Saturday, July 31, 2010

Gay test

Consider everything that's going on in this video... and I'm looking at the girl. Ahem.

Cool song though!

Edit: removed video because it was fuckin' up my blog layout. Video here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

How religion almost ruined it

A few days ago I wrote about how cool my mom was. In that post, I hinted that she hadn't always been so lovely - didn't like black people or Jews until I befriended black and Jewish kids, didn't like gay people until her own daughter was queer, etc. While the fact that she ultimately turned completely around in her views, and the fact that she seemed to do it almost entirely for my sake, is amazing, it would've obviously been a lot better if she hadn't held those not-so-nice views in the first place. I had to grow up hearing them. I had to consciously choose different values from hers in order to feel like a good person.

So here was the icky side to my otherwise sweet mom: She was very Southern, in all the more unpleasant ways, and used the kinds of words very old-fashioned Southerners use, the kind which make liberals like me, who have no problem using "fuck" every five seconds, flinch. She was Southern Baptist, and for those who don't know Southern Baptists, that's one of your more, shall we say, brimstone-oriented churches. I don't remember learning anything in church about how to be kind or how to be a good person. All I remember was the word "saved". Get saved, or go to Hell. Get your friends saved too, or else they go to Hell, and it's all your fault. Get random strangers on the street saved. I was skeptical of this idea from the start, but my mom embraced it. She believed anyone who failed to be "saved" was going to Hell, and that meant they were evil. Now, I'm not against belief in a higher power, by any stretch. I'm not even against adhering to a specific religion for yourself. But I am against such belief being used to shame and control others, and that was the way it was used where I grew up.

She made some effort to try and force me to believe this way, but I resisted every time. I wouldn't read my Bible. Too hard to understand, was my excuse, although I was reading encyclopedias by that age. I argued with her about whether Jews would go to Hell if they were God's chosen people, because that didn't make any sense. And what about people way over in, I dunno, China, who maybe never heard of Jesus at all. They'd go to Hell? Really? Why?

My mom's successes in raising me came from the fact that when I asserted my own ideas, she listened. She took them seriously and discussed them, even when she didn't agree. She did not simply tell me I better do what the Bible says. She liked the fact that I was thinking about it. And when I said something that seemed a bit more, well... kindhearted than what we were learning at church, she tended to recognize that, and sometimes would decide she agreed with me.

Ah, but her failures... Every single one of my mom's failures as a parent came from the times she tried to force her values on me. The time she stole my Dungeons and Dragons manual and hid it because she thought it would somehow get me involved in the Occult, thus ensuring I would forever be secretive about what I was reading. The time I tried to convert to Wicca and she screamed at me that it was "devil-worship", thus ensuring that I would never share any of my religious thoughts or feelings with her ever again. The times she decided the music I was listening to wasn't "Christian" enough and told me to stop - this never lasted more than a few hours, but it ensured I would never again freely share with her the music that I liked.

This paints a pretty different picture from the happy-unschooly post I wrote the other day, huh? The fact is, my family was both. My mom was forever torn between a set of values that said her daughter should be free to make her own choices, and a set of values that said there is some higher power we all must obey, and that that higher power is not very patient or nice. I'd say 90% of the time, that first set of values won. But the second set was bigger and scarier, with a lot more institutional muscle behind it, and so even her kindest, most patient moments were tainted with a sense of "What if I'm sending her on the path to Hell?" It must've been really hard for her.

I see lots of people who want to call themselves unschoolers, even radical unschoolers, but they've got this other set of values hanging over them. Maybe religion, maybe the environment, maybe hardcore feminism, whatever, but it's a set of values that does to them exactly what my mom's religion did to her: It tinges their choices with fear and guilt. I am here to say, from experience, that if you raise your kids this way, it will affect your kids. There's a price to putting your own set of values above what your kids need.

The price you should be worried about isn't that somebody on Always Learning will say "That's not unschooling". There are no unschooling police. Nobody can stop you from calling yourself that. The price you should be worried about is that your kids will stop feeling they can be honest with you. They'll stop sharing their favorite music and books and games with you, they'll stop letting you meet their friends. They won't tell you they'd like to try Wicca or they have a crush on someone of the same sex. They will still DO all of those things, mind you, or at least they'll want to. But when they want someone to confide in about it all, it won't be you. You'll have lost that forever, and more importantly, your kid will have lost having a safe place to turn when they need someone.

That's what you need to be worried about.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Conspicuous Consumption

Edit: It has occurred to me, upon rereading this post, that it potentially warrants a trigger warning for people with compulsive hoarding tendencies. As far as I *know*, no one I know has this problem, but people keep their issues to themselves, and blogs get around. So if this applies to you, consider this your trigger warning.

It seems that one of the more recent concerns that is driving people away from whole-life unschooling is the notion that unschoolers are wasteful, privileged, the Ur example of Western overconsumption. That we just buy, buy, buy, we waste gas, our kids are greedy and obsessed with stuff. That we are the people ruining the Earth.

