Change your links…

… we’ve decided to move to a self-hosted wordpress site here. We’ll have the archive of this blog up here until the domain comes close to expiring, then we’ll transfer the domain to a site controlled by us. It’s not that WP are providing a bad service, but we’d rather have more control over our website, the themes &c. 

~Kerry for Plures 

[Kerry] Really, WordPress?

Three versions of French, two of Norwegian, two of Portuguese, two of Greek, various German dialects and two constructed languages (Esperanto and Interlingua) and only US English? Why aren’t British and Canadian English available? Seems a massive oversight to me! The UK and Canada have more speakers than Esperanto and Interlingua have got, and as you’re dealing with different dialects within a language group anyway, why have French, Canadian French and Belgian French, whilst not doing the same for English? 

…for heaven’s sake. Because half the English-speaking world doesn’t exist! Never mind all those people in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Nigeria, India, Ireland, South Africa, Jamaica, Barbados… 

[Yavari] Sorry for our quiet.


We have wanted to post here more often, but we’re really overloaded at the moment, so it’s very hard for us to sit down and write entries for this blog in a directed kind of way. I guess we could try to have some more discipline about it, but it’s going to take us some time. Things are just getting really overwhelming and one of our classes is not very autistic-friendly. 

(Also pro tip, when we tell you we are autistic don’t say ‘well everyone’s somewhere on that spectrum’. No, they’re not. Sorry, not everyone deals with the shit we do and that kind of behaviour really annoys the fuck out of me.) 

[Kerry] ‘America Fuck Yeah’, internationalism and how it’s all doing my head in

The ‘America Fuck Yeah’ mentality has been agitating me a lot lately. It’s just…been incredibly grating in a way that’s been rather difficult to explain until I finally had the ability to sit down and synthesise it today.

The problem isn’t even national pride, really; it’s the jingoism and the idea that the United States is objectively the ‘best country in the world’, or that American ways must trump all others. I’m not bothered if people are happy with where they live and the culture in which they were brought up. It goes further than that. It’s the idea that because you’re from a particular place, you’re better than people from other countries, or that other countries’ ways should be set aside in favour of your own. It’s the sort of thing that I, and other members of our system who agree with me about the problems with the ‘America Fuck Yeah’ mentality, don’t usually mention in conversation offline, as we know that it’s a touchy subject, and people will probably leap on us. 

I won’t talk about my own (or any other system-member’s) national identity, which is…not within the scope of this entry. 

I suppose we’ve lived in and visited enough places – countries and US states alike – to realise that the ‘America is the best place in the world’ canard is…a load of nonsense, really. No country is ‘the best place in the world’ objectively. (I also refuse to call a country that cannot care for its ill and engages in unnecessary imperialistic foreign wars ‘the best place in the world’.) Every country in the world has its good bits and bad bits and I really don’t feel comfortable declaring that any country - not the UK, not the US, not Germany, not China, not Russia, not South Africa, not Chile or France – is the ‘absolute best’. Having unthinking patriotism shoved down our system’s throats for years and years has backfired. I am not saying that the US is a ‘bad’ country. It is a place. It has its good parts and bad parts. I don’t think that it’s even saying that it’s ‘the best place in the world’ in the way that everyone does at an important national event, regardless of what country they’re from. There’s a particular way that it’s done in the US that is rather obnoxious and tiresome. I don’t know if I would be bothered as much if a Brazilian said that ‘Brazil is the best country in the world’. I think that it’s because Brazil doesn’t exert the sort of global dominating influence that the United States has right now. It seems to be rubbing it in when Americans do it.  

I feel uncomfortable with the idea of ‘American as default’. There are hundreds of countries in the world, each with their own ways of doing things. Some may be similar to America, others may be different, but it’s hardly fair to hold one country up as the exemplar of How Things Are. The same applies to the concept of…seeing the United States as the only country that allows free speech, or free elections, or free movement of its people or other democratic values. There are other countries which have the same values; they’re not the sole property of the USA. ‘America stands for FREEDOM! No-one has the freedoms we have!’ (Except the Canadians, British, Germans, Australians, Spanish, French…) It’s certainly not the best country where economic equality, health or living standards are concerned. Statistically, the US doesn’t have the highest standard of living in the world in all areas. Income inequality in the US is unlike any other industrialised country. The US is the only high-income, developed country that does not provide universal health care to its citizens and permanent residents; instead, it’s in thrall to the private insurance racket that ensures that poorer and working-class people don’t have the same access to healthcare that people in similar situations enjoy in other countries. 

I’m not discounting people’s visceral connection to the country that they love. I am, however, criticising the idea that people should be able to shout down people from other countries (or their disgruntled countrymen who want to see the United States adopt good ideas from other countries) with ‘USA! USA! WE’RE THE BEST IN THE WORLD, DON’T CRITICISE IT, LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT, THESE COLOURS DON’T RUN,’ ad nauseam. It’s this blinkered mindset that really frustrates me and I’m tired of seeing it over and over from certain people. 

This even extends to comparatively trivial things like spelling and writing style, and to be honest, I’m really tired of it. (Please be forewarned that I’ll start babbling on about language, as this is one of my personal perseverations and it’s something I’ve been noticing for ages.) This is most prevalent in computing and in publishing. The only widely used software I’ve found that includes international (that is, non-American) English localisations as a matter of course are free and open-source applications, certain web browsers (Firefox and Chrome definitely have international versions) and Apple’s iOS. Ubuntu Linux is the only desktop operating system that we’ve ever used that allows users to have non-American user interfaces. On the iPad, you have the option of choosing from several dialects of English for the user interface: British, US, Canadian and Australian, from what I recall.

Commercial software tends to give you English, as long as it’s American, even if it’s made by a British developer. (Scrivener, I am looking at you.) One notable exception is Adobe InDesign, which has a British or International English interface if your system is set to use it. Other Adobe applications don’t have non-US-English localisations. In Proloquo2Go, a text-to-speech application for disabled people, the only voices that users can’t delete are the American ones. (What if you live outside the US and have no need for those voices?)

Apple, for several years, did not have non-American voices by default in their speech-synthesis software for accessibility (loads of novelty voices! but no non-American or non-English voices); now English Received Pronunciation, Australian, Canadian, Scottish and Irish voices are available for English, and I believe that Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Chinese and Japanese are also available. American English is often displayed as ‘English’ on websites and in computer applications, whilst non-American dialects are marked: ‘British’, ‘Australian’, ‘Canadian’ etc – if they’re even available, that is. 

Books written by non-US authors are routinely edited to contain US spelling rather than British, especially if they’re fiction. (There are a few exceptions – a few Roald Dahl books here and there may or may not have the British English particularities left in.) It doesn’t happen the other way round, though; even American children’s books published in the UK usually have their American spellings left in. I was having a look at and specifically looked at British editions of American books through the ‘Look Inside’ feature. It feels as though Americans have to ‘protect’ themselves from the way The Rest Of The World does things, and it’s infuriating at times. Whilst US speakers do form about half the English-speaking population, it’s actually really frustrating to see everyone try and cater to one country, while avoiding the conventions that more countries use. Will Americans honestly shrivel up and die if they see a ‘u’ in a word like ‘favourite’? (I suppose you could turn the argument round and ask whether international English writers can deal with a ‘u’ omitted from ‘favourite’, but the dominance is only going one way.) The United States is one country. It is a large country, with many native speakers. But it is still one country. Only one country uses these spelling standards by default. The rest of them do have a system that’s closer to the British one. Do we see Mexican flags to indicate ‘Spanish’ on websites with a Spanish-language option, even though Mexico has a larger number of native speakers than Spain has? No, you see a Spanish flag. So why the hell is there an American flag when ‘English’ is to be selected? 

I haven’t any quarrel with people using a written dialect of English that’s different to mine (I don’t use AmE myself). James and Em write differently to me. There are loads of people who write differently from me! That’s not the point. The point is that one country’s way of doing things is often seen as the ‘default’, and I don’t feel that it’s necessarily fair, especially when there are many other native English-speakers who use a different style. 

[Kerry] Autistic Ability Stereotypes

There is just one stereotype about autistic people that will not die: the idea that we’re all geniuses at maths, technology and science. I think some of this comes from the stereotyped, sexist ideas that people like Simon Baron-Cohen and his followers spread in their writings about the ‘extreme male’, ‘systemising’ brain that focusses on factual, quantifiable information, rather than more subjective or interpersonal aspects of their environment. There may also be some influence from the diagnostic criteria of autism that characterise people on the spectrum as ‘lacking imagination’ and seeing things more concretely than abstractly, and the ‘hard’ sciences are thought to be rather objective, concrete and unambiguous. (Of course, that’s not true; science is full of unsolved mysteries that researchers seek to find out, and mathematicians can be some of the most imaginative people around, but stereotypes are ridiculous and annoyingly pervasive.) Noël discussed this about two years ago in his article ‘”Systemising”, Jacob Barnett and Autistic Stereotyping’. I feel as though this stereotype is far too generalised – is every single non-autistic person interested in arts and the humanities? I really don’t think so. 

Yes, there are lots of autistic people who are interested in maths and the ‘hard’ sciences. There are lots of people not on the spectrum who are too. Whenever you look at a large group of people and decide that they must all have identical interests, you’re not simply analysing their brain type; you’re drawing crude caricatures of them. This is no different from ‘Women are horrible at maths and sciences’ and ‘Men can’t empathise’ and ‘East Asians are all maths geniuses’. These categories of people are far too broad to attach a single group of interests to them, as though they’re all clones of the same person. Yes, some men struggle with empathy, but not all do. In fact, I would say most don’t struggle with it. Do some women struggle with maths? Of course, but many men do too. (Not to mention that a lot of women’s struggles with maths stem from stereotype threat and negative attitudes towards women doing ‘objective’ subjects at school, rather than women’s innate ‘inferiority’ at such tasks.) There are some East Asians who are brilliant at maths, but there are some who routinely fail their algebra exams. No one group can be characterised with such broad stereotypes. There are commonalities between autistic people, but assuming that they all have the same interests and aptitudes is grossly unfair and misleading. 

This stereotype can be incredibly damaging to those of us whose strengths lie in other domains. There are lots of autistic people who are stronger in language than they are in maths, and prefer art and literature to the sciences. People who don’t fit into the ‘maths/science/technology genius’ stereotype may be seen as ‘not being autistic enough’ because they can’t make fast calculations in their head, programme robots, conduct clever science experiments or memorise the periodic table. This might especially be hurtful to those of us who lean towards artistic and literary works, or people who choose to study the humanities rather than the sciences. There are people on the spectrum who would rather be poets, historians, journalists, novelists and painters, and those interests don’t make them any less autistic than those of us who want to become engineers, computer programmers, accountants, IT specialists or pure mathematicians. Even within our own community, some brains work differently. That’s just people in general, really. We’re not all alike.

In our system, there’s a tendency towards having people who tend to fall between the ‘humanities vs science’ divide, each approaching it in their own particular ways. There are some collective tendencies, though; our mathematical struggles affect everyone. It’s sort of obnoxious, actually. Maths is definitely not our strong point. There are many things that we understand conceptually, but it’s difficult for us to actually get things right if we’re sitting down to try and work out a particular problem. Quite a few of us are technophiles, but at the same time, we don’t know how to write software, and the majority of us (save Darwin) have little time to be poking around in the command line when a GUI does the job. And we straddle the boundaries anyway, as we’re pursuing a social science degree and have interests in combining scientific rigour with humanistic thought and analysis. It’s a lot more complicated and less hierarchical than people imagine it is. 

[Kerry] Plurality: Before and After

We didn’t always know that we were plural. We first suspected there might be something behind the differences in our behaviour when we were about 11, but we ended up shelving it as people were rather dismissive of it, even though it made perfect sense to us. It wasn’t a very sophisticated understanding of ourselves, but it was more logical, at least from our point of view, than the idea that we were simply a highly contradictory and inconsistent individual. 

