09 September, 2011

Your feelings are the feelings of a dick

Mourning people who are alive is fucked up. Fact! Members of the international brethren of people who are not dicks have been talking about this for fucking ever. Most of us are disabled though, especially when it comes to mourning people with autism. So try to understand how AMAZING Tom Fields-Meyer's post on Motherlode, the New York Times parenting blog, is.

Poor Fields-Meyer had the nerve to write a book about raising a son with autism, in which he outright says that he didn't grieve for his imaginary non-disabled child. After being encouraged to grieve by a counselor:

I had no instinct to mourn. I had carried no conscious notion of what my children would be like — boys or girls, tall or short, conventional or a bit odd. I planned only to love them.

Fields-Meyer was obviously dealing with some difficult stuff and doesn't make an effort to hide it, but nonetheless, after Lisa Belkin quoted him in Motherlode she got a comment from someone "bristling over the whole assertion that [Fields-Meyer] never needed to mourn...as a fellow autism parent, I can’t help feeling that a piece of this story was brushed aside because it didn’t fit the feel-good theme." Yeah, fuck you, Tom Fields-Meyer! How dare you feel different from how someone else thinks everyone feels?

Fields-Meyer wrote a pretty sweet guest post on Motherlode where he basically defends his lack of mourning. He doesn't tell anyone what they should be doing or feeling, but he doesn't really make it sound like not mourning is just an emotional reaction. It's a principle.

I had always believed that the biggest mistakes parents make happen because a mother or (more often) a father is disappointed by the way a child is turning out. Over the years, I’d seen acquaintances whose parents wanted them to be doctors, or wanted them to go into the family business, or didn’t want their child to be gay. These parents saw their children as damaged goods because the child wasn’t what they’d had in mind. I just never wanted to be that parent.

The international brethren of people who aren't dicks rejoiced. But what did everyone else do?

I'm sorry to tell you that sometimes I read the Twitter of someone whose Twitter I shouldn't read. It makes life awful. Sometimes it puts me in a bad mood for the rest of the day. Anyway, I was moseying along reading this person's Twitter, when my bad mood arrived!

The person and their friends were talking about how "skeptical" they were that Tom Fields-Meyer wasn't lying about his emotional reaction to having a disabled child, and insisting that they "weren't bad parents for saying it's hard." Did anyone say they were bad parents? Did anyone say it wasn't hard? (But you know that.) Basically Fields-Meyer gets turned into this GUILT MONSTER who's yelling at parents who grieve--parents who, I have to say, started this whole thing by accusing him of lying about his own feelings. Eventually the parents settled down a little--like, "Well, I guess it's okay for him to feel that way as long as no one is saying or implying anything negative about parents who grieve, or being judgmental about other parents' reactions."

Oh thank God. Those poor parents who grieve can't even step out the door without the vast throngs of judgmental parents who don't grieve just railroading over them and accusing them of being bad parents who don't understand how 100% footloose and fancy free it is to raise a kid with a disability. I am so sorry guys. Life is TOUGH.

This scenario doesn't really sound like anything I've ever seen in my life--like I said, the international brethren of people who aren't dicks is not a big group of people, especially when it comes to parent membership. But you know what, even if it was? No one has the right to have everyone agree with and support everything they do. Having a disabled kid doesn't give you that right and neither does anything else. People are allowed to disagree with you--both in a fairly gentle way where they just say that they prefer to do things differently, and by telling you that you're a major dick for doing things the way you do.

I personally feel that grieving for a person who is alive is fucked up, just like lots of other feelings that people have. I believe that there are feelings that are WRONG. Now, I am Christian, so I may talk about these things in a different way from people who aren't Christian, but what I mean is that we all are bad inside and have bad feelings, and sometimes we have to recognize a bad feeling and treat it like one. Some examples off the top of my head:

I hate waiting in line. Sometimes I want to scream or break something because I'm frustrated in line. Even when I'm not that worn out, I still can feel kind of angry at the other people in line, even though they're not doing anything bad to me. These are bad feelings and I shouldn't tell everyone in line that I'm mad at them.

