Bullying

What ADHD Can Look Like

It took a long time to recognize that I have ADHD.

This is not an uncommon story for women and non-men with ADHD, Autism, and a variety of spectrum disorders. Symptoms are often excused as being a lack of discipline or an influence of their gender. Interestingly, many women who are later diagnosed or discover that they are autistic get a diagnosis for ADHD fist.

In school, one of the most common complaints heard from teachers was that I was too chatty. I liked to talk a lot, and very quickly. Sometimes people couldn’t understand me because I spoke so fast, and yet I would hear time and time again how bright I was or how articulate. I would ask endless questions, of everyone. I could never seem to learn that whole “don’t talk to strangers” lesson. In fact even now I find myself talking to strangers. When I left for university, my parents were surprised by how many people around town seemed to know me. While my frequent conversations with strangers bothered my mother endlessly, even into my adult years, so often the people I talked to would end up spilling their stories to me. There are times when one question leads to me seemingly learning a person’s entire life story.

At school, my focus would begin to wander a few months into the school year. I would start of the school year strong, then plummet towards the middle of the year, and then make back some of the marks towards the end. I followed this pattern throughout all my schooling.

Homework was difficult. If it was too easy, I wouldn’t pay complete attention and make inattentive mistakes. If it was too difficult, it was hard to stay focused and still long enough to understand. The longer it took, the more anxious I would get and the more difficult it would become to focus. I felt like I was unintelligent, and often my dad helping me with certain work would turn into screaming matches until suddenly something clicked and it all made sense. (Strange confession, I actually enjoyed those screaming matches with my father, feeling a strange sort of pride that I was the only one who could make him raise his voice. Sometimes I think he enjoyed it too.)

I found a lot of the books for school extremely tedious. I remember the teachers complaining about the fact that I mentioned that I preferred English books to French books. I was at a French school, so I can see why they had a problem with that, but no one considered that my problem might not be with the language, but rather with the fact that the French material was selected for me, while the English material I got to choose myself.

The stories I chose myself were more engaging, more enjoyable. They didn’t follow the same patterns that every “learn to read” type story did. Where the story doesn’t seem to matter so much as they were looking for excuses to use specific words. (more…)

Girl Pattern, Boy Pattern

Parents who want to do right by their children have a lot on their plate, and I do not envy their task.  It is far too easy for even the best of us to end up duplicating the errors that were inflicted on us, or picking up new ones from parenting trends with little basis in reality.

One reality that many well-meaning parents don’t know how to acknowledge is how to make sure that their children don’t fear disclosing their membership in gender and sexual minorities.  This society is hideously transantagonistic, and children notice this well before they have a word for it, and that can make them scared even when they shouldn’t be.

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The Most I’ve Ever Been Hurt

I learned something this week.

I learned that I can beg and plead, at the brink of tears, more emotional than you have heard or seen me in more than ten years, for over an hour, and you’ll be unmoved.

I learned that I can pour my soul out for you on the page, in the form of communication in which I’m most comfortable, and you won’t bother reading it for comprehension.

I learned that you’ll always default to trying to be my emotional inverse, calm and collected when I am urgently emotional, shrieking and yelling when I’m quiet, because you never had any higher end than trying to make me doubt my own feelings and replace them with yours.

I learned that I can make a tiny request, that means more to me than anything, and the measure of your response will be how inconvenient it is for you.

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When It Crashes

Things are about to get very difficult for us.

I’m near the end of my Ph.D. studies.  What should be a time of, if not hope, at least anticipation is a period of constant dread, because of two things I’ve learned.

My supervisor is, in all likelihood, signing the form he has to deliver to the Department of Biology indicating what his financial contribution to me next semester is going to be, and everything he’s said to me since the beginning of last semester says that that amount is about to drop from about $6300 to $0.  He has “incentivized” me to get my degree this semester by hanging the specter of his half of my salary no longer showing up in my bank accounts if I take any longer than that, because the stress of homelessness and lapsed prescriptions somehow does not get between scientists and their work.  I won’t know until he tells me, or I ask the department what he sent them.

