Should libraries seek more current replacements for books that mention “Asperger’s”?

A lot of autistic people don’t like the term “Asperger’s” very much anymore, ever since the evidence came to light that Hans Asperger was a eugenicist who made the argument that his (verbal, intelligent) boys were valuable to the Third Reich, but also sent more disabled children to institutions, where they died from neglect or were murdered. (The research was summarized in a book called “Asperger’s Children”, which I cannot recommend highly enough. Asperger’s here in the title refers to the doctor himself.)

The trouble is that this is recent information, and many good books about autism were written when “Asperger’s” was the term popularized by Lorna Wing to describe autism that did not affect one’s language ability or ability to care for oneself.

This was needed because before “Asperger syndrome”, autism was thought to be always severe, very rare, and always associated with extreme disability. People with less-extreme symptoms were being overlooked, and without a diagnosis or any help they often ended up jobless, homeless, and mentally ill.

So “Asperger’s” did do its duty as a diagnosis–we needed it–but with the recent revelations about Hans Asperger being a eugenicist rather than simply a doctor who made excuses for his patients, the specific term has become a little bit troublesome to us. Many of us do still use it, but it is increasingly gaining an association with the functioning labels that deny help to the “high-functioning” and agency to the “low-functioning”.

Asperger’s was merged into autism spectrum disorder primarily because it is not medically distinguishable from classic autism. Although people diagnosed with Asperger’s don’t have a speech delay, they do have unusual speech and communication problems; and although they don’t have delays in basic ADLs, they often have serious problems with other aspects of independent living. And when someone diagnosed with Asperger’s is evaluated according to the DSM-IV criteria of Autistic Disorder, they fit those criteria more than 90% of the time.

One of the problems the autism community faces, internally, is something we call “Aspie supremacy”. These are people–often quite young people, teenagers and twenty-somethings still dependent on the ableist framework they were raised in–who declare themselves to have Asperger’s, not autism, because they are smart and talented and not disabled, and therefore are superior to other autistics–and perhaps even to neurotypicals.

This is a problem because they are assuming that disability means one cannot be talented, cannot be smart; and that one must be either inferior or superior to others. And of course it means leaving behind anyone who cannot mask their autism enough to be included in the upper “Aspie” class. It is essentially Asperger’s eugenics, and yes, it does trouble us greatly, especially since these people are often deeply hurt by years of bullying, abuse, and ableist exclusion, and want to solve the problem by taking themselves out of the “disability” category rather than by advocating for disability rights.

I am only one autistic person and this is only one perspective. I will leave it to the librarians to use this information to judge whether, and which, books should be updated.

Is activism a moral obligation?

Yes, it is, but with one caveat: Activism has a wide definition.

Let’s say you are a busy person, middle-aged with three children and a job, and not closely identified with any oppressed minority or social justice issue. You have to spend most of your time keeping your family fed, and in your spare time you still have to ensure that your children have someone to love them and watch over them. For you to go off getting arrested during a public civil disobedience publicity stunt would actually be irresponsible, because your children might lose you as a parent, and if you made the wrong sort of enemies, you might put them at risk. Some people might call that cowardly, seeing as how the children of oppressed minorities are at risk by default; but I call it natural, because you are a parent and your children come first.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t be an activist. Look at those children–you can teach them what you know about being kind, about taking care of the world around them, about paying attention to the news and to current events; you can teach them about critical thinking and about how to argue without becoming (verbally or physically) violent. You can, of course, do things that don’t involve endangering your children, like taking part in a pride parade, writing letters to the editor, or joining a peaceful, child-friendly demonstration. You can use money and influence to support the causes you care about.

Activism does not need to be formal. You can be a quiet supporter of those who need support; you can quite casually reprimand those who do and say things that make your community hostile to one group or another. You can encourage fairness and kindness in everything you do, without ever having to preach. In a perfect world, that would be the only sort of activism we ever needed.

