Star Ford

Essays on lots of things since 1989.

a bit about autism for crisis line volunteers

(This paper concerns crisis lines, such as suicide hotlines, rape crisis lines and so on. I’m volunteering for such a line now.)

Autistic people are not woven into the fabric of families and social groups like other people are; our way is to be independent instead of enmeshed – and this point is close to the very definition of autism. Unfortunately for us, that extreme independence can make supportive relationships out of reach, and even push us out of society to the point of being friendless or homeless. Thus, while autism accounts for only about 1% of the whole population, among callers to crisis lines the rate may be a lot higher. Crisis line staff can benefit from identifying autistic traits and some helpful ways to communicate.

Perhaps the easiest way to detect autistic tendencies in a call is when they seem unusually literal. If you ask “are you sad?” they may just say “yes” – only the literal answer to the question without accepting the implied invitation to say more. If you ask “May I ask you a couple questions?” and proceed to ask one question, then later in the call, they may still expect you to ask the second question (because they interpreted that you had exactly two questions). If you ask “How did you sleep?” they may interpret the question to be about the technique rather than about the quality of sleep, and they might answer literally: “I just got into bed and waited.” Or they might say they don’t understand the question, because they interpret the question to be literal and precise, when it might have actually been just a general way to keep the conversation going.

Autistic people have the same range of feelings and the same needs for love and connection and safety as everyone else, but our communication is different. Communication is interpreted more according to strict dictionary definitions of words, and the adage that 80% of communication is nonverbal may not be true for that kind of caller.

One way to be effective is to realize that your tone of voice may not communicate much, and their apparent tone can be misleading. If they are calmly stating “I am angry”, believe the words and not the misleading tone. An autistic caller may always use the same tone and not modulate it for different feelings as other people do. Try to find specific words to convey meaning and don’t assume they get much from your tone.

You can ask open-ended questions, but to communicate that your question is open ended, be literal and don’t rely on softening phrases or anything vague. If asking “What about your relationship?” elicits confusion, try saying “Describe the good and bad aspects of your relationship”. An autistic caller might understand “What are all of your feelings about that?” better than “How is that for you?” If asking “Were you ok after the fight?” results in a one-word answer, try requesting that they tell the whole story of recovering from the fight.

Autistic problems can be specific. If a caller says “I didn’t get to finish a Minecraft construction project before class”, you might wonder if Minecraft is a misplaced target or a symbol for some hidden, deeper problem. But there may be less focus on relationships and the seemingly trivial issue of Minecraft could be the literal problem. The person might be using a tool like that to help structure their thinking and memory, and someone prevented them from using it. Although the problems are diverse, one common thread in the problems reported by autistic people is the lack of agency (control over our time and environment). Our drive is to be independent, but when other people control our money, our belongings, or time, that can be the crisis.

 

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On collaboration

Things that make collaboration hard

Collaboration is hard. In all my efforts to work in volunteer groups in the past, so-called “collaboration” has felt like slowly wading through mud with people who don’t seem to be proposing anything specific, but they also don’t like or understand my ideas, and we’re doing something that isn’t really aligned with what I want to do, while everyone seems to overreact to very minor issues, and my patience wears thin.

In most of my attempts in the general (nondisabled) world, one or more of the following happens:

  • Someone decides “there is conflict” and we need “healing” before we can do anything. I never have any idea what they mean and I sense it is usually a delay tactic. I feel like we all always need healing, but it can never be complete.
  • We get people who want to study the situation forever and others who want it to be done immediately, with not much flexibility between the two groups. In one youth coalition I was in, the young people were really good at springboarding off each other’s inspiration and they wanted to decide things in rapid fire, while the older people seemed to miss that level of communication completely and they wouldn’t agree to anything. The young people had a sense of now, and not of the distant future, while the older people were only concerned with the distant future and could not do anything now. (Since at any moment, it’s always now, I guess they never did anything.)
  • Half the people who show up have the main objective of just using the meeting time to socialize or get attention, or they have no intention to do anything. Therefore, the longer it drags out, the better. Others want the meetings to be a short as possible.
  • Certain people who are used to having more than their share of social power intentionally try to foil democracy, so they’ll agree to democratizing procedures reluctantly, but then skirt them. Others try to make things equalizing and transparent, and that difference in interests tends to make discussions about internal procedures rather than about what the group is doing.
  • Someone will declare that before we can do one thing, we must do another thing. For example, before we can decide what to write in a letter, we need to decide what are objectives are. Or, before we can determine our objectives, we have to write the letter. There is no way to satisfy everyone’s sense of the proper sequence of events.

Parts of collaboration

I think there has to be room for three kinds of activity in “collaboration”:

1. contemplation – brainstorming, venting, listening, and anything unstructured – This takes the most time.

2. business – structured processes for deciding on actions

3. taking action

Any attempt at collaboration probably needs all three of these in some balance.

