April 7, 2013

Out of Order new trailer!

Posted in Marginalization tagged , , , , at 1:40 am by chavisory

Really happy to see an update from the Out of Order team this week.  Seeing this film get made is a wish very dear to me.  It will come as no surprise to anyone, probably, that I treasure stories of people being told that they’re not supposed to exist, and then doing it anyway.

And also because I’ve had people who are not allies to the cause of equality tell me that they’re really and truly trying to understand the position of people who consider themselves both faithful Christians, and avowedly queer.  Being able to point them to this film would be a great place to start, but it has to get made first.

Earlier this year I shared the first trailer for this documentary project.  I know that everything and everyone is asking for your time or money for something, and I know that queer Presbyterian aspiring clergy might seem an obscure or marginally important topic for a documentary, but the filmmakers have this to say:

This important film is about people making a stand for what they believe in. It’s not merely about Christians or gay and transgender people. It’s about wider humanity and doing what’s right, despite institutions telling you you’re wrong, broken and don’t belong.

I know that’s something that probably a majority of my followers can identify with in some way.

They have an IndieGoGo campaign.  They’re just over halfway to their funding goal, and have four days left in the campaign.  Pledge levels start at only $5!

March 18, 2013

Emotional discussions

Posted in Marginalization tagged , , at 12:04 am by chavisory

Another thing that’s happened to me in a debate more than once recently is that somebody tries to belittle me out of the discussion on the grounds that I’m “over-emotional,” and therefore can’t expect to be taken seriously.

It took me a long time to learn that almost whenever someone tells you that you’re being “too emotional,” what they mean is that you are being perfectly appropriately emotional about something that they simply don’t want to have to acknowledge or think about.  That being emotional is not a disqualification from argument.  Being emotional is human.

Un-emotionality is not the equivalent of having a rational argument, or a reliable indicator that someone does.  It is not the same as having a grasp of facts or science or of the actual conditions under discussion.

Emotionality is not personal attack. Personal attack is personal attack, and while there is such a thing as lashing out gratuitously or needlessly, the sole fact of someone’s being emotional, is not it.

That someone is emotional does not mean that they have not, or are not capable, of considering their own arguments logically or rationally.

Rationality and emotionality coexist within individuals.  They are not a zero-sum quantity; they are not opposing or mutually exclusive characteristics.  Or aren’t there people who are both highly rational and highly emotional, as well as people who are both unemotional and deeply irrational?  Because an opponent displays emotion, does not invalidate the logical grounding of their argument, and isn’t an excuse from addressing the actual substance of their argument.  Emotionality itself is neither evidence nor lack of evidence.

To be emotional in argument is not the same as committing the logical fallacy of emotional argument, which is to assert that the emotional consequences, or the intensity with which something is felt, is itself evidence of the rightness or wrongness of a position.  Ironically, it is those who would invalidate a position based on the emotionality of the arguer, who are actually engaging in emotional argument—taking the position that emotionality alone invalidates a position or standing in a debate, and not the validity of the argument itself.

*****

What it probably does mean when someone is emotional is that the topic under discussion means a great deal to them.  That they’ve been affected personally by a situation, or suffered serious and personal consequences of how a problem is perceived and debated—often by people who do not know the realities of the situation as intimately as they do.

It means that somebody cares, that they’re passionate and invested.  And none of those traits precludes the ability to think productively about a problem.  Otherwise, you claim that no one who is truly, individually affected by a problem has any standing to talk about it and to be heard.  That the poor have no place in discussions of poverty, that the disabled have no place in discussions of disability rights, that racial and ethnic minorities have no place discussing racism, and gender/sexual minorities have no place discussing discrimination and bigotry against those identities—if they can’t be perfectly unemotional about it, to an arbitrary standard set by those who are not personally, directly affected by the topic at hand.

Does that sound either fair or rational?

*****

Do we really believe that any major civil rights or human rights victory, whether in a court of law or in our culture, was accomplished without emotional engagement?  The end of South African apartheid, or Jim Crow laws in the US?  The fight for women’s suffrage and enfranchisement?  The aftermath of the Stonewall riots and of Matthew Shepherd’s murder in terms of LGBT rights and acceptance?  The disability rights movement for the rights and inclusion of disabled people that preceded the passage of the ADA?

