If there is one thing that really bugs the hell out of me, it is the manner in which the mainstream autistic civil rights movement seems unable (or worse still, unwilling) to think beyond stereotypes. Stereotypes are much like a weapon. They can be used for both good and ill, and the difference is much a matter of whom is wielding them.
The amount of suffering on the part of autistic people that can be traced directly back to the Rain Man stereotype is incalculable. Autistic adults of my generation can often be heard lamenting how different their lives would be now if they had been diagnosed earlier. They did not merely miss out because the diagnostic criteria often failed to include them, or because of the obliviousness of certain “respectable” professionals. No. They missed out in large part because the Rain Man stereotype was the whole and sole of public consciousness concerning autism.
So recently, when Lydia Brown published an article concerning the question of how one fights ableism with ableism, a singular, very spiteful thought came to mind. Namely, get your own house in order, dear.
By now, some will have figured out that I am speaking in a nasty (again) voice about what I will call the Loud Hands Stereotype. Essentially, a stereotype in which autistic individuals are all held to waggle their hands about like the air is a joystick and the game is one of the components of a minigame compilation such as Skate Or Die! (the half-pipe event was brutal to joysticks). This stereotype is hurtful because, again, it hides a certain amount of people who are on the autistic spectrum from public consciousness.
Allow me to elaborate what I mean with the following image:
I will apologise in advance to the two Asian lads in this video if this image does not really reflect the way in which they exist. After all, the focus here is the gentleman on the extreme right, one Tomek Andraka, or rather, the manner in which he is behaving. The source of the above image is an article on the journal that Maddox uses to promote his book about shitty children’s artwork. You see, Tomek made the big mistake of telling Maddox that he (Maddox) was not funny. So Maddox did some digging and found this video that the above is a capture from.
I have attempted to find this video so I can view it for myself and make an honest assessment, but it has eluded me very effectively. Given how popular the search “tomek andraka british video” seems to be on YouChoob, this heavily suggests to me that Mister Andraka removed the video from his YouChoob account in order to spare himself the related mockery and embarrassment. After all, when Maddox takes the time to call you a complete knob on a journal promoting his work, you can rest assurred that you will find a whole new level of anti-fame very quickly.
But all of this is secondary to the point I was wanting to use the above image to make. Namely, this is what I think of when I hear the words “loud hands” being used as if it is a promotional gimmick. Does that hurt to hear, “loud hands” folk? Good, because it gets worse. You see, this image not only corresponds well with the stereotype you wish to push on us to replace another, the video it was captured from is (according to Maddox‘s description, anyway) a very lame attempt at humour based on stereotypes of people from the United Kingdom. You do not have to know anyone from the UK to know that these stereotypes have about as much validity to them, if not less, than the Rain Man stereotype. Simply watching a film where Jason Statham is one of the primary stars will suffice.
Now, I will get into the part that is personal to me and should clarify why not only is the Wanking The Giant Greek God stereotype of autistic daily conduct not acceptable to me, but also why it should not be acceptable to you.
I believe I have mentioned this enough times that one would need to make a special effort to miss it, but I have had diabetes for twenty-five years now. During earlier stages of my life, there were times when and specific people around which I could not twitch or shudder without hearing a banshee-like wail of “yer high-poe!” and, in really insulting cases, having people try to force copious amounts of sugar-infused liquid into my mouth. With all of the violations of personal space and manhandling you might guess that entails. It got so that I had to threaten violence and spit bloody liquified sugars into peoples faces in order to make them stop.
Whilst there is significant and sometimes frequent extraneous movement of my hands at times of stress or boredom, these are always in a precise and rhythmic manner designed to have some utility. Scratching my shoulders, my head, my arse, or even my groin, can be categorised in this manner. It is one of the great ironies to say that the more people one tries to apply a categorisation to, say for example the idea that every autistic individual waves about like they are being electrocuted, the less true that categorisation becomes. It is literally the same as saying that every Asian is exceptional in mathematics or every black American is a criminal who eats fried chicken in copious amounts. It just does not work. And it is a thorough discredit to the mainstream autistic civil rights movement that they persist in perpetuation of this stereotype instead of doing what a clever person would do. Namely, negate it and the harmful stereotypes it is attempting to replace.
I could go out and get the residents of all of the apartment buildings on this street, put them in a loose grouping, photograph them from above at a wide zoom, and challenge the viewer to pick out which people in the shot are autistic.
I could make a staged image in which we see a surgeon, a soldier, a musician and music teacher, a child protection agent, and a filmmaker, and challenge the viewer to play Spot The Autistic Adult.
You know why these images would be more powerful than you, Imitators Of Child “Spastic” Routines? It is really simple when you do a little thinking about it.
- Such images challenge the viewer to think.
