Sexual Ethics 201

Photo by Brad Fults

It’s easy to say that the concept of consent is simple and easy to understand. Communicate clearly with your partner, if they say yes, continue. If they don’t say yes, then don’t continue.

Unfortunately nothing in life is ever quite so simple. This conception of consent is good when it comes to not raping people. But not raping people is a pretty low ethical bar. It’s basically the absolute base level we should be shooting for when it comes to our sexual ethics. But many people think about consent and sex and believe that if they didn’t force their partner to do something, or if they were open about what they wanted, then everything is fine. If the other person said yes, they’ve consented and everything is fine. Good to go, right?

Well, maybe not. Because even if you’re not sexually assaulting someone or pressuring them into sex or secretly springing things on them in the middle of sex, you can still be setting someone up for really bad decisions. You can put pressure on them without realizing it. You can ask for a lot and not give much in return. Your wants and needs can end up functioning as conditions for sex (e.g. I only want to have sex with people who will have sex with my partner as well because we are a couple).

Oftentimes these things happen when we are trying to be honest about what we do or do not want. That’s ok. One of the difficult things about being in relationships is that oftentimes just saying what we think or feel or want is not enough to make sure everyone comes out of an interaction feeling good.

Let’s think of consent like a contract, just as a hypothetical for a minute.

Sometimes people write really shitty contracts that put a lot more onus on one party than the other. It might be a job contract that works one party too hard for not enough money. They might provide all of the information about that contract to the other party, and make sure the other person isn’t intoxicated or manipulated into signing. But they still put the person into a bad situation by giving them an option forward that takes advantage of them. And especially if you’re entering into a contract with someone who cares about you, it’s easy for them to forget to make sure things are set up fairly. You might not be assaulting or violating someone by asking them to enter into an unfair or harmful agreement, but you’re still being a jackass. And when that person loves you, it’s far more likely that they’ll do it.

As my friend Miri said, “I think we need a more nuanced view than “if I didn’t force them it’s ok/if they technically consented it’s ok,” and part of that is acknowledging that shit can go kind of haywire when such strong rushes of emotion are involved and that if we care about each other, we should look out for each other. Not in a patronizing “let me decide for you because you’re not in your right mind” way, but in a caring “wow I am setting up a fucked-up choice for you to have to make, aren’t I” way.”

I think one huge barrier when it comes to clear consent is when the two partners have different ideas of what constitutes sex. It might be about the progression of intimacy. Many people assume that if you start making out, you’re going to progress to taking clothes off, and if you progress to taking clothes off, then you’re going to end up having penetrative sex. None of those things HAVE to be true, and it’s very possible and often very comfortable for someone to only want one of those things. I personally have had situations where I felt this pressure (if I do x, partner will want y) and have chosen to only consent to x when I am also willing to do y. But that doesn’t always mean that I’m very excited about y. It ends up creating a lot of bitterness in the relationship because I cannot consent to just the act I want to do, and while I can do the internal work of figuring out what I want, sometimes it just feels confusing.

Part of being a good partner is that when you are asking someone else for something, especially something that tends to prioritize your wants or desires over your partner’s, you need to be very good about communicating to them what it is that you’re thinking of, but ALSO that it’s alright for them to ask for adjustments to your request. If you’re asking your partner to try out a new kink that involves getting tied up and spanked, you’re actually asking them two things: do you want to get tied up and do you want to get spanked. They may have interest in one, but not the other. It’s good to pull apart the pieces of a request and make it easy to say no to any of them. The more work you put on your partner to figure out what you’re asking for and what they are allowed to negotiate, the harder it is for them to set and keep their own boundaries.

The other element that makes things muddy is when you put unknowing pressure on a partner. Telling them just how much you really, really want sex is providing them with true information, but it also means that if they care about you they may feel as if they should have sex with you. We all need to be aware that if we’re with someone who loves us or is infatuated with us, they may do things to please us. We need to take that into account when we’re asking for things and make sure we give them the space and time to take their own needs into account. And it’s ESPECIALLY important when you’re in a long term relationship to recognize that sometimes you force “consequences” on your partner when they don’t say yes. It isn’t really forcing them, but if your partner knows that you’ll be hurt and bitter or annoyed at them after they say no, you are putting pressure on them. If they love you, they’re also imbibing the strong drug of caretaking, and that can easily outweigh their own needs. This is one of the places that we need to be very explicit about taking responsibility for our own emotions. The script “yes, I’ll be disappointed, but that’s not a problem. I can handle it,” is a really important one.

So what does that actually look like?

The best thing a partner ever did for my confidence in saying no was say no to me. That might sound odd, but it normalized the whole process of saying no to me, and made me feel as if I wasn’t the gatekeeper for all things sex. It helped remind me that it might feel kinda bad for a little bit, but that I could get over it, and so could they. It helped to actually hear someone say out loud “I’m not interested right now,” so that I could copy that script.