As logically grounded as all of those movements have been, they have all involved intense and even disruptive degrees of emotion.  And as certain as I am that their very emotional intensity was probably cited as a strike against their credibility at the time…who, now, would dare to say that the emotional investment of their participants should have disqualified their arguments and demands from serious consideration by the majority?

It’s an incredibly unfair standard when only those with the luxury of being able to be unemotional about a topic are granted the credibility to discuss it.  Particularly regarding the concrete consequences that the way it’s discussed has for people’s actual lives.

When someone claims that you are too emotional to be having an argument, it is they who are refusing to engage with the substance of your argument.  They are saying that the only recourse they have is to disqualify you from the debate, because they have no actual refutation to what you are saying.  And that the grounds on which they can do so are that you care too much, that you mean what you are saying.  That the problem at hand is not purely abstract or intellectual to you, but that it means something real.

March 7, 2013

A brief illustration of privilege

Posted in Marginalization, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:57 pm by chavisory

I am often not a big fan of the language of privilege.  While I have found it a useful concept and thinking tool, and one that I tend to think people should take the time to understand…I’ve seen it turn already highly-charged discussions rancorous.  Particularly when both “sides” in a discussion are in fact vulnerable in some way.  The word has such a negatively loaded connotation in its everyday usage that it can turn unproductive quickly when participants aren’t familiar with its meaning in a social justice context, or legitimately feel vulnerable, overtaxed, or externally threatened…only to be told that they may in fact be privileged.  I try to stay away from it.  I usually think that there are better ways to explain things that don’t send people straight into self-defensive mode.

So I was mildly surprised, and humbled, last week when a college friend on Facebook thanked me for alerting her to her own state of privilege, in response to a link I’d posted about a recent event, in the sense of privilege being a circumstance in which you never even had to think about how an issue affects you.

You may have heard about this:  Somebody noticed and blogged about the fact that if you Google-searched “autistic people should,” or “autistic people are,” the autocomplete search suggestions–generated automatically by the most searched phrases completing that sentence–were all hate speech:

12345234-large

In response to the attention from bloggers who organized a flashblog to counteract those results, Google announced that it would revise its search algorithms to more effectively screen out death threats from the top suggested search terms.  (My contribution was here.)

There’s been a lot of discussion of privilege in the interactions between autistic bloggers and autism parent bloggers lately, which I’ve mostly stayed out of (and characterizations of war between the two groups, with which I mostly don’t agree).

But on a whim, I tried something.  Try it for me now if you want.

Go back to the Google home page.

Type in “parents of autistic children should,” “parents of children with autism should,” “parents of children diagnosed with autism should,” or “parents of autistic children are,” and don’t hit enter.  Let autocomplete do its job.

And see what the suggestion for that query is.

Here’s what I got:

parents of autistic children - Google Search(Search results read “things parents of autistic children should know“)

parents of autistic children are often aloof themselves - Google Search(Search results read “parents of autistic children are often aloof themselves“)

That is the magnitude of the difference between the assumptions that society makes about you, and the assumptions that society makes about us.  That’s privilege.

You may feel like autistic people, or other people who don’t know what’s like to parent an autistic child, judge you too harshly or unfairly, make ridiculous accusations, or hold you to impossible double standards.  There are times when you may be probably are right.  That there is a privilege differential does not mean that you can’t be hurt or bullied or wronged on an individual basis by someone of a less privileged group.

But society at large doesn’t wish you would just go away and die.  Major charities and research organizations don’t actively seek ways to make that happen.  There isn’t a federal law entitled the Combating Autism Parents Act.

(There is a federal law called the Combating Autism Act.  Think about what that really means if autism is an inextricable part of your psyche.)

Privilege is not about parents vs. autistics.  It is not about which group of us has had it harder, or that we could somehow count, add up, and compare the number of strikes against us.  It is not about how we feel about you or you feel about us or whatever personal wrongs or misunderstandings we might have done each other.

Privilege is about how the world at large sees you, and how the world at large sees us–and people like your kids–and the consequences of those conditions in who gets listened to and how.  And people–including parents of autistic people–are way, way more likely to get listened to seriously when they say that the world would be better off if people like us didn’t exist any longer, than when they say that we are acceptable, that we are not a tragedy, that the value of our lives is not best measured in terms of our financial burden on the country…or when parents like you say that you love your kids the way they are and only want their happiness and acceptance.

