Star Ford

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

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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In which queer

I had three periods of life that I was more out as a girl, while I spent the in between times hiding. The first of those out times was from birth through early elementary school. I could see gender in others but didn’t feel that any rules about it applied to me. I knew that girls were my people and boys were inexplicable. I didn’t know I was being dressed “as a boy” because I didn’t really notice clothing (except those godforsaken sailor suits which were just effervescing with boy and I still hate them). My parents made assumptions but didn’t force it too much (like, they didn’t make me live in a room with football wallpaper); generally I was allowed to be me.

Then, gradually any female expression was extinguished through a conspiracy of peers and adults. If you wear that again, you will be beaten up. If you walk like that, you will be beaten up. You can’t go there. And so on. So that’s how I learned how to carry books, to cut my nails short, to avoid drawing certain things, and all the hundreds of other ways that I was supposed to show gender. I did it to escape being beaten. It was only fear, and I hated doing it. The problem with that technique is that they extinguished most of me, not just a few isolated girlish traits. If I loved anyone, it was dangerous. Adults thought that my efforts to connect to other girls in first grade was prototype romantic behavior, and they teased me, so I learned to keep feelings hidden. It wasn’t just the other kids doing the damage.

The rest of my school years, I was a stiff person who hardly ever talked and couldn’t make friends. If I was asked what I was (like how when someone has a baby, they tragically ask what is it?) I would close up and not be able to talk at all and I’d eventually squeak out that I was a boy, hoping no one else would hear my lie, not knowing any other escape. I’d come home on hot days and run to change out of conformity clothing into something nice, sometimes dresses until that was teased out of me. The rigidity at school was so oppressive and I was lucky to be able to decompress at home.

Bathrooms. After an accident in first grade, they showed me the bathroom designated for me, which I had not known about before. I was actually observant but had probably dismissed bathroom related information because the teachers likely tied it up with gender which didn’t make sense to me. Then for the next nine years, I didn’t use a bathroom at school, not even once – too dangerous. I didn’t ride a bus or go on the playground after third grade, because I could be beaten and no one would see. I developed a radar for where safe adults were at all times, and what my escape routes were. This took up a big chunk of my mental energy all those years and I never relaxed. There were danger zones though, such as the first 30 feet out the back door of the middle school, which was unpatrolled, and I had to cross that to get to a street to the gas station where I parked my bike.

Although I got the occasional kick or punch, and was harassed a lot, I never was full-out beaten up, and I attribute this to my unerring vigilance, and also to some ironic privileges of being trans. Boys target other boys to establish rank, but I was spared that because – as I guess – that kind of bully tends to have a lot of social intuition and they never took me for a boy. Adolescent boys then start attacking girls for different reasons, but I wasn’t seen as a sex object so I escaped that too.

When it came to checkboxes and other gender binary features of adult life, I had been so crushed that I didn’t feel there was any way out. I didn’t know a single other lesbian, trans, or queer person; I had no words for any of it. So I’d check male and then I got put in an all male dorm at college. That was the closest I came to not surviving.

The thing about having a female kind of sexuality while looking like a boy… well, the result was no action on the dating front. My inclination in high school was to wait and hope someone would ask me out, but I had no clue about making myself pretty or locating anyone like me or being assertive. Everyone I wanted to be with was looking for a boyfriend, so all those attempts got nowhere. My only two relationships that worked didn’t happen until age 33.

The second period of being more out was around ages 20-24. I found places to live with all women and was a little less isolated, and even had friends sometimes and some almost-romantic relationships that failed before they really started. My attempt to be out was really pretty weak compared to the first time, but I got some clothes I liked and was optimistic about the idea of being free outside of institutions.

Then this period ended because people would throw bottles and things out of car windows at me, and yell threats, and I was unwelcome to wear certain clothes at Quaker meeting, and perhaps most importantly, money. Work places did not seem OK with people like me, so I felt I had to act like someone else to survive. So I spent 20 years doing that. The stress of it kept going up and my income kept going down as the economy changed and required more conformity. I only recently realized that the fear of losing income was overpowering everything else in life. People might say just be yourself, saying there are openly gay people who manage to keep jobs, but they account for 10% of the population and we aren’t even on the map.

