Star Ford

An autistic quaker engineer who is fixated on policy, transit, and education.

newsflash: women are more relational

Circles of protection

The Little House on the Prairie enlightened me as to why women and men are different and what the difference is. In the book, the threat of not surviving the winters means that they must each do what they are best at. For example they can’t afford to divide the childcare equally, because it is more important that the father’s strength is used more productively on things that require strength; otherwise they may all perish. Likewise, if you imagine being in a modern precarious situation with your baby and its opposite sex parent (say, your car broke down in a storm), then the three of you would naturally divide up what needs to be done based on the best outcome (what you are each best suited for), not based on your preferences or sense of fairness.

The division of tasks in those situations can often follow the traditional circles of protection: the mother is the inner circle around the baby so she can nurse it, and the father is the outer circle so he can protect against external threats. In discussions on what makes the sexes different, the circles of protection theory seems to be the most natural and timeless to me. Even if you are coming from a position of fairness and equality and – like me – you resist believing in any difference at all, you can’t argue things like who has the milk and who’s usually bigger.

Whether by selection or culture, the circles idea seems to explain other differences. For example in Little House, the mother handles immediate daily needs of children and home, while the father does projects with a more singular long term focus – by necessity. Or the simple way to look at it is that her role is to put dinner on the table today, and his role is to put dinner on the table next winter. This can explain why women are usually more able to multitask about present-moment tasks and men are more able to plan the future, in the sense of architecting real changes from an abstract idea. In other words, differences like these are not necessarily just a product of cultural expectations. So in both time and space, the shortcut way of thinking about the difference is “inner vs outer.”

There’s more genetic variation among men because, at least in part, some of their genes are unpaired, while all female genes are in pairs. A mutation in an unpaired gene is more consequential, so more variation is expressed in the male genome. Males are a lot less viable as fetuses – perhaps because of more expressed mutations. Also males have a wider variation in height and other physical features than females. We can observe that the most extreme people are men, and women tend to be a bit more similar to each other. For example the cruelest despots and criminals are nearly all men, and the most brilliant scientists and composer are also nearly all men. There’s some idea that an equal number of women would have risen to fame and success if they had been allowed, but I think that is only partly true, because the genetic spread would predict a wider spread in men’s abilities. So if you look at the way people vary, you get the same inner/outer idea from a different angle: women are collectively more on the inner circle of variance (more alike) and men on the outer.

All versus each

The inner/outer split also extends to what it feels like for me to be around women and men. I can’t prove anything here, but it always feels like women have the shared feeling that we’re all in it together, while men are more “every man for himself”. It’s not necessarily a difference in independence or being more/less controlling, but just a recognition that there’s all women and then there’s each man. In crowds, women inch toward each other like grazing animals, in a way that is protective, but if men did the same thing, it would feel predatory. (Not always, just a general pattern.) Since I present ambiguous gender, one of the ways that I can tell how I’m being gendered is feeling how other women occupy space around me: if the tension in their aura goes down as they get closer, then I know I’m being femaled and we’re in that inner circle. If I have the inclination to do the same thing back but I’m being gendered as male, then I become aware of the predatory vibe being reflected back and I stop doing it.

That kind of nonverbal social control is part of maintaining that box of shame that I’ve spent my life living in. When a chick breaks free of its shell, people are overcome with with how darn cute the thing is and they get very encouraging, but when I’ve tentatively tried to peck my way out of my shell, it feels like the reception I get is more like “get that hideous thing back in its shell!”. So as a young transgender child, when I felt that a fundamental aspect of me was not acceptable, I learned to live in the closet, and I didn’t really know that people can safely be themselves in public.

A very short shortcut way of naming the inner/outer concept is by saying women are more relational. This is easily misunderstood, as I don’t think women want relationships more or that they are better at it; it is just another way of saying we are in that inner circle, or saying we feel the all over the each.

Emulating models

I took a voice class recently. I had been wanting to do this for years because when I talk, unlike E.F. Hutton, people too often either don’t hear me or assume I’m wrong, so I wanted to project more confidence. I found a class that was geared toward finding your feminine voice, so part of the class was about enumerating differences in speech between women and men at all different levels.

There are cheap and easy ways to talk about the differences, and in the class, the conversations could easily drift toward saying men are insensitive jerks or going along with the “men are always wrong” idea, although that kind of judgment was veiled in less direct (more feminine) language. Yes, we’ve probably all experienced men doing really dumb things when no woman was around to stop them, but I think and hope that’s a product of cultural conditioning and isn’t really the root of the differences. So I found myself trying to consciously lock in on a mental image of enlightened strong men. This particular mental task doesn’t come naturally to me, and I found my images to be mainly either tending to the jerks, or the churchy “nice” men who act like women but without the strengths of women. So the image of Laura Ingalls’s father was a nice third way to break that false duality of weakness – a man putting dinner on the table next winter, and being strong from a center of love.

I also had the opposite trouble during that class of being unable to lock in on the image of a woman worth emulating. She would not be that hopelessly weak woman who infringes her own movement with skirts too tight around the knees and who raises her voice at the end of every sentence to alleviate any threat by signaling universal incompetence. There’s a lot of easily observed differences in patterns of speech and manners along these lines that are related to submission. It helped to notice that other strong feminists, other autistic women – and in general people that I would want to be more like – do not tend to follow those submission patterns.

