activist not self advocate

Intersectional Autism

(or, It’s More Than Just Inclusive Advocacy)

Brief note here: Intersectionality was originally coined Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how racism and sexism affect black women. I am using the principals she described, as I understand them, and applying to autism. Do yourself a favor and look her up, because she laid the foundation for the type of advocacy that we need within the autistic community. Also, if I mischaracterize Crenshaw’s views, please correct me! I’m still learning!

I’ve see a lot about inclusive advocacy within the autism community, and I’ve seen a lot about intersectionality within the autism community. These are two very important aspects of advocacy and activism, but they are not interchangeable.

Intersectionality is not just about including people of other marginalizations, and to treat it as such undermines the entire principal. 

Intersectionality is often describe as some variation of understanding that people often have multiple axis of marginalization and that those can interact with each other in very unique ways.

For example, the fact that I am autistic and a woman means that I am going to have unique challenges that other autistics do not have, and I am going to have unique challenges that other women do not have.

And that’s super, super, important, right? Of course it is! It’s all not quite what intersectionality is about, though, and when you leave the rest of intersectionality out, you are leaving the most important aspect out.

Intersectionality isn’t just about the fact that these axis of marginalization interact, but also that they have to interact. Not just that, but you cannot separate the axis of marginalization from you.

What does that look like in terms of autism?

Yes, I experience ableism because of my autism and yes I experience sexism because I am a woman, but those things do not happen as distinct, localized things. When I experience marginalization it isn’t just one or the other, it is always both. I experience ableist sexism and sexist ableism. Not one or the other.

Why is that? I mean, if someone says, “what do you know, you’re just a woman,” how is that ableist if it is obviously a sexist comment?

Yes, there are overt comments like the one above that are very obvious, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We are talking about pervasive social issues. They key to understanding this in my opinion is to remember that sexism and ableism, are both systemic things. They are a very subtle part of society, and most importantly they are implicit parts of society.

Most people in society pick up on these implicit, systemic biases whether or not they intend to, and it shows in how they interact with the world around them. With ableism it means everyone has a very subtle tendency to pity disabled people, and to infantilize them. With sexism that means a very subtle tendency to view women as emotional and unstable.

When someone interacts with me, an autistic woman, it means they are always going to be influenced by the fact that I am autistic and the fact that I am a woman. There is that subtle social bias towards infantilize me and to view me as emotionally unstable.

Not one or the other, but both.

When we talk about intersectionality and autism and in making our community inclusive, we have to understand that we cannot separate axis of marginalization. Autistic women are always going to face sexist ableism and ableist sexism. LGBT autistics are always going to face ableist homophobia and homophobic ableism. POC are always going to face ableist racism and racist ableism.

And yes, that means a poor lesbian, Islamic, Latina, transgender, autistic, for example, is always going to experience a combination of classism, homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, transphobia, and ableism.

Any time there is an axis of marginalization, they are going to crisscross and interact in complicated ways, and while overt marginalization may directed at one or the other more obviously, the systemic nature of these issues means it is never going to be just one thing.

That’s the point - it’s subtle, it’s not obvious. That’s just the nature of pervasive, systemic issues, and that makes it hard to fight.

As autistic self advocates and neurodiversity activists we have to ask ourselves if we are okay with simply being inclusive. As a community, we have to ask whether or not we want to be progressive.

If we really want to be an inclusive community, we have to be intersectional. We have to recognize that not only do we face marginalization along different axis, but we can never entirely shake that those subtle influences that are there, no matter how overtly an -ism is directed at us.

We owe it to ourselves, but especially to those who face more axis of marginalization that us.


(Description: First photo is a picture of me before my school formal (prom). I am wearing a purple dress with silver sparkles and embroidery on the bodice. I am in my backyard.

Second photo is a black and white selfie of myself. I am wearing a patterned long sleeved shirt, and my hair is out.

