Thursday, 13 February 2020

You Have The Right To Not Have Abusive People In Your Life


Lately I’ve been seeing on Facebook quite a few posts around the theme of choosing not to have abusive people in our lives, even if they’re other autistics – and the resulting furore, especially if the writer dares to say these people are narcissistic or similar. Some even seem to have been driven out of the community, or at least off social media, by the relentless attacks from their abusers. I’ve also received some criticism myself, either when I chose to support those making this choice, or I challenged some people’s glossing over the abuse, or from other, more private sources, because I dare to call out those who do abuse or maltreat us – something I also apply to other autistics.

So, at the risk of ‘stating the obvious’ (though it seems to some people it’s not, and we autistics don’t always ‘get the obvious’ anyway), let me make myself one hundred percent clear here, to my brother and sister autistics –

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PUT UP WITH ABUSIVE PEOPLE.

EVER.

It doesn’t matter if they had a rotten childhood, or have been abused themselves, or had a hard life in some other way, or they are just plain old jerks.

It doesn’t matter if they have some type of personality disorder or not, if they ever had a formal diagnosis, or have never had one but fit the criteria, or have a mental health condition, or are …just jerks.

It doesn’t matter if they are autistic too, even ‘top’ advocates, or just well-known personalities.

It doesn’t matter if they’re family, or your partner, or you’ve been ‘friends’ with them for ages, or they have some other hook into you.

It doesn’t matter if they’ve surrounded you with people who support them and not you, and you know you’ll lose a lot of people if you dump them.

It doesn’t even matter, ultimately, if you’ll be financially and practically worse off without them, and that it’s going to be extremely hard to get them out of your life, and you’re not even sure how to.

In fact, in the end, nothing matters except that they are abusing, bullying and/or manipulating you, and you need to get away from them, by whatever means necessary.

And no, you’re not being ‘nasty’ or ‘unsympathetic’, not to want such people in your life. You can feel sympathy for their plight, but from a safe distance! Remember that it’s actually THEIR responsibility, not yours, to sort themselves out. Even if they struggle to do so, it’s still not your problem or your fault, and you don’t have to take them back. You don’t have to hold their hand, metaphorically speaking, while they’re steadily draining your life force. You don’t have to pay that price anymore. You have the right to set boundaries, and stick to them.

And yes, they will use any and every angle, every trick in the book, to get you back under their control again. I’ve heard just about all of them, from both those who dumped on me, similar people, and their supporters, known as ‘flying monkeys’.

Just sharing recent examples, for instance - if I went back years, there would be lots more - I’ve been told that I was ‘stigmatising’ and ‘demonising’ people with personality disorders for daring to point out how badly many of them behave, and had my words rewritten to equate having one to being autistic, though there is actually no comparison. Personality disorders are the result of damaged psyches, and you CAN heal from them, with the right treatment. They are therefore NOTHING LIKE autism, which we’re born with, and which is simply a variation on human, not emotional damage, though of course people can have a personality disorder in addition to being autistic.

Another time, I was told that I’m ‘ableist’ and ‘judgemental’ of people with personality disorders, that I shouldn’t say that they tend to be abusive as ‘only abusers abuse’. To which I pointed out that if you have a diagnosis of a personality disorder in the first place, or you fit the criteria for one, you are at far greater risk of either abusing or being abused, especially if you refuse to examine yourself and get treatment. I’m guessing that they didn’t like this much either. But I’m getting better at standing my ground with such people. (Sadly, this wasn’t always the case.)

I’ve also been told that I’m showing a ‘lack of empathy’ for those who had hard childhoods, that I’m ‘judgemental’ of those with mental health disorders (though my friends beg to differ), that I was ‘unsupportive’ of a particular critic (I guess all those hours empathising with their problems during so many of their long and frequently tedious rants don’t count), that I’m ‘claiming to be perfect’ (something I’ve never in fact said, nor ever would), told I shouldn’t write about what I’ve been through without giving those who have shat on me a ‘right of reply’, and so much more. All combined with a not-so-subtle pressure to let them back into my life so that things can be ‘sorted out’.

And so on, and so forth. I’m sure you’ve heard similar things from the abusers/manipulators/drama addicts in your life. A constant stream of distorted ‘facts’ and selective ‘memories’, all designed to break your will and wear you down. And let them back in. Always, of course, on their terms.

DON’T DO IT.

