Trumperdämmerung

The United States has gone in the direction of other Western countries that have allowed right-wing white nationalism to infect their countries via the election of Donald J Trump.

Don’t tell me that Trump voters chose him because of mere economic anguish on its own. White Trump voters chose racism, bigotry and the systemic oppression of women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people, Muslims, Jews and anyone else who doesn’t fit into the idealised cisgender, white, straight, Christian, abled, male mould. It’s the Southern Strategy in its grossest form, originally perfected by Richard Nixon and continued by the Reagan and Bush administrations. Would Bernie Sanders have beaten Trump? Probably not. As much as I liked his advocacy for decreased income inequality, voters of colour didn’t choose him in the Democratic primaries. Trump’s specific appeal is the racism. It’s the sexism. It’s the hatred of marginalised people. Even if individual Trump voters may not be stereotypical Confederate flag-waving, slur-using, racists, they are insulated from racial oppression. Trump’s highest margins came from the whitest regions in the country. These people live their lives without interacting with PoC, or Muslims, or people whose political views are drastically different from theirs, and so they can vote for Trump without thinking of the consequences.

If it were truly about economics, those people would have turned out for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. They would have supported Elizabeth Warren. Instead, they went to Trump, who promised in his words and actions that he would restore blatant white supremacy in the United States. The backlash against a black president, and the strong likelihood that a woman whose policy was based on inclusion would succeed him, sent them running into Trump’s arms. Never mind that Trump is an inveterate liar, a craven opportunist, an abuser of women and an amoral con artist. He said he’d make America white again. He fed right into fantasies of the old order before the Civil Rights Movement and the Obama presidency.

This man hasn’t even taken the oath of office yet, and his supporters are already emboldened. There have been numerous reports of people of colour, women, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people, Muslims and Jews being physically and emotionally assaulted by Trump supporters who feel that his election gives them carte blanche to exact revenge on everyone they consider Other. This is similar to what happened in the UK after the Brexit vote–again, they thought the vote gave them licence to abuse and marginalise others.

If you voted for Donald Trump, you are complicit. If you enabled Trump by stressing ‘economic anguish’ over the hatred he promulgated for the past year, you are also complicit. If you reported on Trump dispassionately without condemning his behaviour, you are also complicit. I will not go out of my way to empathise with ‘poor, suffering Trump supporters’, since most of those Trump supporters had higher incomes than the Clinton voters. If you voted for Trump, you told me and people like me that our lives are worthless.

Dark days are ahead. I’m struggling. I know people reading this may be too. As long as I’m here, I’ll keep writing.

Toxic masculinity in the autism community

(content warning: sexual harassment and assault; misogyny)

I have come across incident after incident in which women, femmes and other people perceived as women find themselves being bombarded with unwanted sexual or romantic propositions, sexual harassment and outright sexual assault by cis men on the spectrum in spaces that are either by or for autistic people, or in online communities for autistic people. I know several women and femmes who have experienced harassment from men who think they’re entitled to their affections or their bodies, including lesbians. I’ve seen guys being creepy towards women in person, and have reported them to event organisers. Before I transitioned and started being perceived as male by the general public, I had a man propose marriage to me online as a way of getting me out of my parents’ abusive household. I was 19. He was in his 40s at the very least–more than twice my age.

Being autistic does not exempt you from the forces of toxic masculinity, compulsory heterosexuality or other forms of gendered hostility. Autism may make people internalise society’s messages differently from other people, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t internalise those messages. We are people and people are a product of the societies in which they are brought up.

I believe some of this is attributable to the systemic desexualisation of disabled people, including autistic people, during childhood and adolescence. The assumption is that we won’t be interested in romantic or sexual relationships anyway–or shouldn’t be–so we are not taught how to approach relationships in a healthy, positive way. It’s also the case that a lot of autistic people struggle with learning social norms that are seen as simply arbitrary. There may be some social norms that are simply arbitrary, but respecting people’s romantic and sexual boundaries goes beyond simple social niceties. When those developmental factors are blended with cultural messages that promote male entitlement and rape culture, some autistic men end up with attitudes that both reflect their difficulty approaching women or people they perceive as women, and the idea that they’re entitled to a romantic relationship or sex because they’re men. This results in situations where men in autistic spaces will do things ranging from awkwardly asking people on dates because they’re both on the spectrum and they think the other person is pretty to full-blown sexual harassment and assault.