Privilege is the poisoned water that we’re all swimming in; it’s not about laying blame for who did the poisoning.  We all get wet; none of us can help but be affected in our views and the way we live our lives and interact with others…that doesn’t make it the fault of the people who aren’t the targets of the poisoning.  But we can all help unpoison the water.

December 5, 2012

Because I remember

Posted in Marginalization, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 2:56 pm by chavisory

Two major considerations of autism and the place of autistic people in society sort of collided in the news media this past week.  First, the New York Times’ Sunday Magazine ran a long piece, “The Autism Advantage,” on a European company, Specialisterne, whose mission is to find supportive employment opportunities for people with Asperger’s Syndrome in the tech world.  And second, the House of Representatives held the first hearings in a decade on rising diagnostic rates of autism spectrum disorders.

In both forums, it quickly became apparent, as it often does, that by having any ability to take an active role in our own lives or discussions about us, our right to do so is discounted by many.  The comments section of the Times article quickly exploded with criticism that because some autistic people are too severely affected to ever hold jobs, the article was irresponsible or trivializing, that the employment concerns of the so-called “high-functioning” had no place in discussions about real autism.

And the originally slated panel of witnesses to Congress included zero autistic people of any stripe.  When Michael John Carley and Ari Ne’eman were added in response to pleas from the advocacy community, complaints resulted that two such “high-functioning” men couldn’t truly represent autistic people, or did so inadequately because their testimony didn’t focus on the need for a cure for “lower-functioning” people.

Effectively, that because some autistic people have severely compromised communication abilities, we should not have been represented, in a Congressional hearing about the federal response to our existence, at all.

And I’ve lost count of the number of times in online discussions when I’ve been told that I’m nothing like someone else’s child, couldn’t possibly understand what their child goes through or have any idea what it’s like to be their child…before they list off a litany of experiences that sound a whole lot like my own childhood.

(Or sometimes not.  Sometimes someone else’s experience with the autism spectrum is actually radically different from mine.  It’s called a spectrum condition for a reason, and we know this, better than anyone.)

I may never be able to convince these people that my experience has anything in common with their children’s.  I know that no single human being can ever truly know the experience of being another, but I also can’t convince myself that I have no place standing up for those kids.

Because I remember getting the message so often, in so many ways, that there was no place for me in the world as I was, that I was never going to make it in “the real world.”  That I wasn’t going to be allowed to make it if I wasn’t going to do a better job of pleasing others.

I remember not being able to look the way I was supposed to, talk the way I was supposed to, dress the way I was supposed to.  I remember not being what anyone wanted.

Because my heart broke for your kids when Michael John Carley asked the nation to remember, when we talk about the autistic, that the vast majority of us can hear and understand what you say about us—and a gallery full of people behind him angrily shook your heads “no.”  Because I remember being told again and again that I could not be perceiving what I was perceiving, and being told that I couldn’t or shouldn’t be able to do what I knew I could.

Because I remember having no one who spoke or understood my language, and losing hope that I ever would.  I remember having no one who thought that the world as I experienced it was worth respecting or understanding remotely enough to be any help to me.

Because I remember the constant implication that the ways I was being treated were acceptable because the way I am was not acceptable.

These things wear you down, day after day.  The memory of it all wears on me still.  I want better than that for your kids.  I think we can all do better than that for your kids.  I’ve cited before, and probably will again, the quote from Adrienne Rich:

When someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing.

I think that all of your children deserve to see a world with them in it, and belonging in it.

And far from our abilities disqualifying us from that role, I believe that our communication abilities and everything that we’ve done and learned for ourselves are all the more reason why we have a responsibility to stand up for kids like yours.  If I were to decide that because of the gap in our apparent abilities, that they and I have nothing whatsoever to do with each other….If I said “You’re right; because I can speak and write and have a job, and your child might not ever, then his rights, dignity, and well-being have nothing to do with me,” then I really would be guilty of the accusation leveled against activists so often–that we care nothing about the well-being of the more severely disabled.

But I don’t think that’s true.

August 17, 2012

Nothing’s wrong with a boy in a dress; what’s wrong with the rest of us?

Posted in Cool kids, Marginalization, Uncategorized tagged , , at 5:53 pm by chavisory

What’s so bad about a boy who wants to wear a dress? (New York Times Magazine, 8/12/12)

The answer, of course, is that there’s nothing bad at all about a boy who wants to wear a dress…but what I’d like to know is why this is the question.

