[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? 

[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] 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.

[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] 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. 

Getting Serious About Plurality [Kerry]

The problem that we’ve seen with anti-plural hostility is the dismissal of any identity that varies from a particular norm, without any explanation other than ‘I think it’s BS, so your experience can’t be valid.’ There just isn’t any serious discussion happening, because people believe that it’s outside the realm of seriousness. It doesn’t help that some environments, such as Tumblr, turn discussions of identity into a sideshow, rather than actually teasing out the important issues underneath some of the bluster that appears on people’s dashboards. 

Asking questions about identity, though, is hard. It requires people to question their preconceived ideas about selfhood, personhood and what it means to be ‘mentally healthy’. Since Western culture doesn’t currently have a mainstream framework for mental variance that doesn’t use the medical model, and positivism prevails in most of the social sciences, including psychology, more philosophical explanations aren’t brought in as much as they were in the past. Neurodiversity is gaining more traction in popular discourse, but it will take a bit longer before that mindset displaces the current set of ideas. 

There are people who will say ‘It’s crazy! Because it’s not “normal”, something’s wrong with you.’ That those of us who are non-DID plural systems can’t have valid experiences because one model of cognition tends to be rather hostile to the idea of variance being just that—variance. Some conditions do require treatment, but variance in and of itself shouldn’t be the reason why treatment should be mandated. Unfortunately, a lot of people conflate ‘variance’ and ‘disorder’. It’s thoughtless traditionalism for its own sake, as opposed to a thoughtful stance that considers all aspects of identity. 

As usual, I’ll add the disclaimer that I don’t think that DID isn’t a thing, but that plurality itself need not always be explained with that paradigm. It’s a bit like gender variance—there are ‘classic’ trans people, who have binary gender identities and want to physically change their bodies to match their identities, and there are other gender-variant people, who may or may not identify themselves as being on the gender binary, and may or may not want to change their bodies. 

On the other hand, we’ve seen people come round just by knowing others who have had different experiences to them, and are willing to listen to them (that’s the important bit), even if they may not be completely knowledgeable at first. 

We don’t know conclusively how we came to be separate people: some of us think that we emerged naturally; others think that our plurality may have occurred as a response to stress. Regardless, though, we like who we are, and don’t want to lose our identities to gain the social acceptance of people who aren’t willing to listen in the first place

[Kerry] The Problem with Some ‘Autism Parents’

There are two types of problematic parents we’ve noticed: those that infantilise their children, incapable of seeing that their children are people and can self-advocate, and those parents who are hellbent on ‘normalising’ their children with ‘tough love’, which in its most extreme cases manifests in psychological and emotional abuse that leaves lasting scars. For some particularly bad parents, physical abuse is used as well.

We don’t have personal experience with family members who only use infantilisation, but we are far, far too familiar with tough ‘love’. I put love in quotation marks, because the behaviour was tough, but I don’t think it was very loving. Trying to humiliate someone having a meltdown isn’t loving. Shaming someone for being overloaded or struggling with certain scenarios is not loving. Becoming more critical and snappish once a nonautistic sibling comes along is not loving. It is abusive, and it’s reflective of the harmful ideas surrounding the autistic spectrum.

Because of our experiences, most of this article will be focussed on the harmful behaviour on the part of ‘tough love’ parents.

Their feelings of parental protectiveness are overlaid with resentment about their having an ‘abnormal’ child, one who may never fulfil any of the goals that parents associate with success. My child will never get a degree from Harvard or Oxford. My child will never become a doctor, lawyer or nuclear physicist. My child will never learn anything at all. Never, never, never. They’re so focussed on the possibilities of those ‘nevers’ that they work assiduously to stamp out the autism that they fallaciously view as ‘separate’ from their child’s existence. They want that typical child they’d been hoping and dreaming for, not the neurologically variant child who happens to be right in front of them. They see the child as a burden, a symbol of their failure to have a child that meets society’s expectations of what the perfect child should be, and they dread having to potentially look after the child for longer than the absolutely must. Things would be easier with a typical child, and these parents’ actions never let the child forget it. There is this undercurrent of being unwanted, of being flawed, in the child’s perception of the parent’s actions.

In order for these parents to get a ‘return on investment’, they subject their children to behaviour-modification techniques. This can be handling conspicuously autistic behaviour with traditional discipline like corporal punishment, revocation of privileges and aversives, rather than trying to understand the child’s behaviour and finding adaptations and services that allow them to make more sense of the world and have fewer negative reactions to it.

There’s often a problem when these parents see a particular atypical behaviour, and only see the behaviour, not the intention or stimuli that might motivate it. For instance, a parent who only looks at their child’s behaviour may interpret a meltdown as a deliberate attempt to make trouble, rather than a response to sensory or emotional overload. A ‘tough love’ parent may attempt to correct this external behaviour with traditional discipline, rather than trying to correct the situation, since they’re uninterested in the child’s interiority. Achieving success for this kind of parent is indistinguishability from a child’s nonautistic peers. It’s a superficial response to a deeper problem.

The problem with this childrearing style is that they’re not focussed on who their children actually are. They’re fixated on an Ideal Child, someone who their real child will never be. (This behaviour also exists with homophobic and transphobic parents, who refuse to see their queer children for who they are, and try to force them into a heteronormative or gender-conforming model ‘for their own sake’.)

People may write volumes and volumes about how we lack ‘theory of mind’, but this lack of reciprocity can go both ways. When parents kill their children because of their autism, it’s absolutely nonsensical to claim the lack of empathy only exists on our end. Most of these dysfunctional parent-child relationships don’t end up in the child’s death, but they can result in psychological abuse that leaves lasting damage to the child’s emotional health. When you’re constantly second guessing your self-worth and your abilities, that’s not a healthy place to be in. When your feelings are invalidated and people aren’t even trying to work out what’s wrong behind the visible behaviours, you might end up in an emotional state you’d rather not have.

Trying to correct who someone is isn’t the right way to go about things. Someone’s being autistic isn’t a crime. While being autistic does present adaptive problems, the more humane response is to accommodate and to teach a child healthy coping mechanisms that are person-centred, rather than trying to force someone to contort themselves to fit into a box labelled ‘Indistinguishable From Peers’.

In our case, we cut contact with our immediate biological family. Their tough ‘love’ was more damaging than simply letting us exist as who we were, and I think it turned out for the worst. Learning how to navigate the world comfortably involved years of trying to undo what they had done, and it’s still continuing today, even though things are easier for us than they were even three or four years ago. For people on the spectrum, not having that family support means that they are being deprived of access to services and help that most people are fortunate enough to have. It’s meant we’ve had to scramble to find resources and support. We have been able to, but it took several years.