Third photo is another selfie. I am wearing a grey sweatshirt, my hair is out, and I have apple earphones in my ears that are hidden by my hair.)

So, this is me. My name is Brianna, I was born on the 28th of April 1997, and I am autistic.

I never thought I’d come out publicly and say that. For the last year, I have been anonymous on this blog. If people at school found out I was autistic, I would have been alienated moreso than I already was due to the negative stigma surrounding autism. I’ve only told a few close friends about my neurodivergence - Mostly autistics, because, whenever I tell an allistic, they treat me differently. It feels freeing to be open about it now that I’ve finished school forever. Being someone who is often told I am “allistic-passing”, people have always sensed something is “off” about me, but never come to the conclusion that I may have a disability. I have become good at hiding it. I was given a lot of therapy as a kid to be as “normal” as possible, but, honestly, it’s made me scared to be who I am and say what I want just in case I screw it up.

When I was younger, mum didn’t tell me I was autistic because she thought I’d tell everyone else and they’d alienate me for being different. That is the reason I started this blog. I don’t want people to be alienated for being different. I don’t want people to be ashamed of who they are. It’s taken me a long time to accept that I am autistic, and I shouldn’t be ashamed of that.

This year, I will be going to university to study psychology. I want to be a spokesperson for autistics. I want to be an autistic self advocate and activist, and I want to help autistics to be who they are. I don’t want people going through what I did. I will be an autistic psychologist for autistics. I will be someone who really understands. I am sick and tired of allistics speaking for us. I am autistic. I can speak for myself. My self advocacy starts here, right now.

My name is Brianna, and I am autistic.

[Image description: a screenshot of the Facebook profile of a man named Dan L. Edmunds. His bio states that he is an associate psychologist, self advocate, international speaker and author, philosopher, and activist. It shows that he studied community counseling at Argosy University-Sarasota. Above his profile picture is a quote of his that reads: “In my work with autistic persons and those with developmental differences, I have always believed that those persons DO communicate, though it may be in a way apart from others, and that we must focus on innate strengths. Our objective should never be to force them to be something that they are not but to respectfully guide them to be able to navigate through the mainstream.”]


This man is allistic and has been inserting himself into Autistic communities all over facebook. He leads others to believe that he is Autistic, but he is not. I was under the impression that he was Autistic up until I saw him called out by another person. He is a skilled manipulator with all the red flags of a predator and an abuser. THIS MAN WORKS WITH CHILDREN. He writes poetry and other literature from the point of Autistic people, even though he is not. He talks endlessly about his work with people of differing neurodivergencies that when looked at through the perspective that he is Autistic seem wonderful, but when realized that he is not seem condescending, fetishizing, demeaning, ableist, and downright gross. He sees himself as an “Autism-whisperer” (quote of mine, not his).

When someone likes something of his on Facebook and he sees that they are young and perceives them to be female, he friends them immediately. This happened to me as well as many other young woman and people he perceived to be women. Occasionally he will comment on their pictures or statuses with compliments about their looks. This man is far older than would make this appropriate.

Many people, like myself, assumed him to be Autistic because of his writing from the perspective of an Autistic person, his blunt affect in his pictures, and doing things otherwise socially inappropriate (re: friending young women/people he perceives to be women and complimenting them on their appearances). However, when asked if he is Autistic or when anything he says or does is called into question he reacts by not being straightforward, attempting to confuse the person, using vague terms and confusing metaphors (something that many Autistics like myself have trouble with), gaslighting, accusing them being uncooperative, and belittling them.

When I found out he was not Autistic, I felt physically ill because I, as many others had, been taken in by this predator. I confronted him over Facebook and these were his responses (under the cut as this is rather long):

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Following in the Path of my Hero

(or, When I Grow Up, I Want to be Just Like Amythest!)

I want to start by explaining who my hero is in this context for those that don’t know. Amythest Schaber, known as @neurowonderful on Tumblr, is a self-advocate and activist who was pivotal in two important aspects of my life.