The article is well worth reading, and I’m thankful for these parents who make a decision to accept their sons as they are and to not force them to suppress their gender expression, and to get them support in their schools and neighborhoods.  I know it does take courage to do it in the face of a lot of misunderstanding and pressure to the contrary.  They make me hopeful and thrilled for their kids.

But it just shouldn’t need to be considered a revolutionary act to stand up for your kids.

I’m impatient despite my relief that these people exist, and will probably keep growing in numbers, with an article written mostly by and for people who are only just now learning to face up to the things that people like their kids have always had to.  And that this is an eight-page article in the Times, not because we’re suddenly aware of the existence of gender-variant people, but because a certain number of otherwise mainstream parents have decided to accept it in their children.  Not even completely and unconditionally, but to one degree or another.  Not that gender fluidity has always been a normal part of the fabric of human identity and yet that these kids have almost always lived under a terrible burden of abuse and repression (and probably still do more often than not).  But that a relative handful of parents are willing to stand up to a cruel and unjust culture to prevent abuse of their children for being who they are.  To say that maybe conformity is not the highest possible goal, to recognize that it might be easier for them but not actually the best thing for their child.

Lots of people have fluid or androgynous gender expression, and young children can be far more self-knowing than we give them credit for.  The question I wish a writer for a major, mainstream news publication would address is “what the hell is wrong with a society that would treat the most vulnerable of children the way that we currently do?”  How is it that ostracism, bullying, ridicule, forced suppression, employment discrimination, and violence are considered the normal responses to deviations from it, and acceptance is considered the curiosity?

March 12, 2012

The Gift of a Label

Posted in Marginalization, Reality, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 12:28 pm by chavisory

The last several weeks have brought a series of unfortunate articles, op-eds, and blog posts trivializing or dismissing the validity of or need for the Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis—usually in some kind of misconstrual of what it means that the designation is being removed from the DSM-V in recognition that it’s redundant with “high-functioning” autism.  These pieces often contain, or inspire in the resulting comments and letters to the editor, a raft of responses to the now widespread recognition of Asperger’s Syndrome—along with other invisible disabilities, learning disabilities, and subtler neurodevelopmental conditions—along these lines:

“Why do we have to pathologize everything?”

“Why can’t we just appreciate people for who they are?”

“I don’t want to label my child.”

“Labels are for soup cans.”

“But everyone has quirks.”

“Didn’t we just use to have a broader conception of normal?”

“Aren’t we all just human?”

I want to explain why these make me violently annoyed.

And there was a time when I might even have said the same things.  When I would have given a lot just to be treated like everyone else.

But eventually I realized that is not what people mean when they say that.  What they really mean is usually one of two things:  First, that “I don’t, can’t, and shouldn’t have to try to understand how things are truly different for you.”  They don’t want to, or can’t, recognize that other people’s experiences, needs, or abilities can be very different from their own and yet equally real.

It says they’d rather deal with the superficial and they’d rather you be superficial.  Preferably in ways that make them comfortable.  It’s an alternate take on “but you don’t look disabled.”

Or, second, it means they don’t understand that it isn’t the label that makes someone different, or makes other people treat them differently; that it is the underlying condition itself that makes someone different, that is the reason they function differently, and that makes you know you are different.

And I did know it, at a very early age, and even when no one else would admit it.  Don’t kid yourself that we don’t know we’re different if no one tells us.

It’s the label for a condition that confers the knowledge that what we’re going through is known and recognized and survivable.  That we are within the realm of human experience.  That there even is such a thing as we.

*****

To be denied a name means having your very existence as a person who has a certain experience undermined, denied, and even disallowed.

The fact that we have words for things is an acknowledgement that those things are real, that they are part of our world.  George Orwell knew this when he wrote 1984, in whose dystopic language system, Newspeak, words for concepts that Big Brother doesn’t wish people to be able to describe are systematically stricken from the English language, so, for instance, without a word for “freedom,” no one will be able to conceive of the thing itself.

I also find it striking that in so much literature concerning magic, magical ability turns on a wizard’s, elf’s, or magician’s knowledge of true names, or true language.  To know the true names of things is to have mastery over your world.

It’s not just what you are, but how the world works for you.