There were a lot of indicators, but we didn’t know what to make of them. Everything we had heard about multiplicity was negative, and we, like most other people who have been exposed to media stereotypes, thought that you had to completely lose your memory when two system members switched between each other, and that most ‘personalities’ were outsized caricatures. This meant that we weren’t certain what we were supposed to make of certain types of behaviour we exhibited, both within our own thoughts and when interacting with other people: strong internal disagreements about particular interests; feeling more comfortable when using voices; always being in ‘character’ when by ourselves or interacting with our closest biological family member (and feeling more comfortable in character than as ‘”my” real self’); others noticing that we had rather dramatic ‘mood swings’ that made us seem like different people. Since we didn’t know we were plural, we didn’t have division of labour and we had people who were less skilled in certain areas managing tasks they probably shouldn’t have. 

Yes, individuals can contradict themselves, but this was more profound than that. I personally contradict myself in little ways all the time, and I experience emotions such as ambivalence, but that’s different from my having a disagreement with Hess, Darwin or Richard. There was also a high degree of internal consistency within each mental state that we noticed. It was also interesting going back and looking at our old Livejournal entries from 2004-2006: there were about four or five different writing styles, each reappearing at certain times. Some of it looked like me, some like Hess or Yavari or Richard or Carmen. (Noël and James weren’t here then; they joined us in 2008 and 2011 respectively.) 

We started realising, in the fullest sense, that there was a strong possibility that we could be composed of separate conscious entities at the end of 2005 and throughout 2006. We had come across another plural system in one of the autistic communities that we belonged to on Livejournal, and they had linked to Astraea’s Web, one of the most popular go-to pages about healthy multiplicity/plurality. We realised that plurality didn’t need to be inherently disordered, and that we didn’t have to have memory losses or stereotyped system members in order to be valid – and that there was an explanation for our behaviour that made sense. At the end of 2006, we finally realised that we weren’t able to maintain the illusion that we were a single consistent individual any more, and decided to finally come out to ourselves as plural, and to tell the people we trusted the most with the information. There were many people whom we told about our plurality who weren’t surprised by the revelation: they’d noticed that we’d acted rather differently from one another, but in a consistently different way, not simply erratic behaviour. Things seemed to make sense: the internal disagreements, the consistency between each ‘state’, the strong identifications with people and events that matched our subconscious perceptions of our individual selves. We set ourselves the task of working out who we were, and organising our system so that we were able to co-operate and live a healthy, fulfilling life together.  

Now, things are rather different. We’ve been openly plural to our closest friends – and many places online – for nearly seven years. We generally co-operate and share responsibilities based on individuals’ skills, passions and interests. It’s much easier to delegate tasks. We’re aware of who we are, and can live with it without feeling horrible. We’re now able to convincingly ‘pass’ as being nonplural around most people, because we’re aware of our differences and can sand them off when interacting with people who don’t know about us. It’s actually more of an automated process that we started creating after we worked out we were different people, but I think that’s the best way of wording it. (It does present a drain on our energy; we can keep it up for a little while, but we will eventually grow frustrated with it and want to retreat so we can just act like ourselves again. It’s similar to doing the faux-NT thing.) But when we’re at home or in other spaces where we can interact with people as we are, the differences are more apparent. 

We’re proud to be who we are, and we’re glad that we’ve come as far as we have. We wouldn’t be where we are without each other, and we’d not change our plurality for the world. 

[Em] Man, I really hate functioning labels.

You know what I’m sick and tired of? Functioning labels, and people worshipping them as though they’re the end-all be-all of how autistic people actually interact with the world. 

We’re considered “high-functioning.” We’ve got a high tested IQ. We were expected to be able to engage in independent living after we graduated from high school. But then again, there are some tasks of daily living that we struggle with, and I wish we could get help with them. We can’t cook as often as we want to during the academic year. (It’s been easier for us over summer break, but then again, we don’t have homework.) But because we’re “high-functioning,” we can’t, at least not from official sources in our state. A lot of agencies and medical specialists define “functioning level” on IQ test scores, which are really questionable once you look at the matter more closely. 

Thing is, IQ scores don’t determine how you can deal with activities of daily living. They can’t! Just because you know how to arrange blocks in a certain way, answer a bunch of math problems, match vocabulary words up with their meanings, or choose the correct pattern on a multiple-choice test, doesn’t mean that you It just means that you can take a particular set of tests well. I don’t even think that it measures intelligence, and I’m tired of government agencies using an IQ score as the sole (or primary) determiner of functioning. Also, IQ scores are known to produce “false negatives” in some autistic people: they may be considered “intellectually disabled,” simply because their brain type isn’t compatible with the structure of typical IQ tests. Amy Sequenzia, an autistic activist, poet, and self-advocate, mentions that she was given an IQ of 25, which is considered severe intellectual disability. And yet she’s able to express herself in a way that someone with an IQ of 25 should theoretically not be able to do. People who have severe ID and actually fit the profile struggle with both oral and written communication. They have a hard time doing most everyday things required of people. Sequenzia is non-speaking and needs assistance with tasks of daily living, but she can also understand and interpret abstract concepts, write about her experiences, and look at her experience in a metacognitive way. These are all skills that go against the definition of intellectual disability. These tests can also produce false positives; there are also people with “gifted” IQs that struggle to manage daily-living tasks (Hi!). They may be able to solve complex intellectual problems, conduct innovative scientific studies, or write beautiful essays about the human condition, but laundry, cleaning, dressing oneself, and time management might be incredibly difficult for them. But because they’re seen as “too intelligent” to need services, they’re left behind. We haven’t even tried accessing support services because I know we’re going to be turned away “because your IQ is too high.” 

What makes the matter worse is autistic people who rank their own worth based on IQ or “functioning labels.” I think many of you know the kind: people who see themselves as being worth more because they have an IQ of 150 and are brilliant at a “hard” science, unlike those ~other~ autistics who have an intellectual disability and struggle more with certain tasks of daily living. Sorry to say, it doesn’t work that way. There are people who might have an “average” IQ score and be great at tasks that someone with a higher score might not. It happens all the time. There are folks with IQs of 170 who have a really hard time keeping their house up and managing stuff like bills, while people with scores of 100 can do it just fine. And it’s really ableist to claim that someone’s worth more because their IQ is higher, or that they’re worth less because it’s lower. By that logic, people like the Unabomber and the Boston Bombing Brothers must be WONDERFUL, right? I don’t think so. People’s worth shouldn’t be determined based on their functioning label or IQ. That just plays into that eugenics bullshit that still hasn’t been completely excised from disability discourse. 

There are plenty of folks with physical disabilities and high IQs who qualify for services. Why doesn’t the same principle apply to people with developmental disabilities that affect other aspects of their lives other than their ability to do well on standardized tests that may or may not be accurate predictors of their abilities? And why are we using functioning labels/IQs as a means to determine how much we value people anyway? 

[Kerry] Language as the medium of thought.

Some autistic people have talked about communication ‘underneath’ words. I think of it as being ‘interverbal’, being between words and underneath them, rather than being driven by words. They don’t specifically see words as the natural medium of thought, but imperfect explanatory devices to describe a concept that exists in their minds. At least that’s what I glean from it; my interpretation of it might be flawed, as my own experience is quite different. (If you tend to have that sort of thought pattern, correct me if you’d like?) 

I personally do think in language. Words are very important to me, and I can be sensitive to how they’re being used. That’s not to say that I prowl about policing how people talk, except if they’re saying things that are blatantly offensive (racial slurs, deliberately misgendering people, overt misogyny, etc). I used to be a prescriptivist, but I’ve moved away from that over the past four years. I will, though, have a strong reaction to it, even if I can keep from letting the other person know that that strong reaction exists. Your language is how I read what you’re trying to communicate. I’m not saying that I can’t read interverbal or nonverbal communication, but the language you use is the clearest signal for me. Richard is similar to me, but he’s better at recognising subverbal meanings than I am. (This makes him a lot more tactful than I am, because he can detect underlying meanings that I can’t always pick up on.) 

Noël, however, doesn’t, and tends to conceptualise his thoughts as a series of patterns, images and textures, which he later translates into language. He can usually pick up on those cues that I can’t, since his way of interpreting things involves picking up on patterns and senses that he has, rather than noticing the explicit words that someone uses. I may just take people’s words at face value, while he doesn’t. There are images and patterns and signals that he finds, and the words are a frame for those ideas that he has in his head, rather than the means of thought themselves. When he communicates with me within our headscape, he tends to send conceptual ‘bundles’ of communication, with intermittent verbal messages. This is in contrast to me, because I tend to just send words his way if I’m not trying to get a large amount of information to him all at once – in which case, I send out an information packet. 

James is somewhere in between, as are Darwin and Hess. They don’t have the same verbally dominated thinking style that people like Richard and me have, but they are still more verbal than Noël is. Darwin tends to use a lot of images and patterns and symbols. Hess is a combination of words and images. Hess and I tend to use words when communicating with one another, but he changes his communication style when dealing with other people like Darwin, Noël and James, whose thought patterns are less dominated by words than either Richard’s or mine are. 

So, yeah, we have a wide variety of ways that we deal with thought patterns, but then again, that’s what plurality means, doesn’t it? It’s interesting to see how our being differentiable relates to our being autistic and what that entails when it comes to our thought processes. 

[Kerry] What’s been going on.

Sorry for the lack of updates; we’ve been rather busy as of late, primarily with work, looking for housemates and other various things. And we are at a lovely gathering of autistic people! I’ll probably not go into detail, as we’re not out plural here, and I’d rather not go into long convoluted explanations about Who We Really Are whilst we’re here. Not that uncloseting is completely out of the question, but it’s…a lack of desire to want to have our identities dominate the discourse when this is about autistic unity. It’s not out of shame for who we are; we haven’t really been ashamed of it in a while. We are just not at the point in our lives where we feel comfortable telling people about who we are unless we feel as though we’re absolutely safe, or at least reasonably safe. 

We know there are other systems who are more forthcoming than we are, but I think that everyone has their levels of comfort. Even in spaces devoted to neurodiversity, there are different levels of understanding when it comes to experiences outside the particular type of neurodiversity that a community belongs to. (And even within a community — for instance, look at the tension between autistic people with different functioning label, or people with Asperger’s labels versus people with ‘High-Functioning’ Autism labels.’) Someday we’ll be more able to have confidence about being openly, well, us, but that day isn’t today. Not yet. Would we like to be more open? Absolutely. But I don’t feel as though the atmosphere makes it that easy yet. 

[Kerry] Perseveration Blogging: Pronunciation

(We’ve decided to occasionally blog about things we’re perseverating on here. We’ve said this is a autistic-themed blog, and many autistic people – including us – tend to perseverate on topics that we find interesting. If this isn’t your cup of tea, feel free to skip these. ~the management)

One thing that’s interested us—well, Hess and me mostly—is the absence or presence of certain aspects of connected speech in native English-speakers. We’ve been perseverating on it for about a year.

There’s a technical name for the phenomenon (‘yod coalescence’), but that term for it rubs against me like sandpaper so I’ll call it liaison like the French word for a form of connected speech that occurs in spoken language (although in French, I gather the liaison is default, rather than something that may or may not occur in speakers). I also call it assimilation. It’s usually a plosive (‘spitting’ or ‘exploding’ letters like d, t, p, k, etc, but the only plosives affected by this are d and t) or sibilant (‘hissing’ letters like s, z) before a ‘y’ sound that this happens to. And the ‘y’ sound is generally in a common word (especially ‘you’); I don’t think proper names are affected by this.

For example, in a sentence like ‘Did you go to the station?’, a lot of people (a majority, I think) will insert a ‘j’ sound (unless they’re trying to place strong emphasis on something, or are speaking very slowly), so it sounds a bit more like ‘Didjoo go to the station?’ It happens when a d sound at the end of a word comes before a y sound. There are some people who don’t insert that sound, including me. (Nor do Richard, James, Noël or Darwin.) Hess, however, does, as do Em and Carmen. Our default voice does unless the speaker wants to insert some of their own pronunciation habits.

