Star Ford

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

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.)


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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On recognizing me in “them”

I’ve heard teachers say they notice some traits of their diagnosed students in themselves, pretty commonly now, and it makes me feel like there is a shift happening away from the industrial mindset of disability towards a more connected notion, perhaps a narrower gap being constructed between normal and disabled? I hear it as if the person is revealing a weakness, and that connection is starting to be ok where it wasn’t before. This possibly goes hand in hand with the greater number of diagnoses in the fuzzier disability categories, now given to people who previously didn’t qualify.

recognizing me in them

Description of graphic: Three panels. (1) Adult icon shown separate from a group of children, reading ‘Phase 1: Those are “special needs” children [completely separate]'; (2) Adult smaller and connected to the group of children, reading ‘Phase 2: Actually, I have some of those same traits, lol”; (3) Adult in same circle with children, reading: ‘Phase 3: My limitations are expressions of the same underlying diversity that causes the apparent disability of others.’

There are specific people I know who I’d like to encourage to see themselves inside the group that they say they want to help – that is, going all the way to the third phase. They may really be similar to the people in their target help group, but there may be just enough shame lingering that they can’t feel completely inside it. I think if we see the people we want to help as “us” rather than “them”, the help will be more relevant. If we can see ourselves as broken (imperfect, limited), then we can see others as no more or less broken than ourselves.

It’s easy for me to be in phase 3 in relation to kids in a classroom, and I’m getting faster in recognizing if someone is one of me. But I’m probably in phase 1 when it comes to the teachers: they feel like they are in the “completely different” box. Some days I’m overcome with oneness and some days I’m overcome with separateness. There is just one fabric with infinite diversity, and it makes big differences between people. And maybe as importantly as any possibly intrinsic difference, we face different levels of opportunity and accommodation, and get different amounts of shame and time, so we go in all different directions. Even as the one feeling like the functional helper, I might have started out in about the same place internally as the one getting my help.


On religious safe space

This is some information and responses to something that happened to me recently – probably only of interest if you care about Quaker decision-making and identity politics.

The Albuquerque Friends Meeting sponsored a one-day statewide women’s retreat, which I had signed up for. One of the organizers called me one day before to say that they would not allow transgender people to attend and therefore I could not go. This was the only time I’ve heard of that a person was excluded from a Quaker event simply because of who they were perceived to be – their identity, or the category of person – as defined by others, and was completely unanticipated by me.

First I want to record some of the details and explain why those details are important.

  • The meeting minuted “sponsorship” of the event, but it was not defined what sponsorship meant. The clerk later told me the minute was not “really” sponsorship. Quaker process is supposed to involve a step of confirming a leading in some way, usually by a committee who provides oversight, before bringing something to the whole meeting, but in this case the event organizer brought it directly to the business meeting. One of the functions of oversight is to find the spirit-led way in a conflict situation, and having no oversight means that certain individuals have unquestioned authority over others. Quaker process is the way it is specifically to prevent that, but no such process was followed.
  • The exclusion was unambiguous and the reason was stated outright with no apparent shame; it was as clear as if there was a sign saying “No negroes allowed”. (Today, racism is considered bad form so it gets suppressed and twisted, but transmysogyny is still considered politically acceptable enough to be explicit about it.)
  • I was outed to everyone at the event. The organizer admitted that she outed me to the “leadership” at her initiative. They discussed me and the policy, I gather, for a lot of the retreat. I was also “the topic” at the worship service the next day, I’m told. I question whether anyone feels a need to respect privacy.
  • The “leadership” made the decision according to the organizer. These people have chosen to remain anonymous. No report was made of their decision or the ensuing discussion. I want to note that this is one way that power distribution works among Friends.
  • The actual call went like this: the organizer called to elicit whether I was coming, as if making an open-ended inquiry. After I confirmed I was coming, which I had already confirmed before, she told me I was banned. Had I said I couldn’t go, it felt like she would have backed out of telling me that. This was really the only evidence of possible shame.
  • It was suggested to me that it was reasonable to enact an exclusion policy while it was being discussed, because the situation was new, and it was reasonable to exclude the person in question from the discussion. So I’m wanting to make clear that this line of thinking exists among Friends – the assumption that we exclude first as a baseline policy, and then when something new happens, we optionally include at our discretion. This tells us that inclusion would be a change. The dominant group was assumed to have automatic permission to attend while the queer person was assumed to require special permission.
  • On the very same day as all this occurred, the organizer pressured me to attend an in-person meeting and had already arranged people to be present who were supposed to support me. This very much had the flavor of trying to de-escalate the problem by assuaging feelings, and even sweeping it under the rug. She and one other person relayed to me that meeting with them was urgent. The urgency was apparently false because none of them ever left me a voice mail or email saying what was so urgent.
  • In the next few days I received a couple statements saying that the situation was not as extreme as I might suspect. I guess the argument is that although one person was excluded from one thing, it’s not a general policy and therefore it doesn’t really matter, or perhaps it didn’t really happen.