Autistic collaboration

I think it could take more patience to herd autistics than other people, or even to decide to collaborate. Some day maybe I’ll write an ethnography of our subculture, but for now, here are some unstructured points that maybe it could help to be aware of:

  • Autistic people tend to get triggered; most of us have some level of PTSD, and have extreme responses to situations that seem innocuous to others. So in a group, it’s reasonable to assume that at all times, someone may be getting triggered by something.
  • We’ve often been excluded, so we can get bitter and bring associated baggage to groups.
  • When the topic of collaboration is autism or disability, the fight for power over the conversation often becomes fiercely directed against autistic people. Groups that deal with other topics (transportation, environment, etc) might be more accessible, whereas groups that deal with disability could be more likely to turn us into tokens or “others”.
  • We may not have as much experience with collaborating effectively as others. If being in a group as an equal is very new to me, I might not know how to stay on topic, for example. I might not be aware of what is meant by the various words used to organize, like agendas, minutes, and petitions.
  • We tend to build up our own mental universe of “obvious” truths, which is not as shared with others as we think, and then we’re amazed that other people are so “dumb” because they don’t know what we know, or didn’t read our 10 page essay on the subject.
  • We tend towards “if this is not exactly 100% in line with what I’m trying to do, then I’m outa here”.
  • We sometimes assume that others are acting as a bloc when they are not, or that they are all followers of a certain leader. So if I put forth an idea and the leader is opposed to it, I might assume that everyone is acting as a bloc and they are all opposed to it. That’s discouraging.
  • Most of the people trying to organize autistic people are not themselves autistic at all, or they are a socially effective subtype that is not very representative of the rest of us. So even in groups that are supposedly for us and by us, we might still be excluded.
  • We have issues pretty often with energy level and commitments. I might offer to do some of the needed work, but then life could take a turn and I might not be able to do what I said.

I don’t have any answers, but I’m pretty sure effective autistic (or inclusive) collaboration would look different from effective allistic (or exclusive) collaboration.

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The trait square

Here is a little therapeutic trick you can do with a piece of paper, whenever you think badly of yourself. First you name your “bad” trait and write it in square #1 of a figure like the one pictured here.traitsquare_conceptThe four steps going around counterclockwise are:

  • Write the “bad” trait in square 1
  • Write the opposite of that bad trait in square 2. This should be a good trait.
  • Write the negative restatement of that in square 3. This should be the same trait as in square 2, only the extreme or negative form of it.
  • Write the opposite of that negative in square 4.

You should end up with a positive restatement of what you wrote in square 1.

Here’s a simple example:
traitsquare_ex1To walk through this one, my negative trait might be “lazy”. So I think of the opposite – what would the person most unlike me be? So I write “energetic”. But that trait could also be seen in a negative light, if one is too energetic, so I write “hyper/manic”. Then I think of what the opposite of that bad trait is, and I write “relaxed”. That reveals that I could choose to see myself as relaxed rather than lazy.

 

You can also get more descriptive about your issues. Here’s one about me that shows some of my associations:

traitsquare_ex2In this case I used “she” as my fictitious opposite, and I think if I were my oopposite, I’d be in danger of being proud or manipulative. Your associations might be different so your opposite might be something else. Ultimately the restatement of my “bad” trait does not deny it (I might still be ugly), but it shows things that I might also be because I’m not the opposite – humble or genuine.

Seeing “humble” come up like this doesn’t feel quite right so I might go do another one using “pride” as the starting bad trait.

Some people practice direct contradiction as a therapeutic technique. For example if I believed or feared I might be ugly, I would say (out loud) “I’m beautiful”. That’s a powerful technique, but it can be so contradictory that some people cannot say the contradiction out loud. The trait square is different. It does not contractict or deny the original negative thought; it only reframes it. It widens the trait you are looking at to include a more balanced view of positive and negative aspects of that trait.

 

 

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Moving along

This piece is simply letters to people I visited on my recent driving trip as far as Maine, with a letter to me at the end.

Dear Mother,

joanneI don’t know what to do. Most adults either eventually make peace with their mothers or cut them out entirely. Making that choice frees a person to go forward in her own life. But with me, I’m walking a complex line of trying to keep going between those two poles, not knowing why, and it is so sad and tiresome after all these decades of cold war. I know how to communicate in at least two ways: the polite verbal way I use for strangers, and the quieter emotional way with friends. But within this family I’ve only been able to communicate as with strangers. Everything I’ve ever done is wrong. I can’t imagine the ice melting, not ever; even when you are dying, years from now, I can only imagine you will use your last breath to remind me how wrong I am.

On this short visit, your judgments went to a new level and became an embarassing self-parody. When a six year old asked you (referring to me) “why do you call her a ‘him’?” your answer placed the shame on me instead of admitting to a mistake. Invalidating your own child’s life at every turn is the norm, but this time you made it a project of yours to convince an impressionable young person that my experience of my life is invalid, and only your judgment matters. It should not be a mystery why the visit was so short.

On this trip I saw many people moving forward, even while working out their childhood trauma. They all have their issues, but none seem to be as unable as I am to make the mother inside let go. None have lived so long as I have without picking one way or the other. You actually matter – way too much.

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Advertising as way to fuel inefficiency

Humans are omnivores mainly by culture, not in the same innate way that other species are omnivores or carnivores. If you consider the innate desires of puppies and other meat eaters, you see that they get excited about eating their prey, they pounce on it, and tear it apart and eat it raw. Humans don’t have the hunting skills or desire to do any of that. The only way most of us can eat animals is by having them killed by someone else, cut up, and cooked so that the disgust that we would otherwise feel at seeing dead carcasses is as far removed from the dinner table as possible. If we were innate animal eaters, we would not feel disgust – we would feel happy and excited about tearing into living creatures. Yet a lot of people really want to believe that we’re innately omnivores. I believed it for a long time, until I learned otherwise.