The third period of being out is now. Being somewhat part of an autistic community has given me vocabulary and the opportunity to meet other queer and trans people. That gives me some basic psychic permission to be out. I’m feeling that showing some surface things outwards (like clothes) could get me over some barrier to also be out in spirit. Finding the way out is still a fight against all those hiding tricks that I adopted when I was little out of the fear of being beaten, and a fight against those who go ballistic about any trans person anywhere because it threatens their gender scheme. Even some autistic-run internet groups for women still don’t allow trans women, so getting support is not always so easy.

One main reason I can even think about this now is that I’m in a program for disabled people to work on contracts for state government, and I think they would not find me guilty of working while trans. Therefore for the first time I have a sense that I would not lose all income by coming out. I might lose some of the other clients though. Also there is a lot more acceptance now than when I was 20 and it has been a really long time to be in hiding.

All this has been just a plot line of what’s happened to me, but now I want to say more about what it means to be a gender.

People say “why can’t you accept being male” or “why do you want to change”, and those questions show a misunderstanding of what it really is. It is not about changing me. I’ve always had a male body and don’t anticipate changing that; there is no denial of how I was made physically. It is true that I am jealous of people who get the privileges that come with a female body and don’t feel I’ve gotten the corresponding male privileges that cisgendered males get, so I have mused about surgery for that reason. But that is not a necessary part of coming out, and that physical change is not a substantial change of me; it would mainly be a change of how people see me. It is more a question of acceptance by others than a question self-acceptance.

People also say “why do you want to be a woman”, and the short answer is that I didn’t sign up for either side; it is not about my preferences. The identification with gender is part of a psychic structure formed early, that probably has a nature side and a nurture side, and may be affected by the rigidity of the society that one is in, but it isn’t a choice. The main choice is whether and how to come out or suppress it. Not coming out would be an option too, but regardles of what choice is made on the surface, the inner me is still the same.

People also wonder what traits make a person identify oppositely to their body type. I have some traits that are traditionally masculine (like an engineering way of thinking, and liking wood tools), and some that are feminine (homemaking type things); and most people have some duality at that level, which is not the significant thing. It is about a deeper level of identity. For example, in my college house, having a man visiting was very different than a woman visiting; our private space would recede so he could be in the house but not in our psychic space, whereas a woman would be more admitted into the fold. There’s a deep way that females and males set up opposite camps and have certain barriers and openings to each other, and that’s the level that I’m talking about. Another way to look at it is on the level of the dream life and developmental stages.

I also have a point to make about intersectionality (the phenomenon of being part of multiple minority groups). I’m autistic, trans, and lesbian (depending on how you look at it). The autistic interaction here is very interesting, because it makes it appear that I don’t fit the more usual trans pattern. Some transwomen seem to get more into the makeup and other feminine trappings than most women do. Some might even believe that gender duality is real in a scientific sense and that they are changing themselves by changing their appearance. As autistic people can more easily avoid that kind of fallacy, I don’t really believe that gender exists in that way, and therefore when I say I’m female, I’m mainly saying I fit certain archetypes, not that I’m a thing that actually exists or that the whole topic is black and white. Since I don’t really care about clothes and make up that much (an autism-related trait, at least for me), being trans is not going to make me pretend to care about it more. I don’t shave my legs or wear make up, which is exactly what I would do with a female body. I could never project much of any intentional appearance about anything; projecting in general just isn’t one of my skills (a lot of people totally misinterpret me as conservative or some other kind of enemy of progress because of that). Therefore it could happen that I will never figure out how to reliably pass as female. But I don’t owe anyone that in the first place. Like I said, it isn’t about change.

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UNM-CNM Transit Ideas

The attached 8 page paper explains some bold new transit ideas to add to the Bus Rapid Transit idea on the table for the UNM-CNM area in Albuquerque.

