I Don’t Care if Our Attention Spans Are Shorter

The other day I heard a statistic that caused the people around me to gasp in horror: people now have attention spans shorter than a goldfish, only 6 seconds. Shock! Amazement! Terror! Technology will destroy us and we won’t be able to have meaningful lives or relationships anymore and we’ll never learn things or grow as people because we can’t focus for more than 6 seconds.

Fun fact, it took me more than 6 seconds to write that paragraph, uninterrupted. All I did was write that paragraph, for more than 6 seconds. I wonder if attention span science isn’t as great as it’s cracked up to be? Or perhaps our attention spans change based on context. Huh.

But if I’m honest, I actually don’t give a rat’s ass if our attention spans have grown shorter. We’ve been hearing this same kind of complaint about new technologies for literally thousands of years. Our dear pal Socrates was opposed to writing because “[Writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.” (From the Phaedrus).

People have complained about technologies ranging from the printing press, to the telephone, to television and beyond, convinced that each of these technological improvements will make us less intelligent, or maybe just destroy society. Amazingly, here we all still are, capable of functioning, making new discoveries, improving technology even further, and maybe still remotely intelligent.

Because here’s the deal: our minds change in reaction to the world around us. We are adaptable and flexible beings. We change to fit the environment that we live in. Perhaps we do have worse memories than the ancient Greeks did. But you know what? I don’t care. There is nothing inherently better about being able to remember more things. The world that we have today is one in which we don’t need to remember things as much as we used to. It’s incredibly rare that we won’t be around a computer, phone, or other device that allows us to look things up. Being able to remember vast stores of information is no longer actually very helpful.

Instead, what is helpful is being able to sort through huge amounts of information, cope in a setting where there are many competing distractions, and suss out what is important or useful or true at any given point. No one seems to be asking whether the changes that are happening in human brains (if they are in fact happening) are USEFUL. Are we losing memory to make space for quick shifts in focus that allow us to notice the hundreds of distractions but still move back to what we were doing before? Are our brains beginning to pick up more of an ability to focus on multiple things at once? Why do we always assume change is bad?

Nowhere are we taking the time to ask what we get out of the change. Amazingly, things like this tend to happen for a reason other than “kids these days.”

I can’t help but feel as if all this worry about shorter attention spans and bad memories is just more angry old men yelling at clouds. I have yet to see any criticisms of these changes in the human brain that actually tell me WHY it’s bad for our brains to change in these ways. They all assume that we’re already on board, that we all want really long, focused attention spans or great memories. And it seems like the reason that they assume we’re already on board is because those are things we’ve prized in the past so they must be good now, even though the world is different now, our needs and abilities are different now, work is different now. Different is not less, even if we couch the difference in terms of deficits.

So no, I don’t care if our attention spans are shorter. I care if we are functional in the world we’ve got. And overall we seem to be doing pretty well.

Woman

This is the final post in a series about Kesha’s album Rainbow. You can find the rest of the series here: 1, 2, 3, 4.

I have not addressed every song on Rainbow, but I think that this post is going to be the final post of the series, because I feel I’ve addressed most of the elements that are important to me. I’m going to wrap up with my favorite song, as well as a short discussion of why Kesha’s choice to release essays in conjunction with the album was, I think, absolutely brilliant.

So let’s talk about Woman.

Just take a moment with that.

Take a moment with Kesha’s fucking gold motherfucking outfit.

Take a moment with every single bird that Kesha flips.

Take a moment with backup singer Saundra Williams and how utterly glorious her side eye is.

Just take a moment.

I’m going to quote a big old chunk from Kesha’s essay about this song, because this essay is one of my favorites.

“I realized that for most of my life I was intimidated to even try and run in the leagues of the people I look up to. With “Woman,” I hope my fans will hear that wild spirit still strong inside me but this time it was created more raw, spontaneously and with all live instrumentation, which I found was a huge reason I loved the records I did love. There were one or two or 12 different people playing real instruments together, and all that real human energy is exciting and very fun to listen to. I wanted this song to capture that organic, raw, soulful sound and keep the imperfect moments in the recordings because I find the magic in the imperfections.”