The fact that I had always accepted that we were innate omnivores only proves I’m human, the only creature that can be so deluded about what we are by manufacturing beliefs and replicating them on a massive scale. When I think for myself, I find it is more gratifying than just adopting the beliefs transmitted by culture. There is a certain grace in the cessation of stupidity that I occasionally experience: things become so simple; I see them as they are without the imposed lens of culture. But I feel very silly for allowing myself to be deluded by the culture around me for so long on the question of eating animals. What kept me in the dark?

Generally speaking people replicate the beliefs of the people around them, except maybe the autistic, who, to various degrees, do not. I’ve experienced both extremes: thinking like everyone else, and being unable to think like anyone else. Another example is using toothpaste, which I’ve heard is unnecessary, but it never really seemed important enough to find out or even form an opinion one way or the other, so I just found it easier to go along with the toothpaste-using culture that I’m in. So I’ve gone through many tubes of toothpaste and eaten lots of animals because … most people do. On other other hand I’ve reinvented things, and it wasn’t because I was too obstinate to do it the normal way. It was because I couldn’t detect the normal way, or the normal way had so much apparent inconsistency or waste that it didn’t feel adoptable to me. I suppose people who acculturate even less than I do would copy fewer beliefs, and they would end up reinventing more things independently, or just failing to do a bunch of normal things.

The highly inefficient system of converting solar energy to nutrition circuitously via other animals is just one of many industries that thrives on waste and socially constructed needs. A lot of the media, pharmaceuticals, makeup, sports, cars, and sugar are in that same category. These are products that people have no true need for, and therefore do not even want innately. People want these things based on convention, but not innately. We have to learn to want them. Because of our inherited culture, we spend a great deal of our lives in highly wasteful pursuits that don’t actually make us happy or fulfill any true need.

Something has to work to keep us in the dark, and keep the waste going. If there was no force sustaining the waste, it would dwindle over time and we would adopt more efficient ways to meet our needs. We would harness the sun to heat buildings rather than drilling for oil and all the complications that go with that. I mean we would do this out of sheer laziness, not for any ethical reason. If the reason for doing the complicated and inefficient thing were to go away, that habit would extinguish. This is similar to a fundamental point in genetics: If the advantage of a trait goes away, then the trait will gradually extinguish. Nothing sticks around indefinitely for no reason.

My proposition then is that all these inefficiencies are sustained in large part through money and advertising, which are the socially constructed means to keep power imbalanced, and falsehoods alive, respectively.

I’ve wondered a lot about advertising because it doesn’t seem to work on me, and so I’m surprised that it works at all. But when I found out about autism, it started to make sense, because non-autistic people believe things simply because they are repeated so many times. And to some degree I do to (like the idea of being omnivorous) but noticeably less.

Advertising pairs something that people innately want with something that costs money, creating an association. For example, it pairs a field of wildflowers on a spring day (an innate attraction) with an oil company. Or, it pairs sex with a car. The main things appearing in ads are either (1) something you already want, or (2) something they want you to want.

Ads also exist for things that people truly need, like food, shelter, and exercise – and are just claiming that one supplier is better than another. To some extent advertising is just part of the information exchange needed in a market system. But consider a tomato. The tomato gets a starring role in so many food ads, yet it is hardly ever the product being advertised. That’s because it is something we already innately want – so there is no need to push it. Instead it is used as the innate need that pairs with the hamburger or other food being advertised. You see the tomato (an innate attraction) and a hamburger (a culturally constructed, highly inefficient means to meet your needs), and the brain makes an association between them, so with enough repetition, you want the hamburger. When you were very little, you probably didn’t like hamburgers – little kids are often not attracted to meat. If you like them now, it is because your tastes were molded by cultural learning, and importantly, the tomato continues to play a lead role in reinforcing that association. Without a force sustaining the cultural, non-innate, and inefficient habits, they might gradually extinguish.

Here are the top advertisers in the US, starting with the highest spender: Procter & Gamble, General Motors, AT&T, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, Time Warner, Toyota, General Electric, Ford, and Pepsico. Procter and Gamble makes a lot of things, like toothpaste, makeup, razors, detergent, and diapers. The other companies sell cars, communications, pharmaceuticals, media, appliances, and sugar. Other top ad categories are for meat/diary, cleaning products, and alcohol and other drugs. In general the things that are advertised the most are actually needed the least.

I wonder what would happen if those vast concentrations of power could somehow be evaporated. The forces maintaining cultural beliefs in the necessity of all these products would be weakened, and the desire might gradually extinguish. Is it possible that by simply not telling everyone day in and day out to consume sugar, that our taste for it would gradually be forgotten? Would movies fail to entertain us if we weren’t told over and over to watch them?

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On continuous trauma

I’m working out how to talk about trauma when it is continuous in a person’s life. The vocabulary we have is misleading: the typical definition of trauma states that it is the emotional response to an “event”, and so we have this image that we’re going along in life, and something bad happens, like an accident, rape, combat, or a natural disaster, and then for some time afterwards we have flashbacks and other stresses caused by the original event. But what if it was a continuous condition rather than an event, or it didn’t appear to be horrific – at least as seen from the outside? What if the things that trigger (awaken) the original trauma are not just specific things (like a gunshot for example) but are composed of the whole environment, the culture, the way we are treated all the time, or the wind blowing?