I also find that it helps to ask a lot of questions. Especially if you’re trying something new or entering into a new kind of relationship, spend a lot of time talking to the other person about what they want and why. If nothing else, you then know your partner better. But there is a possibility that together you’ll tease out some different dynamics. It gives them some time to process their own wants and needs. It gives you time to ask yourself if your wants are going to be really tough on them. If you foresee a place where they might be sacrificing for your wants, ask them about it.

It’s also good to pay attention to your partner’s body language. If they say yes but are shying away or not really responding to your overtures, you can always check in. Ask what sounds nice to them. See if they want to talk for a little bit before you move into other things. There’s no rush.

Finally, if your partner has a lot of anxiety about saying no, reassurance is really helpful. It’s good to hear “thank you for being honest and telling me your boundary,” after you’ve said no to something. Positive reinforcement does wonders, so if someone says no or feels uncomfortable, it really helps to do something that feels positive afterwards to help remind everyone that you haven’t been pushed apart and no one has done anything wrong.

Now a lot of people out there might be getting defensive. This sounds like a lot of work. You’re right, it is a lot of work. A lot of people might say that this is going too far, that they shouldn’t have to do all of this. And you’re probably right, you could conduct your sexual life without assaulting or raping anyone without doing any of this. You could be pretty ok to your partners without paying attention to this.

But I at least want to do more. I want to be better than pretty ok. I want to work hard to make sure my partners feel good about what I bring into their lives. Sex has the potential to be really damaging to other people, which means that I want to take a lot of care to make it a positive experience for my partners. There is a lot more to sexual ethics than just rape. All of the things that we think about when it comes to healthy relationships apply to sex as well. It’s time to start talking about all the nuance of healthy and unhealthy actions when it comes to sex.

My Self Care is Not Your Damn Business

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I’ve been pissed off this week. Pissed off to the point of being incapable of doing my normal work and becoming so anxious and twitchy that I needed to call on some mindfulness skills that have gotten pretty rusty. I want you all to know this because I want you to know the consequences of trendy, uninformed, bullshit thinkpieces and their kin, the edgy Facebook status.

This week I just can’t seem to get away from people making commentary on others’ self care routines. Unsurprisingly, most of it hinges on “Tumblr self care,” that holy grail of joke fodder that is in large part created and consumed by teenagers and young adults. I want to make a note of that, because it’s important to realize that Tumblr is in large part young people struggling to understand how they exist responsibly in the world. It’s especially a lot of outcasts, introverts, and mentally ill folks who are young and trying to understand how to deal with the pain they feel while also maintaining relationships and contributing to the world.

So first and foremost, can we cut Tumblr a bit of slack? We all struggled with this same kind of thing when we were younger, so stop shitting all over today’s young people because they happen to be sorting it out online instead of in their basement. The world isn’t ending because young people are trying to figure things out.

But second, the messages that we are sending to these young people in response to their (honestly not that big of a deal) posts about self care are completely toxic. I want to start by giving you an idea of the types of messages that most people with mental illness hear on a regular basis. It’s incredibly common in the U.S. at least for the message “you are what you accomplish” to get ingrained at a pretty early age. Where I grew up, I was also often sent the message that we don’t talk about our feelings very much, we deal with them, and we move on. Once you commit to something you DO NOT back out of it or you’re a bad and flakey person. You don’t cause drama or act negatively, because no one wants to be around a drama queen and you’ll end up with no friends. Don’t be selfish, give more to other people than yourself, your life isn’t so bad, other people have it worse, why are you upset there’s nothing to be upset about get over it, I bet if you just exercised and ate healthy you’d feel fine, blahblahblah. No one is living their life in some sort of uncertainty about whether their friends like them flaking out or whether it feels really great to not be able to get out of bed. The messages of guilt and shame around emotions and mental illness start early and come often.

Unsurprisingly, people with mental illnesses also tend to be people with hyperactive senses of guilt and shame anyway. There are a few personality disorders out there that don’t have those as symptoms, but nearly every other mental illness includes guilt, shame, or self-hatred as some element of its symptoms. SO. Can we all please start from the understanding that there really isn’t an epidemic of depressed and anxious people parading around oblivious to the way their actions affect others, totally ok with the fact that they can’t deal with life? There MAY be the usual packs of teens and young adults who are still figuring out the ways their actions affect others, or how to find some balance in their lives, but that has to do with being 14-18, not with having a mental illness.

