Stop using oppressed people’s existences as insults – we are not shameful

Content warning: oppressed / disadvantaged people being used as insults, slurs against various oppressed groups.
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There is a massive problem on social media, even in supposedly progressive spaces, of people criticising each other based on appearance, level of education and so on instead of on actual actions.

It’s disheartening to see this so often, and to realise how few people take issue with it.

Someone says something cruel or inappropriate – or just something that others disagree with – and the inappropriate insults come out in torrents.

Mentally ill. Crazy. Retarded. Stupid. Autistic. Disabled. Uneducated. Fat. Ugly. Gay. Tranny.

These insults do nothing to actually challenge what the person said. All they do is reinforce the idea that being mentally ill, unintelligent, uneducated, gay, etc is shameful and worthy of mockery and degradation.
They throw people – often oppressed / marginalised people – under the bus without doing a damn thing to dispute or deny what the initial comment said. They just add even more harm to the situation.

When a person chooses to say / do something unpleasant, they should be called out based on that action, and (if it makes sense for the situation) based on the system that upholds their unpleasantness – this would be appropriate if the person is being homophobic, racist, etc.

When you respond to someone’s unpleasantness with body-shaming, you are treating their body as the problem rather than their actions. The same goes for if you talk about their sexuality, illness, etc. And none of these things actually address why they chose to be unpleasant.
Being fat doesn’t make someone cruel. Being uneducated doesn’t make them unkind. Being mentally ill doesn’t make them a bad person. Being unintelligent doesn’t make them mean. Being gay doesn’t make them devoid of compassion.
There are plenty of people in each of those groups who are lovely and who do not deserve to be used as an insult or blamed for another person’s unpleasant actions.

Besides, if someone has done something unpleasant, there should be plenty for you to talk about already. You already have something genuinely bad and worthy of criticism to focus on. You can call them cruel, unkind or bereft of compassion without harming any decent people. So if you then choose to focus on mocking / criticising their (perceived or real) disability, level of education, sexuality or other such things, you’re not just making the choice to link decent (often oppressed) people to things that aren’t their fault, you’re also deflecting from the real issue.

So by all means, call a person ridiculous, bigoted, self-centred, prejudiced, etc.
But don’t call them crazy, fat, stupid, uneducated, etc.
Don’t treat decent people or oppressed groups as though we are to blame for other people’s cruelty. Don’t treat our existences as insults.

And if you find yourself thinking that the alternatives to the things you’ve been saying don’t pack as much punch, consider why that is. Consider why things that describe oppressed / marginalised people seem worse.

It’s because we’re frequently treated as far worse than the people who harm us. Our homosexuality, our disability, our neurodivergence, are the subjects of scrutiny and negativity more often than the prejudice and oppression we face is.
Our existences are the things parents don’t want for their children, that people avoid talking about because we make them uncomfortable, that people cause social media storms about when they see us getting even momentary representation on TV.

Many people are more willing to accept ableism, racism, transphobia and other forms of prejudice than they are to accept disabled people, people of colour, trans people and other marginalised groups.
This is firmly and constantly reinforced not only by people who are actively and intentionally cruel to us, but also by people who allow those cruelties to go unchallenged, who treat those cruelties as reasonable and allowable.
Sadly there are also many people who still do this even if they don’t realise it, even if they don’t have the intention of being cruel to us. These prejudices are so endemic and insidious in our society that people don’t even realise that they are promoting them.

Using our existences as insults is one result of this widespread prejudice, and it’s a result that too often goes unnoticed and unchallenged. People refusing to make small changes to the language they use (and how they use it) is an example of the everyday prejudice we face. Behaviours like that show that other people being able to use us as insults is thought of as more important than us being treated as decent and worthy of respect.

So if words that describe us feel like more potent insults than words like ‘prejudiced’ and ‘cruel’, it is because us existing is treated as far worse than being prejudiced and cruel is. We often face more consequences for having the audacity to exist in a way that isn’t deemed ‘normal’ and ‘right’ than other people do for being cruel towards us.

If you continue to use us as insults, know that you are contributing to all of this. You are contributing to us being viewed in negative lights. You may not be beating us up or harassing us in the street, but you are treating words that describe our existence and experiences as though they are inherently bad and shameful. Which means you are treating us as bad and shameful.

When we treat words like ‘autistic’ or ‘gay’ as though they are inherently bad and shameful, that can have an impact on the way people view autistic people and gay people. It can also significantly affect the way people from those groups view themselves. Even if you didn’t mean harm, even if you don’t actually think that we’re all bad, we don’t know that. All we’ve seen is you treating our existence as a bad thing, as an insult. And when we’re seeing that from so many people, so often, that can really get into our heads and make us question whether there really is something bad about us. Maybe I should feel ashamed. Maybe I am a freak. When you treat us as insults, this is what you do to many of us. And it’s not simply a case of us ‘growing a thicker skin’. If all or most of what you see about an aspect of yourself is people mocking it, insulting it, shaming it, then of course that could lead you to believe that that thing is genuinely shameful. Remember that many people from these groups do not have much support as they’re growing up, so it’s entirely possible that they might go for years without seeing / hearing anything positive about people like them.
And when people have been taught to think of themselves as bad, shameful, and wrong, they’re often less likely to reach out to others (for friendship, support, etc) in case those people think they’re bad and wrong too. People spend years, even decades, of their lives hiding these aspects of who they are or withdrawing from the world because they feel ashamed of who they are. That can have an immensely negative impact on them, on their mental wellbeing and their relationships.

Treating these words as inherently bad can also influence how children view and treat each other. For example, when we use ‘unintelligent’ or ‘stupid’ as insults around kids, it can teach those kids that any child who is (or seems to be) unintelligent is lesser. It teaches them to focus more on the child’s (perceived) level of intelligence than on whether they’re a nice person or not
If you use words like these as insults, rather than focusing your criticisms on genuine moral failings, you are raising your children to be bullies.
When we use these words as insults ourselves or allow others to do so without being challenged, we are raising children who are in those groups to hate themselves.