Like everyone else, these guys need to be told that nobody is entitled to romance or sex, but that there are ways that they can learn how to build healthy relationships to the people they’re attracted to. Build bonds based on common interests. Don’t treat autistic space as nothing but a dating opportunity. Work on how to make friends first. Value women and people perceived as women as human beings, not just as opportunities for dating or sex. Respect the boundaries of people who say they aren’t interested in going out with them or sleeping with them.

We need to stop tolerating this kind of behaviour in autistic space and be absolutely clear that harassment and assault are unacceptable. I have been in way too many spaces where guys like this are routinely allowed to come back. Being autistic should not absolve you from common decency, and common decency includes respecting the sexual and romantic boundaries of other people.

Intersecting Selfhood: Trans Identity, Autism and Mental Health Disability

Here are the notes for the presentation I gave at the Disability & Intersectionality Summit yesterday, ‘Intersecting Selfhood: Trans Identity, Autism and Mental Health Disability’. They’re a bit long, so I’ve put them all under a Read More tag so you’re not faced with Massive Wall of Text. I’ll also link to the PowerPoint (well, really Keynote) slides later. 🙂

(Content warning for racism, transphobia, religious abuse, brief mention of police violence, disablism)

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Why I’m not supporting Jill Stein

Like a lot of other young progressives and social democrats, I voted for Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary season, mostly because of his enthusiasm for addressing income inequality, mass incarceration and the militarisation of US police forces, and student debt. The majority of Sanders supporters ended up supporting Hillary Clinton after she won the nomination, but a few ‘Bernie or Bust’ holdouts have moved on to Jill Stein of the Green Party, under the impression that a vote for Stein would reflect Bernie’s progressivism more closely than would a vote for Clinton. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with that logic: Stein has supported causes that don’t dovetail well with progressive ideals, and voting for her will also make it easier for Donald Trump to win the electoral votes he needs to become president by splitting the left-wing and moderate votes (since Stein doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to win any states and therefore deprive Trump of electoral votes).

Stein’s views are particularly questionable when it comes to disability, the Brexit vote, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, Russia and the Vladimir Putin regime, and race. She’s said horrible things about autism and autistic people. She’s praised Russia, which has one of the worst human-rights records in Eurasia. She praised Brexit immediately after the vote, calling it a victory for self-determination. She’s called Julian Assange a hero without reservation. These positions have made it impossible for me to support her as a progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton. I’d rather vote for Clinton and hold her accountable than a) vote for a candidate who’s supported Brexit, Putin and Assange, and b) make Trump look more popular by reducing Clinton’s margin against him.

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Typography for Academics 1: The Reference Sheet

I’m a big fan of Matthew Butterick’s Typography for Lawyers and Practical Typography. I’ve long thought that the principles in Typography for Lawyers should be applied to other disciplines that are writing-heavy, like academia.

On the top is a standard formatted APA references page, using the guidelines listed on the Purdue Owl website. On the bottom is one that I’ve done with improved formatting.

The example reference page I’m using is based on APA (American Psychological Association) format, mostly because it’s the format I encounter the most often in my field. That’s not to say, however, that these problems are limited to APA–I’ve seen them in other academic formats as well, including MLA (Modern Language Association) format.

The main problem with the default layout is its relative lack of visual hierarchy. ‘References’ is centred, but there isn’t any other formatting to distinguish the title from the rest of the content. No bold, no italics, no size changes. References are separated by second-line indents, but with no indication of where references start and end otherwise. Every element is flush with the other, making it harder to distinguish different sections. And, of course, it must be in Times New Roman, because that’s apparently the only font that exists on computers.

A screenshot of a reference sheet in APA style. A reference list, still in APA format, but with clearer headings and sections.

There really isn’t any reason why this layout has to be so flat. Drawing attention to headings makes sense; clear headers help readers identify important sections, rather than being faced with a massive wall of text. Multiple professional typefaces are available on modern computers, either as system fonts or for sale on professional font sites (or occasionally free ones, though the quality is much more variable). A layout like this would have made sense in the era of the typewriter, when formatting options were limited or non-existent, but it no longer makes sense and hasn’t for at least twenty years.

There’s a reason why professionally designed books, magazines, websites and other works don’t look like this: these academic layouts are more difficult to read, they don’t distinguish between different kinds of content well, and they’re downright ugly. Of course, plenty of academics will say that it’s fine just because it’s what they’re used to. But it’s really not, for the reasons I’ve given above.