This song is all about those organic moments, and I think that’s why I love it so much. I love the horns. I love the syncopation in the chorus. I love how many times she says motherfuckin’. This is a song that came straight from someone’s heart, with so much joy that she couldn’t seem to contain it. I LOVE that it is a song about being independent, adult, and responsible without being boring or stodgy, and without feeling a need to put down men (it just says she doesn’t need a man to hold her too tight. You can still have a relationship and be independent).

Perhaps my favorite thing about this song is that it’s tacky. I mean that in a totally loving way. Kesha is wearing an entirely gold, sparkly outfit. It’s ridiculous and my absolute favorite thing. She swears. She is unabashed. But that’s the thing: she doesn’t have to be some kind of put together lady to be an adult who is confident, beautiful, self sufficient, and AMAZING. This song sends the message that independence doesn’t mean one thing. It can mean what feels right and empowering to YOU.

To complement that message, in her essay Kesha writes “I really have to thank Stephen Wrabel and Drew Pearson for helping me through the past few years and making writing songs a beautiful thing again. Both of those men made my art/work safe and fun, and every session with the two of them was so healing.” First, way to give a huge middle finger to Dr. Doucheface without actually ever having to mention him, second, thank you for making me cry at the fact that you had to do art and work in a place that didn’t make you feel safe, and third, kudos for recognizing that THIS was what felt safe and healing for you, then putting that out there. It doesn’t look the same to everyone, but working with these two men was empowering for her, and I so appreciate her speaking openly about her process. Her use of the word “safe” feels incredibly important when we have folks freaking out about phrases like “safe space”.

The final thing I’d like to touch on in regards to Rainbow is Kesha’s choice(s) of media.

Assault and trauma are both incredibly complex things. Many people express their experiences of them through art. That art is often incredibly helpful to other people and can start a dialogue around trauma and assault. What’s interesting about that process is that more often than not the artist does not really join in the conversation ABOUT their art. Kesha has taken control of the dialogue from the start by writing essays that give more depth to her art.

Each of the essays allows readers to see how Kesha herself views the song, the stories behind the songs, and the history of her depression and eating disorder. Songs are not the best medium for a narrative or explanation, which is why I think Kesha’s choice to include essays is really useful to the overall understanding of this album as a process of healing. Combined with the visual elements of four music videos (which is a lot for an album that’s only 14 songs long), Kesha has created something that is truly multimedia. Especially since she released four songs early, each accompanied by a video and an essay, we got a tone for the album that said “this is bigger than the individual songs.”

Not only that, but there is play between the songs. Kesha repeatedly references herself as a kitty or cat (classic jazz language that plays into her change in genre in this album), in Rainbow she sings “You gotta learn to let go, put the past behind you”, a clear reference to Learn to Let Go (which helps us see the relationship between the two: Rainbow is your motivation for Learn to Let G0), and generally creates an album in which you know that the songs do not stand alone but are meant to be taken as a whole.

When Kesha writes in her essay on Hymn: “This song is dedicated to all the idealistic people around the world who refuse to turn their backs on progress, love and equality whenever they are challenged. It’s dedicated to the people who went out into the streets all over the world to protest against racism, hate and division of any kind. It’s also dedicated to anyone who feels like they are not understood by the world or respected for exactly who they are. It’s a hopeful song about all of these people — which I consider myself one of — and the power that we all have when we all come together,” you know that she’s paying attention. She knows that her album is about more than herself, and she is inviting a conversation. She says that she is creating a space for others. It makes the song bigger than a simple squad anthem and into an anthem for the oppressed.

These essays have turned a simple piece of art into a powerhouse of social justice work in my opinion. I am so impressed with everything Kesha has done to make this album not simply musically powerful, but also powerful in its message. I love you Kesha. This album is so important.