I feel like a lot of people have “continuous trauma” like this – the trauma that a person’s life is made of, rather than a trauma that is an interruption of life. Some of us (like me) can’t really clearly identify what the “original” trauma is. We supposedly had a nice childhood with no dark secrets or anything that we know of, but yet we’re living in a state of high stress all the time, defending against attacks that we can’t see, or being ineffective at moving on in life from the emotional blocks.

I’m guessing the consciousness of continuous trauma is expanding, as I see more writing that brushes on it or acknowledges it, more trigger warnings in writing, and feminist circles making it more central. So much is being painted by its language, but still the language is incomplete, if you think there had to be a identified causative “event” for a person to be in “real” trauma.

 

Continuous trauma appears to often be connected to:

  • Disability: Disabled people are sometimes co-labeled with PTSD, and it could be misleading to suggest that the PTSD is something separate from the disability. Being disabled is being powerless and that is what is continuously traumatic.
  • Minority status: Being or a member of a minority is possibly in itself a reason why we live in continuous trauma, although maybe not all minorities do. It could come from being consistently devalued or marginalized, hiding, thinking of ourselves as not normal.
  • Objectification: Growing up thinking about ourselves too much as objects (how we appear and whether we fulfill the needs of others) rather than subjects (what we want for ourselves) can lead us to be so out of balance that it becomes a powerless state, and is continuous trauma. (“Who am I if he doesn’t love me?”)

 

Most people are minorities in some way, and most of us are not represented by the tiny slice of highly privileged people who control public discourse. So perhaps most people have this condition, the same people who are relatively powerless, and those people are not getting their needs met very well for safety and healing. It’s hard to imagine someone not having a significant continuous trauma if they are in all three of those categories.

For any individual, it is a matter of how your life actually is now, not just what happened to you before. As an example I know someone who, for a long time, could barely confront the shame that one adult, once when she was a teenager, had been sort of creepy and touched her. It was an event that might seem mild from the outside but for her was central and traumatic. Someone else might have brushed it off and not been burdened by it. I wonder if the reason it got so heavy for her is that she was living in a state of continuous trauma from life in general (for other reasons), and that incident assumed extra large proportions because of those other things. Maybe if we accept that there is continuous trauma, we might not feel we have to find an “event” to pin things on.

The basis of continuous trauma might not even be something “bad” or illegal. Maybe someone did something that was even considered normal and nice, and it still contributed to trauma. Or maybe no one did anything at all, and the trauma comes from not getting the attention that you hoped for or some other twisting of the ego. No one can fix it if nothing was really ever done wrong, but I think that is the point too: continuous trauma isn’t about what happened in any specific way. It’s not something that can be prevented by policy.

 

Despite it being unlinked to a causative event, I still think what I’m talking about is still a kind of trauma because it has triggers. We talk about being “triggered” which means going on high alert or high stress, while also being (possibly) aware that the trigger is not a real threat. Unlike event-trauma which theoretically has specific triggers that interrupt life, continuous trauma can have more continuous triggers. And I don’t think there is a clear line between what’s a trigger (something mentally associated with a threat that isn’t a real threat) and the actual threat. Being triggered puts us in stress, and if we’re constantly in chronic stress, then the triggers are unhealthy for us to be exposed to. In that sense the triggers are a real threat.

So are triggers “bad”? If a person happens to trigger you and they didn’t do anything wrong – like, they happened to be wearing a triggery shirt, or whatever – they are not guilty of anything, and it is not about them, in the same way that it is often not about any original “bad” event. Going after the triggers is missing the point in a way; we can’t make the world safe by being free of triggers for the same reason we can’t prevent trauma that isn’t caused by illegal events.

On the other hand, triggers continue to fuel ongoing trauma when you’re in those categories of disability, marginalization, or objectification. So the triggers are re-traumatizing in a way that triggers for event-trauma might not be. I’m just hypothesizing here but I wonder if you were hurt with a weapon that had blue stripes and blue striped things became triggers (in the classic definition of trauma), then you might be able to gradually expose yourself to blue stripes and neutralize it (exposure therapy). On the other hand if you’re a woman and you’re triggered by men who look at you a certain way, then could you (or would you even want to) expose yourself to it to neutralize it? I think it is different because the trigger reminds you that the condition of being marginalized is still present, and is not just triggering but is also reinforcing that condition, unlike the blue stripes example where you are no longer in any actual danger of a blue-striped weapon.

 

I feel like traumatized people are everywhere, maybe even most of us, and yet we (society) have too little recognition of it and hardly any answers. Our society is so phenomenally bad at safety, even within groups of people who are ostensibly safe to be with. We have no socially recognized reliable way to actively shelter each other. We seem to know at some level that so many of us need safe spaces – places free of mysogynist or racist remarks, free of the other -isms that are continuously re-triggering, and free from fear of being victimized. There’s so many of us that know that, but even so, we can’t seem to make the safety happen on any scale beyond small groups of friends. It feels like some people can only associate with others who are equally traumatized, because everyone else feels “dangerous” in their inability to sense the needs of others, but for some reason that association can’t be shown in a public way. So when we’re in public, we just have to assume everyone is a danger, even though mentally we know most of them are probably safe. It’s the feeling that “even though probably most of these other people are safe, someone will probably take advantage of me if I’m not vigilant, and no one will stand up for me.”

