Thursday, March 28, 2013

Autism Acceptance, by Anonymous


I don't like explaining myself. It's a trait that got me in a lot of undeserved trouble as a child and continues to give me a nasty reputation as an adult. But there's good reason for it, especially when it comes to issues of diversity. The proliferation of resources on race/sexuality/gender issues/neurodiversity makes anything I could say redundant. Someone who wants more information on diversity will find it. Someone who doesn't isn't going to benefit from me prattling on about why there isn't a Heterosexual Pride Parade or a White History Month.

And it puts me in an awkward position because more often than not some offhanded comment in casual conversation yields a so called “teachable moment”, which I tend to approach with as much enthusiasm as I would picking hair out of an otherwise decent marinara sauce. Contrary to popular belief, minorities aren't waiting on any and all opportunities to school the masses, and I'm no exception.

But then, there's that one thing you absolutely can't dodge because you know it will just keep coming up in future conversations. None gets to me quite like the gag-inducing complimentary insult.

You've heard them before. What's your favorite? Here are some of mine:

“Your English is wonderful!” (old white lady who assumed I wasn't American)
“But you don't look black, you look mixed!” (Various black dudes. I am mixed, but seriously? Get me off the Self Hate Express.)
“But you have no accent!” (Various white people who assumed English wasn't my first language)
“You have good hair!” (White chick. No. Just shut up)

Last, and unfortunately not least:

“Wow! He's autistic!That's did that happen?”
“It must be so hard for you...”

Let me back up a bit. I've been in a committed, non traditional, long term relationship with a man on the spectrum for the past 4 years. We are different races and from different cultures. We get along just fine. This, apparently, isn't supposed to happen. As such, I'm apparently required to explain myself.

There's nothing quite like someone congratulating you for not being in the tears in the fetal position on a daily basis because your boyfriend experiences the world different than you do. Or because it's assumed if he isn't demonstrating his affection for me exactly as a twenty-something, white,  middle class, American male should, that he lacks basic humanity and can't relate to me. Nothing like people asking you why, with wide eyes and slack jaw, you would pick someone on the spectrum, as if the decision were a great burden, or a humanitarian sacrifice. Try asking someone NT why she picked her NT boyfriend, with the same facial expression and quivering note of shock in your voice, and watch how quickly you're (rightfully) declared an offensive twat.

I'm with him because we're companions. I love his company, I love his mind, I love his soul. Really, I shouldn't have to fucking explain that.

And yet, the sad looks and shoulder rubs, and the it-must-be-hard-for-yous. As if all NT only relationships are smooth rides with no disputes, conflicts, pains and problems all their own. As if NTs are nothing but empathetic listeners forever brimming with love and respect for their partners, incapable of being unreasonable, hurtful, or bewilderingly difficult to live with. Please.

Hard compared to what? What it would be for you? Or what it should be for me, based on what you feel NT-AS relationships are: charity cases?

Spare me your sympathy for a problem I don't have. 

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not blind. We're an odd pair by most people's standards. I don't deny that both our relationship and our way of relating to one another is bound to raise some eyebrows, for many many reasons. I also don't resent ignorance in itself: I realize a lot of people simply have very little understanding of autism, empathy, our relationship, our combination of races and cultures, and how they all mesh together. I do, however, resent the fuck out of the insulated atmosphere people create and maintain, which leads to said ignorance and pushes me to a point where I need to justify why I'm not feeling like the injured/abused party in a relationship with an autistic man.

I resent that caring for the needs of your partner and working through problems as they arise—something that is part of any relationship, something that can lead to mutual growth or deterioration depending on the individual dynamics of the couple—is considered a burden when one person is labeled autistic, and nobody questions assumptions that facilitate this stereotype. Nobody even considers what the relationship looks like from both sides, because only the NT side matters.

I resent the ever living shit out of the fact that people can't appreciate and love what I love about him, then dare to ask me about empathy. They can't appreciate the steps he's taken to bring me into his life, the willpower it takes for him to deal with a world that's often physically and sensorially hostile to him and still make an effort to reach his hand out to me every day, to pull himself out of physical pain to smile at me and make me smile. They can't, without adding a caveat and a backhanded insult about how wonderful I am for being with someone of his description, when I still can't figure out what on earth he sees in me.

Still don't get it? You can't figure out why praising someone for choosing what you clearly consider to be an inferior partner is a problem? Here's a fun experiment for you: next time you want to talk about how hard it must be for a person to be with someone from a different background, replace “autistic” with “black”. Then shout out the sentence in public. Yes, with black people standing around. Then have everyone else explain it to you.

If you're into patting people on the back for being “brave” enough to date an autistic man, don't. Nobody needs to see or deal with that level of ignorance swinging around under a threadbare covering of good will/pity for a fellow NT—but disdain for someone she loves and respects.

And if you come across someone eager to give and receive compliments about how awesome you are for existing and making adult choices with your life, run the other way. 

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