With all due respect, this is a load of hot bullshit. I'll resist the urge to respond by snorting and saying "Have you met any unschoolers?" I will also (mostly) spare you my rant on how I believe the Earth is being destroyed by broad institutional and societal problems that will continue to destroy the Earth until they are changed, and that it is not fair to hold children responsible for society's fuck-ups. Instead, I'm going to try to clarify some things about how your average unschooling family lives.

First, let's talk gas. Consider that in the average American household, both parents work full-time outside the home, with an average total daily commute of 45 minutes. At 60 miles per hour, that's 45 miles a day = 1.8 gallons of gas in an average 25mpg car = $5.40 at 3.00/gal. x 5 days a week = 225 miles, 9 gallons of gas, $27 per week per working parent. These are conservative estimates; some people have less fuel-efficient cars, a much longer or slower commute, etc.

Your average unschooling family, if there can be such a thing, has one parent or caregiver working outside the home while the other is either a stay-at-home parent (or grandparent, or what have you), works from home, or works only a couple days a week outside the home. Supposing the mostly-home parent does not commute at all, that is a savings of 225 miles of driving per week over the average American family. Even when the "home" parent drives kids to activities, they have the flexibility to plan those activities so they don't require 225 miles of driving a week.

Does that put the occasional, few-times-a-year road trip into perspective?

But of course, having only a one- or one-and-a-half-income household comes with a price. How can unschoolers afford to give their kids all the things they want without going into huge debt or going broke? Two answers:

1) Unschoolers don't give their kids everything they want. Even higher-income unschoolers can't do that. I wanted to go over the rainbow, I wanted to live in the Mushroom Kingdom, I wanted to time-travel back to the 80s so I could be a teenager then instead of the 90s. Couldn't happen. I'm not trying to be difficult, but really, unschooling doesn't mean you can rope the moon or bend space-time, and kids understand that. If you explain money to them, they will understand that too.

2) When unschoolers do give their kids what they want, they are really creative about it. I've never seen any group of people that makes better use of thrift stores, yard sales, flea markets, Freecycle, Craigslist, eBay, bartering, etc. than unschoolers. With all the perfectly good used kids' stuff floating around in the world, telling your kids they cannot have something because you are anti-consumerist is a poor excuse. Getting stuff secondhand is saving it from the landfill. I know it goes against every "pay for every moment of joy with three times as much guilt" moral we are taught in this culture, but really, you can get stuff and help the Earth at the same time. Unschoolers keep a LOT of stuff out of the landfills, and their kids grow up knowing there is more than enough stuff in the world for everybody - and that there are better things to do when you don't want something anymore than toss it in the garbage.

"But kids in Africa don't have Barbies..."

First off, Africa is an entire continent made up of dozens of countries, each with its own economy and culture, and yes some of those economies and cultures do include Barbies. I think Africans as a whole are probably tired of being used as every white Westerner's example of the saddest most destitute people on Earth. Second, the kids you are talking about, the ones you see in Christian Children's Fund commercials with flies crawling on their eyes, also do not have medical care. They do not have reliable shelter, good food, good shoes, access to information, and plenty of other things any parent is going to make damn sure their kids have if they can. "Not everyone has this" is not a good enough reason to withhold something from a child. Third, I firmly believe the best way to make a child truly appreciate what they have is to foster a mindset of abundance in that child. The greediest people in the world are those who have been taught that there is not enough wealth to go around. These are the people who have billions of dollars, yet feel threatened by mothers getting $100 in food stamps to feed their children. Teaching kids that there is plenty for everybody will make them much more likely to feel a sense of injustice when they see people who have nothing.

I don't have any sort of hard concrete poll numbers to back this up, but I can say from experience that unschoolers in general are much more Earth-friendly than your average mainstream family, and that includes unschooling families who do not consciously practice "green living". There are lots and lots of unschoolers who grow their own organic gardens, raise their own chickens, have compost heaps, ride bikes, run their own businesses rather than working for megacorporations, buy local, buy used, handmake stuff, cook from scratch, and so on. I know lots of unschoolers and lots of not-unschoolers, and I personally see much, much higher rates of these activities among unschoolers. In addition, I don't know one single unschooler - and by this I mean the parents *and* the kids and teens! - who is not socially conscious in some way. Some are moreso than others, but in general the unschoolers I have met are very awake and interested in what is going on in the world. They have strong opinions and values and beliefs. They don't all agree on those opinions, but they've all thought carefully about what they believe. They're not greedy, they're not selfish, they do not blindly follow what society tells them to do. I can't prove any of this stuff with statistics. All I can do is invite you to really spend some time around lots of unschoolers and get to know us before you judge the way we live. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

...but she was THAT mom?

Wow! I have been totally floored by the response to my last post, about my mom. I knew she was That Mom, but I didn't know she was that mom. The kind of mom people want to be like. The kind of mom whose everyday actions make people cry. Because the sad part is, nobody but me ever appreciated my mom while she was alive. She had some mental and cognitive problems that meant she mostly just stayed home all the time, and she was very awkward socially. I was the only person who got to see her shine. Me and my friends. I don't think I ever had a friend over who didn't tell me my mom was awesome. But other adults... well they kinda just thought she was dumb. So hearing so many people say they wish they had my mom, or they wish they could be like my mom, has healed something in me. It's wonderful.

