A Question of Stereotypes

 

A recent interview with Sofia Vergara asked, “What’s wrong with stereotypes?” I’ll tell you what’s wrong with being a stereotype: if you come across someone who does not fit the stereotype, you’re shocked and amazed. A stereotype is a sort of box that people are forced to fit in by society. The trouble is, people rarely think outside the box.

An example from my own life is this: “You don’t look autistic!” I get this all the time. I wonder if it’s due to the extremely limited range of autistic people presented on television. Usually, you have to be white and with penis for people to believe you are autistic. And that’s the trouble. Most of the portrayals and speculated autistic people are younger versions of Rain Man. I mean, I am still reeling from a black man portraying autism on Chicago Med! It’s so rare! And don’t even be a woman if you want to be believed to be autistic! Have you seen an autistic woman on TV that’s NOT Temple Grandin?  I haven’t. Please, tell me where the autistic women are on TV. I can’t see any right now.

On that note, have you seen a lead role on Broadway for a plus size woman that’s NOT Tracey Turnblad? People want to put you in a box. They want to be psychic and see you coming a mile away. They want to predict your behavior by, say, the color of your skin, or your genitals. They want to be prejudiced. It gives them power and control. The box says, for dark skinned people, “You are aggressive and irrational. Your dark skin says so.” But how many times over the centuries has the box been absolutely wrong? Countless times! There are scads of times when people out the worst of themselves and put them on the different. Back to the autistic: You say we are suffering because we are different. We’re actually suffering because the world is not conformed toward us, but toward you, the neurotypical. We’re actually suffering because you want us to. We’re suffering because we can’t fit into your box. We’re suffering because of your stereotypes.

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No More Self Hate 

Recently, I’ve been going over some of my posts. I’ve noticed a pattern of pity and self-loathing. Will I die alone? Am I pretty enough for love? Am I too fat for love? It has come to me what I have been doing, and what drives these posts. I have been listening to what the haters say, and not what the people who love me say. It’s a vicious cycle. The haters scream and shout, while those who love you are drowned out. It’s vicious what I’ve been listening to. Well, it’s time to make a definite change. I’ve come here to say NO MORE. It’s time I reverse my ears and listen to those who really love me – those who say that love is there, even if it’s not in a partner.

Autistic people find love. I have known a chemist/inventor who has been in Time Magazine, and she has been married for years. Of course, no one has to marry their partner, but isn’t that sweet? I have decided this: If I am bound to find a soul mate, they will come at the right time. If not, oh well. Maybe I can look at the other ways people can be loved – you know, without partners.

I’m going to go off script and talk about this – it’s related: Ashley Graham – yes, the plus-size Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model – says she’s not ashamed of her body. Why should she be ashamed of it? She’s a Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model! Even now, I can hear the cracking and crumbling of the plaster statue of broomstick beauty dictatorship. I’m not a broomstick, but why does that have to shut me out of love and acceptance? It’s sickening.

The worst part of it is this: It recurs almost every now and then. It’s like a pain that flares up with this trigger or that trigger, and I want it to stop. I want to stop feeling like I am inadequate to find and give/receive love. I’m tired of being disqualified because of things I can barely control, let alone things I can NOT control. I can’t control that I’m autistic. I can’t control that I’m short and stocky. I can’t control your attitude, either. So why lament about it?

The Cold Within, by James Patrick Kinney – A 1960s Poem For Our Time

Read this poem, take it in. This is the political problem for our time – cold, hard hearts ON ALL SIDES.

*****

The Cold Within  – by James Patrick Kinney

Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told.

Their dying fire in need of logs
The first man held his back
For of the faces round the fire
He noticed one was black.

The next man looking ‘cross the way
Saw one not of his church
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes.
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy shiftless poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight.
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.

The last man of this forlorn group
Did nought except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game.

Their logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.[1]

*****

I’m not asking you to change political beliefs. I’m asking you to open your heart.

America needs a hero.

Now Playing At Applebee’s: Dinner Music for the Not Very Hungry 

Sometimes, I like to veer off into more lighthearted things. We all need a good laugh every now and then.

There was a funny story involving the music at Applebee’s today. (They have good French Onion Soup, so there.) I tend to run toward rock and roll, but the music somehow made me laugh. I mean, you usually tend to get music toward the calm and soothing, right? The thing is, the song  ensemble went like this: It started with “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, with its crazy guitar solo at the end. It then went to “Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin. It then went to Van Halen. Of course there were a couple of songs in between. It just seemed out of place in a fairly basic restaurant that basically wants to be a steakhouse. I blame the waitstaff. I thought it coincided because the woman who served me seemed in her fifties, which would have put her teenage years in about the 1970s, or the era of the music being played. Maybe it was the fact that I was in the company of my mother, who prefers more gentle music to soothe herself, but I thought it was rather funny to eat soup and salad with Led Zeppelin in the background.

What Does Autism Look Like Anyway? 

When I reveal that I am autistic, or my mother does, we often get this response: “But you don’t look autistic!” Yes, I do. I got my formal diagnosis from the UCLA Medical Center as a child. Do you think I would lie to you? Why don’t you believe me? What does autism look like to you?

According to popular media, autism is usually depicted by a white cisgender male, and usually a child. They are often portrayed as some sort of savant as well. That is an extremely narrow and stereotypical view of autism, and it is not helpful when you reveal it to people to spread understanding among them.

Is it because I am a woman? I can assure you, autistic women exist. They often go into adulthood without their formal diagnosis, often waiting until their fifties to get this diagnosis, often when researching their own children’s or grandchildren’s diagnosis. Just because we are a smaller group does not mean we are nonexistent. That is just ridiculous to think.

