18 August, 2010

The fictional diagnostics explosion

(this post kind of went off the rails, sorry)

There is a space between visible disability and being normal. Before you start going off about how no one is normal, blah blah blah, I'd like to remind you that some people have to constantly worry about whether they're going to fuck up, some people have to go through periods of their lives (or their whole lives) without friends, some people feel that they can't express who they really are to anyone--and despite the fact that they're faking really hard, people still think they're weird. It's cool that you have a tattoo or whatever alternative thing you have, but if you don't have to worry about this stuff, then you are normal. Sorry.

Where was I? Yeah. There's a space where you are not normal and you either actually succeed in hiding it (at great personal cost) or you do a shitty job hiding it, and other people don't treat you very well.

The best part is sometimes you actually tell someone you have ASD, and even if it's a person who has always hated you for being so weird, the response is:

"You couldn't possibly have that. You're SO NORMAL. You're just using that as an excuse because I can tell you're really really normal. Everyone's a little bit different from each other but that doesn't mean they have ~AUTISM~. You're just saying that because you want to be unique or you don't want to be held accountable for your actions."

(This last part is really funny because disabled people have a ton of stuff stacked against us, so being openly disabled is probably the last way you'd try to get out of anything.)

Anyway, like lots of people with invisible disabilities I am used to hearing this shit about myself, so I don't enjoy hearing it about characters for whom I have been an f.d. (remember an f.d. is a fictional diagnostician, i.e. a fan who theorizes that a character may have a particular disability). I'm not trying to say that other fans can't disagree and say, "No, I don't think so-and-so has ASD," but I do have a problem with the contemptuous response, "What are you talking about? You must have put a lot of effort into that theory--so-and-so is totally normal and definitely doesn't have ASD! ASD isn't the same as just being a little awkward!"

This is something I wrote in an email to my friend almost a year ago, when I had ventured to link Stop barging in here and infecting me with your anxiety: Pete, Peggy, and Passing on the Mad Men livejournal community, and had received some withering stock responses:

People are always posting about Pete and calling him a sociopath and a robot; it’s a perfectly accepted part of the show that he is bad with people and very odd, so it’s not just a little bit of shyness or awkwardness; he is impaired, whatever you call it. Early on in the run of the show people used to criticize the actor and say he was “trying to talk like he lived in the 60s” because he has a really strange way of talking. I just feel like people are perfectly aware that this character is really weird to a notable degree, and even insult him for that, but then when someone says “oh, kind of like Asperger’s” it’s like “where did you get THAT from?”

Mrs. Blankenship on Basket of Kisses said, "If [Pete and Peggy] represent an accurate portrayal of Asperger’s then everyone I have ever known fits the diagnosis." This makes me wonder how many people Mrs. Blankenship has met in her life. No matter what you think caused their impairments, Peggy and Pete certainly are more socially impaired than other characters (and more impaired than most people I for one know in real life). Hasn't Mrs. Blankenship ever met anyone more like Ken Cosgrove, Harry Crane (nerdy but still social), Don Draper, Joan, Sal, Rachel...anyone? Every single person she knows in real life is as socially impaired as Pete and Peggy?

I find that really hard to believe. But why would she say that? Why would she imply that Meowser and I, who are people with ASD, don't know what ASD is?

Sometimes I feel like this attitude is just more of what I discussed in part one--the idea that ASD is such an obscure, bizarre disability that no one could really have it. This might explain both why non-disabled people refuse to believe us when we disclose in real life, and why they think it is ridiculous to suggest that a TV character could have it (unless, sometimes, if the TV character is an incredibly overdramatic and unrealistic compilation of textbook ASD traits).