It almost seems like my mom was like Vincent van Gogh, and no one appreciated her work until she was gone. But if I say that, then I'll be calling myself Starry Night, and that's not what I mean at all. I just wish she could've been here to hear people say how cool she was. (She wouldn't have believed a word of it though. She would've just shrugged and said "I'll do anything for my daughter.")

The embarrassing thing though is that I sort of took her for granted. Not in the sense that I didn't appreciate all she did for me, because I did. I just didn't see it as unusual. Having a mom who loved to play Barbies and bake cakes and let me do pretty much whatever I wanted was just normal to me. When I got older and realized other kids got grounded for stupid things, or weren't allowed to do totally harmless things I was allowed to do, I thought THAT was weird. When I tried to get other kids to play in the dirt with me at recess, sometimes they'd say "I'm not allowed to get dirty", and I'd look at them like they had three heads. I was always like, "Don't you have a washing machine? That's what they're FOR!" I couldn't conceive of the idea of clean clothes being more important than having fun. (I realize now that they were probably going somewhere after school, but still. Birds fly, mosquitoes buzz in people's ears, kids get dirty. It ain't rocket science.)

So anyway, everything I wrote in that post just seemed normal to me. I keep rereading it, trying to see where the magic is that makes even unschooling parents see it as special, but I don't. It all seems like the same stuff you guys do! Maybe it just looks different through a kid's eyes. Maybe your kids will take your parenting for granted, too - in a good way. In the "this is just how you should treat kids" way. Hopefully the number of kids who grow up that way will keep growing and someday eclipse the number of kids who grow up saying things like "My dad always beat the snot out of me and I turned out okay." I always feel like a judgemental asshole when I say that conventional parenting, all of it, seems like child abuse to me, but well... if you treated your spouse that way...

I guess I just wanted to say that I think all you unschooling parents are awesome, and if your kids ever seem to take what you do for granted, take heart - it means they see adults treating kids well as no big deal, just the normal state of things. And that's a very good thing.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

She Was That Mom

Inspired by Ronnie's "I Am That Mom/Dad" blog carnival. I am not that mom, yet, but my mom was.

She was THAT mom, whose kid went around looking "like Gravel Gertie" because she couldn't bear to force a brush through a screaming, crying tender-headed kid's hair.

She was that mom who gave up trying to spank her kid because the kid always ran away and it ended in a giggling game of tag every time.

She was that mom who "wasted" her food stamps on soda and ice cream sandwiches, or sometimes Gushers, or Great Bluedini Kool-Aid, or whatever new snack her kid wanted to try that week.

She was that mom who could barely pay the bills, yet bought her teenager an electric guitar and never once complained that said teenager never learned to play. She was that mom who bought her kid an acoustic guitar, too, even though she still hadn't learned the electric one.

She was that mom who let her kid stay home from school everytime the kid had anxiety or a 'tummyache' because she hated school, too, and she knew how rough it could be. She was that mom who called up the school and told them her daughter would not be coming back, when they denied her daughter a homebound teacher while she was sick with mono.

She was that mom whose kid was GOING to have a Nintendo 64 no matter how sold out they were, or how broke she was, because it meant the world to her kid. She was that mom who picked her kid up early from school to go get one, because her kid's happiness was more important than the last 30 minutes of fifth-grade English.

She was that mom whose house was always a wreck because there were Barbies all over the den, books all over the living room, dressup clothes all over the bedroom and Play-Doh all over the kitchen table. She was that mom whose bathroom wall was fingerpainted with palm trees and beach balls because she wanted the bathtub to be "Hawaii".

She was that mom whose only rule was "No running in the house while there's a record playing or a cake in the oven". That mom who let her daughter paint her room neon green, and then deep burgundy, and then bright orange, without worrying about the future saleability of the house. That mom who let her daughter wear black lipstick and dye her hair purple and chat on the internet until 4 AM.

She was that mom who began life as a racist homophobic anti-Semite, but never turned away her kid's black and Jewish and queer friends. She was that mom who loved them all, in the end. She was that mom who couldn't understand when her daughter's friend tried to explain why he liked to wear women's clothes, but smiled anyway and gave him some of her extra purses.

She was that mom who let her daughter's boyfriend move in and live in her house for a year, even though he never paid rent or helped around the house, because he had nowhere else to go.

She was that mom who gave up every religious and political conviction she'd held for her entire life on the day her daughter stood in the kitchen and told her she might be a lesbian. She was that mom who gave her daughter a big hug and said "And you could still get married and have kids, even! Just wait until your aunt dies first", and turned tears into laughter.

She was that mom whose final conscious act was to fight like hell to squeeze her daughter's hand, even when she could barely move her eyes, because she wasn't going to die without trying, one more time, to comfort her kid.

I love you, Mama.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Today, I ate a cupcake.