Like many of my own followers, Amythest’s YouTube series, Ask an Autistic, was a significant force in my self-acceptance. The second aspect, and perhaps more salient to this post, is that Amythest provides a blueprint for autism and neurodiversity activism; a blueprint that I would come come to define myself by.

The way I choose to define myself, my identity as it is today, was seeded by my aspirations to be the activist I saw and continue to see in Amythest. Put another way, when I grow up I want to be an activist and help people the way Amythest helped me.

This aspiration led me to create this blog, to attend university nearly twenty years after I had given up on the idea, and it led me to my first published piece as a professional writer - a life-long dream that until recently had been little more than idle fantasy.

Yesterday was a big day for me. I stepped firmly out of the world of self-advocacy and into the world of activism. So what changed?

Well, yesterday I had a meeting with Dr. Hudson, the director of the Student Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at my university. We talked about autism. We talked about autism awareness. We talked about autism acceptance. Most importantly, we talked about how to position this school as a leader of neurodiversity acceptance, inclusion, and most of all, accessibility.

Not accommodation - accessibility.

As it is right now, there are two events at our school that deal with autism. One focuses on autism awareness the way most people mean it, and one focuses on autism awareness the way we as a community mean it. Dr. Hudson wants to bridge the gap between the two, and he has asked me to be the student that does that.

Dr. Hudson has been seeking ways to expand on the April autism awareness campaigns into a year-round program of neurodiversity acceptance. This program is not meant to be token events, but rather the basis for what will become University mandated policy in neurodiversity accessibility training for professors, administrators, and student facing employees.

I have been asked not only to create a program of events spread throughout the year, but I have been asked to do it in a way that can transition into standardized policy.

How does this work?

Let’s take the issue of closed captioning. There is no requirement for professors to provide closed captioning on anything unless the Office of Disability Services informs the professor of formal accommodations. But why? Closed captioning doesn’t hurt anything, and it could easily be the difference between a B and an A for a student that needs it - perhaps not enough for them to request accommodation, but why shouldn’t they be able to fully understand the video?

I address this issue, perhaps, by presenting a lecture to students and faculty on the benefits of closed captioning for disabled and neurodiverse students. I make the argument that close captioning should be standard; that professors should only be using videos that include closed captioning and it should be turned on be default. Maybe I cite studies, maybe I include interviews of autistics or HoH/Deaf students ruminating on the differences between classes that provide it be default and those that don’t. Maybe some professors take this to heart, but most won’t.

After introducing these things, Dr. Hudson takes them to the administration. He shows them how the professors that listened were able to make the necessary changes, and makes the argument that it should be policy.

To be clear, Dr. Hudson has a lot of power within the school to address these specific issues. His job is explicitly about making this school accessible to underserved demographics in this city - from working class people to undocumented immigrants (we are a sanctuary school!), to physically disabled students, to neurodiverse students.

Let me repeat that - Dr. Hudson’s job is to make this school accessible. And believe me, he understands just what the significance is by saying accessible instead of accommodating. Best of all, when it comes to burden of proof required for him to change accessibility policy, I get the impression the bar is low. As long as he shows that it will probably help people, he has the power to make it happen.

And now?

I am the student responsible for bringing a broader neurodiversity awareness, acceptance, and accessibility to this school. I talk a lot about autism because that is what this blog is, but my role at school is about all neurodiversity. Depression, anxiety, psychosis, developmental disabilities, communication disabilities, learning disabilities, everything.

This is the work I wanted to do professionally after earning my masters degree or PhD. Instead, I start next week - as freshman in my second semester of undergraduate studies.

My wife, @paxardens and my partners @cassandrasimplex and @vulcanfeminist, my friends @alexithymia42, @elliottiguess and @stumble-tumble-bumble… they all played a huge role in helping me come to understand myself, love myself, and strive for more.