While I believe the vast majority of autism parents are well intentioned, sometimes things go wrong, and people erroneously conflate being nonautistic with being a more valuable member of society. Sometimes, when those stereotypes are internalised too much, and are combined with a parent’s own negative personality traits, that can result in behaviour that is ultimately destructive to the autistic child’s psyche–or worse, their very existence.

[Kerry] Liminality and Invisibility on the Spectrum

A lot of times, we feel like a minority within a minority within a minority. Always between boundaries, negotiating the intersections between neurological variance, gender identity, sexuality and race, and realising the impact that every single one of those differences has on our daily existence. 

It’s been very hard to find voices like ours in the autistic blogosphere. I don’t think we’ve come across any heavily updated or trafficked blogs by autistic people of colour, save one or two, much less autistic PoC who are also on the plural spectrum, are queer or are trans. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like there is a lot of uniformity within the ‘mainstream’ (if you can call it that) network of autism-advocacy blogs. Most bloggers are White and middle- to upper-middle-class, with some exceptions, mostly where economic status is concerned. It’s very hard to find people with experiences like ours. Even finding first-hand accounts on how, say, anti-Black racism and autism interact with one another is pretty difficult, and it makes us feel quite alone at times. Since autism’s prevalence isn’t linked to ethnicity—it occurs just as frequently for Blacks, Indigenous Australians, South Asians, Native Americans, East Asians and Mestizos (to name a few ethnic groups) as it does for Whites—one has to wonder why there’s so few of those voices being heard. We’ve found some amazing autistic narratives, but very few have the intersections of racial prejudice, particularly in education and employment. 

And that’s just autistic narratives in general: with ‘success stories’, the voices are even more limited. Most autistic people who end up studying at—and working with—top universities or end up in high-status jobs are quite privileged in some ways. These people are overwhelmingly white and upper-middle-class. In our case, I suppose we would qualify as a Success Story™, but we hear very few voices like ours. Most autistic PoC fall through the cracks, to be unheard from, and to be denied the services they need in order to survive—we’re not even going to be talking about thriving, here.  

Fortunately, it’s been easier to find other queer and trans autistic voices. However, most of those narratives fall under the ‘white and middle-class’ category that I mentioned above. It does make us feel less alone to find those stories, though, since sexual or gender variance can change how autism is expressed when growing up, or in adult life. Being autistic can modify how someone perceives their gender or sexuality, and being queer or trans can modify how they perceive themselves as an autistic person. Those complexities are certainly real, and they can be potent. Having those voices out there is something that’s tremendously heartening to us, even if they don’t share every single bit of our history. 

As for other plural systems, there are a few that blog specifically about autistic and neurodiversity issues. There aren’t that many systems blogging about it openly, at least not in a dedicated way. I think that some of it is because of the stigma surrounding multiplicity/plurality, and some of the unfortunate stereotypes and misconceptions that get attached to it from detractors probably aren’t a strong inducement for people to be open about it and discuss it in blogs or other public formats. I mean, if you’re worried about people trolling you just for talking about your own subjective experience, it’s hard to go out there and talk about them with the intent of holding a serious dialogue. 

…I suppose it would be easier to approach people about some of these issues were we not to write as individuals and not mention plurality; however, we find it difficult to maintain blogs using a nonplural persona.  Most of these have fizzled out over the years. To us, that’s like acting, and it’s not a comfortable act, either. We identify as plural precisely because it’s more convenient and practical to identify the consistent and localised variances in our cognitive styles as being separate people, in a philosophical sense, and to pretend that that variance doesn’t exist simply doesn’t feel right in this context. This is a neurodiversity blog too, and experiencing consciousness this way does fall under that rubric, at least to me and the other writers of this blog. 

I’m so tired of feeling alone. All of us here are, and I’m pretty sure there are others who probably feel the same. 

[Noël] Curebies and Integration Evangelists

I have noticed disturbing similarities between nonautistic people who are hellbent on finding a cure for autism, and nonplurals who evangelise integration as the universal treatment for all plurality, whether it falls under the classic definition of MPD/DID or not.

Both of them, I feel, seem deeply uncomfortable with the idea of neurological variation being something other than a dangerous pathology. When defending their pro-cure stance, they will invariably cite “their brother who smears faeces” or “their dysfunctional cousin whose ‘personalities’ have destroyed her life.” It is always the most extreme cases, nearly calculated to elicit disgust in the general population, that these people use in order to invalidate the idea that all neurological variance should be eliminated.

Empowerment is never an option; it is always cure. Because being neurotypical is the only acceptable state. There are no exceptions. I could draw further comparisons, to the anti-LGBT religious fundamentalists who advocate reparative therapy for queer people. Only straight sexuality and cisgender identity are acceptable. No deviation is permitted. You must be assimilated. They, too, trot out the worst examples of LGBT people in order to invalidate the entire movement.

This makes me feel deeply uncomfortable as a member of a plural system on the autistic spectrum, whose individual behaviour appears autistic. It does not seem like a considered evaluation of neurological difference; it feels like a visceral reaction to the idea that someone does vary from them, and that there is a challenge to the way in which they perceive personhood. Since humans are considered social animals, the idea that there is a subset of humans that does not derive the same experience from social interaction, and has different reactions to other environmental stimuli, makes them incredibly uncomfortable. What, then, does it mean to be human, if there is this group of people that “are human in a different way”? Plurality, too, challenges their notions of what the self means—if many selves within one brain can exist, is it possible that I, too, could be many? That I may have to share my thoughts, that the notion of privacy or identity could be more complicated than what it initially was on the surface?

The singular obsession with cure and healing also reminds me far too much of the eugenicist policies favoured in the United States and in Western Europe in the early twentieth century. Psychiatrists and academics relished drawing up hierarchical diagnostic schemas and creating Great Chains of Being, and consigning anyone who was considered “substandard” to abusive, soul-destroying institutions. The rise of Autism Speaks (and its predecessor, Cure Autism Now) in the past decade is simply repeating the sordid history of the suppression of disabled communities, and words cannot describe how much I loathe Autism Speaks and organisations that are philosophically akin to it.

It feels deeply adversarial. Us against them, combat neurodiversity, combat difference.

Combat me, combat Kerry, combat Hess, combat the majority of our closest friends. Crush the lives and ambitions of real, living, breathing people, because there is something that they perceive is challenging. Threatening.

My goal is to encourage people to accept complexity in identity, and to realise that variance, in and of itself, is not to simply be eliminated.

[Kerry] WTF is this shit. (warning: curebie ideology)

We don’t post here as often any more, mostly because offline stuff has kept us so busy. That doesn’t mean that we’ve abandoned the blog, though.

So, we found a website by an autistic man, Jonathan Mitchell, who is apparently in favour of curing autism, both his own and others’, and is vehemently opposed to the neurodiversity movement. He runs a blog, Autism’s Gadfly, which is devoted to this worldview. I’ll place a warning there, since readers may be upset by the content. I certainly was, but I did want to address it.