However, sometimes--and I admit this comes out of bitterness--I wonder if the motivation is something more sinister. Maybe people just get really attached to the idea that a certain person is lazy, creepy, "sociopathic," annoying, immature, attention-seeking, spoiled, stoned, or whatever. They like feeling superior. Maybe they even like making fun of aspects of the person that don't quite fit into any of those stereotypes--like the fact that the person moves differently. The movement may poke at something inside people's heads, a concept they've been making fun of since they were kids--like when they would call their enemies "retarded" or "special," thinking of "retarded" and "special" people as almost imaginary, since they didn't know any people who had those labels for real. They're just words. And the way people feel about this lazy, creepy, immature person who flaps their hands has nothing to do with disability at all.

an animated image of the character Pete from Mad Men, running stimmily around a room

So I sometimes think that people feel cheated out of the fun of judgment, when they find out someone like that is disabled. They feel like it's not fair. Disabled people should look disabled! They shouldn't look like people that I'm allowed to be mean to! In fact, I never would be mean to a disabled person, so I'm pretty sure you're not disabled at all!

I think the impression that ASD is very obscure is probably the main cause of the hugely energetic and contemptuous responses to Fictional Diagnostics. But I think the other one is sometimes there too. People really don't like Pete Campbell--he's a creep. His sins are not really worse than those of other characters, but he is a "weasel," he speaks too formally, he speaks too soon. People call him a creep because he pushes certain buttons. They don't want to think about what that means.


  1. "They shouldn't look like people that I'm allowed to be mean to! In fact, I never would be mean to a disabled person, so I'm pretty sure you're not disabled at all!"


    There have been a couple of people who have straight out said that I am in no way disabled and don't know what I am talking about so I basically have to cry and make a huge scene whenever I am around them to get it through there thick heads that I'm not making it up. I think it's working. It's like people never even attempt to put themselves in another persons shoes. Don't they ever wonder what it would be like to have someone elses mind and thoughts? I mean, geez. And I thought people with ASD were bad at that, I'm pretty sure it's the other way around. In your words, "they don't want to think about what that (being disabled) means."

  2. Oh yeah, congrats on being quoted in that article. I was sure I was going to vomit after reading the comments but I was actually extremely surprised at the intelligent responses of most of the commenters! Yeah, sure a few were lame, but what a huge majority of positive thoughts. Yay.

  3. This was actually really enlightening for me. I could not understand why people reacted to me this way and I think you helped me understand why.

    I wish I could think of something to say when someone tells me that I'm not really autistic. It makes me so angry but it's obvious they're ignorant--once or twice people were actually aggressive about it--but I can't think of anything except to meekly say, "Well...I am." And they refuse to accept that it's more than social awkwardness, because they don't know what autism looks like. And now I think I understand that they wanted to judge me and think that I was creepy. People do that; I've even done it before. But the difference is that when I have found out people I thought were annoying or strange had disabilities, I allowed myself to feel incredibly guilty and tried to understand the person. I suppose it's much more comfortable to shake your head and say, "You're not disabled!"

  4. Hi Amanda - The Mad Men post helped me discover your blog.

    Ick on the mean responses. I almost never read comments on the web because so many people use it as an excuse to be rude and thoughtless (and here I am commenting...)

    My sister, who has Asperger's, works really, really hard to not offend someone accidentally. When she encounters a rude person, she often says, very coolly, "I have Asperger's. What do you have?"

    This is not meant as a funny joke. Again, she works very hard. Yet there are non-disabled people who can't exert half the effort just to be respectful of other people.

  5. Oh hell to the yes.

    Like you, I have no problem at all with someone interpreting the characters differently from how I do; in fact, given my neurological wiring, I kind of expect it.

    But yeah, when non-AS people try to tell AS people that they don't know what AUTISM (love those block letters, heehee!) is, then I have to wonder who it is that really "lacks empathy." And to be perfectly honest (could I be anything else? - snerk), I don't think it's us.

    Andee (Meowser)

  6. I just bitched out one of those people on lippsisters, I don't even care. I'm hoping since one of the sisters has a kid with ASD they won't be too hard on me. :)