There are many other situations in which activism is made difficult. Some people are in an oppressed minority, and so badly affected by prejudice that it is simply unsafe for you to speak up. Think of a transgender teen in a transphobic household who is likely to be beaten up; or a disabled person living in an abusive institution who will be mistreated for doing anything but pretend to be “grateful” for their “care”. Sometimes, in those situations, activism means simply surviving, as best you can, and clinging as tightly to your morals as you can, being as supportive as you can of anyone else in the same position as you, while keeping it clear in your mind that the things you see happening around you which you cannot prevent are not your fault–they are the fault of your abusers.

And sometimes, it’s simply difficult to get started. You don’t have the skills; you don’t know where to go or what to do. It’s very difficult to be the first to hold a sign, alone on a street corner; or the first to say, “I don’t think this is right,” when everybody else seems to take it for granted; or the first to stand up to someone who has been taking their unjust use of their power as a given. Even more than that, it can be difficult to be an activist when you don’t even know what is wrong with the world or how that wrongness perpetuates itself. Sometimes, activism can mean just learning more. It can mean reading books or blogs or finding other people who also care and talking to them. It can mean finding someone else who can be the first person on the street corner, and joining them. It can mean taking it in stride when you are embarrassed to discover that something you have been doing was hurting people, to recognize that because you grew up in a prejudiced world, you were indoctrinated with those ideas, and that this isn’t your fault.

One form of activism that many people completely ignore is the practice of volunteering. Of course, volunteering has to be done right–you have to evaluate your skills, find out where you are going to actually do some good, and use those skills to their best effect. Just doing things for the sake of doing them–or, even worse, for the sake of selfies and reputation–is not going to help anybody. Find out where the need is, find out what you can do, and figure out how to match those things in a way that’s effective. And above all, never use your volunteer work to diminish the self-determination and self-respect of those you help. Empower them.

Activism is more than just the stereotypical protest and civil disobedience. But being an activist is part of being an ethical member of your community. We are human beings; we are meant to work together. If we don’t use our skills and resources to make our communities better, in whatever form that takes for our particular circumstances, then we are giving up part of what it is to be human.

Why we need a higher minimum wage

Imagine an auction where your work is up for sale; but many other people’s work is also up for sale, so that some lots will always remain unsold. There are more workers than jobs.

What is the best strategy for someone who wants a worker, any worker? It is to be the first to bid, bid the minimum, and then not raise anyone else’s bid. Raising is counterproductive because supply exceeds demand, and one can always wait until other buyers have hired their workers to bid the minimum on one of the lots left over. Because this is the ideal strategy, everyone will be using it. Every lot of work that can be bought, is bought, and for the minimum possible price.

For the worker, the only possible strategy is to accept any bid, because if they do not accept, they will be left till last and their work will be one of the unsold lots.

There is a way out for the worker, and that is to learn a skilled trade. However, this is a way out only for that worker. Other unskilled workers are still caught in the same system, and because there are still unskilled jobs and unskilled workers, the minimum-wage auction will go on as before.

Moreover, if too many workers learn skilled trades, employers in those trades will fulfill their quotas, leaving these overqualified workers to compete for unskilled jobs where their skills are irrelevant–back to the minimum-wage auction.

When the minimum wage is too low, the unskilled (or overqualified) worker naturally tries to fill their own needs, usually by taking more than one job, and by adding more family members–children and spouses–to the job market, to take jobs rather than being homemakers or students. This unbalances the system even further: There are yet more workers, and yet fewer jobs. The employer is able to bid even lower, and the worker must immediately accept any offer they can, for fear of not being employed at all.

When the employer hits the federal minimum wage, they cannot reduce the worker’s pay further; but they can still split jobs into part-time positions without benefits, hire people to work for tips, and hire “self-employed” “independent contractors” who can be paid less than minimum wage because they are technically not their employees. And this is what they do, because the market permits them to do it, because people still take those jobs, because those are the only ones they can get.

We have too many people in the work force and too few jobs for them to do. A low minimum wage forces more people to take more jobs, while simultaneously allowing employers to pay less.

If we raised the minimum wage, then there would be fewer workers, because a minimum wage job would once again be enough to support a family. Many jobs are being replaced with automation, but because of the higher minimum wage, those jobs would no longer be desperately fought over by unskilled workers.

