Diverse Books and Writing What You Don’t Know

rainbow book(revisiting this post from 2015)

Write what you know. It’s a trite piece of advice for writers struggling to find a subject to which to put their pen, and a dire warning to those embarking on literary excursions into the unknown.

Many feel this saying is a load of crap. After all, if we can only write what we know, then we have no business even writing a memoir: our view of ourselves and our experience is so myopic, and our blind spots so extensive, that we can’t claim to truly know even what’s going on in our own lives. However, when we plunge into writing about something we don’t know, it pays to be cautious. After all, when you’re an “outsider” with respect to your subject matter, those on the inside are going to know if you get it wrong.

I’ll start with this piece of advice: Write what you want. Writing is an art, and stifling that art with a bunch of rules and warnings isn’t going to help anyone. You have something to say, and so say it, with your whole heart and to the best of your ability. But I’ll add this caveat: if you’re going to write about a type of character or situation that exists in contemporary life and yet is outside your personal experience, I advise you give it deep thought. The agonizing, soul-searching variety of deep thought. Your characters, and your readers, deserve no less.

Most of us have heard of the We Need Diverse Books movement. It is a worthy cause. Stories, both fiction and nonfiction, are an integral part of social change. Books help connect readers with people and situations that they may never encounter in their day-to-day life, and can broaden understanding and acceptance in a way that no amount of preaching or direct social activism can do. Books are a safe way to explore situations that we’d be frightened to become involved in in real life, and can help to lessen our fear and misunderstanding of those situations. For instance, a person frightened of foreign travel might be more comfortable after reading a million guidebooks. The more different cultures, lifestyles, and ways of being people are exposed to in books, the more comfortable they’ll be with it in their real lives.

It is precisely for this reason that we need to be mindful of how we portray our diverse characters. I’m not saying that we should never let a diverse character be anything other than a shining beacon of perfection, so that we don’t give readers the impression that all people of that diverse group are “bad”. Quite the opposite. What I’m saying is, the character has to be realistic. We have to be comfortable in that character’s shoes. We have to know them like we know a human being, and relate to their struggle, before we write about them. Otherwise, we’ll get it wrong. We’ll portray them as an issue, instead of a character, and we’ll miss an opportunity to let readers identify with them on a human level. And yes, we can end up doing actual, measurable harm to real people by reinforcing stereotypes and misconceptions.

I love it when books have diverse characters, but when I hear editors or agents say, “If there’s no diversity in your books, don’t worry: it can be added,” I cringe. It is possible to deliberately add diversity in this way and still have a great book. But, if you’re adding diversity purely for diversity’s sake, be very cautious. After all, if you’re inserting a diverse character just to make the novel more marketable, then you are exploiting the group to which that diverse character belongs. If you’re changing the color of a character’s skin, giving her a limp, or modifying his religious practice, take a long moment to get to know that character again, because you have changed who they are. Make sure you don’t overlook, misunderstand, or gloss over the issues that the character might face in their daily life. Otherwise, you run the risk of your character being a blue-eyed guy with shoe polish on his face asking John Wayne to smoke-um peace pipe.

You’ll have readers that identify with your diverse characters, and if you tell their story incorrectly, you’re selling those readers short and hurting them on a personal level.

This concept also applies to characters who are members of groups which may not traditionally be viewed as “diverse”. If your character is dealing with issues of any kind that you haven’t dealt with personally, make sure you put thought into it. For instance, I’m a recovering heroin addict, an ex-con, and a victim of physical and sexual abuse. I have thrown books across the room and cursed authors’ very souls for, in my view, misrepresenting these issues. I’m really tired of reading about poor, battered women who suffer their completely evil, idiot husbands stolidly until the day they rise up with unblemished inner strength to assert themselves. I know it may sound counterintuitive to some of you, but I feel belittled by this narrative. Abuse is ugly; it changes you. It weakens you. And it can make you stoop to the level of the abuser, because you know no different, and because you’re so scarred and hurt that you can’t function in a healthy manner. I do recognize that not all survivors of abuse see it this way, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling that my story is being exploited and told incorrectly for profit, when I read a book that gets it “wrong”.

Additionally, I’m tired of seeing drug addicts portrayed as objects of pity or contempt; complete hot-mess wastrels; soulless beings with no hope, intelligence, or inner life. I especially hate this narrative when said addict ends up seeing the light, and becomes a pink-cheeked, happy and productive member of society within the course of 350 pages.

It’s also annoying just when people get details wrong: heroin addicts with dilated pupils (opiates contract the pupils), or about a character “melting” black tar heroin in a spoon (it doesn’t melt; you have to dissolve it in water). The details are easy to research, and the rest, well, all I can say is that drug addicts are people, too. Drugs can make people into a hot mess, it’s true; but that hot mess can be interesting to examine, and you’ll make your story better if your character is well-rounded.

And, as a psychotic person, when a book about a “psycho killer” comes out, I have a legitimate fear reaction. People like me are beaten, imprisoned, and killed because of wrongful stereotypes like this. The same for some other marginalized groups. Misportrayals can do real harm, and you don’t want that on your conscience. So, do your research if you’re writing about characters from different walks of life as you. And, the best research is not academic research, but experience*.

If you want to have marginalized characters in your books, but don’t share that marginalization, I say go for it…but put thought into it, and seriously consider having your diverse characters be side-characters, and not main characters. Also, don’t write characters with marginalizations that you’ve only read about. If you don’t have a diverse group of friends, then you might not be the right person to be repping diversity in literature. But, seriously, we all have diverse friends, right?

I have a lot of Mexican-American characters. I speak Spanish and have lived most of my life in areas with a huge Mexican-American population, so I’m comfortable writing about the culture—usually from an outside point of view, because I may not know the internal issues of being Mexican-American, but I can speak to my experience as an observer, and so my characters can as well. I also have Mexican-American beta readers, so if I mess up, as I always will, they can help me with it.

I also often write about characters with mental illness/neurodivergence. I am mentally ill, autistic, and have psychosis. However, when I was writing a book with a schizophrenic main character, I reached a point where I felt like I was getting it wrong. So, I went down to the local park and made friends with a young schizophrenic man I’d seen hanging around.

My friendship with Phoenix was never about writing a novel. I don’t hang out with him because of his mental illness, but because I enjoy his company. He’s an amazing, intelligent, and hilariously funny person.

Hanging out with him taught me a lot about myself as a neurodivergent person, and opened my eyes to the way ableism affects us all. We were kicked out of bars, restaurants, casinos and libraries because people were uncomfortable with his behavior (mine too, to be honest); I had to intervene with the cops and the courts when he was arrested for no crime other than being schizophrenic. I spent horrible, anguished days and nights, crying and worrying, when he was institutionalized, or in the hospital after someone misinterpreted something he said and beat him into a coma. Certain experiences with him have triggered my own episodes of psychosis, as well, which were of course frightening and draining.

My Other Place Series wouldn’t be what it is without Phoenix. I would have missed so much of the joy, the beauty, the horror, and the subtleties of the schizophrenic experience if I hadn’t spent time with him, because seeing psychosis from the outside, and really being part of someone else’s experience, is different than experiencing it myself. The more insight we have into life and people of all kinds, the better our writing will be.

Just like I don’t hang out with Phoenix because he’s mentally ill, I didn’t write my book about the schizophrenic character because he is schizophrenic. I wrote it because he’s an interesting character, with a really good story to tell. Readers will identify with characters, and want to spend time with them, if they’re interesting people, and not just a list of symptoms and diagnoses or character traits you gleaned from internet research.

Putting thought into it doesn’t make you exempt from criticism, however. Nothing will. If, someday, a reader gets angry at me for getting a Latinx character wrong, well, it will upset me, and I’ll listen, but I’ll have the consolation of being able to talk about it with my Latinx beta readers and friends and do better next time, so it won’t destroy my love of writing.

