Blue is the color of my joy. I feel emotions as colors and colors as emotion. Blue is comfort. It is energy without overwhelm. I studied color theory, but it failed to capture my autistic experience. For some things there are no words.
When I was a child I had a daydream. I kept it secret, because I was not supposed to want things, much less grand, beautiful things. I would pull out my 1972 World Book Encyclopedia and look for all the pictures of great landmarks such as the Empire State Building, the Pyramid of Giza, and the Sydney Opera House. Then I would imagine them bathed in vibrant blue light…
There is a progression to my relationship with me.
I was a child, and I hated myself. I was inherently broken yet morally obligated to prove otherwise. I was resented. I was a cross to bear. I was unredeemable. I wished for death, and I was not alone in that wish. Saintly grieving for a child lost was preferable to the day to day of me in all my sickly, time consuming, autistic glory.
But neither of us got our wish.
For all my brushes with death, my body would not die and my brain would not stop grasping for existential justification.
I became a parent, and unconditional love poured out of me. These vulnerable humans were so much their own selves, yet so much like me. They became my justification. Death, while still a possibility, ceased to be a viable choice. I mattered. I still wasn’t a real person, but I filled the needs of real people. The self loathing that previously propelled me forward subsided replaced by this new purpose.
A few years ago, my entire mindset shifted. I am human. I deserve to live, not because I am of use to someone, but because I am alive. I have inherent dignity. I need no justification. It’s disingenuous to say I love or even like myself, but I’m learning.
However, there is a price. The more I accept myself, the angrier I get. The more it hurts. The more I want back the things that were stolen from me like access to education, freedom of movement, control over my own body, and the right to joy. I wrest back what I can.
Which brings me to World Autism Awareness Day, an international effort spearheaded by Autism Speaks, and Light it up Blue. They made this thing that existed only in my mind, this most special childhood fantasy, real, then used it to kick me in the teeth. All over the world people join together in this colossal effort, ignited by a purpose:
To bring about a day where people like me cease to be born.
To spread a message of fear and panic that places me, and others like me, in real danger.
Autism Speaks, you are big and powerful. So far, your Awareness has managed to spread enough fear and misconceptions to make me a pariah in my own neighborhood. You have corrupted the mental refuge that sustained me through untold abuses with your World Autism Awareness Day. But you do not speak for me, and you can not steal my joy.
You can’t have my blue. It’s mine. You can use it for your puzzle pieces, sick little symbols of autism as an affliction, autism as a boys’ club, autism as a thief of humanity. It’s still not yours because you’re using it wrong.
It’s MY blue, so fuck you.
I will keep my joy.
non strobing squishy stim toy
ADL notes to self
even more stim toys
present from my boys for last month’s birthday
freshly painted barn
out to lunch
extreme closeup grandchild selfie
Every day involves a calculation. I walk in a world that sees me as broken, less than. Whether I like it or not, the world is more dangerous for me because I have a developmental disability. When the public discourse is full of words like combat and warrior, and the real results of that discourse are poverty, abuse, discrimination, and institutions, we need to be prepared for battle. It’s not that we’re hostile or unreasonably angry, but the consequence of letting down our guard is too high. So we armor up. We pile on the pieces of objective truth as dictated by an able world. We are quick to mention, repeatedly, our degrees and career accomplishments in a way that is often mistaken for bragging. Rarely is this a prideful act. It’s a Faustian bid rife with internalized ableism. I can show you my credentials, so that you will give weight to my thoughts. I can’t help but notice amongst my educated able friends, they often don’t even know what degrees if any their friends and coworkers have earned because they value each other’s thoughts without question. No cognitive litmus tests are prerequisite.
This is not to say my degreed friends have pursued higher education in order to separate themselves from their disabled comrades. They deserve to not have the purity of their pursuits diluted by pressure to prove their worth. This is an unfair compromise imposed by an able world. No one should have to prove they are not like ‘those others’ in order to stand up and say I am just like those others.