As more jobs are replaced by automation, we may end up with the same scenario again: People fight over jobs, and employers find ways to pay less and less. At this point, we would need to institute a universal basic income, paid for by taxes on corporations. There’s simply no way around that–even though it might slow down when employers are forced to stop hiring so many part-timers and contractors, the number of jobs will eventually be much less than the number of people willing to work. At that point, those extra workers will be supported by universal basic income and, instead, do unpaid work like art, volunteer work, or study. The only alternative to this is a world in which a majority of unskilled workers are barely scraping by on half a job, crammed together in apartments that take five salaries to pay for, unable to afford health care, higher education, or anything but the next day’s low-quality food–and sometimes not even that.

It takes courage to stand up against the crowd, whether the crowd is right or wrong. But don’t worship courage in and of itself. Doing the right thing is meant to be the goal, and courage is only a means to that end. Otherwise, no matter how courageous you are, you are still wrong.

Should you tell your date you’re asexual?

If you’re not familiar with asexuality, here’s a brief definition: Asexuals are people who aren’t sexually attracted to anybody. Many asexuals don’t want sex; some are outright disgusted by the idea of having sex, while others merely find it boring.

Some asexuals will have sex with their partners, the way you might attend a football game with your sports-fan partner even if you don’t like sports yourself; some asexuals are sex-positive, meaning they don’t feel sexually attracted to anybody, but do enjoy having sex when they get the opportunity. For demisexuals, sexual attraction emerges only once they are already deeply connected, emotionally, to another person. Asexuality is a sexual orientation, just like being bi, straight, or gay.

So… should you tell your date you’re asexual? And if so, when?

First, and most importantly: No asexual should ever have to feel like they have to disclose their sexual orientation just to protect themselves from being forced to have sex before they feel they’re ready. “I didn’t know they were asexual” is not a valid reason for your date to push you into sex, because there is never a valid reason to do that. If you say “no” and your partner pressures you anyway, that’s a huge red flag that they don’t respect you; that’s not the sort of person you want as a partner. Dump them, and don’t look back.

Obviously, if you’re the sort of asexual who finds sex disgusting or so boring you’d rather watch paint dry, and they’re looking for a relationship that, if successful, will eventually become sexual, then you need to tell your date right away, preferably before you’re on a date to begin with–otherwise you’re wasting your time and theirs.

But things get more complicated for non-sex-repulsed aces and demisexuals. If you’re open to sex, then you aren’t going to be automatically incompatible with someone who wants sex, so you wouldn’t be wasting their time not telling them immediately. Once you have a more mature relationship, it’ll be natural to tell them everything about yourself, including your asexuality. Or you can tell them right away (and I recommend it, because I think it’s good to have everything in the open at once, whether that’s asexuality, or disability, or religion, or your desire to have six children or no children at all)–but you are not obligated to do so.

If your friends are the sort who start having sex while dating only casually, then you might not realize how common it is for people to wait until they feel deeply attached or have formalized their commitment. Even allosexuals don’t all jump right into bed with one another. Some wait for marriage, or for deep, true love. Some simply don’t enjoy casual sex. Before birth control, it was held up as the universal ideal to prevent couples from having a baby without a family to raise one; but just because we have birth control doesn’t mean we have to rush right into sex. There are many valid emotional, social, philosophical, and religious reasons to want to wait.

Those who want to wait to have sex are often shamed as being “prudish” because they turn down sex when it’s offered; or they’re told they’re “admirable” for waiting for marriage, as though it were the default to want to have sex, and anyone who said “no” must be denying themselves. That can be hard to deal with, especially in a world where sex is wedged into every storyline, used as an enticement in advertisements, and seen as a “basic human need” right up there with oxygen.

You can tell them right away that you are ace, and that your attraction to them isn’t sexual–it’s romantic, or perhaps platonic. If you are demisexual, you can tell them that you won’t feel like having sex unless you have a deep connection. You can put it right in your dating profile or on your social-media accounts. Or you can wait until the topic of sex comes up.