Praying

This is the third part of a series on Kesha’s new album ‘Rainbow’. Click for parts one and two.

Let’s start by all taking a look at the essay that she wrote to go along with the song. It starts by quoting the opening lines of her video. One of the things that has stuck out to me about this album is the decidedly upbeat tone of it. What has surprised me about that is the fact that it doesn’t annoy me. I think the reason for this is that while this album appears to be coming from a place where Kesha seems ok, it doesn’t shy away from where she has been before. This essay speaks very frankly of depression, and the intro to the video gave me chills: “Please just let me die. Being alive hurts too much.” 

Praying is one of the few songs in which Kesha openly and vulnerably lays out how bad it was for her, and in the essay she is even more open about how in recent years she has struggled mightily with depression. She never mentions why; we all know. The information she provides in the essay goes a long way towards understanding the power of Praying: while the song is about moving on, the essay tells us what she’s moving on from.

The depth of this song doesn’t come from poetic lyrics, but from simplicity. Kesha doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know (especially if you are one of the many people who has dealt with abuse or assault), but what’s important is that she is making art out of it: she has created a beautiful song and she is sharing this experience in a wildly public way. She’s taken a personal and vulnerable experience and become powerful through it.

Kesha’s voice in this song is something else entirely and is what creates a truly transcendent experience here. She writes about learning how to trust her voice throughout her prior tour, and that in this album she really wants to show it off. In Praying she does amazing things with her voice. There are layers of meaning when you understand that she was not confident of her instrument, her very body, until just recently, and then you hear her carrying an amazing ballad with the lyrics “You said that I was done. But you were wrong and now the best is yet to come.” She is not only asserting that, she’s fucking proving it with the musical quality of this song.

My favorite thing about Praying is that when you first hear it, it sounds a bit like a song of forgiveness. I don’t think this coulid be further from the truth. Even if Kesha says “I hope you find your peace”, the very next line is “falling on your knees”, implying that he needs to ask for forgiveness, he needs to change, he has not earned his peace or his forgiveness yet. She even says “Some things only God can forgive”. No, this is not a song about Kesha being the bigger person because FUCK the idea that she even needs to be. This is a song of Kesha saying “sometimes I think about you but mostly just to remember that I’m so much better without you.” She is speaking from the position of power, where for most of her relationship with Dr. Jerkwad she had little to no power.

Speaking of Dr. Jerkwad, my favorite thing about this song is that she doesn’t even bother to hide the fact that she’s talking about him. We all know it, we all know that she’s giving him the middle finger, and we all know that this song is her getting the final word.

The second half of this song is a fucking ANTHEM for all the people who have been hurt and abused, who were told that they were worthless. I have been amazed time and again at how much applause the line “I’m proud of who I am” gets (yes I’ve watched multiple live performances of this song). I can only imagine singing that line when you’re a woman of color or a trans woman or a disabled woman, feeling that those words get to be yours. Feeling that you get to tell the world, which has oppressed you for so long, “when I’m finished, they won’t even know your name.”

Whenever I hear Praying, I like to imagine an army of oppressed people singing that line to Neo Nazis and White Supremacists. I like to imagine singing it to my abusive ex. I like to imagine singing it to the asshole who raped my best friend. So rarely do women really get to be angry at their abusers, or throw threats of any kind at their abusers. Honestly it’s really fucking refreshing. Even more refreshing is a song that can move from raw depression to this kind of empowerment. Praying is pretty fucking amazing.

Boots

This is the second of a series about Kesha’s new album Rainbow. For the first post, click here.

Boots seems to be out of place in Rainbow. It doesn’t address the past, pain, or moving forward. But listening to Boots feels delightfully powerful to me. After sexual assault, it’s easy to feel like your sexuality, and especially your joy in your own body and sexuality has been stolen. I’ve known too many people who before sexual assault were joyfully, intensely sexual, and their sex life was a major part of their identity. Following assault, they have described the experience as “I don’t know how to do it anymore.” There’s insecurity, fear, and a sense that the ability to enjoy their own body has been taken away.

