Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Autistic Pride: Why I Wear the Shirt

As I stumble through the Blogger publishing interface, half-blind and half-awake, I am reminded of why I prepared this entry in advance: I am not a morning person, but today is a special day and in lieu of sexualized rainbow parades I shall celebrate on social media. I shall also celebrate in my Modern Dance class, which is the only reason I am up this early.

Part of my morning routine, and I believe most people's, is picking a shirt. Sometimes I match colors, sometimes I need to look nice for an audition, and most of the time it's just a "feel" thing. Today is different. Today is Autistic Pride Day, and I am wearing my autism shirt.

If you've read my first protest post, you've already seen the shirt. On the front it reads "I love hugs even though I'm autistic (yes, this is permission to hug me)". On the back, there is a blurb about Autism Acceptance Month, a specific dig against Autism Speaks, and a recommendation of four pro-autistic groups: ASAN, AWN, ANI, and AutCom. The shirt is one-of-a-kind, because I designed it myself. I didn't want to buy a logo shirt from a charity store, one because I would rather give a direct donation than support them through merchandise profits, and two because I don't just want to show support for an organization; I want something unique to me and with a specific purpose.

A fellow aspie once told me he saw a shirt that read "I have Asperger's. You read my shirt. That's enough interaction for one day." While I try to appreciate all humor, I get enough juvenile "ass burgers" comments without intentionally making myself the butt* of a joke. I also don't want to perpetuate harmful stereotypes like "all aspies are introverts and have no interest in socializing." I want to wear a positive message, and I think I've succeeded at packing several into a small space.
*Pun always intended.

The first line is "I love hugs" which by itself would be a simple light-hearted expression of desire for physical affection. Most people associate hugs with positive things like love and family, so right away the "why are you so negative?" crowd needs to get more creative. More importantly, my appreciation of hugs flies in the face of the idea that autistic people are all clones of each other and exactly match the diagnostic criteria. I also talk and make eye contact; no stereotypes here.
The "even though" part acknowledges that hugs really are very problematic for many people, and sarcastically calls out the reader for believing in stereotypes. The last line shows my sense of humor and has indeed earned me quite a few hugs, but the most important part is "AUTISTIC" in big, bold letters. This is the part that starts conversations, usually opening with "are you really autistic?" Uweephow. That's the sound of me rolling my eyes and sighing at the same time.

The back of the shirt calls out Autism Speaks for being a hate group. They spend most of their money on salaries and lavish meals, and the rest on advertisement, in the hopes that their message will be the first one you hear, allowing them to dupe you into giving them more money. I am driving a wedge into that plan. For many of the people who read my shirt, I get to be the first voice they hear talking about autism. Grassroots, but effective. In addition to specifically calling out Autism Speaks, I get to give an expert's perspective on common myths and truths. I get to describe special interests as autistic people being passionate and excited rather than obsessive and inconsiderate. I get to describe stimming as an expression of happiness rather than a nervous tic with no purpose. Even better, I get to be that first voice a person hears, the one that shapes how they think of autism in the future.

By wearing "AUTISTIC" on my shirt, I'm also passively coming out to everyone who reads it. It's similar to those "this is what a feminist looks like" shirts, but for something important and useful yet often misunderstood and misjudged due to misinformation. So exactly the same.

That's what autistic pride means to me: Reckless honesty. Many advocates and related bloggers talk about the careful decision that is disclosure, the who/when/where/why/how of telling people that you are autistic. I prefer to call it "coming out" rather than "disclosure" because it lines up with the same process that atheists and LGBT people have to go through. I say throw caution to the wind and come out to everyone, because keeping secrets implies that you're ashamed of something (not true but a common NT assumption). As many famous LGBT people have demonstrated, coming out casually as if it's not a big deal can actually be more powerful than carefully calculating the right time. Why do we come out, anyway? Because it's the most straightforward way of showing pride. When we loudly remind everyone of our identities, we say to the privileged "We are proud of what we are" and we say to each other "You are not alone."

Now, the obvious counterargument is "what if your coming out is met with a dangerous type of ableism?" Let me make it absolutely clear that this is a valid concern. I do not intend to shame anyone who puts their own safety first. Personally, I might still hesitate to come out in the middle of a job interview. I realize that even if I don't tell a prospective employer that I'm autistic, they might look me up on Facebook and see the huge volume of statuses (stati?) about it, and then their ableism may cost me the job. I realize it, and I accept it. No civil rights movement has ever gotten off the ground without making sacrifices. Next month I will perform in a choir concert celebrating Harvey Milk, the first openly gay American to hold public office. It was a generation of openness before him and alongside him that made it possible. The most tragic part of his story is that he was assassinated during his term. The bright side is that his election still sent a message: The tides are turning, and each generation will have it a little easier than the last. I look forward to the days when we celebrate autistic firsts.

Flipped for your viewing pleasure

Monday, June 9, 2014

Profanity Is Bullshit

Content warning: This article uses not only words like fuck and shit but also racial slurs. In hindsight, I could have explained better the difference between the two and why I chose to lump them together.

