Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Look at this awesome blog!

A couple of days ago, I came across Cracked Mirror in Shalott, the blog written by Savannah Nicole Logsdon-Breakstone, an Occupier/Decolonizer and disability advocate. I love it! She knows how to say things I've felt but never figured out how to put into words. Plus, she makes me think in new and exciting ways. What more can you ask from a blogger? Here's a quote from one of her posts.
"When the things that make up a part of who we are is so suppressed, how can it not be revolutionary to rock in public? How could I not include this part of myself when protesting a system that treats people without economic means as worthless? Why shouldn’t I stim in the face of a world- one both outside and inside- that tells me that I, too, am worthless? (If you are new, I am indeed fond of rhetorical questions.)
I am stimming 1000 revolutions a minute when I go out and stim at a protest. I’m being Autistic, fat, disabled, queer, poor, covering, and many other things in public when I am in public, and being visible here is bringing all of those things out and into a space where revolution can happen. I am speeding our revolutions while joining their revolutions, even if it is only that tiny amount that visibility brings."

You should read the rest of the post!

Monday, December 26, 2011


"Ten Thousand Spoons When All You Need is a Knife":
A silly allegory for life in my head

I read this essay the other day about someone who never has enough spoons. I thought about it. I have a lot of spoons.

A storeroom full of spoons. Stacks and stacks of boxes of spoons. Metal spoons, plastic spoons, silver with pearl handles, keepsakes, handmade wood with gorgeous little animals carved into the top. I have so many spoons I don't know what to do with them. I can eat pudding and soup to my heart's content, with enough spoons left over to make little spoon catapults, to build spoon sculptures that I could sell for money. I never run out of spoons; it's like my spoons are multiplying. Sometimes I'm afraid my spoons will take over my house and there won't be room for me.

The only problem is, I don't have any knives at all.

This doesn't sound like a real problem. It's cool having so many spoons around, never having to worry about keeping any in reserve. I like pudding anyway. It's pretty much my favorite food.

Unfortunately, and I'm not really sure why, every time I try to go out and meet people, every time I apply for a job, every time I meet someone I could maybe see myself falling in love with, they keep making me go out to these strange restaurants and buying me nothing but steak. And, I mean, it's nice of them and all. Really. It's just that for some reason, everyone seems to assume that I'll bring my own silverware. I brought my nicest spoons, my most impressive and charmingly quirky spoons, painstakingly polished and in a variety of colors, but unfortunately, spoons just aren't really very good for eating steak with.

I never know what to do in these situations. I usually feel like I have a few options:
1.) Try my best to eat the steak with the spoons.
2.) Ask for something else.
3.) Don't eat anything.

If I try option 1, it takes a lot of effort and a good deal of luck - it has to be very tender steak - but sometimes I actually succeed at cutting apart the steak and eating it with the spoons. People don't tend to notice too much; something just seems a little off and odd about what I'm doing. It's hit or miss whether they care. Usually it depends on who they are. Maybe they'll hire me/be my friend/go on a second date with me anyway. But eventually, I'll be tired of trying to saw through my food with a blunt object, and I'll have to move on to another option.

Option 2 usually works out the worst for me. Steak is awesome, they say! Why wouldn't you like steak? Most people can't even afford to eat steak except for on special occasions. You must be an ungrateful brat. If I try to explain that all I have are spoons, they tell me that they have plenty of friends who eat their steak with spoons, and I'm clearly just too lazy to cut my steak with my spoon. They don't want to be friends with/hire/date someone so lazy and weak. Maybe not everyone would say these things, but so many people have - and it hurts so much - that I usually don't bother asking.

Option 3 is the one that results in me being saddest. I don't eat, I go away hungry, and for some reason, my not eating makes everyone assume I just wasn't interested in them or in being there, that I didn't like them. So they don't bother with me. It's a big waste of time for everyone involved, and it just leads to disappointment for me. Afterward, I go home and hate all my spoons.

Maybe sometime I'll figure out how to twist one of my spoons into something resembling a knife. But I don't know how right now. Maybe sometime I'll find people like me, who just have spoons, or people with only forks, or maybe just people who understand and let me order soup. I know they're out there. I've met them. But they're all far away, and I'm tired. So for tonight, I think I'll just stay home and eat pudding.

Please visit these links also:
The Spoon Theory, by Christine Miserandino - This is the awesome article that inspired this piece of writing. Please note that my spoon analogy is distinct from hers, so it may be a waste of time to try to understand the relationship between them.
On Being a Hair-Dryer Kid in a Toaster-Brained World, by MOM-NOS - Possibly my favorite piece of writing by an autism parent. My essay is a mere variation on her beautiful theme.