But that’s small potatoes compared to the latest development.

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Your Transantagonism is also Ableist

Recently Ophelia Benson added to the TERFY hole she’s been digging by tearing into an abortion provider who chose to use inclusive language when discussing issues surrounding pregnancy and access. It’s an issue that comes up surprisingly often. The discussion around genitalia is so needlessly gendered, that people often fall into the trap of equating body parts with identity.

The equation of women with “having a uterus” or the ability to have children is obviously exclusionary to both trans men and trans women. Not everyone who can get pregnant is a woman and not every woman has the ability to get pregnant. It is also exclusionary to many of us with disabilities.

The social equation of women with having a uterus is extremely damaging to women who, for one reason or another, have lost their ovaries, or uterus. Many of them struggle with feelings of inadequacy or identity loss for this reason. Harmful concepts, like those established by patriarchy and outdated feminist concepts that reduce women to their genitalia, only make the struggle more difficult.

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Art and the Robot

A few years ago, I attended an art museum with Ania and one of her friends from her hometown.  There was friction between the three of us.  Ania hadn’t been in much contact with this friend for years at this time, and importantly, had come into her atheism and become involved with me in that gap.  Her friend, in turn, was still religious.  I earned some of her friend’s future antipathy to me by being a little too insistently flirtatious, which is not a good thing for a perceived cis straight man in a relationship to be toward a woman who is clearly uninterested, but most of it preceded that unfortunate buildup.  A lot of it coalesced into a rather unfortunate turn of phrase she used during that art museum trip:

“[S]he’s not one of those atheists, is [s]he?”

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A Crowbar for Normalcy

There are people out there who have a problem with “labels.”  I’ve dealt with them on several occasions, to point out that some identities cannot so easily be set aside and to point out that, a lot of the time, their pretense of being unlabeled is a front for something altogether more horrid.  There’s something else in the conversation about labels, though, something that intersects with the idea of self-identification and the idea of normalcy to show us why some words are vitally important even when no one chooses them for their own.

I bear many labels.  I am not “just a person.”  I am a Hispanic, American, transfeminine, female, atheist, ex-Catholic, D&D-player, aquarist, student, feminist, skeptic, progressive, and lots of other things, on top of being a member of Homo sapiens.  Every one of these things that give me experiences I share with some people and not with others.  Having a noun for each of these affiliations eases the task of finding those who have similar histories, values, and interests, replacing a cumbersome tangle of “I do these things” and “I know that feeling” multiplied dozens of times.  This is a natural evolution of language, at least in English, by which the Californian descendants of migrants from Oklahoma became “Okies,” aficionados of Doctor Who became “Whovians,” and those who buy binoculars and cameras to witness the behavior of wild dinosaurs became “birders.”  Other connections and similarities build around these terms and the groupings they represent, and they become identities.

This, I have learned, certain incredibly privileged people face with consternation.  They see this array of defined difference and segmented identity and see in it the seeds of future conflict.  Why do we need to be all of these other things, have all of these other affiliations, recognize ourselves as things other than “just people”?  Aren’t all these labels “divisive,” separating us from our fellow humans with a line between “us” the Hispanics, birders, otakus, sapeurs, Qizilbashi, lesbians, and liberals and “them” the white people, herpers, film geeks, goths, Uzbeks, straight women, and socialists?   Doesn’t recognizing oneself as distinct in this way automatically separate oneself from others and therefore prevent us from recognizing what we have in common with them, leading immediately to their demonization and dehumanization?  Why can’t we all be “just people”?

These are the folks who think that QUILTBAGs disappearing back into our closets would “solve” our oppression.  For if we can no longer be identified, how can we be targeted for violence and discrimination?

