Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I'm Going To TooManyGames...To Talk To People

For some reason or another, I've decided that 2017 is going to be the year that I make that major breakthrough on my childhood bullying trauma that's prevented me from trying to talk to men my own age. I'm not entirely certain as to why this happened, but I have some ideas.

The project I'm working on, the Autistic Gaming Initiative, is hopefully going to be a monthly charity gaming stream once I have it in gear where the group of us - all autistic gamers - stream for as long as we can to raise money for the Autism Self-Advocacy Network and Autism Women's Network. I wouldn't have even thought to do this, however, if it weren't for a group of streamers who I've been watching quite a bit lately. You can thank the fine folks at Vinesauce and their charity streams benefiting pediatric cancer research for motivating me to do this - I was watching part of an older charity stream and saw them reach their fundraising goal, and hearing them all chiming in on their audio chat and thanking each other and the viewers for all their help was simply amazing. It was one of those moments where people do something bigger than just themselves, and it made me realize that something I enjoy doing in my spare time could actually be used to help other people like myself.

So here we are in March 2017, and I'm learning how to be a good video game streamer. I've been binge-watching the various streamers of Vinesauce to learn as much as I can in a short period of time (one of those autism benefits is that your brain is a sponge when you're motivated) and I'm looking to get everything pulled together so we can do our first charity stream in April or May, likely the latter. You can follow my learning process on my Twitch page - I'll probably be streaming tonight, in fact - and jump in on the chat as I play all manner of weird things.

Now, why is all of this important? Last year, the Vinesauce team actually had a booth and a panel at TooManyGames, a gaming convention in Philadelphia, and they're going to be back this year for round two. I'm within driving distance of Philadelphia and now fully intend to go to TooManyGames and try to actually thank them for inspiring me to take this project of mine on. Meeting people who I'm inspired by is always very daunting for me, but I've decided that I absolutely have to do this because this would be a huge step forward for me in redeveloping social confidence. I'm not going to let myself chicken out of this one, so I've been getting as many of my friends as possible to hold me to doing this and even go with me to ensure that I actually go and say hi to them at some point.

Anyway, writing this on here is another way of holding myself to doing this, so please watch this space and come late June I'll report back on the whole thing. I'm trying my best here!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Confidence? Me? Out Of Nowhere?

I've been a bit busy lately between working two jobs and getting the Autistic Gaming Initiative into gear, but things have more or less been good here. In fact, I've had a strange burst of personal confidence that I don't fully understand but am fully embracing with regards to the one major insecurity I have left in my life.

Out of seemingly nowhere over the past three weeks, I've suddenly developed more forwardness and an interest in meeting men that I didn't anticipate I'd ever have. As has been well-documented on this blog in the past, I've been deathly afraid of trying to date for a number of reasons, the primary one being my almost PTSD-esque response to being around men my own age due to bullying as a child and teenager that conditioned me to assume instant rejection and name-calling would follow if I interacted with them. Lately, though, for reasons I can't quite explain, that's taken a back seat to a realization that I'm actually quite cute, can actually be charming (I wouldn't have so many friends if I wasn't!), and wield my sense of humor like it's the goddamned Master Sword. I'm absolutely capable of winning people over, and this includes men who I could develop a mutual attraction with.

At some point in a month or two when we're less busy, my friends and I are going to take a trip to the local Barcade and hang out for a while, and I feel like this is my chance to really start testing the waters and seeing what I'm capable of. If I had a superpower, it would probably be "can do almost anything whilst simultaneously playing Galaga," so if I need to I can absolutely chat someone up as I blast aliens into the next galaxy. (For reference, Galaga has become as natural to me as driving my car, and I can even look up and around me as I play it, much like I can when I'm driving. It's scary.)

But here's how I know I've changed - sure, Barcade would have been exciting to me from the get-go because it revolves around one of my favorite things, old arcade games. But I'm planning my outfit for the trip, thinking about even doing a little makeup that doesn't give me sensory issues, and ensuring that I actually accentuate my cuteness whilst I go along and do what I normally would be doing - meaning that I'm no longer afraid of receiving non-catcall attention. I'm now finally okay with people looking at and noticing me and going, "Hey, she's cute." This legitimately gave me anxiety attacks in the past, and this seemingly sudden change in me is odd, but I'm taking it.

And hey, even if nothing happens at first, just knowing that things aren't as scary as I think they are is going to be a huge confidence-booster down the road, so there's that!

Image: the author [a young woman in a very 1990s jumper and bowler] posing next to a Space Invaders arcade cabinet.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Calling All Fellow Autistic Gamers!

