What the most recent BC Election taught me about political and community involvement

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Right now, there are a lot of angry people on my Facebook, and in my community at large, over the most recent election. Surprising everyone, myself included, the BC Liberals have been elected, yet again, even after a twelve-year bungling of just about everything imaginable under the sun in this province. It’s making me miserable. I’m counting down the years until I can finish my undergrad degree and hopefully high-tail to York University, and I fear for the teachers, students, First Nations, disabled, mentally ill, and poor in this province.

A combination of factors can be blamed for that, low voter turnout is probably at the top of the list, the left-wing vote being split by the Green Party running so many candidates, the BC Liberals running a rather repulsive smear campaign which brought up dirt on the BC NDP from ages ago, and the BC NDP responding with a tepid, “no negativity” campaign which failed to call the BC Liberals on their bullshit and let the public believe that the Liberals were the better choice on economic issues (all evidence to the contrary), and hints of either outright voter suppression or just poor training of Elections Canada staff.

Either way, I’ve been seeing a lot of people on my Facebook being angry and passive-aggressive towards non-voters, and those who do a protest vote by spoiling their ballots. Status updates like “Wow thanks a lot, non-voters, now we’ve got four more years of this”, or “Thanks for delivering a Liberal win again”.

I have a very different reaction though, from impotent anger at non-voters/protest voters. The reason is, I know people who don’t vote, and they are far from politically apathetic. They are involved in advocacy in a variety of capacities, whether its engaging in protest, letter-writing, direct action, donating time, money, or food/goods to causes they believe in, or getting involved in larger organizations or campaigns, ranging from IdleNoMore to the Unist’ot’en Camp to Divest UVic to Defend Our Coast to Amnesty International to Greenpeace.

I respect their reasons for not voting, because they are, every other day of the year, and sometimes on Election Day, out there fighting for what they believe in, and making a great deal of difference. I’ve seen some amazing results come about from these campaigns, and the passion and heart they pour into these projects is unparalleled. To tell you the truth, I feel that they make more of a difference every day than people whose idea of performing civic duty only extends to checking a box once every four years, and then otherwise passively trusting the politicians to do the right thing, or believing you have to wait until you can check a different box in a couple of years.

It would be nice if, right now, we had a party in power that were more receptive to the causes that me and my friends fight for. I am terrified for the vulnerable in BC. I fear for the future of our entire planet, with the tanker-happy Liberals in power once again. But if you are dissatisfied with the results and then just go back to your usual routine of disengagement after you didn’t get what you wanted, then it’s not the non-voting activists who are the real problem here. Have a look in the mirror, and ask yourself why you feel checking that box is the first, the last, and only way to speak up for what you believe in. It’s not. Join us in the streets, and come see what power comes from letting the politicians know that it ain’t over when the election’s over.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, I voted for Jessica Van Der Veen, an NDP candidate who was defeated by Green candidate Andrew Weaver in the Oak Bay riding. And you are most definitely not off the hook if you don’t vote and aren’t doing something to challenge this system and make things more fair and just.

Embrace the Esoteric

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I’ve had a variety of “special interests” (if you so wish to call it that) over my lifetime. When I was very young, I had a deep love of Greek mythology, inspired by my now well-worn copy of D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. I still have fond memories of dragging this enormous volume, comparable to a phone book in my five-year old hands, to the beach with me and reading it in the sunshine on my beach towel. This evolved into a love of astronomy, since I grew interested in the constellations patterned off of the heroes and gods I read about.

I can’t list all of my other special interests, but they’ve ranged from international McDonalds menus to Japanese erotic photography. One of the reasons I have managed to do so well in university is because a brain like mine, which can absorb a great deal on a great deal of topics, is well-suited to a university environment.

That’s why it vexes me when I see parents and guardians of autistic children try to quash a child’s special interest, because they see it as socially/age inappropriate, or too esoteric. I’ve met autism parents who were terrified that their children would miss out on a chance to make friends and enjoy life because they had a “fixation” (their word) on vacuum cleaners, or botany, or different types of cheese (all real examples).

Having oddball interests isn’t going to socially isolate an autistic kid. It makes them come to life, gives them something which makes life interesting and vibrant, and allows them to discover a new world. These are all things that you’ll see come in handy in university. One of the things I love most about university is being surrounded by other people who are infatuated with a particular topic, and have decided to explore it with all of the passion and inspiration they could muster, professors and students alike.