Try going through your life every day, being able to tell that things simply don’t work for you like they do for everyone else.  That you can try to do everything exactly the same way that normal people seem to, and yet somehow it just doesn’t work for you like everyone says it should.  From the way shoes fit to the way sales clerks treat you, how food tastes and feels, how your brain organizes information and how medications work (or don’t) to the color saturation of the natural world to the essential nature of reasoning, time, and memory; to the fact that no one ever quite understands anything you say.  Then tell me you don’t need an explanation.  Then tell me that you wouldn’t give anything for one word to tell you why.

Or imagine the single most true thing about yourself.  Whatever that is for you.  The most true word that springs to mind when you think “this is what I am in the world.”

Now imagine that everyone in your life denies that it’s real, or even possible, yet finds a way to punish you every day of your life for functioning in accordance with it.

I know what it is to be told day after day, in ways large and small, “real people don’t work that way.”

Since I have a label, I know the world I belong to is real, and the people I belong to are real.

That there are people I can go to for support and advice, and they know what in the hell I’m even talking about.

That somebody else’s child doesn’t have to do what I did thinking they’re alone in the world.

I doubt I can make you feel what a miracle it is, if you’ve never lived without that.  If you’ve never been without the ability to hear another person say “I know,” and know it was true.

That’s what it is for me to have a label.

*****

And then there’s this rationalization being thrown around that all of these people who shouldn’t really be labeled with an ASD—regardless of whether all of their characteristics do add up to autism—can be re-classified and receive services for all of their various subordinate learning disabilities and other issues, which just have other names like “non-verbal learning disorder,” or “social communication disorder,” etc.

But here’s the problem:  I am not simply an amalgamation of all of my various quirks, disabilities, and learning/perceptual/emotional/physical differences.  I’ve made that list.  There’s not another category that even could better account for what I have.  I knew all of the various traits that made me hopelessly different, but without being able to know why, and it had me actually formulating hypotheses of how I was really a fairy being and not human at all—some highly unlikely genetic throwback to an unknown species, older and distinct from modern humans—of which I was the only one left.  (Kind of like how if you backcross zebras for long enough, you get something that looks a lot like a quagga.  I identified with Henry the quagga for a long time—a creature that wasn’t supposed to exist anymore, but somehow, sort of, did.)  I literally, seriously believed that I was the last fairy on earth because it was the only remotely coherent explanation I could come up with on my own.

The word “loneliness” doesn’t really begin to name that way of existing.

So, yes, you can just like and appreciate me for who I am.

What you cannot do is treat me as a whole person by trying to remedy separately all of the difficult traits that come with what I am.  Because that is what turns a person into nothing but a collection of flaws.

No, you cannot “just accept someone for who they are” if you have no intention of acknowledging what that actually is.  You cannot do that while you deny and belittle what somebody is actually experiencing.  You cannot do that if you see acknowledging disabilities as a shameful thing.

No, you cannot just accept someone for who they are, if what you mean by that is the exact opposite.

*****

“But imagine the effect on a child of being told your brain works in a way it doesn’t.”

“I don’t want a school psychologist to give a clumsy, lonely teenager a description of his mind that isn’t true.”

I don’t want that either, and I don’t have to imagine.  I was constantly being given a description of my mind that wasn’t true.  It is a terribly alienating and disheartening experience.  We should obviously endeavor not to misdiagnose people.  I was misdiagnosed with some other things: being able to speak but just not wanting to, depression, dysthymia, and being a control freak perfectionist who just didn’t want to admit I wasn’t unique and whose standards for humanity were too high.  I know firsthand the harm of misdiagnosis.  I am not denying that misused labels can be damaging and prejudicial.

But there is no evidence that ASD’s are systematically over-diagnosed by professionals.  What I do see happening is that mainstream pop-culture does not truly understand what ASD’s are, and so misinformed laypeople speculate baselessly about odd personalities like Al Gore, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, etc., based on shallow (and frequently false) stereotypes.  When these writers wrongly conflate this cultural trivialization and misappropriation with rampant over-diagnosis to argue that Asperger’s Syndrome (or any invisible disability) is a dubious and unnecessary designation, they contribute to the very trivialization they claim to be opposing.

*****

In my last production, a character says with sad resignation near the end of the play, “There is no word for what I am.  I have looked.”

And that’s what you perpetuate when you deny or scoff at the use of a word for what someone is, or what they have, or what they identify with.  You say “you don’t need a word for what you are.”  You say that your wish for denial takes precedence over theirs for self-knowledge, acceptance, practical information, treatment, or however they need to deal with the truth.