All credit to Alanis Morissette for the, erm, "ironic" title, which I am using "ironically." Or something.

Lastly, I apologize for the unexpected hiatus and for the somewhat un-topical content of this post. It was the thing I was able to write, so I wrote it :)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Anarchy, Ableism, and Asperger's

Today's post will be a guest post from John, an activist and organizer with Asperger's Syndrome, who has kindly allowed us to repost his writing here. Thanks so much to John for letting us share this piece with everybody.

Anarchy, Ableism, and Asperger's: My Own Struggles With Myself
By John (butternut[at]
(written in Summer 2009)

I've never really considered myself “disabled.”  The truth is, I'm quite able-bodied, played sports and ran track in high school, and I'm still in shape to run from cops and fight them off if need be.  Mentally I'm also very gifted (that's the word they used in the schools), with an embarrassingly high IQ and a year of graduate school under my belt at a highly-ranked school.  I've always had some emotional and social difficulties, but my parents, peers, and teachers have always ascribed that to being “timid” or “shy” or “introverted,” and neither them nor I thought anything seriously wrong was occurring.

Despite this, ableism has been one of the most interesting ideas I've come across since joining anarchist circles.  I first heard of it about a year ago, and the discourse largely came from militant queer/trans anarchists.  The idea of critically assessing ability within our movement was exciting, and I feel has the ability to better understand and fight white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, transphobia, and classism—in fact, many systems of oppression have aspects of ability woven into their foundations (for example, craniometry and studies of biological differences between queers/women/non-whites/poor and straight white upper class males).  But until very recently, I considered it one more oppression that I needed to fight as an ally, along with the ones listed above. 

What changed?  About a month ago, I finally started going through the process of diagnosis for Asperger's Syndrome.  Asperger's is a Pervasive Development Disorder and an Autism Spectrum Disorder, but a very high-functioning one.  Compared to many other forms of Autism, I am very high-functioning, but as a human being I have to disagree with that label, for some aspects of this condition can be physically, socially, and emotionally crippling.  Those struggling with Asperger's often develop special interests, which manifest themselves as obsessions in many cases.  I was lucky, one of my special interests just happens to be anarchist organizing, go figure.  While appearing to be loners or have social anxiety, we often desire attention but lack the social skills necessary to begin and maintain strong and meaningful relationships—noted characteristics of Aspies (people living with Asperger's) include a lack of empathy, difficulty with nonverbal communication, especially making eye contact, and inability to read subtle social cues, described somewhere as “terminal cluelessness.”  We also have a tendency to talk on and on about things that interest us, without letting others have a turn to speak and without much concern for what their needs are.  There are also some physical characteristics, like repetitive motions (for me, I constantly play with pen and marker caps), rocking, and a lack of coordination.  Aspies often are bullied as children, and later in life suffer from depression and sometimes continue to be taken advantage of.  There are numerous other characteristics of Aspies which can make participation in collectives difficult, and I encourage everyone to do more research to see what else Asperger's entails.  Many times I know I'm acting like an asshole to or around people I care about, and I don't want to blame my condition for my behavior but there often isn't much that can be done about it, sometimes I literally have no control over my behavior.

My situation is additionally difficult because of the intersection with other conditions, experiences, and identities.  Growing up with well-educated parents (my father has a Ph.D. in astrophysics and my mother has a bachelor's in chemistry and a master's in nursing), I excelled in school early on while lacking examples for social behavior given their nerdiness, introversion, and self-insulation (and I suspect their own undiagnosed struggles with Asperger's and depression).  Everyone—my parents, my peers, and my teachers—quickly recognized the potential I have, shuffling me off to “gifted and talented” classes and functions, while sometimes setting the bar impossibly high.  When I got a problem wrong in class, it illicited almost a shocked reaction from the teacher, and I was made fun of mercilessly by classmates.  I still remember many of the questions I got wrong throughout my schooling.  This led me to withdraw further, and the G/T programs isolated me from my peers much of the day.  On the playground, I often wandered around alone, though other kids would approach me to make fun of me and bully me, often calling me a "retard." 

In addition to these problems, my struggle with Asperger's has been further compounded by also being somewhat bipolar, moving halfway across the country in both directions for school on multiple occasions and frequently migrating between circles of friends, and traumatic experiences at street protests.  I've also run into a number of other mental health problems, the most serious of which have thankfully subsided since high school: coming uncomfortably close to drug and alcohol abuse, never-acted-upon thoughts of cutting and suicide, self-hatred, depression, anxiety, and other self-destructive behaviors.  To this day, I still have a constant level of anxiety and depression due to a lifetime of expectations I could never hope to achieve; I often start a lot of projects yet abandon them before I finish them for the same reasons: if I never finish it, the finished project can't be a failure!