If you ask me, that payoff, as well as a chance at having a lifetime to continue to explore that interest, is worth far more than worrying about whether the kids in elementary school think that you’re weird. I shrug at being teased for my special interests now, they’re giving me more satisfaction than a shallow, self-congratulatory manifestation of peer-belonging ever could.

Confessions of a Neurotypical Mask

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When I was young, the biggest preoccupation of adults in my life, for all their good intentions, was to get me to act more “normally/neurotypical/normatively”. Endless hours were spent training me how to mimic neurotypical behaviour. I can say with perfect honesty that attempts to “fix” my autism or mask it did a lot more harm to my psyche than the autism itself ever could. It manifests in a variety of neurotic, unhealthy, hurtful behaviours for me which I am slowly dismantling, day by day.

The funny thing that I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older and worked on regaining what I see as my true self, under the layers of self-doubt and internalized ableism from being coached to act like an ideal person I was never meant to be, is that the neurotypical mask I wore actually alienated me from making friends and being socially well-adjusted.

Here I am, at twenty-three, and there’s nothing but shards of that mask left clinging to my face. I’ve managed to dismantle most of it, and I’m, for the most part, hand-flappingly happy to be me. I don’t hide my stims in public, I don’t bother trying to disguise my natural voice, and I can babble about my special interests for as long as I have an interested audience. And I have more friends now than I ever did before when I was trying my best to pass as neurotypical. My friends are from a diversity of neurotypes, only about two of them are autistic, the rest are a blend of either neurotypical or non-autistic.

I don’t have a perfect, articulate explanation for why this is. It could be a variety of factors. My self-esteem at being proud of my own autistic self, finding people who are accepting and embracing of neurodiversity, and being a much more interesting person when I’m not trying to be someone else are probably the top three factors.

What I’m getting at with this is to remind the world (or my blog readership) that therapies and behavioural modification which focuses on squashing the autism in order to save the supposed “normal” child inside doesn’t do that at all. It creates a maladjusted, self-conscious child who must constantly reflect on how their natural state is a flawed one, and obsess over micro-managing their own behaviour, at the expense of a chance to grow organically into a beautiful, interesting, unique individual. You don’t save any child, hypothetical or real, in that, you instead create a downtrodden child who will, unless they are fortunate enough to find the strength to overcome the damaging messages told to them in such therapy, grow up into a downtrodden adult. Not the kind who makes friends and gets invited to social outings or feels love in their lives, just the kind who will be perennially neglected, abused, and marginalized. And they will accept it, because something will remind them deep down, that they deserve it, for not mimicking well enough.

The Big Switch and the Long-Term Plan

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Well, it’s not official yet, but in a few weeks, when summer classes start, I am going to switch my major from Pacific & Asian Studies to Women’s Studies. I took my first two women’s studies classes this last semester, and while, thanks to personal traumas, this semester was far less than enjoyable, I got all A’s on my courses and greatly enjoyed the material that I covered in my courses. Being in women’s studies made me feel powerful. Let me explain why, and offer some insights into why I feel that this is the discipline for me. 

The two classes I took were drastically different: Medicalization of Sex was the first one, and Word Warriors (A course on Indigenous Women’s Literature) The first one was more sociological in nature, and I did one large research project at the end where I explored one particular book’s problematic approach to the sexuality of autistic youth (Condensed version: Teaching autistic young people to be ashamed of their sexuality and only see one “proper” mode of sexual expression, victimizing autistic women who enjoy sex, and seeing heterosexual, monogamous relationships meant to end in marriage as the unwavering ideal). But the course was ultimately empowering and hopeful to me, because the theme throughout was resistance to medicalization and a belief in being able to reverse the dangerous course of action which has put the emphasis on over-medicalizing the petty problems of the middle-class and stigmatizing the bodies and minds of those who are disabled or otherwise deemed “sick” or “broken”.