I had an idea to help raise money for the Autism Women's Network and the Autism Self-Advocacy Network, but I'll need your help:


My Tumblr post reads as follows:
I had this idea and I was wondering if we could actually get a big network of autistic gamers together for this, but here goes:

I want to do charity gaming streams benefiting the Autism Self-Advocacy Network and the Autism Women’s Network since I know more than ever we’re going to be needing all the support and visibility we can get. Obviously, although I have a lot of friends and a lot of people who follow my ASD blog, I’m not the most visible gamer on the internet even though I’m more than capable of streaming things and making Let’s Plays. (I do have a prepared gaming channel but so far nothing’s there yet. That’ll change, I promise.)

Anyhow, what I’m proposing here is that we build up a network of autistic gamers and we work together and do gaming streams to help raise money for these two and other autism organizations that actually are for and about us (i.e. not A$, for example). Would anyone be interested in taking this project on with me and working with me to do this? The more of us who work on this, the more we can increase our visibility and fundraising ability!

Please feel free to share this regardless of whether you’re on the spectrum or not - I could use all the help I could get in spreading the word!
There are a lot of steps we'd need to take first, namely setting up a donation page, recruiting gamers, and publicizing the streams, not to mention working with the organizations we'd be donating to and getting everything worked out with them before we do this. We'd need people working on this from all angles to make sure this idea could become a success, so I'm recruiting all the help I can get! If you're interested, please let me know - you can comment here, contact me on social media, or email me at sdiorioart@gmail.com. Hopefully I'll hear from many of you soon and we'll be able to get this idea off the ground!

And hey, if we're doing gaming livestreams and Let's Play videos, our personalities will shine through and more people will see us as, well, people and not some tragedy that needs to be dealt with! We'd win all around here!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Your Feminism Should Be Intersectional

The Women's March on Washington made a huge statement. I think that's something we can all agree on here. However, I did notice some issues that I'd like to bring up.

I was not in attendance as I had some family business to attend to. I wanted to attend one of the marches because as an archivist I would have loved to document the event and do some oral histories with participants. (In fact, the oral history offer stands - contact me if you'd like to be interviewed about it.) Despite not being there, however, I did notice some issues with intersectionality that I'd like to address - feminism, after all, is for the benefit of us all, not just cisgender, straight, abled white women.

White Feminism Leaves Everyone Else Out

Traditional feminism has focused primarily on middle-class white women. Whilst it makes sense for it to have historically started this way, given that middle-class and upper-class white women have the most societal leverage and therefore will be most likely to be taken seriously, in the 21st century we need to make an adjustment here because middle-class white women are not the only women who exist. I saw a phenomenal sign from one of the Women's Marches imploring the white women marching to attend a Black Lives Matter protest in these numbers, too. There's a stereotype fueled by the media and our own prejudices that non-white people, in particular black people, are more violent, one that is decidedly not true. If you attend a BLM protest, you'll notice that it looks exactly the same as the Women's Marches did - loud and forceful, but peaceful. People who use protests to enact violence are few and far between, and they're opportunists. The media inevitably always chooses to focus on those few people instead of the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protestors, ignoring the message and selectively hearing the violence.

Likewise, non-Christian women are dismissed, as well, especially those from religions perceived to be less "woman-friendly," such as Islam. There are many Muslim feminists out there, and it would serve the movement well to listen to them and their take on the issues presented to women worldwide. White women are not inherently the most "liberated," just the most listened to due to their increased visibility and privilege. 

Indigenous women, too, are left out of this conversation. Groups of them showed up to highlight their own issues, of which there are many that middle-class white women couldn't even dream of (access to clean water being one of them). They were summarily ignored by many people at the protests, as well. Considering that the right to life is a major issue for the disabled, this struck a chord with me - who are we to deem who is worthy of life and who is not? Once you're born into this world, you deserve to have access to the things you need to survive and, perhaps even more significantly, you deserve the dignity of being treated like a human being. When your needs are routinely ignored because another group of people puts themselves above you, that's dehumanizing.

Disabled women are frequently left out of this equation, as well, although I'm glad to report that many of us were there at the Women's Marches this weekend. The Autism Women's Network had some representatives there (along with the fantastic sign "Autism is not a boy's club"), and I saw a lot of other disabled people who managed to make it. However, the Marches were not designed for us - they were not accessible to all, and that's a big problem. If you claim to support all women, you have to support all women, including those women that so many of you see as subhuman, the disabled. We have opinions and issues of our own, and these opinions deserve to be heard and our issues deserve to be addressed. We, too, are women, not inspiration porn or something to pity. Increased accessibility would have enabled us to attend in greater numbers. If your feminism doesn't include disabled women, it's not feminism. Period.

