I love “cis” and “neurotypical” and “non-binary.”

Because they reject the default setting.

“Cis” is the opposite of “trans,” as in cisgender, meaning (more or less) “identifying as the gender that [society tends to] correlate[s] with the body parts you were born with.”

Neurotypical” is used to describe people who are not on the Autism spectrum. 

[Update from the comments:  Unstrangemind explains that “neurotypical is the opposite of neurodivergent. The opposite of Autistic is allistic. I know many people who are allistic but not neurotypical.”   I love this even more — two different ways of rejecting the default setting.]

Both of these terms reject the concept that the opposite of transgender or autistic is “normal,” and I love them for precisely that reason: they reject the default setting.

I love reading the thoughts and experiences of people who are trans, or autistic, or non-binary, which is being “on the spectrum,” but just another spectrum. I love that parents are more and more open to listening to kids who don’t want to live as the gender they were physically assigned.

I love fat activism, which says beauty norms are contingent and health and happiness come in many shapes and sizes. The fact that we now insist that women have flat stomachs and men have six-packs seems as random as fashion, and as open to change if we all open our minds.

I love universal design, which says you can build a structure for every body, not an archi-typical structure that you then have to retrofit to accommodate people whose bodies and abilities don’t fall within a narrow part of that spectrum. A structure that accommodates all of us from the start.*

Why, I’ve asked myself, would a cis, largely neurotypical, straight, nondisabled, averaged-sized person find these concepts so compelling? Because they reject the cubbyholes society creates for all of us. My theory is that every time a trans*, autistic, non-binary, fat, and/or disabled person makes society pry open its language and — following close behind** — its minds, we all win. It pushes back against the default setting and makes it easier for us all to be who we are and find or create our own cubbyhole, or none, or multiple.

I love Robot Hugs pretty much any day, but this comic was timed perfectly for this post, which had been rattling around in my head for a while.

2014-07-21-Gender Rolls

Image description by the artist:

GENDER ROLLS:

Daily Gender Check:

Roll Three:

Roll 1d8

1 – Agender

2 – Genderqueer

3 – Trans

4 – Genderfluid

5 – Cis

6 – Non-Binary

7 – Questioning

8 – Bigender

Roll 1d10

1 – Dapper

2 – Femmetype

3 – Twinky

4 – Sophisticate

5 – Androgynous

6 – Leather

7 – Flexible

9 – Queerdo

10 – Nonconforming

Roll 1d12

1 – Princex

2 – Dragon

3 – Beefcake

4 – Shortcake

5 – Dudebro

6 – Gentleperson

7 – Cumberbatch

8 – Butch

9 – Bear

10 – Dandy

11 – Otter

12 – Queen

A: What did you get today?

B: Genderqueer femmetype dudebro

A: Tough one.

B: Nah, I’m going to totally rock it. You?

A: Agender sophisticate dragon.

B: Nice.

*************

* That said, the next person who says a building is “accessible without looking all disabled or hospital like” gets whapped upside the head (gently but effectively) with a soft, non-fatal, but memorable wheelchair part.

** I’m a linguistics major and happy to talk about how language shapes thought — I wrote a thesis on it! — so ask at your peril!

Why I love Autistic* women (and you should too). (Guest post!)

[I have been blessed with a guest post by Corbett O’Toole, longtime activist and kickass good writer. ]

My life and disability activism entwined since my early childhood with polio.  I got the good, bad and ugly of the 1950s Poster Child years.**  I got to be the “problem” at my public school (they threw me out after kindergarten because they said my climbing the school stairs would be a ‘liability’), and then an “inspiration” at my Catholic school as the only person with a visible disability (where I climbed 2 flights of stairs everyday).

After I graduated from college, I moved to Berkeley, California with a friend and fell into the Disability Rights Movement.***  We made history (well I just followed along and did what I was told (mostly)).  We got curb cuts on city sidewalks, stopped inaccessible public buses with ADAPT, even shut down HEW director offices in the 1977 Section 504 sit-in.  I saw lots of folks come to Berkeley and then start their own dreams.  It was a time of action (and a whole lot of sex, drugs and rock and roll but that’s another blog).

But by the mid-1980s a lot of disability activism disappeared.  We went mainstream and many folks saw our organizations as service providers not activist centers.  And we started to narrow who was included in “disabled”.  When the first generation of AIDS folks came to our centers, we gave them minimum services (and some places just turned them away).  When the hemophiliac folks started dying from tainted blood, we acted like they were not us and turned away.  Little by little our public face became more about getting public acceptance for specific groups of disabled people (i.e. “us”) and less about disability justice.****

I continued to participate in disability rights work but increasingly I was on the margins – working on queer disabled issues, building bridges with other marginalized crip folks like disabled people of color.  We were not being invited to the official disability tables (not even as token speakers).  Often it felt like the days of serious activism – in your face, on the streets – had passed.

