Not long ago, some autism advocates created the “Not Afraid” campaign for solidarity and acceptance. We were to take “selfies” holding up a sign declaring ourselves as autistic or ally, and unafraid. The image I made was of myself at my powerful graphics computer; the monitor displayed the words “I have Autism and I’m Not Afraid to use it.” I didn’t follow the instructions precisely; I had my own message. I believe the phrase is original to me, although I’ve seen it picked up here and there since then.
I’ve never been good about following instructions precisely. The crap poured on me (not by anyone who actually worked on the project, btw) for daring to publicly declare my possession of my neural wiring pattern instead of being identified by it had unpleasant echoes. Thought police come in every stripe. I’ve stood up as a makeup-wearing dom bisexual against gender warriors who took it on themselves to dictate naturalwomyn-only reciprocity in everything including my bedroom. Before that I stood up against family members who used their own forms of violence and coercion. I’ve stood up for my identity against self- and societally-appointed authorities all my life.
I’ve paid my dues on the right to assert that everyone is entitled to his or her words; I’ve worked with sister- and brother-abuse survivors until I burned out from it. It was a burnout well-earned, and although I’d never repeat those years of service in the trenches, I treasure the lessons learned. I grew up in an abusive household; because I’d never had the chance to know better, I married into one. I barely survived, but emerged understanding one thing clearly: those who claim the right to control your language will never be satisfied. It’s not about the language, it’s about the control. Words are the cracks in their walls where the light of independent thought comes in. They defend their crumbling citadels, however meager and pathetic, with the cruelest of weapons: they declare that you are hurting everything you love by failing to follow their dictates. One must obey or be responsible for the damage done by The Common Enemy. It can be the enemy of a family, a sex, a gender orientation, a neurological condition, or a state.
This is an oppressor’s tool; martinets integrate it well when they insist they’re victims. They often are. Pain is passed on in an unending chain; the weapon, the wound, and the spirit become fused. The most effective manipulators drown you in shared injury that they insist on an exclusive right to define, while denying the validity of your divergent experience. They can’t bear that you have any place in yourself that belongs to you alone; the affront is even crueler if you dare to speak of that space in your own voice.
I choose when I [have] autism (object of mine)—when I use it as a tool of rigorous, self-disciplined thought, and when I [am] autistic (subject to autism)—being in myself, stimming, mesmerized by a tiny thing encompassing universes, flooding with ideas. Both are conditions necessary to my being. They may be concurrent, or not. Would-be despots may say what they like; I equally may ignore it. I use my intellectual machinery to combat the Will to Control wherever I find it. No one has the right to deprive me of that. It’s mine; I’ve fought for it through some dark places. Trust me—I’m not afraid to use it.
Asp in the Garden