The problem with this worldview is that it upholds the idea that autistic people are inherently broken, rather than different. And by being an autistic person who advocates curing autism, his own claims seem to be that he is an inferior human being, with his own existence being worth less than others’ because of how he perceives the world and moves through it.

Mitchell also grossly misinterprets the neurodiversity community, claiming that we completely ignore the struggles and difficulties that autistics encounter. This is bullshit—there’s really no other way to put it. Has he ever read any pro-neurodiversity or anti-cure autistic blogs? The autistic people who write these accounts of their lives are incredibly frank about the difficulties they contend with, and don’t attempt to claim that their existence is all fairy cakes and sparkles. We haven’t made any claims on this blog, and none of the autistic bloggers we know personally or whose work we’ve followed for some time have made any such claims. This doesn’t sound like a rebuttal; this sounds like the straw man logical fallacy, in which someone attacks a made-up version of their opponents in order to ‘refute’ their points.

The problem with the ‘cure-it-all’ mindset for autism is that it creates a hierarchy of humanness. People who are not autistic are intrinsically better, and worth more, than those who are. Curing autistic people allows them to be brought into the class of ‘worthy people’; their worth is negligible before that. Autism isn’t like cancer or diabetes—it’s an inborn neurological variance that has both beneficial and negative aspects. Are there struggles? Yes. Are there parts of autism that can be seen as disabilities? Of course. Does that mean that the entire form of neurological variance needs to be wiped out ‘for the good of the species’? No. All this cure-mongering and pandering by people like Mitchell and the Autism Speaks/Defeat Autism Now!/Jenny McCarthy/ad nauseam crowd isn’t helping autistic people succeed. It’s promoting a eugenicist ideology that wishes to wipe out all neurological variance. It’s homogeneity for the sake of social cohesion. This is not helping autistic people. This is wishing them out of existence.

I find this view morally repugnant. Be honest about your struggles, yes. But don’t tell people they don’t deserve to exist. Don’t pander to eugenicist ideologues who would jump at the chance to exterminate people like you. You are claiming that an autistic life is a life unworthy of life.

Discriminatory philosophies like to create hierarchies in which some people’s lives are worth more than others: men’s lives are worth more than women’s; white people’s lives are worth more than the lives of people of colour; straight and cis people’s lives are worth more than LGBT people’s lives; westerners’ lives are worth more than non-westerners’ lives; abled people’s lives are worth more than disabled people’s lives. And guess who’d be gone first? People like us: queer, non-white-bodied, autistic, neurodivergent, disabled. The human race is not homogeneous. I am completely fed up with the idea that total homogeneity in society is desirable and any outliers should be eliminated. It’s been done to LGBT people; it’s been done to autistics. It’s this fucking obsession with having to be like the majority of people in order to be a valid human being. Being different to others isn’t a crime. It’s not something that needs to be wiped out just because it’s different. I know that a lot of people do have negative reactions to difference because they aren’t used to it, or don’t know how to deal with it at first, but that doesn’t mean that the difference in and of itself is bad.

You know what? I refuse to be an inferior human being. We, as a group, refuse to call ourselves broken and inherently flawed simply for existing. Are things often difficult because we’re autistic? Yes. Does that mean that we need to clamour for a cure, or say that we are unworthy of existence as we are? Fuck no; that’s unnecessary. I’m sorry, I am pretty well convinced that I have the right to exist. This is what neurodiversity advocates are asking for. Not to ignore the difficulties that autistic people can struggle with, but to recognise that our existence and personhood are valid, and that our sharing physical and philosophical space in this world with non-autistic people is not a crime.

Different, not broken. Worthy of life, self-determination and success. This is what I am, this is what we are, this is what our community is. And this is what we will fight for, as long as we draw breath.

[Kerry] Plurality and Scepticism

Philosophically, I’m a sceptic. I don’t believe in God (of any sort); I tend to believe in naturalistic explanations for both psychological and spiritual phenomena, and I critically evaluate people’s claims, especially if they can’t be empirically tested.

You may wonder, then, why we identify as plural, and why I have a strong attachment to my individual identity, even though I don’t have a visible physical manifestation.

I tend to have a philosophy of ‘materialist dualism’, in which nonspiritual philosophy is combined with the idea that there can be a distinction between someone’s external presentation and internal self-perception. I believe that the perception of that distinction occurs in the brain, at least for us. I don’t see there being a contradiction at all between being our identifying as separate people, and having many sceptics in the system, like Em, Yavari and me.

No, you can’t directly test our personhood in the same way that you can measure REM sleep or other brain phenomena that are less complicated. I think that the reason why the personhood of members of plural systems isn’t always recognised because we have differing operational definitions of personhood. People who don’t conceptualise identities as existing outside the body may see personhood as embodiment—and those people also tend to have gender-essentialist views as well, in which trans people are not ever ‘really’ the gender they identify as, or aren’t so until they’ve had The Surgery™. That philosophy leads to rigid definitions of selfhood, identity, gender and other cognitive constructs that are simple for some people, and complex for others. Those of us who have more fluid conceptualisations of identity allow for these differences, and can recognise that a mind-body problem may exist for many people.

The fact that operational definitions for personhood may vary across schools of thought doesn’t mean that being plural is inherently pathological. It means that some people tend to view identity in a rather simplified way that doesn’t account for the variations in self-perception that people actually experience. This occurs in behavioural science sometimes; there are some schools of thoughts that see people as complex, and there are others that simplify us into black boxes that are solely defined by our behaviours, and there are still others who believe that we are primarily driven by our biological urges. In general, though, the most effective psychological, sociological and anthropological approaches are those that look at people holistically, rather than turning them into DNA strands or black boxes.

Materialist dualism is a holistic philosophical approach to the mind-body problem: it recognises the difference between subjective and objective truth, does not make claims about the objective world that can’t be verified scientifically, and recognises the identity and personhood of those whose identities don’t have a one-to-one correspondence with their exterior physical manifestations. I know that my individual identity is subjective, and that when I move through the world and interact with people who don’t know we’re plural, they’ll see something different, and I’m fully aware of that. But at the same time, I have a strong sense of who I am, and that’s where my motivations, worldviews, likes and dislikes come from. It’s not a classic ‘delusion’ or ‘pathology’; as I said, I’m aware of its subjectivity, and our plurality doesn’t make us dysfunctional. Rather, we’re able to support each other emotionally and lead a halfway decent life, so no, it’s not dysfunctional. It’s a variation from the norm, but we view it as a positive adaptation that’s served us well, for the most part.

[Kerry] I’m completely amazed.

To put it bluntly? Paul Lutus, you are full of shit.