So with all of that history of serious guilt and stigma and internalized bias I get real pissed off when I see stuff like this:

“Seriously, nothing is worse than the writing and the ~comic strips about mental illness~ and the pandering videos which tell us that people with anxiety are these fragile butterflies who must be catered to at every turn. ‘Just take care of yourself,’ this rhetoric says. ‘Practice self-care! Take a bath! Cancel your plans! Don’t explain yourself! If your friends can’t give you space and be totally understanding, that means they’re not your friends!!! They’re toxic! GET THEM OUT OF YOUR LIFE. You have no obligation to keep around Toxic People. If you need to throw your phone into a river and spend two weeks locked in your room eating Ding Dongs, that’s what you need!! :3′”

There are approximately a billion things wrong with this paragraph, so I’m going to start with the most obvious one: this person doesn’t link to any evidence that these people or this advice exists. What I see when I go on Tumblr is a lot of people reminding each other that they’re valuable, that emotions aren’t bad, that it’s important to eat and sleep well, notes about taking your meds or exercising, and a few about the fact that it’s important to choose your friends carefully because some people will leave you feeling worse than you started. Some are little things, like goals to drink water or buy something that you particularly enjoy, or suggestions to try a coloring book or a bath. Some of them are about setting reasonable boundaries, and reminding people that they should take care of themselves IN ADDITION TO OTHER PEOPLE. And sometimes it’s just little reminders that things will be ok.

You know what I see nowhere? Ignore your friends and don’t tell them what’s up. You’re better off alone. I see the exact opposite of that. I see people trying to connect with each other. So the first issue I have is that this is responding to a problem that doesn’t exist. I also fail to see how people writing or taking a bath hurts ANYONE. The way people seem to equate “doing things for yourself” with “being selfish” is a serious problem and contributes to the ongoing struggle many people have with taking any time or resources for themselves. As you can see in many of the linked examples, people talk repeatedly about having a hard time with giving themselves time and care. That’s WHY the dialogue at the moment is so one-sided. We don’t need any more reminders that we should think of other people too. Those are already everywhere (as discussed above). So these messages exist to combat the current climate, and so don’t feel the need to pussy foot around things or talk about how you also need to take care of other people. People who only look at messages like “it’s ok to cut someone out of your life if you need to,” are ignoring all the messages that say “only bad people give up on their friends.” Do you see the fear in this article? It’s completely tinged with the terror that all the ways of dealing with mental illness are bad and wrong. We don’t need more of that. We don’t need more thinkpieces telling us that we’d better watch out or our mental illness will sneak up and make us jerks (and it will be our own fault).

Most of us have already had friends disappear on us, or been told we’re selfish and self-absorbed, or that we’re manipulative and abusive, even when we’re trying so hard to be ok. We don’t need more reminders to watch our backs, or keep from getting too selfish in our self care.

And beyond the people guilting us for just engaging in self care, I’ve seen the start of battles between people who like different types of self care. In particular, I see a lot of people who prefer more “active” or “accomplishment” type forms of self care looking down on self care that’s a little more basic. Most people with a mental illness know that they should get out of bed, take a shower, eat well, exercise, clean their apartment, call their friends, etc. That’s why there’s so much effort to validate the other kinds of self care: it’s ok to hide under the blankets sometimes. It’s ok to wear pajamas to go see your friends. It’s ok to spend a little extra on that latte if it means you’ll have the energy and emotional wherewithal to get to work today. None of this says “you should probably always do these things because they’re really productive.” It says they’re ok to do sometimes.

As someone who really does thrive on self care that is very sensory and very basic (footie pajamas, a mocha, my cat, a chewy necklace), I can guarantee that I don’t do these things to replace my basic life skills, nor do I use them to focus on myself over other people. I often end up feeling childish and incompetent. I need reminders from my friends that I’m not hurting anyone, and that there’s nothing inherently great about looking dignified. I certainly don’t need someone to tell me that I’m trite and my mental illness isn’t “real” or “gritty” enough because I use “cute” coping skills. I’ll use whatever damn well makes me feel better, even if it’s riding a unicycle while playing the kazoo. I don’t care how it looks, and the reality of mental illness is that when it hurts that bad you don’t care if you look stupid, you just need it to stop.

The hierarchy of “productive” self care over “useless” self care and the anxiety about being good to friends is not just thoroughly unhelpful in general, it also screws over people who happen to have physical disabilities or who can’t afford a gym membership and good food or people with chronic pain. It creates more stigma against people who can’t easily leave the house, or who might have days that are unexpectedly painful. There is no good reason to tell people that they should stop using coping skills that are working and that don’t hurt anyone.

Now what is true is that sometimes people with depression or anxiety do become self absorbed because their own pain overwhelms their ability to look at much else. This however, has little to do with someone’s self care routines and more to do with the actual illness: when you cannot physically get out of bed, you are generally not at your best as a friend. But the solution to this problem is to increase the number of coping skills and self care options available, not to increase the guilt and shame. The more blame we place on self-care, the more we miss that it’s actually helping improve the situation. I know that I am a better friend when I let myself cancel sometimes and show up when I will actually be a decent person to be around, when I take some time for myself so that I can listen and support my friends. I am a better person and a kinder human being when I treat my depression. That treatment includes self care, everything from the tiniest fidget to the expensive massage, and the showers and cooking and sleeping and cleaning in between.

