As my streak of ire waned the other night, I was (self-)consciously aware that I had written two negative-themed blog posts in a row, and I was looking forward to writing about something more positive (or at least neutral/academic) and less emotional. But today, it’s not to be. I’m really hoping that this post ends the streak of negativity and that we can all get back to “business” (which, for us, usually consists of virtual hugs, high-fives and cheers, and terms of endearment) with my next post. Please bear with me; last night and this morning have been a little rough.
I need to say something about a conversation that I witnessed beginning last night (US time zones) on Twitter. By the time I had caught up this morning, I’m too-well-aware that if I hadn’t been sitting in an airport, surrounded by too many people in too close a proximity, I would have teared up and shut down.
I watched in heart-dropping horror as an exchange took place between two factions of friends in the community whom I care very deeply for and unquestioningly support. I was shocked to read the words, but I couldn’t tear myself away from my mobile screen. Not out of a bloodthirst for drama or “excitement”, but rather, a need to make sure what I was seeing.
I’m not here to scold, lecture, or blame anyone, nor can I or will I take one side over another. I care for both “sides” of the exchange very much, and both sides made/make valid points. Each of us has our own perspective and our own set of experiences. Each of us has our own framework from which we operate. This also means that each of us has our own set of hot-button triggers and sensitive subjects, and each of us also has our own way of responding/reacting to these.
The debate in question, the way I understood it, involved privilege and degrees thereof. Certain groups (males, Caucasians, allistics (non-autistic people), heterosexual people, cisgender people, and others) enjoy a certain degree of privilege, either due to holding a non-minority status or because their attributes are culturally “preferred” (or perhaps both). Out of respect for–and to protect–the anonymity of the specific individuals involved, I won’t say much other than there was a disagreement about the levels of privilege one enjoys based on their various statuses and attributes. We know that holding more than one minority or “non-preferred” status can (and usually does) have a compounding effect; for example, consider two people of African-American descent. One is male; the other, female. Both face the daily potential for discrimination based on their skin color alone. The female, however, faces an additional disadvantage or potential for discrimination based on her gender as well. The fact that she is both African-American and female may present two issues in a Caucasion male-dominated society. The same holds true for other personal attributes, such as sexual orientation, physical/mental disability/handicap/illness, and others.
As we, the people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, are all-too-well-aware, we, too, face considerable discrimination, challenge, and hardship when attempting to live, be recognized, gain respect, and perhaps advance professionally (etc) in a predominantly non-autistic world. The social rules were not fashioned in accordance with how we operate. In a neurotypical/non-autistic world, a lack of eye contact means that you’re hiding something, failing to shake hands firmly means that you’re an untrustworthy cold fish (and is almost treated as a sign of disrespect), and so on. In a non-autistic-engineered world, attributes like extroversion, sociability, and keeping up with current events, trends, and fashions, are all prized; deviating from these ideals results in a societal strike against you.
For several of the participants in the disagreement (and for me as well), several questions surfaced…
If you’re white (or “white-‘looking'”), male, and autistic, where does that leave you? Mathematically speaking, of the three attribute categories, two of them are “favored” statuses (male and white), whereas the third one (autism) is not. In this case, do you enjoy privilege or not?
As an autistic white male, do your “whiteness” and “maleness” negate or soften any of the challenges you face as an autistic person? Do these “favored” attributes make your life any easier, or do you face the same challenges as any other autistic person, or perhaps another autistic person in several other minority categories? (I.e., would the autistic white male have it just as tough as, say, an autistic Latina female?)
Is an autistic white male a “bigot” or a “whiner” (not words that I actually saw exchanged; no one called each other anything from what I saw; these are just theoretical terms) for lamenting about his difficulties in living as an autistic person in a non-autistic world? Does he have the right to “complain”?
One side of the disagreement asserted that an autistic person possessing other privileged attributes would have it easier than an autistic person with several other minority/non-privileged attributes, while the second side (I won’t say “other side” because I don’t want to create any illusion that I favor one side over the other) maintained that even an autistic white male can still have it rough, because of their autism; that they don’t get to enjoy their other privileged statuses as much because they’re on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.
This didn’t have to melt down the way it did; it could have remained an academic discussion, and new viewpoints could have been absorbed on both sides. Again, I’m not scolding or tone-policing, saying that this “should have happened and shame on them for not doing this”. That’s not where I’m going, in any way, shape, or form. All I’m saying is that it could have gone in a different direction.
I’m going to speculate here, because that’s what I do in my own (possibly selfish) attempt to bring torrents of emotions back into the cerebrum and prefrontal cortex. If I can begin to make sense of difficult situations and complex, devastating emotions, then maybe I can survive the storm.
