(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.