Which is why I love Boots.

Kesha has always been an artist who is unabashedly hedonistic. Her earlier albums were about drinking, partying, and sexing. Typically these topics have been reserved for male artists, and one of the reasons I love Kesha is that she isn’t afraid to say “yes I party and I have a good time, and you still need my consent.” Boots feels like a return to some essential parts of Kesha. I’m glad that Rainbow is a more mature album overall, and I think it’s got a lot more depth, but Kesha also strikes me as a simply joyful and fun loving human being (check out little Kesha’s dance moves in the Learn to Let Go video for reference). One of the hardest things about depression and trauma is finding things that make you joyful, reclaiming things in an untainted way.

Boots to me is that anthem. It’s the recognition that Kesha is still a sexual being and someone who is happily so. It feels so wonderfully joyful to have a song on this album about healing in which she reclaims her sexuality. When assault can rob someone of their connection to their body, can leave them with PTSD, can mean that sex more often than not ends in tears or flashbacks, a song that finds joy again is so powerful.

Even more importantly, when she made her accusations there were some folks who decided to make a big deal out of the fact that she sang about partying and sex. That doesn’t fucking matter. She can love sex and still be assaulted. She does not have to be some kind of “gold star” victim to be a victim, and this song in context shows that she is not willing to give up her open, loud sexuality just to get people on her side.

In this respect, one line sticks out to me: “If you can’t handle these claws you don’t get this kitty.” I’ve seen friends criticize this kind of sentiment as a way for excusing bad behavior, but in this particular album it doesn’t read that way. Claws are associated with aggression, fighting back, defending yourself, and the kitty language has some obvious parallels to pussy and sex. To me this line reads as a message to people who want to ignore her boundaries; you do not get her body if you are not willing to respect her boundaries. I hear Kesha saying “I will fight back if you try to take what’s not yours.” In the middle of a song about reclaiming sexuality, that is a fucking anthem. It’s a slap in the face to Dr. Buttface.

My final impression of Boots is the recognition that not all of healing is painful or difficult. Some days you feel joyful. You find people that make you feel better. It might be simply be a distraction, and that’s ok. Feeling good sometimes is HUGE, and it doesn’t invalidate that you might be depressed or that you’re really struggling. It feels so good within this album to have a moment of unabashed sensuality. It’s a good reminder to all of us who have been hurt that our bodies don’t have to be dangerous or feel broken. It’s possible to reclaim them. And that is fucking awesome.

Kesha’s Rainbow is Life

I don’t know that I’ve mentioned this here on the blog before, but I adore Kesha. Her music was something my husband and I bonded over right away, and she’s held a special place in my heart since then. During the shit show with Dr. Assface (I refuse to write or say his real name), I grew to feel a particular kind of fondness for her. I was proud of her for standing up for herself and fighting for herself. And I was beyond sad when I thought that she might never release music again.

Last week Kesha released her first new album in 5 years. It’s almost unbelievable that she still has a career after that long away. And while I loved Kesha’s music before, her new album has brought something new and much deeper to the table, so much so that I have found the album as a whole to be completely transformative, an anthem for survivors, and honestly my favorite piece of media to come out in years. Beyond the album itself, Kesha has been releasing essays that go with many of her songs. She also has taken an interesting approach to the release itself, putting out 4 singles with videos before the album dropped, which totals a full third of the album available before the official release date.

As an intertextual piece of media, Kesha has created an amazing summation of the experience of healing from abuse. It’s been quite a while since I’ve really dug into a text and I am 100% obsessed with this album, so for this week, hopefully as a small spot of light in an otherwise dumpster fire trash pile of a time, I’m going to be breaking down the album, analyzing some of the lyrics, and talking about how it exemplifies the experience of a survivor.

