Note For Anyone Writing About Me

Guide to Writing About Me

I am an Autistic person,not a person with autism. I am also not Aspergers. The diagnosis isn't even in the DSM anymore, and yes, I agree with the consolidation of all autistic spectrum stuff under one umbrella. I have other issues with the DSM.

I don't like Autism Speaks. I'm Disabled, not differently abled, and I am an Autistic activist. Self-advocate is true, but incomplete.

Citing My Posts

MLA: Hillary, Alyssa. "Post Title." Yes, That Too. Day Month Year of post. Web. Day Month Year of retrieval.

APA: Hillary, A. (Year Month Day of post.) Post Title. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Thursday, October 3, 2013

My Diversity Week Speech

I'm pretty sure that this is what's getting read for me for Diversity Week. My professor from Gender and Women's Studies wanted me on the "From Diversity, We Speak" panel, but being in China is a thing.
I edited it down to about half the original length- I'll stick the original up tomorrow. 

Trigger Warning: Descriptions of ableist bullying, r-slur (censored), tokenization, invalidation

Hi. My name is Alyssa, and I'm studying in China. I don't know how to teleport, so I'm writing from diversity instead of talking. I'm white: I an average-looking Russian Jew, but most people don't know what that looks like: I've been misread as Latina, Mongolian, half Han Chinese, Indian, and Xinjiang. I'm read as a woman. I'm genderfluid and androgyne. I'm asexual. I'm biromantic- I have romantic attraction to people of my gender and people of other genders. I just don't want sex. And... I'm Autistic.
Does anyone want to tell me that surely I mean I have autism, or that I'm a person with autism? Because no, I definitely do not mean that. I'm also not a person with Jewishness. Telling me what I should call myself is rude. Believe me, if a Disabled person is saying Disabled and Autistic, not “with disabilities” or “with autism,” they've heard all the reasons in favor of person-first language. Many times. Each. But I'm not here to tell you why I want to be called Autistic. I'm writing from diversity. I have stories.
When I was in third grade, there was a separate language arts class. I was in it. I didn't know that it was more advanced because no one told me. There was a slanted roof. I hit my head on the ceiling every day. My classmates stopped after about a week. I didn't. No one ever thought to move me to a different seat, where I wouldn't hit my head. They just made fun of me. My teacher even hit me with a book.
Also in third grade, we memorized our times tables. I was the last person to memorize my times tables to the teachers satisfaction. She made fun of the way I jumped and flapped when I took my test (it was an oral exam,) just like my classmates did. They called me a r****d. Yes, r****d is a slur.
When I was in fourth grade, they sent me in for testing for two days. No one told me why until years later. I was sent back with no diagnosis, but with the doctor having wanted to discuss some “findings” that were not being sent to the school. I was sent back with what amounted to “gifted kids are weird.”
In sixth grade, “r****d” came back. I don't remember why. Being the only one who was still jumping at the bell more than a week after school started may have been relevant. It might have been the way I jumped and flapped when we played “Around the World.” Maybe it was my complete inability to get organized. My locker was always a mess, and I couldn't open it. I stuck a pencil in the lock so I could open my own locker, which got me in trouble. Since I was smart, my inability to work the lock properly was my fault. Clearly I just didn't care. I couldn't keep my locker organized. They said that was because I didn't care too. The idea that I couldn't keep something organized without help wouldn't occur to them, because I was smart and that meant I didn't need help. I should be able to figure it out.
That's what indistinguishability from peers means for us, and that's what being smart enough that no one figures out you're disabled (hence indistinguishable!) means. No one ever gives you the help you need because you're smart and you can figure it out. It's also the goal of most autism therapy. It's a bad goal.
In high school, I was all kinds of visibly weird. I was the only person read as a girl at my lunch table. I was absent more times than I wore pants. (Yes, I know, androgyne and skirts sounds like a strange combination. I also bound my breasts. It might not be typical, but I did mix masculine-coded things with feminine-coded things.) I joined tenor bass choir. I was the only theoretical girl there, too. I actually made a joke about my gender, not that anyone picked up on it. “For the purpose of this group, what gender will I be at 7:30pm tomorrow?” I wanted to know if I should wear the men's uniform or the women's uniform for the concert. They said it was up to me. I wore the men's uniform. I was also the only theoretical girl on the Ultimate Frisbee team. I say theoretical girl because I wasn't out as nonbinary, and I'd still have had to choose one for legal stuff.
And yet... when I talk about my life? Even though No one ever tells me how I'm overcoming my gender, or how I must be recovered from femaleness. Sometimes they say I'm overcoming sexism, which is different. No one says I overcame Jewishness or recovered from Jewishness when I eat bacon. I've not even heard it as a joke, though it's one I might make as a Jewish Autistic person who eats pork and likes to poke fun at the stuff I hear about disability. If I do a thing while openly Autistic? Suddenly it's all about having recovered or all about having overcome or being inspiring. It's not about having overcome a whole lot of ableism- discrimination based on disability. It's about having overcome disability. Not cool. It's quite thoroughly not cool. Like, it's not cool to the point that I have a pre-written speech that I will spring on any organization that wants to bring me in as a Token Autistic (should I say Token Person With Autism?) and talk about how I overcame my autism to do cool things that I do.
I thank them for inviting me to speak as their Token Autistic. I tell them I'm going to talk about how much I'm a success, and that this is to give them hope that their children may be successes too. If they're lucky, their children may even be the Token Autistic at a conference some day, where they will talk about how they couldn't do anything independently as children and now they're successful and it's great. They won't say they still dig their fingernails into their hands hard enough to leave marks, and they won't let you see them rocking. That would make the Parents and Experts uncomfortable, since it would mean the Token Autistic has achieved success while still acting Autistic. That would be scary because autism is scary. It's really not, but they think it is.
I tell stories of succeeding because of autistic traits, because stories are important. I know stories are important because they are a reflection. What does it mean when the stories with people like me are told by people like me. Does the rest of the world think I don't exist? Or do they just wish I didn't exist?
When I ask, they say I am not like those people I don't see. They don't see me as Autistic. Nonsense. If they don't see me as Autistic, how do they know I'm Autistic to say they don't see me as Autistic?
Ableism is scary to fight, because when you say you're disabled, people often decide that either you 're Making It Up or you're Not A Real Person. If you're Making It Up, you're still a person, but you don't get help. If you're Not A Real Person, you get help, but also abuse in the name of therapy. You can't possibly understand how hard it is to deal with people like you, or you'd know. They have to abuse you.
That's why it was scary to lend my roommate my copy of Loud Hands: Autistic People Speaking. She studies English, and she wanted a book with simple words. Loud Hands has simple words and is meant for adults, and it was terrifying because handing it over meant admitting that I am one of Those People.

I didn't get where I am by overcoming my neurology any more than I did by overcoming my asexuality or my androgyny or my Jewishness. I think you'd laugh if I started talking about overcoming my whiteness, that or throw something at me. But I'm not allowed to be Disabled and a Real Person, so I must have overcome it. Right?

1 comment:

  1. I like this so much. Thank you for writing so eloquently. Hopefully with people like you writing about things like this, some day people will finally GET IT.


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