Friday, May 20, 2011

Moving Permanently to Wordpress

All of my posts, comments, et al, have been moved here:

Enjoy, everyone. After two weeks of grace to get you acclimated to wordpress, I'll be deleting this blog and using the wordpress one exclusively.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dinner Theatre

Tonight, I went to The Silk Road, Missoula's very best restaurant, with my old friend Olivia. It was easily one of the best meals I ever had in my life. Everything, from the food, the atmosphere, to the waitstaff was absolutely perfect. But there was an interesting extra ingredient to tonight's experience which made the dinner extra memorable.
Next to Olivia and me was a handsome young man, about late 20s, early 30s, dressed nicely, who came in after us and ordered a bottle of Procecco (One of my favourites) in a bucket, and waited, presumably for a date, with such a nice sparkling wine. Olivia and I ordered our meal and we were enjoying ourselves, until an hour had passed, and this poor poor man was still at his table alone, looking anxious, waiting around for his date, checking his watch. More time passed, and Olivia and I were exchanging looks, feeling terrible for him. More time passed, and a couple of people in the restaurant were also watching, and looked to be on the verge of tears in sympathy for this fellow. He looked positively crestfallen.
And then, poof! Just as Olivia and I were about to invite him to join us, a woman frantically ran in and kissed him, his face bubbling over with joy and relief. Everyone in the restaurant started laughing, smiling, and clapping, admitting that they were all thinking of inviting him to their table. The woman apologized repeatedly, offered to pay for the date, and promised everyone that her beau could hold it against her "as long as he wants. Seven, nine years, whatever the statute of limitations is on these things."
I thought stuff like this only happened in movies.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Humanizing the Holocaust Through Mice: A Review of Maus I & II

Originally posted at my Goodreads account:

Today, I went to the library and I picked up a variety of graphic novels. Among them were Maus and Fax from Sarajevo. After reading Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen, I suppose you could say I’m hungry for more graphic novels about wartime. As odd as it may seem, I believe that graphic novels are probably one of the best mediums with which to truly capture the human side of war.
It’s especially funny that one would describe Maus as “humanizing” the Holocaust and WWII, because the characters are all animals. The Jews are mice (There’s a funny moment where the artist talks about how he contemplated drawing his wife, a French woman who converted to Judaism) the Poles are pigs, Roma are Gypsy moths, Germans are cats, Americans are dogs, Swedes are moose, and French are frogs.
It’s almost absurd to think about how this animal tale could so thoroughly capture the tragedy and suffering that people underwent regardless of nationality. But it does.
The narration itself is interesting too, built around a story within a story. The topmost layer is of Art the artist attempting to capture his father’s stories. It’s not an easy task, his father’s a crotchety old man who is difficult to deal with, absurdly frugal, and clingy towards his son. There are some funny moments when you see that stuff the father clearly never intended to go into the comic are included.
Him being so persnickety, having such a strained relationship with his son, his maltreatment of his second wife, and his idiosyncratic habits may irritate Art, but for the reader, they help us realize how tragedy doesn’t make people into angels. It makes them into survivors, and survivors do not come out of their trauma as virtuous beings capable of no wrong. It’s difficult for people to have conversations about the effects of trauma with honesty and clarity, so its portrayal in Maus is particularly memorable and strong.
In his past, during Shoah, Art’s father wasn’t a fellow of Mary Sue virtue either. He bartered with Cats and Pigs who were persecuting him and his people in order to secure his life, and survived by being crafty and lucky. Art grapples with this, but he has to acknowledge that, being born after the war, he cannot know what it is like to be focused on one goal: Survival. It changes people.
There are equal moments of bitter, funny, and tragic in Maus, and all three help form a semi complete portrait of one survivor’s experience and how it plays from generation to generation. In fact, the book is dedicated to Art’s daughter.
As we advance in life, it is presumed that something as terrible as Shoah can never happen again. This assumption is predicated on the idea that we cannot ever sink that low again, that we’re above that now. In a section added for the complete edition, Art is shown being asked by a German translator about how German youth are “tired” of the Holocaust, and why should they feel guilty about it? Art replies that we are all guilty in that instance. But books like Maus make it clear that the price we pay for a world where we hope a Holocaust won’t happen again is that we know it, learn of it, and never forget it. Books burn, people die, pictures fade and crack. But memories can help keep it fresh, and they can live on, from person to person, if they are shared.

One in Six Women Would Rather Be Blind Than Obese

Trigger Warning for Fat Hatred, Disablism and Diet Talk

Today I stumbled across this article which highlights a survey that claims that 1 in 6 women would rather be blind than obese. This type of survey isn't new, when I was a freshman in college, I read Courtney Martin's book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, and a similar survey indicated that the girls profiled (I say girls because it was all young women under 18, the age group of the 100 women done for the recent one wasn't stated) would rather be hit by a truck than be fat, that they would rather be mean or stupid than be fat. There were other gems labeled as "socially stigmatized conditions" which the women were asked if they would rather experience over obesity. One of them was depression, which I have struggled with before. Herpes and Alcoholism, which is found in several of my family members (not mutually exclusively either) was also preferred by some over obesity.
But the women's answers didn't disturb me so much as the idea behind the survey itself, and the wording of the article. Pitting disability against obesity is problematic, obviously first and foremost because disability and obesity often end up going hand-in-hand in the case of both physical and cognitive disabilities.
But there was something else bothering me about this that I couldn't quite figure out. After some thinking, I also figured that I was disturbed by the implication of "Oh, how terrible, disability is more desirable than being fat! O tempora, o mores!" It framed disability (specifically blindness) as such an utterly undesirable condition, and the research was supposed to be baffling to us, make us wonder "Why would any woman rather be blind than obese?" But there was more to it than that, and I was struggling to figure out what it was that was itching me.
After I gave about 5 minutes of reading over though, it hit me, duh! The very end of the article:

"Being obese is avoidable by taking steps to maintain a healthy weight, eating properly and taking exercise, and even if you are obese there are effective ways to lose weight."

"It's surprising that it takes an academic study to tell us what seems fairly clear, that people tend to socialise with others of a similar size and there is a tendency for them to have similar eating and exercise habits."

"Other US research found you don't necessarily become fat if you've got a fat neighbour, but if you travel 20 miles to have dinner with fat friends you'll probably be fat."

"The answer is not to drop your fat friends, but start eating more sensibly together and taking exercise," he added.

Yea, that right there? There's a reason why the blindness was used as the headline to grab people towards this survey. Because unlike the other socially stigmatized things the women were asked about, blindness is thought of as being something you can't help which is not treatable and is utterly devastating to every aspect of your life. This is a common misconception about blindness, but I won't get into that. The point is, it provided the perfect springboard for the researchers to talk about how they needn't despair and make an oh-so Sophie's choice about whether to be blind or fat, because fatness is absolutely curable, just eat right and exercise, bring your friends too! Kill two fatties with one stone!
Using disability to contrast with obesity is ridiculous. The things named on that list, such as alcoholism, depression, STIs, and other disabilities are connected with obesity. As someone who has multiple disabilities and is obese, I can tell you that framing this discussion in this manner erases many of the causes of obesity. Disabled people are often more likely to live in poverty than their able-bodied neurotypical counterparts, we have a harder time getting exercise that is accessible to us for a variety of reasons, and if you are working through depression, anxiety, or struggling with your mental health, obesity can creep up on you.
The problem with fat hatred and self esteem in the populace is a huge problem that needs being addressed. But we are not getting anywhere by pitting disability against obesity and then pearl-clutching about how horrible disability is and how easy it is to lose weight if you only try.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things: Disability in Game of Thrones