When we have a culture that treats being uneducated, or mentally ill, or trans, or disabled, or so many other things like those, as worthy of mockery and scrutiny…there is a lot we need to change.
When we have people who have grown up hating themselves for struggling in school, for being attracted to people of the same gender, for not having the most ‘perfect’ physical features, for not being able to do certain things that other people can…we are failing people. Very badly.

No-one should feel ashamed about those things. Do you know what people should feel ashamed about? Being cruel.
And yet (based on what I have seen) marginalised people are treated as insults far more than cruel people are.

There is something very wrong.

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Sometimes our disabilities clash – when that happens, we should support, not vilify, each other

There are so many situations I see being discussed online, where only one side of the situation is really represented and shown compassion, and the other side is vilified. This often seems very unfair to me.

I’m not talking about situations where one person is a Nazi and the other is a marginalised person.

I’m talking about situations like the following (I’m writing these as I’ve seen them):
– One neurodivergent person needs to fidget in class (or work, or anything similar) or they won’t be able to focus and will be very uncomfortable. Someone else says that they can’t focus if that person is fidgeting / making noise, because it’s distracting. The second person is assumed to be ableist, inconsiderate and exaggerating how difficult the distractions are for them.
– One person has a loud voice and isn’t able to make it quieter most of the time, because they struggle with recognising when their voice is loud, and with volume control. Another person is uncomfortable with their loudness and chooses to not be around them. The second person is assumed (again) to be ableist and exaggerating about their discomfort.

For both situations, the way I’ve written them is how I’ve seen them written inside neurodivergent spaces, where the first person in each situation is being defended and the second person is being treated as ableist. There are, however, many situations (particularly outside of neurodivergent spaces) where things are reversed and people are making assumptions about the first person and treating them like they’re shitty and inconsiderate. Neither of these is okay.

Let’s have a look at these situations from the potential perspective of the second person, showing assumptions that might be made about the first person instead:
– They have sensory processing issues or other things that can make it very difficult for them to focus. The visual and audio effects of the fidgeting are incredibly distracting (and possibly painful, anxiety-inducing, etc) for them, and they are unable to process most of the lessons because of it, meaning that they miss out on huge parts of their education. The first person is assumed to be deliberately annoying people and to have no actual need to fidget.
– Again, sensory issues could be relevant here. Loud voices are painful for them because of those sensory issues. Or loud voices remind them of their abuse, meaning that being around people with loud voices is very distressing for them. The first person is assumed to be inconsiderate and / or arrogant (the idea that them having a loud voice is them trying to speak over others and centre their voice) or possibly even abusive.

I’m aware that those are only some of the potential things behind each situation. I’m also aware that ableism or other issues very often do play a part.
However, as a neurodivergent person who has already struggled with both situations (I’ve been both people, at different times, for the first situation, and just the second person in the second situation) I’m so tired of seeing one person in each scenario praised and the other vilified, before people actually know all the details of the situation. Yes, ableism or some other form of prejudice may be present. But when we assume that it is, often we’re just harming other neurodivergent / disabled people and perpetuating ableism ourselves by only recognising some neurodivergences / disabilities.

This goes both ways – the first person is valid in needing to express themself in certain ways, but similarly the second person is valid in needing quietness in order to be comfortable and able to focus. If either the first or second person in each scenario actively tries to dismiss the other’s needs or push them out of that space (whether it’s a classroom, friend group, or something else) then that is overstepping the mark and being ableist. But if they’re just mentioning that something that the other person is doing is difficult for them, without assuming that the other person is doing it just to bother them or anything like that, then they shouldn’t be vilfied or assumed to be ableist. It’s not ableist to speak up when you have a need that isn’t being met, or when something is causing you discomfort / pain / etc. It’s only ableist if that then spills over into making assumptions about the other person or trying to exclude / vilify them.

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to find an ideal solution for situatons like these. Sometimes neurodivergences / disabilities just clash, and especially given the alarming lack of resources and support that many neurodivergent / disabled people have, it can be difficult to figure out how to resolve the situation in a way that makes everyone comfortable.
– For the first situation, the only possible solutions I can think of right now are to put the people in separate classes, or to put them on opposite sides of the class (if that’s enough). Noise-cancelling headphones might help the second person, and quiet fidget toys might help the first.
– For the second, noise-cancelling headphones might be helpful again, and might enable them to hear what’s being said without it sounding so loud. Or they might be able to stay in the situation but keep a certain amount of distance between them and the first person so that the loud voice isn’t right by them.

These solutions may not be doable for everyone, unfortunately. But not assuming things about people and situations should be doable for everyone. Remember that neurodivergence and disability are very broad umbrella terms that cover a huge range of things, and that just because we don’t see a neurodivergence or disability in someone, it doesn’t mean that it’s not there.

Every person I’ve described here deserves respect and their needs being met. They deserve to have an education (or workplace) that accommodates them and friends that support them.
None of these people are awful for having the needs that they do. None of them deserve assumptions of awfulness. None of them should be forced to make all the accommodations and to erase their own needs and discomfort; both people need to be supporting each other and trying to find a good place to meet in the middle, and the people around them (friends, teachers, etc) should be supporting them too.

Please just make absolutely sure you have all of the information before you decide that someone is a villain.

It’s not that marginalised people can’t take a joke – it’s just not as funny coming from you

There seems to be a widespread idea that a lot of marginalised people are ‘special snowflakes’; that we can’t take a joke; that we’re offended too easily.

In my experience, this simply isn’t the case. Sure, some of us call out a lot of things. But that’s not because we’re too easily offended. It’s because there are too many things in society that treat us as inferior or immoral, that paint cruel pictures of us and prevent us from having true equality and safety.

