Disability: Crutch, Scapegoat, and Shield

CW: Ableism, racism, Nazis, and centering of disabled voices.

 

Notice I gave a content warning for centering of disabled voices. I’m not doing this to be cheeky. Abled people think they not only have the right, but the obligation to center themselves in the disabled narrative. After all, disabled people are weak, feeble, befuddled and delusional; the disabled narrative is obviously too heavy for us to carry, too complex for us to understand. We’re no doubt extremely grateful that abled people can take over that burden for us.

After all, abled people are the experts in our narrative: they have a degree, or a disabled family member, or they’ve so angelically dedicated their lives to “helping us.”

When disabled people try to stand up and say, “Well, actually, you’ve got it wrong,” abled people get absolutely irate. They call us names, shout us down, then block us on Twitter and go around subtweeting about what problematic assholes we are for not getting the disabled narrative “right”.

Part of the problem here is that the disability narrative doesn’t get much press. Disabled people are trying really hard to get our seat at the table, but the table isn’t accessible. So those “experts” have so kindly decided they’ll be martyrs for our cause and sit in for us.

Consequently, even those who consider themselves on the forefront of the social justice movement don’t know what “neurodiversity” or “ableism” or “neurotypical privilege” are; they still insist on person-first language, and use phrases like “wheelchair-bound”, because they’re listening to the “experts” and not to disabled people themselves.

Another problem is the complexity of the disability narrative itself. “Disabled” is a wide swath of identity including both physical and mental disabilities. Most of us who consider ourselves disabled become a little lax in educating ourselves about disability. We think we know it all already, so when another disabled person says something we don’t understand, we tend to lash out.

Disabled people of all kinds are tired of this shit. I, personally, am completely done with it. So, I’ve given you your content warning. If you can’t handle disabled voices being centered without flipping out and being ableist, please go elsewhere on the internet where we can’t distress one another.

Thank you. Moving on.

Disabled people are the receptacle for a huge amount of bullshit. Abled people use us as crutches, scapegoats, and shields.

I’m not just talking about abled people on the right. The left is just as guilty.

Let’s start with how disabled people are used as crutches. The irony of this metaphor—an abled person using a disabled person as a crutch—is intentional. Yes, it’s is exactly that painful, awkward, and incapacitating.

So. If we’re thoughtful people, we know white people are to blame for electing Trump (and other leaders of his ilk around the white world). What most of us don’t realize is that we white folk used disabled people as a crutch to help get him elected.

Most disabled people wouldn’t vote for someone like Trump. After all, we know the violence behind the “personal responsibility” narrative. People have been trying to get us to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps since the dawn of time, and all that’s happened is we’ve ended up on our asses in the dirt, with abled people shaking their heads and blaming us for not trying hard enough.

Disabled people know what will happen to us if Medicaid and other safety net programs get cut. A lot of us remember what it was like before those programs even existed in their current forms. And we know that, even if we can access those programs now, they provide the absolute minimum in benefit to us, leaving us in a position of perpetual instability.

Trump’s presidency is a literal death sentence for us. But our identity has been hijacked and used against us to elect him and prop him up.

Abled people see disabled people as burdens and fakers; victims and villains. Which part of this spectrum a specific disabled person will fall on depends a lot on factors like their race and how they’re disabled. For the most part, disabled people of color are more likely to be seen as villains: as dangerously crazy, or “fakers” who are working the system, while white people are infantilized and seen as helpless victims. But it is by no means that simple. All of us tend to be seen and portrayed as ALL of these things, even by a single individual, and all in the space of one sentence.

For instance, we’re spoken of as creatures created by cycles of poverty and abuse, brainwashed by victims’ complexes, who only need a chance to do “useful” and “productive” work so that we can get our “dignity” back. We’re not only brainless, childlike victims, but also conniving villains who are working the system, and only abled people can save us.

Trump claimed he was the only one who could create opportunities to get disabled people back to work. He’d bring back the jobs. He’d purge the “welfare” roles of all the lazy fakers who were draining the system. He’d put a new system in place and make us all reapply for aid, so those fabled disabled people who are really in need could get even better support. Plus, the military veterans who weren’t “strong enough to handle” the atrocities of war would have a new and improved V.A.

All of this rhetoric gets disabled people both going and coming. Not only are we fakers, but we’re weak. We’re not only burdens, but we have to bend over backward to prove to abled people that we’re worthy of being burdens, if we wish to get what we need to survive.

And this narrative helped elect Trump. Abled people thought they were helping us by buying into this bullshit narrative.

Abled people on the left also want to use us as a crutch to counter Trump’s agenda of dismantling Medicaid and Medicare and the safety net. I’m much more willing to be used as this type of crutch, but I really wish they’d give actual disabled people a seat at the table, instead of letting experts speak for us, and letting unethical reporters write both inspiration porn about disabled people “overcoming in spite of”, and sepia-toned tragedy pieces about how we get ourselves stuck in a cycle of welfare culture because of our infantile inability to see our way into a better—abled—way of life.

Now, let’s look at how disabled people are used as a scapegoat.

We’ve all noticed how, when someone commits an act of violence, they’re called a terrorist if they’re a person of color, or mentally ill if they’re white. All rational people know how this hurts people of color. Fewer people see how this hurts the neurodiverse.

Being neurodiverse or mentally ill has absolutely nothing to do with being violent. Say this again, because I’m almost positive you still don’t understand: violence and mental illness are completely unrelated things.

Committing an act of violence doesn’t mean you’re mentally ill.

Being mentally ill doesn’t mean you’ll commit an act of violence.

People who commit acts of violence are not statistically more likely to have a diagnosed mental illness. Mentally ill people are MORE likely to be hurt BY neurotypical people than the other way around.

Neurotypical people are the violent ones. Not us. Some of you reading this won’t believe me. Google is your friend. Do some research about the percentage of violent and other crimes perpetrated upon neurodiverse people as opposed to by them (and/or read some of the blog pieces I’ve wrote on this in the past), because I speak the truth.

So, calling white terrorists mentally ill is a cop out: it’s white people saying, “NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE!” It’s white people thinking that people who commit those acts are somehow different from them. We white people can compartmentalize and “other” that hate and racism as “crazy”, so we don’t have to think about what ideas we ourselves might have that support and feed into the toxic mindset of a violent racist.

People on the left also call Trump “mentally ill”. He’s not. He’s just a dangerous asshole, and this isn’t the same thing at all. “I’m not trying to insult neurodiverse people,” is the answer I get when I speak up about this. “I’m just saying there’s legitimately something wrong with the dude.”

No arguments here about that. There is legitimately something wrong with him. But that “something wrong” isn’t “mental illness” because despite what people think, neurodiversity isn’t “something wrong” to begin with. At all. Just please, stop. Neurodiverse people are not the trash barrel where you can throw all your goddamn issues. Instead, try dealing with them and admitting that “sane” people do very, very horrible and irrational things.

Disabled people are also used as a shield, which is sort of a hybrid of a crutch and a scapegoat.

I saw this a lot yesterday, during that Nazi march. White people said a lot of things like, “I understand that what they’re doing is wrong. But think of things from their perspective. Maybe they’ve suffered abuse. Maybe they’re mentally ill. Maybe they’ve had to struggle to pay the bills because their parents are disabled.” Etc.

Disability and mental illness are not shields that you can put up so that accusations of racism/bigotry will bounce off. It pisses me off that abled people try to blame neurodiverse people for being the perpetrators of all violence and racism, and then they also think they can shield white people from accusations of racism because of their supposed mental illness and disability. Abled people are exhausting.

Mental illness and racism have nothing to do with one another in the same way that mental illness and violence have nothing to do with one another. Mental illness and/or trauma will not lead someone to be a bigot. Those sick and dysfunctional ways of thinking are not neurodiversity. They’re just bigotry.

How abled people can be so fucking ableist and then accuse disabled people of being the root of all evil is just fucking aggravating.

I’m done with it. Please stop. For the love of GOD.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and neurodiverse activist. She’s busy writing books, which abled people think is inspiring while simultaneously thinking that she’s a burden on society and should get a real job in order to get her dignity back. If you want to support her in her undignified and childish inspirational pseudo-work, you can find her on Amazon.