You saw this coming, didn't you? I didn't know I'd be getting into Game of Thrones as much as I have; I've never read the books (Working to amend that) and I generally watch television once a week, Thursdays from 7:30 to 8:00, to watch The Big Bang Theory. But I moved into a new house with HBO, and my housemate is a Game of Thrones junkie who insisted I watch. So I obliged, mainly because I have had a crush on Peter Drinklage since I first saw him in Penelope.
At first, I was a tad miffed at the female characters; Sansa, betrothed to the curiously Draco Malfoy clone prince, was passive and aimed to please "my prince" at whatever the cost, even when he was awful and exploited others. Daenerys meanwhile, betrothed to Khal Drogo, suffers in silence in a marriage she had no power over so that her brother could have Drogo's loyalty and therefore access to his army for the purposes of reclaiming his throne.
But that was a pleasantly surprising aspect of the show: Character development has taken centre stage, and rather than remaining static and passive, quite a few of the female characters have broken out to become powerful, complex, and downright interesting, such as Daenerys transforming an arranged hell into a loving marriage where she embraces dedication and loyalty to her people. There's also the matter of Arya, Sansa's younger sister, who fits the typical rebellious princess mould, but manages to make it interesting and keep me glued to the screen whenever she practices with her tutor.
But the topic that has intrigued me most in the show of late has been disability. In Medieval fantasy genres like this, disability is not an often broached subject, short of maybe an occasional village idiot, or a blind seer. There's obvious historical truth to this, disabled children would not have been welcomed and accommodated for in this climate, they would have most likely been left to die of exposure or abandoned in some other way, or persecuted for witchcraft as adults.Peter Dinklage's character, Tyrion Lannister, says as much at one point, admitting that it was only his position as a Lannister which prevented an early death for him as a dwarf.
So it is quite interesting when Bran Stark, a young boy, becomes disabled in an attempt on his life, and loses mobility in his legs. It is Tyrion who pulls the boy out of his depression for becoming disabled by offering blueprints for a specialized saddle, enabling him to ride again. This moment is when the quote that forms this blog's title is said, and it's got to be the most damn empowering thing I've ever heard spoken about disability in a mainstream television show. Why?
It's Tyrion welcoming Bran, in a way, to his world, a world where there's going to be more than his disability holding him back. Other people's impressions of him, the expectations on his shoulders from his family and position, and the society of this world in general will conspire against him to leave him studying and losing out on that which he was most passionate about. Tyrion is all-too familiar with that subject, having been born a dwarf and ostracized for it (He's dubbed "the imp" by characters who dislike, or are even neutral, towards him)
I look forward to seeing how Bran contends with his new disability, his gift from Tyrion, and his new position in his family and society as the crippled boy. I also look forward to more Tyrion, he's all around awesome, easily my favourite character on TV right now. And after this, I am going to start eating up the books.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Four Types of Optimists: Three of Whom I Can't Stand

In my (Admittedly limited) experience, there are four types of optimists. Three of these types are insufferable. Allow me to break them down.
Type #1 is the naive optimist. It seems only natural they would be optimists, because nothing bad has ever happened to them. They're the transient optimists though, because it isn't going to take much to shake them out of optimism, and when they crash and burn, it will be a real spectacle as they go down, unfortunately. I somewhat pity this type of optimist, because I know what's in store for them. Most often seen in college freshmen.
Type #2 is the oblivious optimist. Sure, bad things happen to them. But Lemony Snicket captured this type of optimist perfectly, saying that: 'If an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, "Well, this isn't too bad. I don't have my left arm anymore, but at least nobody will ever ask me whether I am right-handed or left-handed," but most of us would say something more along the lines of "Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!"' This type is irritating, sure, mainly because their attempts to cheer you up are absolutely unhelpful and infuriating to boot. Think Igor saying, "Could be worse. Could be raining." Most often seen in mild types who are somewhat selfless, but could be described as a bit of a cloud cuckoolander.
Type #3 is the worst optimist of all. It's the "pearl clutching" optimist. Rather than blithely acknowledging the bad things, this optimist goes through every hoop possible to avoid the unpleasantness of life. If this optimist were a 19th century Russian novel, it would be The Death of Ivan Ilych. PCOs are hideously insecure, and often have some history of trauma from childhood that makes them terrified of unpleasant things, confrontation, or anything less than constant merry-sunshine happiness. These are the optimists who squeal at you to, "Oh my god, stop posting stories about the Congo, that's so depressing!" These are the ones who can always cite sources on how happiness helps people live longer, but are unwilling to scratch the surface and wonder why it is some groups are more "happy" than others, and the role that oppression plays in determining one's happiness. PCOs are, at their very core, selfish. Their optimism stems from a sheer willingness to ignore the unhappiness of everyone else in order to ensure their own. Most often seen in cowards, that one person who runs away or starts trying laughably ineffective ways to stop a minor squabble, or that one friend who says zie's too busy to worry about the world.
And finally, Type #4 is the one optimist whom I can happily spend time around. This optimist is no stranger to agony, either that of hir own experience or others. Rather than trying to run away from it, ignore it, or gloss over it though, Type #4, the survivor optimist, acknowledges that pain and suffering, and asks, "What can I do to alleviate this?" or "How can I make sure that nobody ever goes through what I did?" Survivor optimists are aware of the never ending battle that awaits them, and what the stakes are for their cause. But they keep at it, because they care so deeply about it. Even when it seems like all is lost, the survivor optimist holds out. What distinguishes this optimist is that they don't passively wait for things to get better. Their hands and hearts are dirty with their dedication to righting wrongs.
Most often seen in activists, progressive bloggers, advocates, volunteers, and their ilk.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Summertime! Yay! Job Hunting! Boo!

Well, I am officially done with school here. In fall, I will be in Victoria. Great huh?
However, I am not out of the woods yet, so to speak. When the semester ended, so did my federal work study job. That means I am now looking for a job, and let me tell you, in this terrible economy, I am not optimistic. I'm also trying my best to ignore my brain reminding me that only 15% of autistic people have employment. I need a summer job, and I'm not going to let that hold me back, damnit! I've applied for every job I can think of, at bookstores, restaurants, retail outlets, fast food, starbucks, grocery stores... Anything within walking/biking distance of my new house, because I cannot drive. I put together a very fine resume, if I do say so myself, but it's hard to be hopeful in light of all the signs in Missoula which say "We're not hiring" or "Sorry, not accepting résumés right now".
I've got to keep trying. If it comes to it, I can be enterprising and continue to sell my possessions, donate plasma ($20 a pop isn't much, but oh well) and pick up odd jobs.
Does anyone want to give me a job? :D

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger down, blogger down!

Well, Blogger had some hiccups as of late, and some comments and posts were lost in the process. I'm sorry everyone. I'm not being mean to you, it's the website, darnit!
In any case, should blogger have any other hiccups, I'll start a new backup blog on Livejournal. I hope it doesn't come to that though.
Well, carry on.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

We are here, we are here!

This morning, my inbox was flooded with news about how the rate of autism diagnoses may actually be twice than previously thought: 1 in 38.
I'm not a scientist. I'm going to let the good folks like Steven Novella handle whether this is a hiccup in data, a sign of over-diagnoses, a wider diagnostic criteria, or simply what it is seen as now: A sign that we've been neglecting some with autism who manifest differently from what's expected.
All I have to say is this: If this is true, then it is critically important, now, more than ever, that we fight for the rights of autistic people in all areas: schooling, healthcare, education, employment, equal participation, and anything else which may have been previously neglected. Because if there is 1 in every 38 people with autism, we are going to need all the support and understanding we can get.
We are here to stay, world of neurotypicals. You can't sweep us under the rug anymore.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It's not easy, but it's not saintly

