this all the time. For everything. With everyone. Because people will judge based on what they can see, and if they can’t see something in a way they can recognize, they will declare it not there.

So the non-verbal child who cannot communicate in a method that most people can recognize is declared to have a low IQ, to not know their own name, to not be self aware, to not be aware of their surroundings. We don’t know what’s going on in that child’s head, the thoughts that might be in there but not coming out in a way we can easily recognize. Can you imagine BEING that child? Everyone around you says that you don’t know who you are, that you can’t add or count or think or feel. That you don’t know what anyone is saying, because you don’t talk or respond to words the way they think you should. EVERYONE says this. Everyone believes it. Even the people who are supposedly on your side, supporting you.

And then there’s you. All alone. Bombarded with messages of who and what you are that are quite possibly entirely incorrect. How do you maintain your sense of self? How do you keep that from destroying you?

Well hopefully, you learn to disconnect what other people think of you from who and what you actually are. You forge a sense of self that is separate and distinct from the thoughts and beliefs of other people.

Because you have to, if you want to actually have you own identity and eventually grow into an adult who *can* show things in ways people can see.

And if you’re really lucky, maybe eventually people will see you as you are, rather than as you seem. But only those who are close to you, only those who get to know you, only those who learn that what they think they see may not be what actually is.

So yeah. I think we need to keep social awareness separate from self awareness. But I also think we need to get better at realizing that things aren’t always what they seem, that just because we can’t easily see something that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Because when we don’t do that, we can do some serious damage.

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Are vs Have – results!

Incoming results  from my Are vs. Have poll seemed to pretty much stop once I hit 128, so at that point I started sorting through them to see if I found anything interesting. Well – I did! At least, it’s interesting to me. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting too. ^_^

A note on categories

When I was sorting through them, I just tried to categorize them as best I could. The types of answers were, in some cases, very different, so the categories will be different too. There was some fuzziness between some of the categories, and sometimes it was a bit of a toss-up whether any given thing would be best in this category or that category. Nonetheless, I did my best to put them all in an order that made sense to me. I’m just intending to share some numbers – just understand that some of them could be shuffled around a wee bit.

Ok! Numbers! Take a look:

When asked to name what we are, the types of results were as follows:

Things we do: 41
Gender: 11
Nationality/ethnicity: 11
Physical trait: 22
Relationships: 17
Things we like: 6
Personality: 35
Neurology: 12
Couldn’t figure out how to categorize: 3

When asked to name what we have, this is what I found:

Physical trait: 46
Health matters: 12
Objects: 9
Skills/Achievements: 25
Relationships: 13
Neurology: 15
Likes/wants: 7
Personality: 9
Couldn’t figure out how to categorize: 5
Didn’t fit within the context of a thing one has: 2
And finally, one assertion from someone who apparently does not describe themself that way.

And now I blather

So to state the obvious – we clearly define ourselves, overwhelmingly, by what we do, and various personality characteristics. Physical traits trailed behind in third.

Of the 17 responses based on relationships with others, 8 of them were some variant of “mom.” Nearly half!

At first I had tried to have separate categories for jobs and hobbies, but that proved untenable. With no context for the answers, there were many that I could not figure out where exactly they should go, and probably would have needed to create yet another category, even fuzzier than jobs and hobbies, that I would call “things we care about” or something. In the end, “things we do” proved to be an excellent, and interesting, category. Whether it’s a hobby or a job or activism or nervous habits or whatever, what we do is, apparently, who we are.

As for the haves, physical traits definitely dominated the field here. It seems that, by and large, our bodies are things that we have, far more than things that we are.

Answers related to health were entirely matters of illness or health issues in general. Not a single person put “good health” or anything of the like. Similarly, there were a number of answers that I categorized as neurology in both the ares and the haves, but not a single one was “neurotypical” or anything related. Which tells me that as much as we may be trying to get away from the word “normal,” the concept of normalcy seems to be very much around.

Interestingly, many of the neurology results were similar between the two. Depression, anxiety, and the autism spectrum all featured highly, but we seem to be split in terms of whether they are something we have or something we are.

There were some similarities between some of the skills and achievements in the haves, and some of the things we do in the ares. There were several answers of “job” in terms of what we have, but actual job titles were always things we are. So for instance, a person may have a job, but they are an engineer.