Can we make places safer for the continuously traumatized? Imagine going places and being confident that there will be people standing up against dergatory and insensitive language, who recognize and protect us. Imagine being allowed to be unguarded, admitting weakness, and not being taken advantage of for it. Imagine an uprising of care.

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Corporate America

An exchange between my brother and the marketing department in the nightmare part of his head as he concocts a greeting card.

Happy Birthday!
[Too simple. Needs more "pop" - VP Marketing]
-------------------------------------------------------------
We wish upon you a joyous anniversary of your birth!
[Lose "anniversary." Sounds too old-fashioned. - VP Marketing]
-------------------------------------------------------------
Joyous greetings to you on your birthday!
[I'd like to try not to use the word "birth" if possible. 
Possibly offensive. - VP Marketing]
-------------------------------------------------------------
Wishing you joy on this special day!
[I think we've gone too far -- sounds too generic. Needs to 
convey a personal touch. And more pop! - VP Marketing]
-------------------------------------------------------------
Blam! Pow! What a day! It's your day!
[Need to make them aware that it could be other's day as well. 
Let's not be exclusive. - VP Marketing]
-------------------------------------------------------------
Blam! Pow! What a day! Happy day to you!
[Sorry, should have mentioned this before. "Blam" and "pow" don't 
fit the mood. Keep it classy. - VP Marketing]
-------------------------------------------------------------
What a special day! Happy day to you!
[Thinking we've lost focus, this isn't a children's book. 
Let's go in a different direction. - VP Marketing]
-------------------------------------------------------------
We wish you a merry day, and all the best.
[Avoid "merry"--connotations with Christmas. Needs to be 
non-denominational. Little more "pop" - VP Marketing]
-------------------------------------------------------------
We wish you a happy day! All the best to you.
["You" is in there twice. Simplify. - VP Marketing]
-------------------------------------------------------------
Wishing you the best on this happy day!
[Talked with HR. They feel "birthday" is far enough removed 
from "birth" to not offend. Let's go back to that. - VP Marketing]
-------------------------------------------------------------
Wishing you the best on your birthday!
[Just thinking that this may need to be personalized and may 
not be "from" someone. Let's lose the "you" altogether. - VP Marketing]
-------------------------------------------------------------
Happy birthday!
[Perfect. Let me run it by the board and i'll get back to you. 
- VP Marketing]
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Gender terminology for those who mean well

I recently needed to get a doctor’s signature on some paperwork. People need doctor’s notes for lots of reasons and this one wasn’t particularly interesting. I sent in the request by postal mail, and someone who’s not a doctor wrote back to me after apparently looking at my file (where it says “transgender”) and told me how awesome my “gender journey” is or some such invasive thing. First of all, this is a violation patient confidentiality. Second, it’s just paperwork; it is not “exciting”.

This vignette is straight out of the scary new world of wannabe “enlightened” trans allies. This progressive subculture is in danger of becoming very straight as it grows crazy-fast. The thing is, I don’t want your support for what you think I’m doing. The new liberal consciousness is oppressive – maybe not as bad as some of the alternatives, but it is not the way forward. In this essay I will spell out what is misleading about the new bundle of vocabulary and consciousness, and provide some new vocabulary and maybe even some consciousness along the way.

Vocabulary: childhood

A quick review of sex and gender vocabulary in a timeline form: In the beginnning, we’re a bit of DNA, and that has chromosomal sex. Over the next few months, this leads to our primary sex or gonadal sex (XX to female and XY to male, with exeptions of course). Somewhere in that timeframe, the brain, the largest sex organ, develops the brain sex, which usually follows chromosomal sex, but not always, and it’s probably not as binary and certainly less open to inspection. Research on this doesn’t appear to be extensive. (“Biological” sex is a vague term that assumes all these are the same, which they often are, but not always.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Autistic event titles for the taking

This is a big list of titles for autistic-run events. Some of them are actually usable, so take your pick if you need one! (But some are taken already.)

FOR PARTIES, FESTIVALS, DANCES

The autism party – Autfest
The autism drug party – Autadelics, Psychautics
The big autism show – Autipalooza
The autism pageant – BeAuticon
The autism dance convention – Foxtrauticon
The autistic race – Autidrome

FOR MEETING PEOPLE

The autism hook up convention – Automate
The autism kink convention – Naughtyauticon
The “hot” meet up – Autsauce (using Liverpool accent?)