Lately, I've been getting a lot of comments from fans, telling me that I am "saintly" for accepting and loving my girlfriend as she transitions. Well, thanks to you all, I'm grateful to see the support, obviously. But it's not a task which I consider arduous, or worthy of sainthood. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't at all difficult, or if there weren't nights when I lay awake wondering about how it will all go, but anyone with an open mind, and open heart, and a healthy attitude towards love can do what I am doing now, whether as a family member, a romantic partner, or a friend. I'm hardly an expert, but these are the things which I have dealt with while she transitions.
I'd say probably the biggest challenge for me when I first realized that transition was going to be the route she would take was coping with how I, her, and our relationship would change in the eyes of the world. If you want me to be brutally honest, I was reminded of the scene from Fiddler On the Roof when Chava is begging Tevye to accept her love for her non-Jewish boyfriend, and he shoots her down, declares her essentially dead in his eyes. I haven't told any of my family yet, but I'm expecting just that, based on past statements about trans people and my mom's horror at the suggestion that I might be bisexual (That was my attempt at coming out, which quickly fizzled and forced me to abort all attempts to talk about it)
Family is one thing, and I have been building myself up mentally for the possibility of being disowned by them for several months now. Beyond them, I am also fearful of other folks, ones I haven't even met yet: Landlords, future bosses, coworkers, airport security officials, basically, I have internalized a fear of every stranger who may have power over my life and how I live it. When I read stories about trans people being deported when trying to travel abroad, having a difficult time being treated with dignity by healthcare professionals, or being denied housing/employment, I bite my lip, and try to remind myself that not all will be like that, that there is hope. But I worry often about our dreams of travel. She and I used to spend hours awake together, whispering "Let's go to Bahrain" or "Let's go to Ukraine" or "Let's go to Java", and detailing our adventures, the sights we'd see, the museums we'd frequent, the food we'd try, the bodies of water we would swim in.
Occasionally we would worry about some places being unsafe to travel, either because we are Westerners, or because I'm Jewish. But now, it's much more frightening to think, as two women travelling together, one of whom is trans, about our safety when travelling abroad. Hell, it's a nightmare to think about our safety in our very own neighbourhood! That has probably been the biggest shocker to adjust to, more than anything else. It's a truly unfair choice: Live as we truly are and be ourselves, or have to give up on a good portion of a dream we shared as a couple.
Another thing which I have had a hard time adjusting to is having to be patient. My girlfriend, bless her, she's a physicist. Her interest lays inherently in plotting things out, looking for the little cogs which make the big machine work, and carefully conducting step-by-step to get to the end. I'm the exact opposite. I am interested in results, fast. So when she began going to her therapist, I thought, "Well, that's great, we can get the ball rolling, put you in a dress, and I'll teach you how to wear heels without breaking an ankle."" No," was the answer I got. "We have to take this slow. Make sure to gradually begin to feminize [girlfriend's] appearance, little things, like growing out hair more, and then we can work our way up to electrolysis, feminization, and hormones."
That frustrated me. What probably aggravated me the most was the fact that my girlfriend was reluctant to "come out" to the world. As far as the majority of the world of our friends and acquaintances and people we see every day is concerned, we are still a heterosexual couple and my girlfriend is a red-blooded Canadian boy. I began to get impatient with the slowness, I was eager to come out, and we have probably had more fights over this issue than any other. I don't want to live in a closet, I argue, and why should we hide who we are from our friends? We have nothing to be embarrassed about.
But in making this argument, I was ignoring my girlfriend's right to control how she comes out and the pace at which she would feel comfortable. I'm an absolute jerk for doing that, I know. It was hard for me to cope with the slow pace, but that's no excuse for being so bossy and domineering over HER transition. When I realized this, I apologized, offered her a hug, and decided it's time for me to take Don't Be a Jerk lessons, if anyone's offering.
As time goes on, I know other issues are going to come up. Hormones can make people grumpy or curt, medical procedures are difficult to deal with, and all those years of integrated prejudice and bigotry aren't going to come off with elbow grease alone. But I have to keep growing, keep learning, and realize above all else: It's not about me. It's her journey, and I'm just a helping hand. I'm not a perfect partner, but I've got to do my very best to make this as easy and pain-free for her as possible. It's my honour and my duty to love my girlfriend and help her be at her happiest as a woman. Our relationship with each other, society, our family, and just about everyone else is going to change, but we'll still be the same people, and still have love and unbreakable friendship as a foundation of our togetherness.
It's not been all champagne and chocolates. But it's quite the interesting journey, if you can learn to not be a backseat driver.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

O, Children

For some reason, a lot of people assume right off the bat that I don't like children and don't want any children of my own. When pressed, people have told me that the reason they assume this is because I would likely have an autistic child, and wouldn't that be hard? They also tell me that they feel that parenting would be too hard for me because of my disability.
In a world as screwy as this, I'm just somewhat grateful to see people acknowledge that autism most likely has a genetic cause. But this implication still bothers me.
It bothers me because it treats a disabled child like an inherent curse, instead of seeing a planned child, no matter what their ability or neurotype is, as a blessing and a treasure. It bothers me because it assumes that disabled people are de facto bad parents.
One of the most screwed up reasons I've heard people assume I didn't want children though, was the idea that I would be "incapable of showing love and affection to them." In fact, for most of my teen years, I made a vow to never become a parent, because I swallowed this idea that I couldn't feel, show, or express love, and I worried that I would be a ruinous parent for this reason. Now, I know that that stereotype is just that: A cruel, malicious presumption based on a misunderstanding of how I think, feel, and love. But the idea that I would be a bad parent because of this lingers, and it upsets me greatly.
I do have my reservations about having children. I'm too young to think about it now too deeply, but I'm concerned about the environmental implications of having children, I worry about losing out on living many of my dreams by having children, I worry about how I as a person with Sensory Processing Disorder would handle labour pains and pregnancy, I'm concerned about how I would choose a proper "donor", and I am concerned about my child being bullied, not just for being autistic, but for being the child of two lesbians, one of whom is trans. These reasons don't mean that I don't want children because I'm autistic. They just mean I have a difficult time intellectually with meshing my life as it is now with the life of a mother.
Whatever the case, disability does not mean that someone will inherently be a bad mother. Ever. Neither does weight, age, race, neurotype, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, religious background, past history, or military status. We have to stop thinking that there is only one "right" type of mother. It is this type of narrow mentality which also creates the paradigm of the "right" kind of child, which has led to much suffering, grief, and anguish for all involved when it comes to autism, for reasons I don't believe I need to elaborate upon.

My Reality versus Your Normality

You want to know what really irks me? When people say that I "constantly remind people" of my autism, or my Jewishness, or my queerness. That I "always bring it up", and that they don't mind that part of me, in fact they love me very much, they just wish I didn't "constantly bring it up."
At first, I took this admonition seriously, and more or less stopped talking about autism, Judaism, queer issues, and myself in the context of the two. But when I was making a concentrated effort to not talk about these aspects of my personality, I started observing what happened when neurotypical goyishe heterosexual people talked about themselves, and- chee! They drop hints about their religious/ethnic background, their sexuality, and their neurotype all the time. They talk about going out to dinner with their girlfriend, whether or not it was a "proper girly gift" to get her say, a Nintendo DS, about possibly getting married and having children, about going to concerts, plays, and other events where I need earplugs, talk about social interactions and make sweeping generalizations about how people act in these situations, and talk about how they are going to spend their Christmas, or what they're going to have for Easter dinner with their families.
Really now, how is that any different from when I talk about my girlfriend, about our somewhat limited choices in terms of marriage and children, about why I can't eat bread today because it's Passover, or how I usually date within my own neurotype simply because it's more compatible?
The answer didn't come to me until I started thinking about what these three qualities have in common, besides being shared by me: The problem lay in the fact that neurotypicality, coming from a Christian background, and heterosexuality are considered the "norm". When you talk about them with "I" or "Me" language, you are simply describing something you assume everyone, or the majority, shares with you. When I talk about my three differing traits however, I'm seen as asserting a difference, and that makes people feel uncomfortable, because it pushes away their expectations of what's "normal" and expected.
Either way, I can't not talk about these things. They are a part of me and my life. I just hope they will some day be respected as normal and acceptable to talk about without being seen as "pushy" or "constantly reminding" every time I try to have an ordinary conversation. What's normal for me may not be normal for someone else, and that goes for everyone. Nobody's back story or facts of life should be treated as the absolute norm, because it inherently builds a fence around a rather small section of a very big, beautiful garden.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On Feminerds and Asperger Syndrome