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Ableism in Literary Gatekeeping

I’ve been thinking about ableism/bigotry in literary gatekeepers again. My last post on this stirred up wank. I’d appreciate it if y’all kept that to subtweets if you must, because I’m through making room for that ableism in my world.

I’ve been writing as always, and forging ahead in this career of mine. I’m working on my 17th full-length novel, and I’ve been pitching agents with an own voices YA—the (*counts*) twelfth novel I finished, about a bipolar girl navigating high school, first love, and institutionalization (sounds cool, right? It is 😊) .

Right now, I’m not making a lot of money off of book sales; most of it comes from the freelance editing/writing/consulting work I do. Deep in my heart, I know I’ve been concentrating my efforts in the wrong areas, and avoiding the work I really need to do. Because, no matter how much I enjoy editing and the other stuff, my goal is to make the bulk of my money off my own books.

In order to make money off of books, however, you have to do THE “M” WORD.

(I mean marketing, not some more interesting “m” word.)

I have five titles already published. I’m proud of those books, and people who read them like them. I’m utter crap at marketing, which is why I’ve been looking for an agent: for guidance and handholding in my marketing efforts, more than my publisher can give. But even with an agent, I’d have to do a lot of that work myself. So what am I waiting for? Why am I not doing it?

Marketing my books is no easy task, however. To start with, they don’t fall easily into a niche (especially my Other Place series). If you were to ask me who my audience is, I would probably say…people? Who like books?

More typical marketing efforts haven’t worked well for me. My romance and other genre fic author friends often try to take me under their wing and get me involved in Instafreebie giveaways, takeovers, anthologies…that stuff is hella fun, and I get great comments about my little romance short stories and such that I write, but it never translates into a major boost in sales. That’s because my full-length books are pretty much in the “other” genre.

Just like me, according to the neurotypical world.

Strangely enough, the only marketing method that gives me a sales bump is when I appear in-person to give talks about my writing and neurodiversity. I sell out of books at events like these, then get an e-book bump, as well. I think this might be because I’m a five-foot-tall, snub-nosed white lady who, as some officers at a recent CIT session I spoke at so aptly put it, doesn’t “look crazy”. I’m non-threatening. I may fidget a lot, but I’m told I’m an eloquent and compelling speaker. At any rate, people just seem a lot more prepared to listen to me in person than they do online.

So, I decided, it’s time for me to do That Thing That I Hate So Much: contact people. Specifically, to try to get book signings.

There’s an indy bookstore in Seattle that a lot of my friends told me to contact, because it was easiest for them to get to. It’s a place a lot like other bookstores I’ve done well at, so I wrote them a little email. I introduced myself as a neurodiverse own voices writer, and said I was looking for a signing to showcase my Other Place series, which is the story of a woman dealing with homelessness and addiction, and a schizophrenic man trying to make it in the art world.

I got a response back: “Thank you for contacting us. We don’t feel your books would be a good fit for our venue, because our clientele aren’t generally interested in romantic suspense.”

Readers, I should have left it at that. But, sometimes I’m so fatigued by ableist what-the-fuckery that I dissolve into a big bucket of can’t-even.  I replied that the books aren’t at all romantic suspense (not adding that I fucking wish they were RS, because then I wouldn’t have to waste so much time talking to bitches like her, and could just do the Instafreebie and author takeover things that work well for RS authors). I tried to clarify what type of books they are…of course, I was just restating what I’d already made clear in the first email. And, of course, she didn’t reply.

I don’t know if literary gatekeepers (and others) even know how ableist they are. From the way they’ve said in the past that I’m “whining”, “bitter”, “delusional”, and that I “don’t know how publishing works” when I’ve spoken up about the ableism I encounter as a neurodiverse own voices writer, I’m hoping not. But, while I may not know marketing from the inside of my dog’s butt (I don’t know anything specific about the inside of my dog’s butt, for context), I do know ableism when I see it. I’m a goddamn expert on ableism. And gatekeepers: y’all are IT.

This events coordinator woman wanted to reject me, because of the visceral reaction people have when they hear someone is “mentally ill”, especially when that mental illness involves psychosis. She went looking for a reason to reject me. It wasn’t a reason that made sense, at all. I mean, the books aren’t by any logical yardstick romantic suspense, and also, how whacked-out do you think I am that I’d believe a bookstore could afford to alienate romance readers? You’re a BOOKSTORE. I don’t care how cultured you think you are: unless you’re a university store where students get their textbooks, romance of some sort is likely your bread and butter, or a good portion thereof. Additionally, even if the Other Place series was  romantic suspense, it would be own voices romantic suspense with neurodiverse characters. That’s not “just” romantic suspense: that’s something that *should* be interesting to a more…(educated? Pretentious? I can’t find the right word here. They’re all inappropriate and/or more insulting than I want them to be)…readership.

I’ll get a signing eventually, but it doesn’t mean that this experience was okay.

So, gatekeepers: y’all are ableist (and prejudiced in other ways). I’m not whining. I’m not bitter. I’m just throwing the God’s-honest truth at you. It doesn’t matter that you already have a book with a neurodiverse character, or by an own voices author, on your list or on your shelves. We’re not a trophy that you can hold up to prove you’re not bigoted. We’re not that “one friend” you have that means you’re compassionate and progressive. We’re authors, writing great books, and you’re shutting us out with your (sometimes unconscious) prejudice.

Get conscious of that shit, because y’all are assholes.

Elizabeth Roderick doesn’t think YOU are an asshole. You read her whole post. If you’d like to check out her books, she’d really appreciate it.

I’m Autistic!

(CN: descriptions of ableism, ableist language, abuse, addiction, grunge culture, and a lot of navel gazing)

Well, this post is a long time coming. Those few people (if any) who read this blog without following me on social media have probably noticed something strange in my last few posts: I started identifying as autistic all of the sudden. I’m not in one of those bipolar states where I start thinking I’m an ancient, reincarnated deity, a really great painter, or someone who could make a good living as a televangelist. I really am autistic.

This diagnosis was a long time in coming. I’m not sure if I would have been better or worse off if diagnosed earlier. All I know, is I’ve suffered a great deal because of my neurodiversity, in ways I’m only now beginning to realize. Before, I blamed myself for the raw treatment I received. Ableism is a horrible thing, especially when internalized.

I was born in 1977, which is old enough to put me in the other army of the ageism battle than a lot of you. Autism wasn’t even a diagnosis until like 1984 or something, and it was well into the ‘90s before I’d ever heard of it.

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time alone, nerding out on special interests: writing Lord of the Rings fanfic, cataloguing every species of plant that grew around my home, and trying to form telepathic bonds with my cats. I was so in my own head that I rarely had the “correct” reaction to social stimuli. I would often become overloaded in social situations and explode, or do strange things (like rubbing blankets on my face or licking someone’s silk shirt) to calm down. I didn’t care about wearing fashionable (or even presentable) clothing or brushing my hair. When my daily routine was interrupted, or if my environment were too noisy/frenetic, I’d have embarrassing meltdowns. I had very few friends, as you might imagine.

Anyway, if I’d been born in 2001, I would have been in all sorts of horrible programs and special ed classes. I dodged a bullet, I think (even though I was skipped a grade, which was a nasty idea because of my lack of mainstream social skills). Back when I was a kid, autistic people weren’t called autistic; they were “nerds” and “weirdos” (or worse, depending). We suffered horrid ableism—the same way we do now—but most of us were left more or less to our own devices. I didn’t have any formal brainwashing, but I was punished for my “bad behavior” and exiled for my social oddness. I hated myself for that behavior, but could never manage to control it.

I’ve spoken before about the physical/emotional/sexual abuse I suffered as a young teenager. Neurodiverse people are A LOT more likely to suffer abuse of all kinds, and I fell into that category. That was partly because of my lack of neurotypical social skills, and the scars ableism had put on me: I was a flashing target for abusers. I just wanted someone to pay attention to me, and figured I deserved whatever abuse I got, because I was such a disgusting, annoying loser who couldn’t act right.

