As an autistic person, the question of whether or not I am a truly human person has never really been a question. Most, I would think the majority, would consider it an almost ludicrous proposition that anything other truly human was the case. But this has seriously been a question up for consideration. Both in real terms and by stealth.
The founder of ABA therapy Ivaar Lovaas, held the opinion that autistic people were not really people, not fully human, something of a human shell. He held that his therapy would be able to fill them with humanity and make them human. A preposterous notion of course, but a very real one nevertheless. And one that has been accepted or dusted under the rug and not to be looked at when one considers the widespread use of this horrible ugly therapy.
In short Lovaas felt that an autistic person had the raw materials to make a human but human they were not yet.
Of course he wasn’t the only one, perhaps he was vocal and public about it. He was unashamed of acknowledging the aversive and abusive tactics his therapy used. Tactics which perpetrated on many animals would have the inflicter answering serious questions to the relevant authorities.,
In a less overt but just as insidious practice has been the prevalence of a cure culture and the pursuit of research towards a cure for autism, in particular a search for the elusive autism gene. No such gene exists as it turns out, but the pursuit has been relentless, spearheaded by organisations such as the giant Autism Speaks. You see if a gene could be found, then a screening test could be created and then the existence of autistic people could be consigned to history.
Of course such a stark admission would unlikely be acknowledged by the likes of such organisations but the evidence in their public rhetoric is rather damning. Talk of a generation of lost children, destroyers of marriage, stealing of families. Public support for parent murderers of autistic children, attempting to reframe such despicable acts as mercy killings.
Yes all of this, all of it, is a sign of an attitude that autistic people are not fully human, don’t have true personhood.
It’s all complete bullshit of course, but it is what is out there. And it is what the reality of existing as an autistic person is. Always having that thought, that wondering of whether the people we interact with us consider us truly human or not. More middle perhaps is the thought that as you interact they are feeling sorry for you and wishing they could cure you.
But all of it. Yes, all of it is bullshit and offensive and disgusting and horrible.
We are human damn it. We are people damn it. Start treating us as such instead of opportunities for testing or political playthings to promote a pseudo scientific campaign against the very important and very much-needed vaccination regime.
For a large number of autistic people, current thought is that approximately 7 times more than the general population, their gender identity is fluid, trans, or non-binary. They express a gender different to the sex they were assigned at birth. Readers of this blog will know that I myself am transgender.
This is where the whole question becomes even murkier, because not only are we faced with those thoughts of humanity and personhood but the question of womanhood and manhood enter the equation. There is a particular group of feminists, known by the acronym TERF, Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist, who are adamant that trans women are not real women, they are nothing but men pretending, or men in drag, or men in dresses. In their view a trans woman is not a real woman.
I expect the same is extended to transmen not being real men.
This too is bullshit. Diversity in gender identity and expression has been amongst us since the beginning of time. In some indigenous cultures there are even names for trans or gender fluid people. But even in western culture this has always been the case, just not acknowledged freely. The freedom to fully express gender identities has not been there, and so, I suspect that many confined themselves to just being what were termed tomboys or effeminate males and so forth.
We live in a time where there is more acceptance and appreciation of the positive wellbeing of not just tolerating but accepting, celebrating and encouraging trans people to transition and non-binary people to be so publicly and gender fluid people to express that fluidity. This is a good thing. However it still comes with its very own dose of risk, fear and bigotry and of course judgment by the uniformed and uneducated.
For the gender divergent autistic the reality is that each day is lived negotiating a sense of wondering how they will be accepted or non accepted as both a human and as a man or a woman. Are those people they are interacting with embracing of their humanity or wishing to cure or eradicate it, and are they accepting of their gender expression or do they want to consider them not real men or women, label them some kind of freak and consign them to a false gender binary.
As World Autism Awareness day creeps closer again, I want to say this to my autistic tribe. Yes, you are fully human, fully a person. You don’t need to be cured or eradicated or even, constructed. And to my gender divergent tribe I say you are of course real women, or men or whichever gender identity you embrace as you.
Yes people we are all human, we are all real people and no TERF, or no Autism Speaks or other Autism Organisation, and no ABA therapist can change that.
Please I implore you never let anyone tell you any different.