I can pretty much tell that I'm wasting my time talking to a parent if he or she says something like, "I have a child with autism. I love him with all my heart. I could never, possibly be bigoted against people with autism. It's very cruel and hurtful for you to say that!"
Because here's the thing. I'm autistic. I can be bigoted against autistic people. I'm gay. I can be bigoted against gay people. When I was visiting my parents, and volunteers from a gay rights group came to the door, my dad rolled his eyes, in front of his openly gay son, and said, "I don't think we need to listen to that." When my mom told my aunt recently about my autism, my aunt immediately started talking to me about how violent autistic people are. You may think your family is better than mine, but I think these things just run deep in society, and we're part of it.
My domestic partner Max is my favorite person. He's smart, funny, handsome, sweet. He's also been in great pain for much of the past week, with an infection that required him to spend one night in the emergency room and may require additional hospitalization. As we fight these things, I think how fortunate both Max and I are that we do not have AIDS, that we are still alive.
People want to forget how many of us died.
They want to forget the murderous silence of our governments.
They want to believe that the gay men who died of AIDS in the 1980s were so promiscuous and irresponsible that they more or less deserved it.
I am reminded by the comments on this Towleroad piece on the recent death of New York City mayor Ed Koch that there are many gay men who want to believe that their brothers who died, who are still dying of the plague, were totally alien from themselves. I'm guessing that lots of those guys would respond like those parents who drive me crazy do: "I can't possibly be bigoted against gay men. I'm gay. But those guys died because they were irresponsible."
My friend Dean, who died when I was 25, was infected by his first boyfriend when he was sixteen. Not in a bathhouse. Not with drugs. Young love. And he died. He was a good guy, so much nicer than me, would have made the world so much brighter.
He was not garbage.
He did not deserve to die.
And no one deserved to die as David France describes gay men dying by the thousands in New York City:
We regularly received phone calls from St. Vincent patients complaining that staff members fearing the disease was airborne refused to bring them food, instead piling their trays outside their doors, or that terrified nurses wouldn’t bandage their wounds or change their soiled linens. It was like something out of a Saramago novel. I personally brought this information to Koch myself, as the first journalist with gay-media credentials to address him in a Blue Room press conference. He responded explosively. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he told me.
Those were the early days. As the epidemic mushroomed, the city’s hospitals simply ran out of space for all of the patients, and again he was silent. Deathly ill people were routinely turned away. At some hospitals, patients were lined up on gurneys along the emergency room hallways for days on end awaiting medical care that never came. When things went south, we all knew there was only one funeral home in the city — the gentle people at Redden’s on 14th Street — where we could bring our friends’ remains.
I do not recall Koch ever acknowledging these medieval conditions. He surely never took action, nor did he spare an ounce of sympathy for us in the trenches, not in public at least.
What does this have to do with autism?
Charli Devnet's piece about "The Dark Side of Aspergers" is what it looks like when members of a marginalized group have absorbed the biases of the majority:
If Adam Lanza had only destroyed himself, no one would have noticed. He would have silently departed this world, leaving “few footprints in life,” as the New York Times put it. If he had only killed his mother, well-meaning people would have shaken their heads and said exactly what they said about my neighbor, that here was another troubled young man who “snapped.” It is because Lanza exploded in such an unusual, deliberate and almost apocalyptic way, that we are so shaken. If we allow that Lanza might have been on the autistic spectrum it might help us take a candid look at the dark side of living on the spectrum.
Aspies are prey animals, said Tony Attwood at an Asperger’s conference in 2012. We are much more likely to be victims than villains. Wounded prey may, however, grow desperate and strike back. A lifetime of being bullied, rejected, and relegated to the periphery of life can give rise to anger and bitter fantasies of revenge, especially perhaps among lonely young autistics that have grown up in a culture where violence is glamorized and who may turn to perfecting their skills at violent video games in lieu of a social life.
"Self-hatred" is most common term for this, I think, but that seems wrong to me.
Autistic people and gay people, etcetera, are part of a world which is biased against us.
There is no good reason to think we should be immune from that bias, and we don't have to hate ourselves to experience it.