Another thing that people do is…inserting a ‘zh’ (as in ‘pleasure’ or ‘leisure’) or ‘sh’ sound when an ‘s’ or ‘z’ (sibilant) sound comes before a ‘y’ sound. Like, when people say things like ‘as you know’, it becomes ‘azhoo know’, with the ‘z’ sound turning into a ‘zh’. Or ‘I’ll miss you’ becomes ‘I’ll misshoo’. I don’t make these sounds. Hess does. Most of us don’t do this except for him and Em. Front voice has this tendency, although individuals can circumvent it. This is common, but not as common as people doing it with ‘d’ sounds.

It also occurs with ‘t’ sounds, so a phrase like ‘next year’ becomes ‘next cheer’. This is fairly common, although there are still quite a few people who don’t join up these sounds. I pronounce phrases like ‘next year’ without the blend, but there are a lot of people here who would use the ‘next cheer’ pronunciation.

I tend to see these speech patterns as having textures—speech with the extra ‘j’, ‘sh’ and ‘zh’ sounds is the ‘rough form’ and speech without it is the ‘smooth form’. I prefer the smooth form sonically, and Hess prefers the rough form. Hess has different names for the phenomena, but these are mine. Hess, Yavari and Liz noticed the different styles when we were very young, and they collectively prefer the rough forms, which they saw as the more ‘typical’ ones.

People who don’t liaise ‘d’ and ‘y’ sounds are highly unlikely to assimilate sibilants and ‘y’ sounds. It’s an anecdotal correlation I noticed. I’ve heard some exceptions, but they’re in a minority. It doesn’t work the other way about; there are loads of people who won’t do it with sibilants, but with d’s and t’s. Of course, this is all anecdotal data; I’d have to conduct an actual study, but this is arcane enough that there’s really not much practical interest in it.

The distinctions are still there in song. Sometimes singing will flatten out some variances, but you can still hear the ‘rough form’ in some people’s singing voices. For instance, Imogen Heap has the ‘rough form’ and it’s quite apparent.

There are a few patterns we’ve seen that are related to regional or cultural accents. People from the Southern United States strongly tend towards the rough form as opposed to the smooth form. I have heard the smooth form from people from this region, but it’s less common. People who speak African American Vernacular English will nearly always assimilate at all points unless the final ‘d’ is dropped in a word. In conservative Received Pronunciation (the archetypical ‘posh’/’Oxbridge’ Southern English accent), you rarely hear the rough forms, except perhaps with ‘D’ sounds. (In Conservative RP, it actually goes a bit further, as you’ll hear people not assimilating even within words! Like people who pronounce issue as ‘issyoo’ as opposed to ‘ishoo’, or education as ‘ed-you-cation’ as opposed to ‘edge-you-cation’.)

Non-native speakers of English tend not to have these linking sounds, unless they’re Dutch, for some reason.

[Kerry] Communication Differences

(Sorry we’ve been scarce on this blog lately; there’s been a lot going on in our offline life that’s prevented us really having the spoons to update any blogs, whether that refers to this one, our Tumblr, or our locked Dreamwidth blogs.) 

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about social interactions with people, both on and off the spectrum, and how we, as a system, process these interactions. For the purposes of this post, I’ll just say ‘non-autistic’ to refer to people not on the spectrum, rather than ‘neurotypical’, since there are people who aren’t autistic, but don’t consider themselves neurotypical (eg, people with ADD, bipolar, OCD, etc). 

While we definitely do have non-autistic friends that we really enjoy being around, it’s still harder to interact with them in person than it is with autistic people. It doesn’t matter how close they are to us, or how much we trust them. They feel a bit ‘opaque’, even if they’re clearly interested in spending time with us and enjoy our company. You’re never quite sure what they’re thinking. We’re better at picking up basic emotions in people (usually, telling the difference between a negative emotion and a positive one) than we used to be when we were younger, but there’s still this veil that’s up that we find hard to see past, no matter how much we learn social skills. It’s still a matter of intellectually realising what people want, rather than moving based on intuition. 

Autistic people, wherever they fall on the spectrum, are much easier for us to read intuitively, and it’s easier to pick up that they’re upset. It’s not just an intellectual interpretation of their emotions, unlike what occurs with most people who aren’t somewhere on the spectrum. I’m not saying we can understand ALL autistic people’s emotions immediately or with accuracy, just that it’s easier by far. They’re also easier for us to open up to; they’re more likely to get more candour earlier in the relationship than others. When befriending non-autistic people, it generally takes us longer to come to trust and feel comfortable with them. 

I think that the social-skills deficit that autistic people have is basically a difficulty interacting with people not on the spectrum, while interacting with autistic people involves more intuition, since they have more expected patterns of social behaviour (for them, anyway). 

Online, it feels as if that’s levelled a bit, and it’s easier to read people off the spectrum, with the same level of readability applying to people on it. We have misinterpreted some things that other people on the spectrum said online, and it’s actually more likely for us to misread autistics online than it is in person – the likelihood matches what would happen with members of the general public – because a lot of the social distinctions that are more apparent offline aren’t as much online. There is an area where such things are a bit less level, though: we’re still likely to be more candid with other autistic people than we are people who aren’t. 

[Kerry] Perseveration, Plurality and Social Interaction

Like many other people on the autistic spectrum, we perseverate, or focus intensely on a particular topic or set of topics. This can manifest in several ways: reading several articles about the topic of interest, listening to talks and reading articles by someone (if the area of interest is a public figure) constantly, listening to a song constantly (in fact, our iTunes is set to loop a single track by default), or drawing something over and over again. 

Sometimes we have guilt over perseveration, since we would get snapped at if we talked about them too much growing up. Over the past eight years, we’ve tried to become more comfortable with the idea of being perseverative autistics, but it’s not been easy, since old habits—and old messages—die hard. We’ve noticed that people who weren’t exposed to constant interventions are often more comfortable going on and on about their interest sets in a way that we aren’t, particularly. Even if we’re alone and trying to enjoy a perseverative interest, there’s a big wave of guilt, as though people are going to osmotically work out that we’re perseverating and Being Weird™ and need to Stop It Right Now. Yes, that’s irrational, I know, but it’s still an issue. 

Individuals within the system can have perseverations separate from ones that the whole system can have at once, or have zero interest in whatever someone else is stuck on at the moment. For instance, Hess and I both have a particular focus on some aspects of connected speech in spoken English, but James, Darwin and Richard aren’t interested and won’t join the conversation if Hess and I talk about it. Conversely, James and I were stuck on typography—well, are, since it’s a constant interest that rarely abates, and we’ll go on about it—and Darwin and Noël didn’t participate in those conversations. Some of us tend to be more taken by perseverations than others, too; Hess, Yavari and I perseverate more intensely and repetitively than Richard or Noël do. 

We often discuss our perseverations amongst each other, rather than monologuing to outside people about it. That’s not to say that we never monologue about a special interest, but it has to be within the context of a pre-existing conversation. It’s one of the reasons why our plurality is something that we consider beneficial, as it allows us to have a safe space to hold conversations that might bore other people to tears. We do have some friends outside the system with similar perseverations—albeit with some different nuances—but apart from those people, we try and not drive people bonkers with the Special Interests Du Jour, especially if they’re obscure or really only of interest to us and similarly focussed people. Before we realised we were plural, we used to talk about these interests to people around us, particularly family members and friends, and they just got really tired of it quickly. I mean, we felt really bad about it, but there wasn’t any way to express it to anyone who was actually interested, and our system didn’t really have communication until our late teens (before that, we acted differently to one another, but we didn’t communicate as such). 

This is one of the reasons why James believes that our plurality—well, in the form it presents now, even though there’s always been variability in our behaviour—arose as a means of dealing with being autistic and isolated (as well as other stresses and traumas), but I don’t know if I fully agree with him. It’s a hypothesis, though, and we’re allowed to disagree. 

[Kerry] About writing, and direction, and labels, and other sorts of things.

So, we’ve got a paper due this week. The introduction’s in place, but the rest of it isn’t. 

I don’t think we’re quite at the point where we need an extension, but we’ve had a harder time writing stuff that isn’t just personal reflection or writing about our own lives. It’s not necessarily an ‘expression’ problem right now, as talking to people and writing journal entries is going just fine. But writing papers? It’s a lot harder right now. It’s one of those periods when it’s easier to identify what’s going on within, but it’s harder to describe things that are outside us, and consist of lots of labels and terminology and ‘widgets’ and loads of things that are just layers and layers that obscure the people and events underneath them. That kind of thinking isn’t very easy right now. There are times when it’s not so hard to think about these things, these terms and labels and abstract concepts that are so far divorced from the concrete realities that people actually live, but right now, it’s very hard. 

And then that leads me to the silly stereotype that people who sometimes have problems with this sort of thinking are ‘less intelligent’ or ‘less thoughtful’. That’s not really the truth as there are different sorts of ‘intelligence’ and there are times when someone can understand these concepts, just not with the sort of expected language that people expect you to use flawlessly. (Hello Social Theory.) I often feel as though there are bits and gaps missing when working with such language, as it’s easy to understand the underlying concepts, but making some of the words join up with the ideas they’re trying to express doesn’t always work, and it’s embarrassing when you’re trying to explain your opinion on something and the language doesn’t sync up properly. It’s got us in a bit of trouble on an exam once, even though we understood what was being talked about, but a lot of times, the words were not there even though the ideas were. 

These are the times when I wish I could just telepathically transmit my intent and have it automatically translated into words instead of muddling about trying to tease things out and getting a bit scrambled. 

[James] “Passing,” Early Diagnosis, and Identity

There’s never been a period where we didn’t know specifically what our neurotype was. We were certainly aware of it at the age of four or five, at the very least, and we definitely referred to it by the time we were six. As we’ve written on our “about” page, we’ve had some form of autism-spectrum diagnosis since very early childhood, and we’ve always been aware of it, regardless of the name applied to it (PDD-NOS, Asperger’s, autism, etc). 

Admittedly, there was a phase when we had doubted whether we were autistic or not, when we were in our late teens, but I think that was a combination of frustration with some of the infantilization we encountered from biological family members and teachers, and some of the noxious stereotypes we’d seen of autistic people. (In fact, when we did come across someone who we knew to be on the spectrum, we deliberately distanced ourselves from them, because we saw some of our younger behavior in them and found it embarrassing.) We hadn’t known too many people on the spectrum at that time, either, whether it was online or off. Another factor in our distancing ourselves may have been our exposure to early social interventions, so we had had some autism-specific social training that people who were diagnosed later on didn’t have. When we started joining Asperger’s/autism forums online, the majority of people we’d met had diagnoses in adulthood or were self-diagnosed. They may have been aware of their social differences, and may have had some things pointed out, but they probably didn’t have treatment that was specifically intended to modify the behavior of autistic people. 

Because we were subject to early intervention, we had a lot of social-skills training, including roleplaying social situations, speech therapy (we didn’t have any specific speech impediments, but it was more a matter of what we were saying, rather than issues with pronunciation or grammar), worksheets about social interactions, observational learning, and other techniques designed to teach us how to communicate with non-autistic people without seeming so conspicuous. Also, one of our system members was incredibly interested in acting, which allowed us to pick up some other social scripts. We’ve also learned a lot of social interaction over the Internet, especially after our late teens. We can come across as eccentric, but it’s not as blatant as it has been in the past. Those of us who are working on our degree are specifically interested in studying people, too—which is why we’re social scientists.

In public, we generally “pass,” unless we’re under extreme stress. It takes some effort on our part, admittedly, but it’s very much programmed into us. Because we do “pass,” people will sometimes get exasperated with us when one of our limitations does come up—for instance, our struggles with self-care, or the occasional social gaffes, or our sensory issues, or being provoked into a meltdown. They’re not sure what happened, because we’ve absorbed the social scripts well enough that it’s not immediately obvious that we’re autistic. I often wonder whether people who were diagnosed later in life tend to “pass” less than people who were identified as autistic, or at the very least neurodivergent, in early childhood. This isn’t a defense of ABA or other forms of early intervention that devalue autistic existence as much as it is an academic question. 

In my opinion, our ability to “pass” is both a good and bad thing. It makes it easier for us to move throughout the world without immediate judgement from NTs, but at the same time, it sometimes masks many of the actual difficulties we go through, regardless of our ability to superficially handle social situations in a way that could pass for non-autistic. 