Is it because I am an adult? Usually autism is given a child’s face. Also, that person is in meltdown or other extreme distress. We are not always having meltdowns. Meltdowns are usually caused by a trigger. It could be a sight, sound, smell, taste or touch. If you need something to compare the trigger to, look not further than an addiction. Or PTSD. Or various other dynamics which involve avoiding triggers to stay sane.

(The following does not apply to me, but this is often a reason people do not “look autistic.”)

Is it because of my race? There may be more formal diagnosis among white people, but there is also an existence around every known society. I recently saw an episode of Chicago Med with an autistic doctor played by somebody who was black. (Yes, I do say “black.” It’s perfectly OK to see what race a person is. What is not OK is to assign a lesser or greater value to that race.) I applaud Chicago Med for that casting choice. It gives a sort of face to an entire race of autistic people not represented in media. Not to mention that most races are given say, one token representation, and it certainly is usually not with neurodiversity. You usually have to be white for that.

Is it because of my gender identity? Is it my sexual orientation? I could go on and on about how a narrow stereotype locks many people out of perceptions of autism, or various other conditions for that matter.

(Back to what applies to me again…)

Open your minds, people. Autism is not equipped with a specific physical “look” or “act” to be obvious. A specific facial expression or profile does not exist in the autistic spectrum.

When one specific trait, such as autism, is used to describe a group of people, try not to be surprised when the traits not used to describe them vary widely. It would have to call on other traits to be mentioned in common to get a grasp of the people you are describing. Don’t put people into boxes. They don’t fit.

All Talk, No Listen

When I saw a comparison between a 2012 election panels and a 2016 election panel group, what I noticed different between them was that while the 2012 panel group was willing to listen, the 2016 version’s participants were all trying to out-talk each other. I wanted to sound an air horn just to get them all to shut up. But here’s the thing: if you want to use an extremely loud sound machine designed for the outside indoors, in my book, you have gone from decency into the ridiculous. And that’s the trouble: we’ve now gotten ridiculous in talking, and absolutely no listening. We act as if we’ve got two mouths and no ears, when in reality we’ve got two ears and one mouth. Besides, some of the best points I have picked up have actually come from listening.

My sympathy towards the Black Lives Matter movement, for example, came from the fact that calming down and giving the black person the consideration one would a white person … is entirely reasonable. Sure, I’m pro-cop. But I’m also pro-equality, pro-compassion and pro-reason. Plus, if you actually believe all lives matter like I do – and not just saying that because you feel left out because you are white – then Black Lives Matter is simply another truth. But I digress. We are talking about listening and not just talking.

Talking without listening is just blabber. A bridge can be traveled two ways. Considering the 2016 focus group, the trouble with all the talking and not listening is this: I did not hear any particular viewpoint. All I heard was this mass of noise which tangled and paralyzed every viewpoint inside it. It was like there was too much noise, too much static to hear anyone. If everyone talks and no one listens, you cannot really hear a person speak. One has to listen as well as speak. What I see with all the talking and no one listening is that everybody seems to be afraid of not being heard and not being understood. The trouble is, with all the cacophony of all talk and no listen, is that I did not hear, and I did not understand. It was too much for my ears to take in.

The Problem With Disabled Inspiration Ads 

I have seen those ads or Public Service Announcements where a kid facing a challenge – let’s just all call him “disabled” for short – is, I don’t know, running with blade prosthetics or doing a flip in a wheelchair. Those are all fine and dandy when presented by themselves, but when they are shown as “inspiration,” it gets, well, problematic. It again poses the stereotype that the “disabled” person is an object of pity. Dictionary.com gives the definition of “pity” as “sympathetic or kindly sorrow evoked by the suffering, distress, or misfortune of another, often leading one to give relief or aid or to show mercy:” Therefore, any achievement by the person, even those that display their strengths, should be therefore be displayed to the abled to make them feel better about themselves. It’s really putting a person down, saying their strengths and contributions are, well, a miracle. That’s taking things a bit far, don’t you think?

“But if they can do it, so can I. Isn’t that good?” Do what? Do you even know? Is it really that weird that a deaf person can dance? Is it really that weird that an autistic person can sing? Maybe they can sing or dance better than you, even. But it goes back to that “object of pity” default mode that the abled tend to give the disabled. It kind of puts the abled in a position of power and privilege to lord over the disabled. “Those poor, poor disabled! They can’t do anything that contributes to society!” It also puts the disabled at the fickle mercy of the abled, to again pity or get rid of. And as we who have had meltdowns know, the mercy of the privileged is fickle, indeed.

Of course, some people really get happy from these messages of inspiration. It’s as if they get a sort of drug like “high” from being inspired. One of the few things which gives such a “high” to the brain that is not a drug is watching or reading depictions of sexual activity, or, to put it crudely, consuming porn. That is why these sort of inspiration things are often called “inspiration porn.” Now, I know I have lost some of you at those two words, but hear me out. If we are really giving you pleasure simply by doing something slightly unexpected, like not bemoaning our lot and getting on with life, it’s really the kind of objectification you tend to get from things like porn or drugs.

“But they are different! They have (insert condition here)! They need our tender loving care!” I get that they need more tender loving care or support. But they don’t need to be weighed, measured and found wanting by people who want to feel superior to them in some way. We get enough of that from prejudice! That’s the crux of the Inspiration Porn problem; it is prejudice! It is looking at or listening to a person and prejudging their competence, contributing potential or even worth as a human being! You can rant and rave about how your child can never do this or that, but then they will see that particular thing they “cannot” do as a measure of whether they are loved.

So, comment your anger at speaking out against being your inspiration porn star. I stand here with fists at the ready, waiting for the opportunity to fight for my right to be a human being.