Allistic people, stop training autistic people into your ways of socialising – try valuing ours

[This post is an edited version of a Twitter thread I wrote on September 5th, 2019, which can be found here.]

Most allistic atempts to teach autistic people “social skills” are just attempts to teach us their social skills, with little to no reciprocal effort on their part to learn about ours.
Autistic and allistic people are each better at certain types of socialising, and each group can be said to have specific social skills. Neither group is superior to the other, despite the relentless portrayal of autistic people as having “deficits” and “social failings”.

Any allistic person who doesn’t acknowledge that autistic people do have social skills – just different ones – and that autistic people are actually, on the whole, better at some forms of communication, is ableist, by dint of prioritising allistic ways of doing things and degrading ours.
Any allistic person who denies that a thriving, intricate, and communicative autistic culture exists, even when that culture is clearly visible (particularly online) if one takes a short time out of their life to be curious, is ableist, by dint of ignoring a minority group, a minority culture that has arisen in the only place (the internet) where we can find others like us.
Any attempt to teach autistic people social skills that doesn’t involve recognising and encouraging autistic ways of socialising, that only teaches allistic ways, is merely a (possibly well-intentioned) suppression of who we are and of autistic culture.
Any allistic teacher who assumes that there is only one version of social skills, and who prioritises without question culturally-specific, era-specific, probably privileged (white, abled / neurotypical, educated, native English speaking, etc) ideas about what is socially acceptable and correct, is doing harm by treating some people’s self-expression and connection as more correct and important than others.

Allistic people, even when well-intentioned, pretty much universally fail autistic people unless they are actually listening to autistic people and allowing our lived experience to inform their actions.
Anyone who is thinking about teaching an autistic person, especially a vulnerable and impressionable autistic child, about how to socialise should ensure that they are doing so in ways informed and approved of by #ActuallyAutistic people. They should be making as much effort to learn from us as they are expecting the autistic person in question to put into learning from them.

Autistic people’s ways of socialising are as varied as allistic people’s and, just like allistic people, how we act (and interact) is informed by the culture/s and time we grow up in as well as by the individuals around us. None of us are immune to social conditioning, to absorbing the social standards of the day and parroting them back out to the society that fed them to us.
However, there are some ways of interacting that are particularly common amongst autistic people, and that I believe we are, on the whole, pretty good at:
– directness / honesty, and resistance to social pressures that encourage us to lie
– recognition of details, precision and accuracy
– being literal and straightforward, without (or with comparatively less) subtext and ambiguity
– openness to people and ideas outside of social norms, and increased resistance to arbitrary or unsubstantiated social ideas / attitudes (always looking for reasons and logic, and dismissing anything that doesn’t show them)
– somewhat significant resistance to social phenomena such as groupthink and mob mentality (not total resistance, by any means,just notable, related to the points above and below)
– strong sense of justice and morality within our relationships.
While not every autistic person will display all of these traits, and I doubt any of us express all of them all the time, they do all seem to be relatively common amongst us and worth acknowledging, perhaps even celebrating.

Allistic perceptions of autistic people are so entrenched in the idea of us being broken versions of them that they usually fail to see that, though we struggle with some things, we are actually better at some too.
It is not superior, merely accurate and nuanced, to say that autistic people are, on the whole, better at some things, equal at some, and worse at some.

Frankly, I am suspicious of most times allistic people take on teaching roles to autistic people, because so many still hold so much (hopefully subconscious) bias in favour of themselves. And so many act as though they are nobly guiding the poor little disabled people who have no skills of their own. It is both distressing and disgusting to me.

There’s nothing wrong with helping autistic people to understand the ways allistic socialising works. Sadly, a lot of us need to understand in order to be safe in this world. And learning about other people is generally a good thing anyway. But that’s the point.

That’s the whole damn point.

Allistic people generally don’t learn about us. So often, so damn often, it is all about them educating us, but not learning from us, them teaching us their ways of being but not even acknowledging that our ways exist, or treating ours as deficient and incomplete and inferior, in need of their guidance and (laughably) “understanding”. And that is what makes us unsafe, or, at least, it’s one aspect of what makes us unsafe. That dismissal of ways other than theirs, of people other than them.

If you intend to teach an autistic person about “social skills”, make damn sure that you’re including autistic social skills in there, that you’re not pathologising or punishing autistic ways of socialising (such as consistent honesty or literal interpretations / descriptions). Make sure you’re teaching yourself and the other allistic people around you about autistic ways, Do not demand we conform to your ways of socialising, that we adopt and mimic them, unless you are willing to conform to our ways. It is hypocritical, and it stinks of prejudice.

We will not be equal, or even remotely safe and free, until allistic people – all allistic people – are taught about autistic social skills just as much as autistic people are taught about allistic ones.

Oh, and if you want us to understand your ways, actually explain them (which may require considerable introspection and sociological examination on your part – no bad thing), don’t expect us to “just know”. You might be able to pick up standard ways of socialising almost automatically, but they are designed for you, by people like you. Try going to a radically different country to yours, where you don’t speak the language, and see how many of the intricacies of social norms and etiquette you understand.

Stop framing our traits, our qualities, negatively. Stop calling our honesty “brutal” and “blunt” when it’s just consistent and not wrapped in social niceties. Stop calling us “stupid” or “unresponsive” or “non-reciprocal” if we don’t respond immediately. Maybe I value taking the time to really consider what a person has said before responding to them. Maybe I need extra time to process. Maybe I’m overwhelmed and didn’t hear you (which yes, can happen in a quiet room).

And realise that every single conversation I have ever had, except ones with other autistic people, has happened in allistic ways. You have everything. The social world belongs to you and is built out of crushed autistic people.
From the basic social norm of routinely asking “How are you?” when you don’t really want to know, and lying in response instead of taking it literally and telling the truth, to the entire way conversations are structured, pretty much every single aspect of every single interaction is done your way.
Start compromising or don’t pretend you care about our equality.

For example, quite a few of us struggle with quick back-and-forth conversations. For me, they are hard to process and keep up with, especially if there are more than two of us involved. Amongst other issues, they don’t allow me time to think over what the person has said, instead placing on me an expectation of immediate response.
I prefer conversations where each person gets to talk uninterrupted for quite a while, almost like a monologue, to explore all of their thoughts until they’re finished and have no thoughts left. Then there’s a little while for us all to process and think over it, to check we’ve understood fully and ask questions, and so on. Then it’s someone else’s turn to talk and they go for as long as they need to. No-one gets interrupted, it’s unlikely two people will speak at the same time, and everyone gets to explore their thoughts fully instead of getting cut off and ending up forgetting stuff they wanted to say.
While I’m confident this would not be every autistic person’s conversational preference, and that it wouldn’t work for some people, my point is that it is mine, and I have never – not once in my entire life – got to have a conversation in this way, the way that is natural and comfortable to me. Every single conversation I have ever had has conformed to an allistic standard, and has therefore been at least a little uncomfortable for me. An uncountable number have been outright overwhelming. This should not be the case. It seems to me that, if we all truly value each other, we will take turns doing things in each others’ ways. But this is not the world I live in.

My preferred conversational style has nothing inherently wrong with it. But it is not The Allistic Way, so it gets framed as a bad thing. If I want to talk for quite a while, I’m portrayed as trying to dominate the conversation, when all I’m really doing is trying to explore my thoughts fully and provide as much context and detail as I can in order to be as clear as possible. If I want to listen for quite a while (which is just as vital a contribution to a conversation as talking), I’m apparently unresponsive or not even listening at all – the opposite of what I’m actually doing!