Yeah, you heard it here first. Challenging the viewer to think is not only a powerful tool in civil rights movements, it is also a powerful tool to reinforce the Humanity of people suffering from things they actually want cures for, such as diabetes or cancer.
I will go on record here: I hate Spike Lee. I have seen two of his films and heard his comments in the press, and I think he is one of the biggest blowhard assholes that the Hollywood system has produced. But one thing I will say for him is that he attempts to put the viewer in the shoes of a character in his films. He is less successful at this than, say, John Singleton, largely in part because of the blowhard asshole factor. But the salient point here is that he tries to do it.
You see, when you grab the viewer by the neck and ask them to imagine for a second that all of the things they are horrified by are, in fact, happening to them, it messes up their comfort zone. Imagine a world where all the comforts you take for granted are taken away from you, and so on. When we are children, this concept is pretty much incomprehensible to us unless it really is happening to us.
Yet children also possess a great imaginative capacity. Looking at images of people being beaten and abused for a characteristic they cannot help, the child tends to turn to an adult they feel they can trust and ask why this is happening. And this forces the adult to think of a way to explain it to the child that both sufficiently explains the situation and does not completely shatter the child’s reality. That challenges the adult to think about their concept of the reality that the child needs an explanation of.
So when a child looks at a picture of people that only have the common characteristic of not having horns growing out of their head or fire in their eyes, and is told they are all autistic, the first thing they are likely to do is ask the adult that is likely near them about it. And that adult is going to have to come up with a satisfactory answer to that child, lest there be later consequences.
- Such images confront the viewer with reality.
Adolf Hitler (among others) once said that if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth. Well, that is what has happened to the autistic on many fronts. People like Suzanne Wright et al have repeated enough lies often enough that they now govern our truth. As a consequence, we can expect to be murdered for being autistic without any consequence to the murderer.
Where are the posters and images showing our very real faces and asking the viewer how they would like it if that became their reality? This is a serious question, mainstream autistic movement. Because such campaigns concerning women in violent domestic situations and migrants fleeing persecution in their birth countries are a frequent occurrence. And if you think our situation is different from theirs, ergo we should not be using similar images to theirs, think again. The mechanics of the situation are more or less identical. Migrants like those I have described above cannot go back to their place of origin, no matter how much they and certain types might wish them to do so, because going home basically means death. Women subject to domestic abuse tend to find their situation is one of either escape or live in constant fear of death. Our situation is one where we need to make both the law and society in general start taking our safety seriously, or expect to die unpleasantly. How is that significantly different?
Asking the viewer to imagine for a second that they are being abused and threatened with death for a characteristic they cannot help is one of the most effective tools in repeating the truth. And the funny thing about truth is that when it gets repeated strongly and persistently enough, the people who kept or keep repeating the lie wind up looking very bad as a result.
- Images with no stereotypical characteristics (see above) also reinforce the subject’s Humanity.
Look at the above still from the video that Tomek Andraka clearly was so embarrassed by that he has tried to remove it from public consciousness. Does Tomek’s visage make you think of him more as a person with feelings and the potential for world-shaping ideas? Or does it simply make you think of him as an idiot that is helping drive the world into the uninhabitable state that will occur during the lifetimes of my sister’s children?
No, that is a serious question. When you look at images that are deliberately designed to make the viewer think of the subject as a Human being, what is the first thing you notice? That is right, intelligent folk – a complete and utter lack of stereotyping. Even as early as the late 1970s, television shows like M*A*S*H did the best they could to move away from stereotypes because doing so caused the viewers to think of all of the characters as people. Every episode leaves one to wonder what became of this or that one-shot character.
The same dichotomy is true amongst the autistic civil rights movement. People like Suzanne Wright love it when the mainstream autistic movement proclaim and promote the idea that every autistic individual waggles their hands in the air like they are playing a game of aerial Skate Or Die!. As I have described in explicit detail above, it reduces the unknowing view of the autistic from Human Beings With Different Wiring In Their Brains to that of a walking stereotype. That is bad. (Mmmmkay?)
And as I said above, there is a good, physical reason why I do not waggle my hands around like a fukking idiot when I feel a certain way. The same intangible fear I feel that I will be murdered for being autistic? Well, the fear that people will try to force food into my mouth and make me physically sick in the worst possible way if I so much as twitch around them is a very real and sadly justified one. As is the fear that such attempts to force feed me will result in real violence on my part.
My hands are frequently cold. I have been told by a couple of women that I have mentioned on prior occasion in this journal that there have been times when I put my hands on them that my hands literally feel like I have been putting them into a freezer at times. This enhances the manner in which I tend to clench them into claw-like shapes, thus causing me to loathe to use them for any particular purpose except when absolutely necessary.
But try getting the stereotype brigade to understand that movement of the hands. It is, after all, non-standard amongst their stereotypical world.