Sunday, February 27, 2011

Zzzzzzz: Sleep Patterns

So lately, my sleep pattern has been disrupted. More than usual, I mean. Normally, I have difficulty falling asleep and often lay awake at night, and usually have my sleep disturbed by a variety of nightmares. I've been advised before multiple times to get a "sleep consultation" in order to figure out why this is. But I can't find any healthcare providers in my budget who offer one. And boy howdy, I need one more than ever.
See, rather than having difficulty falling asleep, I've now switched to the pattern of having positively no energy, and often end up slumping into bed after I get home from classes, and taking a nap that will last two to three hours, and waking up bone-tired and groggy. But then I don't have any trouble falling back to sleep again at 10:00 or whenever I finish my homework. Then I sleep until my alarm goes off, and the pattern repeats itself. Even on weekends when I don't have work and school, this happens.
I worry it may be a side effect of a burgeoning depression or anxiety. Or something less problematic, but still worrisome.
If I weren't someone who regularly watched TV on Thursday nights to catch The Big Bang Theory, I would think that this was unique to autistic people. But half an hour of TV watching with commercials included is more than enough to educate me on the fact that *everyone* seems to have trouble sleeping. With the promise of a new mattress, or Lunesta, or a special pillow, perfect sleep is just around the corner, and these are clearly directed at a neurotypical audience. But I do believe that we disabled folk have a particularly hard luck time with sleep.
For me, I have several tools to help sleep along, such as a weighted blanket to make me comfortable, a sleeping mask to block out excess light and put comfortable pressure on my forehead, and earplugs to block out obnoxious sounds. But as of late that doesn't seem to be aiding a restful sleep.
Does anyone out there have any suggestions for a better night's sleep that don't involve asking a poor college student to plunk down money she doesn't have?

Best Country for Autistic People?

I got curious tonight, and I googled "Best Country for Disabled People". I didn't get any real statistics or data on what the best country would be for a disabled person to live in. Primarily, I got travel tips and forum posts on the topic. Sometimes this included the most wheelchair-friendly tourist destinations, or places where you could, if you were not visibly blind (Mock me if you must for that wording) take a service dog without scrutiny. The closest I got to my desired result was a forum thread on the topic of the best countries for disabled people to reside in, with common choices being the UK, New Zealand, and Scandinavia.
Funny, I've always wanted to live in the latter two, particularly Norway or Sweden, and often dreamed of a home in New Zealand. But that's for reasons not related to my disability... Or is it?
Being a disability-friendly country goes beyond having essential legal rights enshrined in the law, accessible schools, public places, businesses and walkways, a high employment rate for the disabled, and high quality healthcare. Some things are beyond the power of politicians, and are related to the nature of the disability itself, varying. In this post, I'm going to talk about my own disabilities and how the ideal country for me stacks up because of it, but I'm eager for my readers on the spectrum and who are disabled in general to share their vision of an ideal nation or their dream destination. :)
With Autism, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, of course I want strong protections for the disabled written into the laws of the land. But politicians can't enforce certain things which make my disabilities run haywire. They can't cull their population just because I find crowds anxiety-inducing. And even though some countries, such as Japan, have been delightful and noble in their attempts to clean up their air pollution and reduce smog, you can't immediately clean up all that filth, though they should at least try. Plus, some areas (Missoula, Montana *cough cough wheeze*) are natural collectors of air pollution based on weather, climate, and geographical conditions. And it's going to be an uphill battle to get people to stop driving awfully loud motorcycles with no mufflers or souping up their crappy cars to make them sound faster because I find the noise unbearable. And they certainly can't demand that the winter season move along faster just because my extremities are more sensitive to icy temperatures and I get stiff and ill during the dry cold.
You get the idea. Based on my particular disabilities, the ideal country would have a mild climate with an ocean breeze (To wash away unpleasant smells) many quiet towns where I can pass the time without urban noise irritating me, minimal air pollution, and friendly people with a developed sense of personal space who wouldn't insist on invading or accidentally break through my bubble of privacy. It would also help if said place had beautiful architecture, lovely sunsets, and plenty of green spaces. So, LonelyPlanet posters, you are right, the winner of that particular contest can be none other than: Norway:

Since I was little, it was a dream of mine to move to Norway. The two "dream towns" I had in mind were Ålesund:

And Tromsø as well:
Port de Tromsø
Tragically, it will be a long time before I am able to make the great move to Norway. In the meantime, I've decided to get away from the grotty trapped air and dry mountain climate of Missoula, and make an odyssey to the closest thing I'll find to Norway in North America:

Victoria, BC.
This one has the added benefit of having a university, and a wee bit of family history to it. My father got to Maui, where I grew up, by participating in the Victoria to Maui Sailboat race, about 40 years ago. How's that for a special connection?
The only downside to Victoria is that English is, to my sensitive ears, not nearly as melodic a language as Norwegian, and as a tourist town, Victoria tends to have more crowds than Ålesund would during the summer. But it also is, in many ways, this autistic girl's dream town. There's a multitude of botanical gardens, and a bug museum, a butterfly house, a large beautiful museum, and many restaurants, including an Indian one (Which seems to be Missoula's biggest flaw according to tourists, the lack of an Indian restaurant) which may not seem like autism-centric things, but they help more than people realize. Quiet, peaceful spaces like gardens make it easier for me to clear my head, and there's a certain sensory pleasure to being surrounded by insects, particularly dragonflies, praying mantises, and butterflies, my three favourites. They also work well as places to take autistic children as a special reward once in a while.
So, readers, whether you are autistic or have another disability, what is your idea of a dream country? Any of them come close to being the one you want to pack up and move to, and why?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sex and the Spectrum: Self Pleasure

Scandalous! Today's topic is masturbation.
This one is probably not going to go over well. A lot of people don't like to think about it outside of the goofy context of a Seth Rogen film, and many more people don't like to admit that they do it. They especially don't like to admit that autistic people do it. As I've mentioned before, it's a popular, comforting notion for neurotypicals to categorize autistics as either completely sexually depraved and unable to ever find a sex partner, or completely celibate and disinterested in sex and masturbation. There are people on the spectrum who fit into both categories, though usually less extremely than the stereotypes would have you believe. But in the big middle are plenty of autistic people, myself included, who engage in solo sessions and enjoy them either on their own, or as part of a decent sex life with a partner(s).
The first time I can remember masturbation being discussed and perceived as taboo in a way I was old enough to understand what was being talked about was my Sophomore year of high school. By then, I had already developed a sex drive and masturbated regularly in private. While I considered it a private activity and knew better than to talk about it say, in front of my mother, the topic of "fingering" came up amongst my age mates one day. I didn't know what it was, so I asked for clarification. When it was explained to me, I shrugged, glad for the explanation, and said breezily, "Ah, okay. I do that to myself sometimes." and thought nothing further of it.
But that was only the beginning. One person in the group had a particular penchant for being a loudmouth, and soon, I randomly had concerned members of the school's S.O.U.L (Shout Out Until the Lord, take a guess what kind of group they were) Club coming up to me, and asking in squeaky, concerned voices, "Leah, is it true you masturbate?" with major emphasis on that last word, like they'd just asked if I was the one who shot JFK or peddled heroin. My usual answer, which I mastered perfectly around the 10th time I was asked that week, was usually an exasperated, "Yes, I do. And so do you. Everybody does it. Not just humans. Bonobos, camels, sheep, and bats do it too." This was usually followed with vehement denial on the part of the club member, decrying the activity and me as sinful, and offering to save my soul. I preferred the masturbation to the salvation, so I repeatedly declined. But I was repeatedly mystified at their boldfaced assertion that they did not masturbate, because it was sinful and ugly and evil. Thus my introduction to taboos against sex with someone you love.
Now, as an adult, the topic comes up less in terms of teenage hijinks, and more in relation to my disability advocacy work. I've had everybody, from parents to caretakers to neurotypical friends get uncomfortable at the idea that someone autistic could masturbate. One vivid quote I recall from someone was, "I don't think it's right to show an interest in that. It's just setting him up for disappointment, nobody will ever want him."
I guess it's fair to associate masturbation as a precursor to sex, but that's only exploring one particular facet of masturbation. It can also be employed as a sleep aid, as a stress relief, and it can just be used for the pleasure of itself, with no prospect of it ever advancing to sex with a partner. One example of this is asexual individuals (I've noticed a correlation between being on the spectrum and identifying as asexual, but that's for another day) who masturbate. They usually don't have much, if any, interest in a sexual partner, but many of them still masturbate for any of the reasons stated above. It's a healthy and accessible form of release for them.
And for autistic people who will never get a sexual partner, either because of lack of interest or lack of ability to attract one, masturbation can serve as a reliever of sexual tension. This ties back earlier to what I said about the importance of privacy and alone time for individuals on the spectrum; this allows them a chance to discover, as they reach puberty, that masturbation can be a way of removing stress. And I don't know if all can recall those wonder years, but it's stressful being a teenager and young adult. Doubly so if you are on the spectrum. Why not encourage (Or at least I hope, not discourage) a way for autistic people to learn to alleviate some of that stress, and improve their health? You don't have to buy sex toys for their birthday (For more discussion on that, see Asperger's Syndrome and Sexuality, I believe I recall a chapter was devoted to aids like that in masturbation) but don't violently react to the idea that autistic people need sexual release.
If the topic is handled appropriately, without shame, with the guidance of professionals, with an open mind, and with the opinions of the autistic person always being put first above any notions of purity or propriety, masturbation and self pleasure can be discussed healthfully and safely. It's important to discuss and set boundaries on when and where it is appropriate to do so, but there is no reason why the desire, if present, should be quashed. We have just as much of a right to know and love our bodies as neurotypicals, and in fact, since we are often possess a greater sensory awareness of our bodies and surroundings, masturbation could be a great way of appreciating and managing that awareness.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sorry for putting this on the back burner!