And If you’ve never needed a label, needed a word, needed a name, and not had one—or as Emily Willingham wrote last week, “If you have not lived a life like that, one that has been bereft of an emotional glue that groups you with others who feel as you do—then you are privileged indeed.”

If you have not lived my life, you do not get to decide that I don’t need language for the experience of it.  You do not get to say “there is no word for what you are,” that “there is no word for what you share with other people,” when there is.

Because there is.

December 27, 2011

If you can’t…

Posted in Marginalization, Reality tagged , at 12:04 am by chavisory

I think I never intended to write this post.  It’s personal, and it’s a hissy fit, but one I felt a certain responsibility, the more I reflected on it, to transcribe.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome last year, which most of you probably know because I talk about it on Facebook enough, because I decided that it was part of my life that I wasn’t going to make any particular effort to hide, because I had nothing to be ashamed of.  (I’d known the truth for several years before I sought out a correct diagnosis; a few people knew, but I didn’t talk about it much, for fear of a lot of things.)  I really have no idea what people think of me as a result, because I stopped concerning myself at a pretty early age with what people think of me.  Because living in thrall to the opinions of people who don’t have to live your life is no way to live at all.

Anyway, so I’d started to think of it as old news that I was autistic.  I’d started to settle in to living as a whole person, without an emotional double life.  Then last night, I was rather emphatically asking my mother not to describe a young relative, currently in the process of being evaluated for autism himself, as not having a personality, because such language is often used to justify all kinds of mistreatment and prejudice against us, besides not being true.

“But you’re not autistic.”

Which is where my brain froze up.  Because honestly?  I don’t know what else I am.  Everything comes home to that.  Everything. Before I understood what AS really was, I didn’t know what I was at all, except for lost and completely alone in the world.

“I don’t think of you as really autistic.”

This is everything I didn’t have it together enough to say at the time.  This is what I’d say going forward:

If you can’t see me as autistic, then you need to revise your view of autism.

I am “not like that kid” you saw who runs around screaming, or who can’t communicate at all, because I grew up.  And because we’re all different, because we’re all different people, who cope with unique profiles of challenges and gifts in individual ways.  I am “not like that kid,” because, to be perfectly literal, I am not that kid.

We are as unique as the stars.  They say autism is a spectrum, but I don’t think that really describes its variety and complexity well.  It’s not a simple progression from mild to severe.  I often say it’s more like a constellation, or galaxy (which, another blogger pointed out to me today, has the added metaphorical benefit of being a 4-dimensional construct; it changes through time for every person as well).  There are people with far more severe problems with independent living than I have, who are smarter, better writers, incredible artists or just incredible people.

I am far more fortunate than many, and not as lucky as others.  I know this; you don’t need to rub my nose in it.

If you can’t think of me as autistic because I have so much personality…actually, we usually do.

If you can’t think of me as autistic because you see me as a competent adult, you didn’t know me as a child.

If you can’t think of me as autistic because I’m verbal and communicative…read more about AS.  Those things are features of the condition.

If you can’t think of me as autistic because I’m so good at my job…please consider that it’s a job that largely entails “keeping track of everything that no one else wants to” (to paraphrase the college instructor who introduced me to stage management as a career option), organizing, color-coding, and working with a collection of people who are also socially marginalized, passionate, obsessive, highly sensitive, and reliant on consistency and repetitive and ritualized behavior.  (Actors, I adore you all so much.)

If you think I can’t be autistic because I’m so good at multitasking, well, I’m not.  Good at multitasking, that is…I can’t do it at all.  I know I’m taking a certain risk in telling you this.  What you see when you see me do my job is the result of copious amounts of planning, mental choreography, scripting, queuing, pre-thinking, mapping out scenarios like computer flowcharts, making Excel spreadsheets, preparation and learning from experience, and excellent assistants being good at their jobs, too.  (Stage management and life with Asperger’s are both centered around dealing with a quantity of data that a single human being is not truly equipped to handle.)

You get good at anything you do for a long time.  I got good at my life when I stopped trying to live one that I realized I could never have.

If you can’t believe I’m autistic, what on God’s green earth do you think I am?  Because I sure as hell failed at being normal.

I’m autistic.  There’s not another or a better word for what I am.  It’s one I searched long and fought hard for.