The situation melted down, possibly on both sides (again, no blaming/shaming here; I’ve reviewed the conversations as best I can, and I didn’t observe any bullying tactics–I admit I might have missed some, but I didn’t see any). The actually-autistic Twitter community has been (understandably) low on spoons (i.e., fatigued, overwhelmed, and/or worn-out). We’ve just gotten through major holidays, which, for many of us, involved shopping (public places, sensory overload, excess people/crowds/traffic, way out of our usual routine), spending (on gifts, travel, etc–many of us, myself included aren’t of unlimited financial means), travel (and all of its potential hiccups and minor catastrophes, not to mention also out of the routine), family get-togethers (too many people, sensory overload, not all family members get along, plans change–sometimes at the last minute), senses of obligation (and accompanying resentment or shame), and so much more. This also followed on the coattails of an Stateside American election that shocked and devastated many people around the world, as well as the rapid-fire loss of several beloved stars of nostalgic movies and whatnot in the news headlines lately.
And, (please bear with me if you don’t believe in astrology, but) Mercury is retrograde, a three-and-a-half-week period every three months or so in which communication can get thrown completely out of whack, fraught with misunderstandings and misinterpretations, wrong word choices, higher-than-usual emotions, assumptions, and jumping to conclusions. Which is exactly what happened, at least the way I see it.
Given all of this, I would be surprised if a major communication mishap hadn’t happened. The conditions were too ripe. It was the perfect storm. Thus, (and I might be naively optimistic here) I’m chocking the skirmish up to a big ol’ misunderstanding.
I believe that both sides of the disagreement made valid points. I think that the topic is an extremely important one, and I’m sadly-disappointed (as opposed to disapprovingly-disappointed) that a precedent has been set, in that this has now become a hot-button topic that has caused so much strife and pain that we won’t dare bring it up again, uttering nary a word. I’m worried that, in fear of riling up the associated emotions and reigniting the rift, that we’ll stay silent instead, letting a topic that affects all of our daily lives lie dormant, preventing those of us in the autistic community (but of differing/a variety of other statuses) from expanding our perspectives and gaining insight from each other, and cultivating increased empathy for each other. I also fear that we’ll avoid bringing up other similar topics for discussion, and my fear is borne out of the same reasons.
The other tragic results include friends muting and blocking each other (while understandable, and while I respect their decisions, it’s unfortunate that it even happened) and one friend even deleted their Twitter account.
From where I sat, I was torn between two “sides” that I care very deeply for. I value having them in my life, and I enjoy interacting with them. In regards to the one whose account is no longer, that interaction just became much less convenient. But it’s not just about my own sorrow over seeing this happen and watching them go; my pain is even more for them. Twitter is a rich landscape of easily-connected and like-minded people who share vast treasure troves of information. When anyone leaves Twitter, they’re at least somewhat aware of what they’ll be missing out on, and yet the pain they endure by staying has outweighed the thrill and support they receive from the community.
And that’s the most tragic part. The loss of valuable members of the community and their loss of those remaining.
I respect anyone’s decision to leave Twitter or any other social media platform, or any other place/situation in which it would do them more harm than good to stay. It’s a self-care/self-preservation move, and I don’t blame anyone for doing so. I don’t judge them or get mad at them; to do so would be to impose my desire for them to stay over their desire/need for wellbeing. But I still grieve the loss. (If someone is simply considering leaving Twitter, I’ll express my support/encouragement for them to stay, mainly to send them the message that they are wanted and valued–both personally and as a member of the community, but if they do decide to leave, I completely respect that.)
After all this, what’s left?
Well, I’ll tell you…
We’re minus a couple of people, and there have been some permanent rifts created between others, but we still have a wonderful community.
We still face a lot of hardships and challenges that come with being Aspergian/autistic in a non-spectrum world. We still need to know that we’re not alone. We still need access to information that doesn’t make the mainstream news headlines. We still need to interact and have friends. We still need support (of and from each other).
We all have our challenges and struggles; some of them may be more commonly shared among the community, while others are less so. No one’s challenges/struggles are more or less legitimate than anyone else’s.
We all have different perspectives, situations, experiences, backgrounds, and strengths, and no one of those is any more or less valid, either. We’re all valid, valuable, legitimate, significant, and we can all bring something to the community table, whether it’s a skill or a specialty, or a way with words, or a logical flowchart thought pattern for solving problems, or a listening ear that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside after chatting with them.
Most importantly, we acknowledge each other and help each other feel validated. These are just a few of the seemingly-endless list of reasons why I value and cherish this community and all of its members’ viewpoints so much.
I love you all and I’m really hoping that anyone and everyone can find it in our hearts and minds to forgive, learn, support, and love.