Before I heard about all this, I had already become very leery of the Quaker practice that some people in power have of sweeping things away by having closed-door meetings to resolve specific situations, using secrecy to maintain their positions, and ignoring the overall structure of privilege. As everything in this incident fit that pattern so well, so I was able to recognize it as such while it was unfolding.

For me, a lot of places are uncomfortable – night clubs, churches and other socially complex places are the most difficult. At meeting, I’ve often been cornered and lectured at in a way that is deeply disturbing of my sense of boundaries. It is the worst when the person sees me as queer and is using me to process their guilt or tell me about the other person they know who is like me. So many “conversations” start out with the other person telling me what I think, who I am, what I’m going through and so on. People have presumed to discuss my “identity” and ask about my sex life in public. The prying and judgments that fly around are just not safe for me. The level of invasive digging is noticeably more among Quakers than other people.

However, I don’t do anything about it because those are just individual people, probably trying their best. My typical response is to shut down and become fake on the surface. I never questioned before whether the space was actually safe; I just assumed it was supposed to be welcoming to everyone, and any problem I experienced was a defect in me. Not feeling safe or welcome has been so ingrained in me that I haven’t really done anything to protect myself. In the past when there were traps set, like closed-door reconciliation meetings, I would have cowered and fallen for it. I would have felt guilty for being who I am and causing other people so much grief. I’ve been in spaces that are declared safe for marginalized people and they have policies in place to protect. I had always assumed until this incident that Quaker spaces could not be like that, and had never allowed myself to imagine what a Quaker safe space would feel like. But now that it feels beyond uncomfortable there, it feels possible to wonder what it would be like if it were really safe.

I wasn’t expecting to be in the position of Rosa Parks. She had a support network and I don’t; there’s possibly no one else like me there, so there’s no parallel to a bus boycott; also there’s not a sustained effort to segregate on a large scale. It’s only similar in how it feels: being presented with a decision of whether to fight it, leave, or capitulate. All three options are too easy. The third option of capitulating would mean to reduce the significance, chalk it up to a “misunderstanding”, and keep the power balance as it is, essentially pretending nothing happened. The third option is what I’m being pressured to do, but my intuition is that the third option is the one that is most wrong.

The fact that I’m getting pressure to act tells me that my actions matter. I’ve been reading and meeting autistic women who talk about political things like this a lot recently, and I’ve developed a stronger sense of self respect through that. I know I’m OK and deserve to be included equally, so there’s peace in that. The in-group at the meeting may dissect me among themselves, and they may tell me their conclusions some day. I don’t know if they will show their pain, but whatever they do, it feels very separate from me. I am OK about parting ways if those people can’t move on. Since I didn’t do anything, there’s no need for me personally to do anything to fix what was done. I feel grounded in truth the most when resisting the pressure to act.


