In a post on Facebook recently, I read that you chose to appear in a public service announcement for Autism Speaks. One of your stated reasons was to “honour” your sixteen year old autistic daughter, Kathleen.
Mr. Hilfiger, I have to be brutally honest with you. The first comment I saw posted on this reposting of the announcement was from one Brigianna Spencer, one of many autistic advocates floating around and in contact with one Lydia Brown, who happens to be among the best-known of our kind. Her comment goes right to the heart of the problem with your announcement. It reads:
Also appalling to me is how Autism Speaks is described as a “philanthropy” in the announcement that I read. If Autism Speaks is a philanthropy, so too were the Nazi Party, the Hutu militia, Pol Pot, Josef Stalin, or the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In the 1999 film Fight Club, a voiceover declares that the narrator, as played by Edward Norton, feels sorry for the men packed into gyms trying to look how Calvin Klein or your good self says that they should. This, I do not doubt, was intended as a swipe at your company’s apparent confusion of fashion with normalism. Well, apparently not only do you expect men to pack into gyms to look how you apparently think we should, you also apparently believe that people should be made to think how you say we should. As is said in the comment I already quoted above, this is a very strange way to honour someone.
I find it very difficult, if not impossible, to believe that a man with your apparent financial and social resources could not have done a cursory amount of research into autism as it exists in our present world, and not learned a few facts. In order of importance to me, these facts begin with the one that there is a major grass-roots civil rights movement both by and on the behalf of the autistic. Next is the fact that whilst there are different levels of dedication and extremism within this movement, all are in agreement about a singular thing: that Autism Speaks does not speak for us, and their solicitation of money or services from celebrities such as yourself with claims of it being on our behalf is nothing more than fraud. Can I make this any plainer to you, Mr. Hilfiger? You have been hoodwinked. And possibly most important of all to others, Autism Speaks’ actions that they present as being on our behalf can at best be charitably described as misguided.
Autism Speaks likes to present being autistic as a tragedy, as something we would desperately escape if we just had a means. I cannot stress this enough: this is wrong. I am more than twice as old as your daughter now, and I can tell you emphatically that being autistic has proven the only source of comfort to me in a number of situations that are best described as abusive. I have no more wish to escape being autistic than I wish to escape having brown hair, blue eyes, a Scottish grandfather, or a penis. What I would have liked to escape when I was a child was being subjected to physical, emotional, and psychological-sexual abuse on a near to daily basis. I would have liked to escape being mistreated simply because I do not speak what I refer to as the language of normies. I would have liked to escape having so-called medical professions hold me down and shove pills into my mouth to see what random effect said pills will have, and if that sufficiently corresponds with being “not autistic anymore”.
Autism Speaks’ ambitions concerning the autistic, and the mere concept of autism, are where comparisons to the Nazi party that ruled Germany between August 1934 and April 1945 are not only fair, but remarkably apt. It is no secret to anyone who has been through sufficient schooling that Adolf Hitler desired to eliminate every Jew, Gypsy, mental patient, and more besides, living in Europe within his lifetime. The leadership of Autism Speaks differs from Adolf Hitler in one way. This way is the means and opportunity to carry out their nefarious ambition of murdering every autistic individual in the world, not the essence of the ambition itself.
It is also uncanny how Autism Speaks’ statements of purpose or mission change whenever someone, usually an autistic individual or someone close to an autistic individual, expresses dismay or anger at the message. One message that was plainly available on their website during the time I began to make videos asserting that I have the right to live without fear of idiots cracking my head open to see what the contents do was that they were dedicated to the research, cure, and prevention of cases of autism. I need to explain something to you about this, Mr. Hilfiger. In the mind of an autistic adult, “cure” is the same thing as “murder”. If you have seen films like Disturbing Behaviour or The Stepford Wives, then you know exactly what I mean. Destroying an individual and what they are in order to replace those with things more to one’s liking is the most pernicious and foul variant of murder imaginable. Classical literature holds that murder of a host is most foul, but believe me, murdering your host has nothing on murdering a person with unique traits in order to replace them with a person whose traits are more to your liking. Yet in making an announcement that you have made a PSA for Autism Speaks, you have announced that you intend to do exactly that to Kathleen. She might not grok this fact yet, but no matter how you and Autism Speaks attempt to prevent her from doing so, she eventually will. And when she does, she is going to be remarkably upset with you.
