Wednesday, 27 February 2013

A Review of the Loud Hands Anthology

I’ve been slowly working my way through the Loud Hands anthology, and I have to say, it’s pretty good. Some might be thinking, of course you would say that, your writing is in it! Well I leave it up to others to judge my writing on its own merits or lack of them, what I want to talk about is the other writings in the book.

There are so many good pieces here, I hardly know where to begin. Jim Sinclair’s historical and ground-breaking piece, ‘Don’t Mourn For Us’ (p13),  forms a good intro - written in the early 1990s, yet it’s just as relevant today. Then there’s his other seminal piece, ‘Why I Dislike “Person-First” Language’ (p152), also from the 90s, and also just as relevant.

There’s also Ari Ne-eman’s retrospective on how ASAN got started (p 66), where he states that one of the reasons for its beginning was that “good intentions and love were quite frankly just not enough… When people that you talk about, or set policy on, or conduct research regarding, are not in the room, even good people feel licensed to say horrible things. You cannot help people through pity and fear.” (My emphasis, as it’s something we should never forget, or let others forget.)

Nick Walker’s ‘Throw Away the Master’s Tools; Liberating Ourselves from the Pathology Paradigm’ (p 156), is a little more ‘academic’ or ‘intellectual’, and some may not like it for that reason, but as someone who came out of the feminist and anti-racism movements in the 80s, ‘the master’s tools’ is a phrase that has great resonance for me. It’s basically about how we need to step out of the dominant mentality, in this case the ‘autism as pathology’ mind-set, and create a new frame of reference, and new language, to describe our reality. Language is power, and changing the language is the way to empowering ourselves. I feel it’s a very important piece of writing.

Julia Bascom’s ‘Quiet Hands’ (p 119) is another important piece – even though I’ve read it before on her blog, it still gets me every time. Her ‘This is Why’ (p 134) also moved me to tears, as did Amanda Forest Vivian’s ‘They Hate You. Yes, You” (p 124). They also left me feeling angry and anguished about what’s been done to us, what’s still being done to us, as did Julia’s ‘Grabbers’ (p 137), and Shain Neumeier’s ‘Inhumane Beyond All Reason’, on the terrible things done to autistics and other ‘different’ people at the Judge Rotenberg Center. There’s so much out there that needs changing, and Zoe Gross’s ‘Killing Words’ (p 163), is a potent and chilling reminder of why we need to change things.

The most important thing about this book, however, is not so much the individual pieces, fine as they are, but what the whole book represents. Most autism books I’ve seen or heard of so far are either autobiographies by autistic people, books for parents of autistic children, or ‘self-help’ books for autistic people, often by those who are on the spectrum themselves. There’s nothing wrong with any of these, but I do feel Loud Hands goes a step further than all of them. More obviously ‘political’, It collects and collates important existing advocacy pieces, brings in new ones, and presents a vision of where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going. It’s a new type of writing ‘about’ autism, one which has been slowly nurtured in blogs and social media groups and forums for quite a few years now, but this is the first time it’s all been put into a book, and published, and put ‘out there’ for all to read, and in doing so, it makes a powerful statement about us.

I believe that this book is our ‘Declaration of Independence’, our Communist Manifesto, our Long March, our October Revolution, our Stonewall Riot, our Our Right to Love, our The Female Eunuch, our ‘burning’ of bras (actually just publicly dumped in a trash can at a protest outside a beauty contest, but the media has never let feminists forget it), our Sisterhood is Powerful, and any other powerful event or book or document of liberation or explosion of collective frustration that you can name, that started some ball rolling, outlined some group or movement or country’s priorities, allowed one oppressed group or nation or another to redefine themselves, and get, or begin to get, their oppressor’s foot off their neck. I believe that some day Jim, Julia, Zoe, Amanda, Nick, Ari, et al, will be seen as our George Washington and Founding Fathers, our Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Audre Lorde, our Shulamith Firestone and Robin Morgan and Germaine Greer, our Susan B. Anthony and Kate Sheppard and Pankhurst sisters, our Gandhi and Steve Biko, our Harvey Milk and, well, anyone else you can think of that did so much for their people, their brothers and sisters, their race or gender or sexuality or nation.

It’s that important. Read it.

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