When a prevalent attitude shifts, some people are left behind. For example, even though many racist laws have been reversed and youth are moving beyond racism, some people will go their death clinging to their racism. Those people are very uncomfortable to be run over by history. So I think any movement in attitudes is going to be uncomfortable if it is real. It’s more important to take a stand with truth than to make people comfortable and we can’t have both.

Since the question came up for me whether Quaker spaces could ever be safe spaces for marginalized people, I’m going to try to put language on that from a religious point of view.

Drawing from the practice of a women’s group I was in 25 years ago, we had the core rule that no one could define the experience or the identity of another person. No one could erase or out another person. If someone called the process into question, particularly if they were naming privilege, the power issues were dealt with first. I remember how the protection for equality and inclusion was so strongly felt and the responsibility to uphold those values in practice was shared so energetically. People would speak up when something was not OK – if the safe space was being violated in some way, and they were not polite about it. For example, if someone started to say something that was not upholding those values (something unintentionally racist for example), more than one other person would instantly call them on it, and it was corrective without shame or making them the enemy. People were even called on negating their own experience. You couldn’t get away with saying “I don’t matter here”.

This kind of group dynamic seems to be in other places, such is with Occupy Wall Street, but I haven’t had a chance to be around it much. Ironically I think that Quakers might have been part of building that type of consciousness, but now it’s pretty foreign, at least to my meeting. I feel that at root it is religiously motivated.

What would a Quaker minute on inclusion look like? Maybe it could include some principles. A fundamental principle for me is about defining groups: Although people create hard lines between so-called races, genders, and other differences, this process of social construction is done for political purposes, not because of any truth in it. Anthropologists know there are no lines between these constructed groups and it is time that the rest of us learn that. I don’t mean to say there aren’t differences between people, but that there are no hard categorical lines. I think if we can believe that principle to the core, a lot happens.

When we believe that, we do not have the urge to other people and say “they”; we would understand and speak from the knowledge that we are all one.

There could be a policy that says we will not out, other, erase, or define people. If we had the policy and really believed it, we would not be able to hold meetings where you had to be perceived to be a particular kind of person to be able to attend. But I don’t think that means we wouldn’t be able to have a retreat for women, or for men, or natives or whatever. There’s a power in communing with like people, particularly because you can express something that isn’t a dominant way of being or communicating, and the other people there already know how it feels and can be supportive in a way that goes beyond what can be achieved in mixed group of everyone. That magic does not come from the act of othering, though. A women’s group doesn’t achieve that power simply because they decided who’s in and who’s out. It comes from the shared responsibility for creating a safe space in which people are not defined, but are free. It could happen that an identity type of group is meeting and someone shows up who doesn’t really share the identity and may be unaware from privilege and may violate the safe space. But then their actions would be called out in real time, and that active protection of the safe space is the source of power.

There could also be a practice that “support” is defined by the person being supported, not by the person trying to dump support onto someone else. We should know the difference between support, which is requested, and eldering, which usually is not.

I sometimes wonder if there is a community sitting in the shadows assuming that they don’t count and that some “elder” probably knows best, and I wonder if this community might be ready to rise and protect these principles in practice.

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on faceblindness and recognition

I think that most people recognize someone through their appearance, then they immediately call to mind everything they know about the person, and that this process is probably common and automatic enough that people don’t talk about it except when it has glitches – such as not recognizing them at all or confusing them with another. But with people with so-called faceblindness I suspect there’s a lot of variation in a number of ways. How do we recognize people at all – through which features? Do we recognize all of a person or only those aspects that are connected to the trigger feature? Is there a gradual recognition that has a patterned sequence?

As my contribution to the field, here’s some case notes on me.