But I don’t intend to go into that too much here. No, my main focus here is on jokes.

Gay jokes. Trans jokes. OCD jokes. Etc.

What is this idea that we despise them all and can never laugh at ourselves? That doesn’t match up with my experiences at all.

I often find sexuality jokes quite funny. The same goes for gender identity jokes. Depending on where my head’s at, even some of the darker mental illness jokes can make me giggle.

I can’t speak for every marginalised group, but I do know that often, when you get a group of LGB+ people together, there are so many sexuality jokes. When you get a bunch of non-binary people together, there are so many gender jokes. And so on.
People making jokes about themselves, people teasing each other (in okay ways), people mocking the whole concept of sexuality / gender identity / whatever.

I see these jokes all the time in spaces that are for specific groups. They don’t appear so much amongst the general public, and when they do, they make get fewer laughs. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t happen, or that we never laugh at them.

So what’s the difference? What makes us laugh at them when we’re with other people from the same group, but not when we’re amidst the general public?

The difference is that when someone from the same marginalised group as me makes a joke about that group, I know that the joke is most likely coming from someone who:
– is informed about the issues the group faces
– has experienced many of those issues and has a first-person understanding of them and of how they can impact people
– knows at least some of the lines to not cross and which things are very harmful
– is far less likely to actually view me as inferior or to be a threat to me.

When you – people from outside the group – mock my groups, it’s a joke coming from someone who doesn’t have that understanding, and often you’re not even properly informed about us. When you make the joke, it’s far more likely that there is malicious intent behind it, and I can’t know for sure whether there is or isn’t. So it puts me on edge and I find it less funny, partly because it misses out on some of the nuance that it would have from someone within the community, and partly because your motivations for making the joke are far more clouded.

When we make the jokes, there’s an unspoken understanding between everyone involved that most of us have suffered because of attitudes towards our sexuality, our gender, our neurodivergence, etc. There’s an understanding about why we make the jokes, about the struggle that we have gone through before getting to the point where we are able to make jokes rather than feel ashamed, conflicted, confused. No matter how informed you are, you are unlikely to fully understand that connection between us, and it is not your place to infringe upon it. That is an important connection between people who have suffered and who may well suffer more in the future. That is us trying to cope with the way we have been treated – if you are not part of the group, you have not suffered that mistreatment and therefore the reclamation of it is not for you. That is us making a joke not just for a laugh, but for some relief from the pain, for some reminder that we’re not alone.
That is ours, and it is not your right to invade upon it or to put us on edge because we aren’t sure whether that joke is going to be followed by support or cruelty.

That’s not to say that you can never make these types of jokes. It just means: know your audience. If it was someone close to me making that joke, someone who I knew was a safe person, who made real efforts to support me and to learn about marginalisation, then that would probably be fine. I like being able to make those jokes with people from outside my groups. It helps me to feel more connected to them. So long as they’ve shown me that they will stand up for me and not just make jokes, I’m likely to enjoy sharing that humour with them.

But when a stranger makes the joke, even if I still find it funny, there is a part of me that is instantly on edge, wondering whether I need to be ready to defend myself or not. And don’t mock or dismiss that caution. It is not unfounded.

So yeah, it’s not the joke I have an issue with, a lot of the time (though I do take issue with some of the ones that just treat our existence as a punchline).

What I have an issue with is the fear / caution that I live with daily, because of massive societal prejudice against us and because of the ignorant, unpleasant people who do follow up these jokes with harassment and violence.
If you’re not one of those people, great. But remember, if I don’t know you really well, I can’t be sure whether or not you’re one of them – even people who I know quite well might still have prejudices that I haven’t seen, and might still be willing to harm me.

The best way to show me that you’re someone I can share these things with, that you’re a safe person, is to not only support marginalised groups in bigger ways (by standing up for us, educating yourself about us, etc) but also by respecting the smaller things like this.
If you want me to feel cautious around you, show me in each moment that I have nothing to fear from you.

If you’re just going to make jokes about my existence and self-expression, without showing any real support, piss off.

Memo from a writer: mocking people’s spelling / grammar really isn’t okay

Mocking the person is never okay. Even correcting them can be harmful. If they’re just posting on social media, not taking an exam, back off.

There are multiple aspects to this one. Ableism, classism and racism all play their own parts here.

But for starters: spelling and grammar are not that important when you’re talking about dogs on Facebook. You don’t need to have perfect punctuation and a week’s worth of debates over the Oxford comma (which I’m all for, by the way).
I used to get frustrated by ‘incorrect’ spelling and grammar. I don’t remember whether I was ever someone who actually mocked or corrected others, but I hope not. I deemed versions of English other than the one I had learnt ‘wrong’, and ‘imperfections’ in others’ language were irritations to clench my teeth about.
But I learned. Now, I’m no longer a language purist. I don’t even hold myself to a perfect standard here, on this blog. I write to express, not to please other people like younger me.

Language takes many forms. Speech is different to the written word. Definitions of the same word can vary across different dialects. Slang can be the basis of entire conversations.

Put strangely: language is a mysterious being with many tentacles, none of which are the same but all of which have worth.

So, now that we’ve established that language doesn’t always have to fit to one form, let’s go over the issues around mockery and corrections.

It’s ableist.

Some people have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it difficult for them to learn and remember things like spellings and grammar rules. Some people have mobility issues that make their writing unclear, or speech issues that result in what they say being different to what they mean.

Mocking their spelling / grammar or correcting them can be a sad reminder that other people have unreasonable standards / expectations for them, that people are more focused on them being linguistically ‘correct’ than on them being able to express themselves freely.