I know that this has gotten long and ranty, but there is nothing that ruins my day faster than people saying that there are right and wrong ways for me, in my own life, to deal with my mental health, and then heaping guilt on me for not doing what they think is right. There’s a reason the dialogue around mental illness has turned to (perhaps too much) validation and love: it’s because those things work a whole lot better than shitting on someone. There is no reason to continue perpetuating stigma against mental illness under the guise of being “edgy” or “real.” Stop.

Complaining About Trigger Warnings is Sexist

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Now that I have your attention with an overly general headline, let’s talk reality.

For quite some time in Western culture, women have been associated with emotions (nature, the body), and men with rationality (mind, culture). Unsurprisingly, rationality in U.S. society tends to be prioritized over emotions, and people who include their emotions in their arguments or conversations are seen as irrational, bad at argumentation, or just plain weak. I’m not going to get into arguing for the existence of this dichotomy in the Western mind, so check out some basic women’s or feminist studies if you’re cynical.

Simultaneous to this lovely set up, in the past few years we’ve been seeing a whole lot of hooplah about trigger warnings, college students, coddling, and how kids these days are so oversensitive. They’re accused of being too easily offended, of throwing away their freedoms in order to create a safe bubble. Safe spaces are mocked, kids are told they’ll fall apart in the “real world,” and talking heads bemoan the state of the youth.

These two issues are not unrelated. Academia has for quite some time been a bastion for white men, a place where “rationality” is said to rule, and where those whose emotions rule are not allowed. My time in college was a time in which objective inquiry was prized above all else. Emotions were to be eradicated. It is not an accident that this worship of the mind over the body is associated with a place that is traditionally male and has been vehemently guarded against female incursions. It’s also not an accident that the further you go into academics, the more likely you are to encounter horrific sexism, including out of control harassment in a number of graduate programs.

Many of the screeds I have read against the coddled college student use language that has typically been applied to women. Overly emotional. Coddled. Sheltered. Children. These are the same criticisms that were used to keep women from engaging in public dialogue for a long time. Of course women couldn’t vote/go to school/hold office: they think with their emotions. They have emotions, even strong emotions, even emotions that come from trauma and abuse. Of course there are some serious differences, as many of the people asking for trigger warnings are people with mental illnesses, and simply being a woman or having emotions (contrary to much of the history of psychology) is not the same as having a mental illness. But the fear of recognizing emotions and making space for them will always have gendered connotations. The disgust at people having emotions, speaking about their emotions, and asking for their emotions to be taken into account will always have gendered connotations.

When we talk about third and fourth wave feminism and the ways that we can embrace things that are traditionally viewed as feminine instead of simply saying that women can do all that men can do, this is what I think of. I think of the ways that the emotional labor women has done needs to be recognized. I think about the ways that we need to make emotional labor a societal endeavor that is taken on by everyone instead of hidden away to be performed by women in their homes. I think of the ways that new social connections and supports are denigrated, from trigger warnings to snapchat. These are the types of things that women have always done: we have warned each other about people and things that are dangerous, we have been the social glue, we have subtly found ways to guide conversation and topic away from spots that we know are sore. These tasks are becoming public through discussions about safe spaces and trigger warnings. Instead of simply creating our safe spaces in nail salons or other “feminine” places, we are speaking openly about the point and purpose of it, discussing the ways that emotions need to be tended in order to have a functional and healthy society.

And of course we are mocked for it. It is seen as unnecessary, weak, or damaging. More than that, it is seen as a threat. This makes more sense when you view it as the attempt to move emotional labor into the public sphere. Not only is it a demand for recognition of oppression and privilege, it is also a demand that everyone shares equally in creating places where people can be safe from those problems, or places where people who have been hurt, traumatized, or abused, can still participate.

For a long time that was hidden work. That was women’s work. And now it’s in the light. It’s ugly. It’s hard. And a lot of people don’t want to do it. So they whine about free speech and the breakdown of higher education so that they don’t have to face the fact that we are finally speaking openly about our emotional health and asking each other to step up to the plate and support each other.

I’m done idolizing the idea that we should all pretend we don’t have emotions or needs or scars. I’m done pretending that humans should prioritize rationality above all else if that means we don’t recognize our human nature as emotional, embodied creatures. I am over the idea that people in college are delicate flowers who haven’t dealt with real life. Trigger warnings and safe spaces were created to help people with PTSD and other mental illnesses. Those are real life. Those are the kinds of “feminine diseases” we ignored throughout all of history and still cannot figure out how to treat. If college students have found things that help them, then I’m all for it, and I’m sick to death of the horror over oh so weak emotions. I thought we had realized how unhelpful that narrative was with second wave feminism, but I guess we’re fighting the same battles.