FOR POLITICS AND ADVOCACY

The nationalistic autism guild – Patriautism
Beyond the critical number of autistics in one place – Autimageddon
The autistic ruling elite – Autistocracy
The autistic “movement” – Autikinesis
The autism dogma convention – Autidboxy
Membership in the autie club – Autizenship
Autism economics – Autonomics
Scary autistic club – Autzilla
Autistic men taking over everyting – Autiman Empire
Sudden release of autistics on the world – Autbreak

FOR SPECIAL INTERESTS

The conference about autism – Auticon
The autistic fliers club – Aeronautism Club
The obsessive autistic conference – Autimaniacs
The autism/geometry convention – Auctogonicon
The autistic philosopher’s club – Thoughtistics, Autologicon
The artist/autist conference – Autichromicon
The youth conference – Auteens
The tool-building conference for autistcs – Autware

FOR ENLIGHTENMENT

The autistic growth conference – Autotrophicon
The autistic utopia – Autopia
The retreat for autistics – Autreat

THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE AUTISM EVENT

The study of autism – Autology, Autiatry
For autistic overanalyzers – Autisectionalists
The embryonic form, or a really cool conference – Autiblast
The know-it-all autistic club – Autipedia
The annoyingly know-it-all club – Autipants

FOR JUST BEING

A place for autistics – Autarium, Autiland, Autorama
A really big place for autistics – Autiplex, Autsphere, Autscape
A really REALLY big place for autistcs – Autiverse
A safe place for autistics – Authaven
Conference for just Living it – Autibioticon
Conference with that autistic feeling – Autipathy
Conference with an attitude – Autitude
The state of being autistic – Autessence, Autihood
For overall greatness – Autacular, Autrageous, Autastic, Autilicious, Autiriffic, Autlandish

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On the concept-clash between native voices and western LGBT

How do north american native people (first-nations, indians) view gender and gay/lesbian orientations? I went to read what regular people had to say about this on web forums and the like, intentionally ignoring “accepted” historical facts and anthropological views. The “ndn” voices that I found interesting are at the end.

I started by finding the term “two-spirited” applies to the whole LGBT umbrella, or so it seemed, and wondered why there wasn’t a lot of differentiation or specificity. That led to getting an inclination of a whole lot of deeper things that are quite different between the western and indian ways of knowing and structuring knowledge. Different languages don’t just have different words for the same things; they have different things. I’m relying here on natives using English to say things that English historically doesn’t name, so I’m sure I’m just touching the very edge of the topic.

1. Honor

The indian voices communicated to me that a person is primarily a spiritual being with a (temporarily) physical form, and thus what you see of a person is just a glimpse into their wholeness; we see only the bit of the person that’s showing in our world, and we don’t see all the rest. Therefore there is never a sense of capturing the whole person in any sentiment; you can’t lasso a person and describe them. They have mysterious and unrevealed parts. This seems to be connected to a kind of honor or respect that I don’t see as much in western thinking.

If you look at western debates on education, the main voices have a functional worldview – asking what our children need to know and be able to do, and how to make them into what is needed. It’s highly invasive, functional and reductionist in the sense that it doesn’t see a child as a temporarily physical form of the infinite spirit. If we did see a child that way, we wouldn’t be focused on questions of curriculum and behavior goals.

What I’m used to in my culture is a sense of wanting to capture and define other people, especially children, make policy that assumes we know the whole person. This seems to be connected to seeing a person as a cog in the machine; maybe the person “has” a soul but they are essentially a physical being only with functions. What you can and can’t do is highly important in the culture. There’s a struggle to be honored at a basic level; it isn’t automatic by being alive.

The indian way appears less about naming and classifying what other people are. This is attractive to me, especially when other people routinely invalidate my experience of my own life.

2. The LGBT variables

In our progressive language, “orientation” is who you are attracted to. Straight people might often have an assumption that being gay is a choice (they may have been educated to understand that it is not a choice, but it remains a baseline assumption, one that people have to be educated out of). So, we can think of orientation as an isolated variable, and it is part of the public debate on marriage and other things; people use the variable of orientation to oppress the minority.

There are videos and pamphlets going around lately with the aim of decoupling all the variables relevant to the LGBT scene – sex, gender, and orientation being the main ones. So the logic of those videos is that everyone is unique in many different ways – a person can have a female body and present androgoynously while identifying as male, and be bisexual, all at the same time. Within each of those variables there is a norm and a degree of variance, so a person can be dissected and graded on scales, so even though it’s “progressive” to be inclusive of all these variables, it is still feels medicalized and made into an atheist worldview, one that is reductionist: people are composed of functional parts.

The variables about a person with respect to sex that seem to be important to indians are limited to their body type and their role. The body type is just there, not always perceived to be highly determining, but it is the shape taken by the clay that we have to work with in this lifetime. The role played by a person in the family and tribe is the more important part. I saw over and over that those variables were mentioned as relevant and the other ones were ignored or questioned as not relevant.

3. Private and public

In the indian voices, I frequently saw people saying that orientation is private and has no business being discussed publicly. I feel like they honor the public space (or to invent a word, publicy, as opposed to privacy), and they want non-public issues to stay out of it to keep it clean. We westerners respect privacy (or at least talk about it), but the indians seem to respect publicy more, and maybe aren’t really concerned with privacy for its own sake.

Western concepts of orientation and identity are perhaps too invasive to be brought into public words, where language might have a tendency to codify and dissect a person. So those variables are much less a part of how indians describe other people.

4. Making an issue

A thing related to publicy I noticed was the protection against making up issues. While westerners seem to love to invent distinctions to create walls between people, the indian voices resented when non-indians did this on their forums. I felt a sort of sigh and a “why did you bring this up”, meaning the thing in question was peacefully sleeping and the act of bringing it up makes it into an irritant, which now has to be dealt with. It’s disrespecting publicy.