Jarrah of Gender Focus has a new series on nerdiness, womanhood, and feminism going up at Bitch Magazine. One of her first posts details the ever-so-popular stereotype on the hyper-male brain as it relates to autism, specifically, Asperger Syndrome, and nerdiness. What I find interesting, not about the post itself, but about one of the topics discussed, is that while Sheldon Cooper has been labelled as autistic by fans (I'm not disputing that, I'm a fan of the show, and boy howdy, as someone with OCD and autism...) his "friend who happens to be a girl", Amy Farrah Fowler, played by the delightful Mayim Bialik, has not been given the same demand for diagnoses, even though she is essentially a female Sheldon. I relate more to her than to Sheldon, because she was more pragmatic, practical, less arrogant, and is shown, unlike Sheldon, to have a sex drive. I would say she is autistic as well, but because she is a woman, has learned out of necessity to juggle social situations better than him. This is common in women with autism, myself included.
It's a good post, although a tad short, I hope to see more on this so-called male-female brain dichotomy as the series continues. Now, allow me to make my own contribution to the talk on nerdiness, autism, and the so-called male brain. This is a topic of interest to me, since I am a woman, autistic, queer, nerdy, and dating an autistic, queer, nerdy transwoman. Both of us have experienced erasure owing to this idea that autism, specially Asperger Syndrome, is inherently male, and, for some reason, the idea that AS means that you must be good in the hard sciences. Please note I am not a neurologist, a psychiatrist, or therapist. I'm merely a person with autism who distrusts this idea that we must fit into such narrowly prescribed categories. For a downtake on autism and this hyper male brain stuff from a less folksy and anecdotal POV, I recommend the always excellent Lindsay, at Autist's Corner.
To get it out of the way, my girlfriend is a theoretical physicist, and as an undergrad, she double majored in Mathematical Physics and Medieval History. I myself am almost finished with my undergraduate degree, and I'll be graduating with a B.A in Pacific & Asian Studies, after which I intend to pursue a Master's in International Relations, after deciding that I just wasn't cut out for Law. Both of us have our strengths and our weaknesses, my strengths are in languages, linguistics, art history, and Indigenous cultures. Her strengths lie in mathematics, physics, European history and literature, history of science, Middle Eastern culture, and we have overlapping interests in poetry, writing, and art, as well as a plethora of nerdy non-academic interests which are too long to list here. :-)
Neither of us see our interests as inherently male or female, and we didn't even before my girlfriend came out and was living as a presumed man. They were our passions, and they were not limited by our gender or sex. Our strengths are, in our eyes, provided partially by our environment. I grew up in a household that was absolutely rich in art books of the coffee table variety, owing to growing up in a town with many galleries and having a family who knew many of the gallery owners, hence my interest in art history. My girlfriend however, is the child of a mathematician who grew up surrounded by books on maths. Both of us had fathers who presumably have/had autism, and their interests were just as different and varied as ours are. The only thing connecting them was the love and passion with which they pursued their interests.
That's just a big huge disclaimer there. Now, let me explain what stereotyping autism as being a "male" brain means in both the practical and emotional aspects for me.
There is a huge problem with girls with autism being overlooked for a diagnosis. This led to a once common belief that autism affected males more, but the truth is, that gap is slowly closing now. It turns out, the real reason there has been such an imbalanced gender ratio had less to do with genes, and more with different manifestations of the symptoms of autism and the overlooking of girls who did not display the traits in an identical fashion to their male peers. We are all, in other words, Amys to the Sheldons of autism, being more or less ignored for diagnosis because we may have different ways of expressing our autism or may have become better at hiding the more obvious manifestations, owing to the greater societal pressure on girls to be polite, sweet, tender, matronly, and submissive, traits which don't come naturally to me, or, I imagine, other autistic girls. When we talk about autism in terms of male brains, we condemn these undiagnosed girls and women to a life where a diagnosis may not ever become tangible.
Secondly, it ghettoises autistic women who have a diagnosis and have learned to accept it. In spite of the arguably most famous autistic person in the world being a woman, we are still frequently left out of the conversation about autism on a societal level. In children's books about autism, the out autistic characters are almost always boys or male-identified. Same with television, or literature, the only prominent character with autism who was a woman I can even think of in fiction was Lisbeth Salander, who never had the condition explained to her, but was instead whispered behind closed doors or in monologues. Women with autism, as much as autistic men, need to see a variety of representations of themselves, to help develop a positive image of themselves and their disability. Having only one female autistic role model can lead some autistic women to feel they must emulate the prominent autistic woman in every fashion, even if it's not what they truly feel comfortable with.
And finally, it completely and utterly shoves all autistic people into neat little boxes of gender binary which they will most certainly not fit in. Whatever the reason, I have noticed more autistic people are gay, bisexual, genderqueer, trans, or just more comfortable with gender experimentation than the general population. What good does it do to put these people into the "male" brain category? Their gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation has been misunderstood enough, and this just piles onto that.
One of the things which attracted me to nerd culture was the fact that I could, in most spaces, be myself. I was not expected to emulate the behaviour of a "proper" woman, or act in a way that made me uncomfortable or less than true to myself. I could chatter about phallic symbols in the works of Yukio Mishima, video games, and the best alien hairstyles on Star Trek without repercussion. Nerd culture is flawed, but many parts of it are much more liberating in terms of "Acceptable" behaviour than mainstream society. Why would you try to rob it of that trait in order to satisfy some poorly constructed theory towards disability?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

ADAPTing to the election results: True Patriot Love

While I was sullenly contemplating the election results, I went out to lunch with a friend, a much older friend, who has been involved in disability activism since she was my age, so, for nearly 40 years, if my math is correct. She was keeping close watch on her phone, and showing me pictures and tweets from Washington, DC, of her friends and allies getting arrested while in Paul Ryan's office, fighting cuts to Medicare. My friend was recalling all the times she had been in DC herself getting arrested to fight for the rights of the disabled.
I was in awe. I felt like humbled, because hours earlier, I had been contemplating fleeing Canada in order to find greener pastures in Sweden or Norway for the disabled, queer progressive and her disabled, queer, trans girlfriend. But these people, my elders, including my friend, who has been a mother figure to me while I have lived in Montana, was showing me the proof of what can be done if you stay and fight.
I will never judge anyone who decides to seek out a better life for themselves in another country. But I have decided, after fearfully leafing through a Swedish dictionary, that I can and will stay to fight for Canada up to 2015 and beyond. I'm tired of running, for one. And secondly, I began thinking of how people like Harper and conservatives had stolen and modified the word "patriot" and created this artificial dichotomy between "true" Canadians and everyone else.
I'm a patriot too. I'm a Canadian too. And this is my country as much as it is for a conservative anglo Christian who was born in Canada. And I can no longer passively allow such language, such ideas, such exceptionalism run rampant at the expense of the happiness, safety, and liberty of my fellow Canadians, my beautiful girlfriend, and myself.
My elders in the disability community, thank you for giving me a valuable lesson in courage.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Meanwhile, up in Canada....

My heart is officially broken. I had set so much of my hopes on Canada. Compared to the United States, it is practically paradise. But after tonight's election, which has resulted in a conservative majority government, I am left wondering just how is this going to be an improvement, when the Tories are hell-bent on remaking Canada in the image of the United States?
I am not going to go too deep into politics here, because I'm sick of esotericism and abstraction in this process. I've really, truly, had enough of that.
What this election means for me is more than stuff like "the economy" and GDP points and numbers on charts. For me, this election put my civil rights, and those of my girlfriend, at stake. The Conservatives have made it clear that the rights of queer people and trans* individuals are something to be sneered at, if not actively opposed.
To hear the election described as such a detached, mildly interesting thing by cis straight people made my blood boil. Tonight, my girlfriend and I sat quietly in front of our computers, watching the results and crying. Yes, crying. Weeping for the realization that our dreams were crumbling before our eyes. We dream(ed) of a lovely house for two with a garden on Vancouver Island, of tenured work for her and respected work for me, of a lovely wedding in the Butchart Gardens.
What chance of that is there when gender identity and gender expression are only not protected, but the rights of our people will be seriously undermined on purpose? What chance do we have of getting a mortgage without the realtor refusing to sell to us? What chance do we have of renting an apartment from a bigoted landlord when we can't sue for discrimination? What chance do we have of having our dream jobs when we can be fired willy-nilly without having the chance to make it right? What chance do we have at a joyous wedding when our rights will be chip-chipped away at before our very eyes?
I believed in Canada. Now I don't know what's left to believe in, not even 2015.

Friday, April 29, 2011

If Not Within Myself, Where?