Don’t let them in. Or if they’re already (back) in, get them out by whatever means you have to. Blocking, unfriending, deleting, leaving online or IRL groups, cancelling, moving house, dropping unsupportive people and the abuser’s flying monkeys, refusing to engage, leaving town, leaving the country even, whatever it takes. WHATEVER IT TAKES.

Because you’re entitled to a decent life, one free of constant drama, criticism, bullying, verbal attacks, manipulation, and similar, a life that’s safe, peaceful, happy, and which meets your needs, and you don’t owe them anything but a heartfelt ‘goodbye!’

BECAUSE YOU’RE WORTH IT.

And you know what? The abusers deserve a good life too just not at your expense. I sincerely hope that they get the PROFESSIONAL help they need, so that they stop treating people the way they do, but also for their own sake. I don’t wish them ill, why would I? How does that help anything, or anyone? And yes, I know that the right treatment, or indeed any treatment, can be extremely difficult to access, sometimes impossible. But until they start challenging themselves, and other abusers, to do and be better, horrible things are going to keep happening. People are going to keep getting damaged.

And we all deserve better. Better lives, better community, better everything.

BECAUSE WE’RE ALL WORTH IT.

Arohanui (much love).


Tuesday, 21 January 2020

The Future Looks Scary


Over the last few years, those who dare comment negatively online about Trump, have seen his supporters often come back with ‘you’ve just got sour grapes because your candidate didn’t win’. And now Boris Johnson has recently been returned to power with a vastly improved majority, I don’t doubt the same thing will be heard from his supporters too.

But let’s be clear here. If we hate Trump or Johnson, or Morrison or Bolsanaro or any other right-wingers who have either got power or are edging closer to gaining it, it’s not because of simply being miffed that ‘our’ candidate didn’t win.

No, it goes much, much deeper than that.

It’s because we know our quality of life, our incomes, our support systems, our physical safety and even sometimes our very lives, are at threat.

If you are working-class, poor, on welfare, homeless and/or jobless, you will be worse off under these so-called ‘leaders’.

If you are non-white, non-Christian, and/or either an immigrant or refugee, you will be worse off.

If you are gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, non-binary, or anything else not the conventional cis hetero, you will be worse off.

If you are autistic/neurodivergent, disabled or struggling with health issues, or trying to get help for your child in the public education system, you will be worse off.

The marginalised of all kinds (and remember that many of us fit into more than one of the above categories) will suffer. Some will even die, because of medical neglect, mistreatment, murder or, in some cases, suicide, when they give up trying.

In fact, if you are ANYTHING not firmly one hundred percent ‘mainstream’ and ‘normal’ – and sometimes even if you are – you will be worse off under these leaders.


The main group that will be better off are the already super-rich, the swaggering elite, the power-brokers and power-holders, the ‘inherited mega-money from Mummy and Daddy’ or ‘got rich by fleecing the poor and exploiting their workers’ lots. Even many of the middle-class will struggle (that is, even more than they currently are) to maintain their position, as an increasing share of the world’s money, power and resources ends up in the controlling hands of that elite.

Think I’m exaggerating? Or catastrophising? I wish I was. But it’s already happened in many places. Look at what’s been happening in the US, as so many protections, supports and basic rights and even jobs have been, and continue to be, ripped away from members of the above-mentioned groups. Look at the increased hate crimes in the US, against trans people, non-whites, gays, etc - and it’s not only happening in the US, but in Europe and the UK too. Look at Boris’s voting record on matters like health and education and welfare. Look at Australia, and the ‘religious freedom’ act being proposed there. Even in New Zealand, the current government is still struggling to undo years of neglect and damage to the social fabric done by a right-wing government. And that’s without even STARTING on what’s being done to the environment, everywhere.

So yeah, it’s not sour grapes, it’s because SO MUCH is at risk.

The reality is that the political world is not the same place it was thirty or forty years ago, when it didn’t matter that much which party you voted for, because they were all pretty ‘centrist’, it was more a matter of ‘left of centre’ or ‘right of centre’. But since the 80s the political landscape has drastically changed. This was when neo-liberalism began to rear its ugly head, and since then, a lot of countries have had at least one of their main political parties increasingly skewed to or captured by the right. And by captured, I mean they’ve gone way out there into foaming-at-the-mouth territory. Meanwhile, the previously ‘left of centre’ parties seem stuck in the old ways, semi-paralysed, often feuding with each other, and unable to offer up a convincing response to the changed landscape.