If you get the impression that the other person expects a hookup for casual sex, and that’s not what you’re looking for, then make sure you’re on the same page. If the other person looks to be trying to initiate a sexual relationship, then tell them. You can use words like “demisexual” or “sex-positive asexual”, if you like, or you can just explain it by describing what you personally need to feel comfortable with sex. Just remember that if a relationship is respectful and mature, as it should be, nobody will be forcing anyone into anything they don’t want.

We Give Words Their Power

Recently, a friend of mine posted a meme that recommended we should use the term “enslaved people” rather than “slaves”, because being a slave is a circumstance, rather than an identity. I did not think it was particularly useful to do so; it misses the point. The important thing, when teaching about slavery, is to teach from the perspective of the slaves themselves, so that the student never forgets that the slaves are fellow humans rather than objects, and that they have been made property despite their intrinsic human equality with their legal masters.

I have often been confounded with the need to change my language this way. When language changes more quickly than I can keep up, I often find myself misunderstood because I use the old words and people hear the new definitions. It happened when I was told that I could no longer say “all lives matter”, because it now meant that the only lives that did matter were the white, neurotypical ones. It happened when I was told that when I mourned their genocide during the Holocaust, I could not call them Gypsies, but must call them Roma instead, because that is what they call themselves. I never seem to be able to change my words as quickly as neurotypicals do. It can get frustrating.

Most of the time when this happens, I do change my language, because I recognize that neurotypicals burden words with all sorts of things not in the words’ actual definition, and then when I say them, they hear all those extra meanings too. If I want to communicate, I have to keep up. But it bothers me a great deal, for several reasons.

First, it seems that people substitute a change in language for a change in behavior. One simply cannot say the n-word without being immediately branded a racist (for an experiment, imagine what you might think of me if I had not censored it). With the extra meanings loaded onto that word, that is exactly what it means now: “I am a racist.” And if you say it, you are saying you are not just a racist, but a proud racist.

But although this word has become a taboo, many other things that are more hurtful to black people than a word will ever be, are not taboos. White people say they want to live in a good neighborhood; they mean they want to live outside a poor black neighborhood. They send their child to a “good school”, and leave the underfunded, crowded public schools for the black children. White people casually hire other white people for jobs, choose them as friends, date them, and generally perpetuate, informally, segregation. None of this is taboo, the way the n-word is. People who would never say the n-word will happily act in ways that say, “I am a racist”.

Because of this language taboo, saying you are a racist has become more shunned than actually acting like a racist.

Second, language is being used as a password into liberal, socially-conscious circles. If one does not say the right words, one is assumed not to care about human rights. The focus has changed. Instead of policing one another’s actions, people police one another’s language. A person who has not lifted a finger to help empower the minority groups in their own community can, with the full consensus of their social circle, brand another person as the enemy–even if the other person has been spending a great deal of time and effort working toward equality. Saying the right words has become a substitute for doing the right thing.

I’ve seen the same phenomenon in a very different milieu–that of fundamentalist Christianity. One must say the right words, pray the right prayers, or one is an outsider. Words are given near-magical power.

In fundamentalist circles, to use any kind of “bad language” is to be immediately castigated (and I don’t mean using God or Jesus as swear words, which would be understandable as it shows a lack of respect. Rather, it is the simple scatological and sexual language that is considered most sinful). But it is completely permitted to insult, belittle, or bully someone without that sort of language, especially if one can put it in polite terms. I have heard “God bless you” being used as a patronizing insult–multiple times.

There are superstitions surrounding language. People use “In Jesus’s name,” to close out a prayer, with the belief that if one does not pray in Jesus’s name, God will not hear. They talk about becoming a Christian by saying the right words–that one repents of sin, asks for forgiveness, and asks Christ into one’s heart–and believe that one cannot be a Christian unless one has said those words, whether or not one lives according to them.

Fundamentalists also identify one another, and exclude outsiders, by the use of language. There are so many words that are loaded with a ton of meaning outside their literal definition that communicating with a fundamentalist, in their own language, is like crossing a minefield. Terms like “God’s will”, “persecution”, “sinner”, or “end times”, come so loaded with meaning that anyone who hasn’t spent years in that culture will immediately sound like an outsider when they open their mouths. They too have fallen into the trap of policing one another’s language rather than their behavior.