Even if a man with your financial and political resources is unable to do such simple research as how Autism Speaks’ campaigning directly affects individuals on the autistic spectrum, it only takes a quick look on YouTube to discover what autistic adults think of Autism Speaks. And it is not a pretty sight. One enterprising user has posted a video entitled Autism Speaks: Where The Money Goes. To say that I, as an autistic adult, am thoroughly disgusted with the fact that Autism Speaks spent twenty times as much money on its payroll in 2009 as it did on a program that is ostensibly for “connecting families to services” is an understatement. As is, I do not doubt, the fact that they probably paid you at least fifty times as much this year as they do for any of what they call “connecting families to services”. And the nature of these services, when going by their language, is in doubt, too. In other documents on this site, I have made bitter tirades about my male parental unit and his seemingly endless ability to sit around with his hand shoved up his rear end when I need someone to step in and help make it clear to the so-called services in my area that token efforts are not good enough. But in case I have not already made this clear enough, doing nothing is actually preferable to what you claim you have done on the behalf of your daughter.
In fact, my video about Harpo Marx and how his reaction to the sights of Germany as it was in the full swing of organised persecution of his people is eerily similar to how the autistic feel today is something I wish you would think about. By proclaiming that you are doing an ad for a group that will not be happy until every last autistic individual in the world is dead, in order to “honour” someone who is autistic, you make all of us feel like second-class Human beings. Allow me to quote Harpo in his entirety, so you can understand my full meaning: “I saw the most frightening, most depressing sight I had ever seen – a row of stores with Stars of David and the word ‘Jude’ painted on them, and inside, behind half-empty counters, people in a daze, cringing like they didn’t know what hit them and didn’t know where the next blow would come from. Hitler had been in power only six months, and his boycott was already in full effect. I hadn’t been so wholly conscious of being a Jew since my bar mitzvahs, and it was the first time since I’d had the measles that I was too sick to eat.”
This, Mr. Hilfiger, is exactly how I feel after reading your proclamation that your Autism Speaks PSA is to “honour” your autistic daughter. As the commentator I quoted put it so well, you have a weird idea of honouring someone. Do you come from some small town in the middle of the most ignorant and undereducted part of America where honouring someone means inflicting untold fear and terror upon people of a similar nature to them? Not even the Ku Klux Klan was that ignorant at the height of their power in what is today derisively referred to as the Bible Belt.
I am going to be even more blunt in closing, Mr. Hilfiger. By taking up the cause of one of the few hate groups to be given charity status and proclaiming it to be for your daughter, you have dirtied yourself. You have dirtied yourself to such a degree that any relative or person known to that relative who buys one of your products will henceforth be persona non grata to me. As will any acquaintence or person claiming to be working on my behalf, or with me. But there is a manner in which you can clean this taintedness from yourself and anything your name is signed to. It is as follows:
First, inform Autism Speaks that you withdraw any and all right they have to use your name for publicity purposes. The sooner you do this, the less the taint associated with Autism Speaks will spread over you and your family name.
Second, publically apologise to the autistic for all of the mental anguish and trauma that you have caused them by giving Autism Speaks the time of day. I should not have to explain this one. Leni Riefenstahl vigorously denied she was a full-time Nazi after the Germans lost the Second World War, and continued to do so until she died. She failed to shake the taint of Nazism because she did not completely answer the question of how deeply involved she was. Stating to the autistic that you have since learned the true nature of Autism Speaks and that you wish you had never given them the time of day, along with answering every question we have for you in this regard, might allow you to avoid this.
Thirdly, unlike the situation nearly a decade ago in which the autism civil rights movement was fragmented and difficult to find, you can easily find sources for the right information. There are a number of autism specialists such as Anthony Attwood, Isabelle Hénault, or Simon Baron-Cohen to whom you could have gone and asked “I am thinking about doing a PSA for Autism Speaks… how will autistic people around the world react?”. Hell, for a fraction of what these three specialists charge for their time, I will be happy to give you advice concerning what you should or should not do when you want to score points for autism acceptance (as opposed to the sick joke called awareness).
I am going to close this statement in a similar manner to how I closed a similar letter to Hugh Hefner. As I described in the points above, you can still do the right thing both by your daughter and the rest of we who are not as others. We will even thank you now for it. Your daughter may do so when she reaches the age I am now and comes to understand what a bullet you have dodged both for yourself and her. But if not, then may Odin be with you, because none of us on the autistic spectrum will be.
Autistic author, photographer, and PTSD sufferer.