I know, you're thinking "Great big deal", right? True, the eating of cupcakes is not, in itself, usually a noteworthy event, though cupcakes are sometimes present at noteworthy events. In this case, the cupcake itself had no special significance, except that it triggered a memory.

Cupcakes, in my childhood, were a rarity. My own mother baked cakes frequently. I was always involved in the baking and frosting of these cakes, always got to lick the spoon afterward, and my access to the cake itself was never restricted. But cupcakes were a special thing, something I usually got at school or at other people's houses. Thus, I never encountered cupcakes until I was about six, and unfortunately, my earliest cupcake-memory is not a happy one.

For being only six, I remember it pretty clearly. I was in kindergarten, and it was some kid's birthday, which was always a happy occasion because it meant the afternoon could be devoted to a little party if the kid's parents felt like dropping by. In this case, they had brought cupcakes, more than enough for everyone. The condition for receiving cupcakes, as per my teacher's requirements, was that we had to finish our after-lunch work, in this case coloring a picture of McGruff (you know, "Take a Bite Out of Crime", that McGruff) teaching us about fire safety. For most kids, this was an easy task, but I had a pure, unadulterated hatred for coloring. I would frequently get back papers on which I had gotten all the answers right but lost points for refusing to color an irrelevant drawing of a puppy, or whatever, at the top of, say, a math sheet. Even being a small child, I knew this was unfair bullshit. So I was generally determined to color as little as possible, and that McGruff thing was no exception. I knew the fire safety rules. Why couldn't I just answer questions about those? Why did I have to color?

Well, on that cupcake day, I wasn't coloring. I was just going to sit there, because in a few minutes we were going to go sit on the sidewalk and eat cupcakes and celebrate that kid's birthday, and McGruff wasn't going to matter anymore. Except when it came time for the party, and I tried to join my classmates in filing outside, my teacher stopped me. She told me in a stern and unsympathetic tone that I must finish my coloring sheet or I was not going anywhere.

Though I wanted to cry, I didn't. This teacher had broken me of crying on the first day of school, when she threatened me - a child who had just walked in the door and had not previously been away from my mother longer than an hour - by saying she would send me to the principal's office if I didn't stop crying, and that I would be in Big Trouble. I had learned that school was a scary, unsafe and mean place, and I learned that crying was only an annoying weakness in my teacher's eyes. So I rarely cried in kindergarten, even though I frequently had reason to.

I don't know how long I sat there staring at McGruff and wondering why I didn't deserve to have a cupcake. It was probably only about 15 minutes, but to me, it felt like hours. I still wasn't coloring. I was too upset to color, and anyway why should I give in to someone who hated me so much? I could hear the other kids outside, laughing happily and saying that the cupcakes had silver "BB's" on them. Silver BB's were my favorite kind of sprinkles. The kid's mother took pity on me, and told me gently that when I finished coloring I would be welcome to join the other kids.

"Yeah," said my teacher with a sarcastic snort. "When and if."

I was not too young to understand the meaning of that if. "You don't know this kid," my teacher was implying. "We'll be lucky if she gets her shit together before they invent flying cars." I knew, then and there, that I was my teacher's least favorite student. I knew that the person who was solely responsible for my care for six hours a day, during which I had no access to my own mother, thought I was too stupid to color a goddamn picture.

Do you know how fucked up it is to do that to a six-year-old?

Let me be clear. It is not fucked up because six-year-olds are somehow entitled to free cupcakes. It is not fucked up because coloring a picture is beyond the grasp of your average six-year-old. Neither of those things are true, I will grant you that. No, it is fucked up because six-year-olds are just beginning to form their concept of what kind of place this world is. It is fucked up because six-year-olds have just reached the stage of development where they are noticing differences between themselves and other people. And you are teaching them that their willingness to color a picture of an anthropomorphic dog in a trenchcoat determines whether or not they are as worthy and deserving of enjoyable experiences, even of inclusion in important cultural rituals (in this case, a birthday), as other children their age. I did not learn any lessons about the value of hard work or following directions. Instead, I came out of this experience believing I was less-than, stupid, an outcast, a burden, and unwanted by one of the main people I had to trust to help me meet my basic needs. I believed that I was not as good, on some fundamental level, as the other children.

At the age of six. Six. Long before I was old enough to do anything but accept my inferiority as objective truth. Because I didn't like to color.

If this were just my whiny story about how my childhood sucked, I wouldn't bother telling it. But this sort of thing is done to children - by teachers, and also by parents, the people who are supposed to make a child feel loved unconditionally - every single day. And in those moments, what the caregivers are communicating to children is that their willingness to comply, to obey, to complete a task which serves no relevant purpose in the child's life, is more important than whether the child feels loved, safe, or worthy. It communicates that the child's access to such things as food, drink, exercise, and affection - essential human needs* - are contingent upon the child's performance. When such treatment is given to a circus animal, it is investigated by the ASPCA. When it is given to children, it is called education or discipline. The taskmasters are praised for a job well done, and given cooing sympathy - the kind they refuse to provide to their own small children - from other parents if the child proves difficult to train.