In the process of trying to tease apart what is a real difference and what is a self-imposed limitation from the culture, I practiced things in a theatrical way, and through that, discovered tendencies that had been buried. One difference is that women gesture during speech with the forearm and hands only, while men use their whole arms more – they control a bigger piece of space. When this was brought to my attention (I had not thought about it like that before), I realized that I went through phases in life of changing the way I do this one thing. I didn’t think about how I gestured until Junior High, when people would tell me that if I continued to gesture certain ways, I would get beaten up or teased. I adopted a strategy of consciously suppressing movements and walking and carrying things certain ways. People didn’t have backpacks then: boys carried books at their sides while girls carried them protectively cradled in front. I carried them the girl way until I was told it was wrong, and then I made myself remember to carry them the boy way. This and many other unnatural things were forced on me and have been stuck there for so long, that it feels like it will take a long time to release them.

Coming out should never be about imitating, but doing some practice acting can loosen up things and help a person to be more free to be themselves. In the long list of behavioral differences discussed in that class, I considered where I fall in each one. Few individual people, whether trans or not, fall naturally completely on one side for all the differences. They are general patterns, and people usually have some of both. Yet a lot of people seem to put a lot of energy into conforming themselves, like those Junior High gender enforcers I encountered. They want to purge any aspect of themselves that doesn’t match their concept of their gender. That same thing seems to go on with trans people, and a person can get too caught up with imitation.

Speech

Now I’m going to change focus a little to the actual ways of analyzing speech, and what the male/female differences are. The core reason why all these things are different seems to be the way women are more relational (understanding the limitation on what I mean by that word), which ultimately comes from the circles of protection. In the list below, I’m mostly listing differences that have been observed by academics, so these are real (averages not absolutes!), and not just my own generalizations.

(1) Choice of topic. Men talk about things, and particularly things that may be abstracted away from themselves in space and time, while women talk more about experiences and current feelings. I think this is a direct fallout of the roles that we end up in, as Little House explains. To get dinner served today, you have to stay focused on current needs of the people present – relational! To get dinner served next winter, you have to stay focused on future needs.

(2) Motivation to communicate. Men like to demonstrate competence, which highlights the difference between themselves and others (the each), while women like to feel bonded and protected, thus highlight similarities (the all – relational!).

(3) Conversational shape. Women take turns and confirm each other’s statements with continuous feedback (relational!) while men are more likely to interrupt and not provide listening feedback. Women connect the topic with the other person much more (relational!) – such as if I say I’m tired, I would also comment on whether the other person looked tired too, or relate it in some way.

(4) Choice of sentences. Men make more objective, judging statements (something is or does something) and give advice more. Women ask questions, make more empathic or emotional remarks, give compliments, expose their own weakness, and apologize more – relational! Appearing uninformed is a no-no for men but is more ok for women.

(5) Sentence construction. Women more often join phrases into longer sentences, use more words, more pauses, and append more indirect tags such as disclaimers and other softeners. (“So… I’m afraid we might be running a bit late, do you think?”) Men don’t. (“We are late.”) I think what’s going on here is that women are padding out the ideas to make it a two-way communication (relational!) even while the other person is not talking – they are watching and listening for vibes while talking.

(6) Word choice. Women use inclusive pronouns (“we”) more (relational!), a larger variety of descriptive adjectives, and more terms of affection (relational!). Men swear a lot more often, speak in the first person more, and have a smaller descriptive vocabulary.

(7) Phoneme voicing. Women rest longer on vowels than men (soooo, instead of so) particularly as stress. Men use volume or staccato as a form of stress punctuation. I think this is extremely relevant to the idea of being relational because women are being receptive during the voicing of the vowel so it has to take more time. It’s not so much a higher thought process but not exactly unconscious either. Imagine a woman saying “soooo?” when she really means “what happened last night?” and think of all the expressions on the other person’s face she can read if she draws it out long enough. She could get a vibe and change the way the sound is intoned a couple times during the same vowel.

(8) Intonation and pitch. Intonation is the change in pitch over a word or words, beyond what is necessary to distinguish the words themselves. Women have higher pitch and intone (or sing) sentences more – a bigger range of pitch. Men have a greater physical pitch range (including falsetto) but use less of that range in speech. Interestingly, women use a higher pitch when speaking to men than they do when speaking to other women – the submissive aspect perhaps. I don’t have a great idea why the up-and-down pattern is feminine, but perhaps women are communicating more relational layers and thus need more aspects to inflect to get those layers across.

(9) Resonance. Resonance is the wave shape, influenced by which body cavities the sound travels through – like how the resonating chamber of different instruments produces different sounds. An identical pitch sung by a man and woman sound different enough to usually identify the sex of the singer because the shape of the instrument is different.

Grazing while female

In all of these 9 layers, a person could just use the information to adopt techniques like an actor learning to express a new role. But to me it is more powerful to use this to discover the real me whether it conforms or not. The idea that women are more relational may be obvious to anyone reading this but it was a newsflash to me, and here’s the flash part: People are out in public. What I mean by that is: my natural inclination to act relationally, which is a source of fear for me, is the same inclination that other people express shamelessly. I have PTSD symptoms from simply acting and speaking according to my natural inclinations and getting threats in return. It feels like there is a prohibition against grazing while female, but learning that other people routinely express themselves in that relational way shows me that other people are not subject to that law.

I would like to get a radio signal from my home planet saying “permission to be self granted” and have this permission be magically authoritative. But self-imposed laws don’t melt away so easily.