In September of last year, I resolved to delve into the positive attitude about autism espoused by several new age thinkers, most prominently, William Stillman. School and life got in the way of that, and I only got as far as The Horse Boy. This was also due to the public library and the university libraries not having any books on the subject. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is up for judgement.
So recently I've revived an interest in the subject and turned to the internet to help me find what I want, and I've even compiled a neat little wish list on Amazon of books that I've tabbed as possible review opportunities.
The problem right now is finance. I don't have enough pleasure money to spend on books right now, even at Amazon's terrific secondhand prices.
But once that clears up, I promise to continue this series, starting with Gift From My Son: Autism Redefined.
Wish me luck.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Women Who Like Drawing Women: A Random Art Post

I'm by no means an artist, but I love to draw. I'm a big believer in using drawing, painting, and other art forms as a way of relaxing and working with my hands to coax out my underdeveloped gross and fine motor skills. But it didn't start out as therapeutic, it was just something I picked up as a child, from years of observing beautiful paintings and drawings all around me.
I was blessed to grow up in an environment rich in art. Lahaina, HI boasts one of the healthiest collections of art galleries in the United States, and my father was friends with a couple of artists and gallery owners. This was partially due to his brief flirtation with doing art himself, he loved sculpture and painting. But, as he said, along with discovering his talent, he discovered what it means to be a "starving artist" and went into real estate. Lost the career in art, kept the friends in the business. So I have many fond memories in childhood of being surrounded by art, and that's transferred into adulthood as an appreciation of art and art history, and my own love of creating art.
One particular theme of my art that comes out over and over again is drawing women and girls. I drew illustrations to stories I wrote, and almost all the protagonists were female. I won a prize from my school in grade two for a story I wrote and illustrated of a group of girl astronauts boarding a magic ship to go to all the planets in the solar system to meet the alien inhabitants of each planet. All of the aliens were girls, and at the end, they all got on the magic ship together and had a picnic on Pluto. I had two major interests at the time: Astronomy and art, and they went together nicely in stories like this.
Since there were lots of prints of artwork in my house, I often tried to imitate what I saw in the prints, and most of them were pictures of women. Women riding horses, women staring in admiration at vases full of flowers, women sleeping and dreaming of dancing, women taking baths. I grew up surrounded by women, and my art reflects this. In my childhood, it was amazing for me to see women in art, for a variety of reasons. The most blatant two are related to imagination and role models: Imagination-wise, I could make up stories about the women in the pictures. The woman looking at the flower vase had made up the arrangement herself, and was entering it in a contest to win a prize she really wanted. The horse riding woman was out to rescue her kingdom from a two-headed dragon from Mars. There was no predetermined storyline I had to follow, like in a movie or a book. It was all up to me.
Secondly, that freedom of interpretation meant that I could find inspiration in these painted figures. They were a sight more inspiring and interesting than any Disney Princess or Skydancer. It inspired my own art, and my crayola markers filled pages of my father's printer paper (Sorry, Dad) with pictures of me and the women in the paintings on adventures. But there was a down side as well.
To this day, I can't draw a decent male. I have tried time in and time out. I can do women, monsters, animals, children, landscapes, and mystical creatures that are vaguely to not-so-very humanoid, but human men continue to be beyond the graspings of my pencil.
I still feel very frustrated by this, and I am trying my best to learn how to draw a human man. I won't give up on it. But I don't feel as bad about it as I used to. It can sometimes be irritating, but I've discovered that it's not as big of an impediment as one might think. Why? Because most of the subjects I draw and the stories I write are about women. And why not? They're my stories, drawing from my experiences. I shouldn't have to apologize for flooding my pages with woman after woman.
But as it turns out, I am not alone. So, to commemorate this post, I'm going to picspam with other women who draw primarily women. Feel free to check out their art, and I hope you enjoy their stuff as much as I do. And whether you are an artist, a writer, or a lyricist, remember that your art is yours and while you can constantly look to improve and expand your horizons, do so on your own terms.

