Recently I published a blog post that had a relevant message on language use, it was tittled Not just a quibble over language. The key take away of this post was very much a relevant point over language use in regard to autism. In the article I made the statement:
So too must we reject the language of disorder when it comes to Âûtism. The vast majority of scientific and psychological thought on the issue of autism, once the conspiracy theorists and the vaccination as the cause, nincompoops are ignored, is in agreement that Âûtism is a neurological difference, not a deficit but a difference. This is a case where we aren’t talking about kindergarten political correctness, but highlighting a real point of difference.
Think for a moment about the difference between “has autism” and “Autistic” for example. If I say I have autism it automatically leads towards thinking of something one has, something that has been caught or something that can be cured. Whereas, the word Âûtistic leans more towards a state of being, an intricately intertwined and inseparable part of the person.
I do not resile from this point at all. It is I believe a relevant and important point. What I do resile from is the means in which I used to move to that point throughout the post. I talked of political correctness and I was wrong in this. I want to clearly state that I made a huge mistake in how I went about this. I was patently and reprehensibly wrong in the way I that I made the point that we mustn’t quibble over language around autism but in other situations it was merely political correctness. I was wrong.
I referred to a situation that I had encountered that I had dismissed as political correctness. I was out of line and wrong. I had communicated to someone I claimed to care about and respect in ways that communicated hurt and offence. I certainly did not mean that, I felt that I was merely expressing a difference, that was not the case, what I was doing was being blinded to my own privilege. To put it another way I slipped or tripped on my own privilege, that privilege of being in the situation to which I was born into. Clearly that’s not something I can change, but neither can I change that it provides a place of privilege that I am unable to get around or discount. I by default have membership in a particular club. That club precludes me from really understanding what it feels like to be for example gender fluid or to have a sexual orientation other than heterosexual, indeed to understand what it is to be a discriminated against for these things.
I was rightly and roundly criticised by a number of people about this. I have hurt others and experienced hurt in the process. I hope I have learned some things about prejudice and discrimination. I hope I have learned something about identifying and keeping in check my own privilege, and trying my very best not to trip or slip on this privilege again. Oh I am aware that is probably a pipe dream but I do not want to cause pain like this to others again.
I am intensely sorry for allowing my privilege and my blindness to it to cause pain and offence to others. There are many times in my life where I have been embarrassed and angered at comments and attitudes that have come from others like me who are cis het white males, on this occasion I am embarrassed, angered and disgusted at my own comments.
It would be convenient to reject my membership in this privileged club as I don’t hold attitudes personally that are discriminatory. I am in full support of the wide variety of human experience. My own experience is my own experience and is completely valid, just as any other expression of human experience is too. I can’t reject my membership in that privileged club, but I can be aware of it. I can try to understand it, and I can listen to those that are impacted, discriminated against and hurt by it.
I was wrong. Absolutely wrong to take the tack that I took to try to express my message about language importance around autistic and autism issues and to disregard the importance of that same language use in regard to different experiences of human life.
The Âûtistic community is a diverse community. It is not uncommon to meet LGBTIQ people in this community. Intersectionality is common for autistic people, whether it be sexual orientation, gender identification or something else discrimination is doubled down for many, who experience the discrimination on multiple levels.
Wikipedia defines intersectionality as: “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”
I know something about the discrimination of being a disabled person. I know something of what it’s like deal with mental illness. Technically I suppose that is a mild level of intersectionality. There are people who experience this intersectionality on many more levels than this and I must listen to them in order to support their experience and not trip over my own privilege. It is hard enough as it is to negotiate the ableism I experience as an Âûtistic person, when I reflect on intersectionality and some others I know I can’t begin to comprehend what it must be like to add gender, sexual orientation and race for example onto that experience.
Whatever political correctness actually is, whatever it actually means, whether it even really exists is something I can’t really say. What I can say though is that whether it’s autistic issues, sexuality issues, gender issues, family issues, race issues, class issues, faith issues, regardless of any of these it is never just a quibble over language.