“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”
- Audre Lorde
One of the more difficult parts of expressing myself stems from my inability to communicate my thoughts fully when faced with hostile opposition. A lot of people, my own family included, seem to think that I thrive off of drama and near-theatrical displays of emotion, but nothing could be further from the truth. Confrontation, particularly that of the face-to-face variety, terrifies me. When I am faced with a person who is hostile to me or my ideas, I’ve been pushed to the point of an anxiety attack, being temporarily blinded, and having difficulty breathing. I don’t find it fun or pleasurable to do so, it’s a horrific experience I would not wish upon my worst enemy.
And yet, I keep at it. When faced with belligerent trolls or antagonistic souls, I type up my rebuttal, even as my fingers shake and my heart rate speeds. In the event of someone doing something similar face to face, I try and keep a sturdy, even voice, and continue making my point even if I am reduced to tears or end up involuntarily stimming to get rid of all the stress it causes. If I lose the ability to speak coherently, I type, or write down my opinion.
I’ve come to both derive great pride from this endurance, and a sense of curiosity as to why I keep at it. In many of the cases, my tears and anxiety are taken as signs that my opinion is subjective and not worth considering, even on subjects which I have the most informed opinion on in the group, such as, surprise, autism. I’m told that I’m “weak” and “hysterical”, told that I need to consider things more objectively, and addressed with condescending pet names like “Sweetie” or “my dear”. At points like that, I wonder why I do not stay silent, fearing that my words my hinder my position more than they would help.
Such thoughts are, however, poison to progress. If I were to remain silent, it would be assumed that I have nothing to say, or worse, that my opinion doesn’t matter. One of the core mottoes of disability advocacy that I have absorbed is the ever-profound “Nothing about us without us.” In a world where the majority of the international conversation about autism happens without the input of autistic individuals, this thought is downright revolutionary. I’m not as eloquent of a speaker as a neurotypical doctor or a neurotypical parent of a child with autism. I don’t have the charisma and stage presence that is usually demanded of public speakers, and since I am completely immersed in autism, rather than being one or two degrees removed from it, I am bound to have an emotional reaction when that part of me is so fundamentally misunderstood, skewed, or abused. Contrary to popular reports, I am, after all, only human.
This idea that we cannot get involved in the debate because it is too personal to us, or that we “can’t look at it objectively” or because our emotions are too strong, is ridiculous and hurtful. It implies that there is such a thing as an objective observer, when, regardless of the subject, that’s near impossible to achieve. Humans are flawed, biased beings, and in the conversation about autism, you cannot be objective. Objectivity is simply a better sounding alternative buzz-phrase to “ignorant” or “uninterested in the repercussions these decisions will have for people.”
My tears and my panic attacks are not weakness or a sign that my opinion is not valuable. They indicate that I have a long history with this discussion, and I have opted to continue the dialogue, even at the cost of my emotional control, because it matters to me that much. That’s all.