Today I’m going to start by talking about some elements of the album as a whole, and for the next week or so I’m going to delve into specific songs. Let’s do it!

The thing that strikes me first and most intensely about Rainbow and the accompanying essays are not what Kesha says, but what she doesn’t say. Kesha’s album comes after a very long and very public trial with Dr. Douchecanoe, but nowhere in her album does she mention him, sexual assault, a trial, or anything else that could be seen as a particular that points towards the whole business. She doesn’t even reference the experience in anything that could be considered a “direct” way. The two places that stand out the most to me as Kesha pointing towards Dr. Luke are the entirely of “Praying” (which lyrically is simply a song about one person who feels another person has wronged them), and in the essay about “Woman”, when she writes “I really have to thank Stephen Wrabel and Drew Pearson for helping me through the past few years and making writing songs a beautiful thing again. Both of those men made my art/work safe and fun, and every session with the two of them was so healing.”

I’ll dig into deeper depth on that last comment when I write about woman, but what strikes me about all this is how careful Kesha is being. Perhaps it’s unintentional, but the whole business reads like a manual on how to avoid charges of libel, and that to me is such a deep part of the modern woman’s experience of sexual assault. The ways that Kesha talks around her assault are just as telling as what she says. Women today have more freedom to talk about sexual assault, but they are only allowed to do so in an abstract way. “I was sexually assaulted,” is an acceptable, poignant, personal story. “He sexually assaulted me,” is cause for a lawsuit. Within the context that we ALL know who Kesha is talking about, and the subject matter of much of the album makes it less a capitulation to these pressures and more an in-joke in which we are all aware what she’s really saying, but she’s playing by the “rules”. And for those women who have not been able to speak up about their abuse or assault, it feels to me like an affirmation: you still deserve your healing. There are still ways to heal. There are ways to move forward and those of us who have been there will support you.

This odd tension in the album exemplifies to me the expectations of how women are supposed to deal with sexual assault, and the challenges it can present.

Which brings me to the overall theme of the album: healing. It’s named after a song whose lyrics say that you will find a rainbow. By itself, that message seems trite and almost dismissive of the real pain of sufferers. But the reason this album is so successful to me is its diversity. Rainbow covers a surprising array of musical styles, from horns heavy “Woman”, to the simple and indie feeling “Dinosaur,” all the way through a country duet with Dolly Parton. Each of these songs alone does not paint a full picture of trauma and recovery. However that seems like an important recognition to me: no single emotion or reaction is enough to encapsulate someone’s experience of trauma. That’s why Kesha required a full album plus essays. Each piece is a very real experience, whether that’s forgiving the person who hurt you, hating the person who hurt you, feeling proud of yourself, or fulfilling childhood dreams. An individual person can feel all of these things, or different people could experience their trauma in all of these different ways, and nothing about any of these experiences in invalid or incorrect.

Everyone reacts to trauma or assault differently. It would have been easy for Kesha to create an album that spoke only about her experiences. However she created something that made space for all the reactions someone could have, and beyond that, it recognized the long path its taken for her to get to where she is. By opening up about the variety of her experiences, and not creating a pretty picture for us all to see now that she’s healthy again, she opened the door to validating thousands of other experiences.

The format and styling of the album overall give an important picture of sexual assault, but there’s one additional element that I think is important, and that’s Kesha’s choice to write and publish essays about four of her singles as well as short paragraphs on every track. I’m going to do a longer post just on how fascinating that is as a medium choice, but for now I want to point out how that experience of feeling, then stepping back and analyzing your feelings, is so common for people who are struggling with trauma, depression, or anxiety. The sense of distance from yourself, combined with the need to question everything and provide evidence for everything feels so familiar to me, especially when I think about my own experiences with sexual assault.