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Staying at 6%

I was the second lowest ranking person pretty much throughout childhood and in many other situations. Sometimes I’m the very lowest or third lowest, but generally if a group is large enough I can find someone who ranks lower, someone who’s blatantly offensive or more visibly disabled for example. I feel like this information of who ranks where basically floats there visibly and no special glasses are needed to see it, although I’m aware that a lot of people, the further up they are, can’t see it. A form of privilege blindness – we can only see up and not down.

If I take a lot of situations from memory I can say that for groups of size 12 and under, I’m usually the least, and for groups of about 25, I’m most often the second. So it seems to always come out to about 6% – my consistent place in this world.

The other day a few things happened that brought that ranking out in the open.

The first event of the day was a quaker gathering. By chance I had got an invitation to introduce quakerism to a high school class, and at first I just forwarded the request to others. There was some interest but no offer of leadership coming forward, and then I realized that the task was meant for me and it got exciting. The quakers have a concept of “oversight” which is supposed to temper and draw out energy, and I asked for oversight and collaboration. The quakers do not officially have a concept of rank, but social rank still exists, and what happened is that the education committee took over in a passive-aggressive way. One of them refused to collaborate and stonewalled for weeks until the other was back from travels, and then the latter decided to run the whole thing with just himself and his ego. Because I technically have to submit to “oversight” by a committee, there was nothing to do about it, although it was extremely distasteful to watch so-called oversight play out in that way (actually so unpalatable that it pushes me significantly away from being a part of that group).

The ranking played out with the guy on top of course (probably not seeing the rank levels yet verbalizing and enforcing them), then the other committee member, then me third (surprising) then 3 others who had volunteered to collaborate originally. On the one hand I experienced a sense of pride and false success, as if I was moving up, because I wasn’t near the bottom of the ladder. But on the other hand it felt like a slap in the face too, to be so out of line. It was strange and uncomfortable to be that far from the bottom, and it was also false, because advancing in social rank is spiritual death for me; I wasn’t centered in myself when I was flirting with pride like that. I felt a need to cleanse myself of seeing too much dirt from the experience.

The second event was attending a team meeting for a friend who gets a variety of social services. She was lowest ranking followed by me so I was in my familiar #2 position. The meeting was spent listening to social workers controlling her life and pressuring her into things. It was stressful; she even left the meeting for a while. I said it should be quicker and stick to the agenda, because she said she wanted that. They said “great idea” and proceed to not do that at all. I was the one who was specifically not asked if I had anything to bring up. If I had more rank I could have explained the bit about managing sensory overload, and I could have helped them see her as a whole person and not a partial person since I think I was the only one who could see that. But I barely said anything; I stayed in my place.

The third event in the same day was finding out the department of health wasn’t even going to read the proposal that I’d spent 20 hours writing because they had already cuddled up to a different vendor and they had gotten permission from someone in purchasing to blatantly reclassify the project under a false heading, so that they weren’t bound by the rules of the original (true) heading, the rules which would have required them to read my proposal. Again, same story of rank, but played out with corrupt officials and lots of money.

One of the ways to see the ranking is to hear where the we/other gap is languaged. For example, in one group where I had a false sense of belonging, someone shattered it when they said “we appreciate you”. Meaning I’m the other, and he was part of the “we”. It should have been obvious, but I succumb to the pride and push the evidence away. Being “appreciated” doesn’t matter if I’m othered. Then I was kicked out of that group, so it turns out the appreciation wasn’t even shared or real.

It made me wonder again: Do I keep myself at 6% through some kind of psychological self-limitation? I can imagine someone reading this and saying I’m hung up on the rank thing, and if I just had more confidence etc I wouldn’t let it bother me, and not everyone is like that and so on. But there is a mass delusion or taboo concerning rank, along with the enormously widespread yet magical belief in a meritocracy; ignoring those forces don’t make them go away. In each of the three things that happened that day, the people made it pretty clear (and via related experiences) they were wiling to escalate as much as necessary to make sure I didn’t get any of the money or contribution or control. I only gave up because they had power backed by reinforcements. I’m not making up those threats. It’s not just my lack of confidence that keeps me at the lower level.

Then you might wonder if maybe my ideas were just not so good, and the better ideas won out (the meritocracy). I would say the ideas that don’t threaten those with incumbent power won, so they were “better” by that measure. Then you might say I should learn to have more popular ideas, and that’s very hard for me. If I had the skills to win in these situations that I described above, I would feel so manipulative and prideful that I’d hate myself. So I don’t seem to want to go past 6%. On the other hand being down here keeps me from being able to do things. It bars me from sharing what I can do, engaging and contributing, in all kinds of environments. So part of me does want to advance. Then when I start to advance, get that false pride feeling and dare to engage as an equal, I start hearing the we/other language putting back at my 6% level. “We feel you should…”, “We are concerned about…” If I don’t back down, they escalate. They have special intimidation meetings with me or kick me out of organizations. The quaker described above threw in something suggesting quakers shouldn’t be represented by an out trans lesbian, or something vaguely connected to that – I guess an intimidation technique to keep me in line. I’ve also gotten death threats. All of which is to say I’m not very good at staying in line, and wander pretty often.

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Specificity

There’s a lot of stuff out there aimed at or against autistic people – therapies and services – but there is a big disconnect between that and what we really need. The industry churns by its own internal incentives and since we’re generally not paying, we’re not driving – usually not even asked. I think most of us can feel what we don’t like, when an intervention is done to us, and many can also articulate what we don’t like. But fewer people can articulate why we don’t like it, and almost no one can articulate the alternatives. I’ve asked autistic people what services they “really need”, and searched blogs for it, and the answers, at first, don’t seem to be there.