So again: emotions are not weak. Asking for help isn’t weak. Particularly if you are someone whose brain is a little different, a little dangerous, it is necessary and vital to ask for help in caring for yourself. Emotions are important parts of human life and they cannot be ignored, even in situations in which it would be much easier if we could all just be perfectly rational beings. None of these things take away freedoms or coddle anyone. They create stronger, interconnected people who can function more healthily. I for one am for emotionally healthy people.

New Year, New Thoughts

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So it’s a new year, and while I haven’t done resolutions in quite some time, I realized that completely unrelated to the new year, I have a number of goals and projects that I think are important to my health and wellbeing, and so I thought I’d share them with you along with some thoughts about making resolutions that build myself up and help me integrate self care and self esteem into my life rather than creating resolutions that will just make me feel shitty. Welcome to self care resolutions!

  1. Read! I always feel better when I replace some of my computer time with reading time. IT helps me step back from what’s happening on the internet, gives me a little bit of escapism time, and makes me feel more productive. However I want to be a little more specific than just “read more” because that isn’t a very helpful goal. I’d like to continue to read each night before I go to bed, and start tracking what I’m reading on Goodreads. A tentative goal is 50 books this year, although I haven’t tracked before so I have no idea what’s reasonable.
  2. Deal with health issues. I think this is something more people could stand to do. I think a lot of us ignore random pains or weirdness because we don’t want to deal with going to the doctor or because it seems stupid. I’ve had headaches for my whole life and constant exhaustion for many years, no matter how much sleep I get. So this year I will go see a doctor and ask about these things. I will get a sleep study, I will see if there is a way to improve my quality of life. Because I fucking deserve it, and because I know that my emotions will be more stable when my physical health is stable. This is one of the Adulting things that I don’t feel I was ever taught: how to advocate for my own health, or identify when a problem is serious enough to warrant medical attention. So my secondary goal is also to improve my confidence around my ability to do Stupid Life Things.
  3. Look into a tubal ligation. I have never wanted children and I don’t ever see that changing. Permanent sterilization feels like an act of empowerment and control over my body to me. I would strongly prefer not to ever have to deal with birth control ever again. So this would take one (totally unlikely awful) stress off my mind: pregnancy. I was talking with a friend last night about this, and she pointed out that in addition, we cannot rely on abortion being readily available in the future. I don’t want my reproductive future to be contingent on our elected officials not being dicks to women. So: taking control.
  4. Finish editing my novel and start getting it out there to publishers. I’ve been working on it for a year, and I’m fine with taking my time (it’s a side project), but at some point I have to take the deep breath and be confident enough in my abilities that I cannot continue trying to “fix” it, because it will never be good enough. So one more run through, and then it starts going out. Writing and publishing a novel has been the one goal that has held through my entire life and I want to make that happen.
  5. Start eating meat again. Ok, hear me out on this one. I made the switch to vegetarianism in the midst of my eating disorder, and while I do strongly believe in the ethical principles of animal rights, I would be lying if I said the decision was not motivated by the disorder. It makes it easier to restrict, and it makes me less healthy. And while I have kept it up as I’ve started increasing my food intake, it has made it increasingly difficult to eat a balanced diet. I realize that there are people out there who can be completely healthy on a veggie or vegan diet, but I am not one of them. Thanks to a lot of my sensory issues around taste and texture I really can’t stomach most veggie proteins, which means that I’m gaining weight and getting minimal nutrition from my diet. I need to focus on eating well rather than just eating. I don’t like prioritizing my own health over animal rights, which is why this one is a challenge and a goal rather than just a simple decision for me. But it’s important for me to recognize that I deserve health and that I am allowed to prioritize myself. Acting it out by feeding myself helps me to convince myself that I deserve respect and care. It’s a choice that I can make to help shift my values. By consistently acting out something that I have rationally decided is important, I’m hoping to slowly adjust the emotions associated with it.
  6. This is the haziest goal I have: figure out what to do with the information that I am autistic. I haven’t had much spare time in the last few weeks since I got the diagnosis to decide whether I want to pursue any kind of treatment or pass info on to my therapist or read more about the autism community or what. I’d like to try going to a support group, and read more first hand accounts from others about how they have learned to cope. But I’d also like to do more research about whether there are different therapeutic techniques or ways of doing CBT that are more or less effective with autism. I just feel like I need more information, so that’s where I’ll start, and I hope to have something concrete to do with the diagnosis, some ways of helping myself that came out of that information by the end of the year.
  7. Climb a 5.11b. Feel good about it. This last year I got to the climbing gym pretty regularly through the whole year. It made a big difference and I’d really like to keep it up. I’d also like to actually keep improving, but I don’t want to forget to applaud myself and recognize when I hit goals. It’s too easy to continually be looking to the next thing. So more than any physical accomplishment, I want to take a little bit of time at each milestone to throw myself a little internal party and feel like a boss.
  8. Build a gaming table. Do more work with my hands. Most of the work that I do doesn’t produce nice, physical results that I can hold and see. While I love what I do, and I love writing, there’s something soothing and confidence building about creating something physical. I’ve been doing a lot of cross stitching recently and I think that’s a good start, but The Boyfriend and I both want to build a gaming table and I think that’s a good large goal for me to have. It’s clear, it shouldn’t be overly complex, and it’s something that I know I’ll use and want in the long term.