Not All Women Have Vaginas

Perhaps most dismaying of all was the large number of signs regarding the "grab 'em right by the pussy" quote from Donald Trump or about birth control and abortion that ignored a vital fact. Yes, sexual assault is a major problem for women. Yes, it absolutely needs to be combated. Yes, we need to stand up for women (and men and non-binary people) who are assaulted and raped. However, if your sign said something about your reproductive system, you ignored a large number of transgender women who don't have one. In a sea of cisgender women screaming about how their pussies bite back, transgender women, who face a unique set of issues of their own, felt lost and ignored. You don't need a vagina to be a woman, you just need to feel like a woman. TERFs routinely engage in transmisogyny and actively exclude transgender women from their feminism, and that's wrong. Feminism is for all women, not just the ones you want it to be for.

How Can You Help Change This?

Yes, you, dear reader, have the power to improve this for the better. Here are some of the things you can do:
  •  Actively research feminists who aren't white. Read their writing and learn from their perspective. Many white feminists' writing is still racist, so take it with a grain of salt.
  • LISTEN TO OTHER WOMEN. I cannot stress this enough. As a disabled woman, I find that I'm not taken seriously in certain contexts and that's incredibly frustrating. Listen to one another and support each other's issues. One of my best friends is a lesbian and I've learned so much about LGBT issues from her that I didn't know about before. (Incidentally, she was in Washington on Saturday with a sign reading "Angry Lesbians Against Fascist Pigs.") 
  • Accept that transgender women are women, plain and simple. If you feel like you're female, you are, no questions asked. 
  • Increase accessibility for disabled people in feminist spaces. With increased accessibility will come increased visibility as disabled people can assert their rights and their humanity. 
  • Don't assume that someone's religious beliefs mean they're "oppressed." No matter your religion, you can still be a feminist.
  • Explain to men why all of the above is important and also benefits them - because it does. If women are uplifted and are finally equal with men, men won't have to deal with toxic masculinity anymore. 
If your feminism isn't intersectional, you're probably not actually a feminist or just support feminism for cisgender, abled, straight white women, whether or not you actually realize this. It shouldn't be something we should still have to talk about in 2017, yet here we are.

Feminism should benefit everybody, not just a select few. Enough said.

Thank You, Google

This is just a quick hit here, but I just wanted to acknowledge that today's Google Doodle is of Ed Roberts, a disability rights activist.



It's nice to know that Google is aware of our hard work to be recognized as human beings worthy of life, too. Now let's keep it up - these are the sorts of things that motivate me to keep fighting!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

My Personal OCD Story

On this blog, I've been fairly open about my experiences regarding my Asperger's diagnosis that I received in 2009. At the same time, however, I received two other diagnoses, which go hand in hand with each other since they've been known to feed off of each other in certain situations.

I also struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety, with OCD being the chief offender. I've gotten a good handle on my social anxiety with the exception of one particular issue, one which my OCD has been feeding since 2009. It's very silly-sounding, but it's been something that's been virtually omnipresent in my life for eight years.

When I was an undergraduate student, I had trouble making friends. I wasn't connecting with very many people during my freshman year (with the exception of my online friends, most of whom I'm still close with). Finally, I met my future roommate by chance when I accompanied the Japan Club to Katsucon in 2008. We hit it off and talked online, and before long I was part of that friend group. I was so thankful to have friends I could spend time with at school, and I kept in touch with everyone as well as I could over the summer (especially since my future roommate and I had started a joke anime roleplay on Livejournal - I know, I'm old).

Over my first sophomore semester, however, I noticed things seemed off. My future roommate had lost her mother to cancer several months before we'd met, and the inevitable depression was setting in for her because they'd been exceptionally close. However, they were a lot closer than a normal parent and child would be, to the point that they had seemingly had something of an interdependent relationship on one another. I tried my best to be a good friend, but as time went on and she struggled more and more I started feeling responsible for keeping her alive since she had told me more about her mental health than other people. This led to near-constant text message contact and anxiety on my part as I assumed a sort of caretaker role. Unfortunately, this was probably the worst thing I could have possibly done - based on our interactions, I suspect that she projected her mother onto me, and she was a much more tactile person than I was. The physical closeness was awkward for me because I'm just not a cuddler to begin with, but she was fairly clingy and it made me uncomfortable.

