In several of my recent flurry of posts, I have threatened or promised (depending on how one looks at it) to go into more detail about certain things. One thing that I feel a need to expound upon at this point is what I will refer to as “the Autistic Identity”. Before I really go into detail, I would like to refer you to one of the many sources that have given me the idea to write about this subject. Kruma Steward has written a lot of insightful things about a variety of different subjects (his articles about what he calls “Asian drama” are priceless), but the article of his that I am concerned with in this statement is here.
Kruma has stated that every Human being, regardless of whether he is rich, poor, or somewhere in between, has different aspects and pieces to their identity. How they define themselves to themselves, how they define themselves to others, and how they define themselves in terms of relating to others. It is a bit of a hierarchy. Autistic individuals are no different. And if you think the individual is the only person who defines his own identity, think again.
The truth is that everyone we meet from the time we are born to the time we die plays some part in how our identities are built. The level of influence a person exhibits over our identity of self is dependent upon a few factors, but even when we are so old that we should be dead, statistically speaking, our view of our selves is subject to change.
Take for example the elderly man who has a stroke for whatever reason and finds himself suddenly unable to finish sentences without lengthy, uncomfortable pauses, or even to speak intelligibly at all. Prior to this time, he may have defined himself as a veteran, a grandfather, a retiree, or a whole number of things. He will still probably define himself these ways, but a new, more prominent one has come in and made itself very important in his self-definition: “I have just had a stroke”. Many of his conversations or communications, even with family, will revolve around that subject. It will probably depress him, and heaven knows that acquiring a new level of dependence on others is not something any adult male likes to go through.
This, to an extent, is how my definition of self changed when a rehabilitation counselor told me in a lengthy, detailed way, that I was on the autistic spectrum and that the reason I had never had it brought to my attention before was because, literally, nobody else has figured it out. I have to admit this first. I looked for any and all possible evidence I could find to support telling this person that she was mistaken.
But then I began to realise that how others had defined me for myself was not really to my liking, either. For years, I had struggled with different mental health services that, if I were to discover staffers throwing darts at a wall with diagnostic labels painted on it, I would experience no surprise with. These people had told me that my inability to get along with others and, at one stage of my life, refrain from getting myself into legal trouble, was due to something they could fix with pills that often left me feeling worse than before the presenting problem I came to them with had begun.
Other, less successful, individuals had told me that my inability to get a job and keep it was because I was lazy, did not want to work, and the old tired arguments of morons who think that hyperinflation is somehow preferable to having a small but significant percentage of the populace unemployed. Never mind that my attempts to communicate with potential employers often left me feeling like I had been molested and/or assaulted, or in one case so humiliated that I did not want to go back to the place again. Never mind that when I did turn up for the job I had been told I had, nobody at the place had even seemed to have heard of me. Have you ever tried to live autistic in a world where people do not get that just because you both speak English does not necessarily mean you are speaking the same language?
So certain cobwebs, those of the person subconsciously avoiding employment and the PickOneOfADozenMentalIllnesses, started to clear away. I engaged myself in the question of what being autistic means in terms of the way it has shaped my life to date, and how do I look at myself now.
I am not going to get into what this rehabilitation specialist promised me in terms of what a diagnosis meant, or how it feels to have such promises never delivered upon irrespective of how many times they are made. What I do wish to talk about is how it changed everything when I became aware of a little group called Autism Speaks, and what those assholes meant to the people I spoke to who had already grown comfortable with the fact that they, their children, their significant others, or sometimes all of the above, were autistic.
Yes, I know how long that sentence was and how it degrades readability. I am a naturally hyperlexic former-child, after all. Eat me. Anyway, in a number of small but highly dramatic steps, my thoughts changed from “I am autistic, how do I change this so I can fit in and get on with my life at last” to something like one of the Daleks said in a memorable episode of the real Doctor Who. Namely, “We obey noone. We are the superior beings!”
It also led to the coining of a word that, when I say it aloud, sounds like Michael Ironside addressing a piece of dog shit that he almost trod in: normie(s). Simply put, a normie is a person who is as normal as they think everyone should aspire to be, especially where it counts most (the cerebral cortex), and aspires to make everyone else like that. In the words that Robert Smith sang so well: “Everybody’s happy, they’re finally all the same, ‘cos everybody’s jumping everybody else’s train!”. If you know the song Jumping Someone Else’s Train, then you know that Robert Smith was being sarcastic or ironic when he sang these words. A normie is the kind of person who does not know that.
Further study of the question and how to answer it brought about discussion of “it’s genetic” and how autism is present from birth. The former, I took exception to as a statement about why pursuit of a cure or pre-natal test for autism is a bad thing. There are lots of conditions that are genetic, or to which susceptibility is a genetic thing, that nobody in their right mind would want to have. Diabetes, cancer, and epilepsy are the best examples that come to my mind. Just because a state of one’s being is genetic does not mean it should be defended with a rocket launcher, and I speak as an autistic adult who was diagnosed with diabetes when he was just over halfway to ten years of age.
This is also one thing I never grow tired of telling curebies who come to shove their pathetic worldview into my face. If Professor Steven Boyages (a diabetes specialist many people with diabetes would fall over themselves to have been treated by) were to call me tomorrow and say that a cure for diabetes has entered the Human trials stage, I would tell him I want to be a test subject and I will murder my own mother to make that happen if need be. Come to my door telling me that you have a cure for autism, on the other hand, and I will post you back to your loved ones in pieces.