If you’re not autistic, you probably don’t know how distressing and painful interruptions and topic changes can feel to some of us. It feels like actual shock, as though someone has just yanked me sideways without warning and dropped me somewhere unfamiliar. All my thoughts are left back where I was before and I probably won’t be able to reach any of them, meaning most or all of them get forgotten and I’m not able to explore and express them (especially worrying when they were about very serious matters). I feel lost, like I’m floundering, like I was just ripped away from my own thoughts.
I need to be able to express all my thoughts fully if I’m ever to be able to contribute to a conversation at my full potential, and, more importantly, if I’m ever to feel comfortable and valued.

But people shut down my attempts at this conversational style so fast, and act like I’m being rude just for wanting to express things fully or listen without talking for a while. The latter is especially bizarre, since people go on about how important listening is, but then assume I’m zoned out and not listening if I do listen without interrupting for a while. Interruption seems to be such an ingrained part of allistic conversation, despite how many people complain about it.

And this is without even mentioning the times when I try to communicate with people in non-speaking, or fully non-verbal ways. This post is already long, so I won’t go into detail about those situations now. But they are…humiliating, generally.

I’m trying to show you here that, even though conversational styles that are predominantly allistic are uncomfortable, overwhelming, and sometimes even painful for me (for example, if they cause sensory overload because there are so many voices speaking over each other), I have conformed to them my whole life. Because if I don’t, it’s anything from judgement to outright rejection or abuse.
Autistic people spend our lives conforming to allistic ways of socialising / communicating, with almost zero reciprocal effort, and then allistic people have the audacity to talk about how we don’t reciprocate socially and how they have to teach us social skills.
We compromise who we are just to be safe in your world. The smallest effort you could make in return is to throw out your prejudiced notions about us not being able / willing to socialise, and actually make an effort to learn autistic social skills.

If you’re teaching autistic people allistic ways of socialising, but not teaching allistic people autistic ways…you’re just prioritising allistic ways and upholding the idea of allistic people as “normal”, default, better, right. You are maintaining the erasure of our diverse, interesting, social culture.

Guess what? That’s ableism.

A vital thing for allistic people to realise is that we often are responding, just in ways you don’t recognise or understand. If we’re truly not responding, it’s probably not because of any inherent “deficit” in us or because we’re being rude, but rather because we’re struggling to process what’s happening and what’s expected of us, because we don’t realise that what you said / did requires a response, or because we’re too exhausted from living in your world and don’t have the energy to conform to and perform reciprocity right now. Sometimes we need to rest from socialising, and that’s okay.

We do often struggle to understand allistic people and what you mean. And you struggle to understand us too. This is finally starting to be empirically proven. Autistic people are good at communicating with other autistic people. Allistic people are good at communicating with other allistic people. We’re both iffy at communicating with each other. It is a two-way thing, not a failure, incompetence or unwillingness on our part. We are both communicating, and both failing to understand the other’s communication. Which is why we both need to learn about – and from – each other, rather than it always being autistic people learning about and from allistic people.

Autistic people are not the incomplete to your whole, the deficit to your ability, the absence to your presence, the simple to your intricate. We communicate just as much as you, only differently.

And it’s okay if you don’t understand our ways straight away. I don’t blame anyone for not understanding something, especially immediately. The problem is if you pathologise, punish, or dismiss our ways, and don’t bother to learn about them and the value they can add to relationships and interactions.
Side note: diagnostic criteria are often highly outdated and stereotypical, and present a very inaccurate view of us. When someone writes about autistic people with the perspective that we’re “disordered”, they end up portraying us negatively. What a surprise.

So please, if you do genuinely care about us, about our mental health and confidence, our self-esteem and how we are viewed by others, our equality and safety, don’t get your ideas about autistic communication from diagnostic manuals, charities run by allistic people, the media, etc. And don’t teach us without first teaching yourself. Actually talk to us, and especially listen.

You will learn how communicative we are, by actually communicating with us.

And for the love of my mental health, stop treating us like crap for not making “enough” eye contact, stop touching us without our consent, stop demanding so much sensory interaction. I get that it’s important to many of you, but that doesn’t make it okay to force it on us or to punish us for not forcing ourselves into it. So many autistic people have written about these things already, so I won’t go on about this. Just remember that eye contact, physical contact, and other such things add even more things for me to process, thereby making it harder for me to process what you’re saying and more likely that I’ll get sensory overload quite quickly. It can be painful. Don’t you dare act like I’m being rude, not listening, not caring just because I refuse to be in pain for you.

Let us have boundaries. Let us have consent. Let us do what we need to do in order to participate effectively and be safe.

And there is one thing that applies to all of us, autistic and allistic: apply these ideas to other communities too. Don’t treat people of colour, non-native English speakers, other disabled / neurodivergent people, poor people, etc as though their communication is lesser and as though they need to be taught, but not learned from. Value everyone’s communication, not just that of the people who are most socially accepted.

My mind, my mind’s mind, and meta-emotion – thinking about how I think

I often find myself thinking on two levels at once. One part of my mind is directly engaging with whatever situation I’m in, and the other part is overseeing the first part and analysing my responses to things.

So, for example, if I’m in a conversation and someone talks while I’m talking, my “first mind” might feel annoyed and think that they’re speaking over me.
My “second mind” is, almost instantly, analysing that thought and feeling, and questioning whether it is justified, whether I perceived the situation accurately or jumped to a conclusion, whether there are other possibilities for what occurred.

This happens in almost all situations; that was just an example.

I have the direct thoughts and feelings about the situation, and the indirect analysis of my own thoughts and feelings. I am almost constantly questioning why I think and feel the way I do, whether my understanding of situations is accurate, what I might be missing or misinterpreting.

I suspect this might be linked to being autistic, because autistic people have our ways of thinking and feeling hyper-analysed, and we are trained to be critical of how we respond to things. That could lead to me constantly analysing myself, questioning whether I’m doing things “right” or not.

Though it’s not all a bad thing. Sometimes I’m not criticising myself; I’m just checking myself. This is increasingly true as my mental health, self-esteem, and understanding of my autistic mind improve.

Analysing the way I respond to things can be very helpful. I gain a better understanding of myself, am more likely to recognise it if I jump to conclusions or think / feel in biased ways, and so on. It doesn’t mean I’ll always catch those things, but I reckon I’m more likely to if I’m analysing myself, rather than just allowing all my responses to things to go unquestioned.

I suspect that it also comes from having spent a lot of time in social justice spaces. Critiquing (and, concerningly often, over-criticising) ourselves is encouraged in those spaces. I do think that has increased my self-analysis.

So I’m not sure that it’s inherent to being autistic, but I do think it could be more common amongst autistic people, as we are trained to analyse / criticise our own thoughts and feelings far more than most people are, as a result of ableism devaluing our ways of thinking / feeling. And because a lot of us end up in social justice spaces, which also promote self-analysis.

I was also wondering whether this is one of the things that leads to allistic people perceiving us as “emotionally detached” and not engaged in what’s happening around us. This self-analysis that I’m frequently doing is certainly one reason why I don’t always display much outward emotion. My energy and focus are both split in two, with a big part of each going toward my self-analysis, which is entirely internal and so not seen by other people. I am generally still aware of and engaged in the situation; it’s just that, with so much of my energy and focus being used internally, it’s not available to be used for facial expressions, comments, and so on.

Overall, I’m glad I do this. It can lead to me being overly critical of myself and to me overthinking about whether I am responding to things “correctly”. But, so long as I stay away from people who promote that sort of self-harm (yes, overly criticising myself is a form of self-harm), it can be a good thing.