[Kerry] Adults, Autism and Assumptions

There’s this assumption that every single autistic adult has support from family members, or that every autistic person’s family members are willing to support their child after they reach a certain age. 

Sometimes it’s merely frustrating. Right now, it’s actively angering me. 

Not everyone has the luxury of having supportive parents, guys. Some people have abusive families. Some people have families who are just plain clueless. 

There are some families who just don’t care about their child’s neurology, and think they can fend for themselves as everyone else does. They expect them to work at the same sorts of jobs (without any help), manage all the same things everyone else does, and don’t pay the slightest bit of attention to what they actually need. I think that this is primarily a problem with autistic people who are labelled ‘high-functioning’. I personally don’t believe in functioning labels, but I’m going by what people tend to perceive. There are LGBT/queer autistic people whose families refuse to accept their sexual orientation or gender identity, often using a particular religious stance as an excuse for their morally reprehensible bigotry. (In this case, homophobia and transphobia intersect with ableism/anti-autistic sentiment to create an even worse situation.) 

These autistic people often end up in the foster care system as children, and in shelters (or without any support at all) as adults. While we weren’t in foster care, we definitely had spotty or nonexistent help in our early adult years, and struggled with things like housing and money. (It’s actually still pretty hard for us, even though it’s nothing like the way things were for us five or six years ago.) We’ve met other people, both online and off, who have had similar struggles. 

We have absolutely zero family support. We were in a situation where we had to leave, and they were threatening to leave us to fucking rot because we couldn’t follow the ‘traditional’ path anyway. No empathy, no hearing our side of the story. No biological family member, in my opinion, actually understands our strengths or limitations. The worst ones subjected us to emotional abuse and bullying, while the others wouldn’t quite understand the gravity of what was going on, while they weren’t specifically malevolent or hurtful. Ignorance, though, is understandable, while being an unsympathetic douchefuck isn’t. And unfortunately, the primary caregivers in this case often fell into the second category. There are other people in similar situations: even if they do have contact with problematic family members, they certainly aren’t being supported by them, and have to create their own ad hoc families/social networks in order to get the help they need, and there are still often gaps. 

A lot of them seemed to expect us to just be able to fend for ourselves without any help, just going through the traditional route, and we were shut down if any of us tried to argue that this wasn’t an appropriate path, or that our limitations would affect our performance at a certain task. They would use our being autistic to invalidate our experiences while pretending we were able to do things we actually couldn’t, ‘because that’s what people are supposed to do.’ We’ve had to look for help outside the traditional networks, and sometimes it’s tiresome. Sometimes it’s demoralising. There are gaps that we experience that other people don’t. It’s great that other people are able to get that support, but it would be nice if all of us were able to have it. 

There just needs to be more recognition of people who may have different situations affecting the kind of support they receive in adulthood. It’s not always the model of an autistic person who stays home in order to get the support they need, especially if a particular family is abusive, or ill-equipped and simply not able to access any of the resources that many parents are assumed to be able to access. Any organisation purporting to help autistic people should include these situations as possibilities, and advocate for those of us who DON’T have some of the ‘expected’ avenues of support. 

[Kerry & James] EUP Updates

We’ve actually been pretty prolific on our main site over the past few months: Kerry, James and Darwin worked on the Who Are We? introduction to our collective; Em, Kerry and Hess collaborated on Rules of Engagement, a guide to interacting with plural systems for newbies; Kerry wrote Parallel Dreams, an article about commonalities between members of plural systems; Kerry wrote Are Plurals ‘Oppressed’?; and Darwin wrote Questioning ‘Types of Alters’, an article that questions pigeonholing all members of plural systems into stereotypical roles. 

[James] Autism and Agency

Some friends of ours were browsing eBay and found some listings by a mother who was selling some of her autistic daughter’s toys because “she doesn’t play with them.” Her justification was that she didn’t play with them typically, and simply wanted to “acquire” them. (I’m imagining that this person is unaware of some styles of autistic play, in which a child prefers to organize or arrange their toys, rather than imaginative or interactive play. While we did engage in imaginative play growing up, there were times when we arranged other items, like coins and books.) I know that had someone sold possessions of ours without our permission when we were younger, we would have noticed it and probably would have melted down, since something had been taken from us that provided us comfort.

While this mother’s actions by themselves are rather “micro,” the behavior this mother is exhibiting points to a larger-scale social dynamic that I’ve observed between autistic people and some of the NTs around them, particularly parents. There is this assumption that we, as autistic people, fundamentally lack agency, and that it’s appropriate for parents, caretakers, and other people to impose their own wills upon us, regardless of its actual adaptive benefit. In this case, selling this child’s toys because she doesn’t play with them “normally” isn’t justifiable. Her simply looking at them, collecting them, or arranging them isn’t inherently harmful. If she were hitting people with those toys, then yes, there would be a problem. There’s a difference between something being atypical and something being harmful, and the problem with a lot of autism parents is that they conflate the two. There also seems to be an unspoken assumption that our own desires are irrelevant, as though we’re empty husks, there to be filled with “normality.” There are so many attempts to steer autistic people away from being themselves, and it often seems as though these efforts are made to make the nonautistic parents or teachers more comfortable, rather than correcting something that’s directly harmful.

While I do understand the importance of social cues and unwritten rules, they should be taught to autistic people in a way that doesn’t marginalize their existence, and benign, private behavior shouldn’t be suppressed simply because it “looks bad.” It may be a example of deviance from a particular set of social norms (well, folkways, to be specific), but it’s not inherently bad. We are still agents, whether we’re neurologically variant or not. We deserve the right to exist as we are, even if we must learn how to cooperate with the world around us. Unfortunately, some people seem to think that “cooperating with the outside world” necessitates crushing our agency and preventing us from doing anything that looks remotely autistic. Sorry, that’s not teaching us cooperation; that’s just flat-out suppression. Stop destructive behavior*, yes—nobody needs to be hitting people—but don’t act as though we aren’t full people. Don’t sell off our belongings because we’re “using them the wrong way.”

All of us, whether autistic or not, require guidance as we grow and discover our places in the world. That being said, though, there’s no need to act as though we lack any sort of agency. Assuming that is adhering to some of the nastiest prejudices about autistic people, and is more counterproductive than it is helpful.

*and when I say “stop destructive behavior,” I don’t mean through using abusive aversive methods. Also, there is often a reason behind an autistic person’s meltdown – in many cases, it’s an intense reaction to being overloaded, frustrated, or having one’s space invaded.

[James] Autistic People Should…

This is part of the “Autistic People Should” flash-blogging project, in which autistic bloggers pair the words “autistic people should” with positive messages, as opposed to the hateful, discriminatory ones that are so commonly associated with autistic people within this society. The project was spurred on by an autistic blogger’s (Alyssa of Yes, That Too) observation that the phrase “autistic people should” typed into Google autocomplete caused multiple hateful messages to appear. In order to combat these stereotypes, she’s organized a flash-blogging project to allow people to combat these destructive messages and replace them with something more uplifting to our community. 

Autistic people should be treated with dignity and respect, rather than condescension, pity, and hatred.

Autistic people should be able to access services that recognize their basic humanity and make them part of the decision-making process, rather than robbing them of self-determination. 

Autistic people should live authentically and positively, without the forces of prejudice and hatred controlling their lives. 

Autistic people should have the right to be members of the broader community without ostracism for their variance.  

Autistic people should be embraced for their existence, rather than experiencing absolute rejection and death threats. 

Autistic people should have their emotions and reactions taken seriously

Autistic people should be seen as people, rather than the subhuman monsters that we’re often portrayed as by prejudiced, closed-minded people. 

[Kerry and James] Thoughts on language-learning.

People who know us well know that studying foreign languages is one of our favourite hobbies. We’ve studied, or attempted to study, about seven or eight languages (Spanish, French, German, Romanian, Japanese, Latin and briefly poking at Dutch, Italian, Russian, Portuguese and Swedish) within the past decade, and have read about several more. 

Interestingly, languages that we’ve taught ourselves tend to be retained better than those which we’ve primarily studied in the classroom. A few years ago, we learned the equivalent of the first two semesters of Latin within the course of a few months. About eleven years ago, we were studying French pretty intensely and were able to do the equivalent of several typical academic years’ worth of study in the course of a few months. By contrast, it took us three years to reach the same level of skill in Spanish, which we took as our foreign language at high school. The same applies to German right now. We haven’t studied French intensely since 2003 (when we had a terrible French class at our first college, which is something we’d rather not talk about), and we can still read longer French passages with more fluency than we can German ones, even though we’ve studied German for a chronologically longer period of time. We’ve become rusty over the years, and we’re going over French again to get ourselves up to speed again. (Same applies to Spanish, actually, although our ‘rustiness’ in Spanish has a different quality to it than our rustiness in French. We’ve used Spanish more often over the years than we have French.) 

One could argue that it was easier to learn French because we already had two semesters of Spanish, but we ultimately ended up knowing more French than we did Spanish after those months of intense study.  Nor does it have anything to do with difficulty; we seem to have internalised Latin declensions better than we have German ones, even though the Latin case system has more actual cases than German has. I think that for us, self-directed learning allows us to use our own methods alone, rather than having to use methods that are less effective for us in order to receive a good grade. Also, perseverating on a particular language greatly accelerates our ability to learn it, since we’re sucked up into it. Interestingly, we tend to perseverate on subjects that we aren’t currently studying in class. That’s not to say that we necessarily lose focus on what we’re studying formally – although that would have been the case several years ago when we were in grade school – but there’s usually an intensity that comes out of perseverative learning that doesn’t exist otherwise, and we wonder if the collective nature of formal learning conflicts with some aspects of our need to completely consume certain subjects. 

[James] This Typographic World

For better or worse, we are sensitive to certain visual aspects of our environment. Some of those experiences vary over time, but one constant has been typography. I think our sensitivity to it has led us to enjoy graphic design, but it’s also caused us more irritation than most other people see when we see type that we dislike. These days, the animus has been directed at certain system default fonts that people abuse, but it’s gone in other directions in the past. While many of us have personal interests in graphic design and typography, like Kerry and me, I think some of this is bodily; it’s been present before either of us has been here. When we were about four, there was this nightshirt of Egg Donor’s we couldn’t stand to look at because it had big red Franklin Gothic Condensed Bold text that seemed to move against the purple background of her shirt. We had to look away from signs that were set in Belwe and Revue. (Souvenir, Italia, and Windsor came close, but I don’t think anyone hated those as much as they did Belwe and Revue.) There was a book we bought a few years, Aesthetic Theory, that we couldn’t read because the text was set in dense, single-spaced Times Roman. (Ironic, much?) Times is hard for us to read at long length because it’s really cramped-looking. It’s fine in a newspaper or something, but not single-spaced in a book. We couldn’t stand to look at Romney signs or bumper stickers—not just because we hated him, but because the design on them is awful. That stupid “R.” 

We’ve avoided using certain themes for this blog because the main text is in Arial, which we hate. (Luckily, the one we found uses Verdana for the main text, which we’re fine with.) The vast majority of us consider Arial, Times New Roman*, and Comic Sans (we call them the “unholy trinity of typefaces”) eyesores. (Times New Roman, when it’s bold, actually hurts our brain to look at if if it’s blown up.) If teachers try to make us use Times—mercifully, very few have, but there is always that one—we substitute Garamond Premier Pro, Hoefler Text, Lyon Text, or Minion, because otherwise it will bother us to look at our own writing. It won’t even feel like our own anymore, actually, now that I think of it. It bothers us to the point that we would rather lose one point for the “wrong font” than produce a document that we can’t even read without wanting to scroll down the font menu and choose something else. So we just use other serif fonts that we actually like using; most times, they don’t notice, or the penalty is minimal. Being able to have some control over the typography in our own work allows us to feel more comfortable, as though we’re “at home,” rather being in an uncomfortable, cramped motel where everything’s out of order and there are ugly factory paintings on the wall. 

*I draw a distinction here between Times Roman and Times New Roman. There are slight differences between them, but I frequently call both “Times” when referring to the “idea of Times,” so to speak. Times Roman is slightly less objectionable than Times New Roman. Slightly. (And if it’s in a book, it’s usually Times Roman, not Times New Roman. TNR is…more Microsoft Word.) 