I’ve discussed my other diagnoses ad nauseum, so I won’t go into it further here. At any rate, I was a psychological hot mess by the end of high school (not because I’m autistic or bipolar, but because of ABLEISM, to be clear). By the time I was in college, I was doing heroin to control the psychosis, depression, and anxiety.

I think a word about college here, because grandma Liz is in a sentimental mood.

I went to The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, during the height of the grunge era (so yeah, Nirvana, Beck, Built to Spill, Sleater-Kinney and I all hung out in the same damp coffee shops, wiping our snuffy noses on each other’s alpaca wool hats). A lot of people have just recently heard about Evergreen, because of the protests there. That sort of thing is nothing new at Evergreen.

Evergreen was (probably still is) a great college for certain types of neurodiverse people, comparatively. No tests. No grades (just evaluations). And back then, you didn’t even have to declare a major. Also, you could do independent study courses, where you would propose an area of research to a professor, and if they approved it you could go on your merry way, researching dogs’ emotional responses to music in New Orleans as opposed to Austin, or whatever, and write a report at the end of the semester for your sixteen credits.

I thought I’d fit in great at Evergreen. I considered myself something of an intellectual and an artist (I’m a musician, and I wrote back then as well, though not as much as I do now). Additionally, I’d come out as bisexual in high school, and I knew they had a thriving LGBTQ (or just “gay” as we called it back then) community at Evergreen.

Unfortunately, I fit in even worse there than I had in my rural high school. I just couldn’t get social situations right, and boy were social situations complicated in college. That time, much like now, was one of radical exploration of culture and bias, and I always somehow ended up on the wrong side of those debates. Once, when looking for an apartment, I asked a friend who had a room for rent at her house. She told me I had to be a lesbian in order to rent there; bisexual wasn’t “gay enough”. When I pointed out she herself was currently dating a dude, though (which is what we called cishet males back in the days when we wore onions on our belts), she said she was a lesbian currently dating a dude, and she got mad at me for not understanding the difference.

I felt incredibly left behind by the entire social justice movement at the time, in fact. I was looked down upon for my abused woman syndrome; if I had any self-respect, I was told, I’d be able to rise above my abuse more than I had. Some guy friends of mine let me play in one of their bands once for a show; the women told them it was about time they had a woman in their band, but after they saw me play said I was too timid to be interesting. I probably made those girls think I hated them or something, because I couldn’t make eye contact or small talk, but still.

There were more social narratives in that environment than I’d had to deal with in high school, and I wasn’t good at social narratives to begin with. It was horrifying.

So I retreated. I completed my education by independent contract (living with Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and staring an organic farm business back home). I fell into my heroin addiction, and into another abusive relationship. I ended up in prison for the heroin eventually. I’ve gone on and on about those stories elsewhere in my blog.

I didn’t think of myself as neurodiverse. I just thought of myself as a failure, and too weak to do life correctly. Even when, a long time later, I began to recognize my neurodiversity, I continued to run on internalized ableism. I can’t help but think this is at least partially because I’d been alienated from the message of empowerment in college. The social justice movement is taking a long time to embrace neurodiversity.

I wanted to point this out only because this dynamic has not changed much in the SJW arena: there is SO MUCH ableism. People accept mental illness and neurodiversity (and the signs of abuse) as long as they follow the accepted narrative and fit into the box people are comfortable with. The whole thing about neurodiverse people is we don’t fit into that narrative the way neurotypical people expect, though.

We need to do better. I don’t want more young people to be driven away the way I was. If I had been embraced for what I was back then, my life might have gone very differently. We need to renounce ableism—even internalized ableism—and be a safe place for neurodiverse people of all kinds. We especially need to avoid ableism during call-outs (if you believe in call-out culture at all, as it currently exists). Pointing out homomisia etc. doesn’t mean much if you’re being incredibly ableist while doing it.

At any rate, it was a long, long time before I was able to love myself for who I am.

I won’t go into the long process of accepting my bipolar and PTSD, which came first; I’ve written about that elsewhere on my blog. But my acceptance of those parts of myself led me to the neurodiverse community.  There, I finally found others who believed as I was coming to believe: that having a brain that worked differently was something to be proud of, rather than ashamed.

Of course, most people in the neurodiverse community don’t really believe psychosis or bipolar are things to be proud of, and things that don’t need curing. They aren’t…but that’s another subject I’ve gone on and on about in other posts.

Finding the neurodiverse community taught me a lot about autism, something I was researching anyway at the time, since I was having real marriage difficulties. My last husband was undiagnosed autistic—I’m sure of this now. I used to think it was his autism that was causing our marital difficulties, but as I learned more about it, I realized that autism wasn’t the problem at all. It was his abusive, toxic masculinity that was causing our marital difficulties.

As I learned and interacted more with people in the autistic community, though, I found myself identifying with them a lot. People talked about needing to fidget and stim, their social difficulties, their emotional overloads… that was me in spades. Eventually, I took an online diagnostic test, which was pretty definitively in the “most likely autistic” category. So, I took another, with the same result.

It’s taking me a while to get used to the new label, but not as long as I thought it would, since it fits me so well. I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll get formal testing. It could open up new counseling opportunities, but I’m not sure how effective those would be anyway. The only real reason I’d get formal testing is to avoid the reactions of doctors and neurotypical people when I tell them I’m self-diagnosed. I’m so used to ableism at this point, unfortunately, that this consideration doesn’t hold much water with me, though.

Self-diagnosis is valid; a lot of us would bang our heads on the wall trying to get a diagnosis otherwise. It would have been cool if a doctor had spotted I was autistic earlier, so that I could have perhaps gotten more appropriate psychological care. But doctors don’t know much about autism. They say things like, “You’re just smart/shy/introverted/anxious,” or, “You’re not autistic! An autistic person wouldn’t be able to sit here talking with me like this! An autistic person wouldn’t have a job!” Or, “Sure, you might be autistic, but we’re all ‘on the spectrum’.”

Ableism abounds. Neurodiverse people are scalp-deep in it all the time, so we kind of have to get on with things despite it. Diagnosing ourselves is just one aspect of that.

If you’re interested in taking the test yourself, here’s one…I’m not finding the first one I took, for some reason. That one was cool because it had a graph of where in the “spectrum” you were with regard to your social life, romantic life, and intellectual life. If someone has the link to one like that, I’d appreciate it.

If you’re interested, I got a 37 on the Psych Central test that I linked to above 😊

Neurotypical Privilege: What is it?

It’s time to write another blog piece about neurotypical privilege! And yes, I think about this stuff all the time, unfortunately. (I have to.) So I have new insight on almost a daily basis.

A lot of people don’t know what neurotypical privilege means; even a lot of neurodiverse people don’t seem to know what it means. But my life is a study of it, so I’m in a unique position to describe what it is and how it affects neurodiverse people.

I am a neurodivergent person. What that means is my brain works differently than most people’s. Yes, I know—everyone’s brain is unique. However, mine is unique enough that I have a good deal of difficulty functioning in society on many levels.

I am bipolar, autistic, and have PTSD. I have a lot of trouble communicating with people sometimes, and I’ve had trouble maintaining steady employment and housing. My neurodivergence has put me in prison (for self-medicating), and has brought me into conflict various times with the police (for nonviolent behavior, to be clear). I have difficulty maintaining relationships of all kinds, as well, and not because I’m a jerk—this is one thing I’ve never been accused of by anyone who knows me—but because I’m flighty, have trust issues, and I often misinterpret what others say and am misinterpreted in turn.

Even though my neurodivergence has caused this level of disruption in my life, I still have some measure of neurotypical privilege. NT privilege is, like most other types of privilege, a spectrum…and I won’t even get into the interplay with other types of privilege, because that gets too complex. I’ll leave that discussion to others.

As some of you know, I’m waking up today alone for the first time in weeks. The man better known to y’all as Boy—my partner—went back to California yesterday. Hopefully he’ll be back soon.

Boy is schizophrenic, and he has even less NT privilege than I do. It affects every aspect of his life at all times, and is completely disabling. This isn’t, however, because he’s not capable, intelligent, or fully functional, because he is. He’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. He may function in a different way and on a different schedule, but he’s completely able to take care of himself. He has a rich and full life.