Assuming your browser is displaying images correctly, you should see two audio waveforms above, which are recordings of my voice. One of them is me saying "book", an ordinary word that represents an ordinary object. The other is "fuck", an EVIL word that brings misfortune to whomever hears it. Also known as a curse, a cuss, a swear- collectively, profanity. There are so many words for bad words. We all know that words like fuck make us angrier, and dumber, and must be kept away from children lest it damage their fragile psyches. We don't think about why this is, we just know. Let's think about it: What's the difference between book and fuck? They're both four-letter words. They sound pretty similar too. In a busy crowd you might mix them up. Can you tell which is which just by the waveform? The difference in sound doesn't have any inherent meaning, any more than we can intuitively gather the meaning of a bird tweet. If you listen to a foreign language, you can't tell which words are the profane ones.

This one is definitely a word.
The only meaning to find in a combination of sound is what's defined by language. We choose to agree on definitions because doing so has proven extremely useful, and convenient for those who know them. Then we compile lists of these definitions so that everyone has access to the same information, but where in the dictionary does it explain why one word is a "good" word and another is a "bad" one? Granted, you may find descriptors such as vulgar, profane, or maybe just slang, but all that these labels accomplish is filing some words into a category which itself is not clearly defined. Again, why is "fuck" in that category while "book" is not? The only way to understand this seemingly arbitrary grouping is to look at the meanings of the words in it.

ASS: This has three definitions. One is a synonym for a donkey and is considered the acceptable usage. Another is a synonym for a person's anus (or that of any animal) and this one is not okay, even though "butt" has the same meaning. However, "butt" cannot refer to a donkey- aha! A clue. Humans don't want to be compared to other animals. The last definition is a generally mean and possibly embarrassing person; "jerk" would also be sufficient.

"Hole" is not vulgar by itself, so the word asshole is just a more extreme version of the word ass.
BITCH: Another one with multiple definitions. You'll see that this is a recurring theme, but not a steadfast rule. One definition is a dog, specifically a female one. Another animal! It's too early to say for sure, but this may be a pattern. When referring to a human, the definition depends on the gender of the person being described. If male, this person is weak, overly sensitive, and may complain a lot. If female, the person is generally mean, but not embarrassing as an ass would be.

BONER: Whoops, no animal this time. It might belong to an animal, but is generally used to refer to a human's erect penis. Unfortunately, with "bitch" we've already ruled out the possibility of body parts as the common thread. Maybe it's something to do with humans deviating from their usual behavior, if we grant that flaccid is the default state.

CHINC or CHINK: A person from east Asia, especially China. Once again the pattern is broken. No animal, no body part, no negative traits. I'm not sure why a Chinese person would be offended by the idea that they are Chinese.

Go home red ink cartridge, you're drunk.
COCK: We're back on track! A male chicken this time, so "bitch" must not be a sexist thing. The vulgar version: A penis. Not necessarily erect; any penis. So much for that high-minded "deviation" hypothesis.
COOCH or COOCHIE: Female genitalia. So far all the body parts are in the crotch area.

COON: A dark-skinned person.
CRACKER: A light-skinned person.
So the best skin tone is a neutral gray?

CUM / JIZZ / SPLOOGE: Sexual fluids- semen or natural female lubrication. Now a pattern is starting to show itself. The body parts are all sex-related (technically the ass is not for sex but it can be used that way).

CUNT / PUSSY / TWAT: A vagina. Yup, sex must be one of the criteria.
DICK / PRICK: A penis. It's nice to see that we're equal opportunity.

DOUCHEBAG: An accessory to a hygiene product- one that is used upon a sexual organ- or another type of mean person. Douching is actually bad for your health, just FYI.

DYKE: A homosexual person, specifically female. Not a body part this time, but still describes somewhat how a person prefers their sex.
FAGGOT: A more general term for homosexuals.

FUCK: Wait, I thought there were only supposed to be thirteen of these.

What a faggot.
GUIDO: A person from Italy.

HOE: A gardening tool or a prostitute.

KIKE: A Jewish person.
KRAUT: A person from Germany.
NIGGER: A person from Africa. Not to be confused with "nigga", an exclusionary version of "friend".

PISS: Another word for urine and urination.
SHIT: Another word for feces and defecation.

SPICK: A hispanic person.

TIT: A woman's breast.

WHORE: A person who has a lot of sex, possibly in exchange for money.

Pictured above: A pair of great tits.
Based on these patterns, it seems that there are multiple criteria and only one is required for inclusion. The main theme is sex, a subject that generates far more happiness than misery, and is absolutely imperative to the survival of our species. The lesser used type of profanity is referring to a person by their ethnicity or nationality, which can easily divide people. However, many people take pride in their national origin and consider it important to their identity.

At first glance it would seem that piss and shit don't belong, however piss can come from a sexual organ and the place where shit comes from is also often used sexually. Tits are completely outside the crotch area, however the image of female breasts is so sexualized that they are almost considered a sexual organ. The only real outlier is bitch, although it can sometimes refer to a person who is sexually subservient.

If there is a conclusion to draw here, it is that there is really nothing bad about "bad words" and we should use them just as much as any other. Marking any portion of a language as off-limits is a limit imposed on our ability to communicate, especially when the words in question have such varied and nuanced definitions. Such nuance is the basis of cleverness and poetry. Who can say that Shakespeare knew language better than David Mamet, or the Beatles better than Tenacious D? If language is beautiful, then profanity is beautiful too. You fuckers.

Now go forth and curse!