The other course dealt with the themes of survival and resistance in poetry, plays, and novels written by Indigenous women. What was different about these two courses from others I had taken throughout my university career is that I was able to seamlessly blend my own experiences into class discussions, along with the class materials. In most classes in Pacific & Asian Studies, I kept my personal opinions and experiences to a bare minimum. I might, once in a while, consider my own experiences, such as when writing a paper on the experiences of displaced peoples in Asia and whether they could be compared to diaspora groups in North America, but I mostly considered myself to be more or less detached from the material. I was passionate about it, but removed. 

In Women’s Studies, however, I got the chance to tell my stories and have my life experiences figure into my academic experience. I imagine there are a great deal of many scholars who are scoffing at my description of that, thinking that it makes me a poor scholar, or women’s studies a shoddy field built more on sharing feelings than doing academia, but I find the opposite to be true: Being able to use my own experiences as a disabled woman, for instance, in my Medicalization of Sex course, meant I could avoid the tragic pitfalls of other scholars before me, who hadn’t considered moving away from the medical model of defining disability. This enriched my research, as I knew first-hand what kind of language and attitudes to avoid replicating, and could actually think creatively on the topic. 

What pleases me the most about Women’s Studies is the intersectional approach. I’m given free reign in this department to research how one’s experiences (my own included) as a woman, interact with my experiences in the realm of disability, race, and sexuality. So, I am hoping I will be able to do an honour’s thesis in the department, studying the topic of depictions of autistic romantic relationships and sexuality, and how a less medicalized, more inclusive model of sexuality which emphasizes happiness and personal satisfaction can replace the current de facto. Women’s Studies is the only department which allows me such freedom, since Disability Studies is such a new field in academia. 

If all goes well, I would love to continue researching this, and maybe find myself at York University’s Disability Studies Master’s Department. I’ve come to life with the chance to bring topics that I love and know so intimately into my work and my passion. 

Wish me luck! 

Discovering and uprooting a source of anxiety

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This week, I lost my hairbrush. For most people, this would probably be an inconvenience. For me, it’s been downright distressing. For one thing, brushing my hair is a majorly calming stim for me. When all else fails, the tug of boar bristles on my hair will calm me down. Secondly, I am very focused on my looks, and the thought of going out without brushing my hair made me cry. But I braved this fear and went out, getting a great deal of comments on my hair. Not the kind I was anticipating though. I had people say, “Oh Leah, your hair looks lovely!” and “Did you get a haircut?” 

Huh? How could anybody say that about the ugly rat’s nest on my head? It wasn’t a haircut, it was a perfect storm of terrible, messy curly knots. Didn’t people get that?

Now tonight, I contemplated it further. When I was a child, my mother never let me leave the house without brushing my hair. I was repeatedly told that my hair in its natural messy state was ugly, dirty, nasty, and needed to be brushed. It appears that as an adult, I have continued to internalize this poisonous attitude, even when people who have never before seen my hair un-brushed tell me it’s pretty. I manifested anxiety about my mother’s criticism of my appearance into my hair, and had to have it perfectly coiffed to not feel anxious. 

This realization is liberating. 

Lessons of the Semester (TW: Rape)

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My dearest readers, I am exactly three final papers away from finishing this semester for good. During this time period, a lot of great and terrible things happened, which changed me, for the better, I believe. I learned, for instance, that a full-time course load and working two jobs, plus volunteer/advocacy work is a surefire way to end up exhausted and unable to pour your time into blogging.

On the good side of life, I’ve made a lot of new friends and learned so much this semester. I took my first two women’s studies courses, one on the medicalization of sex (Which covers the ways that mainstream discussions in the medical community often marginalize and seek to control the bodies and experiences of those who are seen as different or deviant, like women, trans and queer folk, the disabled, people of colour, and others) and one course on Indigenous women’s literature. My new friends are amazing. We go to classes together, work out together, write poetry over coffee together, and go dancing together. When you’ve been fed ridiculous myths about how, as an autistic person, you can’t be expected to enjoy a life of “normal” social activities, discovering that you can enjoy them and in fact, look forward to them, when spent with wonderful people, is a great discovery. And of course, my greatest joy this semester: I was published! I now have a semi-regular column up in The Jewish Week’s disability blog, The New Normal, and I love my new audience and the fun of sticking to just one topic, dating.