The immense majority of Boy’s problems come from other people’s ableism—their mistreatment of him based on their apparent need for him to function like everyone else.

People interpret neurodiversity—and/or what is called “mental illness”—as dangerous. When they see someone acting in a way that’s different than the norm, they get angry and afraid. But statistically, neurodiverse people are much more likely to be hurt by neurotypical people than the other way around. Both Boy and I are prime examples of this. I’ve been taken advantage of and worse during psychotic breaks. Boy has been beaten into a coma, and has been wrongfully arrested and involuntarily committed on various occasions. On none of these occasions were either of us armed or posing any actual threat to anyone. We were just being who we were born to be.

The stories of many of these incidents are peppered throughout my blog and my Tinkerbell anecdotes, if you’re incredulous or interested in the specifics.

Boy and I—especially Boy—are often kicked out of public places (libraries, parks) and private businesses for doing nothing else besides cheerfully being neurodiverse. Restaurants suddenly have no tables available when we show up. We’re followed around stores because we’re suspected of shoplifting (we aren’t). So many laws and rules are targeted at people like us: vagrancy and loitering laws, involuntary commitment laws, forced sterilization laws, the right to refuse service, and “no shirt no shoes”, for example.

Neurodiverse people aren’t hurting anyone by loitering/muttering to themselves/”babbling” (word salad isn’t actually a thing, people—we make perfect sense if you know us). The vast majority of our behavior is completely benign, and even when we’re in the midst of a psychotic break we’re really unlikely to be violent. We may have trouble following instructions (you would too, if you were in our state of mind), but we’re just scared and confused. If we’re treated with respect and compassion, the situation is likely to be resolved quite peacefully and to the benefit of all.

But instead, we’re treated brutally—hurt, killed, imprisoned, kicked out. People think we deserve it. That we’re doing something wrong.

We’re not doing anything wrong. We don’t deserve it.

Neurotypical privilege is the ability to get through life without being hurt/killed/imprisoned/oppressed/harassed, etc., simply for having a brain that works differently than the norm.

I’m sure I’m missing some points and/or conveying stuff in a way that confuses some people. I’m happy to discuss and clarify, and welcome being called out on anything I’ve gotten wrong. But anyone who wants to argue the very existence of NT privilege, or say they have a schizophrenic cousin and so they know better than I do…please just don’t.

Elizabeth Roderick is an author and neurodivergent activist. You can find her (and her neurodiverse characters) on Amazon.

Living in a Tiny House: Part 3

I’m going to give myself a little break this lovely Sunday morning and do another blog post about living in my tiny house, and how I’m working toward my goal of subsistence farming, and independent living as a neurodivergent person.

It’s been closing in on a year since I last posted about this. Yikes! Time gets away from me when I’m so busy.

A lot has happened since my last tiny-house post. My mom had a triple bypass in February, for one. It’s really brought home the fact that all of the hardship that led me back to the family farm in the first place was well worth it, because this is where I belong. I was able to help my mom out and be there for her during her recovery, and it’s brought us closer together as a family.

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Winter on the farm

 

 

It was a beautiful fall, and an early (and pretty hard) winter. The first hard frost came early in October, and since our last one had been on June 15 (! – really, super late for this

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Tomatoes, peppers, and basil from last fall’s harvest.

area), we didn’t get enough tomatoes to can or freeze. I fried up quite a few green ones, though. Just thinking about the fried green tomato po boys and bahn mi (on homemade rolls) I ate is making me hungry right now. So good with veggie bacon and sprouts; or tofu, thin-sliced cabbage, Korean-style turnip pickles, and sriracha mayo.

 

I tried ripening some of the green tomatoes indoors, but without much success. I’ll hopefully get more ripe ones this year, but there are always some green ones left over when it freezes. I may sauce some of them this year, because green tomato puree/sauce is a great addition to soups, enchilada sauces, salsas, etc.

I did string a lot of peppers, can a lot of peaches, make jam galore, and Kid and I had

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Chestnuts and apples – gleaning leftover produce from others’ farms supplements my harvest.

plenty of dried plums, pears, and cherries to gorge ourselves on during the cold winter months and fight off ye olde scurvy. I also gleaned many pounds of chestnuts from a neighboring orchard (gleaning happens after harvest, so is not stealing. It’s produce that otherwise would have been left to rot.) I wrapped those up in tinfoil and roasted them in my potbelly woodstove, quickly learning that you have to score them beforehand or they’ll explode, sometimes right in your face, the shrapnel burning your eyeballs and curling your eyebrows. For those uninitiated, chestnuts are a little difficult to peel sometimes, but they’re SO good—really meaty and savory. I like roasting them in the oven with potatoes and root vegetables, and as a yummy addition to mashed potatoes and gravy. I’m going to experiment more next winter with grinding them into a paste to use in crusts, breads, and desserts. (Making a cookbook of all our recipes is something Kid and I are working on, but we have so much else going on, that it may take a while.)

 

IMG_2840This year is off to a great start. I’ve been working on expanding the farm business. We opened a little nursery (selling vegetable, herb, and flower starts we grew in our greenhouses). We were able to make costs (pay for the seeds and soil) plus a few hundred dollars on top of that, and we still had ample plants left over to fill our own gardens. I call that a success.

We’ll also be selling fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs—I’m already selling snap peas, turnips, basil, and cilantro. I have plans to start a worm farm soon, to save money on soil next year and increase our profit margin, while increasing the quantity of plants we grow.

I also hope to have enough extra eggs to sell soon, and maybe fresh chicken. The “fresh chicken” thing probably needs explanation…I used to be a vegetarian, but since my financial situation changed and I moved back to the farm, I’ve had to take a more practical approach.

This all started when (fucking asshole) neighbor dogs came in and killed a bunch of our chickens last winter. I’m so poor, that it just didn’t make good economic and moral sense to throw away good protein, so I butchered the poor things. It wasn’t too bad, though it was definitely an olfactory experience, and one that brought me into touch with my place in the food chain; as I labored at cutting out all the bad meaty/organy bits while leaving the good ones, I imagined hundreds of generations before me, working so hard just to feed themselves and their families, at peace with the fact that we are able to live

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Home-hatched chick. Name: Penguin

because other organisms die. There’s a sort of meditation to it.

 

So, anyway, still on the subject of chicken death, last year we had about thirteen chicks hatched on the farm by our own broody hens. Nine of those (eek) were roosters. They were wreaking havoc: fighting each other, brutally gang raping the hens, and traumatizing my parents’ border collie, who is autistic (this isn’t some ableist joke, nor am I comparing my dog to people to be clear—I’m serious, and I’m autistic so I have insight). She’s very noise-sensitive. Whenever the roosters would get into a kerfuffle, she’d pace and whine and be really upset. When a certain rooster crowed, it really set her off: she’d spin circles and snap at that rooster. I really felt for her, because she couldn’t walk away from the situation and it was really triggering for her.

So, before I moved back, my dad would give the roosters away to a guy down at the feed store who would slaughter them himself. I figured, if we know they’re going to be killed anyway, we should just own that fact and butcher them ourselves. My family reluctantly agreed, so we had a good old-fashioned butchering day in the spring. We rounded those cocks all up, my dad killed them and I processed them. I thought it was going to be horrible, but it wasn’t so bad because it was just family work, for a good purpose. We talked with each other so the togetherness could decrease the sting of mortality, and I just thought about those poor, gang-raped hens (it was really awful) and the poor dog, and it was a lot easier.

(Incidentally, if you’re a vegan who wants to harass me about this, I am quite literally doing what I need to survive. I’m neurodiverse, and disabled, and farming is the way I’ve come up with to make a life for myself and Kid. I’m happy to discuss the ethics of all this with you, but please don’t police my choices.)

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Home-hatched chick. Name: Nu Egg

 

I increased our chicken flock by twelve this spring by buying chicks (ten americaunas, and two silkies because I couldn’t help myself), and so far we’ve had seven chicks born on the farm. As I said, we lost some of our flock to (stupid fucking) neighbor dogs, so we’re currently standing at about 30-ish birds altogether. We eat all the eggs now ourselves, but hopefully I’ll have some extra to sell by fall.