Asperger's caused me to engage with ableism on a much more personal level because it showed me that many of us have special needs and special abilities, whether we have a diagnosed “disability” or not.  There are many things I can do very well, like running websites and other technical tasks, writing, publishing, and organizing books and things like that.  I also have the ability in some cases to see the world/society/politics in ways that other people can't, like being able to understand and make sense of highly complex systems and social networks.  There's also a number of things I just can't physically/mentally do.  I have difficulty making small talk with strangers (and even good friends and partners), and I sure as hell can't stand on a corner and sell Socialist Worker or Challenge.  I also struggle with public speaking in some but not all situations.  Anarchist and activist circles have been more accepting than the rest of society—a few close friends have given me more love and support than I could have asked for, without even knowing the name for my condition—but there is still a critical lack of understanding that I have encountered.  Even in the past few months, I was called “retarded” by one activist (a Stalinist of all anachronistic ideologies, so fuck him) and laughed at by my partner when I told her about the disorder. 

I still don't know everything there is to know about Asperger's, and I'm definitely not an expert on Autism or mental health as a whole.  I may spend the rest of my life trying to understand how to interact with my condition.  Language and treatment are two of the things I've been trying to figure out.  I don't think I need to be treated; that assumes that there's something wrong with me, legitimizing normality while othering myself, when I know that my condition has blessed me with special abilities.  And language creates a number of dilemmas, as it does when talking about any system of oppression.  Am I living with Asperger's, or struggling with it?  Is it a condition, a disorder, a disease?  Am I disabled?  The Aspie community has developed the term “neurotypical” to describe those without Asperger's, Autism, or similar conditions, along with  “neurodiversity,” which I like because they don't confer normality or superiority to non-Aspies.  Part of our challenge in confronting ableism in our communities is to develop a discourse that is as useful as it is liberating.

What can allies do?  Some obvious actions, like taking the words “crazy” and “retarded” out of our vocabularies, help make everyone feel more included.  In some ways, I want to suggest to able-bodied and neurotypical allies that they familiarize themselves with Asperger's, depression, social anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, eating disorders, and a few other common mental conditions so that they can better incorporate individuals into anarchist and anti-authoritarian spaces.  But what I think is even better, and more productive, is just to pay attention to everyone and try to find ways to engage them on a personal level.  There are things that I can do that no one else can't, and many things that most people can do that I can't.  But mental health aside, isn't that true for everyone?  It’s also an issue of consent: just as we're trying to get better at asking for gender pronouns and seeking consent in our romantic relationships, we can make it a point to see what special talents and abilities each other have, and what limitations and needs we each have.  That way, we can make sure that everyone's abilities can be nurtured while refraining from forcing others into situations they aren't comfortable with and doing everything we can to meet the needs of the individuals in our communities.

Resources for Asperger's and Autism Spectrum Disorders:
John Elder Robison – Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's
Jerry & Mary Newport – Mozart and the Whale: An Asperger's Love Story
Erika Hammerschmidt – Born on the Wrong Planet
Aspies For Freedom –
Aspie Quiz and lots of resources -
Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical -

Resources for Mental Health:
Bay Area Radical Mental Health Collective -
Pomegranate Health Collective -

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What It Takes

“Adjust your own mask before assisting others. Adjust your own mask before assisting others.” I repeated the warning to myself like a mantra. See, I’d been perseverating since I left the General Assembly at 4:30 with a blinding, screaming migraine. The migraine was because aside from the Doubleshot I gulped that morning, I had forgotten to eat or drink. I do that. Anyway, I’d been perseverating. For those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with the peculiarities of the autism spectrum, we can use the more familiar “obsessing.” I couldn’t stop feeling guilty and ashamed. I couldn’t stop thinking about the people I was walking away from, how so many of them were risking arrest and violence, and how no matter what I tell myself, I probably won’t be able to stay through the night even once at the encampment.

I simply don’t have what it takes.

What I do have is severe social anxiety. What I do have are communication issues that make me struggle to carry on “normal” conversations in person without a defined script. What I do have is a sensory processing problem that makes loud noise intolerable; under stress, even the sound of human voices becomes unbearable.