It’s a helpful tool for understanding myself and others, for recognising if I am limiting my own insights into something by making assumptions. It gets me to think about things in multiple ways instead of singularly, and helps me to assess whether I ham approaching topics, people, situations, etc with an open-mind and a useful attitude. It helps me to grow and to recognise both what I am doing well and what I need to work on more. And it gives me a more insightful, nuanced relationship with myself.

So, questions:
– Do you do this? I’m interested in hearing from both autistic and allistic folks.
– Do you often find yourself simultaneously experiencing a situation, and analysing how you’re experiencing and affecting it? Do you frequently examine or question your responses to things?
– Do you think this is more common amongst autistic folks? If so, do you think it’s inherent to our way or thinking, or that it’s caused by hyper-analysis / criticism of our ways of thinking and feeling?

I found this article that kinda relates to this topic. I don’t understand it totally, but I do think it’s interesting and I’d like to see other autistic folks’ perspectives on this topic.

Passing is not a privilege – it comes with costs no privileged people pay

Content warning: mentions of various manifestations of prejudice (e.g. harassment, assault, discrimination, etc). There is nothing graphic. Mental health issues, self-suppression. Mention of self-harm (nothing graphic).

I dislike the term ‘passing privilege’. In the context of marginalisation, the word ‘privilege’ usually refers to advantages conferred upon individuals simply because they are not part of any marginalised groups, and to them being able to avoid things like discrimination, hate crimes, and similar things based on their identity.

The phrase ‘passing privilege’ – whether it is someone passing as abled / healthy / neurotypical, as cisgender / endosex / straight, as white, or anything else along those lines – refers to someone who is part of a marginalised group (e.g. the neurodivergent community) being perceived as part of the corresponding privileged group (in that case, neurotypicals) by others.

The thing is, while this can definitely enable the individual to avoid various forms of oppression simply because people won’t think to throw such harm at them, it is definitely not the same as having systematic privilege. And it feels like it is erasing the struggles that people who are able to and who choose to pass do have, to call their situation privilege.

For starters, not every neurodivergent person wants to pass as neurotypical (I’m going to keep using neurodivergent / neurotypical as an example, but this can apply to other situations too). Some people feel positive about their neurodivergence and want to be perceived as they are. In their case, being perceived as neurotypical would be in itself a kind of suppression of their identity.

Even if they don’t want it, though, passing as neurotypical would still gain them some benefits. Neurotypical people are not discriminated against in education, employment, housing, and so on based on their neurology. Neurotypical people do not face harassment from people they know, from strangers, and from “professionals” based on their neurology. Neurotypical people are usually able to move through the world with less fear, less assault, less expectation (often outright demand) for them to prove themselves and justify themselves. They are allowed to exist in public spaces – true, there are no laws specifically against neurodivergent people existing in public spaces, but the simple fact that so many of those spaces are inaccessible and harmful to us can feel like all of those places are putting signs up saying “No neurodivergent people allowed.”.

Passing as neurotypical can gain you at least some of these benefits. That is true.

But it comes at such a cost.

The cost is fear. Constant fear, worry, stress. That you will be found out. That anyone – someone you know, or just a stranger, could notice something “off” about you and figure out that you’ve neurodivergent, and it could all come crumbling down.

The cost is hiding. Constant self-suppression. Monitoring every tiny action, from whether you’re breathing too fast / too noticeably (a sign of anxiety) to whether you’re “walking funny” or standing in an unusual position, or hunching over. Do I look sad? Do I look scared? While these are just emotions, the neurodivergent among us know how quickly they can lead to intrusive questions (no, I am not just referring to people asking if we’re okay; that’s fine) or to negative judgement. Am I sitting right? Am I moving too much, or too little? Will it be obvious if I dissociate, or hallucinate? Are my self-harm marks showing? Suppressing the compulsions, suppressing all the good and bad things that could mark us as different. Suppressing the communication devices that are so helpful to us, like echolalia and stimming. Suppressing so much of who we are and what we experience, because if we don’t suppress every single bit of it, if even a tiny amount slips through, we could be found out, and we could lose all that we have gained.

The cost is self-respect. There have been times when I have tried to pass, not just as neurotypical but as other things too. It makes me feel dirty, and dishonest, and feels dangerously akin to self-harm. Well, self-suppression is a form of self-harm, even if it is done for a good reason. All marginalisation, all suppression of who someone is, is harm, including if it comes from oneself. It hurts. And it allows shame to creep back in. While shame can certainly be a problem for me when I’m not passing, I find it particularly insidious at times when I am self-suppressing in an attempt at passing. Because in those times, I am basically mirroring ableism. I might know inside that I am trying to pass for good reasons, not because I am shaming myself. But if I am mirroring the same behaviours (hiding my neurodivergent traits) that I would do if I genuinely did feel ashamed, it can still be all too easy for that shame to creep back in. And on top of all the shame that I used to feel, back when I was still so ashamed of who I am, now that I have more self-acceptance and more links to my wonderful neurodivergent community, trying to pass feels like letting down my community as well as myself. I know that a lot of them wouldn’t dream of shaming me for it, and wouldn’t view it as me letting them down. But that thought is still there. There is immense pressure on marginalised people to always be ambassadors for our communities. And I do want to represent my people, to show the joy and worth of neurodivergence, to neurotypical people who need to learn, but even more so to other neurodivergent people who need to see that freedom and self-acceptance are possible. Trying to pass feels like I am denying myself and others representation.

The cost is exhaustion. All of that fear, all of that stress, all of that self-suppression…it takes a toll. Of course it does. No-one could deal with all that, day-in, day-out, and not be exhausted. It feels like being worn to the born, like being so done, like you just can’t keep doing it. It leads to burnout, a significant problem for many of us (that can happen as a result of many things, including constant self-modification).

The cost is isolation. Isolation from your communities because they sometimes perceive you as “not one of them”. Isolation because you worry that if your family, your colleagues, anyone finds out that you are going to mental health support groups or that you interact with autistic self-advocates online, this exhausting image that you have so carefully cultivated will break, and you won’t be able to pass anymore. And of course, you cannot publicly participate in any discussions about neurodivergence, because if you do…you lose your ability to pass. Which means that you can rarely contribute to the important conversations, to public projects or acceptance / awareness campaigns or most other things that can make a real difference. You have less impact on your own life, because you cannot contribute as yourself. You either have to lie (which, to me at least, feels wrong and icky and painful), or you just don’t contribute at all, and watch as other members of your communities bond with each other and create positive change together.

The cost is the time it takes to unlearn self-suppression. I expect that every single one of us has aspects of this to unlearn. But when we are forcing ourselves into suppression, as well as receiving suppression from the world, it can be even harder. And it brings its own host of issues. There are some situations where we actually need to appear “neurodivergent enough”. When we’re trying to get accommodations, accessibility, benefits. Things we need to survive and to participate in society. Our rights. These are situations when we generally need to be perceived as neurodivergent in order to have any chance (still not a great chance, but it’s something) of receiving those things. There have been times when my benefits have stopped and I have had to ration my food, all because I wasn’t “neurodivergent enough” for the assessor to believe I needed benefits. But letting out all my neurodivergent traits can be so hard if I have trained myself to suppress them. Trying to pass constantly means that my body doesn’t know how to be free, to let itself stim and repeat and be gloriously, beautifully, “enough”-ly neurodivergent.

What I really have an issue with is the conflation of the different meanings of the word ‘privilege’. If we use that word in general, it can just refer to any kind of advantages. But in the context of marginalisation, it specifically refers to systemic advantages, to being viewed and treated as superior based on who you are, to avoiding discrimination and hate crimes and so on, to statistically having a better quality of life, to seeing yourself represented in reality and in fiction, to not facing relentless rejection and prejudice and ignorance, to people knowing that people like you exist and not having to constantly be the “first one” of your groups that they have ever met, to being able to move through the world with less fear and stress and pain and self-modification.

