28 November, 2009

Like a person, part three

This is just messing around and may not be organized very well. But basically I'm thinking about the idea that if someone has a disability other people are supposed to be okay with them doing things that they wouldn't be okay with otherwise. This idea can be seen on the Internet, when people vigorously attack the strawman of "people who pretend to have Asperger's as an excuse to be assholes." The implication is that it's okay to act like an asshole if you really do have Asperger's but we have to be careful to keep people who don't have Asperger's from getting this special Asperger's right that non-Asperger's people don't deserve.

Last month when I went to an Edinburgh and Lothians Asperger's Society meeting, this idea was taken for granted again. We were talking about police harassment of ASD people. One guy shared how he walks around a lot at night, and was stopped by the police several times and questioned about his "suspicious behavior." He almost got in trouble because his answers to the questions were too literal and the police thought he was being rude. Everyone began talking about how police could be trained not to treat ASD people badly. Then another guy spoke up and said that in some areas people with ASDs have a badge that identifies them as ASD, and that they can produce the badge if they are in this kind of situation. He said he thought this was a good solution "because if someone looks suspicious and the police are questioning them, they might say they're autistic as an excuse." The implication is that if someone "looks suspicious" and their reason for looking that way is not a diagnosed disability, they must actually be suspicious.

I disagree. What if someone is a little odd, but doesn't have ASD? What if they look suspicious because their husband just died and they're in shock? What if they have undiagnosed ASD? I generally think that people are not very good at judging what "suspicious behavior" looks like, and while ASD people are one group that gets fucked over by this, we're not the only group. It's not necessary for the police to be harsh on people just because they look weird, and it's ridiculously medical-model to make people prove that they have a good reason for looking weird, instead of for the police to just approach weird-looking people in a gentle way instead of making snap judgments.

I think the reason there's all this guarding of ASD identity, and panic about people using it when they supposedly don't have a right to, is there's this idea that if someone has ASD it's okay for them to go around punching people in the nuts and robbing banks. At least, that's the way people act about it--that if we accepted a wider range of behavior, then we'd have TOTAL CHAOS. But I am not okay with anyone hurting other people and I don't care if they have a disability or not. I think a lot of people feel this way. Which is why the whole thing is stupid.

I'm not doing a good job explaining this and will maybe come back to it later, but I have two stories that I think are interesting:

1. When I was in ninth grade, I was friends/sort-of-girlfriends with a girl named "Joan" (not really). She frequently said and did things that were really mean and really rude, but it never, ever seemed to come out of malice, just from not thinking about what she was doing. Like me, Joan didn't really have a sense for what was hurtful and had to put in effort, and at that point, she didn't put in the effort very much. (She has a diagnosis of ADD and I'm hesitant to start armchair-diagnosing her with other stuff; she was under a lot of pressure at that age and that may account for how easily she got upset and how insensitive she could be to other people.)

Anyway, Joan really wanted to see the movie Saved and she sent me a link to the website. I went and looked at the website. When I was younger, loud noises really upset me and made me feel embarrassed, so I had an aversion to watching videos or listening to music, or really doing anything that involved sound if I didn't have to. I also really don't like to watch videos or listen to music when other people are around and I think I may have looked at the website when I was at school so that's another reason I didn't watch the trailer. But neither of this is the whole reason--another part may just be that I was in reading/looking at things mode, and didn't want to switch to a watching things mode. This was all very unconscious stuff and I didn't consciously think about my decision to not watch the trailer. But for the record, it was an ASD thing.

I told Joan that the movie looked good, and she assumed I had watched the trailer. A few days later at school, she made a reference to something that was in the trailer, and when I didn't get the reference, she was really mad; she felt that I had lied to her. She brought me to the school computer lab, where there were some people, and started to make me watch the trailer, and I panicked and left. Later, Joan wasn't talking to me and I (tearfully, probably) kept trying to get her to stop being mad. I'm not sure I was even conscious of why I didn't want to watch the trailer, so it was hard to explain that I had acted out of discomfort and panic rather than because I didn't care about her interest in the movie. However, I guess at some point she realized that it was related to me having Asperger's, and said, "Oh, it's an Asperger's thing?" At that point no one was in the computer lab, so I steeled myself and watched the trailer with her, and we were reconciled.

If you can't tell, what you are supposed to get out of this story is that if someone does something that you find insulting, but the person really likes you and doesn't seem like they would want to insult you, and they seemed to be very emotional and acting out of instinct when they did the thing that insulted you, you probably shouldn't be insulted because they probably had a reason for doing it that had nothing to do with you. And in my opinion, it's dumb for you to need to know what the reason is in order to not be mad at them, because there isn't only one possible good reason for doing something. If I had an aversion to movie trailers for some other reason, would Joan be justified in treating me that way? I don't think so.

2. For about a year, my best friend A.T. and I have been talking about maybe living together after college. This summer we were doing something or other in the city and while we were walking around, A.T. discovered that I thought it was feasible to drive from New York to Washington state, and said "Are you joking?" This isn't actually the whole thing; it's sort of the last straw. Basically A.T. is good at cooking and taking public transportation and finding her way around and I am really incompetent at all of those things and almost always rely on her to guide me through them when we are together. And sometimes I ask questions that she thinks are shockingly stupid.

As we were getting on the train to go to her house, A.T. said that the only reason she was sort of leery about living with me was that I had so little common sense and wasn't able to find my way around. She said that she could never rely on me to meet her anywhere, and would always have to help me with things and worry about me getting lost. She said that since I'm a year older than her, she hoped I could work on these issues in the year between our graduations, so I would be better at it by the time we started living together. When she said this, I was all hurt and acted passive-aggressively pissy the whole time we were riding the train, and we ended up sort of having a fight.

I guess this story is not quite as clear as #1 because it's hard to tell what you're supposed to be getting out of it. Well, what I get out of it is that it's a story about me being self-pitying and thinking that I deserve special rights because of my ASD. I don't think it was appropriate for me to pick a fight with A.T. because she said those things. No matter why I have those challenges with common sense and getting around, they might be hard for someone else to live with. They don't become less challenging because I happen to have ASD. A.T. doesn't have a responsibility to be okay with things that would otherwise bother her, just because I have a disability.

What a messy post. Just like I expected. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is:

A. If someone does something that offends you, you shouldn't get mad at them if they don't have bad intentions.
B. If someone does something that's weird, you shouldn't have a negative reaction if they're not doing something objectively bad.
C. If someone does something that bothers you--not because you think they're being "weird" or "offensive," but something quantifiable that they do that bothers you--it's okay for you to say that it bothers you and try to avoid being bothered by it in the future.
D. You should apply these rules to everyone.


  1. I don't see any self-pitying about #2. I see you facing the facts, and those facts can change. Well, A.T. thought they could, but she is probably right to follow her instincts. They don't become more challenging, either. They just are.

    There are other ways to pick up if a movie is good: which is to say, not the trailer. Also, the first minutes of a movie don't always tell a lot.

  2. I thought it was self-pitying of me to have that reaction, as if A.T. was trying to insult me. I really don't like people who don't allow other people to be straightforward about what they think because they make a big deal out of how "hurt" they are by things. It's perfectly all right for her to think that I'm too much to deal with, and to tell me so.