That is what this rhetoric is: an attempt at erasure.  This rhetoric is pointed specifically at people who differ from a perceived norm, for daring to recognize and then not be ashamed of that difference.  It is pointed even harder at people who notice that their membership in one of these minorities is related to hardships they face, because even noticing that pattern, let alone seeing it as something that ought to be addressed, requires recognizing some people as being different from others.  The endgame of this line of thinking is to erase people’s experiences of difference and especially oppression by denying them the voice and language needed to express those experiences.  It is not the majority who loses the ability to talk about itself when people with certain commonalities abandon the best linguistic tool for finding one another: it is the minorities.

When we are “all just people,” what we get is “we are all the majority.”  To bury the breadth of humanity under “we are all just people” is to pretend that the loudest of us can speak for everyone—for, if we are all just people, why would it ever matter which one we ask about something?

This brings us to a labeling bogeyman that has gotten vastly outsized attention over the past forty years: “cis” and its derivatives.

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Crime of Being Weird in Public

While we were at the DMV, a man was visibly stimming by chewing on his shirt, and readjusting it often. He was awkward and drew some attention and stares. He was also wearing an oversized shirt and shorts that made it look like he wasn’t wearing pants. The police were called.

He showed them the shorts he was wearing, but that wasn’t enough. They stayed with him while he was waiting to get his information. Throughout it all the police were drawing attention to themselves and him. Finally, tired of waiting, they got him bumped up. Then when he was done, loudly asked if anyone would give him a ride somewhere, then laughing when the people who were stuck waiting in line couldn’t.

When the police were first called to the scene, most people were pretty entertained by the idea of a man at the DMV not wearing pants. Was it a protest of no shoes, no shirt, no service? Did he just forget? Nothing was hanging out, he just didn’t seem to be wearing pants. When the joke was broken and the tiny shorts revealed, most felt that that should have been the end of it. It was funny, but it wasn’t criminal.

The cops continued presence, and the way that they kept drawing everyone’s attention, however, soon made everyone uncomfortable. It’s one thing to respond when there is the potential of inappropriate nudity, but when it turns out that that is not the case, the continued mockery is just plain cruelty. What we were witnessing was a man with a presumed mental illness and/or cognitive disability, who was being tormented for being different.

We thought that was the end of it, until we left an hour later and saw him walking with his big bag trying to get to a bus stop.

We pulled over hoping to give him a ride somewhere, upset with how the cops had treated them. Just as I got to him and asked him if I could drive him somewhere, two police cars showed up. I had been in the process of walking away because he had said he was ok, but when I saw the cops, I hesitated and waited.

They asked if I was with him. He looked at me pleadingly while saying yes, so I answered that we had been together at the DMV, leaving it just ambiguous enough in case I was pressed for information. The young one got on his case again about his pants, telling him to pull them down and mocking him for wearing such small shorts. Uncomfortable, the man asked me if I would drive him, but the young cop cut him off saying that “the nice young lady isn’t going to want someone like you in her car.”

I started saying that actually I had just offered him a ride, but they had moved on to grilling him about why he was using a “stolen” Walmart shopping cart to carry his bags, and generally being unpleasant. The man insisted that he just wanted to get to the bus stop and then he would sit down and no one would notice him. The older one finally intervened and let him go while taking the attention of the younger one away from him.

I once again offered him a ride where he was going so he wouldn’t have to deal with the cops again. He said it was ok. Concerned but respecting his boundaries, I waved goodbye. At this point the older cop started lecturing me about offering rides to “people like that”. Seriously pissed and annoyed at this point, I pointed out that his behaviour at the DMV and on the way suggested the potential of autism spectrum disorder (specifically the stimming, the difficulty processing in the face of aggression, etc) and that people with autism or someone with a mental health issue were more likely to be victims of violence than aggressors. I was safer offering a ride to him, than an abled man.