I’m a pattern thinker and engineer, and creating systematic ways to accomplish things is what I do for a living, so I tend to apply that to everything. Usually if I study something long enough I arrive at some answers – systematic patterns, frameworks. So I’ve thought in that same way: what if autistic people designed our own support system, what would it look like? But my asserting that question and feeling consistent resistance tells me that there is already a breakdown in the very question, which I will get to in a minute.

First, here are some actual and plausible answers to the question “what do you need”, focusing on functional things:

  • a ride to downtown
  • fixing my internet connection
  • a piece of fabric with 2 inch yellow stripes
  • someone to go with me to an office on Tuesday morning
  • a weighted vest
  • a quiet room

Sometimes the support systems can help, and sometimes the system response is something like:

  • We don’t do that.
  • That isn’t important.
  • We can teach skills so you can do that yourself.

Notice these things we need are highly specific and individualized. That’s one thing I’ve learned from just listening: autistic people very often articulate in detail the exact thing they need at that time. In my life I’ve experienced it this way: I’m going along doing everything I can for myself, because I’m naturally independent, but some things I can’t do (because they require some buy-in from someone with more power) and that’s the obstacle. I have a path and I can’t go on until the first thing in my sequence is done. For me the biggest one is personal marketing – I needed someone to network and interview with me in academics and for my job. But there is no agency that can do that, so life is a series of closed doors and I don’t mature and move to the next level in that work arena because I’m still stuck at an “entry level” in work relationships, having not gotten that kind of individualized support.

I was lucky not to get the destructive kind of help, but I’ve seen it. A friend of mine was moving to an apartment, and she needed help, and the system offered lots of help, but it was all according to the agency’s way of doing things. She actually needed things like: an internet connection, a place to resolve problems with her mother, a lot of quiet time, and someone to call and check on her a few times a day. But the team of social workers wanted to have a helper there for hours at a time, and said the mother issue isn’t important now. They were directing every task and pressuring her to go down a different path. The calls and internet and occasional visits would have cost the agency less, but that’s just not “what they do” so it was impossible. I think this kind of treatment is destructive because a person should build her life out of the steps that are the most relevant at the time, and it is that process of moving through life from the heart that gives us more strength and self awareness than just skills training or following someone else’s direction.

Consider the whole economy is a way for allistic people to get what they need from other people; no one graduates and becomes “independent”, so there is no reason why we shouldn’t also have a slice of the economy that supports us in an ongoing way throughout life. It should not be a goal that we graduate from supports.

The industry mindset is to get “better” at “treating” “autism” with “best practices” and “evidence”, all of which kind of thinking commodifies their product into a less creative endeavor, we become the livestock that the practices are applied to uniformly and suddenly there is no reverence for the soul and the spiritual journey. (As an aside, when livestock practices are practiced on animals, I can only assume the same thing happens to them.) So I just don’t feel it is about accumulating evidence supporting the “best way” to do things, and that’s why the original question is suspect.

So if there is a system to meeting people’s needs, it has to be about specificity. I would want to access help that is about growing into my full beauty as the autistic person I am, not just mitigating my failures and being at a remedial level in life. Whether I was getting support or helping others, I’d be excited about finding a creative way to meet the specific needs the person one at a time, without the baggage of assuming what autistic people need.

A really obvious starting point for all this is to hire autistic people to work in the service agencies, tasked with that one-on-one creativity of finding solutions. That would at least make the agencies more accessible to the people they are supposed to serve. Another level would be running the service agencies ourselves. A third level is linking up our time and needs among each other in an accessible market, outside of government.

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In which the political is personal

The story of the friend

This is the story of a short term friend and my thoughts about our interpersonal drama, justice, pain and oppression. This friend could be triggered by almost anything related to intimacy and sexuality. The topic evoked memories of abuse and maybe boundaries got unglued, and there was fear and anxiety. The unexpected thing is when he got triggered, his response was to talk about the subject even more. He sent email on the subject, and took the initiative to change the topic to tell me all the bad stuff, but also asked me not to talk about it. When someone confides all that personal trauma to me, it makes me feel that I’m safe to them, and that I’m not a triggery person for them. I was not careful enough about those topic boundaries. One time, probably only our second meeting, I said what I thought was interesting about the kink scene (that power relationships are codified instead of coercive as with the culture at large) (not a good topic choice!) and he said he “would like to try that”. That surprised me to hear. I later learned the under stress he might say the opposite of what he believed, because he had been conditioned to never go against anyone. His response to a thing so terrifying was to put on the most convincing act to cover it up, sending the most intensely mixed messages I’ve ever experienced.

Our demons keep hurting us from the inside and they are attention seeking. When boundaries are broken, maybe we can’t tell if we’re looking at our demons in a mirror or if we’re seeing the outside world. It’s not like burning your hand and pulling it away; it’s more like burning your hand and leaving it there. The ongoing pain must have a source, and we’re always looking for it, and we see the demons in other people while feeling the pain.

Meanwhile I was fine with personal topics; it is easy for me to go there when someone feels safe to me, which he did. So we had a landmine of a friendship waiting for someone to set it off. Post-detonation, the narrative was that I was supposed to admit that I was wrong, wrong for doing something aggressive against him. The exact crime is a mystery but is possibly in the neighborhood of luring someone into a false friendship with bad intent, manipulating them to become vulnerable. (Now that I wrote that idea, it does seem likely that very thing happened to him in the past.)