Well, time for an embarrassing confession: I'm a writer. Not a professional writer, a published writer, or even necessarily a good writer. Just a writer. I write fiction and poetry, and I'm enrolled in a creative writing class this semester, which is one of the reason this has been a stressful, but rewarding, semester.
Part of the experience of a creative writing class is having your stories work-shopped, and so far, I've had glowing reviews of the stories I have submitted, often being praised for my "unusual" or "unique" viewpoints and characters, which is pretty much the best darn critique I could ask for.
But I also get asked a lot about why my characters seem to "live inside their heads". Of the stories I have submitted, most of them have had characters either alone and talking to themselves or imaginary people, or else they are with other people, but observe with an inner monologue more than engage in dialogue with other characters, save on vanishingly rare occasions.
I don't do it on purpose. I don't set out attempting to write the next Dexter, I promise. My writing isn't nearly witty enough. But the problem is, most of my life is contained within my head. I limit the amount of talking I do on purpose (Though I still would be considered a chatterbox by most) because I know most people aren't interested in it. As a result, I spend most of my time thinking, and observing. So, it seems natural to me to write characters who spend a majority of their time observing. When I do write dialogue, I try my best, and I am more than capable of writing a variety of characters who are much more loud, chatty, rambunctious and social, but something always feels like it's missing, or I am misinterpreting something. I don't know how to make it leap off the page the way some of my observations for the characters do.
At first, this bothered me greatly. But as the workshop has progressed, I feel two things have improved: My dialogue writing, and my attitude towards my weakness in dialogue writing. After all, I firmly believe that one of the best parts of reading a variety of authors from different backgrounds is that you get different perspectives. Put ten writers together and give them a premise, and ten of them will give a different story. When I thought of this, I realized that my neurotype didn't mean I could never be a good writer. It just meant I'd be another type of writer. It may not be my strong suit, but there is nothing wrong with writing what I know and how I know to communicate.
After the class is over, I intend to submit my work, with a bit more dialogue sprinkled in, but I hope that the editors, the powers that be, will maybe appreciate a story which is more withdrawn and less action-packed than average. After all, as many different authors as there are out there, there are even more different types of readers to reach.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The biggest example of "Dude, Not Funny" in the history of local newspaper cartoons?

Trigger Warning for discussions of depictions of domestic abuse

Like many a liberal arts college with a strong journalism program, my university has a student paper. As far as student papers go, it's not bad, and the layout has changed to be a bit more clean and professional since I was a freshman. It's usually got a few typos and the columns aren't always top quality, but I am not expecting the London Times or anything. It also gained some notoriety for a sex column a while ago, owing to the pearl-clutching ridiculousness of an overly right-wing, prudish professor. The sad thing is, while that gained nationwide attention and sparked a huge campus dialogue, what I am about to complain about probably won't even register on most people's radars.
I read the paper every day, from cover-to-cover. It's a good way to not only catch up on the news going 'round the university, but I get also a good laugh out of the Police Blotter and a few of the other lighter features. I also get to remind myself as to why I no longer major in journalism.
Today while reading the paper, I came across an editorial cartoon which isn't available on the internet, but which I'll describe here for your consideration. This is from memory, so bear with me, it may not be 100% perfect total recall, but the gist of it:
It pictured a woman who was visibly battered and bruised sitting on a bench with two police officers, one male, one female, and one of the police officers says, "Calm down, now tell me what he did?" and the woman replies, "He just kept hitting me with student fee after student fee!" The caption of the cartoon reads, "Not even the SARC (Student Assault Resource Center) could prepare for the greatest abuse on campus!"
What. The Ever Loving Fuck.
So, not only did they use graphic and disgusting imagery of violence against a woman, they tastelessly used it to promote the idea that paying $5 for a PIRG or an Athletic fee is comparable to the horror of undergoing domestic violence and battery. They even had the audacity to add a dollop of localized awful to the tasteless confection by bringing in the university's SARC, whose services have been utilized by countless women here who have survived the trauma of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and battery.
I didn't think there's anything I can add to this. The tastelessness and outright nasty arrogance of the cartoonist seems clear to me, but since this comic was created and greenlighted to be put in the paper in the first place, I'll say this:
Just as it is wrong for the Tea Party to compare taxation to rape, it is equally wrong, on many levels, for one to insinuate that there is any comparison between going to college and being asked to pay some extra money (A few of the student fees are refundable by the way, or you can opt out of them) to pay for programs on campus, and being violently assaulted. I am a survivor of abuse, and the lingering horror, post traumatic stress disorder, and plethora of issues with intimacy, loving, and trust cannot be flippantly used as a vehicle to whine about your wallet hurting slightly.
Or, to put it more succincty:
Shame on you for printing this, student paper. If I had my way, the cartoonist and entire editorial staff would be spending a week volunteering at the local YWCA, so they could get a taste of the pain and suffering domestic abuse survivors go through, if it would prevent them from ever thinking this is okay in the future.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sex & The Spectrum: One Asexual Partner & One Sexual Partner

For many relationships, sex is the glue that keeps people together and ensures good workings in most other aspects of the relationship. And let's face it, sex is good for you. It's a stress reliever, a form of exercise, it helps you sleep better... What a wonderful thing! (Also applies to masturbation)
But what happens when you have a relationship where one of the partners is asexual (Also known as nonsexual)? Well, I'm about to tell you, from personal experience.
My girlfriend is asexual. In her terms, that just means she has absolutely no interest in sexual intercourse. She has no qualms about other forms of intimacy (She gives the BEST hugs!) or affection, and we love stimulating each other through touch, such as squeezing each other, hugging, rubbing up against one another, kissing, and holding hands, and we both love deep pressure. Light pressure, like tickling or light touching, overstimulates her however, so we avoid doing it.
She didn't tell me that she was not interested in sex when we first started dating, I assumed that we would have sex when we were ready. I was quite surprised she didn't request sex.
Eventually she told me why things weren't going as I expected, and, to be honest, I wasn't very open minded. I suggested that it may have a biological source, such as lacking in hormones, or some sort of sexual dysfunction, and pressured her to see a sexologist so that she could try viagra (my girlfriend is trans) or some other drug to see if it would bring about sexual desire. She wasn't enthused about this idea at all, and tried to explain to me that it wasn't something caused by a deficiency, it was just the way she was. She used the word "asexual" to explain it, which I was only familiar with in a purely biological sense.
Before I saw her again, I looked up information on asexuality online. One person, who, sadly, I can't remember, compared an asexual POV to that of the average human being visiting a planet where everyone has an obsessive eyebrow fetish. You're fine with eyebrows, but can't understand why everyone else is so obsessed with them. There are entire magazines devoted to eyebrows, television shows, and constant discussion about how to best approach talking about eyebrows. Wouldn't you be baffled too?
That helped me develop a better understanding of what was going through her mind, and why our sex life wasn't what I had originally expected. To resolve anything else I was feeling about the situation, I talked to her about what my wants and needs were, and she and I are continuing a dialogue to come to an understanding as to how to best work through my desire for sex, but wanting to respect her lack of desire, and her trying to satisfy my sexual needs but not have to do anything she is uncomfortable with.
We're still working on it; there's no perfect solution. Fortunately, the need for intimate touch and contact is addressed happily, since we both want and appreciate physical touch, and that aspect is fulfilled. But it's not easy, for either of us, and is an ongoing journey of balance. On my side, I have to find other ways to fulfil my sex drive, such as becoming a regular at Babeland, and dealing with lingering feelings of hurt and inadequacy, feeling that it is somehow my fault that my girlfriend isn't attracted to me sexually.
But I believe, in spite of these road bumps, that it is more than possible for a relationship between an asexual person and a sexual person to be successful, happy, and celebrated. The key is the same as any relationship, communication with your partner and sharing what you want out of each other.
Above all else though, there's a certain amount of happiness to dating an asexual over dating a sexual person. I can always sleep at night knowing that there is something more than my looks or sex appeal which my girlfriend loves about me. She constantly praises non-surface qualities she adores in me which amaze her each day, and she is 100% genuine and true when uttering them. Sexual people can do this too, and in my opinion, should do this more often. There's also the fact that we are, at the very core of our relationship, best friends. There is no worry that our relationship is devoid of any meaning beyond the sex, no anxiety over running out of things to talk about, or falling short conversationally.
All in all, the best words to describe a sexual/asexual relationship: Refreshing, rebellious, and full of the most special and intimate of love.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Book Review: The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon

Originally posted at my Goodreads Account. The original review can be found here. Also: If you don't have a goodreads account, and you're an active reader like me, I highly recommend it.