It’s classist.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have had a good education. I left school when I was fifteen, but many people didn’t even have that much. If you don’t know much about someone’s past, don’t assume that their education was:
1) present at all
2) constant and uncomplicated (here I’m referring to situations such as having to move between schools / education systems a lot and having to adapt to new methods of teaching a lot, rather than only having to get used to one system)
3)of a good standard.

Do you know for certain that the person got to go to school? Can you be sure that they didn’t have to go out and provide financially for their family from a young age instead? Is it definite that they didn’t have a complicated family situation, or an illness that they couldn’t afford to treat, or a lack of access to a decent and nutritional diet, or anything else that can interfere with a person’s learning?

Being poor is frequently treated as a moral failing, and even young children can pick up on this and internalise the idea that they are somehow at fault, or that they aren’t worth much – especially if they have been bullied for being poor. If they haven’t had access to a good education, and are then mocked or constantly corrected about things they never had the chance to learn, it can make them feel even worse about themselves.

It’s racist:

Your first language is not everyone’s first language, nor is the language you’re correcting them in superior to their native language/s.

If you’re correcting people on their English, consider that they may not have spoken English for very long. Consider that they might speak another language fluently, and could likely kick your condescending butt in that language (figuratively). Consider that no-one magically learns an entire language instantly, and that even you probably don’t know all of the words that exist in your language.

Another angle of this is that dialects pop up all over the place, each differing in various ways from their base language/s. This does not make them incorrect. So you might hear someone speaking in a Spanish dialect, and because it is not the same as the Spanish you know, you think they’ve made mistakes. But they haven’t – they’re just using a different form of Spanish to you.

This is especially important when we consider dialects that are tied to marginalised communities, such as African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) which is used by many African-American people in the United States. Dialects like these hold cultural significance, and can help people from within those communities to feel more connected to each other – this is important, because many marginalised people have been forced into having fewer connections than others, because of trauma in their or their family’s history (such as black slaves being forcefully taken away from their homes and families, LGBT+ people being abandoned by their families and friends when they come out, neurodivergent people struggling to socialise, etc). These dialects have real emotional ties to them, and they should not be denigrated.

In these situations, mockery and corrections can display your own ignorance about these topics. It can make people who are simply doing their best in a language that’s relatively new to them, or speaking a dialect that is culturally and emotionally significant to them, feel dismissed.

So what can you do instead?

Well, if you got the gist of what they were saying, do nothing. You don’t need to do anything. You understood what they meant already.

If you’re struggling to understand them, try to really focus on what they’re saying. If they’re talking to you face-to-face, try to pay attention to their mouth movements, facial expressions and gestures. These are all key parts of communication, and might help you to at least get a basic understanding of what they’re talking about. I know this can be difficult for those of us who struggle to focus or look directly at people, but if you can, give it a go. And if they’re using written communication, try Googling words or phrases to see if you can find more insight into it.
Doing all this can help to lighten their load. People who don’t speak fluent English (or whichever language you’re communicating in) may get asked to explain themselves a lot, and that can be very tiring. Putting some effort in yourself can help to make that less stressful for them.

If you’re still struggling to understand, ask them if they can reword what they said. A simple, “Sorry, I don’t quite understand what you mean. Are you able to explain it in a differently way?” should do. A “please” probably wouldn’t go amiss.

There’s no guarantee that you’ll ever understand each other perfectly. But these actions could help.

If the thought of mocking them enters your mind, just don’t. If you think about correcting them, only do so if you’re teaching them that language or if they have asked for corrections. Dealing with so many people correcting you all the time can be very frustrating, especially if you know that all the corrections in the world won’t make it stick in your mind (e.g. because of a learning difficulty).

And just consider that you’re not perfect in any language either. Consider that (unless you speak about 20 languages) there are better linguists out there than you. Consider that each joke or correction could make the person feel less comfortable speaking to you, or speaking up at all.
Your mockery and expectations of conformity are a cage that prevents self-expression, not a ladder to enlightenment.

‘Emotional’ does not equal ‘irrational’ – stop dismissing viewpoints just because they’re accompanied by tears

Newsflash: you can be very emotional and still be a rational person. You can have tears pouring down your cheeks and still be calm and hold a reasonable discussion. You can be sobbing your heart out and still be logical. You can cry multiple times a day and not be overreacting or attempting to manipulate others.

You can cry a lot and still have a valid viewpoint.

Many of us are taught throughout our lives that crying is a bad thing. If we cry, we’re weak, irrational, manipulative, attention-seeking, pathetic, undisciplined… The list goes on.

This is, of course, nonsense.

Crying is a natural and often very healthy form of self-expression. For example, if you’ve been through something very painful or stressful, you might find that having a good ol’ cry can release a lot of pent up emotion and can help you to process your ordeal. Crying can be a very good thing.

And yet it’s treated with such disdain.

As someone who cries a lot, it does frustrate me to be treated as though I’m unworthy of being taken seriously because of this one thing. I can have (figurative) waterfalls spouting from my eyes and still be calm, collected and holding a rational discussion.
I will still be taking other people’s ideas and perspectives into consideration.
I will still think before I speak.
I won’t be trying to manipulate other people into feeling sympathy for me. I desire no unfair advantage in the conversation, and I don’t want their pity.
I won’t be letting my emotions determine my entire perspective, and will be mentally checking each emotion that I feel to ensure that it’s not making me unreasonable.

Just because I cry easily, it does not mean that I am somehow less, that I shouldn’t be taken seriously, that I am incapable of giving valid and valuable contributions to conversations.

There are times when me crying coincides with me being irrational. Sometimes I cry when I’m panicking. At those times, my thoughts might snowball and I can get confused and overwhelmed, in which case I would need to calm down before I contribute to serious discussions.
However, there are also times when I’m entirely calm whilst crying. Sadness does not make me irrational, nor do various other kinds of pain.

