I’m sorry I wasn’t able to blog last week. I was working with someone who approached me to talk about their online resource. We tested it, but the screen’s flashing and messages appearing about me doing the wrong thing for the system to work put me in a state of meltdown. That’s fine, it’s important that this resource doesn’t incapacitate people whose responses to these things might be more severe. I did have to take the rest of the weekend to recover, though. Plus I had a meeting with my mentor on Wednesday (great news a-coming!), a talk at Autistic Pride 2021 to write and film for June 19th (it went really well, I’ll link to it next week); and a full session at AUPresses 2021 (hello to the people who’ve joined the mailing list! Please spread the blog round the Diversity and Inclusion panels at your workplaces!).
In short, I’ve had a lot on. Hence the blog being just one more thing I couldn’t really deal with last weekend. This one will also be a bit shorter, nor will it be about the topics I said we’d discuss a few weeks back. Anyone biting their nails to read my steaming takes on autistic-influenced culture or queer autistic dating will have to keep on biting those nails for another week at least.
First off, I am doing a gig. Yes, it’ll be in front of people. I know, right? I will be doing the Q and A for Jerry Rothwell’s film The Reason I Jump, which released early this year to rave reviews. Due to there being a pandemic (not sure if you’ve heard) the cinema released has been delayed. The Oxford premiere will be on Sunday June 27th, at 19:45. There will be no ads, so please get to the cinema in time. The film and our subsequent conversation will last to approximately 21:45. It’s a perfect film to end a long post-lockdown cinema drought.
(the guests TBA is me, I’m TBA)
Jerry and I have known each other since 2019, when he asked if he could do a trial screening at the experience group. He did, the advice the group gave was invaluable. I have seen the film, it’s incredible. It’s really necessary art that communicates autistic experience in an honest and sensorily gorgeous way. I am looking forward to seeing as many of you there as possible. I will be wearing a nice suit, because it’s a premiere.
If you’re in the UK but can’t make the Oxford event, please go to https://www.reasonijump.film/ and look for a showing near you. If you’re not in the English-speaking world, please stream it. Find the streaming options, also, on https://www.reasonijump.film/
ABA = Conversion Therapy
I have heard back from Stonewall, we will be working together more over the coming months. If you are an autistic activist who’s also queer, please get in touch. We’re going to have to have stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds for this. When my Autistic Pride talk comes out, I have a call-out for autistic activists in it to link arms and talk to Stonewall. We need to show them we represent a wide variety of autistic people who would still be at risk of conversion therapy, for our gender/sexuality AND our neurotype.
I am currently finishing up the training modules for my coming work as an autistic mentor for universities when my partner and I move to Bath in September. The NAS modules, which I’ve had to pay for, are excellent and I heartily recommend them for any neurotypical who wants to work with our community. By far the best training resource on autism I’ve ever seen. The only thing I’d add would be more on LGBTQIA+ identities.
For actually autistic applicants, they’re as good as useless, but that’s not the fault of the creators of the resources. Don’t get me wrong, these resources are incredible and there is an absolute need for autistic-involved creation of teaching resources, but they’re still quite expensive for education that doesn’t teach one anything they don’t already know. I think that a better approach might be to have one set of modules for NTs and one for autistics, or allow autistics to take an exam on, well, themselves, so they don’t have to pay for 6 hours of seeing their own lives reflected back at them.
As one of my students wisely said, though, it doesn’t matter whether it’s covert ableism or not, I can afford it right now. I have the privilege of being able to afford high quality training that will do nothing for me. When I’m in, I can make a racket about it. Plus, there’s so much they’ll gain from having an actually autistic voice with a seat at the table. It’s all about being there, proudly and openly autistic. I expect a lot more to come out of this. I will have a story to tell about this over the coming weeks.
Speaking of having a Seat at the Table
I have a funny story to tell. In 2019, I was working for the NHS and I was invited to take part in the LGBT Staff meeting for the entire trust. I only made it to one, since many were cancelled or rescheduled due to various people being unavailable. Out of 15 people present, I was only one of 2 actually queer people present. Both of us were cis. There were no trans or non-binary people present. There were no openly ace people there either. The other queer member of staff was a bisexual ciswoman. Both of us were white, as were all but two of the people present.
