Friday, July 21, 2017

Don't Tell Me It Made Me Stronger

Recently, I had a disagreement with a new friend, and it's got me upset.

I shared some of my experiences and my brother's experiences in school, and how they affected me, and mentioned that I want to homeschool my children. And they started talking about how adversity can make you stronger, and suggesting my children might be deprived.

I hate this line of argument so much!

Firstly, it's not true. Yes, mild 'adversity', like not getting a toy you want or having to do chores, does make you stronger. But trauma injures you, and leaves lasting scars. It also makes you more vulnerable in the future.

There are also a pile of unfortunate implications to the idea that trauma can make you stronger.

First, as my friend shows, it can be used as an argument to avoid protecting people from harm. I have even heard abusers argue that they abused their child to "toughen them up". A woman in Courage to Heal describes sexually abusing a child she was babysitting, because she figured it was inevitable that someone would abuse that child, and she thought doing it first would help lessen the harm when someone else did it. From a social justice perspective, why bother fighting oppression? It just makes the oppressed person stronger, right? Your oppressors are basically doing you a favor.

Second, it blames the victims who aren't stronger. My friend hinted that they thought people use trauma as an excuse. If you're supposed to be stronger for your experiences, and you're not, then what's wrong with you?

Third, what about the people who don't make it? There are people who've killed themselves for similar experiences to what my brother and I have experienced. What to make of their deaths, if adversity makes you stronger? Were they weak? Unworthy? Did they use their trauma as an excuse? Are they an acceptable loss for the strength others gained from their experience?

Don't dare tell me my pain has made me stronger. I'm wounded and struggling. I don't know if I'll ever be as resilient as most people who haven't suffered trauma. I am most definitely not stronger. Nothing excuses the harm that has been done to me, nothing makes it acceptable. I was hurt, it was wrong, and the wounds will never completely fade.

Friday, July 14, 2017

I Am Not Straight

I see a disturbing tendency for people who hate asexuals and aromantics to equate aroace with straight.

While I support het aces and het aros, to lump me in with them is frankly inaccurate and disrespectful of my identity. I'm not straight. Nothing about me is straight. I actually feel closer to being bisexual, because I feel equal attraction to males and females. (On questionnaires with only three options for sexual orientation, I select bisexual.) But I'm not bisexual either. Het aces, bi/pan aces and LG aces have more in common with each other than they do with me; and the same with aro hets, aro bi/pans and aro LGs.

Het aces, bi/pan aces and LG aces share with each other the following differences from aroaces:

  • a desire for a romantic relationship, and tendency to seek out romantic partners, often leading to involvement in the dating scene
  • greater societal recognition of their most important desired personal bond (although allo allos, and especially het hets, get even more recognition)
  • a tendency to buy into and perpetuate stereotypes that equate romantic attraction with love and humanity, and not being personally hurt by those stereotypes
  • an increased tendency to be pressured into having sex they don't want or having sex more frequently than they want to
  • increased risk of corrective rape (since many corrective rapes of aces are perpetrated by dates or romantic partners)
  • an increased tendency to be accused of withholding sex, tricking their allosexual partners into a sexless relationship, or shaming or abusing their partners by refusing sex
  • an increased likelihood of having their identity be medicalized and targeted by therapy
  • an increased tendency to be treated or feel like they're just "bad at being" an orientation other than asexual, or that their ace identity reflects incompetence at sex
Aro hets, aro bi/pans and aro LGs share with each other the following differences from aroaces:
  • a desire for a sexual relationship, and tendency to seek out sexual partners, often leading to involvement in the dating scene
  • a tendency to be stereotyped as predatory and manipulative for wanting sex without romance, and sometimes to struggle with internalized shame for this
  • a tendency to be slut-shamed, even if they are not sexually active, because people equate aro allosexual with having lots of casual sex
  • a tendency to get drawn into unwanted romances or one-sided romantic pursuit by people they desire sexually
  • a desire for a sexual queerplatonic relationship, in other words, a relationship characterized by strong emotional bonds and sexual activity but not romantic attachment; and ongoing difficulty finding people willing and able to be friends and sexual partners without falling in love with the aromantic person
  • less tendency to have their identity medicalized, because asexuality is more often seen as a medical issue than aromanticism is
  • an increased tendency to be treated or feel like they're just "bad at being" an orientation other than aromantic, or that their aro identity reflects incompetence at romance
Aroace is a separate identity, with unique issues. We're not straight. We're not a subset of any other orientation. And the combination of aromanticism and asexuality creates a unique experience, that is not shared by allo aces or aro allos. We experience intersecting acephobia and arophobia, as well as unique prejudice against aroaces specifically. Conversely, among people who don't accept the split attraction model, we're the only a-specs whose orientation might be respected.

Friday, July 07, 2017

The Sell Job: How Autism Professionals Milk Vulnerable Parents of Their Money

Vaccine conspiracy theorists say to 'follow the money'. But if you actually do, you find a very different conspiracy, one that they're actually supporting.

I see this conspiracy as something being done and supported by many groups, including traditional rivals. The goal is quite simple: to get as much money as they can from parents of autistic children. This is an incredibly lucrative thing to do, because many parents are willing to spend more on treating autism than they would on almost anything else. They are willing to open up a second mortgage, to travel long distances, to beg money from their communities, all for the promise of a cure. And they're willing to do this in large part because they've fallen for the marketing.

Autism treatment marketing is more often termed 'autism awareness'. People think the purpose is to make the public more understanding, but if that was the real goal, most of the autism awareness campaigns would be an utter failure. No, the real purpose is to create the image of autism as something that is devastating, something that will ruin your life if you can't stop it.

