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

1 comment:

  1. I know of the juvenile jokes. That's why, although I know Asperger is an Austrian name I always pronounce it as if it's a French name.


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