[Kerry] Words Words Words, and the Attention Tunnel

This is not a very wordy weekend. At least not for written words outside a particular range of subjects. I think we’ve exhausted a lot of our social battery this week—classes have just resumed, and there have been a lot of people at our house lately—and that exhaustion sometimes comes with a drop in the ability to deal with writing that’s outside needing to communicate personal stuff or that’s outside our ‘special interest zone’. (For instance, Richard and I have half-finished a short paper for an elective class, and have slowly been going through the readings, but I was  able to prattle on to a friend about Romance linguistic features and read lots of blogs and sections of foreign-language books.) It’s the autistic ‘attention tunnel’, and anything that’s outside that tunnel isn’t going to be noticed as much. If we’re going to produce words, they’d better be directed at something that’s in sight of the tunnel. It’s not selfishness or obstinance; it’s realising that this is the way our cognition is right now, and we’ll be able to focus on what we need to do when we’re able to. But right now, we need to process and be able to spend time inside our cosy ATTENTION TUNNEL OF LOVE AND WARMTH. And right now that means listening to songs on repeat, writing about ourselves and our own interests and only talking to the people in our house and our friends online (and having breaks from those conversations). 

People have sometimes assumed that we seem to have an inexhaustible supply of words. That’s…really not true, at least not for us as a whole. Hess and Darwin struggle with writing long-form essays with frequency, even though they’re quite talkative in conversation before they run up against our collective burnout. James’ skills vary. (I think another reason why people think that we burn out verbally less than we actually do is that we compensate by switching. If someone wears out, someone else can come in and start talking so they can carry the conversation.) I tend to lose my verbal skills less quickly than some other people here do, and Richard is similar, but even we run out of juice sometimes, especially when we’ve hit a particular limit. Just because we’re good at writing, though, doesn’t mean that our ability to write is a ‘renewable resource’. Sometimes it runs out. Sometimes we’ll sit there for a week trying to work on a project that is inherently highly verbal, and the words just won’t come. The concept’s there, fully formed in its visual and conceptual glory, but translating it into words? It’s sometimes like swimming through treacle. Not exactly the easiest thing around, you know. 

[Kerry] Plurality and The Experts™

It’s wearying reading ~the literature~ on plurality. The way they describe system members gets to you after a while: Parts. Alters. Alternate personalities. Personas. Fragments. Anything but ‘people’. Anything other than the possibility that plural systems may very well be composed of several people, in the Cartesian ‘cogito, ergo sum’ sense. 

I am not a ‘personality’. I am not an ‘ego state’. I certainly have a personality distinct from others’ in this system. But I am not ‘a personality’. Nobody is putting on a mask of me, only to casually discard it when they’re bored of it. Nobody retreats ‘into me’. I’m just…me. And in the same way, Hess is just Hess. Darwin’s just Darwin. James is just James. And so on. It’s frustrating to see this model, sanctioned by The Experts™, touted as the only one, even when it’s not your actual experience. 

But they’re never going to listen to you because you’re ‘crazy’ anyway. That’s just your weird, fucked-up brain talking. How dare you actually assert your personhood and individual identity? 

Maybe I’m sensitive because we’ve spent our entire earthly existence receiving messages that we are somehow ‘not really people’. Racism. Ableism. Homophobia. Transphobia. Classism. Misogyny before we transitioned. It messes about with your self-image, even when you know deep down that your existence is as valuable as anyone else’s is. And speaking up for who you are, regardless of what it is, is being uppity. It’s challenging something that people consider self-evident. I’m not, of course, conflating plurality with more obvious oppressive situations. I am, however, criticising the idea that if you belong to a ‘target’ identity, whatever you say is invalid, because your experiences aren’t being filtered through ‘experts’, who are invariably outside your community. It’s like those nonautistic ‘autism experts’. Rich and middle-class social workers who are out of touch with the people they work with. I’m not trying to bash allies, but there’s a difference between an ally who actually listens to you and an Expert™ that tries to impose their narrative on you. 

I’m not even claiming that our plurality can be absolutely, 100% empirically proved. I am saying, though, that identity is complex and it’s silly to just dismiss stuff out of hand because it doesn’t match your experience or doesn’t fit into your ‘pathologise everything that doesn’t fit into our idealised norms’ mentality. (I’m going to add a disclaimer that I’m not claiming that DID/MPD don’t exist. I am, though, saying that they’re not the only ways in which plurality can exist.) 

It’s frustrating, because these ‘experts’ don’t know our lived experience. They don’t listen to our lived experience. It’s just CURE PATHOLOGY CURE PATHOLOGY CURE PATHOLOGY over and over and over again, and the constant hammering on about how there is One True Good Brain. 

And when you’ve got a ‘bad brain’, it’s hard to fight against it. You’re never sure if you’re going to be listened to. After all, your view is ‘less valid’ because you’ve got a ‘bad brain’, right? 

Our plurality is part of what helps us to function. We don’t know whether we arose to assist in dealing with the world or not, but regardless of our origins, our separateness is beneficial. We are, however, more than simply a ‘coping mechanism’; we’re people. More importantly, the relationships we have with each other are important. To try and ‘integrate’ us, to act as though we’re all parts of the same mythical individual, to be eliminated for the sake of an imagined idea of normality, is to crush something that simply doesn’t deserve to be crushed. 

I know I’ll never convince your run-of-the-mill troll posing as a ‘sceptic’ that atypical identities are valid, or the outsider Experts™, but this blog is not for those people

[Kerry, James and Darwin] Articles that you should probably read.

[Kerry] Trauma, Autism and Guilt

[Content warning: abuse, trauma, war, natural disasters, other potentially upsetting or triggering material] 

While we don’t consider this a ‘survivor blog’ in the classic sense, sometimes discussing trauma is relevant. I don’t mean in the sense that any of us would run through long, exhaustive lists of things we’ve gone through; we’re quite private about most of the specific traumatising events that cause us to have strong responses. But over the past few years, we’ve been grappling with internal questions about our relationship to trauma. (Some of this does have to do with system origins for some people, but none of us believes that the ‘host and alters’ paradigm applies to us.) There are things that we consider traumatising that other people wouldn’t, and there are things we’ve gone through that might be considered traumatising to anybody, but sometimes there are a lot of weird, not-quite-properly-pieced-together feelings about the entire thing. 

One thing that many of us cope with is guilt for feeling traumatised in the first place. That we’re ‘weak’, or that we’re overreacting and our trauma wasn’t ‘real’ in the first place, because we were never in a war, and we were never in the direct centre of a natural disaster. This ties into our being autistic, because there’s a stereotype that some autistic people are less mature or resilient than non-autistic people, and are prone to overreacting. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to the ‘Spock’ autistic stereotype, but it does apply to the model of autism more frequently applied to women and girls. (I am not saying, of course, that all autistic people who have more intense emotional responses are women and girls; I’m referring to the stereotype.) Some of it is coping with the ‘badness’ that I mentioned before: overreaction is a sign that we’re ‘bad’. That we don’t know how to control ourselves. That we’re not remaining meek and humble in the face of things that we perceive as a threat. Even if that overreaction is internal and nobody even sees it except for people in-system. 

I mean, there’s no doubting the traumatic reaction: the emotional flashbacks (I don’t endorse everything in this link, like the talk about inner-child therapy, but the description of an emotional flashback is spot-on), the repeated nightmares, the constant looping thoughts and memories of certain incidents or clusters of incidents. But when your experiences don’t leave physical scars, there’s always this doubt about whether it was ‘really’ traumatising. Even if those experiences took years for you to recover from. (Because, you know, your trauma’s not big enough to require that kind of recovery. You should just suck it up!) Even if you’re still thinking about it weeks, months, years, decades later. 

Of course, it’s not people’s place to determine whether you’re ‘really’ traumatised or not. For some people, it takes natural disasters or seeing a war firsthand to produce triggers; for others, being emotionally abused at home or bullied at school can traumatise them. Just because something isn’t perceived as ‘big’ doesn’t mean that it can’t be traumatising. And I wish more people would realise that. That just because something may be disappointing or upsetting for some people can be triggering to someone else because of their own experiences. I’m not expecting people to know our triggers. But I know—we all know—that they exist, and affect our outlook. Sometimes, though, it’s difficult not to feel lost when you look for resources on coping with trauma, and they all assume that you’ve gone through something ‘big enough’, or they’re written in a way that doesn’t seem to deal with your neurology well enough. 

I wish I could end this with some grand, sage advice, but I can’t.  but I will say this: Your emotional reactions to an experience you consider traumatising are real, regardless of what happened to you. Some people react differently to different things, and far be it from me, or anyone else, to determine how you ‘should’ react to an event, as long as you aren’t out to hurt others. 

[Noël] Digital and Physical Spaces.

Kerry and I were discussing—well, in this case, “discussing” consisted of nonverbal idea-sharing—the similarity between digital and physical spaces, and the psychological responses we have to them. 

The most obvious analogies between digital and physical spaces can be drawn from websites, particularly ones where social interaction forms their foundation. 

Websites with “real names” policies, or which encourage Being Real People™ online (which invariably excludes “fringe” people like plurals, pagans with craft names, and others) feel like the office: somewhere where you are not permitted to be your authentic self, and must put on a more circumspect persona to avoid being seen as too “odd.” For us, we would rather not spend our time on the Internet as though we are in the office. We have a few nonplural accounts, but we use them rarely, because we find the environment stifling in the same sense that a buttoned-down office would be. And since we are not being paid to spend time in these online spaces, as we would in the buttoned-down office, we avoid them. Using Facebook is as fun as having our teeth pulled for us, since it is not a space where we are habitually open. We do occasionally sign on for those people who prefer to communicate with it, but it is not home to us. We do not like using LinkedIn and other professional networking sites for similar reasons. For us, the Internet is where we are more open, and it is awkward using the “office” behaviours in a context that is not the physical office (or classroom). 

This is not solely about the Internet, though: we feel the same way about computer applications and operating systems. They are spaces that we spend time in, and we feel that we must behave differently in them. We have been primary Mac and iOS users for the better part of the past three years, and feel uncomfortable when using Windows—and our brief glimpses at Android suggest that we would feel similarly with that platform, too—as though we are staying in a motel with sheets that are not ours and paintings that do not match what we would put up in our own house. 

Even the applications we use to write, browse the Internet, do our artwork and design, and listen to music have these effects on us. Using TextEdit feels like lying in bed at home, while using Pages or Mellel feels like the classroom or office. Using Bean feels as though we are still at home, but sitting up at a desk.  We do not feel comfortable writing academic papers or blog articles in TextEdit (it is too casual), and we do not feel right holding in-system chats in applications like Pages or Mellel—that is where we are supposed to sit down and be serious and work on directed writing projects, not hold casual conversations with one another. 

I think this may be why we are sometimes sensitive to computer and mobile “platform wars,” even though we do not criticise others for their computing preferences. People are insulting our house, even though they do not see it that way, and we would never begrudge anyone their opinion on our preferred applications and platforms, whether they agreed with us or not. This, of course, does not mean that we are offended if someone says that they do not like Macs, iPhones, or iPads, but that we do feel as though people are insulting a place we consider comforting. I wonder if other people feel that way, too, which provokes the sensitive responses whenever an article promoting a different platform appears. If you spend any time reading technology blogs, there will invariably be an entry about Windows, OS X, Linux, the iPhone, the iPad, or the newest Android phones and tablets, and there will be commenters who will tout the merits of the other platform. These arguments often become heated and emotionally charged, even though people are ostensibly talking about mere ones and zeros, operating systems for phones and tablets. 

[Kerry] Book Review: ‘Got Parts?’

We’ve been reading Got Parts?, which is a guide written for trauma-based DID/MPD systems to learn how to manage their lives while dealing with the fact that they are plural and must recover from trauma. It’s written by a DID system who’s credited as ‘ATW’, based on their own experiences as a DID system that needed to develop a better operating system in order to go through life in a healthier way. It uses language like ‘parts’ and ‘alters’, which we personally avoid in favour of ‘people’ and ‘system members’, but it’s written from the medical-model perspective, so this usage is fairly standard. 