In late January or early February of 2009, about a year after we'd met, my OCD started in earnest, although admittedly the anxiety I'd felt about having to be responsible if she hurt herself due to her mental health was likely a manifestation of it, as well. I'd definitely had flashes of OCD before (including convincing myself that I'd poisoned myself in chemistry class in high school), but this was the first time it was ever a disruption to my life on a large scale.

"So, Steph, you've never dated before. What if you've been gay this whole time and didn't know it?" my brain suggested one night. It then proceeded to never stop suggesting that despite evidence to the contrary. Everything had combined into one giant source of anxiety - the sort of responsibility I'd ended up feeling because my future roommate had become emotionally dependent on me, the general stress the situation was causing me, and my angst about never having been on a date due to horrible bullying as a kid. I had a full-on mental breakdown over the course of the second semester of my sophomore year, one which I only survived because on April 20th, 2009 I met the most important individual in my life, a little six-week-old kitten who I named Murphy.

Image: an exhausted Italian-American woman (Steph) holds a small kitten (Murphy) inside a baseball cap to show how small he is.
Murphy, who now more or less acts like I'm his mother even eight years later, gave me the motivation to keep myself alive, because my OCD had been telling me that the only way to stop the thoughts was to kill myself, something I decidedly didn't want to do.

The thoughts were very strange, on that note. They were uncharacteristic of an actual LGBT person realizing what their sexual orientation or gender identity was. They were frantic, unceasing, relentless, and anxiety-inducing. I'd only been attracted to men up until that point in my life, but I had always been characteristically shy about the mostly fictional men I'd crushed on, and the only time I'd ever really had a proper real-life crush I was too afraid to say anything (and later felt jealously for the first time when another girl was capable of talking to him without being anxious). These thoughts were the first thing that popped into my head in the morning and the last thing that I thought about before falling into a restless slumber at 3 am. I was nauseous a lot of the time and I also started constantly "checking" my reactions to people to see if I was feeling anything. Anxiety, naturally, can cause false arousals, so I was unable to tell what was going on downstairs, and that made it even harder for me to stop.

Additionally, I didn't understand the thoughts because they didn't come from a place of homophobia, but from a place of constantly questioning my identity. It was a fear of not knowing or not being sure. I knew if I turned out to be a lesbian, my family and friends would have been fine with it. It was a bizarre anxiety that I couldn't quite explain and that refused to leave me alone.

Finally, I found out about Purely Obsessional OCD. Pure-O, as it's commonly shorthanded, is a form of OCD where most or all of the compulsions are performed mentally, i.e. "checking" oneself for reactions and whatnot. I remember this occurring sometime in March of 2009, and I actively sobbed when I discovered a specific subtype, shorthanded as HOCD (for "homosexual" or "heterosexual" OCD) - people whose OCD focuses on their sexual orientation. Straight people with HOCD have prolonged OCD anxiety about suddenly being gay, whilst gay people with HOCD have prolonged OCD anxiety about being straight - and bisexual and pansexual people suddenly fear that they're only attracted to one gender. It's irrational, and everyone who struggles with it knows it's irrational, but it dogs us throughout our daily lives.

As soon as I knew my odd OCD thoughts were OCD and not anything else, I began seeing a campus therapist, and roughly a month or so later, Murphy came into my life. I made it through the semester, got home, and eventually got my diagnoses - Asperger's, OCD, and social anxiety. The next two years, I worked to get my OCD under control, but was now living with my roommate, and as her own mental illness continued to ravage her I dealt with unintentional emotional abuse, which made my recovery significantly harder. In 2011, I graduated and returned home for good, then slowly ended the friendship, knowing that it was the best thing for both her and myself. Finally, I was able to work on recovering my mental health to its former state.

OCD is still an ever-present part of my life. In retrospect, it always has been one from the beginning, but it never became a major factor until my 2009 mental breakdown. I'm confident in my sexual orientation now (generally attracted to men, although I may be somewhere on the asexual spectrum, but I'm not sure). I still have another major hurdle to get over - finally going on a date - which I'd like to work on in the future. Social anxiety from being bullied by boys my own age has taken its toll, and combined with my OCD flaring up when I'm not immediately attracted to the few men who have shown interest in me it's been difficult for me to get over the anxiety and try to meet people. Add my Asperger's to the mix and you have...well, not a very good combination for meeting men. It's something I desperately want to be able to do but which I'm too afraid to go out and try, and that fear is actually something I'm ashamed of. I wish I could explain it more articulately to people in real life because I'm well aware my fears are irrational (although my anxiety is based in cruel experience), so putting it in writing will have to suffice for the time being.