So that’s it. I’m focusing more on what makes me happy this year. What about you?

 

Neurodiversity is Not An Autism First Movement And Cannot Be Autism Exclusive

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Disclaimer: this post is about my personal experiences with the neurodiversity movement. If others have more positive experiences, please point me in the direction of those communities. I would love to find them.

The concept of neurodiversity originated in the autism movement, and was created by an autistic person (from the research I have done, it was created by Kassiane, although as an internet term it’s a little bit difficult to know who was the first person to ever use it). Most everything I’ve ever read about neurodiversity is written by an autistic person or is focused on autism acceptance. Few mention other neurodivergences by name.

Ableism is unfortunately incredibly common, but for some reason I see a disproportionate number of conversations about ableism circulating around autism, and when people are accused of not understanding or being comfortable with neurodiversity, it’s nearly always that they have not respected autistics or their needs well enough. This first came drastically to my attention a year or so back when an autistic writer got into it with Rebecca Watson over using the phrase “too stupid to breathe,” (and apparently additional comments, although no one has been clear to me about what those comments were). It ended with Rebecca asking that writer to leave the site.

Many people have criticized Skepchick of being ableist since then, but for some reason no one brings up the fact that nearly every writer on the network has some combination of depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, ADHD, dyslexia, or a personality disorder. There are many writers who write openly and often about those issues on Skepchick (including yours truly). IT is of course possible for a place to include many neurodivergent individuals and still be ableist, but it seems odd to not address those neurodivergent individuals when asking if the place is welcoming to them or not.

Note: none of this is to speak one way or the other on how that incident went down. It is to say that many other writers who are neurodivergent were blatantly ignored in the conversation. I find it telling that none of them have autism but do have mental illnesses or learning disabilities.

I’m incredibly grateful to autism advocates for starting this movement. What I’m not ok with is the way that any form of neurodivergence other than autism seems to disappear in discussions of the movement. Sometimes learning disabilities or ADHD get a shout out, but despite the fact that I am deeply enmeshed in the movement, I still find myself unsure if mental illnesses “technically” count as neurodivergences. But if anything is a sign of your brain working a little differently, chronic anxiety, depression, or a personality disorder has to be it. And if the neurodiversity movement wants to be serious about accepting and supporting all diversity, they have to be willing to accept those whose brains changed over time, not just those who were born that way.

I am multiply neurodivergent. I only found out this month that I am autistic, and still have not talked publicly about it very much. I have never felt welcome in the neurodiversity movement. I often find that my experiences are talked over by folks with autism because mental illnesses occupy a hazy status in the movement. Some people don’t want to be associated with them because they are more clearly “broken” or “disordered” than autism. That is not ok.

If someone doesn’t understand autism or isn’t willing to make certain adjustments for autistic individuals, it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not they have been strong supporters of folks with other neurodivergences. And I understand that doing well many times doesn’t fix messing up. But why aren’t we even talking about it?

The latest incident happened over at The Mighty. They posted something fairly shitty, people called them out on it, they took it down and apologized. I feel like it should have been an open and shut case, because they took full responsibility for a lapse in judgment and did what they had been asked to do. But instead, people started jumping on the ‘fuck you Mighty’ bandwagon. Now there have been a number of criticisms, some of which seem really legit (way too much inspiration porn, not enough people getting paid) and some of which I have issues with. Namely that many criticizers say that the Mighty is prioritizing parental voices over the voices of people who are autistic and disabled, and that they don’t post from people who actually are disabled.

Which is, to be honest, bullshit. The post that fucked up in the first place was written by an autistic. I write for The Mighty and I am clearly, openly, someone with not an NT brain. The one place on the Mighty that does seem to be parent dominated is autism articles, but if you look at the mental health writing it is primarily by people who have mental illnesses. For some reason that all gets ignored and talked over by the people who say that we need to have platforms for people with disabilities.

You don’t get to ignore the voices of people who don’t agree with you and act as if their identities don’t exist because they aren’t how you express your identity. There are autistic people on The Mighty who are parents and post those Mommy Blogs you hate so much. And those people are still autistic and they still have a place in the autism community. There are people on The Mighty who post useful, interesting information about how they deal with their mental illness or disability. They count as part of the neurodiverse community that we’re aiming for, even if they aren’t autistic.