***Spoiler Alert***
Immediately after finishing The Speed of Dark, I was forced to sit down in a quiet corner for a few minutes and cry, shivering and trying to bring myself "back to planet earth" so to speak. That's how upset I was, as an autistic person, by Lou, the protagonist, meeting such a fate. There are very few adult autistic protagonists out there for me to relate to. The one I have been most strongly influenced by is Lisbeth Salander, of the Millennium Trilogy. Lou Arrendale, of The Speed of Dark, had great promise as another one that I could relate to. But, by the end of the novel, he is no longer Lou as I knew him in the rest of the novel. He had completely transformed into an unrecognisable neurotypical, because he had elected to have a new treatment which made him "normal", in the words of the book.
It's an upsetting, horrible realization of what was inevitable all along; in a society that did not respect Lou's disability, it would be only a matter of time before he was pressured by one thing or another into accepting the "cure" that was made available in the story.
But that doesn't mean that this was a bad book, or that Elizabeth Moon, the author, was condoning the disablist notion that autistic people would be better with a cure. Far from it. Lou's fate is tragic, and she makes this clear. He loses interest in the things he loves doing, he becomes detached from his friends, and his life takes on a bland desperation.
It leaves a grim impression towards the end, but before it slid down that sad road, I greatly enjoyed my journey with Lou, and felt great sympathy for him, living in such an uncertain world for people like him. I can relate as another autistic person who is extremely disturbed by the eliminationist rhetoric which surrounds conversations about autism in the mainstream. In one way, I envied the world Lou inhabited, because he received workplace accommodations I could only dream of. But he was in a hellish world for me, the last of his kind, and facing a future where it is certain that after he dies (or is "cured") there will be no more like him. There are no autistic elders for him to seek consolation or advice from, and no autistic children to guide and offer help to. A true nightmare, being an endangered species.
Lou seems content with many aspects of his life though, and has friends who are both neurotypical and autistic like him. He holds down a job doing pattern recognition, and is given the necessary tools to have a job, like a gym to stim, colourful accessories for his office, and breaks to listen to music. Heavenly.
However, in the eyes of one of his bosses, this is considered a nuisance, and he seeks to "cure" the auties working for his company in order to minimize what he sees as unnecessary expenses, to fund an expensive space project. This space project ends up being a sort of Chekhov's Gun for Lou after he is given the treatment, it is significant that it is the original catalyst in pushing for him to be cured.
As the novel progresses and it becomes unclear whether Mr Crenshaw, the boss, will have his way with the autistic employees, Lou's life is revealed to be one of orderly calm. It is disrupted, however, by this news of Mr Crenshaw's scheme, and his love for a neurotypical woman, which becomes a central point of his life as he grapples with whether to ask her out or not, and he feels the fallout of another man's jealousy, which takes a violent turn.
There are many other plot points in the story which seem unresolved or are simply dropped once Lou is "cured"; his relationship with a neuro-atypical woman named Emmy who sneers at him for hanging around "normals", but seems to harbour a crush on him, the autistic brother of another boss, Mr Aldrin, and the potential Lou has to become a fencing champion. All sort of sputter and die once the treatment drops the ball.
The writing isn't what I would call airtight, I mentioned earlier broken threads, and there is some meandering to the writing, and sometimes tangents which don't advance the story or plot, such as when Lou contemplates the fate of someone who attacked him. In this century, there's a rather Alex DeLarge style treatment used which cures violent impulses of criminals, and Lou spends much time musing on the implications of such technology, but never really comes to a fine point on how this relates to his upcoming treatment, and how his brain will be altered.
But the strength of Lou as a character, his tragic fate, and the pro-neurodiversity message outweigh the weaknesses. It may have an unhappy ending, but it is not the end for autism. Moon wrote this before the burgeoning of autistic self-advocacy, and I get the feeling that works like these which plea for understanding rather than hasty disablist cures will aid a rosier future for people with autism become a reality.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Advocacy as a Mitzvah

"Where is my light? My light is in me.
Where is my hope? My hope is in me.
Where is my strength? My strength is in me – and in you"
- Rabbi Sherwin Wine
Before I get rolling on this, here's a tidbit from Wikipedia to help you stay on the same page as me:
The secondary meaning of Mitzvah refers to a moral deed performed as a religious duty. As such, the term mitzvah has also come to express an act of human kindness. The tertiary meaning of Mitzvah also refers to the fulfillment of a mitzvah.
Alright. Good. We got that out of the way. Goyishe readers, you're welcome.

What I am attempting to convey is what my work in autistic self-advocacy means to me as a Jewish woman. I'm not the first Jewish woman to have to come to terms with her autism, in fact, a cursory glance at the greats of autistic self-advocacy is filled with a great treasury of strong Jewish women with autism. I hope they count me as a peer, though I do not compare to them in terms of brilliance, strength, and perseverance. But, my autism and my Jewish background and Jewish outlook have influenced the way I approach my life, and that includes the way I approach my disability, and how to best defend myself when faced with opposition because of my autism. So, here's my story.
I'm not religious, really. If you were to dissect me post-mortem, my ghost would be utterly unsurprised if there were no spiritual bones found. But I maintain a strong grip on my identity as a Jew, even though I did not grow up in a religious household. As suspected fellow autie Albert Einstein put it:
"The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, an almost fanatical love of justice and the desire for personal independence -- these are the features of the Jewish tradition which make me thank my stars that I belong to it.
That sums up just about everything I love about it, thank you, Dr. Einstein.
It is also what brings me to the title of this post. I explained already what a Mitzvah is, in this context, but how does that relate to autistic advocacy? Well, simply put, part of what I do and why I do it relates to the past, but most of it is firmly planted in the future. I came to be an advocate and an activist because of my past, because I was placed, against my will, amongst the damned. Many others were damned along with me, condemned to a life that was less fulfilling and lacking in encouragement towards goals and dreams, simply because they were like me, neurological rebels with various disabilities. Some managed to stoke up enough of a fire in the belly to escape the confines set down for them against their will. Others, for various reasons, couldn't escape.
What I do now is not only for those of us who escaped, it's for those who are still trapped, and, most importantly to me, for those who will come after me. A lot of the autism awareness schmaltz I dislike so heartily focuses on children, and that's part of the reason it rubs me the wrong way as an autistic adult. But that doesn't mean I don't care deeply about these children and their lives. But I tend to think more about what life will be like for them at the age I'm at now. Will they be bullied and harassed at work/school? Will their professors and bosses not comply with their wishes for accommodations? Will it be too overwhelming for them to enter the world of careers, colleges, and a new set of unyielding rules so different from those in childhood?
I have no real role models in the world of autism to look up to when it comes to issues like schooling and adult issues. I had books, I had people on television. But there were no people directly involved in my life who had autism whom I could confide in. My father, who is the likely candidate from where I inherited my autism, died when I was 13, and my mother is almost frighteningly neurotypical. For the longest time after my diagnosis, I craved a parent-or-older-sibling figure with autism, one whom I could look upon as proof to myself that my life was not being wasted, that I could in fact, make it on my own, as this theoretical role model did. Without sounding too egotistical, I hope that the legacy of myself and other autistic advocates will ripple out to multitudes of autistic people who will be entering adulthood a few years down the road. I already talk with autistic teenagers at the Children's Development Centre, and from the looks of their life stories, life hasn't gotten any easier for your average autistic since I graduated high school.
But it's my hope that they at least know, through their interactions with autistic adults like myself (I'm not the only one with speaking gigs) that it does get better if you persevere. It's heartbreaking to see an autistic youth give up on ever living a happy life, and I've seen it happen too often.
For me, helping ensure, either through direct, hands-on means, like talking to autistic teens and youth, or more bureaucratically, by fighting for equal access for autistic college students, battling eliminationist rhetoric in conversations about autism, and talking about autism with the credo of "nothing about us without us" that these kids get a chance at a better life than I had at their age, is a mitzvah.
For me, the liberation of autistic people from the confines holding them back now is a very Jewish goal. We are all too familiar with the pursuit of freedom from tyranny, and this includes the tyranny of disablism. This is not the only way to view autistic advocacy, but it is one way I look upon it, and it works very well for me.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Queer & Nerdy: Why Not Make a Movie for Us?