If you can’t think of me as autistic, it’s not so much for my sake that I care, but watch out that it’s not because you can’t believe that autistic people can be intelligent, kind, good-humored, good friends, good at our jobs, capable of love, highly-skilled or talented, complete human beings.  Because if your prejudice is that autistic people can’t be these things, you take chances for jobs, education, friendships, and quality of life away from autistic people who are a whole lot less lucky than I am.

September 13, 2011

Reason to consider unschooling, #374

Posted in Cool kids, Marginalization, Schooling and unschooling tagged , , , at 12:29 pm by chavisory

In Suburb, Battle Goes Public on Bullying of Gay Students  (New York Times, 9/13/11)

It seems that teachers and principals in Minnesota aren’t totally, completely, 100% sure about protecting kids from bullying based on their sexuality.

After years of harsh conflict between advocates for gay students and Christian conservatives, the issue was already highly charged here. Then in July, six students brought a lawsuit contending that school officials have failed to stop relentless antigay bullying and that a district policy requiring teachers to remain “neutral” on issues of sexual orientation has fostered oppressive silence and a corrosive stigma.

….

School officials say they are caught in the middle, while gay rights advocates say there is no middle ground on questions of basic human rights.

School officials say they are “caught in the middle.”  Between allowing students to be hounded–occasionally to death–by abuse and misinformation, and stepping in to stop it.  Somebody here missed a lesson on what it means to be an educator.

Mr. Carlson, the superintendent, agreed that bullying persists but strongly denied that the school environment is generally hostile.

I have no words.

August 7, 2011

A hope for neurodiversity in education

Posted in Marginalization, Schooling and unschooling, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 12:13 am by chavisory

Sometimes when I’m feeling frustrated and pessimistic, I get to wondering if humanity is irredeemably stupid.  Sometimes I look around at some of the things we do to each other and the immensity of the problems we’ve created for ourselves through greed and short-sightedness, and the state of politics in this country, and just can’t fathom how we’re ever going to find the unity, compassion, and concerted problem-solving to get ourselves out.

But I’ve been watching TED talks lately…and this conference has found a really astonishing number of people who have totally brilliant ideas and things to say.  You can really click randomly on just about any TED talk video, and people you’ve never heard of before in a hugely diverse range of disciplines are saying and doing incredible things.  Which makes me think, instead, that we actually have a nearly infinite number of wise and brilliant people on our side.

This talk by Sir Ken Robinson is actually about 5 years old, but for that I think what he says is actually more urgent now and not less.  He says that we’re actually educating kids out of their creativity and natural genius, to our own impoverishment…that we actually stigmatize many kinds of intelligence that simply don’t perform well in a confined classroom environment or on a standardized test.

Creativity isn’t just about making art; it’s that misunderestimation that makes it easy to marginalize as impractical or financially untenable.  We have environmental problems, health problems, food problems, and budget problems, and they’re all going to require creativity to solve.  Balancing our budget will take creativity.  Making alternatives to fossil fuels safe and affordable will take creativity.  Finding ways to teach kids from the most difficult of life circumstances takes creativity (like setting up a pirate supply store as a front for a free tutoring center, as Dave Eggers explains here).

“It’s education that’s meant to take us into this future that we can’t grasp,” Robinson says, noting that we’re trying to educate kids for the next 50 years of their lives, but we have no idea what the world will be like in 5 years.  We have absolutely no basis on which to say that one kind of thinking, one curriculum or set of skills or knowledge, will be the most important one in the future and therefore to stigmatize all the others.

It’s here that I’d like the educational establishment to consider borrowing an idea from the autism community:  neurodiversity, or the conviction that there is very broad natural variation in human neurological wiring, in which even difficult differences should be valued on their own terms.  It’s become a somewhat contentious term and there are plenty of legitimate criticisms of it, but I don’t believe that it’s a denial of the reality of the disabling aspects of this condition, or a denial that people need and deserve help with things that really impede their quality of life.  I see neurodiversity as asking us to understand and accept a way of thought and a way of being on its own terms before we devalue it or decide it should be eradicated from the human experience, to see people first for their gifts and the ways in which humanity needs them.

As Temple Grandin says, “the world needs all kinds of minds.”

To me, neurodiversity’s not just about how we value autistic people, but how we value everyone who thinks differently, anyone who’s out of step with what the culture has decided it values and doesn’t value, and whatever is distinctive about every person.