And, y’all, I get criticism about my own voices characters. Nothing makes you exempt. Criticism is part of being a writer. Even when we are writing from experience, we won’t know all facets of that experience. Every experience is valid, and incomplete. (Note: please don’t harass own voices writers because their experience doesn’t match yours. Truly.)

Even if they don’t resonate with everyone, I am comfortable with and proud of my books. I think they can add to people’s understanding, rather than detracting from it by creating false impressions.

This is what we should strive to do when we write, whether it’s from a diverse perspective or not, and whether our tale is a lighthearted romantic comedy or a dark “issues” novel.

Always treat your characters (and your readers) with the respect they deserve, and you will be able to bear any criticism with dignity.

*For the love of God, man, don’t apply this concept to writing about drug addicts and ex-cons. I’d rather your characters be trite and wooden than for you to go get thrown in the slammer for a PCP binge you embarked on for novel research.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and freelance editor. You can find THE OTHER PLACE and her other books on Amazon.

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Piece of notebook paper with words written in pencil: What if I'm not a real person and it hurts now."

The Neurodivergent Experience: It’s Never About Us

[Content warning for just about everything you can think of. If you’re having a bad day and don’t wanna hear about the horrible things neurodivergent people have to put up with, have this picture of a puppy and go read a nicer article]Picture of smiling, panting, tricolor Australian shepherd puppy on the beach

These are particularly bad times for neurodivergent/mentally ill folks. They’re trying to cut our benefits and health care. They’re constantly trying to make it easier to have us involuntarily committed and sterilized. Every day, it seems they come up with some new way to torture us in the name of a “cure”. The headlines are full of stories of police killing us for no reason, and we all know that those stories are just a few of the many abuses which occur on a daily basis to people like us. And yet, they continue to blame the neurodivergent for every highly-publicized violent crime that happens, as well as for the dangerous and destructive behavior of our (very mentally-healthy) president.  Yes: they hurt US, and then gaslight everyone and try to say it’s OUR fault.

But when we speak up, we get comments like this one here on my last post. People tell us we don’t know what we’re talking about. They think we’re unreliable narrators, and can’t be trusted to manage our own lives or even know what our own lives are about:

“Police are just doing their jobs when they illegally detain, harm, imprison, or kill you—they have no way to know that you’re not really dangerous.”

So, we have to prove to the police that we’re NOT dangerous in order to not get shot? We have to prove we’re NOT committing a crime in order to not get harassed or arrested? If we’re not holding a gun; if all we’re doing is yelling, or pacing, or crying, they have no reason to think we ARE dangerous, and we’re not committing a crime by showing emotion.

Like I said in my previous post, statistics show we’re no more violent than sane people are, and that we’re a good deal more likely to be hurt BY neurotypical folks than we are to hurt them. Especially when it comes to police: they’re more likely to hurt us than the other way around. So yes, it does follow that, when neurotypical folks lock up neurodivergent folks, the dangerous people are locking up the less dangerous people. In fact, we’re often hurt in the act of being locked up (usually for no reason).

It does follow.

“We all have problems; ableism isn’t real, people are jerks to everyone.”

Nope. You can’t be locked up for committing no crime. You can’t be forcibly sterilized. People don’t give you bleach enemas in an attempt to cure you of being neurotypical.

People are jerks, yes. But people are bigger jerks to neurodivergent people. Don’t think you understand what it’s like. You don’t.

“I heard a third-hand story of someone who was very nearly hurt by a schizophrenic person once, and therefore it’s completely right to lock up neurodivergent people.”

I hear this sort of story a lot. The only time it’s first-hand is when it’s being told by someone who worked as an ER medic or some such—someone else with a skewed sample size, because they only saw the folks who were in crisis, and were being forcibly detained and put in a position of high stress and danger (and therefore were actually defending themselves and not inciting violence. Don’t @ me telling me “the medics were trying to help them, they weren’t defending themselves.” If a group of people grabbed you and tried to tie you to a gurney, and you didn’t want them to do that, you’d fight back, too. We’re human beings, you know).

You’re forgetting a little thing called lived experience, which trumps your third-hand anecdote every time. Do you know what else trumps it? The statistics that show neurotypical people are more likely to injure us than the other way around.

Yes, there are neurodivergent people who are violent. That doesn’t mean you get to lock all of us up…just like the fact that neurotypical people are more likely to be violent toward me doesn’t mean I get to lock up all neurotypical people.  (That however would be a course of action supported by statistics.)

There’s so much else going on in that comment (and in others that I get every day). The takeaway is this: A neurodivergent person can’t speak out without someone telling us we don’t know what we’re talking about—that they, a neurotypical person, know better than we do. Literally, if we say we had eggs for breakfast, a neurotypical person will rappel from the ceiling and ask us if we’re sure we aren’t hallucinating or confused, if maybe we had oatmeal instead. Our voices, experiences, and opinions are constantly silenced and passed over in favor of “experts” or our family members. These folks can be some of the most abusive toward us, and yet the narrative is always centered around what can be done to help them: what makes our caregivers, family, and friends more comfortable. Usually, that’s finding easier ways to lock us up, sterilize us, render us unconscioius or inert, “cure” us, or find a way to detect our neruodivergence in utero so that we’re never born in the first place. Do any of those things sound like civil rights to you? Would you like any of those things done to you?

Just because we’re different, doesn’t mean we don’t want what anyone else wants: quality of life. We’re don’t exist in this world just to make you comfortable. No one does. If your neurotypical neighbor stays up all night singing loudly along with the radio, you don’t try to have him sterilized so he doesn’t have similarly-loud children, or make sure he’s medicated into a stupor. And yet, because we’re neurodivergent, you think you have the right to do that to us.

Even when talking about the realities of our everyday life, the way everyone does, we’re told we’re “oversharing”; that we’re making others uncomfortable; that we’re “whining” and “complaining” and that we should be more positive; that we’re triggering others with our stories.

It’s always about others’ feelings.

Is it any wonder we lose it sometimes? And yet we’re not afforded the luxury of venting our feelings and frustrations, again by the nature of being neurodivergent. Our emotions are too strong and messy for neurotypicals to deal with. When we display them, we’re ostracized and chided at best. We lose friends, we lose jobs, we lose everything that makes us happy. At worst, y’all beat us, lock us up, or kill us, just for speaking our minds. I have personal anecdotes, if you need them—read my blog, or my memoir, or ask me.

People don’t listen to us and constantly speak over us. Is it any wonder we feel isolated? Is it any wonder we commit suicide, because it seems like no one cares?

But, there are people who do care, who do understand. Never forget that.

All you glorious crazy people out there, I want you to know I’m listening. I’m here for your joy and your pain. You are important, and your feelings are valid.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and freelance editor who is crazy as fuck and wants to tell you all about it. You can find her on Amazon.

Just Because You’re Paranoid Means They’re Out to Get You – Oppression of Neurodivergent People in Our Society

[Rape, abuse, assault, ableism]

It’s a hell of a time for a marginalized person to be in PTSD therapy.

I went into therapy to get help with dealing with trauma from a lifetime of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Instead, I’m learning ways to cope with the ongoing abuse and threats to my person and wellbeing that are just part of being a neurodivergent person living in Trump’s America.

The therapy I’m doing is called Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) which is something like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I’ve tried a lot of different therapies for my PTSD, and have always given up pretty quickly because they dredge up old memories and send me into crisis, without actually giving me any tools to improve my life. But CPT seems to be working. It helps me to separate my emotions from my intellect and deal with them more rationally. (I wouldn’t have been able to do this earlier in my life. It’s a lot easier now that I’m on medication and stable.)

The problem is, the world isn’t safe, especially for people like me and my daughter, and there’s only so much you can do to control your emotions when they’re based on a valid threat.

Sane and abled people—as well as a lot of neurodivergent people who simply haven’t experienced certain kinds of oppression yet, for whatever reason—don’t understand the stress neurodivergent folks are under. When we speak out against it, they tell us we’re being crazy and paranoid, thus adding to our oppression and making life less safe for us.