Over the years, Lutus has written articles about the purported nonexistence of Asperger’s on two occasions: in his ‘Asperger’s by Proxy’ article, and in ‘How to Raise the Asperger’s Child’. He also discusses mental conditions more generally, in ‘The Myth of Mental Illness’. While I appreciate Lutus’ interest in deconstructing some culturally bound attitudes towards mental difference, his extreme behaviourist approach, reductionism and complete ignorance regarding the autistic spectrum are things I just can’t support.

Many of his posts, including ‘Asperger’s by Proxy’ and ‘How to Raise the Asperger’s Child’, include readers’ responses, which he intersperses with his own commentary. The most irritating responses have to be to the mother who wrote back to him about his ‘How to Raise the Asperger’s Child’ article.

He fallaciously assumes that autistic people have no interest in maintaining interpersonal relationships, and the fact that his correspondent’s son does demonstrate interest in relationships ‘proves’ that he isn’t on the autistic spectrum:

You are aware, are you not, that that is NOT an Asperger’s symptom? If (1) Asperger’s was real, and (2) your son had it, he would simply not care about having friends, and he certainly wouldn’t throw a tantrum about losing a game. Those “symptoms” arise in normal development and have nothing to do with either Asperger’s or autism generally.

Autistic kids cannot sustain relationships, don’t understand why that is important, and do not express the kinds of emotions you describe. Conclusion? Your son doesn’t have Asperger’s. (from the responses to ‘How to Raise the Asperger’s Child)

Incorrect. Autistic people may struggle with relationships, and may approach them differently, but like all other individuals, they each individually have their own ways of approaching other people and building relationships.

He also repeatedly refers to the autism spectrum as being a ‘mental illness’. Autism and Asperger’s aren’t considered ‘mental illnesses’; they’re developmental disorders, which are approached differently by both the DSM and by therapists in general.

Additionally, Lutus misinterprets the removal of Asperger’s from the upcoming DSM-V: rather than declaring Asperger’s a myth, the new DSM will view autism in a more nuanced way, rather than declaring that everyone who previously had an Asperger’s behaviour is now a poorly behaved, but intelligent, NT. They’re saying that Asperger’s is autism, not that it doesn’t exist. They’re criticising the name, not the existence of the condition. It seems as though he’s only read the New York Times article he linked to for its title, rather than actually examining the story attached to said title:

Above we read that Allen Frances, editor of DSM-IV, freely acknowledges that most current Asperger’s diagnoses are nonsense. And by reading further, we discover that psychologists now realize their mistake, and Asperger’s is being removed from the next edition of the DSM. To see how so many people could be misdiagnosed with Asperger’s, how Asperger’s could morph from an uncertain mental illness into a certain fad, we need to examine the field of psychology, the source for the condition and the diagnosis.

For someone who wants to declare baldly that his correspondent’s children don’t have Asperger’s, Lutus shows a profound lack of knowledge of both autism spectrum conditions and psychology in general. I’m not pretending to be an expert, but unlike Paul Lutus, I have firsthand experience with diagnosed, lifelong autism (I’ve personally been here for ten years, but right now, that’s beside the point). He doesn’t live our life, nor does he know us (or his correspondent), and has no place dictating the way in which another person’s brain functions, especially when he’s obviously ignorant of it.

[Kerry] Normality and ‘Deviance’

(crossposted from personal Tumblr account)

A lot of destructive philosophies that marginalise certain oppressed categories of people begin with the idea that people considered ‘deviant’ are not inherently different, but are altered ‘normal’ people. The way to deal with deviance under this philosophy is to restore ‘normality’ to these people, and cast deviance as either a pathology or sinful choice.

Let’s use plurality as one of our examples. The current medical paradigm for multiplicity implies that all plurality comes from an original person splitting because of extreme emotional trauma, and breaking off into several different sentient entities, often referred to as ‘alters’ and ‘personalities’. Only the ‘original’ person (commonly called the ‘host’ or ‘core’) is considered a ‘real person’. Another strain of thought, more popular in the 90s, asserts that splitting cannot occur, and that any perception of splitting is a delusion generated by the patient and doctors invested in the ‘multiple personality fad’. Both of these schools of thought operate on the idea that there is always an original ‘normal’ person who underwent a form of mental pathology; neither affirm the individual personhoods of plural systems, and neither challenge the ‘one body, one mind’ Western construction of personality. This isn’t to say that no multiplicity is trauma-based, but that the assumption that ALL plurality is trauma-based is fallacious. Also, both of the pre-existing paradigms imply that even within the accepted trauma-split paradigm, people who split cannot actually be people.

Things have changed for the better over the past few years, though, with many therapists willing to work within the plural paradigm without attempting to ‘normalise’ (that is, integrate) trauma-based plural systems.

For LGBT people, it’s a similar situation. Gay men, lesbians and bisexuals are fallen heterosexuals, fallen into a life of sin. Trans people are cast as diseased or sinful members of their coercively assigned sex. Transphobia extends beyond the fundamentalist paradigm—there are many ostensibly ‘progressive’ feminists who hold similarly transphobic ideas, with the same implication that trans people are ‘altered members of their coercively assigned sex’.The idea that LGBT people could be born queer is anathema to these people, because it destroys their worldview. How could people sin simply by existing? How could a corporeally-based feminism work when women can be born with any genital configuration? Instead of accepting the challenges, people retreat and claim that anyone who doesn’t fit their paradigm doesn’t exist, by definition.

A twist on this theme occurs amongst pro-cure ‘autism parents’—a lot of their rhetoric around their children involves mawkish stories about how their supposedly normal child was TAKEN BY AUTISM!!!11. Their entire life is about longing for typical children, and having a typical life, and making their autistic kids feel like shit. (Because, you know, even if some autistic people can’t speak, it doesn’t mean they don’t understand! Or have feelings! Sigh.) Our system is on the autistic spectrum. When we lived with the biofamily, we were constantly guilted for being autistic. Some of us, especially Hess, developed a lot of weird neuroses around the way our brain worked that we were only able to counter in adulthood.

The problem is that so many people place a premium on belonging to a majority group, rather than expanding their definitions of identity to include people who haven’t traditionally been included. The problem facing activists working towards the acceptance of marginalised identity groups is dealing with majoritarian ideas about conformity and personhood, and creating space to allow other identities to exist within mainstream society comfortably.

[Kerry] Outdated notions and incivility.

Yes, I’m talking about good brains and bad brains again. It’s been a perseveration for the past few weeks, thanks to some of the jerky, clueless behaviour I’ve been seeing both on the internet and off.

This entry is in response to a few people who have been waging all-out war against trans people, plurals and others whose identities don’t quite match up with their bodies. They’re known trolls (or just hardcore conservatives), but even so, they’re repeating a lot of standard transphobic and anti-plural tropes that should be addressed, no matter where they come from.