And that’s true of a lot of sites that are criticized for being ableist. Other disabilities, especially things like depression, anxiety, personality disorders, or eating disorders, get ignored. Sites are criticized for not listening to disabled voices when the people being criticized ARE THEMSELVES DISABLED. This is mind boggling to me, as the neurodiversity movement purports to be helping all people who aren’t neurotypical.

If you want to have a conversation about the right and wrong ways to talk about and approach disability that’s fine. But when your criticism is “you’re not listening to disabled people and you’re silencing disabled voices” you better make damn sure that you’re not talking to any disabled people because you have just erased their identity. And I see that happening over and over in incidents when neurodiversity advocates are calling out ableism.

There are important criticisms to be made of a variety of sites that host parents of people with disabilities or even people with disabilities themselves. There is such a thing as internalized ableism, and it’s important to call out things like inspiration porn or sites that host more parents than individuals actually affected or parents sharing personal information without a child’s consent. We should talk about these things. But those sins are not the same as silencing disabled voices. They are about balance and how all people (including neurodivergent individuals) tell stories about disability. And more often than not, an organization is not all good or all bad. It is more and more common for a site to be hosting mentally ill individuals writing about their own experiences but focusing on parents instead of developmentally disabled folks. That’s a dynamic we should be talking about.

But I do not feel welcome in the neurodiversity movement when the (very real) criticisms about autism parents are allowed to eclipse any writing that I may do or the fact that there are boatloads of neurodivergent people speaking up about their (not autistic) experiences. Those experiences just don’t always match up with what neurodiversity advocates think they should be, and they often aren’t about autism. There needs to be space in neurodiversity advocates for all kinds of neurodivergence. The movement cannot prioritize the needs of autistics over anyone else. I recognize that the focus on autism comes from a history of abuse, but autistics aren’t the only ones who have lived that history. Neurodiversity movements need to do more work to accept and support the diversity part of  neurodiversity.

I want to love the neurodiversity movement. I just don’t see it loving me back.

When Your Diagnosis Changes

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Today I received a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

For those who have read a few of my writings, you’ll know that this is a pretty big change for me. Prior to this, my diagnoses were generalized anxiety, EDNOS (anorexic type), major depressive disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder traits. ASD was not even on my radar until the last few months, despite the fact that I’ve been through evaluations and in therapy and in the mental health system for nearly 5 years.

I have a lot of Feelings about getting a new diagnosis.

I feel some relief, because this was the first diagnosis that rang true to me, that I followed up on, that I sought out for myself, and that feels as if it might help to explain the things that underly all the anxiety and unhappiness that tinges my life. All of my other diagnosis have felt like an external framework that I tried to fit myself to instead of something that emerged out of my own behavior.

I feel some worry, because I am not the typical image of autism. I am very far from the typical image of autism. I worry about my road going forward as a verbal, “high functioning”, female, activist autistic.

I feel confused because I still don’t feel like I can claim the identity autistic. What if it changes again? What if it’s not quite right? It doesn’t feel like an identity in the way many other autistics mention when they say it’s more their identity than their gender, or something that colors everything about the way they see and interact with the world. Perhaps this is because I haven’t noticed all the ways it affects me yet. Perhaps it’s just that I am really good at passing as NT. I don’t have a lot of the anger that many autistic advocates have and I can’t ever see myself having it. I don’t feel like I belong to that community.

I also feel something like regret. You see I’ve written openly about my past diagnoses in quite a few places. I’ve written about what it’s like to have BPD and how BPD affects me. But now I have the autism diagnosis. I feel a sort of fear/regret/worry that I have been lying or misleading people about what it’s like to have BPD. I worry that what at the time seemed like activism and honesty, telling people the truth of mental illness and giving others with BPD hope, turns out to have been a lie or a mistake all along.

But my ASD does not negate my BPD. I still have the BPD traits. Those still count. That honesty has paid off, because I have not hidden anything about myself or my feelings as they change and grow, which means that it’s all laid out there for others to see that those diagnoses weren’t quite right, and that this one fits and might offer some help and relief. I’ve also been honest about questioning my diagnoses in the past, and asked about connections between autism and BPD openly and often. I have never pretended that I am the complete expert on anything but my own experience. And I’ve been honest about the parts of BPD that didn’t quite make sense to me. So I suppose there’s a tinge of pride that I’ve been the only kind of advocate I know how (one who only focuses on me, myself and I JK lol kinda true though) and done it to the best of my abilities. With transparency and with a curious, open mind.

And of course I feel hope. I feel so hopeful that this might offer me some relief. That I might finally have some explanations for why everything seems so frustrating and overwhelming and impossible. That there might finally be some ways to stop the things that trigger excess anxiety before they happen. I can ask people straightforwardly what they’re feeling and why, or let them know with more clarity what I think and feel rather than trying to rely on my (shoddy) social skills and theory of mind to figure out who knows what.