And the thing is, genuinely privileged people – be they / we abled, cis, white, or anything else that is treated as better – generally do not have to fear that they will lose their privilege. As a white person, I know that I will not become a person of colour tomorrow. I will never face racism. My whole life will be altered by the privileges I am granted based on my skin colour.

This isn’t 100% true for every privileged person. Abled folks, for example, might become disabled due to illness or injury. Quite a few people are abled for most of their life, but become disabled in some way during old age. But even with this knowledge, I highly doubt that most abled people spend their lives worrying about facing ableism the same way disabled people do.

But “passing” (a problematic concept in of itself, but one that I will discuss more in a different post) as privileged is not the same as actually being privileged. It comes with a whole host of problems that genuinely privileged folks do not have to deal with, and it could come crumbling down at any moment – something we are very aware of. It can wreak havoc with your emotions, isolate you from communities that you need, impact the way you view yourself, and restrict you from any feeling of freedom that openness can bring.

I do not pass as neurotypical these days. I haven’t for years. I doubt I ever fully did, but there were certainly times when I could pass more, and when trying to pass was an actual option for me. There are other kinds of privileged identity that I never tried to pass as. So I have some experience with passing, and some experience with not passing.

Neither is safe. Neither is devoid of fear. Each one comes with its own set of issues, and they both share a lot of issues too. Passing has, at times, kept me safer, and allowed me to move through more spaces in the world unharassed. If I had ever worked, it would probably have given me more job opportunities. But being openly neurodivergent has given me self-acceptance and a certain amount of freedom. They both have advantages and disadvantages.

And that brings me back to the terminology. Because passing is not about privilege, it is about advantages. It cannot honestly be described as equivalent to actual privilege. Passing brings advantages that simply look like privilege. But it brings them at immense costs, and even if someone is able to pass as neurotypical so well that they receive every single one of those advantages, they will still not have anything near the experience that actual neurotypical people have in this world. If I had spent my whole life trying to pass, I would have spent my whole life self-suppressing, not engaging with my community fully, and probably experiencing worse mental health.

Now, I know that my experiences with this topic are not the be-all-and-end-all. Other people will have different experiences. Maybe passing comes with fewer costs, or maybe they prefer it to being openly neurodivergent (or marginalised in any other way). But I honestly cannot conceive of a way that passing could ever be genuinely equivalent to real privilege. From what I can tell, it always comes with costs that legitimately privileged people never have to experience. Which is why I think the terminology should change. We can – and, I think, should – talk about the advantages that passing can bring, and the fact that some people have the option to pass while others don’t. But, in order to talk about it honestly and with all the required nuance, we need to stop using terminology that, in these contexts at least, usually refers to something very different. And we need to start acknowledging that while passing can definitely come with advantages, especially regarding safety and lesser discrimination, openness can too. If I had never been honest about my neurodivergence and other marginalised identities – some through choice, others because I wasn’t able to pass, and some because I was outed – then I would not have got to this level of self-acceptance, nor would I have learned a lot of things that have been vital to my (hopefully) ever-growing understanding of the world I live in, nor would I feel as able to call out prejudice (though I certainly still don’t feel very able to do that, but it’s an improvement). I am sure of all that.

The way I see it, passing is something that is rooted in marginalisation. We would not have a concept of it if marginalisation of some identities did not exist. There would be no reason for anyone to ever try to pass as anything (other than in acting, of course) if some identities were not prioritised and rewarded while others were sidelined and punished. So I struggle to imagine a situation in which any marginalised person would try to pass as a privileged person without that attempt at passing being rooted in pain and fear. With that thought in mind, it is hard to ever see passing as a privilege. Passing can gain a person advantages, and result in them facing less blatant marginalisation. It does not result in them being free from marginalisation, which is what privilege is. And being noticeably marginalised, while it might seem entirely negative on the surface and can result in additional targeting and more obvious forms of marginalisation, can have its benefits too.

It might seem excessive to discuss a simple, two-word phrase in such detail. But I think it is very important to analyse how we discuss marginalisation. Our experiences are so often misrepresented by privileged folks; we should ensure that we are not misrepresenting each other too. We need to be accurate about this.

Stop using oppressed people’s existences as insults – we are not shameful

Content warning: oppressed / disadvantaged people being used as insults, slurs against various oppressed groups.
There is a massive problem on social media, even in supposedly progressive spaces, of people criticising each other based on appearance, level of education and so on instead of on actual actions.

It’s disheartening to see this so often, and to realise how few people take issue with it.

Someone says something cruel or inappropriate – or just something that others disagree with – and the inappropriate insults come out in torrents.

Mentally ill. Crazy. Retarded. Stupid. Autistic. Disabled. Uneducated. Fat. Ugly. Gay. Tranny.

These insults do nothing to actually challenge what the person said. All they do is reinforce the idea that being mentally ill, unintelligent, uneducated, gay, etc is shameful and worthy of mockery and degradation.
They throw people – often oppressed / marginalised people – under the bus without doing a damn thing to dispute or deny what the initial comment said. They just add even more harm to the situation.

When a person chooses to say / do something unpleasant, they should be called out based on that action, and (if it makes sense for the situation) based on the system that upholds their unpleasantness – this would be appropriate if the person is being homophobic, racist, etc.

When you respond to someone’s unpleasantness with body-shaming, you are treating their body as the problem rather than their actions. The same goes for if you talk about their sexuality, illness, etc. And none of these things actually address why they chose to be unpleasant.
Being fat doesn’t make someone cruel. Being uneducated doesn’t make them unkind. Being mentally ill doesn’t make them a bad person. Being unintelligent doesn’t make them mean. Being gay doesn’t make them devoid of compassion.
There are plenty of people in each of those groups who are lovely and who do not deserve to be used as an insult or blamed for another person’s unpleasant actions.

Besides, if someone has done something unpleasant, there should be plenty for you to talk about already. You already have something genuinely bad and worthy of criticism to focus on. You can call them cruel, unkind or bereft of compassion without harming any decent people. So if you then choose to focus on mocking / criticising their (perceived or real) disability, level of education, sexuality or other such things, you’re not just making the choice to link decent (often oppressed) people to things that aren’t their fault, you’re also deflecting from the real issue.

So by all means, call a person ridiculous, bigoted, self-centred, prejudiced, etc.
But don’t call them crazy, fat, stupid, uneducated, etc.
Don’t treat decent people or oppressed groups as though we are to blame for other people’s cruelty. Don’t treat our existences as insults.

And if you find yourself thinking that the alternatives to the things you’ve been saying don’t pack as much punch, consider why that is. Consider why things that describe oppressed / marginalised people seem worse.

It’s because we’re frequently treated as far worse than the people who harm us. Our homosexuality, our disability, our neurodivergence, are the subjects of scrutiny and negativity more often than the prejudice and oppression we face is.
Our existences are the things parents don’t want for their children, that people avoid talking about because we make them uncomfortable, that people cause social media storms about when they see us getting even momentary representation on TV.

Many people are more willing to accept ableism, racism, transphobia and other forms of prejudice than they are to accept disabled people, people of colour, trans people and other marginalised groups.
This is firmly and constantly reinforced not only by people who are actively and intentionally cruel to us, but also by people who allow those cruelties to go unchallenged, who treat those cruelties as reasonable and allowable.
Sadly there are also many people who still do this even if they don’t realise it, even if they don’t have the intention of being cruel to us. These prejudices are so endemic and insidious in our society that people don’t even realise that they are promoting them.