For me, Bruin Walk is a gauntlet – huge numbers of people trying to communicate with me, make eye contact, touch me, shove things into my hands, ask me questions. For me, sticking around for a whole class is sometimes a major achievement. For me, a protest is meltdown central – crowds, shouting, chanting, socializing, emotion, words, conflict…

I know all this about myself. But you, fellow protesters and interested bystanders, you don’t know it about me. You don’t know that when I was at the rally in front of Kerckhoff, I began to shake so uncontrollably that my pictures turned out blurry. You don’t know why I had my iPod on and my hands over my ears – not because I didn’t want to hear you speak – I desperately wanted to know what you had to say, but the noise of that crowd was excruciating. You don’t know that I had to sit on the ground at the back of the crowd and rock because I couldn’t bear to leave but I couldn’t cope with the sensory overload. You don’t know that when a fellow occupier at GA asked us to text our friends, I couldn’t think of a single person, because I have been here for months and I still only have classmates (whom I regard warmly but don’t know all that well). You don’t know that when someone suggested small friend groups within the Occupation, I began to panic, suddenly felt out of my depth. You don’t know that as soon as I got home, I fell asleep, and I couldn’t function for the rest of the night because I had been so mentally and emotionally exhausted just by four hours of protest.

But I was there. I took pictures, I thought, I helped with People’s Mic, I even spoke a couple of times. (Abruptly and painfully, but I’ll take what I can get.) I was there because I have the privilege of being there – as difficult as it was for me, it was not impossible, as it is for some. I was there because this movement, this moment, is life or death. Sure, I may have to walk away – over and over – guilty and frustrated – but I’ll keep coming back. I’ll give what I can.

I’m talking about this for a few reasons. First, I want people to know that we are not, as one spectacularly insensitive person claimed on Facebook, just “chilling in Wilson Plaza” because we “have nothing better to do.” I want people to know just how offensive it is to characterize us as lazy miscreants. For this, I think it’s important for us to share our struggle – to publicize our pain – to make it inescapably obvious that for many of us, just being at a protest is hard work, is itself a sacrifice.

Second, I want to shed more light on an issue that’s at the forefront for a lot of us interested in social justice: privilege. Usually that’s a word with negative connotations – it goes hand in hand with marginalization. "Speaking from privilege" denotes a kind of ignorance, an insensitivity that lifts you up at the expense of others. But in this strange situation, we end up with people saying things like “I don’t have the privilege of being arrested,” because being arrested is a privilege relative to being arrested and then deported. Those of us who are able to be at this university, those of us who can take part in this protest, have privilege of various kinds, and it is beautiful and positive to me to see people using that privilege to sacrifice what they can, to dismantle the system that upholds it. But I want us to be mindful that for any given action, there are people who don’t have what it takes, and sometimes the thing they’re lacking isn’t commitment or courage. Sometimes, “what it takes” is itself a kind of privilege.

Third, for my own safety and comfort within the movement, I want to give some insight into some of the different ways in which ASD and other disability might affect protesters at an Occupation. (That’s the purpose of this blog.) I want people to understand that if a person is, for instance, sitting on the ground rocking with her hands over her ears, she might simply be in shutdown from sensory overload, in which case it might be helpful to prompt her to go someplace quiet. (Use caution, though, and try not to be condescending about it.) Also, there is a sad history of police violence and discrimination against people on the autism spectrum, who are seen to be “acting suspiciously” just by being themselves.* While I’m privileged in that I “pass” well enough to slip under their radar, things happen, and others might not be so lucky. I may not, for instance, be able to coherently answer police questions or immediately follow directions, especially in a situation of sensory overstimulation. I plan to take responsibility for this as best I can by monitoring my internal state especially in these sensitive situations, but I want people to be aware that this is a possibility, and other protesters might have similar issues that they are not able to control as easily. 

Finally, I want to both reassure and challenge those people who haven’t come out to join us yet. I know you have reasons for not being there, and some of them are very powerful reasons, and I respect that. Adjust your own mask before assisting others. But I want to challenge you to give what you can. Even if you feel like it’s not enough, even if you’ll have to walk away, anything you can do counts. You can learn about the issues from the safety of your home, and even that will be something. Don’t think in terms of why and how you don’t have what it takes – think of what you do have to offer this movement. Then offer it. That's what I'm doing.

 *A note on the links: Some of the language of disability included in these links is problematic. Also, it is powerfully evident that race played a major role in some of these instances of police brutality; they are situated at the intersection of race- and ability-based oppression. My racial privilege means that I cannot speak to these issues as knowledgeably as disabled POC can, but I will make an effort to include those perspectives in the future, if only by linking to them.