Yet do not leave this page thinking that my OCD is still ruining my life - I'm on Zoloft, which helps significantly, and I've learned various mental techniques for combating it, namely cognitive behavioral therapy and thought records (which are somewhat like keeping a Vulcan around to tell you that you're being illogical all the time). OCD is something that will be there, but which you can keep in check and shout down once you learn how to do it. I also recommend reaching out to other people with OCD to get advice, too - I know I've helped a few of my fellow OCD sufferers along the way and I encourage you to become involved in the OCD community for support. Knowing other people are having similar experiences to your own and can help guide you is sometimes a life-saver.

In conclusion, I've written this blog post in the hopes that other people will not have to suffer the way I did. OCD is awful and can be particularly cruel to people - it can make you fear an ever-looming disaster, doubt your identity, panic over hurting someone you love, or even make you constantly afraid that the people in your life don't want to be there. It's a menace, and we have to fight it with understanding and information. Together, we'll be able to beat this thing. I promise.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Stay Determined

I woke up today and it was raining. I suppose that's an appropriate thing since a nation is crying right now.

This morning, I wrote a post on Facebook that I also shared to my Tumblr account:
I slept worse last night than I have in some time, probably because I’m horrified that such a large percentage of our country is filled with bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, and all other manner of horrifying things. I’m a disabled woman (I’m autistic) and I’m now fearing for my safety and rights due to the rampant ableism on display from these people.
 I’m an autistic rights activist, and I refuse to stop fighting to protect anyone who’s marginalized, not just my fellow autistic people. If you need someone in your corner, let me know, because I’ll do my level best to help you through. We’re going to get through this because we’re going to fight back and show people just how amazing humanity can truly be. We don’t take our orders from demagogues, we take them from our hearts. We don’t follow, we lead.
Let’s continue to lead and fight for human rights for all. I’ll be right there on the front lines with you. It’s never been a better time to stand up for what’s right and ensure that everyone can live in safety, regardless of gender identity, sexuality, race, ability, past traumas, financial need, age, or anything else. Everyone deserves to feel safe to be themselves and I won’t rest until they are. You with me?
People have been responding to both of these posts in varying ways, and the one that makes me the saddest is multiple people feeling like they have no fight left in them. These are the people I've always fought for the most because someone needs to keep going and carry them.

In 2013, I watched the Red Sox win the World Series for the third time in one decade, and it taught me more than the wins in 2004 and 2007 did. This particular win came through sheer force of will. The Red Sox were carried by David Ortiz throughout that World Series. One man was able to pick up 24 other men on his back and carry them to a title because he believed so strongly in helping his city heal from a horrible event, the bombings that had happened back in April of that year. He was so motivated that his determination carried the team along. He motivated them and he gave them strength. We need people to be like Papi and stand up and be that determined person who carries everyone else, and I'm ready to be that person now. My friends and family need it. I needed it not long ago myself. I'm actively trying to be the person I needed when I was younger, and I'm realizing now that a lot more people need that person than just me. I have to work even harder now to make sure that people have that person.

I had a panic attack last night as the results of the election came in. I hadn't had one like that since 2011, when I was still dealing with an emotionally abusive friendship. This morning, I quickly realized that my fear had become anger and motivation. I also noticed that not everyone was able to respond this way, and that is why I'm writing this post now - someone has to lead the charge to fight back for those who are unable to, so here I am. I'm angry, I'm resentful, and I won't accept anything less than human dignity.

Think back to about a year ago when an indie game called Undertale was released to great critical acclaim. The messages of that game were simple - be kind to others, especially those who are different from you, and never give up. Stay determined. Stay determined to make this world a better place for everyone, not just the people who are like you.

When you die in-game, the following screen pops up:


"Game Over - you cannot give up just yet." This is followed immediately by the name you chose to play with being told to "stay determined." Sure enough, you're back in the game right afterwards from the last place you saved.

This feels like a game over right now. But anyone who's played video games can tell you that game overs just mean you get to try again. You can always pick back up from your last save point and fight on even harder. And eventually, you do beat that boss or that level, and it's so satisfying because you worked so hard for it and you finally achieved it. Right now, we've got an abhorrent boss fight ahead of us - there's a large mass of mooks who believe in subjugation of human beings who aren't like them. Stand up to them the same way you'd stand up to a boss's subordinates in a boss battle. Make sure they know you're not complacent with their bias, and continue to fight for what's right until that boss, Bigotry, is finally defeated.

The only way to truly lose is to stop playing the game, and my parents didn't raise a quitter.