Using our existences as insults is one result of this widespread prejudice, and it’s a result that too often goes unnoticed and unchallenged. People refusing to make small changes to the language they use (and how they use it) is an example of the everyday prejudice we face. Behaviours like that show that other people being able to use us as insults is thought of as more important than us being treated as decent and worthy of respect.

So if words that describe us feel like more potent insults than words like ‘prejudiced’ and ‘cruel’, it is because us existing is treated as far worse than being prejudiced and cruel is. We often face more consequences for having the audacity to exist in a way that isn’t deemed ‘normal’ and ‘right’ than other people do for being cruel towards us.

If you continue to use us as insults, know that you are contributing to all of this. You are contributing to us being viewed in negative lights. You may not be beating us up or harassing us in the street, but you are treating words that describe our existence and experiences as though they are inherently bad and shameful. Which means you are treating us as bad and shameful.

When we treat words like ‘autistic’ or ‘gay’ as though they are inherently bad and shameful, that can have an impact on the way people view autistic people and gay people. It can also significantly affect the way people from those groups view themselves. Even if you didn’t mean harm, even if you don’t actually think that we’re all bad, we don’t know that. All we’ve seen is you treating our existence as a bad thing, as an insult. And when we’re seeing that from so many people, so often, that can really get into our heads and make us question whether there really is something bad about us. Maybe I should feel ashamed. Maybe I am a freak. When you treat us as insults, this is what you do to many of us. And it’s not simply a case of us ‘growing a thicker skin’. If all or most of what you see about an aspect of yourself is people mocking it, insulting it, shaming it, then of course that could lead you to believe that that thing is genuinely shameful. Remember that many people from these groups do not have much support as they’re growing up, so it’s entirely possible that they might go for years without seeing / hearing anything positive about people like them.
And when people have been taught to think of themselves as bad, shameful, and wrong, they’re often less likely to reach out to others (for friendship, support, etc) in case those people think they’re bad and wrong too. People spend years, even decades, of their lives hiding these aspects of who they are or withdrawing from the world because they feel ashamed of who they are. That can have an immensely negative impact on them, on their mental wellbeing and their relationships.

Treating these words as inherently bad can also influence how children view and treat each other. For example, when we use ‘unintelligent’ or ‘stupid’ as insults around kids, it can teach those kids that any child who is (or seems to be) unintelligent is lesser. It teaches them to focus more on the child’s (perceived) level of intelligence than on whether they’re a nice person or not
If you use words like these as insults, rather than focusing your criticisms on genuine moral failings, you are raising your children to be bullies.
When we use these words as insults ourselves or allow others to do so without being challenged, we are raising children who are in those groups to hate themselves.

When we have a culture that treats being uneducated, or mentally ill, or trans, or disabled, or so many other things like those, as worthy of mockery and scrutiny…there is a lot we need to change.
When we have people who have grown up hating themselves for struggling in school, for being attracted to people of the same gender, for not having the most ‘perfect’ physical features, for not being able to do certain things that other people can…we are failing people. Very badly.

No-one should feel ashamed about those things. Do you know what people should feel ashamed about? Being cruel.
And yet (based on what I have seen) marginalised people are treated as insults far more than cruel people are.

There is something very wrong.

Sometimes our disabilities clash – when that happens, we should support, not vilify, each other

There are so many situations I see being discussed online, where only one side of the situation is really represented and shown compassion, and the other side is vilified. This often seems very unfair to me.

I’m not talking about situations where one person is a Nazi and the other is a marginalised person.

I’m talking about situations like the following (I’m writing these as I’ve seen them):
– One neurodivergent person needs to fidget in class (or work, or anything similar) or they won’t be able to focus and will be very uncomfortable. Someone else says that they can’t focus if that person is fidgeting / making noise, because it’s distracting. The second person is assumed to be ableist, inconsiderate and exaggerating how difficult the distractions are for them.
– One person has a loud voice and isn’t able to make it quieter most of the time, because they struggle with recognising when their voice is loud, and with volume control. Another person is uncomfortable with their loudness and chooses to not be around them. The second person is assumed (again) to be ableist and exaggerating about their discomfort.

For both situations, the way I’ve written them is how I’ve seen them written inside neurodivergent spaces, where the first person in each situation is being defended and the second person is being treated as ableist. There are, however, many situations (particularly outside of neurodivergent spaces) where things are reversed and people are making assumptions about the first person and treating them like they’re shitty and inconsiderate. Neither of these is okay.

Let’s have a look at these situations from the potential perspective of the second person, showing assumptions that might be made about the first person instead:
– They have sensory processing issues or other things that can make it very difficult for them to focus. The visual and audio effects of the fidgeting are incredibly distracting (and possibly painful, anxiety-inducing, etc) for them, and they are unable to process most of the lessons because of it, meaning that they miss out on huge parts of their education. The first person is assumed to be deliberately annoying people and to have no actual need to fidget.
– Again, sensory issues could be relevant here. Loud voices are painful for them because of those sensory issues. Or loud voices remind them of their abuse, meaning that being around people with loud voices is very distressing for them. The first person is assumed to be inconsiderate and / or arrogant (the idea that them having a loud voice is them trying to speak over others and centre their voice) or possibly even abusive.

I’m aware that those are only some of the potential things behind each situation. I’m also aware that ableism or other issues very often do play a part.
However, as a neurodivergent person who has already struggled with both situations (I’ve been both people, at different times, for the first situation, and just the second person in the second situation) I’m so tired of seeing one person in each scenario praised and the other vilified, before people actually know all the details of the situation. Yes, ableism or some other form of prejudice may be present. But when we assume that it is, often we’re just harming other neurodivergent / disabled people and perpetuating ableism ourselves by only recognising some neurodivergences / disabilities.

This goes both ways – the first person is valid in needing to express themself in certain ways, but similarly the second person is valid in needing quietness in order to be comfortable and able to focus. If either the first or second person in each scenario actively tries to dismiss the other’s needs or push them out of that space (whether it’s a classroom, friend group, or something else) then that is overstepping the mark and being ableist. But if they’re just mentioning that something that the other person is doing is difficult for them, without assuming that the other person is doing it just to bother them or anything like that, then they shouldn’t be vilfied or assumed to be ableist. It’s not ableist to speak up when you have a need that isn’t being met, or when something is causing you discomfort / pain / etc. It’s only ableist if that then spills over into making assumptions about the other person or trying to exclude / vilify them.

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to find an ideal solution for situatons like these. Sometimes neurodivergences / disabilities just clash, and especially given the alarming lack of resources and support that many neurodivergent / disabled people have, it can be difficult to figure out how to resolve the situation in a way that makes everyone comfortable.
– For the first situation, the only possible solutions I can think of right now are to put the people in separate classes, or to put them on opposite sides of the class (if that’s enough). Noise-cancelling headphones might help the second person, and quiet fidget toys might help the first.
– For the second, noise-cancelling headphones might be helpful again, and might enable them to hear what’s being said without it sounding so loud. Or they might be able to stay in the situation but keep a certain amount of distance between them and the first person so that the loud voice isn’t right by them.

These solutions may not be doable for everyone, unfortunately. But not assuming things about people and situations should be doable for everyone. Remember that neurodivergence and disability are very broad umbrella terms that cover a huge range of things, and that just because we don’t see a neurodivergence or disability in someone, it doesn’t mean that it’s not there.