 

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Bees!

We also got two hives of bees!! This is really exciting. I love watching them. The hives are already big enough that we had to add the second brood boxes, and hopefully we’ll be able to put on the honey supers by the end of summer. If all goes well, we’ll have honey next summer.

 

I increased my vegetable garden by 300%, tilling up a bunch more bottom land by my cabin. I’m growing lots of different stuff, including popcorn (I eat SO MUCH popcorn) and soybeans. I’ll sell some of it, but I’m digging a root cellar to store more of my vegetables and squash

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More garden!

. It got down below zero last winter, and was in the teens a lot, plus we had several feet of snow that stayed all winter, so the veggies didn’t keep in the ground at all. I was left having to go to the food bank and purchase food. I’m doing pretty well digging the hole. I’m hindered somewhat by the desire of my dog, my cat, and myself to lie in the cool dirt (which is unproductive in the traditional sense), but more by some physical problems: I’m getting a deep ache under the shoulder blade,

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Root cellar—hole in progress

and numb/tingling fingers, with an inability to grasp or lift things with that hand. It makes it hard to dig/hoe, and I have to sometimes rest for days on end (from strenuous arm-using physical labor, anyway) and drink my herbal painkilling tea. If ONLY I had a strong, sexy BOY who loved digging holes and eating fresh vegetables, and who could help me out…but I guess some people are just buttholes and don’t want to move up here, and I guess I’m not helping my cause by talking about how decrepit I am. I’ll get my hole dug by myself anyway. I don’t

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Man commonly known as Boy, here looking self-satisfied with the ocean breeze fluttering his beard

need any strong, sexy boys. *flounces*

 

As an aside, the weird thing is, if I were getting paid to dig someone else’s hole (not a euphemism), I would have quit and gotten worker’s comp for the injury, and would be in physical therapy and maybe having surgery. That would undoubtedly be the healthy thing to do, but I like digging holes if they’re my holes; I have to do it because no one else will do it for me; and I’m afraid of getting treatment because they’ll say, “stop digging darned holes, dammit” which is advice I will not heed in any event, at least not in the summer. So, I’ll soldier on and see what happens with my arm; if I need to get it looked at, I’ll do it this winter when I’m idler (as long as I get my wood all cut beforehand…and as long as Trump’s Deathcare bill hasn’t been put into effect yet CALL YOUR REPS, U.S.-IANS!)

All this farm work takes at a minimum three hours a day, often a lot more. It’s obviously not paying the bills yet (which, thankfully, are minor, because I own my car, have no debt, use barely any electricity (and we’re going solar!), have well water, etc. My only bills are my phone and my car insurance). I supplement this income with freelance editing, freelance writing, and a startup called Authordock that I’ve become involved in. It’s a website that helps writers with their publishing goals: I critique pitches, queries and first pages; give advice; direct clients to opportunities like pitch competitions; and provide resources by composing advice articles and making how-to videos…it’s a really cool project. The result of this is that, now that I’m, as people say, “lazy and unemployed”, I’m actually working 90-hour weeks, and yet making half a pittance. This is another way that disabled people end up making super-subminimum wage: the work we’re able to do isn’t something society values very much, so is underpaid.

I also have, you know, some books published (I’ve had several come out this year, and I have a short story in the next edition of a bestselling anthology, which comes out in a few days). That does bring in a little money, but I have very little time left for marketing, so not much at all. So, I’ll do that thing where I tell you I’m super poor and disabled (not that you should pity me—I love what I’m doing, I just make very little money at it). I don’t have a tip jar, so if you like hearing about my tiny-home and farming adventures, you should consider buying one of my books. People say they’re really good! And they’re ownvoices books, with neurodiverse and queer characters. They’re my way of trying to share my strange world with others. If you buy them, consider giving me a review, and/or recommending them to others who are into that sort of books.

Think of buying ownvoices books like donating to a charity, except you’re not paying forIMG_2873 marketing and executive salaries: you’re making a contribution toward someone’s independent, sustainable living and/or affirmation as an important member of society. In my case, you’re not only affirming my worth, you’re keeping me off the streets or out of an institution, making sure Kid has a stable and happy mom (and new socks when she needs them, which is too often), PLUS you get great books. This is such a win/win/win, y’all!

I’m trying to get an agent to help with the book marketing thing. My publisher is great, but their marketing apparatus isn’t really the best for my kind of books. If I had an agent directing and supporting me in my marketing efforts, I think I’d do a lot better. I have a handful of fulls out with agents right now, of my thirteenth novel—an ownvoices YA contemporary romance/magical realism about a young woman with bipolar psychosis trying to navigate high school, first love, the foster system and the mental health system. Wish me luck!

I have lots of other plans for my life—selling hand-woven baskets, and other crafts made with natural and upcycled materials, for instance, as well as the cookbook and some other things. Plus, I have a short story on contract for another anthology coming out in September, and I’m working hard on writing my seventeenth full-length novel. Another tiny house is also in the works, to give us more kitchen space and Kid her own bedroom. But I think I’ve rambled enough for this post, so I’ll talk about all that later.

Thank you for reading!

THE OPPRESSION OLYMPICS: THEY ARE REAL, AND THEY ARE (really goddamn) OPPRESSIVE

It’s time to write another of these posts wherein I open myself up for harassment and harm. It’s important for me to speak up, though, because I’m seeing lots of people (especially marginalized people) getting hurt. If you’re one of those people and you’re too afraid to speak up for fear of getting hurt even worse, please know that you are welcome to DM me.

My mother was a Montessori teacher for 32 years. As you can imagine, she has a valuable stockpile of anecdotes about what kids do and say. For instance, one time a little girl came running up and threw herself into my mom’s arms. “Josiah told me he hates me and never wants to play with me again!”

My mom, who had witnessed the whole interaction, patted the little girl’s back. “He didn’t say that, Queidlynne. He said he’s working on a project right now.”

Queidlynne stomped, wiping her snotty nose on my mom’s shoulder. “In my head he did!”

This has become a catchphrase in my family. Every time one of us wrongly interprets someone’s intent and accuses them of things they didn’t do, we catch ourselves and laugh. “In my head you did!”

If Queidlynne (thankfully, not her real name) had asked Josiah if he really did hate her and didn’t want to play, he probably would have said, “No, I don’t hate you. I’ll play with you when I’m done with this project.” He also might have said something snotty, or ignored her, but at that point she at least would have been sure of his intent, and have had a real reason to be upset. As it was, though, she didn’t have good reason. Queidlynne’s feelings were real, and my mom did the right thing by listening to her, comforting her, and talking to her about it. However, those feelings had no basis in reality.

Even if Quidlynne had experienced rejection from other little boys, it wouldn’t mean that Josiah was rejecting her this time. Just like other people can have hidden bias against you, you can paint them with the colors of your past experience and assume they are just as bad as all the others.

I’m seeing this sort of situation play out so often lately- but with adults, in the sphere of progressive activism. Neurodivergent people are ESPECIALLY likely to be hurt in this sort of scenario: not only are our actions/words/reactions notoriously wrongly-interpreted through a neurotypical lens, but we’re more likely to misinterpret others. We need to be accountable for that, and make sure to step back and listen. And NT people: when we tell you what we meant by something, don’t tell us we’re wrong. You can tell us we hurt you, but we don’t think the way you think or see society through your lens. Stop trying to force us into that mold, and we’ll all communicate a lot better.

There’s a lot of emotion flying around, and a lot of collateral damage from it. People-good people, and quite often marginalized people-are getting hurt, because someone misinterprets something they say and then doesn’t care to listen to the explanation. An offhand and perhaps ill-worded comment, or unpopular but harmless opinion (also common amongst ND people, because, again- our thinking is DIVERGENT from social norms, which doesn’t mean WRONG) can  cause an explosion of anger and bile that blows a permanent rift in the community.

I’m also seeing a lot of folks excluded from marginalized communities, or from the marginalized umbrella, for not being “marginalized enough” in the first place. Y’all…just…jeez, ok?