Not one single person put gender as a thing they have. The same goes for nationality or ethnicity. While they were both in the minority of responses of ares, they were only ares.

There is, of course, some bias in these results. Some from where I got my responses (almost all of my responses were either from people related to the autism community in some way, and people from Ravelry who were kind enough to let me impose on them), some from my own interpretations of the results, and there is probably a factor of ease of language in terms of how we self-describe. Even with all that, though, I found the sorts of answers given really quite fascinating.

I am currently still undecided about publishing the results, as I worry someone will be offended if I do. I can promise that even published, all answers will remain entirely anonymous. Even I have no way of tracking who answered what, in any way.

So I put it to you: what do you think of the results I got?

Would anyone like to see the answers themselves, and maybe even take a crack at doing your own sorting?

Or, conversely, would anyone strongly prefer that I not publish the results?

In the end, 128 responses is a small sample size, but for this blog it isn’t bad. Maybe someday when I’m famous (heh) I could do this again and see what the population at large has to say about themselves. (of course, in the meantime the poll is still open, so you can go put your answer in if you want)

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Are vs. Have

This time I’m going to go ahead and beg – please share this! The more you share, the more responses I’ll get and the more awesome it will be. First give me ALL you answers, and then tell lots of people, please pretty please!

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Them

I want to talk about words again. Specifically, one type of word – “they” or “them.”

I’m just going to come right out and say it -“they” is a risky word.

Just to be clear, it is not a bad word, by any means. The word ‘they” has lots and lots of uses, starting with a simple way to refer to a group of people and continuing on from there. It is excellent as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun, especially in a language that has yet to come up with anything better, or at least anything that has really caught on. ‘They’ or ‘them’ can be really useful words in many different contexts, and I am not trying to claim otherwise.

However, “they” can also be a divisive word. When you pair the word “them” with “us” it takes on a new meaning. ‘They” starts to mean “not us.”

This is when it gets risky.

It is very easy to use the word “them” when talking about a group of people of which you are not a part. I might say “them” when I’m talking about cisgendered men or allistic people as these are groups which are definitely not me. However, what if there was a good chance that I was also talking TO cisgendered men or allistic people?

From my perspective, it always feels a bit weird when someone is talking to me, and then refers to a group of which I am a part as “them.” Recently I had a short back-and-forth with someone on a forum who, while talking to me, repeatedly referred to females as “them” and “they.” It was odd. I think he perhaps did not realize that he was talking to a female-bodied person.

Now, that particular instance was not particularly offensive. It was just strange. However, it can get offensive, or at least bothersome, quite quickly and easily. Especially when it’s paired with an “us.” I think it is very important, when writing, to stay aware of word usage. To notice who we are referring to as “them,” to pay attention to the manner in which we are doing to, to notice if we are separating “them” from “us.” And then to think about if that’s something we actually want to do.

I mean, sometimes it is a thing we want to do. Sometimes I am explicitly addressing a very specific group of people. Or maybe there is a group of people who I really do not want to be addressing. Maybe I want to create distance between an “us” group and a “them” group.

But then, maybe I don’t. In which case, I need to be careful. When I wrote my post Autism and Race, it was something I put a lot of effort into. The “us” I wanted to create was everyone on the autism spectrum, regardless of race. However, because I am white it would have been very easy to start saying “them” when referring to autistic people of color. Doing so, however, would have created a divide that I really did not want. The same thing can happen when I am talking about disability. I want “us” to be everyone with a disability, regardless of visibility or severity. Sometimes, though, I am specifically talking about people with disabilities that I do not share, such as people with physical disabilities or people who are non verbal. If you are a part of one of those groups, I still want you to be part of “us.”

Which brings me to another important point – I generally assume that my readership is diverse (at least partly because I want my readership to be diverse). Do I want someone reading my blog to suddenly find themselves (gender neutral singular) as part of a “them?” Well… maybe sometimes. But mostly no, no I do not. So whenever I write, I try to keep this in mind. I think everyone who write should keep it in mind.

When talking *about* a group of people, referring to that group as “them” means that you are not talking *to* them. Is that really something you want?

It’s something to think about, at least.

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