  1. Taking an on-line faceblindness test I recognized only two of the twenty or so famous people, and one of those was by his iconic glasses (Ghandi).
  2. I’ve forgotten whether people who I care about a lot have moved or gotten married or divorced. I’m talking about people who really matter to me. It’s usually in cases where I felt I could have foreseen the change but can’t remember if it happened yet.
  3. Frequently I’ve forgotten whether people are alive or dead, mainly my grandparents and aunts and uncles, and others such as elders in quaker meeting. I’ve been in doubt because I knew they were of an age where dying would be unsurprising, and I had too slight of a personal connection with them to feel the loss personally. I just can’t remember if the death is in the past or future.
  4. At a school where I worked I heard some of the other teachers saying they had a heck of a time telling two of the students apart, and before hearing that I had not known they were related at all, but it turned out they were identical twins. I never confused them before because they didn’t feel alike, but then after knowing they were twins, it got harder to tell them apart; I started trying to tell them apart by sight more.
  5. In a large school I was apparently in an accelerated program, and I did not know that all of the kids in all of my classes were the same kids until I overheard someone talking about it. In experiences like this, I’ve sometimes been able to piece together a number of different fuzzy people that I’d seen for months or years repeatedly into the same person. One time I remember being very excited about realizing that two people I knew were the same person, and then over a couple hours realizing that a third and fourth “person” were also her, as she coalesced from unknowable into a singularity.

When people do things a wholly different way than the norm, it could be that some atypical part of the brain is doing the work, or that some extrasensitivity has arisen to cover for some other deficit, or just that the person’s capabilities are uneven compared to the norm – some high, some low – which is an autistic thing in general. In my case, being faceblind, I don’t use the “normal” data such as facial features, and hair and eye color, but I can still identify people often. In the case of the twins, I just knew what they felt like, so an aura comes into the room centered on a person, the aura makes me feel a certain way, and bingo, I know that’s ____. I’m writing this as a blank because the aura has no words; it isn’t the person’s name, it’s just their whole being. If I don’t think about it, it happens. If I’m self conscious, the ability goes away. As I get older and try to fit in more, it goes away more.

The aura may be timeless and maybe that’s why life and death changes don’t seem to affect my recognition and recall.

Something that came to my attention recently when someone approached me was the sequence of recognition. I could identify in this case a distinct set of steps, and my mind went something like this:

  • 1 second: There’s someone I know. I can feel her willingness to listen, her acceptance of me; she’s safe; she’s in my second circle.
  • 2 seconds: I recall her diagnosis and sorrows, the tension with her husband; her kids are not with her and why?
  • 5 seconds: OK, she’s looking at me as if something is not normal… maybe I haven’t seen her in a long time?
  • 10 seconds: Well I know she’s from Altoona Pennsylvania and has three daughters, and I remember the depth of the middle one.
  • 20 seconds: I think she moved either back to or away to Pennsylvania a long time ago.
  • 10 minutes: I think her name is Tineen.
  • only after looking because of being self conscious of the process: She has dark short hair.

In this sequence, I first recognize the feeling of being othered or not, and the connection through children. So when I say “aura” it’s relational, not something isolated to them, and not something I can see in pictures or video, but often requires them to project the aura onto me. The particular way that I’m less than or equal to them can be important, as is their safety level and their overall moral stance about their place in the universe. I believe I probably then expand to intuit their emotional state at the time and their life story’s emotional pattern. All these steps occur whether I’ve ever seen the person before or not.

In a few seconds I can usually bring up geographic memory and more cues about joys & sorrows. One of the memory points in my favor is geographic – I can remember fairly precise locations of objects and can use this to differentiate people by their origin.

It can take longer to remember her name, and then minutes to days can pass before I recall or memorize her basic appearance and past experiences. It seems interesting that common experiences that we had can be the last thing to come back to memory, or they can be forgotten completely. Facial features to not come “back”: I have to look to ascertain them each time.

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newsflash: women are more relational

Circles of protection

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

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

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

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

All versus each

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

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

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

Emulating models

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grazing while female

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

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

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Staying at 6%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In which the political is personal

The story of the friend

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

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

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

Being elusive

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

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

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

Being superpowered

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

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

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

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

Dominance and submission

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

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

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

Working for justice

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

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

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

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

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

Personal politics of oppression

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

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

Going irl

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

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

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

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

A random link

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

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