The guy who seems to be the loudest voice in this debate was, at one point, actively going around and telling trans people and plurals that their experiences are ‘delusional’, and they’re sick and need help to make them ‘normal’ (that is, singlets or members of their assigned gender). This person flat-out ungendered at least two trans people to their faces, and told many people that they didn’t exist.

Delusion? You have got to be joking. If someone recognises that a phenomenon is subjective, it’s not a delusion. If you’re saying ‘it’s in my head’, then how the hell is it a delusion if you’re able to point to it and recognise it as a subjective phenomenon that can’t be tested objectively, but has some reality to you, anyway? Delusional is saying ‘hello, my body is LITERALLY, PHYSICALLY, a fucking cabbage’, not ‘we perceive ourselves as being separate people because that’s how our brain fucking works’, or ‘my gender identity is male because that’s how my brain works’. Before you throw psychiatric terms around, you should at least know how to use them.

I’ll admit that both transgender identities and multiplicity are in the DSM-IV. However, the consensus amongst psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists is that the ‘treatment’ for GID isn’t reparative therapy to force trans people back into an ‘assigned gender’ role; it’s affirmation of those people’s identities. Even recent psychological literature doesn’t deliberately use incorrect pronouns and gender designations—the only people who do that are either totally ignorant of how gender identity works, or are blatant bigots, like this guy. Forcing people to present as a gender other than their own is generally unsuccessful and unhealthy for the person you’re trying to ungender. If you seriously think that reparative therapy is going to fix those poor, sick, deluded trans people, fuck you; you’re wrong, and you have no business even attempting to try and talk about how it’s a psychiatric problem when you don’t even understand the current protocol or Standards of Care for dealing with transgender identities. Not that the WPATH guidelines are spectacularly awesome; they currently are really not effective for nonbinary people, and are more difficult to implement in more conservative areas in which endocrinologists will be less likely to co-operate with trans people seeking hormone regimens, but they’re better than ‘shove those freaks back into the closet and treat them as their birth gender’, which is what these people are suggesting should happen. Again, reparative therapy DOES. NOT. WORK.

Where multiplicity’s concerned, it’s complicated; there are some therapists who still think that all multiplicity needs to be stamped out, and that everyone should integrate, but there’s an increasing number of therapists who think that it’s more effective for multiple groups to co-operate and work together, rather than forcing themselves to combine into a meta-host. The latter position is the one our therapist takes, herself, and it’s the position that many others take. Integration Evangelism is like reparative therapy, in a sense: it doesn’t work for everyone, and it isn’t ideal for everyone. Some systems do feel that integration is the appropriate path for them; others don’t. In our case, it would be, well, not a good idea, especially considering that we’re pretty discrete individuals, and each of us is a complete person, and it wouldn’t make any sense to smash us all together. Psychological care isn’t just about making people ‘be normal’; it’s about helping people to work with what they have. We were dealt a certain pack of cards with this brain, and we’re working with it. We’ve gone through about twenty years of this ‘must act normal’ bullshit; it’s over. Pretending to be normal gained us no friends; it gained us no self-respect; and it gained us little understanding of how our brain actually fucking works. Now, I’d say we’re pretty functional, and we have a lot of things going for us—but all of that came after we dropped this ridiculous idea of forcing ourselves to fit into people’s narrow little mould of what ‘normal’ is, and embracing ourselves for who you are.

It’s not a cut-and-dried situation of ‘the psych establishment needs to cure you’, especially when even the psych establishment itself is less hell-bent on ‘curing’ us ‘freaks’ as you are.

I’m pretty much convinced that people who talk like this are less concerned about getting anyone ‘help’ as much as they are completely unable to accept that people’s brains may work differently to theirs, and that it’s okay. Maybe it’s insecurity. Maybe it’s just plain meanspiritedness that they’ve picked up from being around communities in which you get brownie points for being a prat. Either way, it’s an unhealthy and divisive way to view and treat others. No matter what you believe, there is absolutely zero fucking excuse for people to go out of their way to harass people just because they happen to be different, especially if their difference causes them to experience marginalisation and discrimination in society.

Why am I wasting my time writing about these people? Well, it’s not directed straight at them; I’d rather not get into an internet flamewar over whether I ‘actually exist’ or not; it’s about the principle of the matter. I’m just one of those people who feels the need to say something when this kind of thing happens.

And for all the plural and trans people out there: you’re worth it. These jerks are out of touch with, well, everything. They don’t know you, or your situation, and it’s not their place to tell you what you should do.

[Kerry] ‘Glamourising’ Multiplicity/DID

(This is an expanded version of a post I made on Tumblr earlier today.)

Now, Plures.org is more focussed on daily life and positive self-advocacy than ranting; people generally reserve that for Tumblr and journalling sites, but this had to be crossposted, so.

I don’t think that nondisordered multiples are trying to glamourise DID. Most of them, actually, make the distinction between medical-model DID and the multiplicity that they experience, and recognise that those multiples who do deal with DID or trauma-based symptoms have an entirely different concept of how it is to be multiple/plural. And to be honest, we have experienced a lot of DID-like symptoms before we discovered healthy multiplicity, and how to co-operate as a group and function in life. Before, the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing, and there was zero communication. This doesn’t make us more or less legitimate than other nondisordered systems, or DID-based systems. This is just our experience, and you can take it or leave it.

The idea that multiple minds in one body is inherently ‘ill’ or ‘disordered’ is more of a Western cultural trope than it is a scientific reality. It’s similar to claiming that trans people are all sick because their body doesn’t match the way they conceptualise themselves. I’m a person; I’m not just a named emotion, and I’m definitely not just someone’s imaginary friend. I have my own unique responses to things and have my own ideas and so forth, but I’m a bit tired of defending my own personhood; I’m mostly wanting to deal with the idea that ‘all multiplicity is disordered!!!!1’—the idea that only ONE type of brain is valid is pretty fucking ableist itself. It’s like saying all autistics need to be cured and that all trans people need to be forced into therapy to act in a way associated with their assigned sex. The idea that there is, in fact, a ‘normal’ brain, and that everyone must be like that archetypical ‘normal’ is inherently ableist and privileged, and is culturally bound.

Yes, we have an easier go of it than systems that have more struggles when it comes to fronting and co-operation, but that co-operation took time, and I think that’s the case for a lot of groups, even ones who didn’t originate via trauma. Yeah, having zero communication for twenty years is totally fucking glamorous and special. I’m sorry, my mere existence doesn’t invalidate others’ suffering; I’m just here. I don’t exist for any particular purpose, and I’m incredibly fucking insulted that some people think that my existence, in and of itself, is enough to invalidate others’. This is similar to the stuff that the ‘Women Born Transsexual’ say about genderqueer and other nonbinary people: how dare we violate the confines of the gender binary when we are suffering from severe gender dysphoria? So much for diversity of opinion and identity, huh? If you’re not normal, you’re either sick, or really normal and just trying to get attention; there is no real room for being different and healthy.