UNMCNM_Transit_Ideas (PDF)

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On awareness, support, memory failure, and going back in the closet

awareness

In Flowers for Algernon, Charly is not very aware of the world around, and an experimental drug makes him more aware, and smarter. He gets more attractive to others and more successful; life flows more for him. I’ve also been getting more aware gradually, but with different results. I see other auties at a different stage of life than me, and I think “I used to be like that” (in relation to them not being aware of social facts or conventions). But my awareness hasn’t made me any more desirable or fun. I just cower under the weight of knowing the kind of appropriateness-crap that matters to people, when I didn’t know before. The more I solve old stress issues, I become aware of more things to stress about, so the cycle never ends and I never settle into a nice pattern of ignorance. I feel more disabled, the more I find out. My friend said she would twirl and dance in the aisles at the store, until one day she realized people were watching and judging; then she stopped. Awareness is crushing that way. I used to work in the garden and paint in any clothes I was wearing, so I always wore ragged clothes. Now I wear “nicer” clothes and now I try not to get dirty; I’m so careful that I’m no fun. This business of acting like an adult is a lot like going back into the closet and hiding.

Awareness of convention is not necessarily an improvement, and may take away from awareness of self.

coming out

So I desperately want to come out of the closet. I feel like I have so much potential and I can’t wait to find out who I am. I have only the slightest inkling of what I could be. It feels possible that I’d be nurturing, maybe even fun or generous. I wonder if I’d be desirable to be around, and wonder if no one including me has ever known who I am, and maybe that’s why bonds between me and the other humans are so fleeting and tenuous.

On the day I discovered autism, I went out to the patio and walking, almost floating in spirals of thought I said to myself: I have autism… no, I am autism!… no, I am someone! The shame had been so deep that I didn’t consider myself to be anything much prior to then, and the experience of finding out there were other people like me gave me permission to be something more definite.

support

In autism circles there is talk of “support” all the time. Sometimes it means having an assistant for a certain task and other other times it means having a more general kind of encouragement that one is OK. I know in theory that a supportive environment heals and strengthens a person gradually. For example, one of my high schools was more supportive than the other. In one I went down hill and became a scared depressed empty person, and in the other I regained part of the loss. But what would support look like now? I think with support I’d be able to come out of the closet, and I wouldn’t sacrifice awareness of myself.

I can more easily say what anti-support looks like: when I get othered. For example if I do something in the autism “community”, and I’m the token disabled person, there’s a subtle assumption that I’m automatically wrong. That experience eats away at me and makes me weak.

memory

I have a memory problem that is related to awareness and support. I can often remember to pay attention to other people, or to drink water, or to expose myself to new ideas, or to set my boundaries and remember that I can have my own preferences. But I cannot remember all of those things at the same time. If I start to keep one aspect of life close by, the others slide away. If I remember to feel, I forget to give, and so on; thus I’m always at the threshold of existence, never finding my way out of the closet. The memory issue gets worse with greater awareness of convention and with trying to be something. As I learn and expand in social awareness, I seem to forget more easily who people are. For example there are four sisters who I have known since I was little, but when I saw them last summer, there was only a vague recognition, and the stress of not being able to tell them apart from each other was very stressful. Earlier in life when I wasn’t as aware, I would have not known or cared about that problem, but also I used to be able to tell them apart without as much effort.

I was recently reminded that I haven’t had the giggles in years and had forgotten all about laughing. So I added laughing to my list – the list I’ve been accumulating of things to remember. When I add things to the list, the mental sequence is like this: “Oh right, exploring! I used to explore, but I forgot all about it. I better add that to the list.” The things on that list are general things like exploring, feeling, meditating, following inspiration, making my environment pretty, and taking control.

As Yoda says, “Do or do not. There is no try.” The forgetting comes from trying – trying to be something (awareness) and maybe this leads to my consciousness not even inhabiting my psychic circle – I’m somewhere else.

compassion

Sometimes I see someone and I think “she’s one of me”. I’ve come to see that the concept of “other people” really doesn’t exist – if there is to be no othering, there are no “others”. People say someone is “one of my people” or “in my tribe” – but I suppose I don’t say that because I don’t mean to say there is some division between my people and other people. So I say “one of me” to mean that with that person, I can feel the oneness and the accepting of each other without reservation.

I find the kind of compassion I know about mentally is hard to manifest outside the rare people who I can feel are one of me. My dream of being supported is having a continuous link to enough allies so that I’m not going through life in protection mode, and I’d be outwardly compassionate.

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