Some are blaming media bias, or interference from ‘outside forces’ or ‘fake news’ outlets, but that doesn’t fully explain how ordinary people are taken in by all these parties’ nonsense. Why so many vote against what is in their best interests, if they only stopped to think for a bit. It’s seriously enough to make me lose what little faith in humanity I have left. The only thing keeping me going is the number of good people I know.

But I have to be brutally honest here - I don’t hold out a great deal of hope for the immediate future, for people in the UK or the US or anywhere else where these types are gaining hold. Right after the election, my social media feed was full of people asking ‘can I emigrate to Canada?’ (Or New Zealand, or anywhere that looks better than where they are.) And they were only half-joking - if that.

Perhaps in the long run, more democratic forces will prevail, and a fairer, more just world will be born. But I’m not banking on it, and it’s not going to happen straight away, impeachment or no impeachment, elections or no elections.

The future looks very scary.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

WHY THE 'LABEL' IS SO IMPORTANT


I’ve written before about identity and labels, eg here. But I think that I haven’t made it quite clear why one becomes the other, and why both are so essential.

To illustrate, let me give two examples from my own life.

The first is the ‘label/identity’ of being autistic. I grew up and spent decades of my adult life knowing I was ‘different’, but having no idea why. From the age of about seven onwards, I knew there was something ‘wrong’ with me, that I wasn’t like others, and much of my life has been dominated by that fact. I spent decades trying to either find out what my ‘problem’ was, or to get rid of it, to forcibly make myself ‘normal’, and just like everyone else. Neither effort was fruitful.

I became convinced that I was just not as good as other people, that I was weak, useless, pathetic, because I couldn’t cope with or do the things that others coped with or were able to do so easily. I was told ‘don’t be so sensitive’ ‘it’s not such a big deal’, ‘what are you worrying about’, ‘you’re making a fuss about nothing’, and so on. I was laughed at for ‘moving funny’, or ‘saying daft things’, or criticised for being ‘insensitive’ or ‘rude’ or ‘selfish’. It often seemed like nothing I did was right, I became scared to do or say almost anything. In the end, I withdrew from much human interaction, because I just couldn’t cope with it.

The result of all this is that I have suffered from low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and self-hatred for most of my life. This self-hatred went so deep, that even now, I haven’t gotten rid of all of it all. But an amazing thing happened, almost by accident. I began to read up on Asperger’s and autism, in order to help a student I was working with, and quickly recognised myself in the descriptions. To say I was surprised is something of an understatement. To say I was relieved, when I finally found that there were others like me, that I wasn’t ‘one of a (weird) kind’, a sort of lemon off the human reproduction line, is even more of an understatement.

What was a label quickly became an identity, as I studied more, read more, listened to my fellow autistics, discussed my ideas with them, shared my thoughts and feelings, asking ‘is this familiar to you? Have you ever felt/done/said this? Had this reaction from others?’ And the response was overwhelmingly YES! Yes, I know what you mean, yes, I’ve done that/been in that situation/felt that, yes, I’m like you.

I’m like you.

I wonder if anyone who’s never felt like they don’t truly belong anywhere can understand how profound that can be, to have people say that to you. To be understood, to finally, finally, FINALLY  know who and what you are. To be validated. To have the right word, the right ‘label’, the right IDENTITY, to describe yourself, a community to fit into, a ‘place’ to call home. To belong.

I don’t think there are words strong enough to describe that feeling.

This autistic identity is one that’s formed over the last ten to fifteen years. But there’s another, more recent, identity that’s been forming, and that’s to do with my sexuality and gender identity.

I always knew I was ‘different’ in this respect as well, and again, I had no labels for it, no words to describe it, I just felt an unease, a sense of ‘not fitting in’ to the prescribed feminine roles. I was designated female at birth, and have a female body. All my life, I’ve been okay with this in the sense that I’ve never felt like I’m male, but... I also always knew something wasn’t quite right (on top of the ‘difference’ I mentioned above, that is). I was called a ‘tomboy’ as a child, and had a sense that I ‘wasn’t like other girls’. Then as a teen and young adult I was totally uninterested in fashion, makeup, long nails, elaborate hairdos, etc. I conformed just enough to avert criticism, but never felt happy doing so. In fact all things ‘womanly’ felt… just not me, somehow. Yet  I didn’t like very ‘masculine’ clothes, or behaviour, either. I found both extremes not just an ill-fit but almost oppressive, like a sensation of being smothered.