Frida Kahlo (Come on, you knew I couldn't go this far without mentioning her in this topic)

Tamara De Lempicka (Margaret Atwood fans might recognize her work from the cover of The Penelopiad)

The importance of Alone Time

Something which is a frequent topic in autism, particularly for people who are more articulate and more inclined to interact with others verbally, is how to get people to be more "social" and how to enable the autistic to "come out of their shell" (An expression which, without fail, always makes the think of Victor Bregeda's egg paintings, like this one here) I remember, even pre-diagnosis, that this constituted a large part of my parents' concern for me when I was growing up. I remember parent-teacher-Leah meetings on my lack of socialization. I was also taught tips and tricks on how to "break the ice" (Another weird expression which makes me think of cracking and made it sound painful. Work on your socialization metaphors, neurotypical society)
I'm not objecting to this mentality. I think that it is important to give autistics a chance to learn how to interact with others in a manner where both parties feel comfortable and at ease. Why more people don't devote lessons to neurotypicals on not invading personal space and making us uncomfortable, I don't know. That's for another day. But there is a slight flaw in constant focus on socialization. It undervalues the wonderful contribution to the strength of the mind that solitude can offer. As important as proper socialization is, solitude is just as important, and we cannot afford to think of it as a symptom of something wrong, just the opposite is true.
Currently, I live with a house mate in an apartment provided for by my university. Fortunately, we are given our own separate bedrooms, and the living area is generally broadly spaced enough so that we can both be there without invading each other's personal bubbles. But sometimes, I need to stim, or I need to be utterly alone. It's not a matter of being embarrassed to stim in front of another human being. It's just that I'm very sensitive to the presence of other humans when my body is sending the signals that indicate I need to stim to calm down. So I often retreat to my bedroom, or get lucky and have the house to myself so I can stim without being interrupted by the presence of another person. Post-stimming, I'm more relaxed, and I'm less sensitive to human presence and minute changes in my environment. Don't be insulted if a stimming autistic decides to retreat to someplace more private, and definitely don't be worried if someone begins to stim in front of you. It's calming and perfectly harmless.
Beyond stimming though, I like my isolation. It's no secret that to the autistic brain, the world has the potential to be chaotic, overwhelming, and can drag you down on a bad day. But in my own alone corners, I have more control over what I interact with, and I can focus on my surroundings more readily when I'm alone. If there's not another person present to break my concentration, I can more greatly appreciate the natural beauty of an outdoors scene, observe a painting with closer scrutiny, write and appreciate the tapping of my fingers on a keyboard, or read and get completely hooked into the story. I'm still interacting with my world, but I'm doing it on my own terms.
Such interaction with the world is of equal value to interaction with humans. It enriches an autistic person's understanding of their selves, and can be used to develop a stronger defence against sensory bombardment. Once in a while, give the social training a rest, and let us decide what we want to do and where we want to do it. It's not the end of the world if you grow up preferring a book or a walk in the woods to idle chatter at a party.