Being elusive

I wonder about my role in relationship messes of course – sometimes it feels like I have no role, but nothing like this is manufactured entirely on one side. I was a simplistic and passive observer, didn’t take a stand, didn’t characterize our friendship any way, put no limits or expectations on it. If he said something I just took it at face value and didn’t consider much that he may have meant something else. I can’t usually see the build up of interpersonal problems, so unless you say otherwise, I assume that nothing is hidden and everything is fine. I didn’t have him in a “friendzone” or any other zone, just open. Some people hate about me that I can be so reflective and so much like an insubstantial breeze, not even quite there.

I’m the sort of person who tends to take the least comfortable chair in a room, because anyone else who comes in will automatically deserve the better chair. I have no business being pretty or having pretty things. I can’t possibly need anything special. “Don’t mind me.” It’s a struggle to believe I deserve the same as others or to put my needs or boundaries into language.

When there’s conflicts involving me, I usually don’t participate directly (I don’t even feel conflicts) but the person having the issue puts energy into pinning me down, labeling, characterizing me. It’s hard to strike at the breeze; the wind is like those inner demons, not really there; you can’t strike until you pin it down. My feelings are never a thing to talk about; I’m just the invisible force acting on their feelings.

Being superpowered

My triggers are hard to put into language, but there are many things that give me anxiety spikes and make me shut down and feel sick, and they shorten my life. So yes I have feelings. Some things that trigger me are being told who I am or what I am, being told I’m worthy or unworthy, being put on a pedestal, and judgments of my intent. It’s all about being defined and pinned down when I’m not that way. I get to define myself, or choose not to define myself (who needs an identity after all?). Other triggers are hearing about sexual promiscuity or seduction (power imbalance!), indirect small talk, empty social gestures, and being told I’m responsible for magical destruction. That last one is what I think of as being superpowered – by which I mean people overestimate my actual power; they project magic abilities on me. My aunt would treat me as if I could ruin something by looking at it and my touch would infect an object permanently. When something goes sour, it must have been my fault or I must be the ringleader. When someone superpowers me, it’s a big anxiety trigger even now.

Here’s how I think about the superpower: Let’s say there was an aggression – I might have tripped you or struck you or insulted you, but could I have hurted you? Saying it like makes “hurt” an action, as if it is a specific intentional thing distinct from other actions. But really, hurting is an effect of doing actual things, so saying that someone “hurted me” is superpowering the aggressor. A real action is something the aggressor could either continue doing or stop doing; they have the power. Realizing that a hurt is an effect and not an action empowers the person who is hurt: it isn’t just up to the aggressor whether hurt happens. We all participate in our own oppression.

One of the arguments with my friend went something like this: “You hurt me / I didn’t mean to / It doesn’t matter what the intent was, only the fact that it happened matters.” Deconstruction: In law, intent does matter but also negligence without intent matters. If someone’s actions were legal and they had good intent and they were not responsible for others (such as a child), then any hurt that ensues is considered the victim’s own fault, for good reason. It’s the difference between blaming the victim and empowering the victim. Blaming the victim is when responsibility for an actual bad action is assigned to the victim, such as “if she wasn’t wearing ___, that wouldn’t have happened to her”. But if the action is magical (no crime was committed) then assigning responsibility to the victim is empowering. If I’m hurt by magic (by superpowering someone else), then I can say “If I can stop being triggered (or otherwise strengthen my thoughts), I will stop being hurt” and that gives me a way out that doesn’t rely on anyone else.

But in the interpersonal sphere, we can’t normally make the choice to stop being triggered (we can’t heal instantly) and so we rely on others to not only not hurt us, but to protect us. When we are vulnerable we give away that power.

Dominance and submission

When there is an interpersonal conflict, the dominant person’s feelings are at stake and the submissive person’s actions are at stake. The conversation between the mob boss and the underlings is about whether the underlings’ actions were in service of the boss’s feelings; no one expects the boss to do anything but sit there, and no one cares what the underling is feeling. Married people seem to get into this kind of debate – “you didn’t do the right thing to serve my feelings” and we forget that there’s my actions and your feelings too. To get back to my parenthetical remark about the kink scene, that’s exactly what they claim to do better: they make the dom/sub roles explicit and purposeful, while the rest of us pretend we’re being equal when we’re not.

I often feel I’m submissive, but at the same time I don’t like relationships with dominant people, so I also think of myself as thriving on equality. If I can’t have equality I go vacant. It is hard to take a different role. With my ex friend, he lost communication once while we were ordering food (he’s autistic too) and things were really lagging with the restaurant people until I finally came to terms with the fact that I had to decide for him what kind of salad to get, or else we weren’t going to get a salad. That’s terrifying for me to control people, even about a salad.

It’s also hard for me to find anger. My friend recounted my abuse of him as if some stranger had done that same thing to my child, thinking that might “bring it home” and make me feel the anger. But it felt like the same story since I have as much compassion for him as for my child. I get that he was terribly hurt, but I don’t link that to anger or the existence of an enemy.

Working for justice

I thought of our friendship as political, as if we were allies with each other in a larger struggle. I’ve never been part of a movement although I’ve spent decades wanting to be a person who heroically works for justice. In truth my life is utterly gray and has been filled with desperation. I have the disability without inspiring any of the pity, no one lowers the bar a little or accommodates. I’m neither pitiful enough nor radical enough. I’m not anything enough, not a cute kid or an amazing artist, so ignorable, so inherently noncompetitive.