The cop looked displeased and pointed out that he had been attacked by the very same type of people who he was trying to protect and they were mentally ill. To which I retorted that that was probably because they had bad associations with people in authority. Finally, not wanting to make him decide to go after me I smiled and said I guess I was just too Canadian for my own good, nodded to him and went back to the car. In the time I was talking to the cops, the harassed gentleman made it to the bus stop, hopefully not to be harassed again.

I left feeling extremely uncomfortable. Rather than being helpful, such as potentially by offering the man a ride to his destination. Or by telling the dispatch simply to let people know that he was in fact wearing shorts, or even just providing him an additional police escort just to show people that they are aware of the situation. There were a myriad of options open to them to solve the issue. Instead they actively got in the way of someone else trying to be helpful, created a shaming environment and openly mocked the situation. They were provoking him and looking for a reason to arrest him for the crime of being weird in public.

If I hadn’t been there what would have happened? If he didn’t have someone there to help act as a shield and step in front when they moved aggressively towards him, would he have been provoked in such a way as to create the perception of an excuse to take him down?

What makes this even more perverse, is that these men weren’t bad cops. The older one, in his misguided way had tried to look out for me. He probably didn’t realize all the ways in which he was making the situation worse.

The younger one was simply arrogant. Confident in his perception that he was the “better man”. How much of that act might have even been macho showing off in front of the “female”. His actions were creating a dangerous situation. He was actively provoking this other man. He was looking for any excuse to harass him further.

This is the world that people with disabilities, and especially neurodivergent people grow up in. One where they are not who the police are protecting, but who they are protecting others from, even though violence is much more common in the other direction. A world where being weird is a crime.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

On December 28, 2014, the internet was rocked by the final words of Leelah Alcorn who committed suicide. Leelah took her own life because after revealing herself as Trans to her family, she was systematically abused and tortured until she would give up her identity. Her parents refused her access to treatment that would have helped her body develop in a way in line with her identity. She was isolated from any systems of support and repeatedly told that what she was and who she was, was wrong.

Her final plea was to create a Trans inclusive world where others wouldn’t share her fate.

First a quick introduction to what it means to be Trans: Someone who is transgender was assigned the wrong gender at birth. They weren’t, as is sometimes said in reference to Trans women: “born a boy/male”. They were never boys to begin with. This is not to excuse refusing to accept a trans person’s own narrative. If they chose to speak about their own story in this way, that is their prerogative and not for you or anyone else to argue with.

They go through a process called transitioning where they seek to reclaim their real gender identity through various means. These means may include a change of outward presentation through the use of clothes and jewelry, hormones, surgery, and other such actions. A Trans person may use all, some, or none, of these means, and their use of them is in no way indicative of the “realness” of their identity.

Over the last several days many people have shared her story and there is a push to make the changes that Leelah was hoping for.

I have also seen, however, in the last several days, people sharing memes about how religion killed Leelah. Even a well-known organization, American Atheists, shared her image with quotes from her note. Specifically, only those listing how Christianity was used as an excuse for her torture and abuse. What’s more, while the photo gendered her correctly, there was no mention made of the fact that she was trans. The focus on the picture was entirely on religion’s role.

While there is something to say about the religious enabling that made the bigotry possible, the level of appropriation demonstrated in this picture is sickening and an insult.

While Christianity did play a role in this abuse, it did so as an excuse to justify bigotry not as the cause. Religiously motivated bigotry exists in a chicken-egg state. Which came first the bigoted opinion or the religion that justifies it?

In this case however, the question of which came first is irrelevant. Regardless of their religious affiliation, statistical likelihood is that they would have reacted badly to her coming out. It is true that they employed their religion as a tool for their abuse, but it was not the only tool available to them. Our culture is pervaded with transmisogyny and trans antagonism. Men in dresses continue to be a major source of amusement. Gender identity is still struggling to be recognized legally as a protected right/class from discrimination. The murder of trans women is not recognized as a crime in the court system, let alone as a hate crime.