With the second layout, it’s easier to see the title, as well as the content. References are now numbered to make it easier to identify each one. It’s easier to see where each reference starts and ends. I’ve also used a different font (Lyon Text), mostly because Times New Roman is dreary.

For more on research paper layouts and typography, read the ‘Research Papers‘ section of Practical Typography.

Association for Autistic Community Presentation Slides

I was honoured to be able to present on participatory action research, data collection and autistic people’s rights at the Association for Autistic Community (AfAC) conference today!

As part of my work with ASAN Boston, I’ve been collaborating with a team of researchers from the Human Services Research Institute and the University of Massachusetts Medical School on a project to create recommendations for data collection of autistic people by state agencies. The project involved creating a ‘citizen’s jury’, where people directly affected by a policy can get together, listen to ‘expert witnesses’, hold small group discussions and create recommendations for policy based on the ideas they evaluated during the Citizen’s Jury process.

Here’s a link to the slides in PDF format if you’d like to find out more. 🙂

cjpresentationminified-2016-09-24

Tips for higher education access, part 1

This is part of a series of posts on higher, further and continuing education and making sure that education is accessible for students, based on my own personal observations and experiences I’ve heard about from other disabled students.

Blanket tech bans are unintentionally disablist. Many people benefit from being able to take notes on their computers or tablets as opposed to writing longhand on paper. Some people have dysgraphia, which makes it harder for them to write neatly and clearly. Some people have a harder time keeping up with the teacher or guest speaker unless they’re typing. Some people have a hard time with organisation and may have an easier time keeping track of notes if they’re searchable and can be backed up to a cloud service. (This latter case applies to me. I’m terrible at keeping track of paper notebooks, but I’m fine when I’m writing on a tablet or computer.) Tech bans are also bad because they out people as being disabled if they receive accommodations to use technology in class.

There are people who actually benefit from multitasking. It can be difficult to concentrate in lecture-model classes, especially for those of us who are autistic or have ADHD. I have to do some degree of multitasking (in the form of doodling on my iPad, usually), or my attention will start flagging pretty quickly if I’m forced to sit still and not do anything with my hands. I was able to get through my undergraduate classes through a combination of doodling, active note-taking and web-surfing.

Sans-serif typefaces (fonts without the little ‘feet’, or serifs, on the ends of the characters) can be more readable for people with dyslexia or other disabilities. Examples of sans-serif fonts commonly available on PCs and Macs include Helvetica, Verdana, Arial, Calibri, Candara, Corbel, Gill Sans and Trebuchet MS. A lot of classes will require everything to be in serif fonts like Times New Roman and Palatino.

Clearly listed deadlines on a syllabus for all assignments can be helpful for people who struggle with executive dysfunction or time management. It makes it easier to track when homework is due, and which things to prioritise when you’re taking multiple classes.

Having both paper and digital options for things like the syllabus, essay prompts and other information related to a class is a good idea – there are people who are better at reading printed material than anything displayed on a screen, and then there are those of us who benefit much more from digital materials because we’re less likely to misplace them. (I’m one of those people who benefits from reading on screen and receiving digital material – I misplace paper really easily.)

A field guide to identifying far-right trolls

Here is a guide to spotting members of the Western far-right so that people can avoid dealing with them online if they don’t have the energy to argue with violent hatemongers. Generally speaking, these people will support some or all of the people and organisations lifted below. Not all of them have identical ideologies; this list contains a mixture of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, men’s rights activists, neo-fascists, alt-right/’Dark Enlightenment’ types, right-wing Eurosceptics, nationalists and ethnocentrists, and right-libertarians/Objectivists. Some of the people and organisations are instantly recognisable, like Donald Trump, but others are more obscure outside their home countries, like Tricolour Flame. This is not an exhaustive list; there are definitely going to be people missing from it, but I hope this is a start.

Click on the ‘Read More’ tag to see the list.

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Wrong does not mean crazy.

Casual ableism has cropped up multiple times in the international conversation surrounding the US presidential election, from Donald Trump’s imitation of a disabled reporter to inaccessible spaces at candidates’ rallies, despite promises of ADA-compliant sections for people needing disability accommodations.