Communities of marginalized people have existed, I’m sure, since the beginning of humankind. People who, for one reason or another, are outcast from mainstream society gather together for comfort and protection. Marginalized folks often rely heavily on these groups for companionship, support, and validation. They are a lifeline to us.

However, there’s an alarming trend of people in marginalized groups trying to exclude people and police membership requirements. Since the whole purpose of these groups was to give marginalized people a place where they belonged, it’s devastating when that group turns around and tells them they don’t belong there, either.

It’s true that people can be mega fucked up, and there are those who will lie about their identity in order to troll and prey on disadvantaged people. But those are an incredibly small percentage. Until the person has clearly shown their intent by causing (or trying to cause) real harm, YOU are the one who is causing real harm by attempting to exclude them. It’s like Trumpty Dumpty and his Muslim ban (and edicts against other residents/immigrants): until the potential immigrant has shown they’re a “bad hombre” (which would likely become apparent through the exhaustive vetting process which is already in place), the only real effect of a ban is to exclude a group which is composed almost entirely of good hombres (y mujeres).

We need to be more welcoming of each other, accepting of each other’s differences, and tolerant of the wide array of perfectly valid opinions that exist in any marginalized community. Discussion and debate is fine. But insulting someone and even questioning their identity…that’s what bigots do to us. That’s the sort of behavior we’re fighting against.

The umbrella of “marginalized people” covers a lot of different sorts of folks, and we all have different experiences of oppression. We all belong to specific subgroups (and subgroups within THOSE subgroups), but the umbrella of “marginalized people” is meant to cover us all. The entire purpose of calling ourselves “marginalized people” is to be inclusive, and to give oppressed people a place where they belong.

There are many who would seek to own that entire umbrella, and try to leave the rest of us out in the rain—or at least huddled on the fringes, drenched in the runoff. They are the people who say, in one way or another, “You can’t possibly understand what REAL oppression is like, because you don’t belong to X subgroup.” We can all hopefully spot the sickening irony in that statement: that the one speaking similarly has no way of knowing what the other person’s experience in Y subgroup is like, either. I have also, horrifyingly, seen people try to exclude others in their own subgroup. If someone doesn’t agree with them on an issue, they attack them for “not being X enough” or “not doing X right”….and then they often turn around and say the other person is the one being oppressive.

Maybe in their head the person who doesn’t agree with them is being oppressive, but in the real world THEY are the one who is excluding the other person, centering themself in the other person’s experience, talking over them, and erasing their feelings. They’re saying very clearly, “I don’t want to be in the same group with the likes of you.” They’re, in fact, doing what non-marginalized people do to us. Furthermore, they’re gaslighting, and they’re forcing the other person to join in the Oppression Olympics by making them justify their right to have an opinion by pointing out all the ways in which they themselves are marginalized. (And then often, are forced to endure being told “you’re really trying to be oppressed, aren’t you?” and “stop playing the marginalization card” and “stop using your marginalization as a shield”, a tactic which is also flaunted so disgustingly by Tronald Dump, who does something, then tries to divert attention from the fact he’s done it by accusing everyone else of doing it. So yeah…those people are in great company, right?)

But no one owns that umbrella, and we shouldn’t try to. We should be happy to share it with others who need it, because doing so doesn’t decrease the amount of space available for us. It’s a super-special sparkly magical umbrella that gets bigger and more effective the more people it covers. All of us have a right to stand under it, and an equal right to speak up as a marginalized person. This applies to other inclusive groups (like Own Voices) or inclusive subgroups (like disabled people), as well. None of us owns the experience. All our experiences are valid, and letting all our voices be heard can only add to the conversation.

If I am speaking as a marginalized person in general, I am not attempting to speak for you, or as a member of your subgroup. It doesn’t matter if you think you are MORE oppressed than I am, or that I don’t understand your experience (of course I don’t, and I’m not trying to say I am). I am a marginalized person, and therefore I have a right to speak as one. Period.

It doesn’t even matter if I name another subgroup and say something like, “I have seen people saying this is happening to X community, and now it is happening to my community as well.” No part of that sort of statement is me trying to speak up as a member of X community. It is me trying to give people context for what is happening to MY community, by using another situation that people are more familiar with (the ND narrative, and I’m finding in particular my psychotic narrative, is so foreign to people they just can’t get it. How can I be proud of my psychosis? It’s BAD. Saying I’m psychotic is equivalent to saying I’m a murderer to most people. I’m not exaggerating. Think about your own reaction to it. And sometimes the only way I can get people to understand is to say, “Think how wrong it would be if you called X marginalized person ‘sick’ or ‘dangerous’ for being who they are?”)

No marginalized experience is the same but there are (very real) commonalities. I am not saying my oppression is greater than or even equal to yours by pointing those out: I’m just making valid observations. Furthermore, I’m not causing you any real harm by doing so. Maybe in your head I am, but in reality, YOU are the one causing ME (and others in my group) harm by saying, “People like you are not worthy to be in the same paragraph as me,” and “That stuff is bad when it happens to x group, but not when it happens to you.” That message is damaging not only to mental health, but to public perceptions of that group of marginalized people. It results in erasure of that group’s experience. It’s an attempt to say that group is “whining” or “faking” or “being a snowflake”. It deepens that group’s oppression, which is supposedly the thing we’re all fighting against.

If it does rub you the wrong way if I mention someone from your group while speaking about my own experience as a marginalized person, take a good look at yourself and ask yourself why you feel that way. As the person causing real, immediate harm, the onus is on you to examine yourself and your motives. Do you have a bias against my group, and you think it’s just gross to stand next to us? Do you think you completely understand our experience and can judge that we’re not really marginalized, we’re just making it up? Or is it, more forgivably, just a misunderstanding—you think I’m trying to speak for your group specifically instead of exploring and pointing out commonalities across the spectrum of the marginalized experience as a whole?

If you think that someone is mistaken and that the commonalities don’t exist, that is definitely a matter for discussion, but if you are saying unilaterally that “you don’t experience that—that’s a thing only my group experiences”, then you’re trying to police and erase that person’s experience, and you’re wasting a very good opportunity for both of you to learn about the other. And if you think it’s bad it’s happening to you, but ok it’s happening to me, then you’re just a bigot and a jerk

Trying to unify a group is NEVER a harmful intent, even if it doesn’t work, or is, in your opinion, misguided. That might require discussion to hash out, but there is no discernable reason to attack a person—especially another marginalized person—whose intent was to do good. However, attempting to divide our groups, exclude people, and do real damage to people’s reputations, employment opportunities, friendships and mental health…that is true harm. That’s not just harm in someone’s head. And, if you are doing real harm—especially to other marginalized people—in the name of preventing hypothetical harm, you’re inarguably the real antagonist in this story.

Another irony of the Oppression Olympics is that it takes a lot of privilege to participate. You have to have the cognitive ability to follow convoluted arguments, the eloquence to respond, the social skills to respond in a way that people might listen to, the emotional stability to endure stressful and emotional situations…not to mention the time and spoons it requires to become involved in these semantic battles. In a practical sense, a lot of marginalized people don’t have the resources to respond appropriately in these situations (especially ND people, who have different social and emotional experiences), and when you attack them, you are taking advantage of their weaknesses—weaknesses that are part and parcel of their experience as a marginalized person—in order to further your own ends. The practical aspects of survival always have to take precedence. We have to earn money somehow, take care of ourselves (eat, bathe, go to the doctor, take our pills), etc.—which can be quite difficult for a marginalized person for a lot of reasons. When you attack them, you are displaying your own privilege in an attempt to harm someone who is already oppressed.

Harming a marginalized person is bad (really, harming any person is). No ifs, ands, or buts. It’s just bad. If you’re doing it, you’d better have a damned good reason. Ask yourself what practical benefits you’re reaping from this exercise, and what your intent was in the first place. Avoiding harm in your head isn’t a good excuse. Simply “being right” isn’t a good excuse, because how can you think you’re right in the first place if you’re harming a marginalized person? If your attempt is to educate, look at the practical results: have you educated anyone? People aren’t going to listen to someone who is insulting them, oppressing them, hurting them. If you get out the belt and severely beat a child in order to teach him not to steal cookies…yeah, maybe the kid shouldn’t be stealing cookies, but who is the one truly doing harm in that situation? Who is the one who really needs educated?