So to get back to the main point, the word “autistic” is so intrinsic to my core identity that it cannot be removed. But the way in which others try to change the definition of autistic for me, that is something that I fight with every day.
Sometimes, when I listen to recordings by Frank Zappa, for example, I note things about him that make me wonder. The manner in which in stressed and spaced out words when singing or narrating, for example, is a very odd thing to hear the first time. Anyone who has heard him say the words “he puts forth” or “the muffin” during his opening monologue on the Bongo Fury recording of the song Muffin Man knows what I mean. But an even bigger tip-off that something was not completely normie with Zappa is one anecdote in which a visitor to his home found a room with shelves on every wall, literally filled with recordings of his live performances. Since Zappa preferred to make albums out of his live recordings (albeit with a lot of editing and overdubs), a conservative estimate of the number of albums he could have released from that material would be in the high hundreds.
And this is far from the only example of an influential or highly respected person in one line of work or another behaving in ways that make one question their normalcy. But as is said in one clause of the Neurotypical Privilege document, nobody will mock me or put me down because I suggest that a famous or highly respected individual may have been neurotypical (aka normie).
We also live in a world where people who are ignorant want to feel that their ignorance is just as good as the knowledge of someone who knows better. What I learned from listening to Frank Zappa‘s music, more than anything, is that no matter how much they attempt to convince themselves otherwise, it is not cool to be an ignorant asshole, especially when one is trying to make choices on the behalf of others. Although nobody can be knowledgeable in every subject, learning about the ins and outs of a subject that you presume to speak about is not a luxury, a hobby, or even a chore. It is an obligation.
An example of this is the Ohio “new wave” band Devo. Devo‘s main conceit is that we, Humans, are “devolving”, that is, evolving backwards into a more primitive, thoughtless state. Whilst we can see many examples of where Human beings have regressed into more primitive states, what these gentlemen clearly do not understand when one reads their writings on the subject is that evolution as it actually occurs is neither forward nor backward. It simply is change in response to conditions.
The Human species has a number of suboptimal characteristics that makes it less than ideal in a competitive survival sense. Slow running speeds, low weight-moving capability, slow healing cycles, and so on. But the one characteristic that has made Homo Sapien’s conservation status very secure (at least until recently) is his ability to make and manipulate tools, and complex abstract reasoning. Through the use of science, less farmers can farm than ever before, yet more food is produced than ever before. This is quite a remarkable feat, irrespective of how one looks at it.
Where this theory of de-evolution, as they put it, does gain plausibility is in how Humans make use of this tool-creation ability. Only very daft and idiotic Humans believe that this world is not overpopulated with Human beings. Therefore, the species’ number one priority right now should be to create new methods of birth control that are so easily and effectively used that only people who really, really, really want to have children will do so. And through our marvels of mass communication, we could then communicate to the populace why such people will want to have as few as they can. So if you are looking for valid evidence that there is de-evolution (aka regression) in the Human species, look no further than Catholics.
If you were wondering what the point of all that was, whilst I do not like to be unnecessarily or unjustifiably boastful, another essential component of what I will call my core identity is that I am an intelligent man. According to Professor Anthony Attwood, one of the few people living today who can credibly call themselves an expert concerning autism, only one percent of the total populace of the world has an intelligence equal to or greater than mine. Lest you think this is a brag, as of December 2011, that means another seventy or so million, so it is hardly a unique thing.
But what it does to my view of the world and how I interact with it is that it makes me seek out things that challenge or stimulate my mind. When I hear some radio “music”, I can sit down, close my eyes, and think I am psychic because I can predict every note, lyric, and trimming of a three-minute example of their “music” a good fifteen minutes in advance. When I hear a Frank Zappa or Devo song for the first time, the exact opposite occurs. I even start laughing at how I have been surprised or taken in a direction I never expected, in some cases. In the former case, the opera-like singing in the song Teenage Prostitute, which closes the album Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch. In the latter, the Doom Metal-like introduction of the song Fresh, which opens most versions of the Something For Everybody album.
So if you are reading this and still happen to be in school, take this from me. If you find yourself being talked down at by peers who have a problem with you having more brainpower than they do, tell them to go and fukk themselves. There is no such thing as a stupid and ignorant General who has successfully prosecuted a war. (That can be the Dean McIntosh quote you stick to your wall one day when someone actually gives a shit about what I have written.)
The point I am trying to make, or at least stab at, is that the way in which we define ourselves to ourselves is highly influential in how we live our lives. When I was a teenager, I was allowing people like social workers, my family, and to some extent my own confusion about what I wanted to be, define me as a delinquent who was destined for prison. When I was a young adult, I let assholes who could not correctly interpret the problems I was having define me as unwilling or unable to participate and thus only worthy of exclusion. Now that I am sitting across the room from middle age and reflecting on all the things that went wrong, I have made the conscious decision to define myself as a man who meant well, and wants to do good things for others, but has been excluded and kept away simply because he was born different to those in power.
And my point is that how we define ourselves has a powerful effect. Whilst I do not expect every autistic adult to define themselves in similar terms to me, I would ask that they take the lesson offered by the fact that now I do define myself that way, even though I am dreadfully unhappy with the way my life is at this point, I am much better for it.
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