It is so very similar to what I see in liberal circles, and that troubles me. Groups can lose sight of their purpose in this endless quest to affirm and reinforce their group identity, because they give language so much power.

What’s done is done: Once a word has been given a meaning, we can’t take it back. But should we really be looking for more words we can load with negative meanings and declare taboos? From where I stand, all that does is power the euphemism treadmill. People like me go from being called cretins, to morons, to retarded, to developmentally delayed; and all the time, we are treated as second-class citizens no matter how much the label changes.

As an autistic person, language is not my first language. Language is only what I translate my thoughts into when I want to communicate them to others. Yet neurotypicals seem convinced that words are thoughts and language is reality. Some even believe they can affect reality by saying the right words: Every tradition of magic, whether cultural or fictional, has to do with saying the right words, making the right gestures, and/or creating the right symbols. Does that sound familiar? It should; the ways of magic are also the ways of language, whether written, gestured, or spoken.

Neurotypicals give language power, and because culture is as real as any other idea, language is indeed granted the power they give it. But this is not intrinsic power. Language has only the power we give it, and we are giving it too much power.

As a language-user, I have no choice but to tiptoe across the minefield of connotation. If I say the wrong word, people hear things I am not saying or believe things of me that are not true. I have to spend a lot of time and effort on updating my language rather than actually doing useful things to mitigate or overturn the social systems that created the desire to linguistically distance ourselves from the atrocities associated with them. But it bothers me, because the more we focus on linguistic distance, the more we seem to lose focus on the need to actually change the way the world works.

If only we did not give language so much power, we would be much better off.

Social rules for fat people, as observed by a fat person

  1. Never be seen eating, unless you are eating something exceedingly low-calorie and tasteless, such as a plain rice cake or a dry salad.
  2. Never admit to enjoying food.
  3. Never talk about your favorite food, your favorite restaurant, your favorite flavor, etc. You are not allowed to have these.
  4. Always be on a diet. Always.
  5. You cannot eat too little; fat people can never suffer from malnutrition or starvation.
  6. Never admit to over-eating.
  7. You are not allowed to exercise in public. People don’t want to see you moving, especially if you are wearing tight clothing.
  8. Do not go to a gym. You do not belong there.
  9. Do not participate in team sports or any form of athletic competition. You do not belong there.
  10. Do not go to a swimming pool, or the beach. You do not belong there.
  11. You are not allowed to complain when your doctor treats you as a second-class citizen. You deserve it.
  12. You are not allowed to complain when you physically cannot fit into a small seat. This is your fault.
  13. Do not acquire a physical disability that forces you to use any form of mobility assistance, especially a motorized scooter. This will be judged to be the result of your fat, and your refusal to lose your fat.
  14. Do not point out that losing weight has a lower success rate than quitting heroin. That doesn’t matter. Besides, it probably isn’t true because all those people on the infomercials lost weight, so it must actually be easy.
  15. Do not ever claim to be disciplined or responsible. You are obviously neither.
  16. You are not allowed to enjoy any part of your looks or your body, especially not anything related to your fat. For example, you are not allowed to appreciate your curves, your ability to move heavy objects, or your ability to stay put even if someone tries to move you.
  17. You are required to endanger your health with any and all weight-loss supplements, medications, or fad diets that come your way. Otherwise, you are not trying.
  18. You are required to appreciate others’ wise recommendations, such as, “It’s easy; just eat less,” or, “You should go jogging once in a while,” and act like you never thought of them before. You haven’t, right? After all, if you had, you’d be thin.
  19. You are not allowed to have an eating disorder. You’re obviously too fat for any kind of anorexia or bulimia; and binge-eating disorder is just another way to say “undisciplined”.
  20. You are not allowed to eat tasty food, even in private, without feeling guilty about it.
  21. Anything you could possibly eat can be interpreted as the cause of your fat. If you eat rice, you’re fat because you are eating carbs; if you eat chicken, you’re fat because you’re eating meat; if you eat salads, you are obviously getting fat from salad dressing. You can never eat the right thing.
  22. When accused of eating too much fast food, never claim that you think fast food is bland and you practically never eat it. You obviously eat way too much fast food, because you are fat.
  23. If you drink diet Coke, that is why you are fat. If you drink Coke with sugar in it, that is why you are fat.
  24. When your large size causes a problem of any sort, it is your fault, not the fault of the person who designed your environment not to be accessible to fat people.
  25. You are not allowed to wear revealing or tight clothing.
  26. If you wear loose clothing, you must admit that it is because you are ashamed of being fat, rather than because you find loose clothing comfortable.
  27. “You’ve lost weight” is a compliment, even if it comes after a two-week bout with the stomach flu and you’re feeling like death warmed over.
  28. If you get cancer, people will a.) assume it is your fault because of your fat, and b.) reassure you that at least chemo will make you lose weight (even though quite the opposite may be true). You are required to act as though this is encouraging.
  29. If you get sick, it is because you are fat. It cannot be due to germs, your genetics, your environment, or your simple bad luck.
  30. If you are injured, you should lose weight; your fat is preventing the injury from healing.
  31. If you take medicine to stay healthy, it is because you are fat.
  32. If you have a mental illness, it would resolve if you lost weight.
  33. If you have a physical disability, you would be cured if you lost weight.
  34. If you are mocked for a reason completely unrelated to being fat, you will also be mocked for being fat.
  35. Thin people will get the job you wanted. This is just, because you are obviously less responsible.
  36. Thin people will also get their diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, etc., diagnosed way too late, because they are thin and could not possibly have diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, etc. Despite this, few thin people will join you when you insist that the medical community stop assuming that diseases like this are inevitable in fat people and never found in thin people.
  37. If you are athletic and can lift more, work longer, or hike circles around your thin friends, you are not allowed to admit this, because you are fat and you obviously cannot.
  38. You are not allowed to find a loving relationship with someone who honestly loves you and your body. They are obviously a chubby-chaser, or a desperate case settling for less.
  39. Anyone who is thin is automatically superior to you.
  40. Anyone who is thin is automatically healthier than you.
  41. You are a second-class citizen, and you deserve it. Stay in your place.