A heartening thing about the book is that ATW define ‘re-integration’ as co-operation between system members, rather than trying to combine everyone into a ‘single personality’, which is something I appreciate. While some trauma-based systems do benefit from integration in the ‘combine everybody’ sense, most systems don’t actually integrate, and setting up a mutualistic system is a more realistic goal to work towards. (I have expressed my personal opposition to ‘integration evangelism’ in the past, and won’t belabour the point here.) 

This book is intensely practical, which is something I appreciate. It’s not focussed on the therapeutic process as much as it is working on basic life skills and system co-operation. The book begins with chapters on getting to know one another and establishing relationships with system members through visually mapping out the system; having system members write about themselves, their individual histories and their skills; how to present to therapists; and creating an environment of mutual respect. The author& also suggest that systems hold daily house meetings in order to discuss and delegate tasks; that they use planners to organise daily-life tasks; and that they find ways to co-operate to work towards the common goal of a fuller, more co-operative life, rather than constantly working at cross purposes. While our own system has developed better co-operation techniques over the years, some of the advice would still work quite well for us, such as holding more frequent meetings and using day planners to delegate tasks and organise our lives. 

I have a few quibbles, but they’re relatively minor: in a preface written by the Sidran Institute, the authors write that ‘parts’ and ‘alters’ are manifestations of the same person, rather than being individual people themselves. Our views on personhood are based on self-perception and identity, so we don’t necessarily agree with this for our own system. There are systems that do see themselves as being facets of a central identity; however, none of us feels comfortable using that model for ourselves. Also, there’s a section about sexuality that describes BDSM as being unhealthy, which I disagree with — kink can be responsibly done, in my opinion. 

(For the record: we ourselves aren’t fully sure of our origins. We have gone through trauma—primarily emotional and psychological abuse—but there’s no way to go back and pinpoint exactly what happened to make us plural. If we separated because we were traumatised, that doesn’t invalidate our identities, in my opinion; origins may explain how we go about some things, but origins are not destiny.)

[Kerry] Being a Douche Isn’t ‘Social Justice’.

[Content warning: Violence, death threats, internet douchebaggery] 

I’ve talked about this before, and I’ll talk about it again. 

Being a fucking jerk online does not constitute ‘social justice’. 

Posting pictures of dead Pakistanis who were inadvertently hit during a drone strike in order to frighten people from voting for Obama is not social justice. It’s bullying. It’s using a shock image in order to anger people into voting for a third-party candidate—usually Stein, but I think some Johnson and Anderson supporters were involved too—who would never defeat Obama or Romney. I am not saying that the drone programme is right; in fact, I think it’s reprehensible and wish the US, UK and Pakistani governments would stop it. I am, however, saying that bullying people by posting gruesome images with no warnings in order to prevent people voting for Obama is a douchey thing to do. Especially when the only viable alternative was Romney, who showed no interest in dialling down warfare in the Middle East, and coupled his aggressive foreign policy with a regressive domestic policy that would have been much worse than anything that would happen under a second Obama administration.

Sending death threats and posting the home address of a woman (Laci Green) who said things she no longer agrees with on her popular YouTube series about sex education and health is not promoting social justice. It’s harassing someone whose words you find offensive. There are loads of people whose attitudes I find offensive, but I don’t use my blog to tell people to stalk conservative bloggers. I may disagree with these conservatives, and address their arguments, but I would never tell them to kill themselves because they wrote something I find awful. (If that were the case, I’d be telling a lot of people to kill themselves—but I’ve never done that.)

Telling people with whom you may have policy disagreements that they are terrible feminists and the worst people on the planet is not social justice. It’s being a fucking arsehole. Talking about how ‘cis scum’ should die isn’t social justice. It’s being a douche. I know facetious ‘shock’ language like ‘kill all the white men’ has been used in performance media like punk rock, as a friend of mine pointed out to me a while ago, but ‘die cis scum’ is used with seeming earnestness amongst the Tumblr/social-justice blogger lot. I can’t tell you how you should feel or respond, but I personally feel uncomfortable with addressing all instances of inadvertently transphobic comments with ‘die cis scum’. Yes, there are some people who are legitimately bigoted douchefucks, and yes, they should be called out (preferably not with death threats, but with arguments that address their noxious ideas), but there are a lot of people who are simply flat-out ignorant about transgender identity, and these people are qualitatively different to those who think that people shouldn’t have any recognition of a non-designated-at-birth gender. Ignorant people should be directed to good educational resources by those who have the energy and desire to do it.

I know it takes a lot of energy to deal with these misconceptions, and I don’t think anyone is obliged to deal with them directly, but there’s still a difference between ‘I don’t feel comfortable talking about this’ and directing an ignorant commenter to better resources and telling them they should fucking die. There are some really awful people out there, like Cathy ‘Bug’ Brennan, who have made a career out of invalidating and harassing trans people online, but I would still not make death threats or post their addresses; I would warn others about them and try and refute their arguments. 

Death threats are not all right. Calling people names is not all right. Trying to make the world a more equitable place does not necessitate being a fucking bully

I’m not even against calling people out for being racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or otherwise offensive. I am, however, tired of the semantic word games and bullying. All it does is serve to alienate people and make it harder to actually promote the equity we so desire. 

And the sad thing is that people revel in this behaviour. As Flavia Dzodan says in her article for Tiger Beatdown, it’s a piece of performance art. Reality TV. People try and one-up each other as being More Devout, calling out more and more people, regardless of the severity of the incident, or whether they’ve recanted or not. Ariel Meadow Stallings, of the Offbeat Empire blog network, notes similar problems. Calling people out doesn’t have to always involve name-’em-and-shame-’em public performance, especially if the mistake happened because of sheer ignorance, or was already apologised for sincerely. Now, there is definitely a place for public callouts: rape apologists, politicians, pundits and columnists who unapologetically make awful remarks or pass discriminatory laws, sexual abusers and scam artists should be warned about in public, in order to protect people. For instance, Dan Savage, the Russian government, Todd Akin, Martin Ssempa, Richard Mourdock. But going after a sixteen-year-old who said something inadvertently on Tumblr with death threats or shock images is not the same thing. That’s not promoting justice. That’s being a bully. It’s creating a toxic environment where legitimate ‘teachable moments’ can’t happen. (And when you mention that this behaviour maaaay not be the best way to go about things, you’ll get shouted down about ‘tone arguments’. Sorry, noting that BULLYING is not how you promote justice is not a tone argument.) 

I am so fucking sick of this. Of seeing a concept associated with making things better for as many people as possible turning into a carnival of theatrical hatred and bullying. 

[Kerry] Really, now? Diversity, Stereotype Threat and Conservative Head-in-Sand Syndrome

About a month ago, the conservative designer and blogger Andy Rutledge wrote an article called ‘Design’s Cult of Diversity‘, which was in response to an article written by Sarah Wachter-Boettcher, ‘Universal Design IRL‘, in A List Apart. I’ll gladly recommend Wachter-Boettcher’s insightful article, but Rutledge…eh. While I’ll give Rutledge credit for laying his argument out well—both visually and rhetorically—I do think that he’s completely wrong about diversity, affirmative action and the effects that stereotyping and prejudice have on the workplace, whether that refers to design or anything else. 

In his article, Rutledge argues that making attempts to reach others based on their cultural background or gender is inherently racist and sexist, because it’s based on characteristics other than a person’s indiviual merits. He’s using the assumption that people are judged on merit, without any attention to race, gender, belief or other personal characteristic unrelated to someone’s skills. Unfortunately, that’s plainly not true. This is a conservative fantasy that prevents them taking responsibility for social inequities, whether it’s because they contribute to them (like Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney), or simply ignore them and stick their heads in the sand (David Cameron). If white men are consistently getting top jobs, it’s not because there are structural inequalities in place; it’s because they’re just better at the job! There couldn’t be any other explanation for why certain professions are demographically unbalanced. And conferences dominated by white men? Well, they’re the only ones who wanted to do it! Nevermind the reasons why women may turn you down.  Things are a lot more complex, and I feel as though those gradations of experience aren’t being noted when people make claims like Rutledge is making. 

The research doesn’t bear it out, nor do the experiences of women, people of colour and others who are not Andy Rutledge, a conservative white man who would not be disadvantaged by the faux-meritocracy he espouses. (Notice that it’s nearly always white people who make these claims?) As I’ve mentioned before in previous entries, stereotyping does lead to diminished performance, which ultimately handicaps people’s success in professional life. People who are subject to these stereotypes start from behind, and ignoring the fact that some people do, in fact, start from behind, is a recipe for simply continuing the status quo. People who live in a society that demeans their talent, intelligence and worth are not going to have the same advantages as those who grow up in a society that affirms their worth and ability, and people who shriek about affirmative action don’t get that. 

I think that people are inherently equal, but they aren’t being treated equally, and it’s ridiculous to act as though they are, when there’s plenty of evidence that we don’t live in a postracial egalitarian utopia. Not when racist incidents are increasing in the United States, Britain and Greece. Not when Romney can go on about ‘binders full of women’ (which he lied about anyway). Not when people of colour—not all of them, but a disproportionate number in comparison to whites—are at falling-apart schools and are malnourished in their inner-city households. Conservatives who bray about the horrors of affirmative action and recognising the existence of structural inequality are ignoring scientific research and the lived experiences of everyday people. This isn’t just about Andy Rutledge and his conservative Republican talking points in his corner of the internet; it’s about the imbalances that those of us who experience cultural oppression experience every single day. 

[Kerry] Autism + political ideology.

On a blog dedicated to criticism of libertarianism, there was an entry that briefly discussed (I know the URL is pretty fucking awful, and I wish the writer would change it) a particular libertarian commentator, Tyler Cowen, and his defences of autistic thinking. While I agree with the author that Cowen’s political beliefs are appalling, I don’t understand why Asperger Syndrome—or any other form of autism—needs to be linked with libertarianism or the lack of empathy expressed by right-libertarians, objectivists, minarchists and ‘voluntaryists*’ in particular.

Autistic people are capable of empathy. There are some of us who are unaware of others’ needs, but it’s generally not intentional, and we, as a group, don’t create political philosophies that centre on the glorification of greed and selfishness to the exclusion of basic human decency. I don’t even think that all libertarianism is this way, but the sort (right-libertarianism, Paulism and objectivism) I see constantly espoused on the internet feels this way to me. The anti-empathic, Social Darwinist, ‘LET THEM DIE’ socioeconomic policy is sociopathic, not autistic. Are there some jerks out there on the spectrum? Yes, but please don’t act as though our neurology makes us more likely to adhere to a worldview that categorically denies the importance of empathy and co-operation. There are autistic libertarians—we’ve known a few—but there are many libertarians who are not autistic, and have in fact displayed utter disdain for neurologically variant people (and anyone who isn’t a cis, straight white man in general, heh).

None of us here is a libertarian, and we don’t feel that our neurology justifies that political viewpoint. No one neurotype, in my opinion, is necessarily ‘predisposed’ to adhere to a particular set of political ideologies. For instance, people stereotype autistic people as being rigid and resistant to change, which might suggest that they would all be conservatives. There are a great number of autistic liberals, social democrats and progressives, including most of us! Just because we may not necessarily prefer abrupt changes in our environment or our routine doesn’t mean that society, as a whole, should not be changed. For us, anyway, our problems with sudden change—like realising that your day’s plans have been utterly thrown off—are micro-level frustrations, rather than macro-level policy preferences. If a form of social change means more equality and fairness for everyone involved, then we wholeheartedly welcome it. But seemingly arbitrary changes in our daily lives? Irritating.

*That word bites my brain. Shouldn’t it be ‘voluntarist’? There aren’t communityists

[Kerry] On ‘negativity’.

Now, no-one’s actually saying this about this blog, but I suppose it’s the irrational bits of the lizard-brain talking. 

I know our blog centres on structural inequalities a lot, but I…don’t want to make it seem as though our experiences have been Constant Suffering All The Time. That’s definitely not the case. Right now, we are actually doing quite well in many ways, but our previous experiences still shape the way that many of us conceptualise the world, and so they’re addressed in our posts. Nothing’s perfect, but I’d say we have it pretty well right now. But this is pretty recent, and even as recently as four years ago, we were much worse off. We have had opportunities that lots of other people haven’t had, and we are extremely grateful for those people that we’ve known that have been positive influences. 