It’s not just about physical disabilities either: Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns have both unwittingly engaged in mental illness stigma in debates and in advertising. Sanders joked that the Republicans would benefit from increased mental health care coverage in his health-care plan near the end of a Democratic debate. At the end of an otherwise excellent Twitter ad criticising Donald Trump and his alienation of large swathes of the American population, Clinton’s campaign included a shot of Jeb Bush saying that Trump ‘needs therapy‘.

I don’t support the Republicans or Trump’s campaign, but that doesn’t make it acceptable for Clinton or Sanders to use mental illness stigma as a means to criticise them. Trump deserves all the criticism he can get for his bigotry against Muslims, his misogyny, his racism, his endorsement of violence against protesters, his eagerness to use nuclear weapons in Syria and in Europe, his pie-in-the-sky plans to build a ‘great, great wall’ at the US/Mexico border that Mexico will pay for, and every other noxious proposal he’s mentioned during this campaign.

Trump’s disgusting plans are not the result of a mental illness; they’re the result of deep-set, unbridled bigotry that he’s exploiting to worm his way into the White House. I think he is a loathsome human being with little regard for anyone else but Donald J Trump. The Republican Party as a whole deserves to be blasted for their dog-whistle racism, homophobic and transphobic bigotry, opposition to reproductive rights, their attempts to erode the separation of church and state, ginning up of hatred against refugees and immigrants, and everything else they’ve proposed, from Reagan on down. But this isn’t about mental illness; it’s about entrenched white supremacy, racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, Christian supremacy and other prejudices.

People need to stop claiming that politicians – and their supporters – whose political views differ from theirs as a sign of a mental illness, as though people can’t hold different political beliefs without considering them rationally. This stereotype also comes with the insinuation that mental illness necessarily means the lack of agency required to arrive at a reasoned political decision, which is grossly untrue. People with psychiatric disabilities can – and do – have the agency necessary to come to their own decisions about their political beliefs. I vehemently disagree with anyone who supports Trump, but I’m not going to claim they’re crazy. There are a lot of things I can say about Trump supporters without saying that they don’t have the agency to decide that they want to vote for Trump.

Politicians can be wrong. They can be divisive, hateful, fear-mongering, venal, craven, wilfully ignorant demagogues. I don’t need to question their mental health to oppose their beliefs. And nor do their political opponents. Call them wrong. Call them misguided. Call them terrible, call them eldritch abominations, call them flaming racist cheetos or gasoline-soaked dumpster fires. But stop calling them crazy.

Who is the monster, and who is the man?

When I was ten, I connected strongly to Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I was a child obsessed: I lived, breathed, dreamed, deeply felt that film with my being. I had nearly every variant of Quasimodo toy available, a Panini sticker book, bedspreads, a T-shirt, the soundtrack that I listened to constantly, and most importantly, the film on VHS which I think I watched over a hundred times. I didn’t know why I connected with it at the time, but I know I did, and drove everyone around me crazy with how often I talked about it.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see why I identified with it. Quasimodo was visibly disabled and socially isolated. He belonged to an ethnic minority (his mother was Romani, mentioned at the beginning of the film) which was, and is, routinely scapegoated, marginalised and persecuted in the Western world. Quasi’s humanity and emotions were constantly disparaged. He was told that he was an ugly, deformed monster whom the world would never understand. That his guardian – his abuser – was the only person who could legitimately protect him and care for him. His path was clearly delineated for him, and if he trod off that path, he would encounter severe retribution.
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Speak truth to power. But don’t be a dick.

Being an activist shouldn’t mean being a dick.

There is no one true way to be an activist
Activism has a place for multiple kinds of approaches. In some circles, there seems to be a tendency towards valorising direct action and more radical approaches as opposed to pushing for change within an existing structure, and in others, radicals are marginalised and treated as fringe agitators who can’t effect change within existing systems. Different activists use different skills to accomplish their goals, and acting as though one means of activism is less valuable than the other diminishes the work that either side does.

Transformative justice requires effective activism, and the means by which a movement can become effective in creating change can vary from movement to movement or person to person. Sometimes the establishment needs to be dragged kicking and screaming. Sometimes you need to handle things in a more subdued way. There’s more than one way to get things done.

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Include all of us!

As a disability activist, I want to make sure that disability policy includes all of us. Here are some ways that we can include more people. This isn’t everything we can do, but we can start here.