Again, I’m not sure that Kesha did that intentionally, but her choice of a dual medium is a brilliant mirror of what the experience of recovery can feel like. Interacting with an album that validates my experiences, talks openly about emotions, engages in a realistic way with assault and trauma, and ends feeling uplifting is so powerful to me. Seeing a woman who was supposed to shut up and go away come back and create amazing art that not only blows everyone away but also quietly thumbs its nose at her abuser is truly amazing. I can’t say enough about how powerful Rainbow is for me. I suggest you give it a listen.

That’s Not How This Works Gilmore Girls

I’m a fan of Gilmore Girls. I started watching it back when it was still coming out, when I was just a little junior high girl who thought it was maybe an accurate representation of what grown up life was like (lol). So I was pretty excited for the new mini-series, and devoured it in a single day. Like most reboots, there’s good and bad to it, but I want to focus specifically on something that as an adult with more experience I now KNOW is not how the world works. Not even a little bit, not at all.

This mini-series of Gilmore Girls is the first time that the show portrays therapy (despite the fact that basically every character ever seen could have used a heaping helping of it from the opening sequence). I am pretty gunshy of media representations of therapy no matter what, but I have to say that I was particularly disappointed in this one because it a. had the potential to show a really positive therapy experience to a great number of people and b. broke some very fundamental rules of therapy without a thought, creating a misleading portrayal of therapy that (I think) could easily scare young viewers or viewers with no experience in therapy away from pursuing help if they have a mental illness or are simply struggling.

The first thing that concerned me was that we saw multiple therapy sessions, and never once did the therapist offer any actual suggestions of what Emily and Lorelai could do to repair their relationship, or of skills that Lorelai could use in her own life. Nearly every time we saw her she just smiled and nodded or said that time was up. The sessions between Emily and Lorelai appeared to consist of sitting in silence for an hour. Now I know that it’s not unheard of for clients to be reticent, and for there to be a lot of silence, but most therapists will do more than just sit there. They ask questions. They suggest interpretations of different events. They give actual concrete ideas of how to handle your emotions and things to do so that your emotions start to feel better. I’ve found it a common misunderstanding that going to therapy is just paying someone to listen to you. Sure, that’s part of it, but that greatly underestimates all the work that a therapist actually does.

I’m sure there are therapists out there who don’t do much, but if you find a half decent one, they will be doing actual WORK. They will help you create images to understand your emotions better. They will help you draw connections between different events in your life and your current behaviors. They will give you strategies for dealing with other people. They will challenge different beliefs that you have which might be leading to unhappiness. They will give suggestions of activities, mantras, exercises, etc. that can help emotions feel less powerful and can calm you. The conviction that therapy is “just talking” is a huge part of the reason people are resistant to it. Why would you waste your time doing that when you can do it with friends or family? But therapy, while it is talk based, is about learning. It teaches you what you’re supposed to actually do outside of therapy. This therapist was the WORST portrayal of a therapist that doesn’t do anything.

Beyond that, when Lorelai and Emily actually did say things, they out and out fought and insulted each other. They were passive aggressive and cruel. No self-respecting therapist would let those behaviors go unchallenged. The point of therapy for any relationship is to create a safer space where nasty behavior like that gets curtailed and you can actually speak civilly to each other to get at real issues. All of the things that Lorelai and Emily said were ripe for further discussion, and the therapist just let them hang there. The show for some reason did not address that this was an AWFUL therapist.

And finally, perhaps worst, was a serious ethical breach that happened in the show without a single note. When the therapist is auditioning for Stars Hollow: The Musical, she sees Lorelai, greets her, and asks Lorelai to put in a good word. NO. NONONO. Therapists are not allowed to acknowledge that they know patients outside of therapy unless the patient acknowledges it first for confidentiality reasons. Not only that, but it’s horrifically unethical to use your position as someone’s therapist (where you have power over them) to ask for favors from them. This therapist should lose their license.

I understand that TV does not perfectly mimic reality, but these are huge problems for the portrayal of therapy on TV, and they are damaging to people’s understanding of what they can expect and their openness to attending therapy. We can do better.

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

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.