Then, when I was in my mid-20s, I came out as a lesbian, and thought ‘oh, this is why!’ I joined the feminist movement and lesbian community, and for years this was my world. It liberated me (or gave me an excuse, take your pick) to chuck out ‘feminine’ clothing, ditch the makeup, and wear mainly jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. But I still felt somehow different to my lesbian ‘sisters’. I never called myself a ‘woman-loving woman’, for instance, as some lesbians did. I told myself it was because it was ‘too much of a mouthful’. I felt uncomfortable with many of their behaviours, and privately ruminated on how so many of the lesbians I knew hadn’t really ‘undone their feminine conditioning’. But I still felt like I was missing something. I groped for the words to describe it, I searched the literature, but there was nothing. Just a blank void that I echoed around in.

I struggled with relationships too – I always wanted to get to know a person first before jumping into bed with them. The result was that I’d often have to choose between being sexual before I was ready to, or missing out. Mostly, I missed out. And when I did get into a relationship, the problems weren’t over then. Some difficulties were due (I see now) to my undiagnosed autism. But there was also something else that yet again I struggled to define, a sense of being trapped by the ‘romantic’ role, or by simply being in a romantic relationship. And when it ended, my biggest feeling was always one of relief - the kind of ‘oh thank god’ relief that comes when you quit doing something that’s truly beyond your capabilities.

After my last relationship ended, I drifted away from the lesbian community, mainly because I just didn’t feel like i fit in. After a while, I found the autistic community, and made new friends. This soon became a new ‘home’, not least because of its higher rate of sexuality/gender variations, and higher rate of acceptance of them. Eventually, however, some deeper, nagging sense of difference reasserted itself.

I avoided (I realised later) describing myself as a ‘woman’, or even as a ‘lesbian’, and would say things like ‘well I’m female but not feminine’. I also developed an interest in reading about trans people, and in fact anyone else who didn’t fit into the gender binary. More recently, I also found myself reading about other different gender/sexuality identities, such as intersex, asexual, aromantic, all the grey and demi-identities, non-binary, etc, without quite realising why. I soon realised that I’m almost certainly ‘demi-sexual’, and probably also ‘aromantic’, though I’m still exploring both of those. It is however a relief to know that I’m not crazy, for feeling the way I do about relationships!

But it wasn’t till a trans woman friend chanced to remark “you’re a woman if you identify as a woman”, that something clicked for me. Because even as some part of me was mentally nodding, going ‘uh huh, yup’, another part of me suddenly said “….But I don’t identify as a woman”.

Well! To say that was a shock is yet another understatement! I reeled, and then it began to click. Of COURSE I’ve never felt like a ‘typical girl’ or a ‘typical woman’, I’m not one! I dived into exploring the whole non-binary thing, and was amazed. ‘You mean, there’s actually a WORD for what I am?’ There’s a reason I don’t feel comfortable with ‘feminine’ clothing, hairstyles, behaviour, etc, but feel almost equally uncomfortable with ‘masculine’ things/behaviour? There’s a neutral territory beyond gender, devoid of extremes, that not only myself but others exist in? Wow, wow, and wow!

Anyway, although many of my friends on Facebook already know, I guess this is my official ‘coming-out’ as non-binary! In case you’re wondering, I’m still fine with female pronouns, and have no plans to change my name or official gender registration, etc. (Please also note, I’m NOT criticising any non-binary who does, everyone makes their own choices according to their inclinations and needs, and this is mine. I’m too old, too cranky, too tired, too used to my current name - which I chose for myself anyway! - to feel any need to do it, even if I had the spoons, which I most emphatically don’t.)

This is my story, but it echoes that of many others too. Discovering that ‘label’ which becomes an ‘identity’ won’t solve all your problems (I still have plenty!), but it will solve one big one – that of your core identity; knowing who and what you are. No more floundering in whatever kind of social/emotional/sexual/gender/neurological wilderness you were in before. These labels I’ve mentioned, and so many others, are providing real clarity, real self-discovery, real comfort, and a real sense of belonging/solid identities for so many now. And no-one has the right to take that away from us, and to attempt to push us back out into that wilderness.

So think on that, before you disparage ‘all this fancy label nonsense’ or talk about how you ‘don’t want your child to be labelled’, or claim ‘it’s just a fad the young are getting into’. (Need I remind people that I’m far from young? And yet here I am, non-binary etc, anyway.) You may be denying someone the chance to find themselves and their true identity, and to finally feel ‘at home’ in their own skin.

So please, just think before you judge. Close your mouth, open your heart and mind, and listen instead. You might be amazed at what you find out about those you thought you knew.