*That* is fucked up.

*I am not suggesting, of course, that cupcakes are an essential human need. But they do fall under the category of food, which a child understands to be an essential need. Indeed, it is a longstanding tactic of parents to deny their children real, life-sustaining food as a punishment - e.g., "going to bed without dinner."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Day in the Life (of a "Humorless Feminist")

This was my day on Monday. At first I wrote it down because I was in a silly mood and felt like writing about how I was spending my day swiveling in an office chair eating cupcakes. At some point during the day I realized there was some irony here, about feminists always being accused of being "too serious", "too angry", "humorless" etc. (And yes, I have personally been accused of having no sense of humor because I don't find racist/sexist/homophobic humor funny. Because I'm a very serious person who hates to laugh, you see. I am holding back laughter even now!) So let's have a look at my very angry, humorless day, shall we?


1pm - Wake up in a stupor caused by spending the entire day before doing housework and grocery shopping and making an emergency run to Walmart which involved standing in line for 30 minutes next to a lady who kept abusively yelling at her children and all I was trying to buy was deodorant and buttermilk but they didn't have a 20 items or less checkout open for some reason, and then I came back and baked cupcakes, and really the only time I sat down all day was when I was too exhausted to do anything so I watched some show about cougars. In the sexual sense.

1:13pm - Obtain leftover pork chop. Spend two hours watching Ivan Coyote videos on Youtube and using Twitter to harass Sarah Palin and post inane things about Blue's Clues.

3:38pm - Decide that I somehow still didn't get enough sleep. Go lay down. Decide sleep is for suckers. Read Dave Barry Turns 50 instead.

4:00pm - My friend Sabrina, who I am staying with, reminds me that tonight is acting class at the library and asks if I want to go. I tell her "no" through my door in a tone that sounds really rude but is actually mostly tired and disoriented.

4:50pm - I am still reading and I keep seeing statements in which Dave Barry is describing the 50s but could just as easily be describing the 80s. Sabrina is leaving for class so I get back on the computer and decide to write a bunch of those quotes down and compare them with my own childhood.

5:00pm - I am tired of Dave Barry so I mindlessly refresh Facebook for half an hour instead.

5:30pm - I wander into the kitchen for reasons I am not sure of until I get there and stare into space for five minutes. I decide I want coffee. There are forgotten packets of hazelnut instant coffee in the cabinet. Sabrina's mom wanders into the kitchen half-asleep (she works nights) and starts asking me if I need anything and I say no and she's like "Well if you need it let us know and we may not have it but maybe we'll get it" and I'm like "kay" but what I'm thinking is "I hope she leaves the room fast because I don't want her to know I am drinking her hazelnut coffee even though I've never seen her drink any and it expired in May and I doubt she'd care anyway." Because I am weirdly paranoid about other people's food.

5:40pm - Look at Facebook.

5:45pm - Look at Twitter.

5:50pm - Look at Facebook.

5:55pm - Look at Twitter.

6:00pm - Go on archive binge at Hyperbole and a Half.

6:24pm - Discover that laying way back in the computer chair with my legs on the couch and swiveling the chair is really fun because the chair moves fast because only half of my body weight is actually on the chair.

6:26pm - Remember that Sabrina is going to be home any minute and it'll be her turn on the computer and I am wasting the last bit of my turn swiveling the chair back and forth. Decide to write about how inane my day has been.

6:40pm - Writing this reminded me that I also watched another sex show where they said a guy had "sexual anorexia" and I wanted to Google that and also see what an asexual friend had to say about it because I personally felt equating the desire not to have sex with the desire to starve oneself was pretty rude. Wikipedia says this:

"In the view of some practitioners, corroborating the seminal work of Patrick Carnes, there are people who appear to have a sexual addiction which is expressed through a variety of behaviors such as the compulsive use of strip clubs, prostitutes, cyberporn sites, etc. but more accurately fit the definition of sexual anorexic in that they seem to lack the ability to have a relationship of a sexual nature beyond a paid-for or anonymous experience. The person does not have an aversion to sex but to intimacy."

Sounds pretty different from asexuality, although I still don't get the comparison to anorexia. Find an interesting article on Jezebel that is critical of the idea but never mentions asexuality. End up wanting to bang head on desk due to following comment:

"Query: When are most men going to realize that if they aren't getting any from their sig O it may be more about what they're NOT doing before they even get to the bedroom? More than what she's not doing FOR him when they are there. Do the dishes. The laundry, the bathroom floor - an exhausted partner really doesn't care if you get off, dude. In my experience, sharing the load almost immediately creates a sense of intimacy in women. "

Because women don't actually like sex, you see. It's just how they repay their husbands for a job well done, in order to train them! If we are ever turned on, it is only by your ability to do laundry! Also the article mentions "people of both genders" which could be forgiven on a mainstream site but on a feminist site there is no excuse really. Remember that this kind of thing is why I don't read Jezebel very often [I could rant on why these things bother me but it is far beyond the scope of a silly "what I did today" post]. Anyway Sabrina is home so I give the computer to her.