There is a reason I recommend breaking social rules.

Beauty and the Misogynist

You’ve probably heard it before: Beauty and the Beast is actually a pretty misogynistic story. A guy gets cursed to take the shape of a Beast because he’s rude and inhospitable; he captures an old man; the old man’s daughter offers to take his place; she manages to warm his cold, cold heart and change him, she loves him, the curse is broken, and they live happily ever after.

Modern perspective: Ouch. Stockholm Syndrome much?

There are countless blog posts and opinion pieces written about exactly why Belle is a victim, and quite possibly only loves him because she’s trapped and desperately wants to survive. And boy, have they got a point.

But that’s not the only perspective you can take. There are modern retellings of the story that change the focus from Belle to the Beast. He’s the true protagonist, going from villain to hero as the story progresses. She’s a constant: Always kind and polite, altruistic, assertive, and generally a stand-up sort of gal. The Beast is the one who grows and changes, and his being rewarded with love is only good luck–not something he expects, or should expect.

The newest live-action version has the Beast initially capturing her, then treating her well, then letting her go, then actively defending her freedom to the point of endangering himself–all before she ever says she loves him. The less he sees her as a way out of his curse, the kinder he becomes. It shows he’s changed for real, not in the way narcissistic abusers do with roses and apologies.

I have always seen it as a message to the bullies of the world–that yes, you can change; yes, you can love and be loved; but it’ll only happen once you stop believing that love–or a lover–is something you can own. Notably, the Beast’s change comes *before* her declaration of love. When he stops trying to buy her love, he truly starts to change.

It’s only a perspective you get if the story is told properly–as the Beast changing because he loves Belle, rather than Belle changing the Beast. The crucial thing is to make it clear that the Beast has come to the point that even if Belle never wanted to see him again, he would still defend her freedom.