Just because we’ve accomplished things doesn’t mean that we’ve never failed (nobody’s never failed), or have forgotten just how long it’s taken for us to get to where we are today, and how much further we could go. And we know of too many people who have had similar problems, and we’d like to at least show that we can relate to what they’ve gone through by sharing our own experiences and opinions. (And we tend to have a lot of ‘latency’, anyway, where events will feel current in our head for a while after they’re over, which is both…good and bad, depending on what happened and how much it affected us.) 

Some of that is also a disciplinary focus, since we’re social scientists, heh. Our goal is to expose, understand and ultimately end these inequalities. This is obviously more anecdotal than a large research paper where we’re collecting data on people’s behaviour, but at the same time, there is definitely a kinship there. 

[Kerry] Bad.

[Content warning: Verbal abuse and bullying]

This is admittedly a hard entry to write, but I think it needed to be written, since it’s been weighing down on me. 

When we were growing up, there was this pervasive mindset that we were inherently bad. This isn’t because we usually set out to do anything malicious, but there was this narrative about our behaviour and the way we moved about the world that implied that we were. After all, we (mostly Hess) were packed off to detention when we had shouting, crying meltdowns because of bullying, sensory overload, or desperate attempts to communicate a desire, only to be brushed off. We were shouted out at home because we were acting out, and the response was always criticism, verbal abuse and punishment, not legitimate attempts to understand what was provoking our negative reactions. 

People saw our behaviour and didn’t try to find out the reasons behind it, and didn’t make the slightest effort to try and see what we were trying to communicate when we didn’t have the words to step outside the meltdowns or other bothersome behaviour (bothersome to them, desperate attempts to communicate for us). We internalised it, because we didn’t have another framework to allow us to accept ourselves. We had read parenting magazines and books and noticed that parents were supposed to show more empathy, but we dismissed it, because we were told otherwise at home.

We didn’t have problems because people were hurting us or misunderstanding us. We had problems because we were bad. The flaws were in us, not in others. It’s almost as though they acted as though we chose to be autistic and have difficulty communicating things to them. Like we were trying to be obstinate on purpose

In contrast to us were ‘good’ children, who were frequently chosen to do things that we weren’t. We were left behind, because we didn’t deserve such things, or we were too ‘different’ to truly fit in. While we were in ‘gifted’ programmes, we were often left to do things by ourselves, and we were excluded from a lot of programmes and events that other people were invited to. We felt as though we were tainted and inherently flawed in a way that others weren’t. We had the impression that teachers liked ‘smart’ people, but the ones they liked better were more compliant and did things in a more typically acceptable way, so we believed that our abilities themselves were illegitimate. We responded to this stereotype threat by not investing ourselves as much in our education as much as we should have when we were younger, because we would never be ‘good’. Top universities were not Where People Like Us™ Belonged. We would never be in any honour societies because we were Bad. Teachers would not praise us because we were tainted. Why try to get sky-high grades when you’re bad anyway?

Of course, we did have positive influences growing up, and there were people who saw beyond our ‘badness’ and encouraged us to do as well as we could. We are eternally grateful to those people, and we are incredibly fortunate to have those voices interrupt the stream of self-hatred brought on by unwarranted stereotyping. But for years—even as recently as last year—we’ve subconsciously sabotaged our own success because we ‘don’t deserve it’. Because we’re ‘bad’. It’s definitely not intentional; it’s a product of years of negative messages that we’ve received.

It didn’t help that our younger sibling was ‘good’ too. 

When we feel desperation or frustration now, or when something disappointing happens to us, there is still that potent voice at the back of our head, telling us that we’re ‘bad’. We don’t listen to it as much as we used to, but that doesn’t mean it’s been expunged. There are still events that bring up the old messages, and this year was full of them. I won’t go into details in public, but for a few months, we felt as though we were eleven again. It seemed as though more ‘typical’ people were rewarded, and our efforts were invalidated. Fortunately, things did work out for us, but we still have triggers from the worst bits of this year, because they took us back to this space of ‘badness’. 

I wish that it were easy for us to stop thinking of ourselves as ‘bad’. Some of us, like Noël and James, tend to struggle with it less than Hess or I do, but that baggage is still there. We’ve got over our resentment that we used to have of so-called ‘good’ kids years ago—we tend to resent situations, not people, these days—but we still worry, deep down, that we actually are ‘bad’. 

I wonder how many neurologically variant people have similar relationships with ‘badness’. 

Is it something I personally want to reclaim? There’s too much baggage in being ‘bad’, I think, and I don’t want to imply that I support things that are actually bad, like abuse or murder. I can’t speak for anyone else here, though.

[James] “Unlocking” Autism?

I was reading about Carly Fleischmann, an autistic teenager who gained the ability to communicate with other people using her computer, and I noticed that much of the commentary on her father’s book was about “unlocking” autism. (Not to mention that that the book itself has a subtitle of “Breaking Through Autism.”) 

This isn’t the only example of a narrative about an autistic person’s newfound (to their nonautistic families and caretakers) ability to communicate to them using comprehensible language, unfortunately; it seems to be a trope that exists among the autism community—by which I mean parents, therapists, and teachers, rather than the autistic community, in which the discourse is directed by autistic people themselves. Is it really a matter of “unlocking autism,” or is it a matter of finding a way in which people can communicate mutually, rather than a one-sided, neurotypical-focused, model that presumes that the autistic’s world is a sealed-off fortress? 

When an American learns French, do we say that he’s “unlocking France”? When an Italian learns Vietnamese, do we say that she’s “unlocking Vietnam”? No, they’re learning a new way to communicate with a larger group of people, and it would be considered condescending and xenophobic to assume that learning a foreign language involves “unlocking” the secrets of an unconquered culture. “We have discovered this uncharted land! Let us fraternize with the natives!” Feels a bit White Man’s Burden, doesn’t it? 

When I write, I’m not “unlocking autism,” nor do people talking with me or reading my writing “unlock autism.” I’m communicating, and I am actively insulted by the notion that my wanting to talk to people, regardless of their neurotype, is “unlocking” me. Existence isn’t a one-sided phenomenon, and I think that “autism parents,” caretakers, and teachers would benefit very much from a mutualistic perspective that recognizes the agency of autistic people themselves. Yes, some autistic people do have difficulty communicating in the way expected by nonautistic people, but that doesn’t mean that they need to be treated as though they are savages to be “civilized.” Try to understand what we’re trying to say, and I think most of us would return the favor. Don’t try to “unlock” me; try to find out what I’m trying to tell you, as a fellow human being. I may be autistic, and may communicate my thoughts differently from you, but that doesn’t mean that you have to act as though I am an inscrutable puzzle who exists to frustrate you. Communication is a mutual act. Trust me, even though I may get it wrong sometimes, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to hear what you say. Please grant me the same respect. (And by the way, neither I nor my system-mates deserve extra brownie points because we speak. This applies to nonspeaking autistics, too.) 

(I’d be interested in reading the book, by the way, despite the subtitle. I also apologize for the sprinkling of “dick quotes” throughout this article, but the “unlocking autism” trope bothers me enough to necessitate them for me.) 

[Kerry] Autistic Gender Stereotypes

[The language used in this article is a bit messy, but I don't want to marginalise trans and genderqueer people, so I will try to draw distinctions between gender stereotypes, actual gender identity and the gender someone may have been brought up as.]

There’s a website that describes the differences between ‘male’ and ‘female’ Asperger Syndrome presentations. While I’m glad that it does recognise types of AS or autism that don’t seem like the stereotypical ‘computer brain autistic’, I’m not glad that it’s being handled as though it’s a set of binary gender stereotypes. My opposition to the gendered framing has a few origins: I’m opposed to genetic determinism used as an end-all be-all answer for differences that could either have biological origins, social origins or a combination thereof; gender itself is more complex than ‘men vs women’; and there’s a faint hint of evo-psych stereotyping that I’d rather avoid.  

I have noticed some differences between some autistic people brought up as boys and those brought up as girls, but they aren’t universal, and there are often combinations of these traits that exist in all people, regardless of how they were brought up. 

As a social scientist, I feel really uncomfortable with these pronouncements that autism’s presentation is related to gender as a supposedly ‘biological’ phenomenon, rather than a social one. Is it possible that autistic women, or others raised as girls, come across as being more socially adept because girls are taught to be more socially open, and that odd social behaviour is less apparent in people brought up as boys? Boys are expected to be better at maths and science than girls are, so couldn’t gender stereotyping influence how autistic people present themselves? Whether someone’s autistic or not, they’re quite likely to be affected by their society’s gender norms, whether consciously or not. It is true that some autistic people may not be aware of some social cues that nonautistic people notice, but that doesn’t mean that that cultural exposure doesn’t exist. The idea that women are inherently poorer at maths has been debunked, so why resurrect that risible idea as Science™?

I cited an article earlier this year about how autistics raised as boys were more likely to be successful within society in general in comparison to autistics brought up as girls. There’s another item on the author’s list, in which she mentions that autistic women and girls are more likely to pay less attention to grooming. This sounds more like a social expectation that people brought up as girls are likely to be subjected to. If you’re perceived as a boy and show up with sloppy hair, you’re more likely to get less social opprobrium than someone who’s perceived as a girl. Girls are supposed to be ‘sugar, spice and everything nice’, and if you deviate from that stereotype, you’re probably going to get some negative feedback about it, to put it mildly. The idea of autistic girls being more youthful and childish plays into more stereotypes about women and girls as well, in which they’re often infantilised and treated as if they’re much less mature than boys or men. Girls and their ‘pretty little heads’, and that sort of thing. 

Again, it’s refreshing to see portrayals of the different ways in which autistic people can present themselves, but it’s definitely not refreshing to see someone frame it in the form of tired gender stereotypes. 

It seems as though the same old cultural stereotypes about men and women are playing themselves out again, and we should be careful to avoid promoting the same outmoded hypotheses about gender in order to understand how autistic people move throughout society. As activists, we should agitate against such stereotypes to create a more equitable world for all of us, regardless of gender. 

[Kerry] Objectivism, Body Mapping and Irrational Hatred

For about a year, there has been a spate of trolling targeted at trans/genderqueer people, plurals, otherkin and other communities on Tumblr. I noticed that a lot of the attackers were libertarians (or libertarian-leaning conservatives), judging by the profiles they’d filled out on Tumblr. For a while, I was befuddled by the correlation between libertarianism and rampant hatred for people whose minds didn’t have a one-to-one mapping with their bodies. It seemed quite contradictory to the idea that people are free to exist as they are, without others’ coercion. I’d seen that sort of bigotry before coming from libertarians, but it was isolated cases, rather than organised attempts to attack particular groups of people. I don’t think that this is a problem that exists amongst all libertarians; for instance, left-libertarians tend not to hold these sorts of views. I am, of course, against most forms of libertarianism as a philosophical principle and as a foundation of government, but I’m not out to tar all libertarians with the same brush. Most of the problems I’ve noticed are from right-libertarians, ‘voluntaryists‘ and objectivists

I suspect that some of these people draw their hostility towards these groups because of a particular set of philosophical tenets—that is, Randian objectivism—that discounts the importance of subjective perception.

There also tends to be a lot of black-and-white thinking that comes along with it. I was reading an entry on John Scalzi’s blog, where he criticises objectivism and Atlas Shrugged, and one of the commenters, Bruce Baugh, gave an anecdote of objectivists disbelieving in ring species because they represented an intermediate between one species and the next. For an objectivist, ‘species’ would be a binary, immutable category, with no in-between states. (He also mentioned a particular disdain for quantum mechanics.) If Baugh’s anecdote is true, this exemplifies some of the thinking I’ve seen amongst objectivists. Ambiguity doesn’t exist! Apparently. Even though it does. Things are what they are, with no variation between them. This accounts for their utter rejection of transgender identities, for instance. You’re born with what you have, and you cannot transcend or question it. It also accounts for their inability to understand plurality. Personhood is defined by the body, and regardless of how your perception may work, you cannot truly be plural. Of course, I think that’s utter tripe, and the psychological community itself is moving away from these simplistic ways of thinking. But that’s what objectivists believe, and that’s where the nastiness is coming from

This explains why Thomas Szasz claimed that trans people were delusional, even though he disbelieved in mental illness, and was a libertarian. This also explains why the Tumblr trolls were essentially doing the same thing. With that sort of worldview, we’re all black boxes. Nothing subjective can truly exist, and if someone does mention that they have an identity that has strong subjective roots, they are immediately shot down and told that their self-perception is absolutely wrong, and that they should ‘stop pretending’. 