Some tragedy happened as well, which probably contributed to my lack of blogging. Last month, on March 1st, I was abducted and raped while on my way home from a party. That night, I was terrified and traumatized, and convinced that I was going to die. But I managed to text a good friend of mine who I knew was nearby what was happening, and they came and saved me from being dragged away by my rapist. I’ve been dealing with the police, and trying to move on with my life. Being sexually assaulted twice is painful and difficult to deal with, but I am proud of myself for managing as well as I have. But I am not going to lie, I’ve had moments of severe depression, anxiety, and I feel that my post-traumatic stress has been extremely aggravated.

But, here’s where it gets better: After having an experience where you feel like you could have died, you gain a new perspective on life. The Monday immediately after the rape, I was scheduled to meet one of my heroes, the poet, Chrystos, who was visiting my school. She had come into my life at just the right moment. The day after it had happened, I picked up her book, Not Vanishing, which we were reading for my Indigenous Woman Authors class, and started taking in all of her poems. One by one, I absorbed the words and spirit, until I felt myself growing stronger, more resilient, more willing to get up, survive, and fight back, reclaim my life, and live more powerfully and with greater intention than ever before.

When I met Chrystos that Monday, she passed out a copy of a poem she’d written just for our class, called “Prayer for her Students”. Reading it gave me strength, and made me resolve to tell Chrystos just how much her poems had meant to me. After she’d finished writing her poems, I told her everything. She gave me the greatest gift imaginable- her love, her support, and a request: In five years, she wants me to have a book written and published. No excuses. The promise of one of my literary heroes wanting me to write, for her, is keeping me writing every single day. I will publish that book, for her and for me.

Summertime will be here soon. I have a good feeling about where my life is going. I don’t feel helpless over what happened, or like my life is in any way, over. Instead, I feel like I’ve gotten a new lease on life. I feel like my goals and dreams are more reachable. I’m alive, and I’m realizing what a precious, beautiful gift it is for me to be alive. I will taste the summer peaches, mango milkshakes, buttery corn, feel the sun and sea salt on my face and shoulders, listen to the beautiful rhythms of music and laughter, and know the love of my friends.

So, again, I’m sorry for not blogging as much as I used to. I went through a lot. But I haven’t forgotten you. I just needed to engage in other forms of healing and happiness than blogging. But I feel ready to start again.

To the Wastes of Oxygen and Carbon Who Came Up With the “LiberalTips2AvoidRape” Hashtag

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The way to draw sympathy to your cause (in this case, gun control) is NOT TO MAKE RAPE JOKES.

I repeat: If you resort to MAKING RAPE JOKES to ridicule people who are politically opposed to you, your cause does not have any hope left.

As a rape survivor, I hope that those of you who thought it would be at all original, funny, or clever to MAKE RAPE JOKES and that you won anybody over to your side with this tactic can sleep at night. Because there are millions of survivors with post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares, and issues with being triggered, who cannot get a good night’s sleep, in part thanks to people like you.

In short: Go to Hell, you pig-headed beastly drooling slime-breathed Lilliputian-brained should-have-been-abortions.

Signed,

Leah

An Epiphany and a Playlist

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I am in no condition to be in a romantic relationship right now.

There, I said it. I said that dreadful truth which has been lurking in the back of my mind for months now, but have been denying, hoping I could shake it off.

Why was I afraid to admit it? A variety of reasons. Most notably, I mentally flagellated myself at the thought of admitting vulnerability in that area. I’ve written books and articles on dating, done workshops and webinars on the subject, and offered endless advice on dating and relationships to other autistics. I felt like I would be a professional failure if I said, “Actually, I need to take a break from dating and seeking relationships, I’m not really ready for this, and I feel I have a lot of maturing and introspection and critical thinking to do before I figure out what I want from a relationship, because if I’m not happy and well-adjusted while I am single, that’s not going to change with a relationship, I’ll just make another person miserable”. I felt a lot of pressure from myself and the critical inner voices in my head to find the right person, get into a relationship with them, and live happily ever after.

But admitting to myself last night that I’m not ready for a relationship was extremely liberating. It allowed me to lift the veil of judgement and pressure I was suffocating myself with, and has been a sort of step two (step one being quitting student politics) of figuring out what I want, not what I think I should want or what I feel like I am obligated to do by any sort of external sense of duty or morale. I can already feel a change in how I approach other aspects of life, like friendships. I’m not micro-analysing interactions with people I’m attracted to in order to see if they’re flirting with me, I just enjoy their company as friends and love them for the friendship and good times we enjoy together.