Hooray! Hooray! It looks like there is finally going to be a nerdgirl movie!'s interview with the author sounds absolutely promising. Someone who collected Bajoran earrings as a teenager can't be a bad person. Period.
I am over the moon about this. I really enjoyed Scott Pilgrim, and I gobble up episodes of The Big Bang Theory like delicious candy. To put it more simply, I am a huge nerd. So is my dear significant other, in fact, she was the one who helped me embrace the more nerdy aspects of my personality, and fully introduced me to Star Trek and all that comes with it. We saw the new movie as our first date together. It's good to have nerdy women on the screen. Amy Farrah Fowler, for instance, is my significant other's ideal woman, and I can't disagree with that, nor when she teasingly declares me to be Seven of Nine because of my shitty understanding of social graces (heh) It's fun to have nerdy female icons. The last time I remember there being nerd women taking front and centre stage on the big screen was Ghost World, with Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson (Enid never said the N-word to describe herself, but those glasses and the kooky interests? Yup yup)
As for this particular nerdgirl movie, it says:
One Con Glory is a story about life, love, and action figures - and one woman's obsession with avoiding the first two while seeking the third. It follows Julie, a nerd culture reporter covering a giant comic book convention. A little too much drinking on the first night leads to antics that leave Julie with an ill-gotten classic action figure, a new relationship, and a blood feud against another reporter.
The sex/gender of Julie's new relationship is never stated. I was sort of excited about that, thinking there was a smidgin of a chance that her love interest could be a woman. But the picture above accompanying the article seemed to effectively kill that hunch. And I was left, well... more crushed than usual.
As I've detailed earlier, it's somewhat rare for there to be nerdy girls in cinema and media for me to look up to. An even rarer species seen on TV and movies is the nerdy girl who is also queer. The only example I can think of which is canon is Tara & Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And that ended with the former being killed and the latter going on an angry stampede in grief. Even rarer is the regular ol' geek girl who doesn't have any supernatural background, and happens to like women as much as she does action figures and Bajoran earrings.
Why is this? One of the things which drew me to nerd culture was how accepting of deviation from the norm it was, for a queer woman and an aspie, that's a double whammy. I will admit that the culture has some serious problems that need to be addressed, but all-in-all, I know many queer women involved actively in nerd culture, who deserve their moment to see someone with a love like theirs on the screen. It can be done, and I can see it being epic.
So, why not, Hollywood? If One Con Glory proves to be a hit (I'll certainly go see it) why not spread your wings of nerdiness further, and make a queer nerd movie? You'll be loved for it, and ten steps ahead everyone else.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Changing my postition on the UM Tobacco-free campus

For those of you who aren't students at my University, recently it was decided to make the campus tobacco-free, starting Fall 2011. If you want to smoke, chew, or use snus (all three are popular here) then you have to leave campus to do so. There's an exception in the rule for the ceremonial use of tobacco by First Nations for particular spiritual or social functions. Which is excellent, if they hadn't, it would have been an absolute failure of a policy. But in my view, it has a major flaw, which I will detail now.
Now, when I first heard about this rule, I was extremely worried, because my boss at the time was a heavy smoker who regularly took smoke breaks. This boss also hated my guts and made my life miserable, and I was dreading how mean she would be to me when she was going through a nicotine withdrawal. It would have been hell on earth.
Then, I quit my job, and found a new one, and I was able to focus on the long-term implications of the rule outside of me being treated like dirt. And I decided I was in favour of it. Smokers at UM have designated smoke areas, and are forbidden from smoking closer than 25 feet (7.62 m) to a building entrance, for obvious reasons. But many, my former boss included, disobeyed this ruling, and smoked right outside the building. This means that anyone who was exiting a building after class was treated to a humongous cloud of cigarette smoke right in their face.
I have sensory issues with certain scents, but tobacco isn't among them for me personally. For other people with SPD, or those with allergies or asthma, this is more than an inconvenience, it's a threat to their health. One which some smokers completely disregard for their own convenience. I concluded that, if banning tobacco outright was what it would take to stop this, then so be it. My right to good health outweighs the right of a smoker to engage in their habit.
I maintained this stance, offering a shrugging "too bad" to anyone who complained about the ruling. A few times, I saw a "When UM bans tobacco I will still smoke here" bulls-eyes on the sidewalks of campus, and didn't think much of it.
After visiting the University of Victoria though, I've decided that the tobacco ban will have unintended consequences for the University, not only for the campus, but the town of Missoula at large, if not the whole state, in terms of environmental health.
See, Victoria, according to my significant other, also has a tobacco free policy. She told me this after I was inquiring at the disgusting sight of cigarette butts scattered all over campus, concentrated outside buildings entrances. Apparently, in the discouraging of smoking on campus, UVic decided to remove the ashtrays that mark entrances of buildings to UM. So smokers have decided to instead, dump their butts wherever it strikes their fancy.
I should mention, for the geographically un-inclined, that Victoria is situated on an island, one where it rains. A lot. Meaning that each time it rains, those damn butts probably wash into the ocean surrounding the island, giving a big ol' dose of butts courtesy of inconsiderate UVic students, to the fish, whales, and other sea life which populate the Pacific Ocean in the Northwest. Lovely. Just lovely.
Missoula, to contrast, is inland, but has a river running through it. If the smokers at UM follow UVic's smokers' example after the ban goes into place, then UM's butts will wash up in the Clark Fork river, a nicotine treat for the turtles, fish, and waterfowl.
Since a group of UM's smokers have demonstrated before that they care very little about the well-being of fellow humans, I doubt they will extend any courtesy to the animal life of UM and consider the consequences of dumping their butts wherever they like. And once those ashtrays are gone, I'm almost certain some of those butts will end up on the ground and then in the river.
It's a G-d damn pity that we would have to accommodate the obscenely rude behaviour of a couple of selfish, pathetic individuals. But that is the case, sadly, and that's why ultimately, I've decided not to support banning tobacco at my university. It will go into effect no matter what, but it's my hope UM will at least take initiative to ensure that butts don't get dumped.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spring in Victoria: A photo dump

My Spring Break ends tomorrow. I spent all of it in Seattle, Vancouver, and Victoria. I'm a lousy photographer, but I thought I would share the photographic bounty that beautiful Victoria, my future home, offers.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shaking it up

Hi everybody! I'm on vacation with my lovely girlfriend right now in Victoria, checking out all of the terrific things about Uvic, in spite of the pouring rain.
While I'm living it up up North, why don't you saunter on over to Shakesville, where I have a lovely guest post on the month we love to hate up.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Damnit, blue is one of my favourite colours too!

So tonight, the CN tower and other buildings will be turning their lights blue to support "Autism Awareness". Why blue? Because blue is the official colour of Autism Speaks, the much-hated organization I have spilled much ink over. So basically, they're not supporting Autism Awareness with this, they're just giving a free plug to Autism Speaks.
Turning the lights blue goes beyond the usual fauxgressive charitable stunts to raise awareness of autism. It goes beyond silly stunts like posting your bra colour on facebook to raise breast cancer awareness or something similar. It's much more insidious, because it implies support of the message of Autism Speaks. The message of Autism Speaks has been consistently this: That autistic people are doomed without a cure, that our lives are meaningless, that an autism diagnosis is a catalyst to lifelong misery, divorce of the autistic person's parents, and turning an otherwise happy, white, upper-class family into a clusterfuck.
Nothing could be further from the truth. My life is not misery, I don't need a cure, nor does any autistic person, and I am not doomed by my autism.
If you see a blue building tonight, take a moment to remember that the blue light doesn't represent anything less than the worst of neurotypical presumptions and arrogance. That blue light doesn't illuminate, it casts shadows on the lives of every autistic person who has ever been told they're not good enough because of their disability.