I’ve always been in a valley between worlds of people who have coalesced into an oppressed-group identity on one side, and the elite of the dominant culture on the other side (my family). From the oppressed side, I don’t get to be included because I’m not perceived to be disadvantaged enough, but from the other side I don’t get many of the alleged privileges. I have some – for example, my father got me a summer job once just by talking to a business owner and appearing erudite and established and valid, in a way that likely would not have worked for a black family (for example); but I can’t do those things myself.

The quakers can get so self-aware about privilege that it spills into a learned helplessness, and people will overly defer to anyone who appears oppressed. I might have a lot to say about the economy, but if some brown woman named Estrella walks in the room, she’s automatically more qualified to speak, and I feel queasy because the quakers are still using we/they language and Estrella is never really seen as one of them, while Star is. I’m always jealous of those Estrellas – they have more oppression points. It’s the “weaker person is automatically right” syndrome.

I’m actually part of more than one oppressed group, but I don’t feel I have a lot of oppression points – ironically it is the act of buying in to ones own oppression that can make one feel unworthy of it. Remembering that the Christians colonized my Celtic ancestor’s land puts me in a better place to work for justice than if I think of my ancestors as those Christians who later colonized North America. Both stories are true but the first gives me more points and more energy. We get into our oppressed space to be powerful.

Despite being gray, marginal, submissive, and lacking in points, I can be threatening and destabilizing. Sometimes I can tell when I am doing something right because people start to get defensive, and they start counseling me to not do what I’m doing, or they start insulting me or using words like “prudent”. For example when I say I should be accepted as an equal or have an equal voice as others, and that angers them, then I know I’m out of line and I should keep going in that direction. If a vulnerable person gives protective power to a breeze like me, I might blow a door open somewhere.

Personal politics of oppression

I believe fighting from the base of solidarity against all oppression is the true way, but it’s easily twisted. I have more disability so I win. It makes it an incentive to be weak and say “look at all my oppression.” Anyone with a privilege is “blind” to everything. I think all the twisting is a side effect of trying to be genuine and overcome our oppressions, but we’re not always clear where the demons are. Then we’re back to the saying oppressors hurted us, they did something magical, and they have all the power.

When we make politics interpersonal, a fight between friends, I think it can really twist it more. We might try to classify some interpersonal hurt as an instance of a global oppression, then we’re building walls instead of alliances. When I say I thought of my friendship as political, I think maybe it went to the level of playing out a bigger battle between us. Because the politics of oppression is inherently about internal psychological growth, specifically overcoming false narratives, it’s more important that in these struggles we hit barriers and learn from friends, than it is that we win. Winning doesn’t necessarily free us from our existing narrative if that’s the narrative that oppresses us. Winning doesn’t keep friendships intact.

Going irl

I think it is easy to stay black and white and do your justice work on line and not get into trouble. By that I mean you can avoid growth. I worry that the whole realm of “active listening” and all sorts of community building and conflict resolution techniques that I’ve been exposed to a lot has been lost in today’s on line justice scene. When we talk to people off line, hurt happens but there is not a clear line between the good and bad people. I had this thought in relation to my friend who probably found it easier to fight in more clearly delineated camps on line, and maybe didn’t have much experience working through an actual conflict experience in person.

In person you can’t be perfect; you have much less control over how you appear and the energy you send out. You may think you’re being genuine on line but it’s too easy to craft an image. You can fabricate your membership in disadvantaged groups and award yourself all kinds of oppression points.

There’s an idea I keep seeing lately: We didn’t win rights in the past by being nice, so if someone tells me to “be nice”, that’s in itself an oppressive act. If being nice means being marginalized, then yes – telling people to be nice can be a way of ignoring their message. But there’s a related aspect that is critical to working together which is listening and working through conflict. Ultimately when we win the “fight” for universal justice, it won’t be a fight against anyone; everyone will have won.

I don’t expect to hear from my friend again but I’m pretty sure he will bounce back and do great things.

A random link

Today’s thoughts remind me of this stream of consciousness story I wrote 21 years ago, also about being triggered an about being “not there”.

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In which autistic people build something

There’s a work camp happening soon, and I want to say a thing about inclusion and separation in relation to that.

This is a radical idea – an autistic workspace. I explained it to someone thus: Have you ever been to a women’s retreat or something similar and felt that bubble where everyone is included magically and no one has to fight to be accepted? (Yes) Have you ever seen elementary school kids with similar disabilities play together and create that unique space that you’re not invited into, but you can see that they are communicating their way even if it isn’t the normal way? (Yes) Well this is like both of those things together; it’s a place for us to invite everyone, inclusively, while not being oppressed ourselves.

I talked to someone on line who has a tendency to attack a lot and occupy email lists, and she characterized the type of employment that we’re doing as the “hospitality sector,” which she says is a bad sector to consider for autistic people, because hospitality is not our strong point; and also that the whole thing reeks of sheltered employment. She was implying that we were going to take autistic people and make them do menial hospitality jobs where they could be melting down constantly because of customer interaction, paid a pittance, someone else would be making money off this, etc. I think those are very easy conclusions to come to if you are seeing it from an outside perspective.

