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.