Listen to disabled people of colour. People who have to deal with racism are sometimes going to encounter different problems from what white people may have to deal with. I’m both black and autistic. I worry about being targeted for my race when I go into a store or encounter the police. I also worry about these issues because of my disability. Autism means that my body language may be different from non-autistic people’s. This means that I may be seen as ‘suspicious’ even if I’m just minding my own business. You can take the issues caused by racism and add them to the ones caused by prejudice against autistic people.

Recognise the struggles of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people with disabilities. Some people don’t take us seriously. They think that we can’t know who we’re attracted to, or what our own gender is. But this isn’t fair. People know themselves best and we should remember that. We have the right to be in relationships. We have the right to be seen as our own gender. Some of us are men. Some of us are women. Some of us are neither. Some of us are both. You can have a disability and be LGBTQ+.

Remember to support women with disabilities. Disabled women deal with sexism and prejudice against disabled people. Even women without disabilities are taken less seriously sometimes. This is even worse if a woman has a disability. Women are people. People have rights and they deserve a voice.

Listen to people with intellectual disabilities. Some people think that they can’t understand laws and other policies that will support or hurt them because of their disability. This isn’t true. There are ways to make information easy to understand for people with intellectual disabilities. You can write easy-read documents to teach people about candidates and bills. You can make sure your documents are easy to read for as many people as possible. We need to be fair and make sure that everyone can participate in disability policy.

Include people who have problems with reading. People can have problems with reading for different reasons. They may have an intellectual disability. They may have a learning disability. Or they may not speak your native language well. You can write things in a simple way that most people can understand. You can use different online tools to make sure your writing is easy to understand. You can also explain policy in other ways. There are people who can’t read at all. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be included. You can use pictures and videos. You can also explain things to people by talking or signing to them. If they speak or read a different language you can translate.

True inclusion means including all of us, not just some of us.

Campaignful

Between the Bernie or Bust people, Donald Trump’s virulent bigotry, Ted Cruz’s unbridled True Believerdom, John Kasich’s subtle misogyny and the behaviour of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters towards one another, I’ve had enough of this divisive, tiresome campaign. This means, of course, that I can’t tear myself away from it, and have fairly strong opinions about it, particularly with regard to the behaviour of Sanders and Clinton supporters.

Bernie Bots and Clintonites

Some supporters of the Democratic candidates seem to be incredibly vicious to one another this cycle. Definitely not all, but some of them, particularly online. I’ve seen more of it coming from Sanders supporters (the infamous ‘Bernie Bros’ come to mind), though Clinton supporters aren’t above reproach either. Everywhere I look, I see ‘fraud’, ‘neoliberal’, ‘oligarchy’, ‘banksters’, ‘Marxist’, ‘communist’, ‘cheater’, ‘liar’ and other snarl words flung back and forth between these candidates’ voters.

Some of the most virulent supporters on either side will use Republican talking points to denigrate the other candidate, to the point of linking to right-wing sources like Daily Caller, National Review, Breitbart, Fox News, Front Page Mag or The Federalist. No, Bernie is not a communist, either in the classic Marxist sense or in the Marxist-Leninist, Soviet-style fashion. He’s a European-style social democrat. And no, Hillary isn’t Satan in a trouser suit; her record is more progressive than her stereotype indicates, and the idea that she’s just as right-wing as Trump, Kasich or Cruz is preposterous. Criticising a candidate is one thing, but acting like far-right Republicans when both candidates are on the left – at least according to US political alignments – is unacceptable. When I want to read about why Bernie is a better candidate than Hillary, or vice versa, I don’t want to feel as though I’m reading the views of a Trump or Cruz supporter on Red State or Fox News.

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The Stigma Series 1: The Short Bus

This is the inaugural post in a series of blog entries that I’ll be making about stigma attached to disability, race, gender, class, and sexuality, with a focus on symbols. 

In the US primary and secondary education systems, “short buses” are school buses equipped to be more accessible for physically, cognitively, and psychiatrically disabled students. Systemic ableism has led to the canard that if people use these buses to school, then they are somehow worth less than those who don’t. Because cognitively disabled children and teenagers often ride the short bus, it has become shorthand for intellectual disability. “She doesn’t have a clue; she must have ridden the short bus as a kid.” “My computer is so slow that it must be riding the short bus.”

