Tag 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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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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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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Your subjective experience is not necessarily anyone else’s

Today I want to talk to the neurotypicals (NTs), about an experience I’ve had with NTs so. Many. Times. Autistic people are often accused of lacking empathy, but it’s the NTs who seem to truly believe that the way they experience the world is some kind of truth. That what things are like for THEM is what things are like for everyone. So they then take it upon themselves to EXPLAIN to anyone who experiences things differently about what things are “really” like.

Ok, let me get more specific. Group interactions are very hard for me. The social dynamics of groups are very complicated and it’s extremely difficult for me to keep up. On top of that, groups of people can be very intense on a sensory level. Trying to parse out everything I’m seeing and hearing is hard enough on its own, but trying to do it while also trying to keep up with the group dynamics and complex social interactions is nearly impossible. It’s just SO MUCH.

But trying to explain that to NTs is so hard. I have learned that many NTs not only find group social interactions to be easy – they find them easier than one-on-one interactions. And then they treat their own subjective experience of groups being easier as some kind of objective fact – that groups ARE easier than one-on-one. There have been multiple occasions where I expressed that actually, groups are more difficult for me, and an NT has straight up informed me that I am “mistaken.” According to them, my own experience of groups being more difficult is impossible so either I’m wrong or I’m lying. The nicer (not really nicer) ones will try to explain how groups are easier to try to get me to understand that I’m wrong. The less nice ones will tell me I’m stupid and stomp off. 

I’ve had NTs confidently tell me that there aren’t even that many social rules! Just jump in and start talking! It’s not complicated! The idea that there are, in fact, MANY rules and they just know them intuitively was one they weren’t even willing to consider. I did, eventually, manage to explain to one NT about the complexity of group dynamics by pointing out rude people. If you really could just jump in whenever, there would never be that rude person jumping in at the wrong time. If you really could just say whatever, there would never be that rude person saying the wrong thing. *I* am that rude person. I don’t want to be, I don’t mean to be, I really try not to be, but it really is just that hard for me to keep up. At this point, to avoid being the rude person, I just don’t speak in groups, or at least very rarely. 

I have so many examples of this type of behavior. NTs trying to inform me (or other autistic people) that loud noises don’t actually hurt. That light touch actually feels good. That the bright light isn’t really THAT bright. So many times, NTs arrogantly thinking that they way they experience the world is the ONLY way ANYONE experiences the world. That they just need to explain to me how mistaken I am when I say that something hurts, that something is hard, that I am struggling. 

Neurotypicals, please listen to me. When I say that something hurts, I am telling you the truth. Just because it doesn’t hurt YOU, that doesn’t mean it never hurts anyone. There are people out there who experience the world differently than you do – believe us when we tell you what life is like for us. 

Neurodiverse folks – what experiences have you had with NTs trying to tell you that you are incorrect about your own life? Please share in the comments! I would love to hear your perspective.

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Centaurworld – A Thought

Warning! This post will contain spoilers about the show Centaurworld

I’ve been watching through Centaurworld and I just saw an episode that gave me a thought. A thought that is actually somewhat relevant to my blog, so it’s post time!

We don’t really need to get into the nitty-gritty of the show and what it’s about for this post. So basically, our heroine, Horse, has been having adventures in Centaurworld. The adventures involve fear and trauma and struggle and victory and success and all that stuff. Basically, stuff that is a BIG DEAL for her and her friends. 

Anyway. So in this one episode she goes and meets the bird-taurs. And the bird-taurs are INFURIATING. I HATED them. SO. MUCH. Seriously, they gave me such an unspeakable rage!

Basically, it turns out the bird-taurs have been watching Horse and her adventures. They love Horse! They love the adventures! It’s so entertaining!

Yes, entertaining. They treat it as content. For them to consume and judge and comment on. The REALNESS of it is just… absent for them. Horse is over there trying to talk to them about serious things she is seriously dealing with and seriously needs help with, but to them it’s all just content. Entertainment. A show.

After the episode, I spent a little time thinking about just how angry I got over those bird-taurs. Then I realized something. What they were doing reminds me of inspiration porn and the way abled people consume inspiration porn. (I don’t want to get into it here, so if you want to read more about what inspiration porn is and why it’s bad, here is a post I found about it.)

In inspiration porn, the very real lives and struggles of disabled people are reduced to content for abled people to consume. To have FEELINGS about. And, yes, to judge. The actual lives of the disabled people in the images used for inspiration porn are not relevant. Their personhood is not relevant. The harm that inspiration porn does to disabled people is not relevant.

Which reminds me of a conversation I once had online. Basically, me and some other people with disabilities were trying to explain to abled people why we don’t like inspiration porn. The abled people were…. not really getting it. Eventually, we seemed to get to the core issue – one abled person finally just said (essentially) “yes, but inspiration porn makes us feel good! Can’t we just have this? Can’t we just have something that feels good?”

So I responded (again, essentially) “The thing we have been trying to tell you is that inspiration porn harms us. Please do not prioritize your fuzzy feelings over our actual well-being.”

The person never responded so the conversation ended there. I have no idea if what we were trying to say ever sank in. But think of it – this person was talking directly to people with disabilities, trying to explain how inspiration porn hurts us. Yet somehow, the very Realness of the people in those images and their lives never even seemed to occur to them. It was never anything more than fuzzy feelings. 

Which is exactly how the bird-taurs were acting.

Which certainly helps explain why I found them so utterly infuriating! Luckily, we were supposed to find them infuriating, so my feelings of rage were totally appropriate, if disproportionate. 

I’m really glad no one has ever made inspiration porn from an image of me. I can only imagine how much that would suck. 