Every person I’ve described here deserves respect and their needs being met. They deserve to have an education (or workplace) that accommodates them and friends that support them.
None of these people are awful for having the needs that they do. None of them deserve assumptions of awfulness. None of them should be forced to make all the accommodations and to erase their own needs and discomfort; both people need to be supporting each other and trying to find a good place to meet in the middle, and the people around them (friends, teachers, etc) should be supporting them too.

Please just make absolutely sure you have all of the information before you decide that someone is a villain.

It’s not that marginalised people can’t take a joke – it’s just not as funny coming from you

There seems to be a widespread idea that a lot of marginalised people are ‘special snowflakes’; that we can’t take a joke; that we’re offended too easily.

In my experience, this simply isn’t the case. Sure, some of us call out a lot of things. But that’s not because we’re too easily offended. It’s because there are too many things in society that treat us as inferior or immoral, that paint cruel pictures of us and prevent us from having true equality and safety.

But I don’t intend to go into that too much here. No, my main focus here is on jokes.

Gay jokes. Trans jokes. OCD jokes. Etc.

What is this idea that we despise them all and can never laugh at ourselves? That doesn’t match up with my experiences at all.

I often find sexuality jokes quite funny. The same goes for gender identity jokes. Depending on where my head’s at, even some of the darker mental illness jokes can make me giggle.

I can’t speak for every marginalised group, but I do know that often, when you get a group of LGB+ people together, there are so many sexuality jokes. When you get a bunch of non-binary people together, there are so many gender jokes. And so on.
People making jokes about themselves, people teasing each other (in okay ways), people mocking the whole concept of sexuality / gender identity / whatever.

I see these jokes all the time in spaces that are for specific groups. They don’t appear so much amongst the general public, and when they do, they make get fewer laughs. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t happen, or that we never laugh at them.

So what’s the difference? What makes us laugh at them when we’re with other people from the same group, but not when we’re amidst the general public?

The difference is that when someone from the same marginalised group as me makes a joke about that group, I know that the joke is most likely coming from someone who:
– is informed about the issues the group faces
– has experienced many of those issues and has a first-person understanding of them and of how they can impact people
– knows at least some of the lines to not cross and which things are very harmful
– is far less likely to actually view me as inferior or to be a threat to me.

When you – people from outside the group – mock my groups, it’s a joke coming from someone who doesn’t have that understanding, and often you’re not even properly informed about us. When you make the joke, it’s far more likely that there is malicious intent behind it, and I can’t know for sure whether there is or isn’t. So it puts me on edge and I find it less funny, partly because it misses out on some of the nuance that it would have from someone within the community, and partly because your motivations for making the joke are far more clouded.

When we make the jokes, there’s an unspoken understanding between everyone involved that most of us have suffered because of attitudes towards our sexuality, our gender, our neurodivergence, etc. There’s an understanding about why we make the jokes, about the struggle that we have gone through before getting to the point where we are able to make jokes rather than feel ashamed, conflicted, confused. No matter how informed you are, you are unlikely to fully understand that connection between us, and it is not your place to infringe upon it. That is an important connection between people who have suffered and who may well suffer more in the future. That is us trying to cope with the way we have been treated – if you are not part of the group, you have not suffered that mistreatment and therefore the reclamation of it is not for you. That is us making a joke not just for a laugh, but for some relief from the pain, for some reminder that we’re not alone.
That is ours, and it is not your right to invade upon it or to put us on edge because we aren’t sure whether that joke is going to be followed by support or cruelty.

That’s not to say that you can never make these types of jokes. It just means: know your audience. If it was someone close to me making that joke, someone who I knew was a safe person, who made real efforts to support me and to learn about marginalisation, then that would probably be fine. I like being able to make those jokes with people from outside my groups. It helps me to feel more connected to them. So long as they’ve shown me that they will stand up for me and not just make jokes, I’m likely to enjoy sharing that humour with them.

But when a stranger makes the joke, even if I still find it funny, there is a part of me that is instantly on edge, wondering whether I need to be ready to defend myself or not. And don’t mock or dismiss that caution. It is not unfounded.

So yeah, it’s not the joke I have an issue with, a lot of the time (though I do take issue with some of the ones that just treat our existence as a punchline).

What I have an issue with is the fear / caution that I live with daily, because of massive societal prejudice against us and because of the ignorant, unpleasant people who do follow up these jokes with harassment and violence.
If you’re not one of those people, great. But remember, if I don’t know you really well, I can’t be sure whether or not you’re one of them – even people who I know quite well might still have prejudices that I haven’t seen, and might still be willing to harm me.

The best way to show me that you’re someone I can share these things with, that you’re a safe person, is to not only support marginalised groups in bigger ways (by standing up for us, educating yourself about us, etc) but also by respecting the smaller things like this.
If you want me to feel cautious around you, show me in each moment that I have nothing to fear from you.

If you’re just going to make jokes about my existence and self-expression, without showing any real support, piss off.

Memo from a writer: mocking people’s spelling / grammar really isn’t okay

Mocking the person is never okay. Even correcting them can be harmful. If they’re just posting on social media, not taking an exam, back off.

There are multiple aspects to this one. Ableism, classism and racism all play their own parts here.

But for starters: spelling and grammar are not that important when you’re talking about dogs on Facebook. You don’t need to have perfect punctuation and a week’s worth of debates over the Oxford comma (which I’m all for, by the way).
I used to get frustrated by ‘incorrect’ spelling and grammar. I don’t remember whether I was ever someone who actually mocked or corrected others, but I hope not. I deemed versions of English other than the one I had learnt ‘wrong’, and ‘imperfections’ in others’ language were irritations to clench my teeth about.
But I learned. Now, I’m no longer a language purist. I don’t even hold myself to a perfect standard here, on this blog. I write to express, not to please other people like younger me.

Language takes many forms. Speech is different to the written word. Definitions of the same word can vary across different dialects. Slang can be the basis of entire conversations.

Put strangely: language is a mysterious being with many tentacles, none of which are the same but all of which have worth.

So, now that we’ve established that language doesn’t always have to fit to one form, let’s go over the issues around mockery and corrections.

It’s ableist.

Some people have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it difficult for them to learn and remember things like spellings and grammar rules. Some people have mobility issues that make their writing unclear, or speech issues that result in what they say being different to what they mean.

Mocking their spelling / grammar or correcting them can be a sad reminder that other people have unreasonable standards / expectations for them, that people are more focused on them being linguistically ‘correct’ than on them being able to express themselves freely.

It’s classist.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have had a good education. I left school when I was fifteen, but many people didn’t even have that much. If you don’t know much about someone’s past, don’t assume that their education was:
1) present at all
2) constant and uncomplicated (here I’m referring to situations such as having to move between schools / education systems a lot and having to adapt to new methods of teaching a lot, rather than only having to get used to one system)
3)of a good standard.

Do you know for certain that the person got to go to school? Can you be sure that they didn’t have to go out and provide financially for their family from a young age instead? Is it definite that they didn’t have a complicated family situation, or an illness that they couldn’t afford to treat, or a lack of access to a decent and nutritional diet, or anything else that can interfere with a person’s learning?

Being poor is frequently treated as a moral failing, and even young children can pick up on this and internalise the idea that they are somehow at fault, or that they aren’t worth much – especially if they have been bullied for being poor. If they haven’t had access to a good education, and are then mocked or constantly corrected about things they never had the chance to learn, it can make them feel even worse about themselves.

It’s racist:

Your first language is not everyone’s first language, nor is the language you’re correcting them in superior to their native language/s.

If you’re correcting people on their English, consider that they may not have spoken English for very long. Consider that they might speak another language fluently, and could likely kick your condescending butt in that language (figuratively). Consider that no-one magically learns an entire language instantly, and that even you probably don’t know all of the words that exist in your language.