6:55 - Ask Sabrina how her class went. Find out they spent most of the time composing a poem that featured the word "diarrhea."

7:00 - Go to take a bath. See empty shampoo bottle in trash and realize I get to pick the next shampoo. Be irrationally happy about this. Almost choose Suave Ocean Breeze shampoo because apparently it tastes like lawn chemicals and I want to know how it smells. Choose other shampoo instead because it is moisturizing and I have terrible hair. Wonder why there is "clarifying" shampoo since that shit turns my hair into straw despite the fact that I am white, which means my hair becomes oily every few days, whereas everyone else here is black, which means their hair only becomes oily if it is 1982. Decide Sabrina's family probably knows their own hair care needs better than I do.

7:03 - Read Dave Barry Turns 50 in the tub. Be unable to get the phrase "hot diggety dog ziggety boom" out of my head. Get dressed (yes, at 7pm) and put on my new Old Spice deodorant because I refuse to let socially-constructed gender roles tell my armpits what to smell like. Smell like a very clean man. Be irrationally happy about this.

7:30 - Write in my journal with a brand new glittery orange pencil that reminds me of juice. Be irrationally happy about this. Decide I need juice. Wonder if it would taste good if I mixed orange juice with orange Fanta. It tastes okay. Add milk and vanilla to make something approaching an Orange Julius.

7:47 - Realize it is almost time for Star Trek TNG to come on. Turn on BBC America. Be bored by people on BBC World News talking about champagne. When TNG finally comes on, watch for 30 seconds and then be too antsy from drinking coffee and an orange Julius within two hours of each other to sit still. Offer to help Sabrina cook dinner.

8:15 - Cook while listening to Disney CD and singing along obnoxiously. While waiting for rice to cook, play word association game that ends up involving Harry Potter, Star Trek, Dr. Seuss, Pokemon, and harlequin ichthyosis.

9:50 - Eat dinner while watching that one episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets drunk and thinks he sees an alien and Leonard Nimoy inexplicably shows up and sings "Good Morning Starshine" with Mr. Burns yes this happened.

10:15 - Sabrina goes to take her turn on the computer. I am antsy. Play DDR. Fail a bunch because it is Max 2 and I only have Supernova and I have no practice on these songs.

11:00 - Watch an episode of Dr. G where a kid dies and they do the whole autopsy and can't figure out why he died and then they get the tox report back and it turns out he was supposed to be on methylphenidate, which is the generic for Ritalin, but instead the pharmacy accidentally gave him methadone, and he was taking it for a whole month and no one figured out "hey, this kid is acting like he is doped up on methadone", so it built up in his system until his heart stopped. Holy shit.

Midnight - Get on the computer and start talking to Roni about whether Sherlock Holmes was autistic and how House/Wilson is totally Holmes/Watson right down to the names and the fangirl slash, and how it annoys me when people attribute everything their children do to the fact that "that is just how girls/boys are", and which feminist blogs we like, and the difference between irreverant and offensive humor, and how the writers of the Venture Bros. are full of shit when they say they "don't know how to write women" because all the women on the show are badass, and why every time a character on TV gets a sex change they "switch back" after awhile, and how guys Roni plays Warcraft with are sexist and she should really just make fun of them because having an earnest feminist discussion with douchebags on Warcraft isn't gonna do anything. (So I guess this is the "humorless feminist" part of my day, except for the part where we spent a lot of it talking about an Adult Swim cartoon that we love, and the part where we made a bunch of jokes even while having serious discussions, and most of those jokes included a lot of swearing, and the part where we began the conversation by calling each other "barfbrain" and "trucknuts.")

2:30am - Roni signs off so I watch a bunch of Kylie Minogue videos, eat a cupcake, and discover that searching Twitter to see things people have said to Sarah Palin is very entertaining. Around 3am I am finally too tired to internet any longer and stagger back to my room to read actual books until I fall asleep.

So you can see that I am a very serious person who only does and says very serious things. Often while wearing a monocle.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Over the past several weeks, I've been trying to do some healing. Not just from my mother's death, but also from the trauma of spending 10 years in schools where it was not possible to be open about any aspect of who I am, from big stuff like my sexual orientation and religious views, to small stuff like what bands I liked or what clothes I really wanted to wear. I grew up as a turtle, learning to hide in a shell of fake normality, only coming out in the safety of my own room. To the outside world, nothing about me was ever right. (To any who had a fine time in public schools and doubt that it was as traumatic as I claim, I can only say that you were lucky to be less strange than I was, and to go to better or at least more liberal schools than I did.) The only way to heal from the desperate need to hide, so far as I can tell, is to refuse to hide any longer. So I need to dust off the aspects of myself that I've shoved back into dark corners for so long, and bring them out into the light. My autism is only one of those things, but since it is the most difficult to keep hiding, I figure it's a good place to start.