I do recognise that sometimes, even if I’m crying calmly, my tears may distract from important issues. If other people see me crying, they may become preoccupied with it and may focus on me more than on someone else (who should really be the focus at that time).
For example, if I’m in a group and someone is discussing a bad experience they’ve had, I might find tears coming to my eyes because their words sadden me or move me to emotion in other ways. However, if I cry – even if I’m quiet, even if I assure people that I’m fine and ask them to focus on the other person – people may still give me too much attention. So in that situation, I could either try to blink back the tears, or excuse myself if I cannot prevent them from falling. That way, I will hopefully not be taking attention away from someone who needs it more.

But in many other situations, it is completely reasonable for me to cry. If we are discussing something that directly affects me (in which case it’s okay for some of the focus to be on me) it’s perfectly valid for me to cry, and I shouldn’t feel obligated to hide those natural, healthy tears.

For me, being able to express what I feel at the same time as holding a discussion is very important and very useful.
My tear ducts focus on getting my emotions out, so that they’re not building up inside and eventually exploding and harming others, or imploding and harming me. Meanwhile, my mind focuses on the situation at hand.
People often seem to think that, because I’m crying, I’m not thinking clearly or being rational. But actually, by letting my emotions out in the form of tears (which are surely preferable to me lashing out in anger or being self-destructive) I am keeping my mind clear and unclouded. Tears prevent my emotions from getting the better of me, by letting those emotions be processed properly as they arise and then releasing them, rather than piling them up on top of each other inside me.
By crying, I am more able to be rational because my emotions aren’t taking so much of my focus.

Tears can be wholesome things. So if you don’t feel the need to cry much, that’s fine. But please don’t belittle those of us who do. We are not less.

People don’t have to celebrate Christmas, so please stop pressuring us about it

In an ideal life, in which I have a loving family, close friends and much less trauma, I think I’d enjoy celebrating holidays. Maybe I’d still be far too concerned with my own mortality and thus would still avoid celebrating my birthday. But stuff like Christmas? Count imaginary me in.

Sadly, I’m not in that life. Imaginary me is worlds away. Real me is here, and I associate those holidays with pain.

For younger me, Christmas was full of mixed emotions. I always delighted in the magic of it, in that particular feeling of Christmas. The familiar songs, the decorating of the Christmas tree, covering myself in tinsel, the books I had about Father Christmas and snowmen… I never got too old for it. I always enjoyed those things.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t all there was to Christmas. I won’t go into details here, but I had a very painful childhood that involved me being mistreated by the people I lived with. Christmas was always tainted by this, and although I could enjoy things like the tree and the books, I was never truly happy. Sadness, loneliness and fear were ever-present in my existence, and even Christmas couldn’t banish them.

Birthdays were also tainted by this, but also by that focus on my own mortality that I mentioned. They can be quite anxiety-inducing for me, and can fill me with a feeling of failure because another year has gone by without me having found / achieved any of the things that I’ve dreamt of. I’m too hard on myself, and I’m working on that, but it will take me a while to change that as much as I need to.

Other holidays (Easter, Halloween, etc) aren’t such a big deal for me. They’re still associated with pain, but they’re holidays that I probably wouldn’t have much interest in celebrating even in that ideal life.

I live alone now. I have no family (and am cut off from my biological relatives) and very few friends. This is part of why I don’t celebrate holidays – because I don’t have anyone to celebrate it with – but the pain that I associate with holidays is also a reason. If I had a loving family or close friends, I might start celebrating, perhaps only a little the first time and then gradually building it up. But I don’t know for sure what I’d be comfortable with.

Point is: I don’t feel comfortable celebrating holidays, and that’s totally valid. Even if I hadn’t explained my reasoning at all, it would be okay for me to not want to participate in these events.

Now, onto the second part of this post: not forcing these celebrations onto people.

Too often, I see people’s (including my own) discomfort with these events being dismissed, and other people’s desire to celebrate being prioritised. Even for birthdays, which are (in my culture, at least) supposed to be focused on the individual whose birthday it is. But still, though I ask people to not mention my birthday and to not try to celebrate it, celebrate they do. I’ve managed to get it down to just comments on my social media, but I can’t seem to get people to stop completely.
I managed to avoid Christmas entirely last year. Someone offered me the chance to spend Christmas with him, but he didn’t push me on it or expect me to definitely be there. That I’m fine with. That’s a nice way to let me know that I can join in if I want to, without putting any pressure on me. However, in past years there has been more pressure, from various people.

This is not right.

I get that people probably have good intentions. It’s nice that they want to wish me well, or include me in their celebrations. I do appreciate that.
But when they keep pestering me to join them (though this may seem like friendly encouragement from their perspective), or basically do anything more than just tell me I can join them if I want to, it doesn’t feel nice. It feels like pressure.

If I have said that I’m not comfortable doing something, respect that.

One of the worst forms of this ‘coercive celebrating’ is the surprise party. Thankfully I have never experienced this first-hand. The combination of people forcing something that I’ve stated I’m against on me, the association with painful memories, the lack of respect for my need to know what’s happening in advance (shout-out to my autistic brain), and the panic that would probably set in when everyone jumps out and yells, “Surprise!” would probably end with me hiding in the bathroom, panicking and crying. And even if I could avoid doing that, the pressure of maintaining a smile and pretending to be enjoying myself could be utterly draining.

Now, if you know that someone is okay with being the focus of surprise parties (because they have said that) then go for it. It seems to be enjoyable for some people, and I have no wish to deprive them of that joy.

But don’t force them on people who you don’t know are comfortable with them, and definitely not people who have said that they don’t like them. What you might think of as something fun could be panic-inducing for them.

I remember reading a post in one of my Facebook groups, about a woman who had birthday celebrations forced on her after she specifically asked her friends to not do anything for her birthday. There were so many comments calling her ungrateful, and not nearly enough acknowledging that she had her comfort and consent disregarded.