This threat is real, and it seems to be growing lately in the United States (and surely other places, but I wouldn’t know).

I’m going to take you through the threats that we face, to try to give you an idea of what it feels like to be someone like me. I’m going to do that in the form of a CPT Challenging Questions worksheet.

A Challenging Questions worksheet is where the patient writes out the negative beliefs that trigger and sustain emotional crisis, and work through them in an attempt to see them more rationally and change the patterns of belief and behavior that screw up our lives so badly. This is because I – along with countless other marginalized people – have PTSD from bigotry.

Belief: People want me dead, or want to torture me, because I’m a neurodivergent woman.

The majority of people reading this are rolling their eyes. “Oh, come on. No one wants to kill or torture you. Get a grip.”

Remember you had that thought. The fact you’re having it belongs squarely in the category below, as evidence that my belief is true. You may not see why yet, but keep reading.

Evidence For the Belief:

  1. Involuntary commitment

This seems simple enough, but for people who haven’t been locked up, you’ve probably never even thought about what it means.

Involuntary commitment means that you get locked up when you haven’t even committed a crime. It means they lock you up simply for being neurodivergent. They’re constantly trying to make it easier to do this, using the few demonstrable incidents where mentally ill people hurt or kill people as evidence that “clear and present danger to themselves or others” is too high a bar. They want to be able to lock us up just for having a diagnosis, and effectively, that’s usually what happens. I’ve had friends locked up for being schizophrenic and having a Swiss Army knife in their room somewhere. I’ve had other friends locked up simply for being nonviolently angry at someone. Involuntary commitment is used as a tool of coercion, manipulation and abuse against us.

“Yeah, but, dangerous psychos need to be off the streets,” you say.

This almost universally-held belief is very strong evidence in favor of my belief . Sane folks want people like me to be locked up just for being neurodivergent, and locking someone up in a mental institution is literal torture on so many levels, and is morally suspect at best. It has been used as a method of oppression of all manner of neurodivergent people for hundreds of years, and (despite neurotypical folks’ belief that it’s difficult to get people committed) most people who are put away against their will aren’t a demonstrable threat to themselves or others. Neurotypical people are scared of us for no good reason because they’ve been taught to believe we’re scary and out of control—and to not believe us when we say we’re not—so they think we’re a threat to ourselves and others just by existing.

You’re rolling your eyes again. “No one wants to lock up someone like you. Just the dangerous psychos!”

What sane people don’t know is that there aren’t very many dangerous psychos—we don’t have a higher rate of violence than people without mental illness. Neurodivergent people are a lot more likely to be hurt by sane people than we are to hurt others.

So, when a sane person places a neurodivergent person in involuntary commitment, the dangerous person is locking up the less dangerous person.

Yes, there are neurodivergent people who truly are a danger to themselves and others—just like there are neurotypical people who are. Most people who get involuntarily committed just simply aren’t a danger. We’re in crisis (a crisis often caused by the oppression and ableism we experience on a daily basis, and therefore avoidable). We need compassion and understanding. We need help. Sometimes we just need to be left alone.

The data show that locking someone up involuntarily very rarely provides any actual benefit to the neurodivergent person. All it does is scare us, stigmatize us, anger us, make us feel ashamed and, more often than you think, it leads to us being physically hurt or worse.

Yes, involuntary commitment can serve a purpose. However, not only is it vastly overused, it very rarely serves the purpose for which it is designed. It’s torture. Pure and simple.

  1. Bleach enemas/spinal taps/forcible sterilization/therapies that cause PTSD and physical injury.

Oh, you haven’t heard about this stuff? Read the links above, and do some more research.

This is real stuff that happens to neurodivergent people in the here and now. People do it to us in an attempt to cure us of being who we are. Society thinks it’s okay to torture us, because they believe our lives aren’t worth living unless we are “cured”.

We don’t need to be cured. We need help with some of our symptoms but mostly we need respect, acceptance, and supports.

It’s not okay to do this stuff to us. It’s not okay to think about doing this stuff to us. If you’ve considered it, you need to be ashamed of yourself, do some soul-searching, and do better. Our society is ableist, so the idea that neurodivergent people don’t deserve or can’t handle our bodily autonomy is mainstream, so I’m not surprised you had it. But the fact it’s a mainstream idea doesn’t make it right. It is just another piece of evidence that my belief is true.

If your beliefs uphold a system that tortures and kills neurodivergent people, your beliefs are very wrong and need to be discarded.

  1. High incidence of violence toward and murder of neurodivergent people

Here are some more statistics, also. Neurodivergent folks are more likely than neurotypical folks to be hurt or murdered.

“But you guys probably did something to deserve it.” Toss that widely-held belief into the “evidence for” bucket, Steve!

The very fact that we’re more likely to be hurt and murdered by sane people than the other way around is pretty definitive proof that you’re the scary and dangerous ones, not us. If anyone deserves to be hurt or killed, it’s folks who believe neurodivergent people deserve to be hurt or killed. I’m a really nonviolent person, however, so you won’t have to worry about me trying to hurt or kill you.

  1. High incarceration rate and high rate of police violence against us

And more reading on this here. There are laws that disproportionately target neurodivergent people. Not just involuntary commitment laws, which target ONLY us, but laws against homelessness, loitering, public disturbance.

People don’t hate the neurodivergent…they just don’t want to see us in public.

We’re not hurting you by sleeping on park benches, ranting to ourselves on street corners, etc. We truly aren’t. If you’re so offended and scared by the fact we exist and are different than you, then perhaps check your ableism and leave us the fuck alone.

Drug laws also affect us disproportionately. A large amount of substance use and abuse is self-medication of the symptoms we don’t like. That ALSO IS NOT HURTING YOU. YOU JUST WANT TO PUT US IN JAIL ON BASIC PRINCIPLES. I can’t say this enough.

Police also tend to shoot us, beat us, or take us to jail for no reason, because they see a neurodivergent person and immediately think we’re creepy or dangerous simply because we’re not acting neurotypical. I’ve been harassed by police and arrested for being neurodivergent. My ex-partner was almost shot for the same reason. This even though evidence shows that if police and other responders have training in how to deal with us compassionately, the outcomes are immeasurably better and very rarely result in violence. If you treat us with respect, kindness, and compassion, we will almost always respond in kind.

Most police contact with us, we’re not being violent or posing any sort of threat to others to begin with, anyway, so we should just be left alone. There’s no probable cause to make contact with us, other than the fact we’re neurodivergent. All too often, someone calls the police because they’re worried we’ll hurt ourselves…and the police end up hurting or killing us. At other times, we’re just yelling or “acting suspicious”.

There’s no reason to even engage with us. But police still do, and they escalate the situation until we end up hurt, incarcerated, or dead. That’s not our fault. It’s the police’s fault.

I participate in Crisis Intervention Training with the police. Not all of them are bad. Some of them truly do want to help. They have a long way to go to learn to combat their ableism, however, and until they do, we’ll continue to be hurt, killed, and locked up for no reason.

  1. Rape, abuse, domestic violence

Neurodivergent folks are more likely to suffer these things, and we’re less likely to be believed, or to have any way to escape it, than neurotypical people are.

I know this firsthand. It’s why I’m in PTSD therapy to begin with. I’ve suffered rape, physical and emotional abuse, and assault on more than one occasion. I’ve been homeless on several occasions because it was my only alternative to abuse. And I’ve been not only disbelieved but outright accused of being at fault for my rape, assault and abuse…even by the police. And yes, because I’m neurodivergent. If you wanna know more about how all of those things went down, peruse my blog or ask me. Or, (and this would be a first!) you could just take my word for it.