Being non-religious doesn’t prevent you from being trans antagonistic or trans misogynistic. There have been many examples within our own atheist communities. You can be an atheist and be a bigot. The two are not mutually exclusive. The graphic borrowing Leelah’s words, while denying her identity and her ultimate goal, implies heavily that that is in fact the case.

This is particularly dishonest, since American Atheists recently made headlines over asserting publicly that being pro-life and atheist are not mutually exclusive.
The purpose of the graphic was to harness the outrage over Leelah’s death and point it instead at a goal of their choosing. A goal that is not the one that Leelah gave her life in pursuit of. They are taking advantage of her death to persuade their cause. They do so with no indication or proof that their goals in any way change the lives of trans people for the better.

Let me lay down a few terrifying statistics for you:

  • The Average Lifespan of Trans women is 30. The most common causes of death are murder and suicide.
  • The ‘trans panic defence’ is the defence used by murderers of trans people for killing trans people. The defense is literally: “They were trans” and that is deemed a good enough excuse for taking someone’s life.
  • Trans youth and Queer youth make up the largest demographic of homeless youth. In the US and Canada between 40-50% of homeless youth identify with at least one letter of QUILTBAG. That percentage is higher in more conservative states.

Making atheism more accepted in the mainstream, and possibly even encouraging more people to become atheists, in no way does anything to address those statistics. This is especially the case when the organization refuses to admit that social justice concerns have a place within atheism: to wit their association with known anti-feminists, their assertion that being anti-choice is not against “atheist values”, and other such examples from their own recent history.

(EDIT: I have been told that Leelah called herself an atheist in public.Here is verification. Even if true, it doesn’t excuse the rest)) What makes this an even more shameless appropriation of the outrage at Leelah’s death is the fact that there is NO INDICATION THAT LEELAH WAS AN ATHEIST! (We don’t know! Perhaps she was, but she could have just as easily been someone who maintained a faith in a god. This appropriation just gives her parents one more fucking excuse for what they did. Her community one more fucking excuse for their bigotry. It makes fighting her fight just that little extra bit harder.

American Atheists owes trans people, and Leelah Alcorn, their apology. In the future they should show their support for trans people not by stealing the attention away from where it belongs, but rather by devoting their own organization towards creating a safer world. Either put up, or shut up.

The End.

“Dialogue”

Imagine an abusive family. Imagine a family that at every opportunity does what they can to tear you down. To scream at you and tell you how everything that happens is your fault. Imagine that it gets to the point where you cut off contact with them, block them out of your life. You do this, because every time you speak it ends up with them screaming at you.  It gets to the point where you are afraid to answer the phone on the off chance that it’s them. You watch every word you say or write because you worry it will somehow get back to them and trigger another fight, even if what you are saying had nothing to do with them. They look for excuses to be angry. You have to yell to be heard, but when you raise your voice, you are attacked for being too angry, for not listening, for being too aggressive. You are told to shut up and stop yelling, all the while being yelled at.

You cut them off, except cutting them off doesn’t give you any peace. They manage to get in touch with you through someone else. Someone they have convinced that they want to talk to resolve things. The person urges you to make up with them. After all family is family and it is not good to be divisive. You want to agree; you want to hope that this time finally you can have an honest discussion about everything that has gone wrong, on how their actions have made you feel. You want this to be over. You want your anxiety to end, and go back to talking about the things you both care about instead of being called names. But you also remember the last time they promised to work things out, when the dialogue ended up being nothing more than an excuse to yell at you some more. To tear you down just a little bit further. So you ask for a show of good faith; something small, but something to show that they are sincere. Or maybe something not that small, but something that has to be done for any resolution to take place. But they aren’t willing to make that sacrifice. Because it is not about resolution, it is about further abuse. It is about getting the chance to yell at you and abuse you further, but in a new location; a location, where if you don’t show up, you are accused of being the unreasonable one. It is nothing more than an attempt to get at you again; to circumvent your attempts to cut them out of your life for the sake of your health, or peace.