That’s the true ableism here, not nondisordered multiplicity. The idea that only ONE kind of brain is acceptable, and that we should all think in a predefined way in order to be socially acceptable, is what leads to ableism towards people who are mentally different, whether those differences cause suffering or not. The fact that people feel that they can sit and dictate who exists and who doesn’t, and declaring everyone who doesn’t fit into their mould of ‘what plurality is supposed to be’ to either be in denial or making light of a ~*TERRIBLE ILLNESS*~ is pretty fucking problematic and exposes their own privileged mindset on how brains are supposed to work. Now, I don’t think it’s particularly fantastic for people to glamourise disordered forms of multiplicity, or stuff like cancer, but all multiplicity isn’t inherently ‘bad’. The fact that you want to declare someone else’s neural configuration either pathological or fake, regardless of how they experience themselves, is pretty revealing of your own bigotry and privilege, or at least your buying into the idea that there is only one right way to exist. I’m fairly allergic to One-True-Wayism, and this is what these people’s behaviour towards nondisordered multiples looks like.

We’re okay just as we are, thanks; we don’t need your ‘concern’, and we’re pretty fucking sure we exist. That’s not up for debate, and comments that try to engage us in debate over our existence will be, as the disclaimer reads on the ‘about’ page, either deleted or fisked.

Sorry for the snarkasm and swearing; it’s not the normal tone I use on plures.org articles,  but some of the complete and utter tripe that I’ve come across from supposedly well-meaning nonplurals and NTs has to be addressed.

[Noël] “Systemising,” Jacob Barnett, and Autistic Stereotyping

On Tumblr, a few people reblogged an article about a 12-year-old boy, Jacob Barnett, who is developing hypotheses to explain the origin of the universe, and adding to Einstein’s theory of relativity. In the Facebook comments section, someone remarked, “It might seem unbelievable, but there is a reason why people with autism and aspergers are so adept at mathematical sciences.” This person continued with this, saying that autistic people in general are more adept at “systemising,” or understanding mathematical, linear concepts.

As complimentary as this person wished to be to Barnett and others like him, Simon Baron-Cohen’s hypothesis that autism manifests itself as extreme “systemising” is actually inaccurate. Firstly, it feeds into essentialist notions about sex and gender, claiming that systemising is an example of an “extreme male brain.” Additionally, it fallaciously assumes that autistic people in general are adept at linear and mathematical thinking, and all take pride in categorising and quantifying. There are people on the autistic spectrum who actually do not fall under this rubric of “systemising,” including many people in this group. We are not particularly mathematically gifted, especially not where computation is concerned. We are not terrible at it—the majority of us can manage to tot up figures well enough—but it is not a particular skill that we have. We are certainly not the sorts of people who would be astrophysicists at the age of 25, much less 12. We certainly have scientifically-minded people, but they tend towards the biological sciences and social sciences, rather than pure mathematics and physics. Even our resident physicist runs up against our difficulties with computation and quantitation. We are largely nonlinear thinkers, which makes it difficult for people here to understand mathematics in the way that it is conventionally taught in schools.

Baron-Cohen reduces autistic brains into “types,” rather than understanding that people’s interests and aptitudes can vary. There is an assumption that all autistic people share the same skills: we are all supposed to be programmers, economists, mathematicians, and physicists, not social scientists, artists, writers of fiction, or poets. The people we know on the spectrum are not solely focussed on Baron-Cohen’s definition of “autistic interests”; they each have their own fascinations and predilections, reflective of the diversity of people in general, rather than adhering to a facilely constructed rubric of how autistic people “ought to be.” We do not all swiftly reckon numbers in our heads; we do not all find solace in squares, logarithms, and asymptotes, as beautiful as mathematics and its logic may be. There are other things that people gravitate to: words arranged on pages, the feel of cool clay as it is being moulded, the metamorphosis of caterpillars to pupae in chrysalides to butterflies.

There were also some problematic aspects to the article on Barnett itself: it seemed to place people considered “early bloomers” on a pedestal. (But then again, it was from the Daily Mail; what can you expect?) This is difficult to handle, because people who are determined to conceptualise certain ideas earlier than others are considered more valuable or “intelligent” than those who come to those ideas much later in life. This is not to say that Barnett’s accomplishments are not remarkable; rather, it is to say that the article’s tone seemed to handle these accomplishments in a way that struck me as rather problematic, especially considering the opprobrium that people considered to be “late bloomers” receive. In our case, we exemplified both “early bloomer” and “late bloomer” tendencies: we were incredibly early readers (we started at around 2.5), and understood abstract concepts about identity and personhood (people here recall wondering if they were “real” or in someone else’s imagination when the front-body was 3 or so), but struggled with gross- and fine motor skills, basic social interactions, and executive functioning. Development is not a hierarchical ladder of “better” and “worse”; it is variable. It is the “soup” that Kerry referred to previously.

I think that this article about Barnett exemplifies many of the problems that seem to exist when discussing autism and developmental differences (whether they are considered “beneficial” or “deficits”)—the oversimplification, the reduction of complex people into lists of traits, and the constant comparison between “normal” people and the rest of us. I, for one, am tired of seeing articles like this about every single neurodivergent person who does something newsworthy.


[Kerry] Good Brain, Bad Brain

There seems to be this deep-set misconception that brains can’t possibly be wired to have more than one person/conscious entity using them without there being an underlying problem, either with the way the system’s brain functions, or as a response to traumatic experiences.  Or if you’re autistic, you’re BROKEN and need to be CURED of the TERRIBLE DISEASE from which you SUFFER! The dichotomy is between ‘sick’ and ‘healthy’. I think that this is an incredibly oversimplified way to view identity and how it can form. Seriously, brains don’t all come in one way, and just because yours doesn’t work in a predefined ‘right’ way doesn’t mean that you can’t function, or don’t exist. If you’re not neurotypical, your brain is ‘bad’. You need a ‘cure’ for existing.

According to that paradigm, we’ll never be ‘healthy’, and never have been—after all, we’re autistic and plural. Clearly, we need to be ‘fixed’ because our brain is ‘broken’ and needs to be NT and nonplural in order to be real, valid people with the right to self-determination. There’s no way to rewire our brain to fit that mould, so people like us just get written off as having bad brains. We’re weird. We’re abnormal. We’re an unwanted deviation from what we’re ‘supposed’ to be, so it needs to be stamped out for our own fucking good, or something.