Max is older than I am. He has been openly gay for about as long as I have been alive. He has fought courageously and successfully for our rights. He was one of the first who got top security clearance when President Clinton reversed the ban on gay people having it in the 1990s. And he still carries bias against gay people
I disagreed when people went to court to try to get Proposition 8 overturned after it made same-sex marriage illegal in our state. I like elections, and I think ultimately minority groups win by making elections stronger, not by trying to undo them when we don't like the way they go. But what happened in the trial was that gay people laid out the difference that having full access to marriage made in their lives, in their status, in the eyes of their families.
Max is my domestic partner. It is not yet legal for him to be my husband. And he needed that trial to understand that separate but equal is not okay. He needed legal testimony to lose that piece of his bias against people like himself, after decades of fighting for our rights.
Think about that.
And don't tell yourself that you can't be biased against autistic people because you are one, or because you are related to one.
Please contact WFTV out of Florida and let them know that it is not acceptable to link autism and violence, as they did in a story on local responses to the Sandy Hook shootings. The unnamed reporter follows the lead of Orange County Capt. Angelo Nieves and suggests that Adam Lanza's autism was a factor in the crimes:
"Crisis intervention ... working with school records, administrative issues, and I believe that autism is also one of the topics that will be covered," said Nieves, referring to the training course.
Adam Lanza, 20, was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. He's the man investigators said killed 20 school children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month.
If a situation arises in which a person with autism is involved, a better understanding of autism might help deputies diffuse the situation while avoiding or minimizing violence.
Please let the station know that linking autism and violence is inaccurate and ask them to edit the story appropriately.
Update: They have deleted the most offensive parts (the last two paragraphs in the quote above)
After a tragedy happens, there is really only one thing that can bring lasting comfort. And that is knowing that we are part of a community that works. We can get past our worst days with the support of our neighbors. We can find hope when the people around us work to protect each other. We find purpose in joining them.
Today, I am proud of our autism community.
I still don't know if Adam Lanza had any kind of autism. The confirmation of a divorce mediator is better than that of classmates, but it's not conclusive. It's not surprising at all the popular media would take "autism" and run with it, that they would be careless about linking autism with violence, even though research does not tell us there is any link at all between autism and the kind of planned attack Lanza appears to be guilty of.
The strength and unity with which our community has risen up to refute those assertions and assert the humanity of autistic people is somewhat surprising.
We have seen statements from:
Amy Harmon of The New York Times talked to Emily, Alex Plank of Wrong Planet, and researcher Catherine Lord about the lack of an actual link between autism and planned violence. Emily and Priscilla Gilman wrote separate pieces for that publication.
John Elder Robison wrote for Psychology Today.
Ari Ne'eman wrote for The Jewish Weekly.
As someone who has often felt alone in pointing out the places where media stigmatizes autistic people, it has been wonderful to see this reaction.
It's amazing to see my fractured community come together and speak with one voice.
In his last debate with Mitt Romney, President Obama said:
“We're not going to eliminate everybody who is mentally disturbed and we have got to make sure they don't get weapons."
Melissa Harris-Perry takes him to task for wrongly blaming gun violence on the mentally ill, who are much more likely to be victims of gun violence than to perpetrate it, in the video open letter above. It is similar to this letter Kassiane wrote in the aftermath of the Aurora shootings.
Maybe we could get MHP to set her MSNBC colleague Joe Scarborough straight.
He did, however, email a pathetic statement to Mediaite:
During a debate regarding the recent Colorado shootings, I suggested that the Aurora tragedy should make Americans focus more on mental health in this country. I also stated that my own experiences raising a son with Aspergers made me keenly aware of how important strong support systems are to those who might otherwise be isolated.
The growing Autism epidemic is a tremendous burden for children, parents and loved ones to endure. My call for increased funding and awareness for Autism and other mental health conditions was meant to support the efforts of those who work every day to improve the lives of Americans impacted. Those suggesting that I was linking all violent behavior to Autism missed my larger point and overlooked the fact that I have a wonderful, loving son with Aspergers. Perhaps I could have made my point more eloquently.
I look forward to continuing my work with wonderful organizations like Autism Speaks to provide badly needed support to millions of Americans who struggle with Autism every day.
Does Scarborough understand that statements like his actually hurt autistic people?
Does Autism Speaks?
Will that organization choose to distance itself from his comments or will they continue to embrace the idea of demonizing autistic people?