My point here is: there are reasons why people don’t want to celebrate holidays, and it’s not okay to pressure / force them into celebrating. Sure, it might be sad to not have someone you care about celebrating with you. But, if they’re anything like me, having celebrations forced on them could seriously impact their mental health.

If you really care about them, let them avoid things that are uncomfortable / distressing for them (and remember, you’re not entitled to know their reasons). Maybe you could meet up a while after that event has passed, and find something else to celebrate together – the anniversary of the day you met, the first day of Spring, the release of a new book in a series you both enjoy… There are so many possibilities.

This is one of those tricky situations that we may never find a perfect solution to. If they don’t celebrate with you, the celebration might not feel as enjoyable to you, and it might even lead to you feeling lonely and sad. But if you make them join in, it might be harmful for them in similar or very different ways.
So I don’t have a perfect solution. All I can do is ask you, from the perspective of someone who goes through so much pain around these holidays and who doesn’t want to be pushed into even more: please, please just tell them that they’re welcome to join you if they want to, but that it’s totally okay if they’d prefer not to. It’s the simplest and most considerate thing.

Please stop trying to make us celebrate when we’re in agony inside.

To allies: if you want to support us, actually listen to us, not just to other allies

This should not be an issue. I should not have to write about this. But there are vast amounts of allies / supporters out there who listen primarily to professionals or to other allies / supporters, and who don’t listen nearly enough to people who have actually experienced the thing.

I’m just gonna say it, and then explain the reasons behind this.

If you want to support a disabled person, listen to people with that specific disability.
If you want to support a mentally ill person, listen to people with the same mental illness as them.
If you want to support a non-binary person, listen to non-binary people.
If you want to support someone who is grieving, listen to people who have experienced grief.
Etc.

If you want to support someone with something, listen to other people who have experienced that something.

That’s not to say that you should never listen to professionals who work in that area, or to other supporters.
But listen to people who have actually experienced the thing above everyone else.

Reasons:

Only people who have actually experienced the thing can have a deep, first-person understanding of what it’s like to experience that. Only they can truly know what it does to a person, how it can affect each area of their life, what it’s like to experience it over a long period of time (if that’s applicable).

Professionals and other supporters, no matter how much effort they put into learning (and credit to those who really do make an effort, I’m grateful), cannot have the same level of understanding. They can know what they’ve read / heard, but it’s not the same as knowing how it actually feels. And if you want to get the best understanding and the most accurate knowledge possible, you need to hear it directly from the source, from the people who have actually experienced it. Things get diluted otherwise, and distorted as they get passed along from supporter to supporter – that’s not always intentional, but it happens. Hearing it directly from people who are experiencing the thing is the only way to ensure that you’re finding out what they really feel, with no changes to the words / tone / body language / perspective / etc used to describe the experience.

Prejudice amongst professionals and supporters is also an issue.

People almost revere professionals, and often treat their word as law. But, as many marginalised people can attest, professionals are often biased. They often have their own prejudices and misconceptions. They’re still looking at the experience from the outside in, and they may not be looking clearly (with an open mind and a willingness to really listen and learn).

Similarly, supposed supporters can also be very prejudiced, or can have a lot of harmful misconceptions (this may not be intentional on their part, but it’s still harmful).
Sometimes this is obvious, as they claim to be supportive whilst also saying a lot of things that are very clearly the opposite. But sometimes it’s not so blatant. Every single marginalised group I know of faces widespread erasure and / or bad representation in the media. Misconceptions are easily spread because of this, so even the most kind-hearted of supporters can accidentally take in prejudiced views and misconceptions, and can then pass those on to other people.

The solution to all this is to seek out voices from within each group. Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to know where to start with this. So I’ll give you a few tips for things that can turn up some good results.
– Search for online support groups that contain words like ‘autistic’, ‘trans’, etc or words like ‘ableism’, ‘transphobia’, etc. Look for ones that either state that they centre people from that group or that have rules in place to try to keep the group safe (e.g. rules against homophobia, racism, etc). Make sure you don’t join any groups that say they’re only for people from that group – you should only be joining ones that also welcome supporters.
– Search for pages using the same words. Again, try to make sure that they’re run by people from the group in question. Once you’ve liked a few, others will probably start to pop up in your recommendations.
– Search for similar words on Tumblr. The #actuallyautistic tag is a good place to learn about autism from actually autistic people. Tumblr gets a bad rep, but it can be a good place to gain insights into the everyday experiences of marginalised people.

To restate: I’m not saying you should discard the voices of professionals and other supporters. Just make sure that you’re centring the voices of people who have actually experienced the thing. Especially people who have been active in those communities – the autistic community, the trans community, etc – for a few years, because they’ve had more time to learn about the community as a whole on top of their own personal experiences, so they’ll probably be more knowledgeable and insightful.

Okay, I think that’s all for this post. Go forth, allies, and seek out our voices!

To the over-sharing parents: stop revealing personal details about your kids to the whole world

Content warning: violations of people’s (particularly children’s) autonomy / privacy / consent, mentions of harassment / abuse / discrimination (though there’s very little detail and nothing graphic).
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Videos of autistic kids having meltdowns. Books detailing disabled kids’ porn habits. TV shows in which a parent of a trans kid speaks about how their child tried to damage their own genitals. Parents of gay kids who tell everyone on their social media about their child’s sexuality.

Just because you know, it doesn’t mean that they’re ready for everyone to know. Especially if they’re still very young and don’t fully understand the potential consequences of others knowing.
It’s not okay to share personal details about someone unless they truly understand the potential consequences of that information being out there (ranging from unconditional support to harassment and abuse or even worse) and have consented to the information being shared.