  1. Removal of supports

We’ve never had a great safety net, but now this administration is actively working to remove access to the medical care and programs that keep us alive and healthy. A lot of neurodivergent people can work, but the most vulnerable of us can’t…not because we’re not capable, but because people don’t want to deal with the neurodivergent and our atypical work habits.

Since we can’t work, we’re seen as lazy losers. Our existence is devalued in our society. We’re seen as burdens.

Useless eaters.

This is happening right now in our society, and it’s scary. It is a quiet form of eugenics…but so was Aktion T-4 at first. It WILL get louder, because neurotypical people won’t even admit that it’s happening. They think that people who truly need supports can still get them. That if we’re “truly disabled”, we can get SSI and easily support ourselves, or whatever. None of that is actually true, though. It’s really difficult to get on disability supports (financial or otherwise), and even if you can, it’s incredibly difficult to survive on the crumbs they give you.

Making sure every neurodivergent person in the country had the health care, housing, and supports they need to get by—whether they can work or not, and in whatever capacity they can work—wouldn’t cost that much. It would be literally a few dollars a month in taxes for the average U.S. person. But you’d rather see us struggle and die.

  1. General Apathy about Neurodivergent Rights

Most people roll their eyes when you tell them oppression of neurodivergent people is a thing. They tell us we’re just crazy. In denying that the oppression is happening, they’re adding to that oppression, and enabling it to get worse.

Neurodivergent people are among the most forgotten and mistreated people in the world. Even among leftists, we’re considered the “other” marginalization, if we’re considered at all. But the most vulnerable people on the planet are neurodivergent folks with other marginalized identities. Mental illness and neurodivergence affect every other marginalized group, so you’re not doing social justice any favors if you think fighting against ableism is less important than fighting other forms of bigotry, or that it doesn’t have anything to do with your own cause.

I see this oppression on Twitter and out in the world every day, and not just from the right-wingers. People on the left will straight up tell a neurodivergent person that they’re whining and being a snowflake for speaking up about ableism. They’ll tell us that we’re “not helping” the cause by engaging in “minor-issue pseudo-activism”, and that we should fight more important battles. A lot of the time they’ll just ignore us or mock us, because they’re not interested in being aligned with embarrassing and gross people like us. We don’t make good poster children. No one likes the mentally ill.

Another one for the “evidence for” bucket, Steve. Gosh, that bucket is getting full.

So, there’s some of the evidence in favor of my belief being true. It’s not all of it. I could go on all day. But I’m tired and have other shit to do.

Evidence Against the Belief:

I’m still alive.

This is all I have. I may have been locked up, homeless, in physical danger, in crisis with no supports, subjected to abuse and rape…I may have experienced all these things at one point in my life, and I may still experience scary ableism on a daily basis, but I’m still alive.

I haven’t been killed yet, and am not currently being tortured.

Is Your Belief a Habit, or Based on Facts?

Well, Steve, it’s sure based on facts. But it’s true my fear and anger are sometimes perhaps out of proportion with my current circumstances. I’m so used to being attacked that I always think I’m under attack, so it’s based on habit, too.

In What Ways is Your Belief Not Including All the Information?

Not everyone wants me dead or tortured. There are some really great people out there. I have a lot of love in my life, a lot of friends. I find compassion everywhere I go. And yet everyone—even other neurodivergent folks—has at least a seed of ableism. We’re capable of overcoming it, though. We’re capable of great and beautiful things.

Also, I have more sane privilege than a lot of people, although that thought may actually be an example of minimizing my trauma, the same as saying, “Well, he beat me, but other people get beat worse, or killed, so I don’t have a right to complain.”

How is Your Belief Confusing Something that is Possible with Something that is Likely?

Well, I sure hope that Aktion T-4 doesn’t repeat full-scale in the U.S. I hope that my kid & I are never killed for being neurodivergent. And we certainly won’t get hurt or killed every time we leave the house. Usually things are okay. Most days are okay. Therefore, a lot of my fear and anger comes from confusing something that is possible with something that is likely.

But I will get hurt again because of my neurodivergence. And…God, I hate saying this…so will Kid. It’s a given.

How is Your Belief Based on Feelings Rather than Facts?

In the end, I have to look at this question, and shrug my shoulders.

My fear and anger aren’t serving me, even if they’re somewhat justified. I have to examine those feelings, and then let them go, so I can function.

This exercise is part of that process.

Oppression isn’t academic to us—it’s not our feelings being hurt, or us being offended. Oppression causes trauma. It makes us have to work through these feelings, which takes a lot of time and energy and can lead to unhealthy behavior. It contributes to PTSD. So, please stop oppressing us. You’re causing real damage to real people.

If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this, thank you for reading. I hope this was helpful to you in some way, or informative. If it was new info, please take it into consideration in your life. Work on your belief system with regard to neurodivergent and mentally ill folks, so that the world will be safer for us.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and freelance editor who spends a lot of time in her tiny home, screaming her frustration to her best friends—a potted orchid, an Australian shepherd, and a satanic cat. You can find her on Amazon, and she wishes you would, because she’s poor as fuck.

How to Be a Writer

I hate advice on how to be a writer.

People say, “Real writers use pen and ink. They write every day. They have inborn talent; are obsessive about grammar; and subsist on tea, chocolate and cat kisses.”

My least favorite writing advice is that old nugget spouted by Hemingway, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I truly don’t mean to call folks out, but there was a writer on my Twitter timeline the other day who coughed up this particular oft-polished gem. “Writing isn’t relaxing. It’s not musing. It’s not a journey. Each word is ripped from your soul like a malignant tumor, and splatted onto the page, while you writhe in anguish.” I’m paraphrasing; it was something to the effect that writing was a process akin to trench warfare or medieval torture, that any of us are lucky to survive intact, but I can’t retrieve the original tweet, because when I responded “naw” and suggested that maybe writing was a bad fit job for him, the guy (it’s always dudes who have this particular advice, it seems like) blocked me. Some folks can’t dig my snark.

The thing is, writing is whatever you make it. Whatever method (or lack of) you use to get words onto a page, to tell your story, is the right way.

For most of us, writing is sometimes hard, sometimes easy. Sometimes it makes us laugh, other times it makes us scream like we’re getting our teeth pulled without anesthetic (what, you guys aren’t screamers? I get the paramedics called on me at least twice a week).

For me, writing is a coping skill, and a job. For others, it’s a hobby. And some think of it more as a lifestyle.

All of us are writers.

None of us have a monopoly on what it means to spew words out onto a page, and none of us have the ultimate secret of how best to accomplish it. Ultimately, it’s just something you do, for whatever reason.

My Successful Queries

Writing a query is a daunting task. When I was facing down the prospect of writing my very first one, it seemed impossible. How can I condense an 80k-word novel into one paragraph, in a way that’s engaging and meaningful? How can I convey the amount of heart and soul I put into my story in a trite marketing pitch? And how can I possibly make my query stand out amongst the dozens (or even hundreds) that an agent can get in a single day?

A lot of writers say that it’s more difficult to write a query than write the novel. I’m squarely in that camp. Knowing which elements to include, and which will just confuse things, can be seriously headache-inducing. It’s a completely different skill than writing a book. But it’s an  important skill, because querying is how most authors find agents and publishers. If you can’t write a good query, it doesn’t matter how amazing your book is: agents will never know, because they’ll never read it.

Like any other skill, query-writing can be learned. There are lots of how-to articles out there. I always recommend the amazing Query Shark, which is a great way to learn the elements of a query, and get an idea of what works, and what doesn’t. You get to see how they’re pieced together, and see a reaction of a top agent to each element.

I thought I would also (gulp) use some of my own queries as examples, to dissect the elements.

So, here we go! This first one is for TRUE STORY, a YA contemp that I’m currently trying to find a home for. This query has gotten me quite a few full manuscript requests. My comments are in brackets.

