Sunday, April 9, 2017

On The Term "Neurotypical"

Over the past year or so, I've come to find the word "neurotypical" very frustrating. I know it's frequently used as a catch-all in this community to refer to people who don't struggle with mental illness or developmental disabilities or aren't on the autism spectrum, but it has connotations that I just don't like in light of what we know about the human brain already. If every single human being on the planet has a unique brain that makes them who they are, shapes their personality, and essentially sets them apart from every other human being on the planet, then there's no one "typical" brain to use as a standard.

I know that in this sense, the "typical" part of "neurotypical" is supposed to mean "healthy," but as an autistic person, I'm well aware that my neurology isn't an illness in this regard. (My OCD is another story and I actively get treatment for that.) Obviously, I don't see autism as inherently "unhealthy," so therefore, why would it be "atypical?" It's clearly been here for some time now and it's evolved with us, so it's obviously got some genetic merit and is likely a natural adaptation, just like how some of us are left-handed. (For the record, my entire immediate family, myself included, is left-handed.) Therefore, if it occurs naturally in nature and has, as recent studies suggest, for hundreds of thousands of years, why would it be any less typical than other brains if it's a trait that's been here for so long and appears in so many people?

If we are to truly embrace neurodiversity as a species, we probably are going to have to come to terms that this does include every single human brain that has ever existed. There's no one set "typical" brain, just things that occur in varying frequencies. Therefore, what is the term "neurotypical" really reinforcing here? I've stopped using it for roughly a year because it dawned on me after a conversation with my friends that none of us would fall under that term and that it projected stigma against mental health issues and disabilities by essentially reducing us, once again, to "other" status. It just doesn't feel right when viewed in that light, and that's why for roughly the past year or so I've been using the term "non-autistic people" instead in places where I once would have written "neurotypical." There's no such thing as "neurotypical." There are only infinite combinations of human brains, all different and unique, some with more in common than others.

Image: the Vulcan IDIC symbol, a triangle topped with a round diamond in front of a sphere. A cutout exists around the round diamond to highlight it.
Here I find it perhaps best to defer to a work of fiction. The Vulcan term for this concept is Kol-Ut-Shan, translated as "infinite diversity in infinite combinations." In a sense, this describes the human brain fantastically - every single brain on Earth, though shaped and structured similarly, is going to be different in its own unique way, and people are shaped both by their brains and by the life experiences their brains are exposed to. Kol-Ut-Shan actually makes the argument that neurodiversity, as it's come to be called, is natural for our species and should not be suppressed or stigmatized. As usual, humanity really could learn from the Vulcan example in this regard.

I know that the phrase "normal is just a dryer setting" gets tossed around a lot, but in the case of humankind, it's true - there's no "default" human being. There's no "default" human brain. There are just brains and the people whose skulls they reside within. When we speak of embracing neurodiversity, we speak of embracing every single human brain and learning from them all, for it's only with all of our skills together that we're going to continue to advance as a species.

I mean, we're now a few days less than 46 years away from when we make First Contact with the Vulcans, so we need to have something to show for ourselves when they get here so they see we're worth their time after all, right?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Autistic Gaming Initiative Updates: April 1st, 2017

Hey, a couple of quick hits this morning as we continue to get AGI off the ground:

  • We have an official website! Check it out!
  • We've made our way to a list of autism acceptance resources put together over at Paginated Thoughts! This is honestly very exciting and we can't wait to help make things better for other people like ourselves! 
  • Our first charity livestream will officially be in late May. No set date has been announced yet as we finalize our streamers' schedules, but as soon as everything is finalized we'll make an announcement. You can expect to know a date within a few weeks.
  • I'm going to be at TooManyGames in late June - all I need to do is buy my tickets! If you're interested in talking to me about the Autistic Gaming Initiative there, contact me and we can try to meet up! The odds are good you'll find me somewhere near wherever the Vinesauce booth is picking their brains about livestreaming (presuming I can get my courage up to talk for more than two seconds).
I've also made a video officially announcing the Autistic Gaming Initiative, which you can check out below.

Now let's work on getting through April together, everyone! We've got this!

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 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!