The thing is, though, no-one is claiming that subjective identities can be empirically proved in the same way that gravity can. But we, as a society, do recognise that subjective phenomena can be quite influential, for better or for worse. Emotions are deeply subjective, but they certainly have a factor in how we conduct ourselves and how our societies develop. A plural system who perceives themselves as being several individual consciousnesses generated by the same brain isn’t the same thing as, say, a creation ‘scientist’. Creationists are categorically denying scientific fact, and their fairy tales should be kept out of science classrooms. If someone were to claim that they were literally a cabbage, then you might have a problem, but there’s a massive distinction between ‘I perceive myself in a particular way subjectively’ and ‘I am a cabbage.’ Objectivists fallaciously conflate ‘this is my self-perception’ with ‘I AM REALLY A CABBAGE DON’T YOU KNOW.’ I’m not against empiricism. But I am against false appeals to ‘science’ to deny people their identity and their voice. 

You know, even Richard Dawkins, the reductionist’s reductionist, doesn’t go this far. In a TED talk he gave in 2005, about ‘our queer universe’, Dawkins discusses how our perception of the world is just a model of it, and that our senses create a version of the world that’s quite different to how other animals see it. I don’t always agree with Dawkins, but in this case, I think he makes quite a bit of sense. 

I am an atheist. I am a materialist. But I am not an objectivist. My beliefs in empiricism and my disbelief in spiritual phenomena do not preclude my acceptance of subjective phenomena as being valid. 

Objectivism ignores the complexity of human thought, and reduces it to a set of facilely constructed axioms. Reality is messy, complex and can’t be cut down into twee slogans for disaffected nerds. Can it be quantified? Yes, for the most part. But that doesn’t mean it’s not complex, or that variance doesn’t exist. 

[Kerry] Sprucing things up.

It’s taken us over a year, but we finally decided to give the blog an actual fucking title! We went back to a previous blog title that we had when we self-hosted a blog years ago, ‘Believelands’. (Embarrassingly enough, the title came from the Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer theme song. Darwin chose it, if I recall correctly. But the idea of ‘making dreamlands become believelands’ is kind of awesome, so it stuck.) Also, there is a banner other than the premade one. I wish the blog’s default CSS wouldn’t stick a border round it, though. And there’s no easy way to get rid of the border without giving WordPress $30 for the privilege of editing the CSS.

[Em] The Whitewashing of Neurodiversity

There’s this idea that autism is a “White condition,” even though it affects people of all ethnicities. It’s certainly prevalent in the US. Can’t speak for other countries, though; would anyone care to share if they are somewhere else and see similar portrayals? An article in Disability Studies Quarterly, “Autism, Rhetoric, and Whiteness,” discusses the White-centered image of autism that exists in the United States. When you think of autistic people in popular media, who do you think of? White folks, probably. If they’re so-called “high-functioning,” you think of Silicon Valley geeks, like software engineers and computer programmers. If they’re “low-functioning,” they’re the children (and I do mean “children,” since adults are frequently made invisible in this kind of rhetoric) of doting White, upper-middle-class parents. 

Autistic people of color are incredibly invisible in this narrative. Some of this is because of stereotyping, and some of it is because of the sharp differences between the ability of middle- and upper-class White people to get diagnoses in comparison to Black and Latino folks. If you’re a comfortably off family in Silicon Valley, Boston, or Portland, you’re more able to afford the kind of schooling and medical care that would allow you or your child to get a diagnosis. But if you’re in a more impoverished area and can’t afford good schools or healthcare, you’re probably NOT going to get an autism diagnosis, and might get slapped with a different label that’s more stereotypically associated with people of your social status. Or they might just say you’re a “troublemaker.” We were fortunate enough to get a diagnosis early on, but we still had to deal with people who were incredibly unsympathetic, and acted as though we chose to be the way we were, rather than trying to understand our motivations and reactions to our environment and the people in it. Had we been White, I think things would have been easier, and people would have been more likely to understand that our behavior was something that deserved compassion and accommodation, not punishment and ostracism. 

Sometimes we feel super-invisible, even in the neurodiversity movement, which calls a lot of anti-autistic stereotypes into question. I feel that there’s a lot of socioeconomic diversity, but not so much ethnic diversity. Kerry’s talked about this already a few months ago, actually. I agree with them in that there’s a real paucity of PoC voices in the autistic blogosphere, but I think that there is a lot more socioeconomic diversity than they imply. 

It’s so fucking lonely. 

To be fair, I doubt it’s all about race, and I think class is also a factor. (But then again, there’s a huge relationship between race and class in America, with Blacks and Latinos getting the short end of the stick.) Poorer people are probably less likely to receive an autism diagnosis than are middle-class and richer people, because they’re often stuck in shitty, underfunded schools, they can’t afford the kinds of evaluations that people with more money can get, and they often get misdiagnosed when they DO get hold of professionals. 

[Richard] Whither conservatism?

I am a conservative in a very literal sense: there are things about society that should indeed be conserved, and there is much to be said about a measured approach to politics, rather than discarding everything for the sake of novelty. I believe strongly in family values, but do not believe they should be restricted to one type of family. I think that cultural preservation is of the utmost importance. Of course, engaging in racist, xenophobic, misogynistic or homophobic hatred would be rank hypocrisy from me, considering the company I share in our system, and our own experiences.

However, I started to distance myself from the label, because of the extremism that masquerades under the moniker of ‘conservatism’. Loathing hurled at asylum-seekers. Attempts at aggressive privatization of the British Welfare State, in a neo-Thatcherite mould. Republican tripe about President Obama’s birth certificate. Repeat all of these, ad nauseam. 

I’ve aligned myself with the Tories in the past, and while I continue to agree with many of its tenets, I am uncomfortable with their obsession with austerity as a solution to Britain’s current recession. I had expected more of David Cameron before his becoming Prime Minister two years ago, and I’m disappointed with his actions. I had hoped for an improvement over the disastrous Gordon Brown, and I feel that while he’s far less extreme than his Republican counterparts in the United States, he’s far too influenced by them. Scaling back on excess spending doesn’t require doing it on the backs of the less fortunate. In the United States, I have no such identification with conservatism, though. Republicanism is utterly nasty, and I have little patience for it. Before the election of Barack Obama, I was able to read Republicans’ blogs without my teeth being set on edge; afterwards, their small-mindedness was laid bare, and I have no desire to encourage such behaviour, even though page views. This isn’t to say, of course, that it’s Obama’s fault, but that many Republicans saw fit to foment racial hatred and use it as a strategy to oppose the President’s policies. One can disagree with him without resorting to covert—or overt, in the case of many talk-radio and Fox News ideologues—racial attacks. For my part, I supported Obama over either of his Republican rivals, but I had far more respect for John McCain than I did the odious Mitt Romney.

I would like to see conservative parties like the Tories and Republicans sincerely evaluate the meaning of ‘conservatism’, and put witless extremism to rest.

Conservatism isn’t puerile ranting about asylum-seekers, birth certificates, Muslims and gays. It’s extremism, and should be repudiated wherever it appears.

[Kerry] Neurodiversity Is Not ‘Anti-Psych’

I normally like the entries on RationalWiki, especially the ones about conservative ideologues and anti-science cranks. However, their article about ‘mental illness denial‘ gave me pause, because they implied that the ‘difference model’ of mental variance was in direct opposition to treatment. 

As a neurodiversity advocate, I don’t think that’s the case. 

I’m not against psychiatry, nor is anyone else here. We may advocate for neurodiversity, but that doesn’t come with automatic opposition to the mental health system in and of itself. If a condition is causing someone distress, then they should seek help for it, whether it be through talk therapy, medication or genuinely supportive, non-abusive inpatient treatment. There are some other plural activists, like the Astraea system, who do promote anti-psychiatry more actively; we’re not among that lot, and think that psychiatry can be used effectively, as long as there’s respect for the patient. It shouldn’t be used to enforce arbitrary ideas of whose identities are and are not valid, like what was done to gay people before homosexuality was removed from the DSM. You can criticise some aspects of psychiatry without advocating for people like Thomas Szasz and the ‘Church’ of Scientology. 

The problem with much of modern psychiatry isn’t its existence, as much as it is the abuses that exist within it, and the deficit model being applied universally, whether a condition causes individual suffering or not. We don’t suffer from being plural, so why do we need treatment for it? We don’t inherently suffer from being autistic, so why should we have it ‘cured’? We’d like accommodations, but that’s quite different to being cured. We would like our anxiety and depression to be got rid of, since they have direct negative impacts on our success. But our existing in and of itself? Something quite different, I’d say. 

If a condition does have a detrimental effect on your life (and not just because you’re not ‘omg, NORMAL™’) and you’d like help with it, you should be able to get that. If someone is out there harming people, then yes, that person should be stopped. The idea behind neurodiversity, though, is that simple existence isn’t harmful in and of itself. Non-abusive psychiatry and neurodiversity can coexist without denying that there are conditions that cause people suffering, or claiming that any neurological variation is inherently pathological. 

[Em] Obama, “Puritopians,” and Privilege

Let me put a big disclaimer on this now: These are my personal views and they are not representative of our system as a whole. If you disagree with me, it doesn’t have shit to do with anyone else here. Also, here’s a content warning for warfare.

A lot of us, including me, hang out on political blogs. Most of them tend to range from moderate to far-left, which is reflective of our individual political beliefs.

What I’ve noticed is this disturbing tendency to reflexively label President Obama as “evil,” and lambaste him constantly because of some of his foreign-policy stances, and opposing him at every turn. Any time a pro-Obama post appears, they show up in droves, complaining about Afghanistan, drones, or Yemen, and endorsing Jill Stein, Ron Paul, or some other fringe candidate. These people are often called “puritopians” by more moderate Democrats and leftists: they want purity among left-wing voters and politicians, and they want their presidents to establish a utopian society. And they’ll sit down tearing Democratic Presidents, representatives, and senators apart. Most of these people are white. Most of them aren’t disabled. Most of them don’t stand to lose much if Republicans dominate all branches of government. (And even more oddly, some of them support Ron Paul, who’s notably racist and homophobic—but he’ll end the wars, you see!) Not to mention that the “help the poor kids in Pakistan” talk has a “pity porn” tone to it. It feels as though they’re using it as a pretext to criticize the Obama Administration without actually being attached to the issue.

They generally claim to be fighting for all of us, and want to make society a more equitable place. Yet they tried to convince Obama voters that he was “evil,” and that making it easier for Mitt to win by voting for Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, or other ostensibly anti-war candidates was a viable solution. Some of them have these scorched-earth fantasies, in which they wanted the Republicans to win so that they could prove that the system was fucked up. You realize how many people would get screwed if Romney won? Say goodbye to Roe v. Wade, LGBT rights, the social safety net, avoiding war in Iran…Sorry, this is not a motherfucking GAME where you can toss people under a fucking bus to make a cute little political point. Why not put pressure on Obama, rather than threatening with a swing-state vote (it’s less of a problem for folks in solid red or blue states) for Jill Stein or some other candidate who will never fucking become president and will just make it easier for a Republican to take office…and you KNOW Romney or Gingrich or whoever won’t fucking listen to you. I’m not saying “My President right or wrong.” I’m saying that it’s better to put pressure on a more receptive leader than it is to say “I’m taking my toys and going home, and fuck anyone who might be affected by a Republican winning the presidency.” I’m right there with you on wanting the Administration to cut this stuff out, but that doesn’t mean that I’d make it easier for MITT FUCKING ROMNEY to win.

Continue reading