But You Don't Seem Disabled

First off, I don't consider myself "disabled" (as many autistic people don't), although in some situations my specific autistic traits can feel disabling. I am sometimes perceived as being "off", especially if I am spaced out or rocking or something, which can be mistaken by strangers as signs of mental retardation, mental illness, or just being a ditz. Mostly, I just see autism as a set of needs I have to think about, just as anyone does. My particular set just happens to have a name. It doesn't stop me from doing anything I want to do. I just sometimes have to go about things a different way, or think them out a little more carefully than most people would. That can be frustrating, and it can be extremely frustrating to have people assume I am unintelligent or needing of pity before I ever say a word to them. Ultimately, most of the problems my autism causes are not a direct result of who I am, but are instead a result of not being who society says I should be. I believe that when large swaths of people are excluded from fitting into society because of who they naturally are, it is society that needs to change, not them.

Do You Mean You Have Asperger's?

Of the various "disorders" the autism spectrum is broken down into, the description of Asperger's fits me the best, yes. But lately I prefer to refer to myself as "autistic", for a few reasons. One is that, while I am certain I am on the spectrum somewhere, I've never been formally diagnosed as having a particular disorder, so for me simply saying I am autistic or on the spectrum feels more honest. Another reason is that I grew up always seeing myself as "a bit autistic", because that was the best way I knew to describe myself. I didn't learn about Asperger's until my late teens, at which point a LOT of my life began to make more sense. I tend to squirm away from the word Asperger's lately, because there are so many misconceptions about what it is. The biggest reason, though, is because when I talk about autism, I'm not talking about something I "have." I'm talking about something I am. Autism is not something that can or should be removed from me any more than my queerness or my sense of humor or my heritage. Without it, I would be someone else. "People-first" language has its place - my mother, for example, did not like her disabilities to be tied to her identity, and those who feel this way should be respected - but there are some communities, notably the autistic community and the Deaf community, who embrace what society calls a disability as an integral part of who they are. We should be respected, too.

Oh, You're One of Those

Yes, I am one of those "internet-diagnosed Asperger's" people. The thing people need to understand is that, while Asperger syndrome was first described in 1944, the papers were never translated into English until 1991, and it was not included in the DSM-IV until 1994. Thus, people of my generation, especially girls, were very unlikely to be diagnosed. Even back in 2002-2003, when I was actively pursuing a diagnosis, Asperger's was very little-known, and I found myself explaining it to counselors who'd never heard of it before. The best I could get was "It does sound like you, but I'd have to do more research." So please, do have some sympathy for people who self-educated and self-identify. A few unscrupulous people have co-opted the label for themselves to seek attention or make excuses for bad behavior, but they are a minority and should not be used to gauge us all. Most of us are simply seeking the vocabulary to name something we knew or suspected to be true all along.

I Don't Believe In That/It's Just a Label

I get where you're coming from with this. As I've said, I believe something is only a disorder when it causes distress, and for many (but not all) people, Asperger's/high-functioning autism only causes distress because society is not currently set up to accomodate a wide range of personalities and ways of being. However. The plain fact is that, with the way society is currently set up, a large group of people find that the way their nervous systems function leaves them struggling to fit in, struggling to find basic things they need such as employment, housing, friendship, love, and safety. To deny that such a struggle exists is to invisibilize these people and make it impossible for them (us) to receive any accomodation, assistance, sympathy, respect, or understanding. Without the vocabulary to name ourselves and our struggle - which is a positive and important use of labels - we cannot find each other, cannot advocate for ourselves, and cannot explain how and why we are different, why we can't help it, and why it is not up to us to change ourselves. So please, embrace neurodiversity. Accept us as part of the natural continuum of human experience. But recognize that in order to get all of the world to see us that way, we need a flag to wave.

Oh, You Poor Thing, I'm So Sorry

I'll let Jim Sinclair field this one.

What Can I Do?

I don't need pity, but there are things you can do to make life easier for me and for other autistic people you may know. In my case, the things you can do are:

Understand that I have an upper threshold on how much socializing/background noise/stress I can handle, that this threshold is lower than it is for the average person, and that once it is breached, I must devote all of my attention to taking care of myself and am no longer capable of considering your needs.

Understand that in choosing to socialize with you in the first place, I am giving you one or more of my spoons (because by socializing, especially face-to-face, I risk overtaxing myself). Recognize that being given a spoon is a special gift and a sign that I do care very much about you, even if I sometimes have difficulty perceiving or responding to your exact needs.

Learn to recognize the signs that I am becoming overtaxed, such as rocking, staring into space, looking very uncomfortable for no apparent reason, or appearing to ignore you. Recognize that, while I am ultimately responsible for taking care of my own needs, I require some personal space, time, and freedom in order to do that. Allowing me those things will make things more pleasant for everyone, I promise.

Realize that, while my social skills have improved greatly since I realized I was autistic, good social skills are something I have to actively work at. This does not mean you should let me get away with intentionally treating you badly, but do realize that when I say something that sounds rude or awkward, I often have no idea that it does. If I dislike or am angry with someone, I tend not to be subtle about it, so if my signals are unclear it's pretty safe to assume I am doing the best I can to be friendly and nice.

