Friday, 29 December 2017
On how power silences marginalised groups
Great power brings the need for great responsibility.
Online, I and so many other autistic people have been watching a rich, powerful, well-connected, well publicised author trying to silence autistic voices of dissent.
The author has written a book which outlines her son's autistic behaviours. She describes him in ways many autistic people find humiliating, dehumanising, horrific. I don't use such words lightly. It describes how the mum in question intends to seek a vasectomy for her son, currently aged 15, to stop him having children in future. He is at school, talks, reads, has friends. The author had described another autistic person in terms that the person found distressing. When they complained about this, they were referred to as a brat. It was a moment of revelation as to the author's view of autistic adults.
When autistic people took to finding copies of the book (for a while available as a pdf online, since removed) - or reading copies in the library... or borrowing copies from one another - they started reviewing it online. The author didn't like this, it seems.
The author contacted a friend of theirs on a large bookselling site and it seems asked them to censor the comments. Then apparently asked her largely-rich, powerful group of online friends to target the autistic commentators by getting the review sites to remove their comments.
Let's think about this for a moment.
Autistic people are amongst the more impoverished on the planet. So many have no jobs, no spare income. Not so much as a spare £1. Society prevents most of us from working, such is the level of misunderstanding and hate out there.
In order to comment on whether we have a right to reproduce, and whether an author has the right to name and shame their own child in that debate and publish it...we have to now be able to afford to buy a book each, it seems. From a specific bookshop where the cheapest price seems to be £8. And review it in ways that please the author, or her mate will remove their review. £8.... That's possibly two days of food, for an autistic person. Maybe it's a whole weeks-worth of food.
This, my friends, is power.
The power to decide who is rich enough to review you.
The power to decide whose words are good enough to comment on something that affects their own future, their right to exist.
The power to decide that the pain, the shock, is 'trolling', nastiness, simply not liking autism parents and having nothing better to do than to attack people for no reason. The reality is that many of the reviewers are 'autism parents'. Autistic autism parents, specifically, with nothing whatsoever against 'autism parents' of any kind who safeguard their children.
I am so blessed with knowing hundred upon hundred of autistic parents. Fabulous they are, too. Kind, wise, careful, knowledgeable, capable. A few needed some support. A few people of all kinds need some support. Let's face it - nearly every parent needs some support.
Autism doesn't make someone a bad parent. No, it doesn't.
In fact, it can make them the best parent of all, especially perhaps to an autistic child, which statistically they are very likely to have. A parent with great insight into their child. A parent who has known what it's like to overcome obstacles and find ways round problems. Who can 'translate' the outside world to them. Who can model how to be autistic in authentic ways. Yes, some need more support. Yes, some people of all kinds need more support. Some of us not only did without support, as a parent, but offered support to a huge number of others. It's very wrong to assume we are always the 'burdens'.
If one partner isn't 100% reliable on contraceptives, the other partner can look after that side of things.
If one partner needs a bit more support with some things during parenthood, the other partner can help support that. And vice-versa.
A good number of autistic people are gay, so contraceptives may not be a part of their lives anyway.
Society makes autistic people suffer. And silences them from saying, "This hurts". Is that fair?
Society determines who can reproduce, and who is to be sterilised. We know this from the very eugenics programs that the author discussed in the book. (Oh yes, I've read every word of it). And we know that we have to believe in each others' humanity. In each others' soul. To have hope, to have love, to have caring.
I was a non-verbal autistic child, rocking in a corner, lining up things. No-one would have believed me capable of anything that I managed in later life. Not one bit of it. I'm still sometimes non-verbal. I do not live 'independently'. We have the most fantastic autistic son. We are so proud of him.
The author's son will spend his life with that book being a tool to deny him his future, I sense. Naming him, it's now a tool with which to bully him, and mock him. A tool with which to deny not only his humanity and his choices, but to encourage a whole lot of other people to do just that to even more autistic people. To not only describe us in humiliating ways, but to get a lot of people to silence us if we say, "This hurts".
The autistic people have the right to say this isn't OK.
It's not OK.
Learn love. It's better.
Thank you for listening.
The picture at the top shows a woman with her mouth taped shut. It represents silencing of voices.