I can understand posting certain things in spaces that are dedicated to supporting people from that group.
Finding a support group for autistic people and their supporters, and asking for advice on how to support your child when they’re having a meltdown = understandable.
Posting a video of that meltdown = definitely not understandable, and doubly so if it’s anywhere outside of a support space.
The difference is that the first one doesn’t actually show them when they’re especially vulnerable. You haven’t filmed them when they’re struggling and then shown that film to a bunch of other people (or, potentially, the entire internet). You’ve revealed less personal information about them and have made sure that they still have the choice (when they’re older) of telling people more details or keeping it private.

I should note that this can definitely apply to adults as well – filming an autistic adult having a meltdown and posting it online isn’t cool either, unless they have specifically consented to it – but I’m focusing particularly on kids because they’re less likely to truly understand the potential consequences and therefore are less able to give fully informed consent. It’s still worth reading this even if you’re supporting an adult though, whether they’re a family member, friend, partner, colleague or something else.

When you post something like this online, or talk about it in a TV show, or tell your friends / family, or even write a book / blog about your experiences with your child, it could lead to a lot of harm.

Often it involves violating their consent and privacy. Imagine if someone knew something very personal about you, and they told a load of other people about it without your consent. Or imagine if you were really angry / upset / overwhelmed, and they filmed you at that emotional time and put it online.
It’s not nice, is it? It’s very disrespectful and inconsiderate.

It can also lack foresight. So you’ve posted this video of your kid having a meltdown. Even if nothing bad comes of that straight away, what if people from your child’s school / workplace / social circle see it later on? What if they’re not very nice people, and they start sharing that video everywhere and being cruel to your child about it?
People often seem to miss this aspect, but it’s very serious. I’ve seen people in support spaces talking about experiencing this. Someone passed it on that they’re gay, or mentally ill, or in a relationship, and suddenly everyone knows and it’s very difficult for them.
And don’t think that, because you have high privacy settings on your social media, or because you only tell one trusted friend, the information won’t get out there. It still does sometimes, and you can’t be 100% certain that it won’t in your case.
You need to consider not only your child as they are now, but also who they might be in the future and what could harm them then.

And what if your child just doesn’t want other people to know? That’s okay. I’m generally a pretty open person, but I understand that many people prefer to be more private and to only share personal details with certain people. Both of our choices are valid. They shouldn’t try to force me to hide things that I want to be open about, and I shouldn’t tell others things about them that they wanted to keep private. What matters is that we both respect each other’s autonomy and right to choose our privacy levels for ourselves.

Think: if you were dependent upon someone else (as in, they’re your carer) and they shared such personal things about you with other people, would you be okay with it?
If you’re not part of any marginalised groups, think of it like this: would you be okay with someone sharing something that could lead to you being harassed, abused and discriminated against, and that could change the way people think of you (even if they don’t realise it or admit it)?

Remember: just because someone says ‘yes’ to you sharing something, that doesn’t automatically make it okay. You need to factor in why they’re saying yes (for example, your child may sometimes say yes just to please you) and whether they (and you) have a full understanding of the potential consequences.

Consider: would you share the same or similar information about a person not from that group? For example, some parents will share all manner of personal information about their disabled child, but won’t share nearly as much deeply personal stuff about their non-disabled child. It’s one aspect of how disabled people are routinely dehumanised – being treated as though they’re unaware of what’s happening around them and as though their privacy and autonomy don’t matter. If you’re not telling people about your able-bodied, neurotypical child’s toilet habits, don’t tell them about your disabled child’s toilet habits (yes, this really happens). Unless it’s in specific situations like the support group situation I mentioned earlier on, you shouldn’t be revealing any more personal information about people from one group than about people from another.

The best solution to all of this is to do the following:
1) Educate yourself and your child about consent as much as you can. Teach them that you will respect their consent as much as you can (emergencies are an exception, of course). This can make it easier for them to say no if they’re not comfortable with you sharing something about them, whereas they might feel obligated / pressured to say yes otherwise, or might say yes just to please you.
2) Don’t share anything that could easily lead to harassment / abuse / discrimination in your child’s future, until they’re able to fully understand those potential consequences and have consented. And make sure you’re very informed about the potential consequences too, so you know when to be especially cautious.

There are far, far too many people out there who don’t consider these things, or who outright dismiss them when they’re suggested. Don’t let your child be harmed.

Just because they’re still young, it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have autonomy and a right to privacy. You don’t own your child’s life, their experiences, their feelings, their personal information. Those things aren’t yours to share with others without the child’s (fully informed) consent. A child’s life, experiences, feelings and personal information are their own, no-one else’s, and their autonomy, comfort and future should always be considered before those things are shared.

Please stop calling different-gender relationships ‘straight’ and same-gender relationships ‘gay’ – you’re erasing other sexualities

Content warning: erasure of multiple gender attraction sexualities, defining other people’s relationships without their consent.
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*frustrated, angsty noises*

I can almost feel the steam coming out of my ears. If you hear the sound of a kettle whistling, it’s probably my head overloading.

This one has been bugging me lately.

Quick clarification first: MGA stands for multiple gender attraction / multiple gender attracted, and covers all sexualities that involve being attracted to more than one gender (e.g. bisexual, pansexual).
Okay, now to the point.

MGA people are very frequently erased. One thing that’s appeared on my social media lately – though I had seen it plenty of times before – is people’s insistence upon describing relationships as ‘straight’ (if it involves one man and one woman, or is perceived that way because of assumptions about their genders) or ‘gay’ (if it involves two men or two women, or is perceived that way), regardless of the individuals’ actual sexualities.

This is bothersome on so many levels. If everyone in the relationship has consented to having their relationship described in that way, super. Otherwise, stop, stop, just stop.

A lot of MGA people don’t like it when their relationships are referred to as ‘straight’ or ‘gay’. It erases our actual sexuality, and it centres the two sexualities that get the most focus anyway, while pushing us to hide ourselves or conform to ‘one or the other’ (something that is used against MGA people a lot).