My activism? The way I want to approach bringing acceptance of neurodiversity and more importantly bring accessibility to neurodiverse people? That is powered by the support of my family, the women from my regular tea party that are my chosen family, and my friends; but it is built with the blueprint from my personal hero, Amythest.

I can’t wait to see what the next four years bring, and I can’t wait to share it with all of you. Whatever journey is ahead, it starts today; today, I follow in the path of my hero, and I couldn’t be happier.

anonymous asked:

(1/2) Toni what do you think of unconventional pronouns? Like dae/daem or bun/buns? Because Im thinking of trying some out as I think they might make me more comfortable with my gender (agender) and im not sure if theyre bad for the trans community

(2/2) or not… I thought id ask you because I consider you the authority on trans issues because you’re so well educated and all.. sorry if im wasting your time

You are not wasting my time.

I will be perfectly blunt: I screw up NB/GNC/AG pronouns all the time. I don’t mean to, I put effort into not doing so, but especially if I know the person and I am excited to see them, it seems like I screw it up *every single time*.

Really.  It is horribly embarrassing, but there it is.  Which is why I put more effort into it online and in writing, where you have the time and chance to think about what you are saying to a greater degree than you do when you run into a person unexpectedly and shove your foot in your mouth in a public place.

Which I have done.

Personally, I get annoyed when at trans specific functions when I have to give out my pronouns.  It is why I am Empress of the KNown Universe – I needed to inject a bit of fun into the process, and make it less monotonous. I really do give my pronouns as Empress, Queen, Her Majesty, etc.

When I do trainings, I do a pronoun exercise often. Once in a while, and usually the smart ass sorts, I will get an It, or a Dagger, or a Conch shell or pick a word.

And when that happens, I mark that person, and for the rest of the training, I will use the right pronouns that they supplied in depth. Because it *does* matter.

This does not harm the Trans community. Indeed, the arguments that it does are always based in respectability politics. Those arguments serve to appease and please those who oppress us, and work to stop the expansion of how trans people are to be seen – those arguments are no different than saying that really ugly trans women shouldn’t transition, or really pretty trans men shouldn’t transition.

It is the trans equivalent of telling young men to pull their pants up.  Even if they do, it doesn’t change the way treat them.  Using “regular” pronouns doesn’t change the way we are treated – in practice and reality, the only time anyone uses masculine pronouns for me is online.

Never offline.  Not even accidentally – or at least, not in a long time. Even if they know I am trans.

I teach trans folk to do typically gendered activities and the higher edge stuff as a part of the services we offer. Makeup or shaving and stuff like that. I do it because people ask for those things, but when I do I point out that we aren’t here to meet their expectations of how a man or a woman is supposed to be, we are here to expand those ideas, and that expansion includes things besides men and women.

Such as NB/GNC/AG folks.  

And that means that in English we need something besides “It” and “They” for pronouns. What they are doesn’t matter. 

In practical terms, and insofar as the whole sociologist in me, I will note that pretty much the most your going to get is one or two additions, and that They is going to become the default, in terms of linguistic patterns and historio-cultural systems.

So the truth is that bun and bin and boo probably aren’t gong to endure or make it into the mainstream and will mark people as outside and it’ll sting, but even that does not mean that those people shouldn’t be treated with respect and dignity that are the minimums.

So to me, people who bitch and moan about folks using those pronouns “being bad for trans” are really saying that those things embarrass them, and my reaction to that is who the fuck cares if you are embarrassed. You aren’t the one asking for those pronouns and you sure as hell haven’t encountered much of the broader community so, um, yeah, get over your damn self.

As an advocate and activist, I have found that often starting with those unusual pronouns (I really do like the boo’s) serves as a way to engage people more effectively without making them overly uncomfortable.  And they lead into better questions (and ultimately more questions) and if someone close to those people asks about them, then educate them.

But down say how bad people who use unusual pronouns are.  That’s just being a transphobe yourself, and transphobia is the problem, not the solution.

So I think its fine.  I will probably fuck it up, but that isn’t their problem – that’s my problem.