I don’t know when I’ll be ready for a romantic relationship again. All I know is that if I spend all of my time preparing for when I’ll be ready again, I’ll never reach there. So I am trying to let go entirely of that, and let it develop naturally. If the time comes when I find myself ready to date and find love again, I’m sure my future self will be grateful to this, for removing any obstacles caused by my own current bout of insecurity, stress, anger, and preoccupation with using a relationship as a magic salve.

It doesn’t mean I’m a fraud or a bad advice writer to come clean with this. It just means I am finally taking my own advice! I hear that’s a common thing for advice-givers to neglect doing.

As for the playlist, here’s a playlist I’ve compiled, so that I can have a musical accompaniment to this transitional period. It seems to be a popular thing these days.

1. The Noisettes- Sometimes

2. The Magnetic Fields- I Thought You Were My Boyfriend

3. Garbage- Cup of Coffee

4. Sia- Moon

5. The Magnetic Fields- With Whom to Dance?

From Autism Cure to Diet Aid for Nonautistics

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Seeing the sudden popularity of gluten-free diets for people who have no form of gluten intolerance nor celiac’s disease is giving me deja-vu. Allow me to put on my hipster glasses and tell you all about how I first came across gluten-free diets and how they were packaged to me before books like Wheat Belly and other bestsellers touted living gluten-free as a means of whittling your waist.

Back in the olden days of 2004-2005, I was reading up as much as I could about autism and Asperger Syndrome, because I was naturally curious about my people, post-diagnosis. A recurring theme in the books, apart from the usual staples of socialization and behavioural adjustments, was touting a gluten-free diet. It was promised as a miracle which would change a “locked in their own world autistic” (sic) into an “active but odd autistic” (sic). There were entire recipe books devoted to avoiding gluten and casein (a dairy protein) and adapting an autistic child’s life to avoid the devilish proteins hiding away in just about every innocuous foodstuff.

I tried a gluten-and-casein free diet myself for a couple of months, while I was in college, hoping to find a fix to my anxiety, depression, sadness, and ongoing physical problems ranging from gassiness to bloating to constipation. Whatever side effects the gluten-and-casein free diet was supposed to curb or prevent, it was not worth the mental and physical anguish that it caused me. Having to constantly think and over-think about what I was eating, out of paranoia about accidentally consuming gluten or casein, made me miserable. Missing out on my favourite foods and having substitutes for them which tasted like sweetened sand made me miserable. The whole experience aggravated my symptoms, rather than relieving them. And, as it turns out, my personal experience was backed up by science. In Autism’s False Prophets, Paul Offit demonstrated that the effectiveness of “reducing” the signs of autism of gluten-casein-free diets was, at most, negligible, and in most cases, nonexistent.

Now I’m seeing gluten-free get a new spin, not as a means of managing autism, but as a means of making people lose weight. Unlike when I went gluten-casein-free, there are a great deal more options out there for gluten-free eaters, thanks to raised awareness of food intolerance and celiac’s disease. There are gluten-free cookies, bars, sweets, bites, and restaurant options too. Depending on the severity of your gluten intolerance (if you even have one) you don’t even have to depend on a gluten-free menu, it could be as simple as ordering a hamburger with no bun at McDonald’s. That probably makes it easier for those who want to live gluten-free and not miss out on their favourite treats. But if people trying to use gluten removal for weight loss the same way people used to (and probably still do) use it as a cure for autism or managing its “symptoms”, they’ll probably be disappointed. People’s bodies are all different, and there is no single magical cure for the vast variety of different bodies with different food preferences, intolerances, and personal body chemistry to magically get healthy.*

Lesson of the day: Eat whatever you want. You’re an independent being with agency who can decide what is best for your body, and if you feel a gluten-free lifestyle might be for you, go ahead. You are blessed with many options now. However, if you’re some quack trying to make a fortune off distortions of health and biochemistry and nutrition in order to make a quick buck, or some prescriptive tool who thinks that the world would be a better place if everybody adopted your dietary lifestyle, or a jerk who thinks that being thin equals being healthy, then I hate you, please choke on a bagel.

* I am not meaning to use it that way, but these books and promotional materials seem to equate “get healthy” with “lose weight”.