Dear Ms. Mumblemumble [ALWAYS use their name. Never use the generic “Dear Agent” or “To Whom it May Concern”]:

I’m querying you because you indicated on Twitter that you’re seeking YA own voices books [Agents love to hear why you’re querying them specifically. They want you to be particularly interested in working with them, as well]. I am seeking representation for TRUE STORY, a YA contemporary romance, with elements of magical realism [genre], complete at 73,000 words [word count]. It’s an own voices book that deals with mental health issues [if you don’t know what an own voices book is, ask me. If your book is own voices, it’s a huge selling point, but if it’s not, don’t worry].

17-year-old Mike Charley is a girl, named after her grandfather by a bipolar mother who thought Mike was his reincarnation. Now Mike is in the foster system, and constantly in trouble: for running away from sketchy foster parents, for skipping school. The only safe place for her is in the fantasy worlds she writes about [This is an intro to my main character, and hints toward one of her goals: to overcome the things holding her back from happiness (stigma, hurtful past, bullying)].

Then she meets Vaughn, and is drawn against her will to the handsome, talented artist. There’s a connection between them that sets her spine tingling [intro to the secondary character. If it’s a romance, this is always the love interest. Also introduces another goal: get together with the guy she likes 😊].

When a car accident puts Mike in the hospital and Vaughn in a coma, Mike begins to have visions. Their fates are intertwined, and Vaughn’s life is now in Mike’s hands: she has ten days to complete the book she’s writing, or he’ll never wake up [This introduces the main conflict, and the stakes: “…or he’ll never wake up”].

This belief lands her in an institution, but Mike knows she’s not crazy [more conflict]. Trapped and helpless, not allowed to write, the day fast approaching when Vaughn’s father pulls him off life support, Mike has to find a way to finish her book…or a way to join her boyfriend in death [stakes: do it or die].

[The “meat” of my query is 176 words. That’s a good word count.]

I am an active writer, musician, and freelance editor. I have had five books published by Limitless Publishing: the romantic suspense Love or Money and four books in my magical realism Other Place series. I have two short horror stories set to come out in the 13: Déjà vu and 13: Night Terrors anthologies—an internationally bestselling series of anthologies. I am a neurodivergent person, and a neurodiverse rights activist who speaks at forums and events [My bio is long. It shouldn’t be longer than this, in most fiction queries, but most of this is relevant/interesting stuff. You want to let the agent/editor know that you’ll be a good person to work with, and you have attributes that are marketable—that you’re interesting as a person, and not just a great writer].

Thank you for your consideration.

Elizabeth Roderick

elizabethroderick@att.net

[phone number]

[Always contain contact info].

This query certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it is working for me, because it briefly introduces my characters, conflict, and stakes, with just enough specifics to help set it apart from other books without giving too much away.

Here is my query for THE OTHER PLACE, which got me multiple full requests, and an offer:
I am seeking representation for THE OTHER PLACE, a YA Contemporary novel with elements of magical realism. It is complete at 74,000 words, and is a stand-alone novel with series potential.

Justin just wants to draw and be left in peace, but when his mother takes up with a man who thinks his schizophrenia can be cured with prayer, he has to find a new home or risk involuntary commitment in a Christian mental institution.

He runs off to San Francisco, where he’s discovered by a gallery owner. His bizarre and beautiful drawings create a stir in the art world; people rave about his genius and flock to see his work. Meanwhile, Justin is homeless, couch surfing and battling his mental illness.

He reconnects with a girl named Liria, who has been appearing in his visions since they met back in his hometown. Liria, it turns out, has been sharing those visions. Compelled by their deep connection, she leaves her jealous girlfriend in order to be with him, supporting them both on her meagre income.

They discover that the gallery owner has been hiding something, and Justin realizes that being a genius can have a downside. Surrounded by people who want to exploit his talent, he must fight not only for his career and his freedom, but perhaps for his life.

I am a board member of the San Luis Obispo NightWriters association, assistant editor and columnist for their newsletter. I have recently had a short story published by Akashic Books.

Pursuant to your guidelines, I’m pasting the first 25 pages of The Other Place below.

I hope that seeing these is of some help to you in your own querying endeavors. After all, if I can write a successful query, so can you!


Elizabeth Roderick is an author and freelance editor/writer. You can find her on Amazon. Information about her editing services is here.

Do You Need an Editor?

At some point in a writer’s life, we’ll likely wonder whether we should hire a professional editor for our manuscript. I’m an author, as well as a freelance editor, so I wanted to chime in with my opinions and advice on this subject.

Most articles fall squarely in one or another category: YES you ALWAYS need an editor, or NO, they’re a WASTE OF MONEY. In this piece, I’ll discuss both the pros and cons, as well as how to choose an editor if you decide to get one.

If your goal is self-publishing, you probably want to hire at least one editor. Successful indy authors often hire two: a developmental editor, and a proofreader. You will feel more confident about your manuscript if you go through an editing process before publishing, and readers will thank you with their dollars and positive reviews if you do.

I personally would never publish a book without having it go through an editing process, even though I’m an editor myself. We truly can’t see our own work with objective enough eyes to be sure it’s our best effort. Hiring an editor isn’t cheating, or selling out your voice. It’s just part of the process of publishing, and of creating good art.

However, if your goal is getting traditionally published, you may be on the fence about whether you should get an editor before querying. After all, if you get an agent, they will often give developmental critique, and a publisher will always put your manuscript through an editing process before publication. So, why should you bother paying for one yourself?

Hopefully this article will help you decide whether it’s right for you.

PROS

If you’ve spent any time being a writer, you’ll know the value of getting other eyes on your work. No matter how skilled or talented we are, it’s difficult to be detached enough to see our own errors, weak spots, and inconsistencies.

Critiquers and beta readers are invaluable in the revision process, and help us to spot our story’s weaknesses and strengths. However, even if these folks aren’t our family and friends, they might have difficulty being fully up-front with us about our work. If we’re also helping them with their own manuscripts, they don’t want to risk angering us. And besides, who wants to be mean?

Editors, however, are professionals. We get paid to be honest about your book. That shouldn’t mean we’re rude or cruel, but we have no qualms about telling you exactly what we think; after all, it’s our job. You expect it from us. And, we have a vested interest in seeing you published, because that will be another notch in our headboard, so to speak: a point of pride, and a means of getting further clients.

Whenever one of my clients gets a request or an offer, I feel almost as if I’d gotten one myself. I put some of my heart and soul into their book, and my clients always (so far) put me in the acknowledgments when I’ve worked with them. If my name is on something, I have a huge investment in making sure it’s the best it can be.

As much as I enjoy being a CP or beta, it just isn’t the same.

Editors also have more experience than critiquers or beta readers. Our experience can come in a lot of different forms; some of us worked for publishers before hanging out our freelance shingles. Others have degrees in English or Literature. Some, like me, just got our starts with a lot of practical experience such as writing books, short stories, queries, and pitches; judging contests; and being involved in a million critique partnerships.

This experience matters a lot. Writing and editing aren’t innate talents, like some seem to think; they’re skills that we hone through practice, and an editor will bring this skill to bear, helping you craft your novel into something you can be even more proud of.

Be sure you choose the right editor for your manuscript, however. If you get one who isn’t right for your book, it will be a waste of your money.

Being “right” for your book doesn’t always mean someone who is expensive, or even someone with decades of experience. It means they believe in your manuscript and share your vision for it. They need to have a good handle on your personal voice and style, and be willing to work with you instead of against you.

They also need to be good at what they do, however. The only true way to know this is to do your homework before hiring them.

Always research potential editors, ask for references, and have them do a free sample edit (usually first couple pages of your manuscript) to make sure they are not only qualified, but a good fit for you. Make sure they seem enthusiastic about your book, and that their sample edits make sense and seem right (give them time to sink in before deciding this, because often the best editors will strike a nerve, and sometimes it’s difficult to keep from getting defensive when that happens). Email a few of their references and make sure they were happy with the editor’s work. Triple bonus if those clients got requests, agents and publishing contracts after working with them.