Realize that "tough love" can feel detrimental or abusive to an autistic person. We simply don't respond well to that kind of treatment, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that we tend to interpret things quite literally and cannot extrapolate loving intentions from apparently unloving behavior. Even if we *can* read your good intentions, you are probably just going to make us nervous and afraid of you.

To paraphrase Pat Parker, the first thing you do is to forget that I am autistic. Second, you must never forget that I am autistic. What this means is that I want to be perceived as a regular person with real and valid thoughts and feelings, just like anybody else, and I do not wish to be defined by a single aspect of who I am. But autism is also inseparable from me, it influences what I do, and if you wish to understand me, you need to be aware of it.

Find out why so many autistic people feel that people such as Jenny McCarthy, and organizations such as Cure Autism Now and Autism Speaks, do not speak for us and should not be allowed to. Do some research on your own and do not rely on me or other autistic people to educate you completely. I like talking about autism most of the time, but I am only human. I get burned out. I cannot be "on" all the time. Meet me halfway.

Finally, the most important thing you can do is to see me for no more and no less than what I am. Let go of the stereotypes about "lack of empathy" and math wizardry and "super male brains" and Rainman. Learn about autism from autistic people. Listen to our stories first, before the stories of the media and "experts" and well-meaning but misguided parents who just wish their babies were normal.

Where Can I Learn More?

Read anything you can by Temple Grandin, Tony Attwood, Valerie Paradiz, Liane Holliday-Willey, Jim Sinclair, Alyson Bradley, or any other author/advocate who is autistic or a trusted ally to autistic people.* See them speak, if you have the chance.

Read the forums at AsPlanet or Wrong Planet. Take the level of anger there with a grain of salt, as places where autistics gather tend to also serve as venting spaces, but do recognize that the anger and frustration are real and valid, even if it is occasionally based on misunderstanding.

Read at OASIS.

See Mozart and the Whale and try to appreciate the beauty in the couple's quirkiness. Keep in mind, however, that all movies are written for entertainment and thus tend to play into stereotypes. Take it as a story of how two individual autistic people could be, not as a documentary.

How Many Closets Do You Have, Anyway?

Oh baby, I've come out of so many closets Tyra Banks could fit her whole wardrobe and have space leftover. There are more, trust me. But this was a pretty dank one. I feel better now *grin*

*Note the prevalence of women in this list; the only man, Tony Attwood (Jim Sinclair is intersex and agendered) is an expert rather than an autistic person. A full discussion of the prevalence of autism among female-bodied persons is beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say that the oft-quoted three-to-one ratio of autistic boys vs. autistic girls is almost certainly vastly overestimated.

Blog Paralysis

I've realized it was probably kind of inconsiderate to post a scary, "I am in a downward spiral" post and then disappear for a month. Partly I didn't think about that because I forget that not all of my readers know me on Facebook (because if you know me there, you know I've been okay.) Partly I've just been out of the blogging "flow" because I'm in a weird transition period, where I'm staying at a friend's house temporarily and I'm not totally sure what's happening next. But I am safe, and I am fed, and I am much more emotionally stable than I was.

That's the good news. The bad news is that my non-blogging also has a darker cause. Because even though my last blog prompted mainly sweet, loving, wonderful responses that made me feel like I have about 20 moms and dozens of siblings (and to those who made me feel that way, THANK YOU so so much), there were also people who apparently thought little of me all along and tried to take advantage of my vulnerability. I am not writing this to point fingers or throw shade*. That's not the point here.

The point is that in blogging, and especially in the kind of earnest blogging that I need to do just as urgently as I need to breathe, that is always a danger. But the fact that this happened at a time when I was so fragile, and because it happened as a result of a post that I was terrified to write for exactly that reason, it shook me. I was in worse shape in the days following that post than I was when I wrote it, but this time I kept my mouth shut.

I have been writing all month. I have several things I'd like to post, most of them having little if anything to do with my personal life. Yet I've been experiencing a strange sort of blog paralysis. Every time I think of posting something, I can't go through with it. I am afraid things I say, things I may feel are totally innocent, will be used as further evidence of my failures and shortcomings by those who seek to harm or control me. So for a month now, I've let that fear paralyze me.

But I must write, and I must publish my writing in order for it to be useful and not remain a dead thing that cannot entertain or help anyone. So I'm trying to push forward anyway. Am I scared of what may happen? Of course. But I also know that the worst has happened - someone has read my blog and used it against me - and I have survived. I have written 170 posts on this blog and so far only one has resulted in anything bad happening, and even that post resulted in much, much more good than bad. I need to remember that. I can't let fear stop me from doing what I love.

*I realize I am probably far too white and unhip to use this phrase and be taken seriously, but I heard it on RuPaul's Drag Race and loved it. So nyeh.**

**This footnote is only here for the purpose of making you giggle*** at the end of a serious post.

***Two new nuns walk into a bar. One nun says to the other, "Hey, why are we still coming to bars, we're nuns now!" Second nun shrugs and says, "I dunno, force of habit?"****

****Badoom tish.

*****I probably should learn to use real footnotes because asterisks become really cumbersome after about two.