Experimenting with a new template & Open thread for questions

I was just informed in my last post by reader Clarissa that the old design of my blog was difficult for her to process. One of my main objectives with writing this blog is to make it as accessible as possible to everyone with an interest in reading it, so I want to change my template and design on this blog in order to make it easy on the eyes for everyone.
Currently, the template I am using is called "Ethereal #3, and has a light background with darker text, in contrast with my previous design of a dark background with lighter text. I'm hoping that this will be an improvement, but now, I have a question for everyone who reads here: What can I do to make this blog more accessible for you to read? Is Times font hard on your eyes? Would you prefer a different colour scheme? Shall I alter the setup in some way? I am interested in knowing what works best for my readers, because you're the ones who keep me blogging. :-)
I want to make sure I'm doing everything I can to make this of equal access to you, regardless of neurological type or disability. Please feel free to comment on this post on anything I can do to accommodate you when you're reading The Quixotic Autistic.

A random musing on the accessibility of the source of knowledge

A while ago, I was having a conversation with a friend who was lamenting at how unsophisticated she was. She has never been outside the continental United States, and considers leaving her county to be something of a grand adventure. She expresses envy at those of us, me included, who have been lucky enough to go on grand adventures overseas. My friend isn't ignorant though. She's a voracious reader, and has a rich plethora of knowledge in farming, cooking, and animal care, since she grew up in that type of environment. Trying to find a way to express how she is not ignorant for this lack of experience overseas, I asked her, "Have you ever heard the Beatles song, 'The Inner Light'? 'The further one travels, the less one really knows...'" I'm a lousy singer, but she got the point nicely, being a Beatles fan, she was happy to hear of a new song she hadn't heard before. So I sang it to the best of my ability, which is limited. The full lyrics are as follows:

Without going out of my door
I can know all things on earth
With out looking out of my window
I could know the ways of heaven

The farther one travels
The less one knows
The less one really knows

Without going out of your door
You can know all things of earth
With out looking out of your window
You could know the ways of heaven

The farther one travels
The less one knows
The less one really knows

Arrive without travelling
See all without looking
Do all without doing

The song itself can be heard in all its Harrison flavoured glory here. Those of you who are Beatles enthusiasts, or who know your Chinese philosophy well, will recognize that the lyrics are lifted from Chapter 47 of The Tao Te Ching. The translations vary, but the one used in the lyrics captures the basic essence of the message of Lao Tze. It's very succinct and beautiful, and my friend was cheered at this thought. But she knows nothing of Lao Tze, or Taoism. While I have had the good fortune of a college education and I have used that fortune to learn as much as I can about Asian Philosophy, and so I have a, if I do say so myself, excellent grasp on Taosim, various schools of Confucian thought, Legalism, and Buddhism. I can quote freely from Mencius, the Chuang-Tze, and The Teachings of Buddha.
But my friend would probably not have appreciated Leah going off into one of her scholarly rants. I believe one of the strengths of Taoist texts is their accessibility, but oftentimes, the packaging can be misleading, and the idea of an Ancient Chinese text can be alienating to people without a scholarly background. So I was eternally grateful to George Harrison for giving the message a much simpler packaging. Lao Tze himself would have been delighted, knowing the typical Taoist attitude. This simple difference meant that the quotes presented to my friend were much less intimidating, and she was cheered considerably.
Oftentimes, when popular culture borrows from ancient wisdom, it's seem as cheapening it. I'm sure in his day, a lot of scholars of Asian Studies probably didn't appreciate George Harrison making the Tao Te Ching (And Hare Krishna, and Eastern mysticism in general) of interest to millions of Beatles fans. There is some validity to this criticism; when coming from a Non-Western culture, Orientalism can occur. But the miraculous thing is, it can also strip away Orientalism's problematic approach. No longer is the Tao Te Ching or another text an inscrutable text which befuddles and mystifies those who don't have a professional background in Chinese culture. It becomes simple and revelatory.
In an ideal world, all philosophy would be seen as accessible to those with a perfectly average education, or better yet, a perfectly average education would consist of philosophy and critical thinking. But until my own Utopia (See what I did there? hehe) is here on earth, why be afraid of letting people learn about ancient wisdom in their own way? It need not be squirreled away in a textbook or shuffled off to the oft-dusty Philosophy Section of a library or Bookstore to be of value.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