Anger is understandable but abuse is not. Learn how to walk away before you cross that line. If someone is telling you not to abuse them, they’re not policing your anger. They’re standing up for themselves. I’m not talking about white tears here, which is very different.

And if your excuse is that you really do have it worse than the other person, ask yourself how you can possibly know that if you have no experience with their situation, and why it’s so important that you prove it in the first place?

If your excuse is that these seemingly-benign comments or opinions display “passive-aggressive bias” and “hidden prejudice”,you may be right. But frankly, I’ve always found those types of bias reveal themselves in their gross, naked glory if you take the time to scratch off the veneer and see the driving force behind the words. There’s no need to guess. We don’t always have the energy or spoons or ability otherwise to take that time to figure it out, it’s true. But if we don’t, why should we waste the time/energy/spoons we supposedly have a dearth of by being angry at a person who possibly meant no harm, and who caused you no harm except in your head?

And I’m not trying to stray off into “not all X people” territory, I’m just stating something that I, as a marginalized person, have (because of past experience) made incorrect assumptions about a person’s bias more than once, to my (and the other person’s) detriment.

And yes, even if someone isn’t personally displaying bias, they’re still part of the system of bias, which definitely bears thought and scrutiny, but if you attack someone for this you usually get locked in an intellectual battle which rarely has any practical benefit. For instance, if you start screaming at me about how capitalism is my fault because I’m part of the system, that conversation is going to go badly (and not just because I’m less a part of that system than most). So, unless it was I who jumped into your conversation about socialism and said “not all capitalists are bad”, just leave me the fuck out of it. I can only answer for my own actions. That’s all any of us can answer for.

If we’re really going to change the systems of oppression, we have to not model them.

Intent does matter…and practical outcomes matter even more. So if the practical outcome of your behavior is hurting marginalized people, alienating them from their communities, and deepening their oppression, you’re not doing good in the world.

The Oppression Olympics are a sick game that no one can win. We all lose.

Endnote: I’m perfectly willing and even eager to discuss this post with anyone. I will clarify, and own any mistakes, ill-wordings, misinterpretations, or subtleties I may have missed. If I am flat-out wrong somewhere in your opinion, I welcome you to tell me, because that is what conversation is about, and we should always seek to have greater understanding in all things. But really, cue people reinforcing all my points by attacking me…

COVER REVEAL FOR SYNCHRONICITY

It’s less than a month now before the final book in The Other Place Series is released. Synchronicity comes out May 2!

The Other Place Series was really fun to write. Well, maybe “fun” isn’t quite the right word. The stories in the series are, in my opinion, great stories. But they go deeper than that for me.

The Other Place Series starts out with The Hustle, which is a tale of Liria, a young woman battling addiction, homelessness, and abuse. She’s trying to find her place in a world that seems set up to exclude and take advantage of her. It’s often described by readers as “a rollercoaster”. That’s a good description, because that’s what it feels like to deal with those issues.

When I was younger, I was dealing with physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as well as the onset of psychosis. I was addicted to heroin, and went through periods of effective homelessness, as well as incarceration.  Writing The Hustle was a way for me to process those experiences in a way I never had before. It was hard, but it was also a great experience.

The next book in the series, The Other Place, follows Justin, a talented young artist with schizophrenia, as he struggles to find his own place in the world.

Writing The Other Place was my attempt to deal with my deep fear of my own psychosis. When I was younger, I thought I was schizophrenic. It terrified me that I might be. I couldn’t think of anything worse than to be trapped in the horrors of your own mind, caught in a constant, living nightmare. I didn’t tell anyone about my psychosis for decades, and (as I said) self-medicated it with heroin and other things.

My psychotic episodes ended up being infrequent. It turns out I actually am bipolar and have PTSD, not schizophrenia. In writing The Other Place, though, I was exploring that part of myself that I was so afraid of…and discovering that I wasn’t afraid of it anymore. There’s nothing wrong with me, or with anyone with psychosis. It’s not a living nightmare at all, though it can be tough to deal with some symptoms at times.

In writing The Other Place, I also ended up in a close relationship with the man who is now my fiancé, who himself is schizophrenic. When I began hanging out with him, I recognized a lot of my own behaviors in him, and I identified with the way he was treated by society—getting harassed, threatened, physically abused, and kicked out of places when he wasn’t doing anything wrong at all. I started to see myself and my place in society more clearly, and realized that a lot of behaviors I’d been blaming myself for and trying to change, were not things I could or even wanted to change. They were things other people wanted to change about me, because they saw me as abnormal and even dangerous. All those years, I’d been beating up on myself for other people’s prejudice.

Society’s prejudice against people with neurodiversity—the idea that we’re violent, scary, hopeless, helpless, and lacking any kind of beauty or inner life— is so deep-seated that people don’t recognize it as prejudice. Not even I saw it for what it is.

The Other Place Series is an insider’s perspective on how it feels to be an outcast. It shows the prejudice and mistreatment people like me face on a daily basis. Not only was this series a growth experience for me personally, I think it could change the way others think of people with mental health issues.

Besides all that, they’re just good stories. In my opinion, they’d be good stories even if they didn’t deal with addiction or mental health issues at all. After all, people with mental health issues are just people, with their own stories to tell that have nothing at all to do with their diagnoses and addictions.

The last book Synchronicity, is the story of Liria and Justin trying to make a life together, despite all the forces trying to tear them apart. I’m really proud of this book, and I hope you all love it as much as I do.

Are you ready to see the cover? Okay…

 

More Thoughts About Neurotypical Privilege and the Prejudice against Psychotics

I am just now coming back from a long weekend with my partner (I can call him my fiancé now, but it’s gonna take me a while to get used to that).

It was really nice to see him, and we had a good time. We stayed one night in a nice hotel, and mobbed around town like always. We faced fewer problems with the public than we usually do this time, but I wanted to talk a little bit about the treatment we often face.

There’s a lot of prejudice about people with psychosis, and we encounter it not just when we’re having a psychotic break—though that’s certainly the most dangerous time for us, because that’s when our liberty, health, wellbeing, and even lives are most at risk. But just being ourselves on a good day has consequences in society that most people don’t recognize or think about as problems.

Even by myself, I often get tailed by store clerks, and I almost always get told to leave my backpack at the front of the store—it’s not a big backpack, either. It’s about eleven-by-seventeen inches, smaller than most purses, and I never see them ask anyone else with that small of a bag to leave it. My partner, who has schizophrenia, has it worse: he’s often kicked out of stores, accused of shoplifting, or not even allowed in (sometimes he dresses really nicely, but other times he wanders around in his pajamas and slippers. The “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” rule is actually very ableist/sanist. There’s nothing wrong with dressing like a slob. Seriously. Get over yourselves).

In hotels (especially nicer ones), we get questioned by the staff, and have to show our keys to prove we’re guests.

In restaurants, we’ve been denied seating. The excuse is often that they’re “full”, but we’re not given the option of waiting. We’ve also (more rarely) been asked to leave because we’re making other diners uncomfortable.

All of this happens not when we’re doing anything illegal, harmful, or even particularly distracting. My partner, and I to a lesser extent, just give off strange vibes. We make people nervous, because they’re conditioned to think of people with psychosis/people who act differently are dangerous.

We’re not dangerous.

I hope you think about this next time you interact with someone like us.

Invisible Friend Jesus and the Resistance

hippieInvisible Friend Jesus sits next to me on my bed. He’s cleaning his toenails with a file, scraping the dirt from under them and flicking it onto my quilt. It’s gross, but part of me wants to save the dirt and put it on display in some cathedral.

“I feel like I should be cleaning your feet for you or something,” I say.

He glances up at me, smirking. “Do you want to?” He holds the file out toward me.

I lean away from it. “Not really.”

He goes back to his task, shrugging. “Cleaning other people’s feet isn’t really part of your culture. It’d be sort of awkward if you wanted to, to tell you the truth.”

“Another thing about my culture,” I say, “while we’re on the subject: cleaning your toenails on someone else’s bed: not really okay. But it’s cool, because we’re friends. The quilt washes.”