Both of us were a bit taken aback by the tone of the discussion. I was slightly late as a lesson I was teaching went on a bit longer than anticipated. When I got in, the discussion was about transpeople and bathrooms. For some reason, the group seemed convinced that transpeople needed to have another bathroom, beyond male, female and disabled. “We haven’t got the budget for gender neutral toilets.” I heard. I had to say that I was really sorry, but I have friends who are frightened of using bathrooms in public places. The one that allies with their gender might have people get angry with them, the one that doesn’t will give them dysphoria. The disabled bathroom isn’t appropriate because they weren’t disabled and they might get shouted at. So unless all bathrooms are gender neutral, without the separation between male and female, they don’t use the toilets at all.
“Wow,” I heard. This was in the NHS, in the year of our lord 2019. “That would be so expensive.” No, I had to say, just don’t separate between male and female. You don’t have to literally build extra bathrooms just to have a fourth one. “But what about muslim women for instance? They might not feel safe sharing a bathroom with men.” This was said by a kindly white lady. Luckily, one of the (only! two non-white people there said: “What do you think these women use at home?”
This was in the same year as my time at Oxford Pride. I was baffled. “Why are there only two of us here?” I asked. Well, was the answer, no-one else has made themselves available. That may be true. Still, no reason to only have cis straight people there. I had to explain what the term ‘non-binary’ meant. That was, well, a thing. I sent an email in November 2019 to ask about what happened and if I should prepare educational materials for a subsequent meeting.
I got an email back after chasing, which said that the point of the LGBT+ group was that it was inclusive. Anyone can join, not just LGBT+ people. They were all taking time out of their days to do this in their free time. I was told that while he understood I was enthusiastic, he still felt it would be beneficial for me to understand my expectations of the LGBT+ network meetings. This staff member was himself cis gay.
Sigh. It happened again, I got neurotypicaled again (that’s a word now, deal with it). The point about Pride is not just flying a rainbow flag. It is to fight the very inequalities that underpin the power relations of our society that deem queer people not worthy of the same chances. That only 2 people out of 15 were lgbtqia+ at all, that only 2 others were of colour; that was serious. These people were making decisions on the safety of people who were very different from them. They didn’t seem to understand that. And I, here, needed to be told that my expectations were incorrect as to what the group was for. Looking at the agenda, it was about keeping queer people safe. In the end, it was a place where misinformation was spread and the moment someone spoke out about it, I was told I was being inappropriate.
After that first meeting, I whispered “What the fuck is this?” to the girl sitting next to me, who was bisexual. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll be back.” The NHS ended its work with me in early 2020, two months after this exchange.
In order to have an autism/neurodiversity-inclusive approach, then one must have conversations about queerness, race and identity. It’s not either or. To box these in as separate issues is damaging. For the people in the actual LGBT network to not know basic facts about trans and queer rights – or even the existence of NB people – is indicative of the wider dearth of knowledge about queer rights within the NHS. It’s frightening that someone working as an Expert by Experience – not even a full staff member – had to teach them. Again, these were people who already chose to attend this out of interest and care for queer people. They are likely to be the most positive towards queer rights already.
I believe that to actually make a difference within Diversity and Inclusion fields, neurodiversity staff groups, lgbt+ groups and BAME groups within organisations can not run on a voluntary basis. What I mean by this is not that the people attending it need to be forced to do so. I mean that those with minoritised identities need to be paid for their time and letting their voices heard. If you’re autistic in a busy company, you’re already exhausting yourself simply by working at that company. To ask that person to take time out from recovery and advocate for themselves and others even more, unpaid, is borderline cruelty. They are doing the company a favour by being at the table.
A company’s diversity policy is only as good as its actions. Optics are meaningless and valueless. To talk about inclusion whilst – intentionally or not – excluding those whose interests are most at stake makes a mockery of the ideals on which these efforts are built.
The primary motivators for Pride are neither recognition nor visibility. Those are means, not ends. The ends are the undoing of existing hierarchies of control. To be visible is not to be a tick box exercise. It is to challenge the system and change it. The first Pride was a riot for a reason – police brutality and imprisonment of queer people by the NYPD. We should never forget that.
Here, I’ve got a video from Harry Thompson, with whose views I 100% agree. This is about functioning labels and identifying as ‘asperger’s’.
Nearly there for Pride Month! Next week, I’ll hopefully be able to share the video of my talk at Autistic Pride and my blog will be a full written version of my speech. I speak super quickly on the video, so feel free to read that instead.
See you at the premiere and see you next week!