And then there’s the added stress. Who do I disclose to? How? When? Obviously here I am disclosing to the world, but that’s very different from telling people at my work, who would not read my blog, or from telling my extended family, or from talking to my friends about what the diagnosis means for me. It’s a whole other piece of myself to start contemplating, and as you may have picked up at this point, I am really good at spending too much time contemplating myself and trying to understand the what and the why of my brain.

I feel a little bit frustrated. I have seen nearly a dozen therapists over the course of the last ten years. Some of them I’ve worked with for long periods, others briefly, but no one has ever said the word autism to me as a potential explanation for some of my behaviors and stresses. This diagnosis, which is probably the one that gives the most information to me about how to approach myself and the world, is the only one that I have ever had to learn about, research, discuss, and obtain for myself. I do feel proud that I was able to do that for myself, that I was able to recognize something about myself and have it externally validated, but I’m frustrated with the lack of education about how autism presents in women, because I am not entirely atypical in that regard. There is huge overlap between anorexia and autism in women. Someone should have been able to see it.

But also fuck my brain because who has BPD and autism? (lots of people. The answer is lots of people.)

So overall I’m hopeful. But the whole process once again reminds me of why I talk so openly about my mental health, because identifying and understanding these diagnoses is complicated and confusing, and it requires self advocacy. The reason I was capable of doing this was because I have researched and learned advocacy for the past three years on this topic. Not everyone is so lucky.

I’m Tired Of Curating

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I don’t want to be an advocate today.

Today I told my dietician in a session that I thought I was a little over my ideal body weight. She agreed with me.

I feel disgusting even typing that sentence.

Here are some things that are happening in my mind right now:

1. I miss the thin privilege I had when I was truly sick, the privilege to be taken seriously when I said I had eating problems.

2. Eating healthy doesn’t work. The only way I can lose weight is by serious restriction. When I eat normally, I gain weight. I’m not capable of eating normally. I don’t understand.

3. I hope I’m sick or something is wrong with me that means this weight gain is a fluke.

4. Having an eating disorder is easier than the “healthy” way of losing weight.

5. I’m not allowed to share these thoughts because they glorify an eating disorder, because I’m not actively telling people how awful it is to be sick, because I’m remembering how intertwined I am with the disease, the way it really is part of the way my mind works rather than something that needs to be kicked out of my life.

6. I’m hungry and I don’t want to eat. I’m tired and I will make myself exercise today.

7. I’m sick of trying to spin these thoughts into something useful or meaningful. Since I’ve started to write openly about treatment and recovery and mental illness, I feel as if I need to be a role model or someone that others can look to to see that mental illness does not destroy your life. And yet it’s consumed all of mine and I feel as if I’ve gained nothing except 50 pounds.

8. I don’t want to curate my words today. I don’t want to be careful not to trigger anyone or to mistakenly portray the ways I behave in a positive light. I want to be allowed the space to honestly portray my mental illness, including the way that it looks seductive when I’m anxious and overwhelmed. Right now restriction is the only thing that makes sense to me. I hate having to hedge that with the caveat that I know it’s not healthy and no other people shouldn’t do it and yes it will fuck up my life.

9. I’m so tired. I’m so, so tired.

10. As someone who has a mental illness and advocates for people with mental illnesses, sometimes I feel like I’m not actually allowed to have my mental illness. Sure, I get to talk about the experience and share inspiring stories or even stories about how nastybad it is and tips and tricks that I’ve picked up, but I don’t get to publicly have the thoughts and feelings that come with a jerkbrain. I don’t get to type “I think I’m a shitstain on the world” without people disregarding everything else I say. I don’t get to type “I truly would like to skip all upcoming meals indefinitely” without being accused of promoting unhealthy behaviors. Newsflash world: I have depression and an eating disorder. These are things that I think on the regular. If it’s too ugly to see it and you have to look away when I can’t be polished, then I don’t understand the point of my activism and advocacy. I don’t understand why I write anymore.

11. Sometimes I want to be sick. Lately the world has been making me want to be sick. Welcome to intersectionality.

12. I hope that part of activism can be honesty about the ways that mental illness is tempting and insatiable. I hope that it doesn’t look like I’m saying everyone should totally stop eating and get super depressed. What I am saying is that it’s so easy to want it when things are hard. “Fighting” seems like a foreign concept when something looks so calming and perfect and right. It’s less like a fight and more like a spell and some days the spell looks real nice.

13. I am reminded again and again and again that weight is a ridiculous criterion for an eating disorder. I am frustrated that the anxiety and stress and sadness and self hatred that just struggling with food causes aren’t seen as important enough for treatment, but that being over or underweight is. Of course physical health is important, but why bother if every day is a living hell?

14. I don’t know why this needs to be public except that I feel dishonest if I don’t admit that restriction still looks pretty good most days.