It’s difficult to engage with people who have these deep-set views of ‘good and bad’ brains, especially when it’s clear to them that your brain is ‘bad’. If they already think that the way you’re wired is wrong, they’re going to completely write off everything you say as being ‘crazy’, rather than being valid for its own reasons. Because of this, we generally don’t prefer to engage people directly about plurality, except in the context of our websites, which people can just come across themselves. I mean, what do I tell these people? ‘LOL, sorry I exist?’

This isn’t saying that mental disorders don’t exist; it’d be hypocritical. I’m not anti-psychiatry. We don’t consider the autism or plurality to be inherently disordered, but the panic stuff definitely is. This also isn’t saying that trauma-based systems don’t exist; we know several of them, and while their origins are different to ours, and while they feel that the psychiatric paradigm describes their experiences more accurately than it does ours, that doesn’t mean that their experiences are less valid or real than ours. I’m just questioning the idea that being differently wired, in and of itself, is bad.

And here we are back at privilege again. Because your brain is seen as generally being ‘okay’, you have the privilege of having your words listened to. You aren’t continually being written off. People don’t try and meddle in your lives to fix you, or to make sure that you’re absolutely capable of functioning in society. You know you aren’t going to get hit with a battery of tests year after year to prove that you’re able to manage stuff. You’re not poked and prodded. People don’t act as though they own you, your life and your experiences. Those things are a given for you, but they aren’t for those of us who are labelled or perceived as having bad brains.

Our brain isn’t ‘bad’. It isn’t ‘broken’. It is what it is, and our functionality is based on being the best people we can be, rather than shoving ourselves into an uncomfortable box or looking for an imaginary ‘cure’.

[Noël] Eye-contact, the Internet, and people-mapping.

Like many other autistics, we struggle with maintaining consistent eye contact when talking to people face-to-face. Interestingly, our eye-contact difficulties translate to the Internet, even though we are not actually looking into others’ eyes when leaving comments or chatting on instant messengers. We have to actually avert our eyes from names (and icons, sometimes, if it is a face) when chatting or leaving comments, because for some reason, our brain processes that as “looking into someone’s eyes,” even when we are not technically being looked at. We generally scroll down so that we only see the comment box when replying, after seeing whom the comment is from.

I consider this to be related to our eye-contact difficulties, because the avoidance of names and icons does not occur when reading others’ entries, comments, and chat transcripts—only when we receive comments or are in an instant message conversation. There seems to be a “switch” tripped in our brain that says “People are interacting with you; do not look at them.” Names and icons attached to comments and messages become “eyes.”  This is not to say that we dislike comments or instant messages—otherwise, we would not have an instant messenger account, and we would disable comments on our blogs and journals—but that there are some of the same autistic reactions that occur when social interaction over the Internet occurs.

Unlike people who parse others on the Internet as being similar to computer readouts, or “words on a screen,” many of us tend to be intensely aware of the presence of others, even if they are communicating textually. They seem physically present in comment threads and on forums, and this makes it incredibly difficult for people here to say things like “It is just the Internet. You cannot see them, so feel free to treat them badly with impunity.” This is not to say that we are physically hallucinating people, but that…their presence, as other people, can be felt. I think that that perception of people contributes to the way in which our brain maps user names and icons to people’s eyes. If people’s presence is already parsed in a material way, then why can the brain not map analogues to eye contact on to that Internet presence?

[Kerry] Soups and ladders

So many conceptualisations of human behaviour and traits seem to be based on hierarchies. I really don’t think that people and their brains are as hierarchical as some people claim they are.

I recently read a blog entry by Kaninchen Zero at FWD/Forward on ‘intelligence’, and how it’s an ableist concept. I do think that there are differences in the ways in which brains process information, but arranging people as ‘normal’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘stupid’ often becomes a value judgement. People judged as ‘stupid’ are inherently worth less than those considered ‘intelligent’, and therefore deserve a lower quality of life, which I simply can’t stomach. When I was younger, I had a lot of ableist ideas about people with intellectual disabilities, which I’m quite embarrassed about now. For instance, like many members of the general public, I thought it was acceptable for parents to abort foetuses that might have profound intellectual disabilities or Down Syndrome. Fortunately, I was thoroughly schooled by other people, and I’ve learnt to check my own privilege in situations like this.

I don’t think that it’s necessarily constructive to force people into social hierarchies based on their perceived intellectual functioning. There’s a lot of privilege associated with being considered ‘intelligent’ in society: people listen to your ideas with actual interest; they don’t automatically switch their brains off when you try to tell them how you feel; and you’re less likely to be met with condescension and ridicule by people in power.

There are a lot of ableist expectations associated with it, as we’ve experienced, and as other people have mentioned in the comments to Kaninchen’s post. You’re expected to be able to have a command of basic life skills, to live a certain lifestyle and to be able to communicate in a way that’s understandable to other people. We were guilted for ‘being intelligent, but not applying ourselves’, and people were confused that we could grasp foreign languages and had a large vocabulary, but struggled with a lot of basic living tasks. We struggle with maths, and feel guilty about it because it’s considered more ‘intelligent’ to be mathematically gifted. ‘Intelligence’ can be used as a bludgeon against those who are neurodivergent, but are able to do well on IQ tests and academic ‘achievement’ tests (eg the SAT, A-Levels, Baccalauréat, Abitur).

I don’t feel that human beings’ abilities can be organised into such linear, clearly defined hierarchies. There’s no ‘ladder of human value’. Rather, I conceptualise these sorts of things as being a bit more soup-like: nonlinear, with traits that coexist with each other without being neatly organised into profiles of ‘normal’, ‘stupid’ or ‘intelligent’ people. It’s fluid. It’s disorganised. There are people who are brilliant at totting up figures and writing symphonies, but struggle with spelling. People who win spelling bees and write polished essays, but have problems planning their budgets. People can name the stars and paint the sky from memory and make pies and build relationships and do the washing-up—and all those things, and more, have meaning. The fact that they exist, in and of itself, has meaning. Our humanity, our existence, our lives: that’s what gives us value. Functionality isn’t a ‘package deal’. There’s no ladder of value; there’s no Great Chain of Being. Just us mixed-up, complicated people.

With hierarchical views of intelligence and human value, where do you draw the line? When do people become ‘unworthy of living’? That’s not a decision I feel free to make. Who am I, someone with ‘intelligent’ privilege, to decide whose lives are worthy of being maintained, when I know I’ll be spared on those grounds? For me to decide that is simply unjust—do I know what’s going on in their heads? Can I determine, objectively, whether another person ‘deserves to live’ or not, especially when they’re already socially oppressed because they have difficulty with a particular set of skills that’s associated with ‘intelligence’? What if I turned it around, on people with brains like ours in which we’re considered ‘intelligent’, but struggle with daily living tasks like cooking and cleaning? Should we have been aborted or euthanised because we, too, lack skills that are seen as vital? Obviously not, and neither should these people. Again, there is no ‘hierarchy of human value’, and we need to abandon the illusion that there is.

