04 July, 2011

bad brains making bad decisions

(from bad brains making bad decisions)

First off, it's really hard not to write about sex because:

1. The other day I read all the comments in an article about a British guy with an intellectual disability who had been ruled by a judge not to be qualified to have sex. Some of the comments were by people who had worked with people with ID, and were saying things like, "When people with ID have sex, they can't handle it emotionally and they go from partner to partner and get very upset."

2. When I was 15 or 16, I read this livejournal flamewar that I'll always remember. Basically, a woman who was into BDSM, who had kids with autism, suggested that people with autism shouldn't be doms because they wouldn't be able to tell if their partners didn't like what they were doing. Other people said that if this was an issue, the couple should use safewords; the woman replied that she didn't believe in safewords because you should be able to tell how the other person feels.

What do these two incidents tell us (besides that parents and staff are assholes and should never talk)? Well, one thing that stands out to me is that both people talking are implying that there's a standard everyone should meet in order to be able to do a certain thing. If you want to have sex, you have to not become distraught by it, or be reckless in entering into affairs and relationships. If you want to be a dom, you have to be able to tell if your partner doesn't like what you're doing, without them saying so.

But...for some reason, this standard is only being applied to people with disabilities.* No one is calling for immature and overemotional non-disabled people to be banned from having sex, and presumably the woman who was so concerned about autism and BDSM doesn't go around telling non-disabled couples that they shouldn't be doing BDSM if they happen to not be able to read each other's body language.

(*It should go without saying that I don't think either of these judgments about developmentally disabled people is true. But even if they were it still wouldn't be fair.)

By the way I was semi-joking because now I'm going to talk mostly as a staff person, oh noes. During training for my job at summer camp working with adults, we were being given a talk about making sure guys shave, or making sure you shave them if they can't do it. Our boss said, "Nothing makes me angrier than seeing a person with a disability walking down the street with a stain on their shirt and stubble."

But nothing makes me angrier than the idea that if a disabled person doesn't look conventionally put-together, that is a PROBLEM and they're not receiving adequate support.

Let's say a disabled guy gets out of bed in the morning and decides not to shave because he's lazy, or because he thinks stubble looks cool, or because he only shaves when he's going to be kissing his girlfriend that day (haha, double panic, disabled people who are lazy AND kiss). He puts on a stained shirt because even though it's stained, it has his favorite movie character on it, or it belonged to his brother who he really likes, or it's comfortable for someone with his particular sensory issues.

All good decisions. Well, not necessarily good decisions. I personally think stained clothes are 100% gross and would never wear them. But these are decisions that a non-disabled guy might make, and no one would seriously respond with, "Someone ought to be taking better care of him." Yes, this ties into the privilege checklist.

Dave Hingsburger made a post last week called Offering, respecting...a huge difference, in which he talked about the difference between "offering choices"--i.e., choosing the set of choices a person can choose between--and respecting any choices a person makes. "Relationships, yes ... kissing, no; movies, yes ... boozing, no; celery, yes ... smoking, no." To me, saying a person can either be cleanshaven or have a beard is offering choices; saying a person can have whatever kind of facial hair they want is respecting choices.

As I was thinking about this I started thinking...well, for me as a staff person there's probably a limit. I mean, if someone never wanted to brush their teeth I would make that very difficult for them. Which I was thinking made sense, because brushing your teeth is just...well, it's not just about how you look, you have to do it.

But then I remembered when my friend found out that her non-disabled boyfriend hadn't brushed his teeth in weeks. Her reaction (and mine) was, "That's gross," but neither of us thought that someone else should start making him brush his teeth. I think there's a very small number of things that non-disabled people could do to get the reaction, "Someone else should be taking care of you because your actions are so incorrect." Most of the examples I can think of have to do with not eating, self-injury and suicide attempts, and addictions.

One of the commenters on Dave Hingsburger's post did bring up the issue of people having preferences in the short term that don't fit into their long-term plans, which I think is important. I just feel weird about brushing teeth now.


  1. Oh, I had that "They've got to be shaved" experience when I worked on a Summer camp for disabled people. It is so totally stupid to shave someone who doesn't want to get shaved. And of course, you can extrapolate this to everything that is not really a problem.

  2. I wonder if the shaving requirements holds also for females and their legs, once they are old enough to "need" it? Since that is as much a cultural standard as a shaved face on a male.

    This is part of why I worked so hard to learn to type. It is unfair that I be subject to humiliating, painful, and senseless things just because my objections would be in the form of screaming instead of typed words.

    Any objection is an objection, it shouldn't require words to be acknowledged. Non-autistic people are SUPPOSED to be so highly-skilled in non-verbal communications, so why do they demand words before they will listen? It makes no sense to me.

  3. Ari that's a really important idea. One thing I've had people be really hostile to me over was that I suggested that if people are refusing (or have refused) psych drugs or "treatment" that it is not okay to force them on it just because they can't currently object in the way you want them to. Rejecting an idea beforehand or even pushing away a drug that's being handed to you seems like a pretty clear refusal to me, but according to a lot of people it doesn't count.

    That seems pretty basic to me, but if someone is sitting in one spot crying for multiple hours every day (or whatever "nonfunctional" thing) then people start getting mean if I say to still respect that person's choices.