The problem with these jokes is threefold: first, they are intrinsically ableist by continuing to replicate stereotypes directed toward people who have, or are perceived to have, cognitive delays. If you’re riding that bus, you must be tainted just from being in contact with intellectually disabled students. Even having a tangential association with such people comes with the implication that you, too, must have significant cognitive delays and are therefore less worthy than others to exist as yourself. Intellectual disability turns into something rather like leprosy as depicted in the Bible and other historical literature: a communicable disease with concomitant social ostracism. It connotes impurity: should someone have an intellectual disability, according to this train of thought, they ought to be kept away from others lest they corrupt the rest of humankind with their condition. It doesn’t matter that intellectual disability is not communicable, nor does it indicate impurity; stereotyping doesn’t work that way. 

Second, implying that all students who ride the short bus do in fact have an intellectual disability is factually inaccurate. Short buses are equipped with staff and tools that make riding to and from school more accessible to a wider variety of students than are typical, “long” buses, including wheelchair or walker (= Zimmer frame) lifts and extra aides available to take care of students. They are not designed to accommodate intellectually disabled students alone; they are meant to accommodate several kinds of disabled student. And even if said buses were specifically designated for intellectually disabled students, stigmatising them and the people who ride them based on that fact alone is dehumanising and ableist.

It’s time for a confession: between the ages of eleven and fourteen, I rode the short bus. My aversion to “riding the short bus” jokes stems from my personal experiences as much as it does my political beliefs regarding disability. I do not have an intellectual disability; in fact, when I was assigned to ride the short bus, I was in the gifted programme and took mainstream education classes except for a few pull-out special-ed classes whose frequency decreased as I grew older. There were other students on my bus that weren’t intellectually disabled, either; they rode them because of physical or psychiatric disabilities. I myself was there because of various perceived difficulties with the typical bus relating to my being autistic, including meltdowns, overload, and difficulty with adjustment. I didn’t really have any problem with the buses themselves: the drivers were nice, I got along with the vast majority of the passengers, and I endured far less bullying on them than I did in the classroom. It was the stigma attached to them that I struggled with, and by the time I was in high school, I asked to be driven to school because I was tired of feeling awkward and ashamed. 

Third, the stigma attached to using the short bus marginalises those of us who need accessible transport. It is treated as a means of segregating disabled students from non-disabled students, rather than a means by which disabled students can participate in education by being transported to and from school in a way that is accessible to them. This mentality does a disservice to the people who benefit from, and thrive with, accessible transport. The short bus—as well as other forms of accessible transport—is a tool, like a wheelchair, assistive and augmentative communication, canes or walking sticks, guide dogs, hearing aids, glasses, or the internet. Insisting on treating it as a tool, rather than as a symbol inscribed with deep-set stigma against intellectual disability, is an important step toward changing attitudes. 

Mocking the “short bus,” and by extension the people who ride it, contributes to the dehumanisation of disabled people. Call me humourless, but there are things out there that are just not funny

Contemplating—and complicating—race.

I often feel as though I am on the edges of Blackness, despite my experiencing physically embodied Blackness. When I look in the mirror, I see dark brown skin, tightly curled hair, a broad nose, dark brown eyes: things that are unmistakably coded as Black. It feels largely skin deep, however: I don’t feel culturally Black enough, especially around Black Americans who did not have recent immigrants from Africa, Latin America, or the Caribbean in their families. 

My relationship to Black American culture is, and always has been, complicated and turbulent. My maternal family—except for the youngest uncle, who was born in New York—immigrated to the US from Trinidad in the 60s. My paternal family is Black American, but I was comparatively less close to that side of the family, so my idea of intergenerational Blackness is shaped by the experiences of my immigrant family, not my American-born family who moved up north during the Great Migration of the mid-20th century. My experiences of comfort foods, of family sayings, and of how Blackness is expressed—or not expressed—stem from being the child and grandchild of immigrants.

Like many immigrants wanting to gain respectability in a new country, some of my maternal family aligned themselves with White-defined respectability, rather than the Black Americans who superficially looked like them, but spoke a different dialect and carried themselves differently. Some didn’t, and had stronger pan-diasporic Black cultural identities, but they’re not the ones that raised me. Internalised racism and a desire to seem palatable to White people pushed my mother, and to a lesser extent my father under her influence, toward spurning African American Vernacular English, sneering at Black people who saw their race as being a defining aspect of their identity, deeming themselves more enlightened because they preferred White Republican candidates over Black Democratic ones, letting their White friends complain to their faces about “reverse racism,” and unthinkingly repeating worn-out right-wing canards quoted straight from Fox News about how we Black folks just can’t take responsibility for ourselves and need to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton don’t speak for us, those damn race-baiting radicals. I absorbed many of these toxic attitudes as a child and as a teenager, and though I’ve undone much of it in adulthood, I still have a complicated relationship with how Blackness is performed by Black Americans. 