On forums when people ask specifically about lesbian issues, the overwhelming response is that other native people don’t get what the problem is. The responses ask things like “why are you manufacturing this issue?”

5. Roles and spirit

When we say “role” we don’t just mean who fixes the roof and who changes the baby. They mean the spiritual role – how their invisible infiniteness manifests itself in things like ceremonial dances. I saw in indian voices that people talk about dances to describe a role that a person plays. People didn’t bring up dances as a mere example of role-taking the way we might describe gender roles at a square dance. It’s more than just an example; the dance is an actual manifestation of the spirit. It’s where the person acts their spiritual role on earth. (I don’t know these things from studying them; I’m just seeing this in the voices I read today.)

That’s so big that it makes me cry.

The person has a gift, they have a role in all their spirit dimensions that the rest of us cannot see, and the role they play in the dance brings their earth-gifts and spirit together; I think maybe the role someone plays day to day is the same thing, only in a less ceremonial way. So… the person chooses to dance, or they feel they must dance because of their role. I saw several places where people choose a different role than others expect. The elders don’t stop them from doing it. This is where LGBT comes in. They are two-spirited if they have more than one role. Roles are spirit.

I have the impression that what we westerers call a butch lesbian who takes a traditionally male role in her family (as an example) would be seen more as two-spirit, while a feminine lesbian who takes a female role in her family would not be. Because who she loves is not in the public realm, but her role is.

6. Morality

Westerners have a big connection between moral behavior and LGBT issues. But in the indian voices, I didn’t see any original notion or morality as a concept connected to LGBT things. They only responded to non-indians bringing in morality. It appears that morality of private behavior is private and therefore not worthy of public comment.

 

Now, here are excerpts of some of the indian voices I was reading. I’m adding my questions and observations about what some of them said.

 

1. “I have met a TS Mi’kmaq who identified a word and role that comes from within the culture. The challenge is to find linguists who can identify the words that have essentially been deleted from the contemporary version of the language and oral tradition. The problem is that today’s societies have adopted a western view of gender, i.e. male and female, which undermines and invalidates the recognition of third and fourth gender identities. If people accepted the pre-contact worldview which was inclusive of diversity, they would have to re-think everything else, so the status quo is maintained and tolerated.”

I’m reminded that being anthropological and reducing/naming in a western way in this essay. The western mind cannot reduce and name and at the same time be “inclusive of diversity” in the full spiritual sense.

 

2. [The way I can describe it is that] “Pow Wow Spirits [one-spirited] are more grounded to Mother Earth and their sacred pipes to Sweat Lodges and the Medicine Wheel. I think they are more closer to Mother Earth with thier dancing skills and more informative. Potlatches [two-spirited]? Well that’s my people. They seem to do more Super Natural dances. Like the Bukwas-Saushquatch. Or the Crooked Beak Of Heaven. I guess our people were more of a spirit beings individuals the way we perform our potlatches. We dance inside a building around a fire…”

This person loosely defines people by their dances – what role they take when acting the spirit on earth. I am not sure if they are talking about the same thing (what we would call LGBT).

 

3. I guess we can also see it this way as nightfalls into daybreak? …We that’s sort of a way to see what the world we live in the daylight surrounded by this endless blue sky. Out onesided thinking are in total awe isn’t? Sunrise to wake up to. The nightlight? Well that’s completely different performance now. Stars everywhere and the moon of course. We think differently at night then we do on day. It’s a bedtime story here. There’s a 2-spirited thinking for us all to ponder. Life is full of questions and we learn from them as we look into the sunset.

I wonder if this person is using English in a parody of how poorly it is suited to what they are saying. Do not try to parse, grok, or systemetize this statement.

 

4. I think most tribes have their own views of “gay/lesbian” people, but I can only tell you what I know about “our” Winkte. These were men who did women’s work, and dressed and behaved like a woman. I know that a few of them would live together and keep house together, but as is EVERYONE’s right, their sexual life was never NEVER EVER a topic of discussion. That was between them, if they wanted to, just like any heterosexual person. But, since these Winkte were more women than men, I don’t image they would be intimate, like in a Homosexual way, but then again, who cares!!!!????!!! Gah, I can’t believe I’m talking about this…..Got the indian blush going on now…..

I don’t think that the European/Wasicu way of looking at people with different lifestyles can be directly applied to our cultures, regardless of what tribe you are from. Their was is very judgemental and full of fear. In my own tribe, men worry about men things, women worry about women things, and when they had to get together and worry about the tribe, I don’t think that anyone’s sexuality was a factor in who had a voice or rights, and who did not. The Winktes I know are extraordinarily gifted in beadwork, sewing, quillwork, or singing and dancing. They are also good horsemen (people??), and from my own experience, they make the best, the VERY best babysitters…..but oooooweeeee….the winktes I know sure can gossip….even more than ME!!

The person crossed the line into invading publicy and expressed shame for it. Noting fear goes with being judgmental and naming and classifying.