An interesting revelation

Last week, I wrote about how my girlfriend had come out to the world as a trans woman, and we were adjusting to the new labelling of our relationship and adjusting to how our lives were going to change as she transitioned and we lost our heterosexual privilege and she lost her cis privilege and perceived male privilege.
I was bracing for everything, angry relatives, cynical friends, bigotry and confusion. I'm sure that we'll meet more of that as the process goes on and we start coming out to everyone. But there was one thing I didn't count on: I now love my girlfriend more than ever before. I find myself closer to her than I ever imagined, and her courage in going about life in the way she knows is best for her inspired me to throw aside previous fears.
Because of this, on Wednesday I submitted a transfer to a University she's doing her graduate work at, a University with an International Law program I have been dreaming of being accepted into for the longest time. A University in a town where my late father came from in order to travel to Hawaii, where I grew up.
Having the courage to live life on your own terms, with your desires and dreams firmly planted in your mind as you go forward is never easy. But my beautiful girlfriend and I are learning that it is worth every little heartache.
If I get accepted, the first thing I am going to do when I enter the city of this University is hug my girlfriend, because she will be the reason I'll be there. If there's one lesson of many I'm sure will come along from my girlfriend's transition, it's that you can't afford to spend life trapped in other people's ideas of who you are. Whether that's your birth-assigned gender or others' ideas on the limits of your intellectual and creative abilities.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A good way to tick me off

You know what's a good way to piss off an autistic person?
Tell them you don't think it's a good idea to have an autistic person on a panel talking about autism. Or talking about, better yet, how you don't see the point to having an autistic person on a panel about autism.
That's happening now more often than I care for, and let me tell you, that's one of the fastest ways to get on my bad side.
Today, it happened when I found out that Dr. Oz, Oprah's medicinal darling, was going to be hosting a special episode of his show on "what causes autism". Several guests were announced, and I did not recognize any autistic names on the list. I expressed my dissatisfaction with this in the comments section of the website it was being posted at, and someone actually had the nerve to suggest that it didn't matter that there were no autistic people (Actually, she said "those inflicted with it [autism]")on the show. Because we were so subjective, and it would be much better to have people who didn't have such a "personal" involvement in the issue. In the same breath, they lauded the decision to have the parent of an autistic child on the show. So much for personal involvement meaning you can't be factual about a subject.
Let me just say this right now. The national conversation about autism has been functioning radically outside of the usual disability norm by excluding people with the actual disability in the conversation. The phrase, "Nothing About Us Without Us" is not just a hollow slogan. It's meant to remind you that a conversation about disability can only go so far without the involvement of those with the disability.
If you still don't get it, if you still are thinking, "Well, isn't the 'cause' of autism, if there is one, best left up to doctors and health professionals?" I am going to remind you of something. Whatever people believe (facts aside) causes autism, it influences the way they interact with, perceive, and treat autistic people. One of the things which most greatly irks me about the anti-vaccination movement, with their language of "injured", "damaged", "sickened" and "inflicted", have this nasty habit of following that logic with treating autism like a degenerative disease. In fact, it isn't just the anti-vaxxers who are guilty of this. I've seen language of injury and sickness applied to autism in everything from The Skeptical Inquirer to the BBC. It's been compared to cancer, diabetes, AIDS, and malnutrition. The largest Autism-"Charity" *ahem* in the United States released a billboard comparing autism to car accidents.
I shouldn't have to say twice that language matters. The major difference between all these things and autism is that autism does not result in DEATH. It does not sap me of my strength or my health. Even if it did though, the pity-based attitude it inspires is still unacceptable. It reduces the possibility of autistic people being fully involved in society when they cannot shake off the label of "injured" and the treatment by neurotypicals which follows it.
These are things which I personally as an autistic person have experienced. The way a person perceives the "cause" of autism makes a huge difference in how we are socialized and how the world sees us. Don't you think that's kind of important to talk about in an age when the true cause, if any at all, of autism, remains a mystery?
I think it warrants an autistic person's opinion when talking about the issue. But, what do I know? I'm obviously too biased to know what I am talking about, and should sit back and let the nice mommies and daddies and doctors and scientists decide what's best for me. It's not like they're prejudiced in any way by their experiences and worldviews and their neurotypicality.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In Defence of Libraries