Then I met the Autistic women.  They blew my mind with their honesty, compassion and stunning intellect.  Have you read some of their blogs? I did.  They name injustice.  They call for action.  They help each other out.  They prize kindness. And they are over-the-top smart.

And for their efforts, they are routinely derided, receive hate mail, and are largely ignored (and often shunned) by people in other disability communities.

Here are some of the things I learned from Autistic women (and a few men).  Remember these are folks who are usually excluded from disabled and nondisabled communities; their disability-related needs are ignored; they have no money (or jobs) – yet – they, in my opinion, are leading the way towards disability justice.

SPEAK OUT

Every week there is a news report of an autistic child or adult who was murdered (or nearly murdered) by someone close to them.  In response to the latest one, Alyssa called for a new blog to respond.  Within an hour, a group of Autistics created “Voices for Justice” – a place to fight the public complacency about these murders.

Nearly all the press coverage is ‘explaining’ why the murderer ‘needed’ to kill the disabled person who was a ‘burden’.  There’s been hardly a ripple from the other disability communities – except for the National Council on Disability  – even though this happens with lots of non-autistic disabled folks too.  Here is a great response from Beth Ryan, a parent of an autistic kid.

TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER

The Autistics I know and follow online acknowledge that there is a lot of diversity among folks so they encourage people to ask for help as they need. They support each other and teach each other successful life survival skills. They also reach out to parents of autistic children.  Elizabeth (Ibby) Grace has a blog just to answer questions from parents.

They created systems to communicate nonverbally.  My favorite is for public spaces like conferences where people use “Interaction badges.” Kassianne explains it best.  Using red, yellow, and green pieces of colored paper we indicate our social availability.  When I am open to social interaction I display my green paper.  If I am feeling less social then I show yellow.  If I am out of juice and need to recharge, I show red.

TELL THE TRUTH

Most of the non-Autistic disabled folks that I know pretend that their disability doesn’t really impact them all that much.  Oh yeah, we complain about our stuff when it’s breaks our patterns – like when a wheelchair breaks – but we rarely talk about what works and doesn’t work everyday for our bodies/minds.

But the Autistic women do talk about this in a much more public way.  Someone might blog about how they can either get work done or clean because they don’t have enough energy for both (I can totally relate to this).  They even created a blog for all the stuff even they don’t like to discuss publicly to help parents of autistic children get some insight, support and strategies.

FIGHTING BACK

They are fighting back against ignorance (“autism = inability to feel empathy”), abuse (electroshocking of young children for “education”) and active annihilation (the murders mentioned above and public “education” campaigns that urge people to “prevent autism before it steals another child”). They challenge the methods and messages of organizations that want to “eliminate autism” (as if it was an scratchy coat) and spread misinformation.

WHY YOU SHOULD TOO

It took me a while to find a bridge into the Autistic world.  Autistic lawyer Shain Neumeier got me started and university professor and Autistic Elizabeth (Ibby) Grace brought me in.  I’m writing this post (THANK YOU AMY) because the kick-ass, fight-back, David-and-Goliath-work these Autistic folks are doing is amazing and needs your support.  They are an incredibly literate bunch and an easy way to find them is through their writings.  It will be well worth your time.  Here’s a taste:

Alyssa Z is a triple major college student (math, engineering and Chinese) who writes Yes, That Too.

Elizabeth (Ibby) Grace is a queer Autistic married mother of two who writes two blogs: Tiny Grace Notes AKA Ask an Autistic and NeuroQueer.

Autism Women’s Network has lots of fabulous writers.

And some great parent blogs:

Brenda Rothman writes Mama Be Good.

Ariane Zurcher writes Emma’s Hope Book.

****************

* I figure that since this is Amy’s blog, I need to follow her protocol and put in as many *footnotes as possible.   I think her record is 5 – I’m hoping to break it.  Back on topic: “Autistic” is the preferred term by many autistic activists.

**  In the 1950s, and for a long time after, children with disabilities were traipsed out like dogs at a Kennel Club show to raise money for organizations run by (and often for) nondisabled people who said they were “helping the handicapped”.  Neither we, nor our families, received any compensation for our ‘performance’.

*** You can read about this history at the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement Oral Histories.

**** Before you start yelling at me (well, really at Amy since this is her space), I acknowledge that lots of good legislative changes happened because of our ability to be more effective and mainstream.  Lots of college kids got support.  But this blog is about activism and not mainstream stuff.