Very much echoing what I interpret to be at the heart of the neurodiversity movement’s goals, Robinson says “Human communities depend upon a diversity of talent, not a singular conception of ability.  At the heart of the challenge is to reconstitute our sense of ability and of intelligence.”

Robinson talks specifically about how dance and performance arts are devalued in the educational system, and I think of the League of Extraordinary Dancers, as well as all the dancers I’ve worked with, who never stop amazing me with how their brains work in ways that mine doesn’t.  Skills like these are probably not measurable by standardized test, but, I mean, they only have the potential to revolutionize assumptions about what the human body is capable of and the artistic potential of technology and the internet.

No one gets better or stronger or smarter by being defined and valued according to their weaknesses, but that’s exactly how we educate kids.  We sort students out by what’s wrong with them instead of allowing them the resources and freedom to nurture what’s right with themselves.

I think of Hogwarts, by contrast, which begins the process of formal education by sorting students according to their most basic strengths: Gryffindor students are courageous, Ravenclaws clever, Hufflepuffs hardworking and fair, and Slytherins cunning and ambitious.  Notice how the Sorting Hat doesn’t sort anyone out by their deficiencies.  And how it required the gifts of every single House to save the world from Voldemort.  (Even Slytherin, reviled by all the other houses…Snape’s cunning obviously being what allowed him to act as a double agent for the Order, and it was Narcissa Malfoy’s loyalty to her own family first and foremost that led her to betray Voldemort.)

We all need each other.  We all need each other’s brilliance.

{I couldn’t exactly weave this in to my thesis, but it’s just beautiful and I wanted to share it: spoken word poet Sarah Kay talks about how she found out what she wanted to do, using poetry to solve problems, and teaching self-expression through performance poetry.}

July 23, 2011

The Christian case for marriage equality

Posted in Marginalization tagged , , , , at 11:01 pm by chavisory

Legal same-sex marriage begins tomorrow in New York, and I love that the Times ran this article (The Clergy Effort Behind Same-Sex Marriage in New York) spotlighting the efforts of members of the clergy on behalf of marriage equality, noting that it’s a common but erroneous belief that churches and religious people are polarized against the advancement of LGBT equality.  While some of the most conspicuous campaigns against equality have been waged by churches, in fact, there are religious believers working on both sides of this issue.

What makes this surprising or counterintuitive for a lot of people is a pair of major misconceptions, perpetrated largely by the preaching of the fundamentalist religious right wing, that moderate, liberal or progressive Christianity is just a watered down version of fundamentalist Christianity with weaker versions of the same beliefs; and that in supporting LGBT equal rights, we’re just capitulating to the permissive amorality of popular culture.

What we want people to understand is that we’re actually doing this because we truly believe it is right.  Not because it is easy or just happens to be popular at the moment.

We are not, as socially conservative preachers often accuse, saying we believe in equality for political expediency, to be popular, to duck uncomfortable criticism, because we’re insecure in our faith or because we don’t know all the same Bible verses from Leviticus and 1st Corinthians that they do.  We support LGBT equality, including in legal marriage, as an expression of our faith, not in spite of it.

We think that the narrative arc of the Bible is one of an ever-expanding conception of grace and compassion for our fellow humans.  It’s a story of each successive generation seeing a new reflection of God in the world and the people around them.  We don’t think that that story ended 2000 years ago, but that we’re asked by Christ constantly to see all people anew as creations of God.

I do take issue with one characterization of the debate from the article, when it says “Yet the passage of same-sex marriage in New York last month, just two years after its defeat here, attests to the concerted, sustained efforts by liberal Christian and Jewish clergy to advocate for it in the language of faith, to counter the language of morality voiced by foes.”

Because we absolutely believe that this is an issue of morality as well.  We believe it’s immoral for the government to create second-class citizens and second-class families.  We believe it’s immoral to withhold civil rights based on sexuality just as it would be to deny those rights on the basis of race or religion.  We think that the bigotry enshrined by the Defense of Marriage Act is immoral.  We believe that to scapegoat gays for divorce, child abuse, and a host of other cultural problems is immoral.  We believe it is a moral edict of our faith to stand up for the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our society.

We are not attempting to undermine morality, but to support a morality of compassion and respect for all of our citizens.

We believe, as Victor Hugo wrote, “to love another person is to see the face of God,” and that nothing can make that wrong.

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