Make sure you’re really comfortable with someone before you give them money and hand over your word-baby. A good editor will give you the space and the information you need in order to make the decision, and won’t hound you.

A NOTE ON SENSITIVITY READERS:

There is a lot of bad press out there about sensitivity readers lately. I am myself a sensitivity reader. I’ve worked with many clients, including some of the Big Five publishers, on books containing neurodivergent/mentally ill characters, and characters with addiction issues. I love sensitivity reading, and I’m willing to die on this hill to defend the process.

If your manuscript has a character who is marginalized, and especially if you don’t share that marginalization, please consider hiring a sensitivity reader. We aren’t here to censor your book, but to make it better. We want your book to succeed. A good SR won’t be defensive and actively looking for problems. We will fact-check, and bring more soul, more feeling, and more humanity to your marginalized characters by virtue of our lived experience. Being a marginalized person is complicated, and it’s not something outsiders can easily understand. We can help you to understand, and your book (and your life) will be richer for it.

Most writers would love to have an FBI agent read over their manuscript with an FBI agent main character, correct? They’d delight in having someone to help them on the small details, and let them know how it feels to be in certain situations. It would help the narrative to really come alive. So why is there pushback over hiring sensitivity readers?

The answer, unfortunately, is often bigotry. People are defensive and frightened about confronting their prejudices and misunderstandings which might come through in their writing. That’s normal, and it’s okay, because you can’t grow without confronting these things. Don’t be scared. A good sensitivity reader won’t spend their time berating you. They’ll be relieved you reached out, and will genuinely want to hold an open (if sometimes difficult) conversation about your characters.

Again, be sure to connect with a SR before hiring them, to make sure they’re a good fit for your book, and that they communicate in a way that works for you. Always be respectful of the amount of emotional labor it takes to be a SR, but don’t be afraid to ask questions. As long as you’re truly listening to us, we’ll be happy to answer.

CONS

There can be cons to hiring an editor, believe it or not.

If you put effort into finding good critique partners or beta readers, and put a lot of time and thought into revising your own book, you can get an agent and/or publisher without getting your manuscript professionally edited.

The most obvious argument against hiring an editor is the expense. I haven’t yet engaged an editor prior to sending a book out to agents or publishers. It’s not that I don’t believe in it, I’m just very poor. If you have a few hundred bucks you’ll never miss, you don’t have much to lose by getting professional eyes on your manuscript, but few of us have that luxury.

Another con is that an editor is only one person, and their opinions, while hopefully informed, are opinions and are therefore subjective and personal. Even if their critiques and suggestions make sense to you, that doesn’t automatically translate into revisions that will land you a contract more easily. I have gotten suggestions from professionals (both editors and agents) which resonated with me, only to have a different agent tell me they didn’t agree with that advice, or give me the exact opposite suggestion. So who should I listen to?

There is no right or wrong way to write. This is a subjective business. Being careful in choosing an editor—finding one who is both skilled and shares your vision—can mitigate the amount of “bad” advice you get, but even if you find the perfect editor for your book, not all of their suggestions will resonate, and you can never consider their opinions to be foolproof.

Developmental editors aren’t there to “fix” your manuscript; they are artists, like you, and can only be a partner in crafting your story, not a doctor who cures it of any ills.

Those are the only cons I can think of, but you definitely should take them into consideration.

Hiring an editor is a personal decision. If you’ve already been querying and have had little to no success; if you’re getting conflicting advice from betas and CPs; or if you really want to have full confidence that your manuscript is ready for querying, an editor might be the answer.

Please let me know what pros and cons I failed to touch on. I always love to hear from you.

 

______

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and freelance editor/writer. You can find her on Amazon. Information about her editing services is here.

LEFT-WING SURVIVALISTS: New Podcast Episode

Hi, y’all! I got another podcast episode done finally! In this one, I give a recipe for chestnut lembas, talk about my tiny house, and discuss my plans to have a commune where autistic, neurodivergent, and disabled folks (as well as others) can survive—and thrive—during Trumpocalypse. NOTE: brief discussion of suicidal ideation.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

Elizabeth Roderick is an author who lives in a shack and rants about communism. You can support her in these endeavors by buying her books on Amazon.

When a rigged system silences voices

I agree. I know Amazon has the “right” to do this, but their market share is such that it amounts to oppression.

the silent wave

Visiting the lovely peeps on my blogroll today, I came across a particular post that spawned a tangential thought-stream.  What follows is indeed my own thought stream, concerning a topic about which I know little, because I haven’t had the energy to go full-on activist in recent months.  But I’ll share with you those thoughts that did come.

I originally decided that I wasn’t going to name names, but I ultimately decided that I would.

A little background: The post that seeded these thoughts was an ActuallyAutistic review (excellent read!) of the infamous book “To Siri With Love” (by Judith Newman), written by Elizabeth Roderick (whose blog is certainly worth a follow!).

And, in my own Aspergian/autistic systemizing fashion, I got to thinking about Elizabeth’s words and how aspects of The System are…well, systematically dampening my own Aspergian/autistic spirits by repeating the anti-AS drivel that seems to spout from so…

View original post 943 more words

Review of TO SIRI WITH LOVE by Judith Newman

I’m an autistic author, and I urge you to read the critical reviews written by autistic people before you buy this book. Even if you do decide to buy it, it’s important that you know that autistic people have agency, feelings, intelligence and inner life…because Ms. Newman portrays us as thoughtless, helpless beings with no empathy.

I borrowed a copy of this book from a friend, so I could read it and opine on the controversy without financially supporting an author I’d heard was horrible to autistic people. However, Amazon is now not allowing reviews by people who don’t have a verified purchase through Amazon. I currently live on only a few hundred dollars per month (on most months), but I purchased a copy just so I could leave a review on Amazon. It is so important that autistic people endeavor to make themselves heard on the issues raised in this book.

Autistic voices are almost always overlooked, silenced, and dismissed. It’s a phenomenon embodied in this book, and in Amazon’s policing of its reviews in this case.

I first heard of this book when the author tangled with another autistic person—Amythest Shaber—on Twitter. Ms. Newman mentions Amythest in the book, in a really condescending light, and she further showed her contempt and disregard for autistic people in the way she spoke to Amythest online. I got a sick feeling. Autistic people are so often seen as not being worthy of consideration and respect, and I feared this book would be yet another example of that.

I wasn’t wrong.

To Siri With Love had a deep impact on me. I was able to identify, not with the supposedly heartwarming and hilarious struggles of a mother trying to come to terms with a son who doesn’t live up to her standards, but with the struggles of an autistic child who is ignored, harassed, abused, and condescended to by a mother who cannot see what a wonderful person he is.

Gus is now 16 years old, and his mother still hasn’t—will obviously never—come to terms with the fact he’s autistic. Instead, Ms. Newman seeks to make her son into something he’s not. No matter how hard she tries, however, she can’t force him to be normal. Oh, woe is her.

There are parts of this book that were almost heartwarming. The author, time and time again, seemed as if she were just about to realize the errors of her ways, and accept her son for the amazing individual that he is. Then she would ruin it by saying or doing something that made me want to curl up a cease to exist, because of how often I’ve had similar opinions and actions directed at me, and how badly they hurt.

It really sucks that a book that’s basically making fun of you—and everyone like you—for hundreds of pages can make it to a NYT Bestsellers’ List. And if I feel like that, I’d hate to know how Gus feels. Ms. Newman states she didn’t let Gus read the book, but I’m certain he understands her attitudes toward him more than she realizes.

I was born before autism was a diagnosis. I’m not certain when I first realized that I was different, though most of my childhood memories of interacting with others are marked by bullying, abuse and harassment. People constantly made fun of, tried to correct, or were angry at me for my behavior. Any change in my daily routine or plans would spark a meltdown—an uncontrollable episode of anger and fear—which earned me mockery and rage from my parents. My peers sneered at my suggestions we write a dictionary of a made-up language, or compile a catalogue the local plants. They ridiculed my age-inappropriate toys. They wanted to play boring games like house, or tag, but when I tried to join in, I’d get all the rules wrong, and end up rejected, curled in the grass in a fetal position, sobbing.