It is sometimes hard to explain the difference between retreating and separating; or between inclusion and peer modeling; or between representation and tokenism; or between housing and institutionalization. All of these pairs may look really similar if you’re watching from the outside but the difference is whether you are doing it or it is being done to you. It’s all about the dimension of control. It’s been pointed out that “institutions” are not necessarily big; a single house can be an institution if it operates in the oppressive model, even if it’s a nice looking place. Sometimes we even use the same words to confusingly mean almost opposite things: “peer” is either someone like me (that is, another autistic person that I’m more likely to communicate with), or it could mean someone who’s unlike me (it implies I have defects and they don’t and they will model correct behavior). A place for autistic people to work could be really bad (sheltered employment, someone else profiting from the work of underpaid people who are conditioned to remain at the bottom tier forever) or really good (a place run by disabled people that offers a growth path because it’s built around our strengths).

So obviously Ocate Cliffs is about the self-directed version of all these things.

Outside the dimension of control, there’s also the distinction between the “separatist” ideology (isolating ourselves in like-minded communities) and retreating. The latter is for strengthening so that we can live with everyone inclusively the rest of the time.

Possibly, the idea that we would choose an autistic workspace or living community is threatening because people are scared of us having equal power, and then they justify that fear by glomping together ideas and seeing only the bad version of the idea instead of the good version of it.

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“Solstice”: a card game invented on the 2013 winter solstice

This game builds in intensity and has lots of opportunities for vengeance, laughing, and monkey noises.

  • 2 or 3 players, 2 decks shuffled together
  • Setup: Place the deck face down in the middle, or in several piles. These are the draw piles. Make room for a single discard pile. Players start with no cards.
  • Object: To get a perfect hand and go out first, or have a near perfect hand when some other player goes out. A perfect hand consists of a straight of six to thirteen cards of the same suit (any suit, wrap-arounds not permitted, Aces are high), plus an optional number of pairs, and no other cards. A pair may only be opposite color to the straight’s color. For example, a perfect hand with a spades straight may contain no clubs, and may contain any number of red pairs (pair of 2s, 3s, etc). A perfect hand with a red straight may contain only black pairs and vice versa. However, a perfect hand cannot have more than one pair of the same number (cannot have two pairs of 3s for example).
  • To begin, when the dealer says “go”, everyone take as many cards as they wish from any draw pile.
  • To play, any player may do any of these actions, at any time, without taking turns:
    • (1) Discard a single card face up using one hand onto the discard pile. The first card to be discarded can be any card from any player. The subsequent cards must be one higher or one lower than the top card showing. For example, if a 10 is showing, only a J or 9 may be discarded next, regardless of suit. Aces are both high and low for discarding only, so the sequence may wrap around.
    • (2) Draw one card at a time from any draw pile.
    • (3) Draw any number of cards from the top of the discard pile. (not out of the middle of the pile though)
    • (4) Wait
  • To go out, the first player to achieve a perfect hand covers the discard pile and says “done”.
  • Additional notes
    • “No lefties” – right-handed players must discard with the right hand throughout the game (and lefties with left)
    • “Forced draw” – If no player wishes to draw and the game comes to a stop, any player may say “draw” to force all players to draw.
    • Reshuffle – When the draw piles are exhausted, play stops while the discard pile, except its top card, is shuffled and returned to become the draw piles.
    • “Leafing” – Splaying out the discard pile to view cards is acceptable, but picking up any part of the pile requires the player to take the lifted cards.
  • Scoring
    • Every player gets one point for each card in their longest straight and one point for each card in legal pairs, and loses one point for all other cards (deadweight).
    • The player to go out gets an additional point for every other players’ deadweight cards.
    • The player to go out gets no points if they have gone out illegally, i.e. their hand is not perfect.
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A few things about an intersection

These are some comments on a local street upgrade project.

Summary of the scope for people not familiar with the project: The Indian School property is one of the only pieces of sovereign native land inside a city, and it is being redeveloped into some huge office buildings and hotels and retail. The city has agreed to do street improvements outside of the land. Traffic growth is projected, and so this project’s scope is to improve the two arterial streets that border the Indian School property and the intersection of those two streets.

The main question is what are we trying to achieve? A lot of people seem to be wondering why we should do anything. My answer (which is not exactly the official reason) is that the following problems exist, which should be remedied:

  • Pedestrian access is incomplete and treacherous in places; in the worst case there is a bus stop in a place where there is no pedestrian access at all.
  • The roads are designed without modern traffic calming and management techniques, meaning no medians, and so wide in places that it promotes speeding. (safety in general)
  • The area is dilapidated in spots, and some well placed repair of streets and other public spaces could help in the general realm of urban revitalization – making it more pleasant to be in.
  • There will be an estimated 40% increase in traffic which needs to be accommodated (maybe – see below).

Here are a few problems in the current thinking that the plan should address:

Problem 1: Demand increase is suspicious justification

The valley has quite low traffic levels generally, and the engineers predict about a 40% growth in the segments studied. It’s not clear where that growth is from. For example, they project growth on the segment leading away from the new employment center in the AM peak (from 520 to 700 cars/hr), which obviously cannot be explained by the employment center itself (because it generates no origin traffic in the morning), so therefore it must be explained by an estimate of area-wide growth trends. But I doubt whether the valley will experienced trends of that scale because it is bounded and already fully built out, and has been very slow to change.