 

5. So we are talking about “two spirits” on this thread. Not a problem unless you have questions about your own sexuality. If you are comfortable with who and what you are, a two spirited person should not concern you at all. Yes there are two spirits in our native community. Every other community has them too. It’s just part of life. A two spirited person can usually see both sides male and female. That makes them good people to help exchange idea between the sexes. Role reversal was and still is common. Some just keep to themselves because of what the white society has taught them. It’s sad because a two spirit has so much to offer the community. I know this for a fact because I have learned much from a native two spirit who happens to be an employee and a good friend of mine. I didn’t hire her because she was a two spirit. I hired her because she was good at the job she does. She is also dedicated and reliable. Sky is one of my best audio engineers. That’s a fact!

I’m reading a focus on gifts and roles, and no discussion that invades or speculates about the other person’s “orientation”. Instead there is a plea for public role performance, not retreating.

 

6. When I was young and somewhat dumb…..Our NDN student association was having a powwow, so I attended a powwow meeting. Much to my suprise there were several people (non-Indians) who attended the meeting and offered support…..hey that was fine, no problem….BUT as we went around the room and introduced ourselves. A woman explained how she was a member of a group who encountered similar racist and ignorant “isms” that skins experienced….As she continued I sat there wondering where she was going with this? Eventually she said she was a Lesbian….well I said I was young and somewhat dumb…..I cut her right off and asked; “what does your sexuality have to do with me being Indian?” Mind you my delivery was by far not sugar coated…..Looking back I did not have to be so extreme, but again I was young and naive….

I’m wondering if she feels that being indian is a public matter while being lesbian is a private matter.

 

7. 500 years ago, two spirits in our culture were no different then they are today except for the influances taught by other invading cultures. Those teachings were stuffed down us by oppression. It caused a lot of us to be just like the cultures that show intollerence to others. Remember they all came here and attemted to distroy our culture. (there still trying) We didn’t invade them. In the old days each member of the community had a place and job. Everyone worked together. It didn’t matter who or what you were, you had a part. Because of invading cultures, the two spirit people have been forced to go underground so to speak. Is that fair to them? Is that fair to us as well? For hundreds of years out two spirited people have been forced to hide because of invading cultures that were out to distroy them. For all these years a part of our people and yes other cultures have been forced to hide. Look at all that a two spirit does for our culture. Look at all that was lost because of other cultures that have damaged ours. Every person has a purpose in this life!

More focus on roles and contributing gifts publicly over exposing the inner life.

 

8. When you love another person that means you love everything that makes them them. You can’t state that you love one part of a person and despise another part. That makes no sense, and it is not truly love. I have seen first hand what happens when a person is made to feel like they have to pretend they are something they are not, and when they are taught to hate something that is unchangeable about themselves. To do this to another person is a form of murder, it is completely destructive to that persons spirit, and no one who truly cared or loved that person would do that to them.

 

 

9. The western mind is taught to think in dichotomies (white/black, master/slave, NDN/non-NDN). And those of us who have experience being in-between in one way or another know the world is a much bigger place than that and we know the diversity of the human family is much wider in scope than most care to imagine. Traditionally, we Native people have always been good at being able to deal with and understand 2 or more seemingly opposing realities being true or not negating each other.

 

 

10. What is the purpose of even creating this debate? I have known Mr. Anderson since I was a young child. I have great respect for him. But why is he wasting his time with this issue, when many of our people need so much.

This comment refers to a forum comment made about someone’s sexual orientation. Indian voices on web forums feel remarkably calm to me at all times except when there is a sense of invasion of publicy – a sense of the forum itself being polluted.

 

11. I’m a woman and I get a lot of disrespect for dancing Men’s traditional. There are those that say it is not traditional for a woman to dance this way. I am saddened at the ignorance when it comes to the tradition of the Two-spirit. The Cherokee word is Ski-Gin (that way) in Lakota we are called the Winkte (two spirits) to be a two spirit is to be a person who bi, les, gay etc. What’s sad is most (not all) native cultures highly respected people like me who were two spirits. I guess I’m just nervous, I’m headed to a inter tribal pow wow tomorrow and its going to be so hard for me, I know that there will be looks and frowns people thinking I am not traditional or that perhaps I’m simply doing it for attention or to disrupt tradition. … Even though I’m Winkte and its tradition for me to dance either womens or men’s traditional I always ask permission before entering the circle. I don’t agree with switch dancing as its a mocking of heritage and culture. I dance men’s traditional because it is what I am supposed to do, it is not a laughing matter.

 

12. Two spirit is a modern term. You must be whatever your tribe/culture calls you. You cannot be a winkte, that term was used only for men who assumed the gender roles of women. There was no Lakota gender form of a woman who assumed the roles of men. Too many contemporary homosexual pick and choose terminology from tribes they are not a part of to justify a modern lifestyle that has no direct connection to an historic form. I am not trying to be negative, I am trying to be honest with you. If you are cherokee, then be cherokee.

This was a response to the previous excerpt.

 

13. [M]y understanding of two spitit is one of gender identity, not sexual orientation. two spirit equals transgender in my opinion. i know, im transgender. when i came out as it were, the native side of my family accepted me as is.the white side of my family chose to shun me, they still do. this has a lot to do with why i chose to live on the indian side of the road. i can easliy pass as white, i chose not to. people go where they are accepted. today i no longer have my fathers surname i have my mothers, legally. knowledge of the two spirit tradition helped me accept myself to cease all self harm behaviors, and love myself.

Love.

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