It was almost as though I was supposed to be a “person with Blackness,” rather than “a Black person.” It didn’t help that things were compounded by certain people at school—and in one case, my maternal aunt’s then-boyfriend—who accused me of “talking proper” or “actin’ white.” If I acted more Black, then I’d deal with my mother’s wrath being brought down upon me, but if I acted in a way that seemed less performatively Black, I would find myself ostracised by other Black youth. 

Of course, I gravitate toward certain people, or music, or writing, or art without any conscious design behind the process. The things I like are black things because I am black and I like them. Knowing that intellectually, however, doesn’t dispel the sneaking suspicion that I am doing it wrong. That my comparative lack of performative Blackness severs me from the rest of my community. 

I feel like a fucking Oreo. An interloper among real Black people. 

I don’t deliberately avoid other Black people, and nor do I deliberately avoid things traditionally associated with Black Americans.  I do, however, feel deeply awkward in spaces that are implicitly delineated as Black American spaces—in contrast to ones involving the entirety of the African diaspora—because of this feeling of “not being Black enough.” That I’ll come in, and they’ll expose me as a fraud and accuse me of actin’ white. Such spaces wouldn’t be explicitly coded as Black American spaces, but the mannerisms and cultural references would be.

I feel as though I’ve been thrown in this country without the “Black People’s Manual.” Well, except for the part about being terrified for your life because yet another police officer has shot an unarmed Black man. 

There is a constant knife-edge fear, a metallic tingle in the mouth, of the other intersections in my life interfering with this: Will they accept me as a queer, autistic pagan along with being Black? I have been burned by the Black church—by which I mean the American Protestant strain of Black religiosity—and its rampant homophobia and transphobia, but I would be foolish in the extreme to conflate one cultural institution with the entirety of the race. 

I want to find spaces where I can deal with the complexity of my racial and cultural identity. I want to move from the edges of Blackness toward the centre without changing who I necessarily am. I want to find community that uplifts, commiserates, and sustains, rather than one that pushes me aside. 

I’ve gone through this with my relationship to autism; would that I could find the same peace with my racial identity. 

Word feelings.

Words are sensory and emotional things for me and always have been, and I’m pretty sure it’s related to being autistic. Here are some examples. 

Random sensory impressions. While feels summery; whilst feels wintry. Maybe it’s because of the ‘st’ at the end, like frost or something. Towards feels meandering, like a river headed in a particular direction; toward feels crisper, more made of solid things than water. 

The little things. I notice really small details in how people talk and write. Not everything, but a lot of things. Like people using an S in towards or not. Or anyway, for that matter. I’ve noticed that people who say anyways exclusively don’t use toward as their primary variant, but people who say anyway can go either way. I personally alternate between towards and toward, but have never used anyways outside character dialogue. Apparently people don’t notice this much, because I’ve seen cases where both versions appeared in the same sentence! It’s something notice though, and I just try to keep the variant consistent within a document (I can’t predict what comes out of my mouth when I talk though…). I notice if you use the Oxford comma or not. (Admittedly I’m really inconsistent with this. Growing up, I used it without exception, but as an adult I’ve become more lax with it. xD I omit it about 3/4 of the time.) I also notice which punctuation style you use – logical or British-style (where a comma or full point appears outside the quotation marks if it’s not part of the quoted material), or American-style (where commas and periods appear inside quotation marks regardless). As an aside, it’s never correct to put semicolons, colons, question marks or any other punctuation inside quotation marks. I go back and forth between both punctuation styles, but I keep them consistent within a document. 

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… since this is a blog run by an autistic person, special interests will happen.

So, Tobias Frere-Jones, the designer of well-known typefaces like Gotham, Interstate, and Whitney, has recently come out with a new typeface called Mallory, which draws inspiration from British and American sans-serifs of the early twentieth century like Eric Gill’s Gill Sans, Edward Johnston’s typeface for the London Underground, and W.A. Dwiggins’s Metro. It feels like its own thing, though; the letters feel as though they’re more weighted toward the ground, unlike the taller Gill Sans and Metro. I think some of that is because there’s less contrast between the x-height (the height of most lowercase letters, traditionally defined by the letter “x”) and the height of the capital letters; there’s more distinction between the height of capital and lowercase letters in Metro, Gill Sans, and Johnston. It’s a wonderful typeface that I could see in a wide variety of applications. 