Abusers know how to make themselves look like the good guy. They convince everyone else that you are ungrateful, a liar. They trot out edited or incomplete versions of stories to explain how you are a troublemaker and really, they are the ones that are wounded and they are just trying to make peace for everyone’s sake. When you show other people the examples of the harmful things they’ve done to you, they insist it is out of context. They explain how it was all a misunderstanding and all you need to do is talk about it to make it all better. And there is nothing you can do, because it is physically impossible to bear your wounded heart. It is impossible to show everyone the scars that exist in unseen places; the anxiety, the depression, the despair. Even if they catch a glimpse of it, it is not the full story. Unless they have gone through the same thing, they cannot understand the pain and the hurt that comes with that kind of abuse and so they accuse you. They accuse you of being stubborn, divisive. For fairness sake, they grant that some of what might have happened to you is unfair, but they take “the middle ground”. All this, not understanding that there is no middle ground, because they compare an amputation, a fatal wound, to a paper cut and call you both equally injured.

Now instead of a family, imagine that this is a community. Imagine it is a group where you found acceptance for believing something different then everyone else. Imagine that this community talked about the persecution they faced for this common belief. They welcomed you and told you that they understood your pain. You felt so thrilled about the acceptance that you opened up. You talked about the problems you had because of your faith and they accepted you. You talked about the problems you faced because of people who denied reason and evidence and they accepted you. And then you talked about the problems that you have because of your gender identity, or your race, or your income level, and they shunned you. They shunned you and accused you of making it up. They yelled at you for being divisive when you point out how people in this very community sometimes treated you differently or badly because of things beyond your control. You think, they must have misunderstood, you don’t want to blame someone, you just wanted to offer suggestions on how to make this better.  But it didn’t matter. By bringing it up, you opened the doors. They no longer saw you as one of them and so they derided you. The screamed at your and harassed you. They sent others who thought like them to harass you. They screamed at you, they spread rumours about you and insulted you. While they did this they told everyone about how you had created a division in the group. They mentioned how you were spreading untrue stories about your oppression. They called you professional victim. They covered their tracks like abusers do. They smiled their way into people’s trust.  Then when you cut them off, when you finally said enough, they talked about how you were destroying the movement.  They convinced people that you were looking for attention. And then you insinuated that you would be willing to make up, to “have a dialogue’, for ‘the good of the movement’.

But this isn’t about dialogue. This isn’t about the good of the movement, or healing the rift. It is a chance to further harass you. To further show you that they can push you around and out of the movement, and still have everyone stay “in the middle”. If you try to defend yourself, you are blamed for being uncooperative, while their continued attempts are shutting you up are ignored or painted as childish pranks. What used to be your source of support is instead a source of anxiety. Your life’s work is mocked and ignored. But you are forced to put up with the harassment in the interest of discussion. Any show of faith you ask for is blown out of proportion.

When you point out that despite the beautiful promises of discourse, the harassment still continues, you are accused of being unfair. The other parties all want to be “neutral”. You are asked to ignore all the spiteful, hateful, in some cases illegal things people do to you in the name of “healing and dialogue”.  Maybe you were too harsh in telling people about your oppression. Maybe you didn’t have it that bad really. Maybe you did want the attention didn’t you, and maybe you exaggerated how bad things were just a little bit; for effect? They don’t realize that their neutrality is nothing more than silent consent, silent legitimization of the abuse you suffer. It is saying your black eye must have been the result of walking into a door at the same time that they ignore you being pushed down the stairs.

Albert Einstein said it best: “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

Neutrality is not always the best choice. Not when neutrality means ignoring the suffering of others in favour of false unity. Not when neutrality is hurting those who have not found their voice yet and keeping them from speaking.