For those of us, myself included, who lack the tools, supports, and serendipitous fortune to have careers or degrees, armor is harder to come by. We need to matter to someone or to fill a need lest our freedom crumble in front of us. We must remain hyper vigilant. We learn the danger signs, the buzz words. We gauge every interaction based on an algorithm of mistrust. There is a crushing emotional and physical toll of this state of alert, but the cost of letting our guard down is worse.
A few days ago , I watched a valued member of the disability community defend use of the word stupid. Many people did not agree with him, and as I started to join those who wished to express their disagreement, I saw two words that stopped me in my tracks.
Right there, in all caps, in comment after comment, he insisted the word stupid could simply mean POOR JUDGEMENT. He was right, one definition of stupid is poor judgement, but that does nothing to lessen the word’s impact. There is nothing simple about the phrase POOR JUDGEMENT.
For those of you who have the luxury of not being viewed as the owners of defective brains, poor judgement is a transitory event. For the rest of us, it’s an identifying factor. For you, a mistake is an anomaly. For us, it’s evidence of our incompetence.
I have been conditioned by years of experience to associate the word JUDGEMENT with danger. If I didn’t, I’d be dead. Not metaphor dead, not hyperbole dead, real dead.
People with power, doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, and the like, know better than to say the words retard or even stupid so they use the dog whistle of judgement, and just like a real dog whistle, my reaction is immediate and intense. Because I know judgement is the word they use
when they lock us in psychiatric facilities
when they deem our rapes too murky to prosecute
when they take our money and our independence
when they try to take away our children
when they deny us critical medical care, or force us to receive that care only in return for being treated like a side show attraction
While I only describe my own experiences, there is nothing particularly unique about them. These words are still too dangerous to me. I do not have the luxury at this juncture to reclaim them.
I cannot tell you what words to use. I will not police your speech. I lack both the power and inclination to do so. However, I need you to know these words are not just words to me. I can not idly stand by and assume best intentions. That may well be the kindest course, but it is also the most dangerous assumption.
What follows is my contribution to #BoycottAutismSpeaks flash blog, #LoveNotFear. It is sparse. I wanted it to be more because I believe in this effort. I believe the rhetoric of tragedy and the push to fix what is not broken hurts the connection between children and their parents, and that breaks my heart.
However, I could not bring myself to write of how my life has changed so dramatically in the last four years. It is a beautiful thing, but some stories are not ready to be told.
I am safe now. I am safe.
Some days, I need to remind myself over and over. It becomes a mantra. I have to remind myself.
Some days I forget. Some days I just cannot believe.
Fear kept me alive for the over forty years I lived as a disposable human.
The fiction that I was less than human crumbled when I was faced with my own neurodiverse children. They are wonders. They are art. They are so fully human that it fills me with awe and sets my heart on fire. I never felt fear or disappointment in their deviance from some mythic norm. They are precisely as they should be. Yet, I see myself in them, and for forty plus years, I heard nothing but how I am damaged, defective, less than. I could not apply the corollary to these loves of mine. I have always, and will always love, accept, and treasure exactly who they are. I could live no other way, even in the absence of anyone who loved and accepted me. Love outweighed my life experience.
This time is difficult for me.
that I am not allowed
Three completely unrelated facts:
I am autistic.
I am queer.
I was consistently misgendered as a child.
Growing up, these three facts were treated as one pathological whole. Girls are soft and warm. They communicate with others. They show affection easily. If only they could make me more feminine, the rest would fall into place. Meltdowns were viewed as acts of aggression; violent masculine behavior. Surely if they could not curtail the masculine behavior it would irreparably damage my development…(read more)
By the third grade, I took changing schools for granted. I was on my eighth school placement. Some had lasted only a few weeks, some an enitre school year, but eventually I either wore out my welcome, or adults removed me for my own safety…(read more)
I am beyond honored to be guest posting over at NeuroQueer. Please check it out.
What if someone made a compilation of your most vulnerable moments?
What if there was a running, public tally of your flaws and mistakes?
What if they told you that collection of fragile moments, flaws, and mistakes was all you were?
What if your needs, wants, and desires were judged solely on whether they were palatable to others?
What if you were treated as a set of behaviors with no intrinsic worth of your own?
It would hurt.