As a news junkie in this political environment, I keep both blogging eyes open to anything that crosses my path which threatens something precious to me. With the teabaggers in office, this happens more than I care for, and I've signed endless arrays of petitions to save various services related to disability, public broadcasting, reproductive rights, and other issues. This time though, I'm going to talk about one which is less headline-worthy, but I think is just as fundamentally important, and deserves to be protected from onslaughts of misguided right-wing stupidity.

Amendment #35 would eliminate all IMLS funding specifically for libraries, and leave those that depend on library resources and services high and dry. Libraries not only breathe life into the souls of bibliophiles of all ages, they are a godsend for the poor who cannot afford their own computers or internet access, and rely on the public library in their community to ensure that they can access the internet for job hunting, government searches, and using the web to keep in contact with family, friends and loved ones. When I was internet-devoid for a while, my library proved an invaluable resource, especially during a period when I was filing for SSI benefits and needed to check my student email and use Blackboard. And blog for you dear readers of course.
This goes beyond shafting the poor though. I've come to expect that from the GOP. There's something considerably more sinister about wanting to dis-empower libraries. It is an attack on knowledge and love of learning (philio-sophos, do those words look familiar?) itself. It is an almost guaranteed way of ensuring a deepening poverty of the mind for the youth of America. When I was a child, books were my greatest friend. In a childhood characterized by isolation from my peers, I found solace in books, and when I would scroll down aisles glancing at the author's names on the spines, I dreamed of one day having my own name on a spine in the library.
So from an early age, books were my gateway to a love of writing and illustrating my own books (My greatest childhood memory is winning a prize at my school for a book I illustrated and wrote about a group of space girls travelling to all the different planets in the solar system. Back then, that included Pluto!) and offered me a comforting activity which instilled the germs from which curiosity, creativity and critical thinking emerged. Without those three C's, life would be considerably more colourless, cheerless, and confined to much greater limits.
I'm sure hoping that that's not what those who wish to cut the life out of libraries have in mind with this Amendment. But it is an inevitable side effect which will do more harm to the collective American childhood than any pennies saved ever could justify.
Protect our libraries and the bibliophiles to come who will need them.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Coming Out: My love for my autistic girlfriend