He pauses in digging out a particularly stubborn deposit in the corner of his big toe. “Sorry. I didn’t really think about it. My feet were just dirty.”

“Naw, it’s cool, it’s cool. Really.”

He hesitates a moment then, seeing I’m serious, goes back to digging.

I watch him with disgusted fascination. “I didn’t really think about Jesus’ feet getting dirty before. I thought you were perfect in every way.”

He raises an eyebrow. “The Bible talks about my dirty feet. It’s a little embarrassing, but it was necessary to the story, I think.”

“Oh yeah, you’re right.”

He wipes the file on the hem of his suit jacket and starts in on shaping His nails. “I’m a human being. The whole point of me—as a religious concept, anyway—is that I’m a human like any other, with dirty feet and everything. I’m God’s way of showing the world that it’s okay to be human.

“Dirty feet don’t make us ‘imperfect’, anyway,” he continues, “they just make us human.” He frowns in concentration, trying to shape his pinky toenail just so. “It’s the same with all the other stuff that goes along with being human. None of it is imperfection. All the trouble starts when people start blaming and judging others for what they see as their flaws. It’s what I spoke out against, because we would be a lot happier if we’d quit worrying about that stuff and just accepted ourselves and others.”

“I get you,” I say, “but that’s some complicated shit when you get into issues of people’s  beliefs threatening others. I’d say that sort of behavior truly is a ‘flaw’.”

He nods. “I know what you mean. If you’d notice, the Bible talks about how I lost it on a few people for doing stupid and hateful stuff, too.”

I grin. “Yeah, I remember some of that stuff. Those are some of my favorite parts.”

“I can’t say it wasn’t satisfying.” He clips the edge off one of his nails and flicks it away; I wince as it lands on my pillow. “Living on Earth is a complicated thing,” He says. “God understands that. But God is bigger than all that, too. God wants you to forgive your enemies, even for threatening and hurting you. Notice I don’t say ‘embrace’, just ‘forgive’. And I don’t mean we should lie down and let them trample us, but we should forgive them for trying.

“This is not an easy thing to do, when you’re just trying to get by as a mortal person, and assholes keep messing with you and your family—messing with them, or worse,” He says. “God understands that it’s difficult. He knows we won’t always succeed—that we’ll flip our shit sometimes—and forgives us for it. But we’d be a lot happier if we stopped trying to get revenge. Because, in the process, sometimes we end up becoming the thing that we hate: we end up threatening and hurting other people in return. Then those people act out in self-defense and in greater hatred, and the cycle continues.”

“That’s why you forgave the people who crucified you,” I say. “As an example that it can be done by human beings, even in those circumstances.”

He nods, stretching out his legs and wiggling his toes. “Yep. That shit wasn’t easy, but I felt better after I’d done it. Better in my soul, anyway; I was in some pretty bad agony physically, to say the least. But forgiveness helps the forgiver as much as the forgiven.”

I draw my knees up to my chest and hug them. “I wish your followers would listen to you about all this stuff, because my country is really scary right now. It’s starting to look like Nazi Germany. I have a hard time turning the other cheek when people are threatening our health and lives, and when they’re supporting racism, bigotry, and the destruction of society and the environment. And most of the people doing that in the U.S. claim to be Christian.”

He gives me a long look. “Human beings have a long way to go before they find the Kingdom of God. I know it seems like this battle has already been fought, but what a lot of people don’t realize is, their lives are short and the battle is long. The fight is ongoing, and will continue until the Kingdom is achieved. All I can say is, we have made progress. And God is still with us, no matter what.”IMG_2458.JPG

Don’t Assume You Understand Neurodiversity. You Don’t.

I’m going to write another bitchy blog post, because I’m organizing my thoughts. I invite all people to read, and comment if you want, but this is really a conversation that needs to happen within the neurodiverse community, without paying a lot of attention outside input.

I love the term neurodiversity (or neurodivergence*). When I first heard it,  a light came on in my mind. I finally had a word for something I’d felt my whole life: that “mentally ill” isn’t the right word for who I am, because I’m not ill. This is just my personality, and you can’t (nor should you want to) cure me of it. (Yes, I want/need some symptoms treated, but that’s a different discussion.)

The problem is, the term “neurodiverse” is a catch-all term for A LOT of different sorts of people. This is one of those “duh” statements, but I think we need to meditate on it. I hear a lot of people say “I’m neurodiverse, too,” (or, worse yet, “my aunt is neurodiverse”) as a precursor to statements indicating they think they understand what life is like for ALL neurodiverse people.

Ugh. Amirite?

I don’t want to stop using the term “neruodiverse”. I lurves it, and don’t want to complicate the language by having more and more terms, or just labeling ourselves with our diagnoses. “Neurodiverse” expresses an idea about all of us, that we’re not ill and are okay the way we are, and thus is a good catch-all term.

But we all need to check ourselves when we start thinking we understand what it’s like for all people under the neurodiverse umbrella. There’s a huge spectrum not only of different diagnoses under that umbrella, but also of levels of marginalization. Some of us struggle daily with the problems our neurodiversity causes us. It’s affects everything we do, and every conversation we have with others. Other people’s neurodiversity has only a minor effect on their lives.

If you have minor clinical depression, for instance, you’re neurodiverse in my opinion (unless you choose to not identify that way, of course). Depression is something I experience, and is super shitty. It can make you miss work, sabotage relationships, hurt yourself. But, in the case of minor depression, most people won’t know you have it unless you tell them.

mentalOn the other end of the spectrum is my partner, Phoenix. He has schizophrenia and can’t even walk silently into a room without people reacting to his neurodiversity: his strangeness radiates from him like a glow—a beautiful glow, in my opinion, but not in the opinions of most others. He’s one of the very best, coolest, smartest, kindest people I’ve ever met, but most folks will never know that because their reactions to him are almost uniformly negative. They avoid him, or have a (misguided) “protective” anger reaction (for instance, they call the cops on him for yelling and pacing in his yard. They beat the shit out of him for talking to himself, because they think he’s “talking shit” about them). At best, they pity him and don’t take anything he says seriously.

You can imagine the effect this sort of marginalization could have on a person. Phoenix is positive and confident, but he’s told me on various occasions that before I came along, he thought he’d be alone for his whole life.

I, for the sake of you knowing my viewpoint, fall somewhere in between that. I struggle daily with my bipolar and PTSD on an internal level, and it’s been a defining force of my entire life path. It’s destroyed more than one relationship, and caused me to seek out abusive and toxic ones. It’s landed me in prison. It’s made it extremely hard for me to maintain employment for more than a few years at a time, and has cost me many promotions because of latent bias (and no, I’m not being paranoid. I have direct evidence). The list goes on. But in my daily interactions, at least at times I’m not in crisis, people generally just think I’m a little bit eccentric or “off”. It certainly colors their reactions toward me, but they might not even guess at first blush that I’m neurodiverse. Plus, I have the advantage of not being one of those people that comes off as creepy. At least it doesn’t seem like it, usually, based on how I’m treated (I mean, I’m not creepy, right? Tell me if I am). So my neurodiversity doesn’t isolate me in that way (though it will cause me to self-isolate at times).

So, what I’m saying is, someone with minor depression can’t know what it’s like for people like me, or people like Phoenix. And I can’t know what it’s like for someone with Autism, or schizoaffective disorder, etc. But I can probably identify with what other neurodiverse people go through better than most neurotypical people can, and I will endeavor to listen and be accepting—to be a “safe space” for other neurodiverse people to express their feelings and experiences. I will never say neurodiverse people are “doing it for attention” or any of those other horrible, marginalizing things neurotypical (or self-hating neurodiverse) people say.

The reason we label ourselves as neurodiverse is to try to seek out people who understand what it’s like for us, and will listen and accept us for who we are. Thus, it’s very, very important to be careful of behaviors in the community that can cause us to marginalize and isolate our peers even more. We need to be there for one another. Let us remember to listen and be good allies, as well as good peers.

* I don’t like that this term as much, for the silly reason that I don’t like the novel Divergent. We all have our quirks.