I’ve noticed something of a trend in some areas of autistic self-advocacy: we sometimes infantilize ourselves with childish, flowery language when addressing allistic abuses. Facebook’s Boycott Autism Speaks page is guilty of this a lot. They post images that accurately call out specific companies that support A$, but do so with language like “Ewww, gross!” and “Looks like Gap has a gap in understanding!!!”
Phrases that look like a child wrote them just allow allistics to further infantilize us and take us less seriously. It also makes the issue at hand seem less serious. What Autism Speaks is guilty of is eugenics. I think that warrants a tone a little more serious than, “Ewww that’s gross!!” No. We need to be militant in our opposition to it. A dead spider is gross. Eugenics is a violation of human rights, which goes FAR beyond that descriptor.
Thankfully, I started a conversation on one of Boycott Autism Speaks’ images about this topic tonight, and the mods seem pretty receptive. So I think this is an issue of internalized ableism where autistics seem to infantilize their own movement to make it more palatable for autism parents, but hey, this movement IS NOT FOR THEM! It’s for us. The autistic people they are directly hurting. You’re either with us on that or you’re in the way, allistics.
Tone policing other autistic people seems a lot more ableist than using words one person on tumblr doesn’t think are “serious” enough, but what the fuck do I know?
There are several aspects in this I feel compelled to comment on.
1. autism is a developmental disorder. If some people on the spectrum seem childish or immature it could actually be because they are. I know I very often am. I am also acutely aware that I (and my autistic partner, too, for that matter) acknowledge my inner child to a much greater degree than most NTs I come in contact with. Whether this is because they don’t acknowledge their inner children or whether they don’t have them is not for me to say. Yes, NTs sometimes view us as childish and immature - this is because a lot of us *aren’t* quite as mature as our respective ages would lead them to expect. Rather than pretending to be something we’re not - you know, pretending to be less disabled, which it would amount to - we should be able to be who we are AND be treated right. Our rights and autonomy should not be dependent on the standards NTs set for sufficient emotional maturity.
2. Let’s not pretend that all autistics are the same. We yell so loudly about others doing that, so we really shouldn’t be doing it ourselves. Some of us can sit down and have Serious Grown-Up Conversations(tm), so we do that. This is why I’m giving a guest lecture on autistic self-advocacy to Psychology students at a university next month. Others can chime in in a less mature way. Others (I’d even say most) can do both, and can make their own decisions about what to do where.
3. Making a movement more palatable by adhering to a stereotype about childishness? I can turn that right around and point out that the argument that making the movement more palatable by behaving in Good Proper NT-Conforming Maturity Standards is ALSO just pandering to those who would dismiss us. How many times have we not been met with “You’re not autistic (enough), you’re not like my child. My child is worse off than you!”?
4. Showing the diversity that autistics actually have amongst our number is not a bad thing.
5. I would have made a point about Tumblr if the original post weren’t about things going on on Facebook :-p The fact is that all the social justice movements that have branches on Tumblr tend to not present their most mature sides on Tumblr. Let’s face it, Tumblr is a playground. There’s fun and games, the occasional serious conversation, cats, hard-hitting slogans, cats, more fun, echo chambers, more games, fandoms, cats and bullying. Also cats. Did I miss anything? I’ve been away from Tumblr for slightly less than a year, and before that I had another break lasting about a year. Both times I just couldn’t get back into it, because it’s a playground. With loads of bullying, social signalling, posturing and preening. And as someone who’s been through all of that in school-hell, yeah no thanks. I don’t know whether the breaks just did me some good and I forgot how bad it was, but both times I returned it seemed things had gotten even worse. And lately it also seems to me that the public Facebook debates - in groups or on people’s walls - are beginning to look a lot like Tumblr. I have seen people chased off of Facebook for pointing out sexism and ableism - not chased off by sexists, but by feminists who did not approve of the way the -isms were pointed out. Do we really want to start policing each other so hard that we drive our own movement-members off the social media?
6. I had gotten super duper sick of word and tone-policing when I left nearly two years ago. I don’t know whether it’s gotten worse in feminist circles, doesn’t look like it, but it does seem that it’s gotten worse in anti-ableist circles.
7. I study law, I give guest lectures and talks, I do a lot of advocacy both online and off with the people in my local area who can help here. I am spending a lot of energy doing activism/work. I can sometimes be kinda sorta serious when online in broader communities, but at other times I simply do not have the mental ressources to say anything much other than “trufax” or similar short but slightly immature outbursts of support. I accept that others feel the same. I would rather hear another (immature) voice supporting us all than feel completely alone in all the seriousness on the day that I happen to be the only one with the energy to behave like a Right Proper NT Grown-Up.
8. Telling people they should shut up with their self-advocacy if they can’t make their self-advocacy sound like others would like them to is completely in contradiction with the whole point of SELF-advocacy.
9. There isn’t any single correct way to do advocacy and activism. Some prefer to just be themselves, however that might be, in the hopes that others will just view them as individual beings with thoughts and values that should be considered. Others prefer to be militant and aggressive, because they believe that’s what works to convince others. Others again prefer the calm and rational approach in the hopes that they’ll have luck persuading others. Demanding that others adhere to your preferred kind of activism is not actually in favour of freedom but will only serve to create a totalitarian mindset within the movement. And that’s the last thing we want. Me? I want people to advocate for their causes in a way that works and makes sense for them. a) because it makes their advocacy honest and b) because that way I will also know whether to stand beside them or whether to keep my distance - even if we do share our goals.
*hides behind law books, waiting for the onslaught*