It was decades before I figured out what I was doing incorrectly: nothing. I was just being autistic, in an allistic (non-autistic) world.
Those who rejected me never learned that lesson. They still haven’t. Allistic people can’t see that there’s nothing wrong with being autistic, or with autistic behavior. I do understand that autistic people can be embarrassing or difficult to deal with, but 9 times out of 10, this would change if the allistic person would simply change their attitude and adherence to pointless ideals, and stop trying to get us to conform when our brains and bodies simply can’t.

To Siri With Love relates all these same experiences I had as a child, but not from the point of view of the child. Instead, it’s told from the standpoint of a mother who is fed up with her boring, weird, and difficult son.

Ms. Newman repeats over and over that she loves Gus. One gets the impression she’s trying to convince herself, or simply that she thinks stating it will make up for the fact that she doesn’t really love him that much (like those who prelude their racist statements and actions with “I’m not racist but…). Every time she states she loves her son, she follows it up with an anecdote that makes me want to weep, because of how clearly it demonstrates her contempt and dislike for Gus. Ms. Newman throws away her son’s toys—in which he obviously takes great comfort and joy—because she thinks a boy his age shouldn’t play with them anymore. She thinks the fact he enjoys Sesame Street is “alarming and frustrating”.
She steals and reads his phone when he’s texting with his friends because, in her words, “this is not a child who will ever have real friends,” and she’s just trying to protect him from people who are trying to use and hurt him (not seeing the irony, as she is the one who is hurting him, robbing him of real friends, while she makes fun of him behind his back or even to his face). Her idea of friendship, she says, is “people you go everywhere with”, “people who tease you” and “people you have healthy competitiveness with”. That makes sense, given the way she treats the son she supposedly loves: making fun of him and constantly comparing him to other mothers’ neurotypical sons.

She mocks and belittles Gus at every turn, even though she paints a picture of a son who is unerringly kind, genuinely likes people, is curious, and can discern when someone is being unkind…probably even when that person is his own mother. If I had to guess, I’d say it was Ms. Newman who lacks the social skills to tell when she is hurting her son.

Ms. Newman chuckles over her belief that Gus will never have a good career, or any sort of life at all, even though he already worked (as a child!) successfully as a doorman in their building—a job that was ultimately ended by ableism, not any fault of his own. Ms. Newman rolls her eyes repeatedly throughout the book and states outright that her son is “boring”, because he likes to talk about ambulances, escalators, and trains. I can understand that you might find a hour-long monologue about trains boring, Ms. Newman. Autistic people often feel the same way about small talk, or endless discussions of pop culture, sports, and the best recipes for vegetable chips (unless one of those is a special interest). Please accept that you are every bit as boring as we are, sometimes.

And then there’s the outright eugenicist bent of this book.

Ms. Newman hates her son’s autism so much that she’s stated she plans on getting medical power of attorney so that she can have him forcibly sterilized when he turns eighteen. Ms. Newman, here is the answer to the question you posed in the pages: you cannot even consider sterilizing your son without sounding like an eugenicist, without being one. Yes, many eugenicists are supposedly “well-meaning” people…just like you.
I want everyone reading this book to be very clear in their mind that this is what eugenics looks like. Ms. Newman and her supporters try to justify their eugenicist ideas by saying someone like Gus would never be a good father. This is demonstrably not true; please speak to the autistic community, and to ME personally. I’m a mother, and my former partner—a man so much like Gus I cried through parts of this book— was also a loving and amazing companion to my daughter. You and your supporters say, “wouldn’t sterilizing him be better than an unwanted pregnancy?” If so, all children should be sterilized, because allistic people have more unwanted pregnancies than autistics.

Eugenicists always have justifications for their behavior, and Ms. Newman is no different. Let’s call a duck a duck, please. There’s no excuse for eugenics.

In her mind, Ms. Newman is only trying to protect her son from hurt with her repressive, shaming, and controlling behavior. However, autistic people know from experience that parents like these can be the biggest source of hurt in a child’s life, and we know from experience that Ms. Newman is a horrible example of these. And example that, even more frighteningly, is being held up by mainstream society as a heartwarming and “refreshingly honest” paradigm.

As an autistic person, I’ve never understood why it is so important to allistic people that I act like them. If I want to play with my toys in public, or sing a song about my grocery list as I wheel my cart down the aisle, it is clearly not hurting them. In my mind, I’m expressing joy in being alive, or at the simple act of grocery shopping (as well as trying to remember my list, since I always forget something). However, I’ve been tailed by store personnel for this “suspicious” behavior.

I am a human being. I crave attention, love, and acceptance the same way anyone does. I have crushed so many of my loves, hopes, dreams and joys in an attempt to fit in.

After forty years, I can safely say it doesn’t work. I still don’t fit in.

So here is my advice to you, Ms. Newman: love the amazing son you have, not the allistic one you’ve spent 16 years mourning.

I’ll end this review with a couple quotes from the book:

>>Does he even understand that most people are not entranced by escalators? That he doesn’t see the world the way most others do? I’ve tried to approach the question a few times—“Do you know you are autistic?”—and he always acts like he doesn’t hear me. I want to understand what he’s thinking. Is he thinking? I keep trying.

Your son is thinking, Ms. Newman. He’s trying and trying to get through to you, to make you happy, to be good enough in your eyes. It’s tragic that he will obviously never succeed.

Do you know you are allistic, Ms. Newman? That not everyone is entranced by a tome vividly detailing emotional abuse? The autistic community is trying to tell you this, but you seem unwilling, or unable, to learn.

And another:
>>Through pain there is growth. I think about this all the time. Do I want my son to feel self-conscious and embarrassed? I do. Yes. Gus does not yet have self-awareness, and embarrassment is part of self-awareness. It is an acknowledgment that you live in a world where people may think differently than you do. Shame humbles and shame teaches.

Your son has self-awareness, Ms. Newman. I’m wondering if you do.

I don’t want you to feel self-conscious and embarrassed, because I don’t wish pain upon anyone. But I do want you to acknowledge that your son thinks differently than you…and that that’s okay. You don’t need to change that.

I want you to have the self-awareness to acknowledge that you are hurting your son—and all autists—deeply with your attitudes, and this book.
Just because you don’t understand autistics, doesn’t mean we don’t think. Just because we bore you, doesn’t mean we’re not intelligent or interesting. Just because you imagine a Benny Hill soundtrack to our lovemaking, doesn’t mean others won’t want to make love to us.
Just because you don’t see our value doesn’t mean we deserve to be sterilized, or worse.

You don’t need to shame and humble us out of our autism. Just let us be.

To the world, from all autistic people: please, for the love of God, just let us be.

 


Elizabeth Roderick is an autistic author. You can find her on Amazon, and freely leave a review, whether you like her or not.

TO SIRI WITH LOVE: The Oppression of Neurodivergent and Marginalized Points of View

A book has just been published, entitled To Siri, With Love. The author is Judith Newman—a person we in the neurodivergent community call an “autism mommy”: that is, the non-autistic mother of an autistic child.To Siri

Ms. Newman is a great example of how neruodivergent points of view are commonly discounted, ignored, and subverted. Since neurodivergent people, by definition, think and see the world differently than the mainstream, we’re misunderstood. It’s like we’re speaking a different language, or like we come from a culture where all the gestures are different. Like, when I was in Nicaragua, and the “come hither” gesture looked to me like waving hello. Until I learned, every time someone told me to “come here”, I waved back…I wasn’t being nonsensical or thoughtless, I just had a different way of communicating.