Another angle of this is that dialects pop up all over the place, each differing in various ways from their base language/s. This does not make them incorrect. So you might hear someone speaking in a Spanish dialect, and because it is not the same as the Spanish you know, you think they’ve made mistakes. But they haven’t – they’re just using a different form of Spanish to you.

This is especially important when we consider dialects that are tied to marginalised communities, such as African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) which is used by many African-American people in the United States. Dialects like these hold cultural significance, and can help people from within those communities to feel more connected to each other – this is important, because many marginalised people have been forced into having fewer connections than others, because of trauma in their or their family’s history (such as black slaves being forcefully taken away from their homes and families, LGBT+ people being abandoned by their families and friends when they come out, neurodivergent people struggling to socialise, etc). These dialects have real emotional ties to them, and they should not be denigrated.

In these situations, mockery and corrections can display your own ignorance about these topics. It can make people who are simply doing their best in a language that’s relatively new to them, or speaking a dialect that is culturally and emotionally significant to them, feel dismissed.

So what can you do instead?

Well, if you got the gist of what they were saying, do nothing. You don’t need to do anything. You understood what they meant already.

If you’re struggling to understand them, try to really focus on what they’re saying. If they’re talking to you face-to-face, try to pay attention to their mouth movements, facial expressions and gestures. These are all key parts of communication, and might help you to at least get a basic understanding of what they’re talking about. I know this can be difficult for those of us who struggle to focus or look directly at people, but if you can, give it a go. And if they’re using written communication, try Googling words or phrases to see if you can find more insight into it.
Doing all this can help to lighten their load. People who don’t speak fluent English (or whichever language you’re communicating in) may get asked to explain themselves a lot, and that can be very tiring. Putting some effort in yourself can help to make that less stressful for them.

If you’re still struggling to understand, ask them if they can reword what they said. A simple, “Sorry, I don’t quite understand what you mean. Are you able to explain it in a differently way?” should do. A “please” probably wouldn’t go amiss.

There’s no guarantee that you’ll ever understand each other perfectly. But these actions could help.

If the thought of mocking them enters your mind, just don’t. If you think about correcting them, only do so if you’re teaching them that language or if they have asked for corrections. Dealing with so many people correcting you all the time can be very frustrating, especially if you know that all the corrections in the world won’t make it stick in your mind (e.g. because of a learning difficulty).

And just consider that you’re not perfect in any language either. Consider that (unless you speak about 20 languages) there are better linguists out there than you. Consider that each joke or correction could make the person feel less comfortable speaking to you, or speaking up at all.
Your mockery and expectations of conformity are a cage that prevents self-expression, not a ladder to enlightenment.

‘Emotional’ does not equal ‘irrational’ – stop dismissing viewpoints just because they’re accompanied by tears

Newsflash: you can be very emotional and still be a rational person. You can have tears pouring down your cheeks and still be calm and hold a reasonable discussion. You can be sobbing your heart out and still be logical. You can cry multiple times a day and not be overreacting or attempting to manipulate others.

You can cry a lot and still have a valid viewpoint.

Many of us are taught throughout our lives that crying is a bad thing. If we cry, we’re weak, irrational, manipulative, attention-seeking, pathetic, undisciplined… The list goes on.

This is, of course, nonsense.

Crying is a natural and often very healthy form of self-expression. For example, if you’ve been through something very painful or stressful, you might find that having a good ol’ cry can release a lot of pent up emotion and can help you to process your ordeal. Crying can be a very good thing.

And yet it’s treated with such disdain.

As someone who cries a lot, it does frustrate me to be treated as though I’m unworthy of being taken seriously because of this one thing. I can have (figurative) waterfalls spouting from my eyes and still be calm, collected and holding a rational discussion.
I will still be taking other people’s ideas and perspectives into consideration.
I will still think before I speak.
I won’t be trying to manipulate other people into feeling sympathy for me. I desire no unfair advantage in the conversation, and I don’t want their pity.
I won’t be letting my emotions determine my entire perspective, and will be mentally checking each emotion that I feel to ensure that it’s not making me unreasonable.

Just because I cry easily, it does not mean that I am somehow less, that I shouldn’t be taken seriously, that I am incapable of giving valid and valuable contributions to conversations.

There are times when me crying coincides with me being irrational. Sometimes I cry when I’m panicking. At those times, my thoughts might snowball and I can get confused and overwhelmed, in which case I would need to calm down before I contribute to serious discussions.
However, there are also times when I’m entirely calm whilst crying. Sadness does not make me irrational, nor do various other kinds of pain.

I do recognise that sometimes, even if I’m crying calmly, my tears may distract from important issues. If other people see me crying, they may become preoccupied with it and may focus on me more than on someone else (who should really be the focus at that time).
For example, if I’m in a group and someone is discussing a bad experience they’ve had, I might find tears coming to my eyes because their words sadden me or move me to emotion in other ways. However, if I cry – even if I’m quiet, even if I assure people that I’m fine and ask them to focus on the other person – people may still give me too much attention. So in that situation, I could either try to blink back the tears, or excuse myself if I cannot prevent them from falling. That way, I will hopefully not be taking attention away from someone who needs it more.

But in many other situations, it is completely reasonable for me to cry. If we are discussing something that directly affects me (in which case it’s okay for some of the focus to be on me) it’s perfectly valid for me to cry, and I shouldn’t feel obligated to hide those natural, healthy tears.

For me, being able to express what I feel at the same time as holding a discussion is very important and very useful.
My tear ducts focus on getting my emotions out, so that they’re not building up inside and eventually exploding and harming others, or imploding and harming me. Meanwhile, my mind focuses on the situation at hand.
People often seem to think that, because I’m crying, I’m not thinking clearly or being rational. But actually, by letting my emotions out in the form of tears (which are surely preferable to me lashing out in anger or being self-destructive) I am keeping my mind clear and unclouded. Tears prevent my emotions from getting the better of me, by letting those emotions be processed properly as they arise and then releasing them, rather than piling them up on top of each other inside me.
By crying, I am more able to be rational because my emotions aren’t taking so much of my focus.

Tears can be wholesome things. So if you don’t feel the need to cry much, that’s fine. But please don’t belittle those of us who do. We are not less.

People don’t have to celebrate Christmas, so please stop pressuring us about it

In an ideal life, in which I have a loving family, close friends and much less trauma, I think I’d enjoy celebrating holidays. Maybe I’d still be far too concerned with my own mortality and thus would still avoid celebrating my birthday. But stuff like Christmas? Count imaginary me in.

Sadly, I’m not in that life. Imaginary me is worlds away. Real me is here, and I associate those holidays with pain.

For younger me, Christmas was full of mixed emotions. I always delighted in the magic of it, in that particular feeling of Christmas. The familiar songs, the decorating of the Christmas tree, covering myself in tinsel, the books I had about Father Christmas and snowmen… I never got too old for it. I always enjoyed those things.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t all there was to Christmas. I won’t go into details here, but I had a very painful childhood that involved me being mistreated by the people I lived with. Christmas was always tainted by this, and although I could enjoy things like the tree and the books, I was never truly happy. Sadness, loneliness and fear were ever-present in my existence, and even Christmas couldn’t banish them.

Birthdays were also tainted by this, but also by that focus on my own mortality that I mentioned. They can be quite anxiety-inducing for me, and can fill me with a feeling of failure because another year has gone by without me having found / achieved any of the things that I’ve dreamt of. I’m too hard on myself, and I’m working on that, but it will take me a while to change that as much as I need to.