Only at that point does he become the sort of person who can love and be loved in return. Because the story has a happy ending, they do get together in the end–but that isn’t the Beast’s “reward” for letting Belle go, and he didn’t expect to get it. He expected Belle to go back to her father, live happily there, and probably go on to find a non-Beastified husband.

It bothers me that so many people think that because Beast changed, he got the girl, and that if you change, you also deserve to get the girl. That’s not how it works–especially if it’s the same girl you’ve hurt in the past. There are too many Nice Guys who suffer under that misconception.

Many men (usually men, but not universally) on the autism spectrum believe that because they are kind, they deserve a relationship. But that isn’t true. Being kind is a prerequisite for a solid relationship–but it is not a guarantee that you will get one. Being kind is something you should strive for whether or not you ever get anything out of it.

Being kind has a lot of rewards. But if you are kind because of the rewards, you are not kind; you are manipulative. Be kind for its own sake. As the Beast learned, you will be happier as a kind person without a partner, than as a manipulative person with a partner who cannot truly love you.

If only I weren’t autistic

“If only I weren’t autistic, my life would be so much easier.”

You’re right; you could have avoided all the prejudice, all the ill-treatment, all the mismatches with your neurotypical environment, if you weren’t autistic. You could, however, also have avoided them if you lived in a world where autistic people were respected and welcome members of society.

Those of us in the “autism pride” camp are very much aware of how hard it is to be autistic. We acknowledge that it’s a disability. But we also draw a sharp distinction between what’s due to autism itself, and what’s due to the fact that some people mistreat us, many people misunderstand us, and the world itself is not made for us.

I hope you don’t see autism-pride folks as enemies. We want your life to get easier, too. If there were a way autism could be “fixed”, we’d want you to have that choice. But we know it’s not possible–not now, and not even theoretically possible (after early infancy) without literally rewiring the brain’s connections and changing the person’s fundamental identity. Autistic people are autistic to stay.

But we can learn and grow, and we can advocate for ourselves and for younger autistics. We can demand proper education and an environment that is more sensory-friendly. We can demand that people give us warning before things change, that neurotypical children are educated about the assumptions they make and why they may not work for communicating with people who are different–whether from a different country or a different neurotype.

I can see you’re frustrated, and it’s legit frustration. But please don’t feel like your life is a dead end. You can’t change the autism, but you can learn new skills, and you can advocate for yourself. When people around you are prejudiced, cruel, or ignorant, you can remind yourself that it’s their failings, not your fault, that causes their behavior; and you can seek out healthier relationships. When you feel there is no way out, remember that there is an entire autism and disability-rights community out there who will back you up and help you fight for your rights, and that we are gradually making things better.

Just the worst

I used to equivocate when asked to agree or disagree with the statement that our current president is the worst we have ever had. We have, after all, had some real stinkers (Andrew Jackson, anyone? Ask any Native American and be prepared for a tirade.)

But now? Yeah, I’ll say it: Our current president is the worst president we have ever had. At least Jackson lived in a time when it was normal to kill people because they were living on land you wanted to live on. This guy–he’s had every chance to be a decent person; he’s lived in a time when MLK Jr. is a hero and even the bigots try to pretend they’re not bigots. But he ended up every bit as bad, morally, as genocidal Andrew Jackson. The only reason he hasn’t yet perpetrated a full-blown genocide is that other people haven’t gone along with it.

Now he’s directly attacked our democracy by trying to violently overturn a fair election. Worse, he’s cowardly enough to see the backlash and claim that insurrection is not what he meant. Nope, sorry; we know exactly what you meant, and no amount of pretending at plausible deniability is going to make it any less obvious.

I knew, going into this, when I became an American, that there would be some bad leaders and some I didn’t agree with. But I hoped they would all at least be working within the system of a more-or-less functional democracy.

The importance of preserving our government as a democracy is this: If a democracy goes wrong, patriots can vote to fix it. If a democracy becomes authoritarian, and it goes wrong, patriots are stuck desperately protecting the vulnerable, leaving the country, or leading a revolution. Democracy is a way of preventing civil war by making the transfer of power peaceful; and our president just tried to destroy that.