This is how neurodivergent people feel, day in and day out. Since we don’t do or say the things people expect us to, they think we’re nonsensical, delusional, or thoughtless. This can lead our imprisonment, abuse, you name it. Because people don’t understand us, they think we’re dangerous, or unintelligent, or that our brains are “dead”. They think our lives aren’t worth living, and they treat us accordingly.

The author of To Siri, With Love is a perfect example of this mindset. Ms. Newman has stated that she doesn’t believe her son is capable of independent thought, or understanding others’ feelings. She publicly mocked his sexuality, telling the world what kind of porn he likes, and indicating she found the idea of him ever attempting sex to be silly and grotesque. This mother has stated outright, with impunity, that she doesn’t believe any girl[sic] will ever be interested in someone like him, and is planning to get a medical power of attorney so she can have him forcibly sterilized when he turns eighteen—because, in her words, “he can never be a real father.”

It probably comes as no surprise that the autism community is really scared, hurt and angry that this book has been published. It’s my understanding that the author has received death threats. I don’t agree with this, but that’s a view of how deeply the community is rattled. (If you want to see the quotes from the books and interviews, and community responses, check out the #BoycottToSiri hashtag on Twitter. Here is the thread of an activist who was included (and made fun of) in the book, without her permission, and here is my friend Kaelan Rhywol, live-tweeting her review of the book.

Full disclosure: I haven’t read this book yet. = I plan to, when I can get it at the library (I don’t want the author to have any of my money, or for her rankings to increase). [UPDATE: I’ve started reading it. Here’s my ongoing thread of tweets. I’ll be doing a full review when I’m done.] I feel the need to read it—even though chances are I’ll hate it—not only because her son sounds wonderful and I want to read about him, but because I want review the book, and I don’t review books I haven’t read. Rarely, I’ll review books I can’t finish, to be clear, but I never base a review on someone else’s opinion. They’ve already left that opinion, and if I can’t offer something new, there’s no point in saying anything.

However, in the case of this particular book, I wanted to review and speak out against its whole concept, and to things the author and her supporters have said and done, before I even deal with the particularities of the book. I think it’s important for me (and every other autistic person who can, and wants to) to make our voices heard on matters like these. Because allowing nothing about us without us is the only way neurodivergent people will ever gain their civil rights in this society. We need to show the world that we are thinking, feeling, intelligent individuals…because people literally think we aren’t, and that we shouldn’t have control over our own lives or narratives. Judith Newman is one of those people, and her viewpoint is popular enough that Harper Collins gave her a platform.

So, it’s time for me to dust of the old blogging fingers and write about one of my areas of expertise: points of view.

For those of you new to this blog, I’m a neurodivergent person. That means, my brain function is different than an average person’s. I am bipolar, autistic, and have PTSD. It’s caused me a lot of trouble and anguish in life, but it’s also pretty cool in other ways.

The first time I learned about point of view was when I had my first psychotic break, when I was about 14. I was wandering down the street screaming that I’d been poisoned and that I needed help. I wandered into a stranger’s house. They called the police.

Technically, I was breaking and entering (I didn’t actually break anything, I don’t believe, but still). Luckily, I wasn’t charged with it, because of the kindness of the police officer. But, from their point of view, I was a dangerous person.

I wasn’t dangerous. I was scared, and very upset.

Whose point of view was correct?

I can’t blame those people for being scared. They had no idea what was going on. However, if they’d been more knowledgeable about neurodivergence, they might not have been scared. They might have been able to offer me kindness and compassion, get me calmed down, and get me the help I needed. It would have been a less horrifying experience for all of us.

I still experience these divergence of points of view almost every day, even when I’m not in a psychotic break. For instance, I’ve been having a lot of problems with people shooting their guns on and near our property—hunting coyotes for the most part. This is a pretty heavily-populated area, all private property and it’s not legal to hunt here. The hunters’ bullets go astray, hit our outbuildings, scare the fuck out of my dog, my kid, and me. I went to my local Facebook group and posted a story of a woman in Wisconsin or somewhere who had been killed by just such an illegal hunter, and asked that people be more responsible with their guns.

Of course, cue a bunch of hunters to get pissed and tell me not to knock hunting.

When they said that, I freaked. The fuck. Out. They were basically saying it was okay to shoot at my house. I tried to reiterate the fact that it was illegal and wrong to hunt on my private property, or on other private property marked “NO HUNTING”, and have their bullets go astray and endanger my family and animals, but mostly I just called people idiots and pieces of shit.

I felt very threatened, is why.

I got banned, of course.

When I calmed down, I was able to see their point of view. They for the most part weren’t being directly threatening, they’d just—for no particular reason—thought I was bashing ALL hunters. And I had—wrongly, except for in the case of one commenter—felt like they were personally threatening me. Since I’m neurodivergent, (I have PTSD, and have had guns pulled on me, have been personally threatened with them), the way I felt and expressed my fear and anger was socially unacceptable. I’m working on it, but it’s difficult to control my reactions sometimes.

But, even if how I expressed myself was “wrong”, my fear and anger were understandable, right? All I wanted was for people not to shoot at my house, and for this, people called me “ignorant”. They said “People probably just don’t like you, libtard. That’s why they’re shooting at your house.”

Understandable or not, since I’m the neurodivergent one, I was immediately seen as the one being threatening. I was in the wrong, by mainstream standards.

The difference is, afterward, I can see where I went wrong. Those neurotypical people, in my experience, never will. I’m forced to live in their idea of mainstream reality, so I’m forced to constantly second-guess my point of view. They’re never forced to.

That’s neurotypical privilege: the privilege of living in mainstream reality, so to speak, and the ability to communicate one’s thoughts and feelings in mainstream ways.

The privilege of being, and feeling, “right”.

I see this type of divergence of point of view play out every day, in all aspects of life. Two completely different viewpoints, and each is completely unable to see the other’s. This happens between neurotypical folks, too, but it’s particularly bad for neurodivergent people, because—by nature—we think differently, and neurotypical people think our brains are wrong and defective.

Can you imagine what it would be like if people thought your brain was wrong and defective? If they immediately dismissed everything you said, always misinterpreted you, and misunderstood you to the point of becoming angry or even violent, when you had no idea what you were doing wrong? Can you imagine if your own mother was like that?

This is how Judith Newman treats her son Gus. It’s the treatment she describes in the book.

I believe it, because this is what it is like for neurodivergent people, every day.

That guy ranting on the street corner (or the girl wandering down the street, screaming about spirits and poison, or the woman freaking out and calling you an idiot on Facebook)—in our own mind, we make sense, just as much as you make sense to yourself. If you got to know us fully, we’d make sense even to you.

We are sentient beings, and have fully-formed minds, just like you.

But hardly anyone wants to get to know “people like that”—people like me, or like Gus—because they think we’re dangerous, or at the very least, pathetic and annoying.

The woman who wrote To Siri, With Love, states throughout the book how annoying and nonsensical her son is—she’s being lauded by neurotypical culture for her “honesty”.

The autistic community, however, isn’t. We’re crying out to her that her son isn’t thoughtless or unlovable; that we’re like him; that often our mothers also thought we were incapable of love or thought, but here we are: thinking, functioning, feeling human beings, some of us with careers and families, all of us with loves and interests and inner lives.

But the author and her supporters are incapable of seeing that point of view. The author sees the outcry in the autistic community as bullying. She can only see her own hurt feelings, and can’t see that she has hurt the feelings of thousands of others…including her own son (whom she states in the book did not give his permission to be used in this way, or have his private life mocked and outed. The mother states that she didn’t think he was capable of consent).

Everyone who is reading this: I hope you will recognize that her point of view is wrong, even though it is currently the mainstream one.

It is time to change your way of thinking about neurodivergent people. It is time for our point of view to come into its own.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and freelance editor. She thinks trains are pretty cool, and wouldn’t mind if one played percussion in her band. You can find her on Amazon, and on TalesFromPurgatory.com