Coming to a realization

Well, I broke up with my girlfriend yesterday.
This surprises me as much as it does anyone else. We were normally not a very quarrelsome couple, but this was the finale ultimo on top of it all. Our visit to each other over my spring break had been cancelled, and we weren't going to see each other again until May. We were a long distance relationship, in case you didn't guess.
It was a lot of factors, but I think the biggest two were the long distance, and the realization that I wasn't strong enough to deal with her transition.
The long distance thing meant we both spent an obscene amount of money just for the privilege of seeing each other, often only for two weeks at a time, usually at our parents' houses, before we wore out our welcome and had to leave. It was sweet, but ultimately bitter, realizing that on average we saw each other about 8 weeks out of the year, for three years in a row. That's not healthy, and the environmental impact of our visitations was drastically awful.
The other part requires me to admit a weakness to myself. I am not as big of an ally as I thought. I just can't hold her hand through all this while she transitions. The hormones, the money going into therapy, electrolysis, and surgery means that we would have to give up our original dream of owning a home together. Being two women in a relationship, especially with one trans woman, means an end to our dreams of travelling the world together and seeing all the sights we longed to visit, like Morocco, Hainan Island, Java, Santiago... All down the drain. Not to mention, I know that it wouldn't be long before my parents would find out, and disown me, leaving me financially and emotionally vulnerable. Is it really worth all that for a woman I never get to see?
Sometimes life just gets in the way of these things. I wish her all the best and hope that life treats her the very best. Even if that means taking me out of the picture.

Oh. By the way.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Choices of Life in Disability

A long time ago, a friend of mine who belongs to the Nakota branch of the Assiniboine Sioux people of Montana told me about how her tribe's religion views disability. She told me, essentially, that they believe that before I was born, I chose to become autistic, so that I could have my own unique life path and learn from it, even though I knew sometimes it would be more difficult. She told me this applies to all people with developmental disabilities, not just autism.
It got me thinking about a wonderful children's book I read when I was young: The Mountains of Tibet:

In the book, a young boy is born, where else, but the Mountains of Tibet. He notices, at a young age, the cosmos stretching out above him, and declares, "There are other worlds out there. Some day I will visit them." He declares his wish to visit not only the cosmos, but other countries, other people. He never does leave his valley though, and when he dies, he is given a chance to choose either to go to "The endless paradise some call heaven, or you can live a new life."
As he chooses to live a new life, he gets to pick the details of the life he will lead: Where he will live, who his parents will be, the colour of his skin, the nationality of his people, and finally, his sex, opting to be a girl, feeling that he used to be a boy in a previous life.

I don't 100% agree with the notion that we could choose our destinies and our life-paths before we are born; namely, the major wrench in the theory for me is my girlfriend, who was born with a male sex, but identifies with the gender of women. I'm certain that if she had been given the prenatal choice of her sex, she would have rapidly accepted being female. Or perhaps she chose specifically to be trans. It's a difficult path to follow, but it is a powerful one, and she and I are both stronger women now for helping each other as she transitions. Could there be more to that than I initially thought?
Primarily though, I thought about my autism. If I had been given such a choice, would I choose to be autistic? I will be the first to admit it can be difficult. Most of the struggles in my autism manifest from external forces, such as intolerance, misunderstanding, and neurotypical insistence on conformity. But I will not deny the pain in the ass that comes from having my ears work too well one moment and not work at all the next, or having to deal with sudden surges of dizzy light-shows in my brain, and other side effects of not processing everything the way neurotypicals do and expect all others to do.
However, I would keep my autism, no matter how many times I was asked, no matter how many theoretical lives I was reborn into. I hope I would remain autistic for all lifetimes, and, if there is such a thing as a soul, I do believe my soul is autistic.
So much of what I know, how I know it, and how I learned it, is tied to me being autistic. Every day, it proves to be exhilarating, and yet humbling and character building. Without my autism, I never would have realized the extent of my own strength. My disability is not romantic. But it is powerful, and above all else it is mine. If I chose it before I even knew my own name, I can accept that. Some might interpret it as my "cross to bear", but I think of it as my own path to walk. And let me tell you, the flower smell sweeter and the bird calls are much easier to hear when you have autism.

A quick link: Our Voice: Rethinking Autism

I saw this on a friend's facebook page. I recognize a few of the names on there, such as K Bjornstad, the beginner of Autistics Speaking Day and blogger at Katy Doesn't Live in Smithton, and Steven Knapp, whom I'm collaborating with on a project.
Enjoy Our Voice: Rethinking Autism: Here at this page:

Quick hit: Et Tu, Cho?

So, today I saw a plug for Autism Speaks on Margaret Cho's facebook page. Specifically, supporting the damn Gold Bunny. If you enter, you may win one signed by her. I'm bloody used to celebrities betraying me by supporting Autism Speaks. The biggest hurt of all was that awful "I am Autism" video made by Alfonso Cuaron, one of my favourite directors. -sigh-
So here is what I wrote on Margaret Cho's link to the contest. If she actually looks at her facebook page, I hope she considers my words:

Margaret, I love you, and I'm a big fan of yours. I'm also autistic, and I'm BEGGING YOU not to support Autism Speaks. They're hated and reviled in the autism community for using pity-baiting and not having any autistic representation on their board of directors or positions of power, which is radically outside of the norm of disability activism. Autism Speaks thoroughly defies the model of "Nothing about us without us."
They're also just a crappy charity. They're not recommended by the Better Business Bureau, and only 7 cents of every dollar donated to them goes to helping autistic families.
Please, if you want to support an autism related charity, consider the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, The Easter Seals, or the Autism Society of America. NOT Autism Speaks. I'm autistic, and Autism Speaks doesn't speak for me.
Here's to hoping, but I'm not that optimistic. That's my teaspoon for today. If I can get one celebrity to stop supporting the horribleness that is Autism Speaks, I'll upgrade myself from teaspoon to tablespoon for today. :-)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

You just lost, and you're still an asshole

Trigger Warning for Disablist language

A common "nugget of wisdom" I'll often hear about fighting on the internet goes something like this:

"Fighting on the internet is like winning the special olympics. You may win, but you are still retarded."

I heard a recent spin on this folksy piece of bullshit from a commenter on a blog I read:
"Nobody wins when stereotypes are being thrown around but sometimes it's just fun to play games where nobody wins. It's like the Special Olympics."

I beg your pardon?

It appears the two above ideas contradict each other. One person claims that you are capable of winning, but it is rendered moot by the bad fortune of having an intellectual disability. The other claims you can't win the special olympics, period. Neither of these are true. The athletes involved in the special olympics work very hard to get where they are at, and lord knows a lazy clod like me admires their dedication. I can't even muster up the energy to change the channel on TV some days, let alone run track.
For those unfamiliar, the motto of the special olympics is: "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."
With that in mind, let me be brave in the attempt to explain why it's bullshit to use the special olympics as your source for comparison on anything lazy, illogical, or futile.
There's all sorts of answers I can grant that, with pages worth of research on the hard work and dedication of special olympics athletes, their coaches, and all involved. How the special olympics isn't meant to display the futility of living with a disability, but show just how fulfilling it can make life with the right resources and outlook.
But I don't have the time for that. The special olympics deserves a greater defense than what I can offer, but since I am not an athlete and have never directly participated in an event, I can't offer much in personal perspective. But as a disabled person who knows what it's like to have my disability used as a source of ridicule, I will say this:
The special olympics is an event which brings together people from many walks of life who have many experiences, but all have the common experience of being intellectually disabled folks who worked hard as all hell to get where they are. That is not reflective of a ridiculous flame war, or a goofy moment of losing logic. All these sayings reflect is that the person saying them likely doesn't have a disabled person in their lives, and likely never will have a disabled person get close enough to them in order to explain why their arrogant similes are bullshit.
Because really, who wants to waste their time with such a loser, when you can be training or working towards fulfilling a dream? A concept that is utterly alien to them, but not to special olympic athletes, that's for sure.