Some people who don't know anyone who is trans might feel nervous and self-conscious upon meeting a trans person for the first time, or be consumed with nitpicky questions about how to treat the person "correctly." When you're in this situation, you wouldn't tell the person how uncomfortable you feel that they're trans, nor I hope would you go around telling a bunch of other people how uncomfortable you are. It's pretty rude and is going to make the awkwardness much worse.

A teenager sometimes feels jealous of her brother with a terminal illness, because he gets so much attention. She can't help how she feels, but is it reasonable? Would it be fair for her to talk about it constantly and insist that everyone around her validate her feeling?

And to return to an example that Fields-Meyer briefly touched on--some parents mourn when they find out their kid is gay. It's not necessarily as dramatic as disowning the kid. They just feel really sad because they thought they were going to have a straight kid who would do certain things, and now they have a gay kid who is going to do things differently.

How do people who don't consider themselves anti-gay think about these feelings?

People admit to having them. People admit to being sad and having to adjust, but ultimately these feelings are something to get past, and they are fucked up. They are feelings that come from living in an anti-gay society, and they are anti-gay feelings--the feelings of a world that wants everyone to be straight. Those feelings don't make you evil, but they are something awkward, something that can cause distance and a failure to connect with the real child--something to surmount. These feelings definitely aren't elevated as something parents have to have to have a valid experience. You wouldn't, I hope, accuse someone of being dishonest because they said they didn't mourn for their gay child.

I don't condemn anyone for having particular feelings but there is an obvious distinction between having feelings that are ableist--that come from a world that wants everyone to be non-disabled--and blaring those feelings in public with a self-righteousness that almost looks like pride. There's a difference between saying, "Wow, this blows, I'm having these awful feelings," and saying, "I have these feelings, and so does everyone, and don't ever judge me for having them or even make me think that you might be judging me." Because once you're doing things the second way, you're not just having the feelings, you're treating them like they're sacred. Like your right not to feel guilty for having picked up some ableism in your life trumps everyone else's right to be anti-ableist, or have opinions about parenting, or have opinions about anything that might involve you being wrong.

But okay guys, I have to talk about the guilt thing now. You can't even handle feeling guilty for a second on the Internet because some other guy might be "more self-actualized" than you are. You can't handle someone telling you that your feelings, although real, do not make sense. You can't handle someone like me coming out and saying, hey! Your feelings are bad!

If you can't handle that much guilt and judgment, how do you think you would deal with the guilt of being a disabled kid whose parents publicly talk about the fact that they expected a non-disabled kid and were heartbroken not to get one? Whose parents constantly defend their right to feel that way even when other people point out the dangers of nursing and normalizing those reactions?

I admit that most of this post has been making fun of you, because I've lived with guilt for too long to have patience for people who can't handle it. But I sincerely urge you to think about it, if you are one of those people and you somehow ended up here.


  1. The funniest thing about this whole situation (to me) is that Tom Fields-Meyer is actually the parent of an autistic person, which, by the standard these people normally use, should entitle him to say whatever the fuck he wants without censure. But no, apparently that standard only applies if the parent says the kinds of things "autism parents" are expected to say (e.g. "autism stole my child").

  2. Ah, the whole thing about how autism is viewed, the 'autism as Big Bad Monster', it really sucks. I feel it's the one big thing that if we could change, it would make such a difference. There are plenty of parents out there who DON'T look on autism as a 'tragedy', who are just quietly getting on with their lives, but we don't usually hear about them cos of the loud bleating of the others.

  3. This reminds me of how when parents who support neurodiversity make public their views they are often attacked by those parents who don't,and forced to defend themselves. I am also of the view that children shouldn't have to feel their parents would love them more if they were not autistic.

  4. "like I said, the international brethren of people who aren't dicks is not a big group of people, especially when it comes to parent membership" Ouch.

    I liked this post a lot. I especially liked the tie in to parents grieving about gay children.

    It made me think.

  5. wow, what a SWEET parent! I hope you don't think this is patronizing but I love that you like this post!

  6. I am going to share this with my mom, who apparently is part of the international brethren of people who aren't dicks. Though some of the other Autism parents might think she is, because she actually DID yell at someone for assuming she mourned me and tried to guilt her into saying it...