I agree with John Gruber, however; I think Hoefler & Co’s Ideal Sans is a more engaging execution of an Anglo-American humanist sans-serif (and I also like Roy Preston’s Prenton, for that matter), and prefer it over both Mallory and a similar modern reinterpretation of Anglo-American humanist sans-serifs, Matthew Butterick’s Concourse. There’s a warmth in Ideal Sans, and a pleasing texture, that I don’t think seems to be present in either Mallory or Concourse. I tend to think of these things as colours or sensations, and for some reason, Ideal Sans is gold and slightly knobbly; Concourse and Mallory are a bit slicker and have cooler colours, and generally, I tend toward brightly coloured and textured things. Semi-synaesthesia for the win. 

(Um. This is obviously just my personal opinion, and not a way to cast aspersions on any of the designers mentioned.) 

Tips for intersectional advocacy

Being effective advocates means paying attention to the ways different kinds of oppression can interact with each other. This is called intersectionality. Here are some ways that we can remember to be aware of this when working on advocacy projects.

  • Disability may not be the only thing that people struggle with. They can deal with racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia (hostility towards immigrants or foreign visitors), classism or other issues as well.
  • Different kinds of oppression can interact with each other. For example it may be harder for a black autistic person to get a job in the mainstream workplace because of racial discrimination and ableism (black people are sometimes stereotyped as being bad workers, and autistic people can struggle with social interactions in interviews). A disabled immigrant may be stereotyped because they may still be learning the local language and because of their disability. Somebody who is poor may have even more difficulty with access needs because they’re less likely to be able to afford insurance to cover their needs, or find somebody with enough time to help them apply for assistance.
  • Remember that people’s experiences of a form of oppression can be different from yours in very blatant or very subtle ways.
  • If you are trying to understand somebody’s experiences, don’t assume you know more about their lived experiences than they do.
  • It’s fine to ask respectful questions if the topic comes up and you’re confused, or to do research. However, you can’t treat any one person as your automatic educator about different forms of oppression. People are all dealing with their own problems and you should be respectful of their time and energy.
  • People can make mistakes and we understand that. The best way to deal with it is to find out why something is offensive and avoid making the same mistake again.

Person-first language and oppositional models of disability

While person-first language—a way of framing disability rhetorically based on the idea that people should not be solely defined by their disability—may apply to people who experienced disablement later in life, or don’t view their disability as a pervasive part of their being, it is not a universal experience of conceptualising disability. 

I question the idea that person-first language is inherently inclusive toward all communities to which it is attached. In fact, when it is misapplied, it verges on being ableist itself. 

For some disabilities, and for some disabled people, person-first language treats disability as though it is something that exists alongside someone; it is an oppositional model in which one’s disability is a burdensome external force. This oppositional attitude toward disability stems from the ableist idea that disability is something that happens to “normal” people—or that disabled people are altered able-bodied or neurotypical people—rather than a natural aspect of human existence. This applies particularly to those of us who have lifelong disabilities—we cannot envisage a life in which we were not disabled relative to the societies in which we grew up. Using person-first language for those of us who do see our disabilities as being an intrinsic aspect of our being simply upholds toxic cultural scripts regarding disability, shame, and the idea that we should reject our bodies and minds—or somehow see them as not being truly ours—for not adhering to a socially sanctioned norm. 

I do understand that people who apply person-first language universally are well-meaning and wish to recognise that we have full value as human beings. Affirming our value, however, does not necessitate separating us from our disabilities if we do not prefer that language, especially when that separation is artificial. 

For me to call myself a person with autism is to create an artificial distinction between me and the autism that helps shape who I am. I do not exist in opposition to myself. You cannot rend me in two, with me on one side and the autism on the other. 

Recasting me as a person with autism constitutes rewriting my existence and cramming it into an ill-fitting mould that valorises the experiences of non-autistic people over autistic people’s experiences, and pushes me aside to the margins.

Am I a person with blackness? A person with queerness? No, of course not, and even the most diehard supporters of person-first language would not contort themselves to separate all marginalised identities from people who are rendered as subalterns within mainstream society. 

Were I not autistic, I would not be myself in any recognisable form, so why would I separate myself from being autistic? I am an autistic person. Do not call me a “person with autism.”