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Flashlight metaphor

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted. I’d say I’m sorry but honestly? The holiday season is hectic at the best of times, plus it’s when my seasonal depression is at its absolute worst so I think I’m just going to give myself a pass. So in the interest of easing myself back into things, here is a bit of a low effort post that still is something I feel very strongly about.

I was perusing my facebook memories, as you do, when I found a rant I posted there a year ago. I cannot at all remember what sparked it in that particular instance, but wow does it still ring true for me. This is just a thing that I have experienced over and over and over and over again. It doesn’t end. It never ends. What’s sad is that the only way out of it that I’ve found is to simply trust people less.

Onto the rant/metaphor, copied directly from my facebook post: 

I’ve been perseverating for days now. Writing it out isn’t helping. Anyway, here is a rant.

Let’s say there is a pitch-black room. Complete and utter darkness. Not only that, but the person telling you to go into that room refuses to give you a flashlight. They say, “oh, it’s ok. You’re really careful, I’m sure you’ll be fine.” Your first thought is to just not go in that fucking room, right? You have no idea how big it is, what shape it is, what’s in it, ANYTHING. There could be sharp things, there could be delicate things, you could get hurt, you could hurt something or even someONE else. It’s not worth the risk! No amount of meaningless reassurance changes the ridiculous level of risk. Also, no amount of being careful will prevent you from crashing into things. But let’s say that for whatever reason you have to go into that room. So you’re super careful and cautious. Maybe the person who refuses to give you a fucking flashlight INSISTS that it’s totally ok, you’ll be fine, they get it, it’s dark, mistakes are ok! They’d give you a flashlight if they had one! Oh, it’s just too bad! Don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine. So you creep in. You go slowly and carefully. And if you’re very VERY lucky, all you bump into is a wall. But the longer you stay in there, the more likely it is that eventually you’ll run into something dangerous. That you’ll break something, or trip over the edge of a carpet, or hit something and hurt yourself.

You know what happens after that? Well I do, because I’ve lived it multiple times. The person who sent you in gets REALLY ANGRY WITH YOU. HOW DARE YOU? YOU BROKE SOMETHING VALUABLE! HOW COULD YOU HAVE MISSED THAT? Oh, it was dark? I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR EXCUSES YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER. YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN MORE CAREFUL.

And you apologize. You really are sorry! I mean, yes, you’re bleeding too, but you really, truly didn’t mean to cause any damage and you really are sorry. So you’re so so soooo sorry, please will they forgive you, you didn’t mean it, you know you should have been more careful. 

Eventually they scream themselves out and you can tend to your own wound, but they STILL won’t give you a flashlight. You just need to be careful, ok?

I’m really tired of this game. I don’t want to play it anymore. Show me a pitch-black room, and I just won’t go in.

So there is it. I know the metaphor is broad, but it seems to happen to me again and again and again. It was true 10 years ago, it was true one year ago (when I wrote it) and it’s still true now. Has anyone else had this experience? Surely it isn’t just me.

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It Isn’t “Just Words”

As I think most of us know, sometimes there is conflict between whether to use person-first language or identity-first language. Just in case you’re new, though, here is a quick rundown. Basically, person-first language means saying “person with autism” when referring to us. Identity-first language means saying “autistic person” or just “autistic” since we can generally infer that we are referring to a person. Now, I have already pretty firmly come down on the side of identity-first, so that’s not actually what I’m here to talk about.

Whenever I see this topic come up in autism spaces and people start to discuss it, inevitably someone comes in to declare that it doesn’t matter, it’s all “just words” and to generally scold everyone for caring about what words we use for ourselves. 

And THAT irks the crap out of me. It irks me more than person-first language, which I find very irksome indeed. See – it isn’t “just words” at all. It’s about what is behind those words. It’s about the intent, the meaning, what we want to communicate. 

Ultimately, we are not simply communicating a diagnosis. We are communicating our sense of ourselves, a concept of our identity. I mean, the entire point of identity-first language is to convey that this is part of our identity. I don’t tell people that my diagnosis is Asperger’s Syndrome (I was diagnosed before the DSM 5 came out), I tell people that I am autistic. 

That matters to me. It matters internally because this is how I think of myself. Autism is part of who I am, so I reflect that in the language I choose to use. It matters externally because I want to be seen for who I am, not for what other people think I should be. Anyone who cares about me or wants to get to know me should also know this aspect of myself, just as much as they should know about my love of cats or how much I craft or really anything else about myself.

Some people prefer to refer to themselves with person-first language.* While I personally strongly disagree with that, I do understand and respect that those people are still making that choice for similar reasons that I choose identity-first language. They are choosing language that reflects their internal sense of self and how they are choosing to view themselves. They view autism as something separate from themselves – a disorder that they HAVE rather than an identity that they ARE.

Ultimately, that is what is at the root of these discussions. Sure, it’s about the words, but it isn’t JUST about the words. It’s about what those words mean, it’s about how we view ourselves and who we are. So maybe don’t try telling people that they shouldn’t care. If you don’t care either way, then fine – I won’t tell you that you should care. I’m sure there are plenty of things you care deeply about and this one just isn’t on that list. That’s ok. But don’t try to tell other people that we shouldn’t care either. I care about my identity, I care about the language I choose reflecting my internal sense of self, and I care about how the people close to me see me. That’s ok too.

*For the purposes of this post I am intentionally ignoring the non-autistic people who try to tell us how we should identify. By all rights they are not a part of this conversation at all. Telling groups you are not a part of how they should identify is appalling behavior that deserves no attention at all.

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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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