Other holidays (Easter, Halloween, etc) aren’t such a big deal for me. They’re still associated with pain, but they’re holidays that I probably wouldn’t have much interest in celebrating even in that ideal life.

I live alone now. I have no family (and am cut off from my biological relatives) and very few friends. This is part of why I don’t celebrate holidays – because I don’t have anyone to celebrate it with – but the pain that I associate with holidays is also a reason. If I had a loving family or close friends, I might start celebrating, perhaps only a little the first time and then gradually building it up. But I don’t know for sure what I’d be comfortable with.

Point is: I don’t feel comfortable celebrating holidays, and that’s totally valid. Even if I hadn’t explained my reasoning at all, it would be okay for me to not want to participate in these events.

Now, onto the second part of this post: not forcing these celebrations onto people.

Too often, I see people’s (including my own) discomfort with these events being dismissed, and other people’s desire to celebrate being prioritised. Even for birthdays, which are (in my culture, at least) supposed to be focused on the individual whose birthday it is. But still, though I ask people to not mention my birthday and to not try to celebrate it, celebrate they do. I’ve managed to get it down to just comments on my social media, but I can’t seem to get people to stop completely.
I managed to avoid Christmas entirely last year. Someone offered me the chance to spend Christmas with him, but he didn’t push me on it or expect me to definitely be there. That I’m fine with. That’s a nice way to let me know that I can join in if I want to, without putting any pressure on me. However, in past years there has been more pressure, from various people.

This is not right.

I get that people probably have good intentions. It’s nice that they want to wish me well, or include me in their celebrations. I do appreciate that.
But when they keep pestering me to join them (though this may seem like friendly encouragement from their perspective), or basically do anything more than just tell me I can join them if I want to, it doesn’t feel nice. It feels like pressure.

If I have said that I’m not comfortable doing something, respect that.

One of the worst forms of this ‘coercive celebrating’ is the surprise party. Thankfully I have never experienced this first-hand. The combination of people forcing something that I’ve stated I’m against on me, the association with painful memories, the lack of respect for my need to know what’s happening in advance (shout-out to my autistic brain), and the panic that would probably set in when everyone jumps out and yells, “Surprise!” would probably end with me hiding in the bathroom, panicking and crying. And even if I could avoid doing that, the pressure of maintaining a smile and pretending to be enjoying myself could be utterly draining.

Now, if you know that someone is okay with being the focus of surprise parties (because they have said that) then go for it. It seems to be enjoyable for some people, and I have no wish to deprive them of that joy.

But don’t force them on people who you don’t know are comfortable with them, and definitely not people who have said that they don’t like them. What you might think of as something fun could be panic-inducing for them.

I remember reading a post in one of my Facebook groups, about a woman who had birthday celebrations forced on her after she specifically asked her friends to not do anything for her birthday. There were so many comments calling her ungrateful, and not nearly enough acknowledging that she had her comfort and consent disregarded.

My point here is: there are reasons why people don’t want to celebrate holidays, and it’s not okay to pressure / force them into celebrating. Sure, it might be sad to not have someone you care about celebrating with you. But, if they’re anything like me, having celebrations forced on them could seriously impact their mental health.

If you really care about them, let them avoid things that are uncomfortable / distressing for them (and remember, you’re not entitled to know their reasons). Maybe you could meet up a while after that event has passed, and find something else to celebrate together – the anniversary of the day you met, the first day of Spring, the release of a new book in a series you both enjoy… There are so many possibilities.

This is one of those tricky situations that we may never find a perfect solution to. If they don’t celebrate with you, the celebration might not feel as enjoyable to you, and it might even lead to you feeling lonely and sad. But if you make them join in, it might be harmful for them in similar or very different ways.
So I don’t have a perfect solution. All I can do is ask you, from the perspective of someone who goes through so much pain around these holidays and who doesn’t want to be pushed into even more: please, please just tell them that they’re welcome to join you if they want to, but that it’s totally okay if they’d prefer not to. It’s the simplest and most considerate thing.

Please stop trying to make us celebrate when we’re in agony inside.

To allies: if you want to support us, actually listen to us, not just to other allies

This should not be an issue. I should not have to write about this. But there are vast amounts of allies / supporters out there who listen primarily to professionals or to other allies / supporters, and who don’t listen nearly enough to people who have actually experienced the thing.

I’m just gonna say it, and then explain the reasons behind this.

If you want to support a disabled person, listen to people with that specific disability.
If you want to support a mentally ill person, listen to people with the same mental illness as them.
If you want to support a non-binary person, listen to non-binary people.
If you want to support someone who is grieving, listen to people who have experienced grief.

If you want to support someone with something, listen to other people who have experienced that something.

That’s not to say that you should never listen to professionals who work in that area, or to other supporters.
But listen to people who have actually experienced the thing above everyone else.


Only people who have actually experienced the thing can have a deep, first-person understanding of what it’s like to experience that. Only they can truly know what it does to a person, how it can affect each area of their life, what it’s like to experience it over a long period of time (if that’s applicable).

Professionals and other supporters, no matter how much effort they put into learning (and credit to those who really do make an effort, I’m grateful), cannot have the same level of understanding. They can know what they’ve read / heard, but it’s not the same as knowing how it actually feels. And if you want to get the best understanding and the most accurate knowledge possible, you need to hear it directly from the source, from the people who have actually experienced it. Things get diluted otherwise, and distorted as they get passed along from supporter to supporter – that’s not always intentional, but it happens. Hearing it directly from people who are experiencing the thing is the only way to ensure that you’re finding out what they really feel, with no changes to the words / tone / body language / perspective / etc used to describe the experience.

Prejudice amongst professionals and supporters is also an issue.

People almost revere professionals, and often treat their word as law. But, as many marginalised people can attest, professionals are often biased. They often have their own prejudices and misconceptions. They’re still looking at the experience from the outside in, and they may not be looking clearly (with an open mind and a willingness to really listen and learn).

Similarly, supposed supporters can also be very prejudiced, or can have a lot of harmful misconceptions (this may not be intentional on their part, but it’s still harmful).
Sometimes this is obvious, as they claim to be supportive whilst also saying a lot of things that are very clearly the opposite. But sometimes it’s not so blatant. Every single marginalised group I know of faces widespread erasure and / or bad representation in the media. Misconceptions are easily spread because of this, so even the most kind-hearted of supporters can accidentally take in prejudiced views and misconceptions, and can then pass those on to other people.

The solution to all this is to seek out voices from within each group. Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to know where to start with this. So I’ll give you a few tips for things that can turn up some good results.
– Search for online support groups that contain words like ‘autistic’, ‘trans’, etc or words like ‘ableism’, ‘transphobia’, etc. Look for ones that either state that they centre people from that group or that have rules in place to try to keep the group safe (e.g. rules against homophobia, racism, etc). Make sure you don’t join any groups that say they’re only for people from that group – you should only be joining ones that also welcome supporters.
– Search for pages using the same words. Again, try to make sure that they’re run by people from the group in question. Once you’ve liked a few, others will probably start to pop up in your recommendations.
– Search for similar words on Tumblr. The #actuallyautistic tag is a good place to learn about autism from actually autistic people. Tumblr gets a bad rep, but it can be a good place to gain insights into the everyday experiences of marginalised people.

To restate: I’m not saying you should discard the voices of professionals and other supporters. Just make sure that you’re centring the voices of people who have actually experienced the thing. Especially people who have been active in those communities – the autistic community, the trans community, etc – for a few years, because they’ve had more time to learn about the community as a whole on top of their own personal experiences, so they’ll probably be more knowledgeable and insightful.

Okay, I think that’s all for this post. Go forth, allies, and seek out our voices!