It also defines us by the relationships that we have, rather than by who we actually are, and therefore also erases our individuality. As someone who was socialised as a girl, I’m already so tired of people defining me by what I am to other people (especially men) and not by who I actually am. We have it ingrained into us from such a young age that we only matter based on what we are to other people – we’re a daughter, girlfriend, wife, mother, never an individual – and it’s flippin’ tiring. I don’t need yet another aspect of who I am to be treated that way.
We are not defined by who we are to other people, or by what other people assume us to be. We are defined by who we actually are. People need to stop making assumptions, and actually listen to us.

The ‘logic’ of it also falls apart when you consider some polyamorous relationships. If a one man and one woman relationship is a ‘straight relationship’ and a two men or two women relationship is a ‘gay relationship’ then what about a relationship that involves two men and one woman? There are two men together, which by your definitions would be gay, but each of them is also with a woman, which would be straight. So what then?
I asked this question on a post about this topic. I received two responses, both from people who said they’d refer to that as ‘a polyamorous relationship’. Now, that on its own would make sense. But if you’re doing that while also calling other relationships ‘straight’ or ‘gay’, something’s gone wrong. Why apply sexuality terms to some relationships but not to others? Could it be because your ‘logic’ doesn’t hold up across all relationships? Hmm…

There tends to be a lot of non-binary erasure involved in this topic too, but I’m not focusing on that right now.

Then there’s the fact that relationships are inanimate concepts that cannot experience attraction, and that therefore cannot have sexualities. If everyone in the relationship is comfortable applying a sexuality term to their relationship, that’s fine. That may represent something important for them. But using sexuality terms for relationships shouldn’t be the default; it shouldn’t be something that we assume or do to others without the consent of everyone involved. It should always be the choice of the individuals involved, and they shouldn’t be spoken over.

Good alternatives are ‘same gender relationship’ and ‘different gender relationship’. Try to avoid saying ‘opposite gender’ in any context, because that can reinforce the gender binary and can be harmful to non-binary people.

So there you are. Now you know a way to be inclusive to all sexualities (and genders) and to avoid perpetuating erasure.

*slightly calmer noises*

I need some tea.

No, there aren’t too many labels – and no, you don’t have to remember them all

I frequently encounter people saying things like, “Why are there so many labels nowadays? Can’t we just be people, without labelling everything?”.

*sigh*

I don’t think people are generally being malicious when they say things like this. It seems to come from a place of ignorance, rather than malice. I don’t say that in a patronising way – we’re all ignorant about many things. What matters is that we do our best to listen and learn when people try to teach us.

Here’s why the ‘labels’ aren’t the issue, and why complaining about them is:

‘Labels’ are just words. Our names are labels. Our jobs are labels. Terms denoting relationships (friend, partner, cousin) are labels. Any time we describe ourselves to others, we’re labelling ourselves.
Tall, brunette, sporty, engineer, parent – these are all labels.
And yet I never hear anyone pointing out that these are labels, or complaining about them. It only seems to happen when we’re talking about marginalised people’s identities and experiences.

Bisexual, disabled, autistic, black, trans.
These are the sorts of words that get described as ‘labels’ a lot. And yet, these may be some of the most important ones, because they represent groups of people who so often face erasure, ridicule and even violence. These are the words that help people who have been made to feel alone and broken for their entire lives to feel connected to others, to feel included and cared for and whole.

People only seem to think we’re using too many words once marginalised people finally find words that accurately and fairly describe who we are. Words that either didn’t exist before (because of the widespread erasure of people like us, which makes it much harder for language to evolve to include us) or that had been hidden from us for our entire lives (again, because of erasure, which makes it harder for many of us to find spaces where we are included).
Once marginalised people find the right words, and start speaking up about them, suddenly we’re using ‘too many labels’ and are asking for too much. “How is anyone supposed to remember all of this? It’s unreasonable to ask for that!” they cry.

Here’s the thing: I’m not asking for you to remember every single word. That can be difficult, especially as the language of the marginalised is evolving so quickly.
All I want is for you to respect us, to not speak over us about our own identities / experiences / needs, and for you to try your best to remember these things. If you slip up, if you forget something…it’s not the end of the world. It will probably still cause me pain, but I’m unlikely to get angry with you if it seems like a genuine accident.

But when you complain about these ‘labels’, you are not respecting us. You are speaking over us about what’s important to us. You aren’t trying your best.
So I’m gonna call you out on this, if I feel up to it (remember, just because no-one calls you out, it doesn’t mean there’s no issue – sometimes we’re just too exhausted to deal with yet another person missing the point).
When you complain about these words, regardless of your intent, it can come across as you caring more about things being easy for you than about us having words that actually help us – that represent us, that help us to find others like us as well as to find support services, that treat us as real and valid.
Your complaint is yet another thing that reminds us that we’re not fully accepted, that people think of our inclusion and comfort as a burden and as not worth bothering with. Even if that’s not precisely what you as an individual thought, there are people out there who think that – lots of them – and your complaint is a reminder of that.

So, what should you do instead? I’ll help you out.

If you see a word you didn’t know before, that represents a marginalised group, listen. It may seem excessive or unneeded to you, but if that was genuinely the case, the word probably wouldn’t exist. So just listen. Maybe write it down if you think you’re gonna have trouble remembering it – keeping lists of words and definitions might help you. Maybe thank the person for educating you.
And stop calling these words ‘labels’, if you don’t refer to all the words I’ve mentioned that way. Referring to just these ones as ‘labels’, whilst others get to be just ‘words’, can give these ones negative connotations and create more stigma around them. It makes them seem different, separate and unnecessary, when what we need is for them to be considered regular and included.

Please give us this basic respect.