This is tangentially related to mental hierarchies, but I can’t relate to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. As much as I like his positive, humanistic mindset towards human cognition and needs, as opposed to Freudian/psychoanalytic obsessions with sex and negative experiences during childhood, I feel as though my perception of needs doesn’t fall in that neat hierarchical structure that he constructed. For instance, worries about self-actualisation or belonging may occur when there are threats to the more immediate physiological needs. For instance, we get very little sleep these days, but the need for belonging, affirmation and self-actualisation is parsed in my head as ‘just as important’. In more dangerous situations, there was still the desire to have our identities affirmed—this is more related to the trans issues than plurality, at least in this case—and to feel as though I belonged with other people. It’s sort of a soup of needs rather than a linear hierarchy.

[Kerry] Thoughts on panic issues.

Most of this is from my personal point of view, although the panic affects everyone. I can’t speak for my headmates in that deep sense, although I’ll try and generalise.

We have a formal diagnosis of Panic Disorder (received sometime in 2010; only found out about it recently, as it’s in our DSPS records for college), which has been honestly pretty fucking awful to deal with. In the past, it made us more unstable, and made it difficult for us to trust, engage and talk to people.

For me, it’s this constant tingling feeling in your body. Chills, the occasional shake, the feeling of a knife in your back, a metallic sensation in your mouth. Before the hormones, crying was part of it, too. A pervasive fear that everything is going to fuck up, and that you’re fucking up, and that everyone thinks that you’re a fuckup. That you’re the most disgusting, horrible being on the planet, and absolutely repellent. A fear that you’ll end up in a situation that will bring on more panic attacks, and scrambling to avoid those situations. For Hess, it’s similar, but I know that he tended to lean more towards the teary and angry side as opposed to the chills, tingling and shaking.

Because we were so consumed by the panic and its effects on our brain, and because we struggled with social judgement in the first place, a lot of…stuff that people honestly regret happened. Add being involved with people who were either emotionally volatile or extremely sensitive, and it was a recipe for social disaster. There was a lot of unfiltered anxiety that came out in conversation, and it was hard for people to separate rational self-talk from irrational, panic-induced talk. ‘You must REALLY think that I suck’, etc. ‘I muck up everything.’ ‘I don’t deserve to be alive.’ Being around us back then was…honestly more difficult than it probably is now. We felt bad about the way things were coming out, and about the miscommunications and the panic-fuelled conversations and frantically searching for reassurance, but we didn’t know what to do about it, back then, and I know that it contributed to rifts in some relationships.

I hope that some of those people that I clashed with in the past are willing to forgive and give me/us another chance, but I’m really not holding my breath; I know these things can be…incredibly fucking difficult. Some people have, and I’m thankful for that.

In October 2009, after a series of painful events, and major shifts in our lifestyle—we’d gone from existing in a ‘shutdown’ state to becoming full-time students and doing an internship in the course of a few months—we could no longer pretend that we could handle the effect that the unchecked panic and anxiety had on us. We felt ourselves falling off the deep end, and it had to stop. M. went to our psychiatrist and he prescribed us Celexa to handle the anxiety/panic issues. He was one of the few Plures-members without residual bad feelings towards psych meds, SSRIs in particular.

We’ve now been on Celexa for about a year and a half.

Celexa has some side-effects that aren’t great, but the tradeoff is that it reduces the severity of the panic attacks, and it also helps us to separate out rational interpretations of events from the irrational ones. When an irrational thought like the ones I described earlier floats into someone’s mind, they’re able to go ‘hey, no, this is irrational; let’s rewrite the thought so that it’s logical and not ridiculous’. There’s less need for external reassurance that an irrational thought is, in fact, irrational. This doesn’t mean that bouts of depression don’t still happen, but they’re less likely to be expressed in a way that comes across as unstable or hurtful to others. It’s more of an internal phenomenon, and depressions resolve themselves more easily. The looping thoughts might happen, but they can be compartmentalised and dealt with—people don’t give voice to those thoughts in the same way. I’d say that we have a lot more internal resources to handle stressful situations.

Biochemically, emotionally, physically—we’re not the same people years we were two, or four, years ago. These shifts, along with some philosophical realignments over the course of 2010, led us to change our system name to ‘Plures’, which we announced last month. It wasn’t an act of hiding from our past as much as it was symbolic of growing from it, and changing to become better, healthier people.

Why the hell am I posting this publicly instead in one of our private, friendslocked journals? Well, I don’t know if I’m quite ready—paradoxically—for this to be posted there to show up on people’s friends lists. There’s something a bit cathartic about writing about this sort of thing publicly.

[Noël] Thoughts on psychology, philosophy, and language.

We have been working on a pair of final papers. Fortunately, one is entirely finished, and the other is nearly so. The English one was actually easier, in some ways, to work on, than the psychology one. For some reason, it is easier for many of us—me, in particular—to write about subjects relating to gender, identity, and sexuality from a philosophical or cultural level, rather than using the language of psychology.

The problem I have with psychology is that much of its discussion, with the exception of abnormal psychology, seems quite limited to “typical” people’s profiles; those who vary are mentioned either within the context of “abnormal” psychology, in brief footnotes, or not at all. I also feel uncomfortable with the application of empiricism towards all human behaviour: some things, I feel, are best left to philosophy. Although philosophy, at least as a Western discipline, has its own problems: there are philosophers like Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, and Theodor Adorno who use jargon-laden, impenetrable prose. Postmodernists are particularly bad at this. Their ideas, when distilled by people with better “writer-hacking” techniques than I, are often interesting, but the prose itself is nightmarishly difficult.

I feel bad for admitting this, though, because it may make me seem less “intellectual,” but it is less a matter of intelligence as much as it is the ability to discern ideas from mountains and mountains of unclear, deliberately obscure writing.  I do not think that the use of abstract concepts in and of itself is confusing; it is the way in which they are expressed by people like this. I feel as though it has gone from ideas, to a series of “widgets,” as Amanda Baggs described it so lucidly in a past entry of hers.

I feel that this writing is ungrounded. Not “groundless” in the sense that the ideas are bankrupt, but that the ideas are unconnected and seem to reference other “widgets.” It feels wholly verbal, without the visual conceptual framework that I tend to use to understand things. I am good at writing certain things, but as I said in my previous entry, it is not the verbally driven process that it seems to be on the surface. I understand abstract concepts, but I prefer them to have “grounding.” Visual metaphors. Actions associated with the concepts. Not words, words, and still more words to explain other words, with absolutely no image to be associated with any of them.