Oh, look at that, it's just in time for Valentine's Day too! Not intended on my part; this has just been the first day I've been able to get back on my blogging feet. Sorry about the delay.
Anyways, one of the reasons I've been having a difficult time getting around to blogging hasn't just been schoolwork. Seventeen credits is a bit of a workload, but there's something that's been going on in my life which I haven't been disclosing to my readers, or to anyone really, until very recently. It's something which has forced me to re-examine my life, and is going to cast the privileges I have/had in a whole new light.
You may have noticed a slight shift in tone the few times I've discussed my romantic life with my significant other. At first, I used exclusively male pronouns, said "my boyfriend", and talked about his talents, his non-neurotypicality, etc etc. If you're sharp-eyed and a very devoted reader, you may have noticed that I've switched up to using gender-neutral language more and more. "My boyfriend" has become "my partner" or "my significant other", and pronouns of any type are used sporadically.
The time has come for me to admit this is not coincidental. Nor is it an attempt at being more progressive and in solidarity with gender-non-conformists. This is because my significant other is a woman. An autistic woman. Just like me. Right now, she is in the process of exploring different gender expressions before deciding on whether or not to move into the territory of hormones and surgery, and we have an excellent therapist working with her to make this as stress-free and smooth as possible.
I have always known deep down that my girlfriend was not a typical person, either neurologically or gender-wise. When she first disclosed to me that she wanted her outside appearance to match her inside, it came as no surprise to me, and I have done my very best to try to be a supportive girlfriend, and will continue to do so. It didn't take me much time to switch pronouns in my head, and switch names as well. But I refrained from disclosing my girlfriend's true gender to others, adhering to her request to not be "outed" until she was ready. Now though, with her permission, the only time I use masculine pronouns and names in reference to her is when speaking to my parents or people whom my girlfriend is not ready to tell about her true self. I respect that, but there's something more than wanting to be "ready" that motivates us from not being open about it. And that is fear.
I am fearful of the reactions of my mother and stepfather, who are virulently homophobic and ridicule trans people. The last time my mother and I encountered a trans friend of mine, she spent the better part of an hour (After my friend had left) babbling, "But, but, how does she look so, REAL? So, not like a man in a dress?!" And the words of my stepfather would be graffiti on this post, so I will not write them.
I fear the fact that not all people will be accepting of this relationship, and that we will be perceived as "attention seeking" just for trying to live our lives and love each other in a way that feels right.
For a while, I feared that the revelation that my girlfriend is a woman would drive several of her friends to blame me for the change, because I'm a vocal feminist and I feared they would think I "brainwashed" her.
But most of all, I fear how I will come to terms with our lost privilege. When we were perceived as a heterosexual couple, it never crossed our minds that our public displays of affection could inspire jeering or violent reactions. We could fearlessly go into any restaurant, any "couples"-oriented event, or dream of travelling to any tourist-town. Holding hands while walking was acceptable, and exchanging the occasional hug and kiss wouldn't draw a second glance.
One we fully come out of the closet though, that will be a luxury we can no longer afford. Even in the most gay-friendly cities, our love is considered deviant from the norm. The fact that my girlfriend is a trans woman will add to that, many who are less-than-homophobic still express a great disdain for trans people. We will no longer be able to dream of vacations to foreign countries (Beloved and I are both history enthusiasts) without first considering whether we would be safe there. And even in my own country, the United States, our love will no longer be legally recognized as valid enough to warrant a marriage. Meanwhile, in my girlfriend's country, Stephen Harper and conservatives are working to ensure that a bill which would guarantee freedom from discrimination in the law for trans individuals is defeated in the senate. This has led to many jokes between my girlfriend and me, where whenever something homophobic or transphobic rears its ugly head in our own countries, we start dreaming up our exodus to Sweden.
All joking aside though, being closeted meant a plethora of invisible privileges which are beginning to unravel, but there is more freedom out of that closet than any amount of PDA and trips to Morocco could buy. My girlfriend and I are resolute that we stay together, and that we fight together for our right to be recognized as a loving couple. Not just legally, but socially as well. It won't be easy, but nothing worth fighting for ever is. In the immortal words of Capt. Picard: "If we are to be damned, let's be damned for what we really are."
Remember: Freedom is merely privilege extended, unless enjoyed by one and all.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Blogger's break

You may have noticed a dry spell of my blogging around here. I apologize for that. The truth is, I've got a load of posts I start up but do not finish waiting in my blogger queue. I will finish the ones that are actually going somewhere in due time. In the meantime though, I'm afraid I'm having a hard time summoning the time and energy to work on them. I'm disappointed in myself for not keeping up with blogging: It's a passion of mine and I feel like I am letting down my regular readers by not being consistent.
I wish I could, but I'm having difficulty with my mental health right now. I'm afraid I've bitten off more than I can chew in terms of academics and personal responsibility, and I find it exceedingly crushing. Comparatively speaking, my life is really much better than it was during my brief stint of unemployment last year, but the nature of my disabilities means that I have a hard time adjusting to huge work loads, and taking 17+ credits at my university (maximum is 21) is not a pretty picture. I've also been going through some personal stress unrelated to school that has been eating up a large chunk of my time and mental energy.
I'm sorry, readers. Once this is all sorted out, you'll see plenty of rants coming across your blogroll from yours truly again. In the meantime, I'm in limbo.