Sunday, October 14, 2007

Power outage

I said I wasn’t going to do it again. And to a large degree, I didn’t. The last time I participated in a discussion at another blog where someone refused to hear my point, I ended up wasting a whole day and becoming terribly angry and frustrated. The issues there were (from my perspective)—Are there real consequences to what people say about autistic people? Isn’t everyone’s opinion equal? Does the autistic voice count for anything in answering this question? In that discussion, a person kept saying (in various words) No, Yes, and No. And I kept saying Yes, No and Yes. It was a stalemate and the longer I participated, the more tired and frustrated I became. I got very little “real work” done that day. And I felt like I might as well give up trying to talk, even through writing. My voice wasn’t strong enough.

Yesterday, I had the chance to see what I’d learned from that earlier experience. In this case, the questions were (from my perspective)—Does it matter what non-autistic people call autistic people? Isn’t everyone’s opinion equal? Isn’t this a trivial matter anyway? Does the autistic voice count for anything in answering these questions?

This is all about power. There, I’ve said it again. This tends to make people angry. It’s not my fault, they say, that I am ____________(white, male, heterosexual, middle class, without a disability, etc.) and I would never, ever use this unintentional status to oppress anyone. Yes, that’s right. You didn’t ask for these things. I know this. I have a couple of them myself, and I didn’t have to ask for them. That’s not the point.

The point is that I am not forced to deal with discrimination daily over being Caucasian. A man usually doesn’t have to worry as much about going out for a walk alone as a woman does. Unless maybe he’s a gay man. Or a man belonging to another minority group. And it isn’t the straight white male’s fault that there are predators who see being female or being gay as a reason to hurt someone. But if I tell the straight while male that I feel afraid and he says I’m being ridiculous or oversensitive, that person is abusing a position of power. Part of having power is not having to think about it. Denying that the power exists is in itself abusive because it does nothing, not even the smallest, easiest, least expensive thing, to correct the imbalance. It is a lie.

The issue is the same with people who like to say, “You are not a real autistic because you can do X”. Well, the people with the authority to diagnose say that I am. I say that I am. Why does anyone else think their opinion should have any weight? And then there are those who, over and over and for our own good, insist that “autistic” is a bad word. Or want to know why on earth would I want to make such a big deal of this when there are real problems to be dealt with. Sigh…

There are some straight white males, without (known to me) disability labels who have earned my respect through the way they acknowledge the power imbalance, the way they defer to persons in the categories being discussed. I’m not going to name names because I am sure to leave someone out, but there are a number of persons writing on Autism Hub who understand that listening is at least as important as talking. I am happy to have these allies. They do what they can, which is to say to the others with the unrequested unacknowledged privilege of power, Hey, why don’t you try listening to the people you are talking about? It’s just common sense, isn’t it?
I didn't let it get to me (much) yesterday. Some people are never going to listen. I can't spend my energies arguing with them. That's a waste of what power I do have. This is for the ones who haven't made their minds up yet. Call me Autistic.


  1. I agree... why waste time and energy arguing with people who won't listen anyway? It's much more useful to do what you did here, collecting your thoughts on the subject and turning them into a blog post. I often do the same thing.

  2. The thing you are describing w/ men is called the male gaze. Many times men don't understand how something can be discriminatory to women, because for hundreds of years men were the ones who created the way women should be seen and understood. Until women started speaking out and telling them there was more to the story.

    Maybe there is an "NT gaze" too?

  3. Perhaps the "NT gaze" is eye contact. ;)

    Personally, I don't (consciously) care whether someone looks me in the eye as long as I somehow know they're talking to me. That's generally not a problem when I'm alone with just one other person, and I don't seem to have problems with it in groups either. Sometimes I don't even care to look at the other person. And certain types of staring - straight into the eyes, or at the forehead, for extended time - is supposedly an "I have higher status than you" expression of body language, like it is in wolves. Looking straight into the eyes can make NTs uncomfortable, too, for that reason. So maybe there is something to eye contact as the NT gaze, even though I meant it as a joke.

  4. I remember the last time you argued like that quite clearly . . . and I think you and I were riding the same pattern that day. And of course, the aim of such long-ass strings of argument is for each person to get their point across (though they usually do end in that "agree to disagree" ennui) -- but the result is a bunch of text that noone but the bravest of incidental lurkers would dare to wade through. ABFH is right; it's much more helpful for, say, someone who's looking for information on the topics you're covering to happen upon a nice neat blog entry than upon an endless thread of bickering. In fact, I've seen some folks actually say, "Wow, here I was looking for some useful information from you people and all you're doing is ripping each other to shreds." So yeah. Take it to your own blog. It might break the rules of etiquette to do so (like, the author of the original entry might respond with the equivalent of "Why don't you say it to my face?"), but if your goal is to reach folks, this is definitely a better way. Heck, you can even say "I felt compelled to comment on this, but I didn't want it to get lost in all of that mess, so I've organized it here."

    Oh, and yeah, I'm sorry I wasn't available at that moment to violently shake you and talk you out of arguing. Mea culpa. Chances are I'd have done the same.


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