The Indian School land (blue with heavy outline – partially developed) and the larger high intensity employment center (pink with thin outline). The green arrow shows one of the legs with increased projected travel demand.

employment center

The streets in question are apparently underused at present, so even if you believe the growth prediction, it’s hard to believe that they can’t accommodate the increase. For example, in peak hours at that intersection, you virtually never have to wait more than one light cycle and rarely have to queue more than 2-3 cars. So the whole idea that capacity increases underpin the need to rebuild the whole intersection is suspect. Read the rest of this entry »

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Culture clustering

People have often splained me that I’m nothing like people on the “other end of the autism spectrum” – I’m practically normal (oh yay). Yet I feel closer to those “other” nonverbal can’t-hold-a-job types a lot more than I feel normal. It feels like a sharp divide, as if a single gene drives the trait and people either have it or they don’t. Rationally I know that it isn’t a single gene, and that nearly all mental traits are allocated to us in a normal distribution, with one mode (one hump in a distribution graph). How could we be a smooth continuum when it feels so bi-modal?

I offer the following as a possible explanation.

In a storm it is safer to be out on clear sea, or up on land, than to be near the beach between land and sea; as conditions worsen, people flee from the beach. Likewise when a slow train rolls through a village being evacuated, with its giant gravity, people run towards it hoping to grab hold, but it is safer to be either fully in the train or far away from it; the most dangerous place is the in-between where you might get hit by it or be dragged as you partly hold on and partly fall off. Viewed from far above, as the train heads out of the village, you would see a line of people spreading out, the faster ones gaining on the train and the slower ones losing ground. Then there would come a sharp point in time where a fissure develops; those who are ever going to reach the train split off from those who are never going to reach the train, and they coalesce into two distinct groups – the evers and the nevers.

Likewise in culture there tends to be a danger zone between being with it and being out of it, and the same phenomenon holds: the beach, the edge, is deserted; there is a gap and we migrate to camps. Those on the culture train or who are gaining on it are the evers and the others are the nevers. There may be a certain natural distance from the train (the genes, the normal distribution), but then there is the choice – do I run for it or not? People close to it are overcome by its gravity and run for it as if they have no choice. People far away may notice the train and don’t presume to have the choice; or they are so far that they don’t notice the train. Those in the intermediate zone feel the gravity but it is not consuming; we have to choose to run for it or run away, and thus there is a vacant area between the two groups of people.

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Deep Accessibility

This paper explores five levels of accessibility, extending the familiar notion of wheelchair access to the sensory and cognitive levels of accessibility. It is slanted towards autism-related accessibility, but the framework could be generalized and adapted to other kinds of people. The levels to be described are:

  1. movement
  2. sense
  3. architecture
  4. communication
  5. agency

Basically, I am looking at what makes the difference between a place or event that a lot of different kinds of people can go to and get what they need effectively, versus one that is impossible to get to, threatening, confusing, or in other ways unavailable. Autistic people avoid lots of kinds of places for a variety of reasons, but using this accessibility framework, I hope to make it easier to talk about specifically why they avoid those places, by giving vocabulary to why those places are not accessible, and to make it easier to make those places accessible.

Before I get into the levels, I need to define some abstract things, starting with this graphic explanation of inclusion versus accommodation.

Inclusion

incidence

This chart shows a bunch of people clustered on the left (without a disability), and progressively fewer people who are more disabled or at least more divergent. The three categories are those who are systematically included (the largest group; the one the system was made for), the group that is not included by design but can be individually accommodated by some adaptation, and those who are excluded. Read the rest of this entry »

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In which queer is clarified

After I posted some things about coming out, some people took that post as the Big Announcement, and thought that making that announcement is Doing Something Weird and OMG what will the children think and etcetera. Other people went into a “supportive” mode and I feel like they are a cheering audience and now I am supposed to perform a miraculous transition.

A few problems there.

First of all, one does not simply “step out of the closet”. Coming out is a long process of finding ways out, little by little; it is not like flipping a switch. Telling people about it is just one piece. I have the impression that most people are not fully aware of their surrounding walls, and don’t really know how in the closet they are. That’s how closets are, they mess with your mind, and you can’t find the way out. Since I still don’t know how to be myself in public or what kind of person I really am, it feels to me like I haven’t come out very much yet.

Second, coming out is the end of something, not the beginning of something. As it appears to some other people, I’m just going along normally tra la la, then one day I say I’m transgender and start dressing shockingly, so they think I started a new Thing which is totally out of character. The reality is that I was transgender all along but was putting a lot of energy into dressing and acting falsely. What I’m doing now is just not performing that act as much, so I’m not Doing Something new at all. I’m moving on to other things, it’s not a big deal any more. There are certain follow up tasks like getting clothes I like, but for the most part the show is over.

Third, the change is not as much in me as it is in those people who are surprised by it. Gender is at least two things: part of our inner identity and a projection we throw onto other people. Every time someone genders me and uses that to control or assume something, it’s a little assault. If they feel they have to change their projected gender of me in their mind, it could be a lot of reprogramming for them, and maybe they resist it or it feels like a big change and it feels like I’m requesting or forcing the change. But all their past gender assaulting wasn’t my fault and I’m not asking them to change any more than I asked to be judged in the first place; the reprogramming work is in their mind and is their problem. (The desire to control other people and make them fit your image comes from hatred, the seeds of violence. Let it go.)

And finally, just because someone is transgender does not mean they are doing a “transition”. I don’t like that word because it implies intentionality and depth, and a definite beginning and end, as if making a choice to switch sides whole-hog, leave one camp, traverse the desert and set up in the other camp. For me it is only changing the surface, and possibly manipulating other people into gendering me differently; it is superficial by definition. A person can be into female clothes for a while then be into male clothes later, and they aren’t going “backwards”. A person doesn’t have to do anything medical (for which the word “transition” makes more sense), or anything at all.

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