To do this, they use several tricks. First, they focus the public's attention away from the milder majority. I previously found several studies showing that 66-84% of autistic children have an IQ over 70. Therefore, a representative look at autism should have roughly 2-4 'higher functioning' children for every 'lower functioning' child - this is certainly not the ratio presented by most awareness campaigns!

Secondly, they misrepresent the developmental changes typical of autism. They focus on younger children, implying that most will have similar severity as they get older, even though roughly half of the 'lower functioning' preschoolers will be 'high functioning' by the time they reach school age. (Even in Leo Kanner's original paper, of the 7 children who had any follow-up done, 4 would be considered high functioning by most standards at the age they were last seen. Those four had adequate spoken language and were in regular schooling.) This allows them to take credit for any improvements, even if the rate of improvement is no higher than the rate among untreated autistic children.

Thirdly, they manufacture an increase in autism, by suppressing the existence of all but a minority of autistic adults, obscuring differences in rate of diagnosis versus rate of incidence, and outright claiming repeatedly that autism is on the rise. (It probably isn't, and certainly not nearly as much as they claim.) This has two effects - it manufactures more panic by implying that our society is headed for a new challenge as these autistic children grow up (when in reality we've been dealing with autistic children growing up for a long time), and it discourages parents from looking for lessons from the earlier generations of autistic people and their families, and therefore getting a more realistic idea of the prognosis of autism. For the mercury-autism branch, the claims of an epidemic are also used to bolster their claims regarding the cause of autism (even though this actually works against them as often as in their favour).

Once they've set up the panic, they offer the solution. This is where the different factions diverge. The two main groups I see are biomedical and psychoeducational factions.

The biomedical groups argue that some reversible biological state, such as mercury poisoning or exposure to certain foods, is the underlying cause of autism. As such, remove the proposed cause and the child will improve. Even if logically, the proposed biological condition should have caused permanent changes as well (especially with onset in early childhood, as it must have to cause autism), they will peddle hope in the form of their quack treatment.

The psychoeducational groups argue that specialised educational strategies, usually ABA (although SonRise and Floortime pull the same sell job with a different flavour), can literally rewire the child's brain to be more neurotypical. This claim, unlike the biomedical claims, actually has some support in the research literature, but it is distorted in two systematic ways.

First, the amount of change that can be reasonably expected is systematically exaggerated. This faction frequently presents higher functioning 'success stories' as if they were no longer autistic at all, benefiting from their lack of acknowledgement of higher functioning autism in awareness campaigns. Ivar Lovaas, generally considered the founder of ABA, defined an 'optimal outcome' as being in mainstream classes without an aide and having an average IQ - a characteristic that applies to many higher functioning autistic kids, including Kanner's four cases, while they remain clearly autistic. ABA research has also never followed up on recipients into adulthood, while anecdotal claims often describe adverse effects emerging as recipients of ABA or ABA-like procedures enter adult life (for example, excessive compliance leaving them vulnerable to abuse). In addition, they never acknowledge that the single biggest predictor of outcome in ABA is the child's initial functioning level, meaning that the 'optimal outcome' children were generally already the higher functioning kids when they started treatment.

Secondly, the importance of intervening early is overstated. To hear autism treatment providers talk, even waiting a couple months to a year before starting treatment could mean the difference between severe disability and normal or near-normal functioning. This is not true. The only research that finds a significant difference in outcome for ABA based on age at entry has 'early' and 'late' samples that differ by four years or more in age. And in most studies, age at entry and time in treatment are confounded. (And the lack of longer-term follow up makes it impossible to know if the difference carries on into adulthood.) The nice thing about this piece of the sell job, for autism treatment providers, is that it encourages parents to decide impulsively instead of carefully considering their options. It also increases the likelihood that the parents whose children would have improved anyway will get their kids into treatment before the improvement happens.

Thirdly, they emphasise intensive intervention, even though it's not actually more effective than lower intensity intervention. This high intensity intervention requires more hours of work from paid therapists (thereby increasing their profits), and also overworks the parents, keeping them in a state of desperation. Meanwhile, the stress and exhaustion results in more behavioural problems for the child, which the therapists use as evidence that the child continues to need the treatment.

If you're a parent of an autistic child, don't fall for the sell job! Seek out the stories of autistic adults and their families, and find out what worked for us. Look at their claims critically, and see if you can find evidence for and against what they're telling you. And always remember that your child is a child, not a crisis or a tragedy.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

I Finally Have Queer Friends

This June, I went to Pride, hoping to make some queer friends because I felt lonely. And I succeeded.

One of my new friends, C, is genderqueer and I think pansexual? They use all pronouns. They're super sweet and loving, Latino, and very fashionable, and I love the way their voice sounds. They're also the first AMAB nonbinary person I've met. We met because I complimented the Pride pin they were painting, and then they gave me advice on how to make my "Asexual Pirates Aren't After Your Booty" poster. At Drag 101, they gave me awesome advice and help getting dressed up, and I decided to exchange phone numbers with them.

The other new friend, D, is agender, panromantic and grey-asexual. (They have a more specific sexuality term which I've unfortunately forgotten, meaning cloudy, nebulous, hard-to-define sexual attraction.) They use they/them pronouns, and sometimes he/him. They're really smart and we have a lot to talk about, and they kinda impress me with how much they seem to have their life in order, including having a partner. (A, who is cisgender female and also ace.) I met D because I was talking about being ace and someone directed them to me, and we started chatting. Later, they directed two different events, Trans 101 and Drag 101 (they're apparently quite active as a Drag King) and I got a ride to my house from them a couple times. The second time, we exchanged numbers and they gave me an ace flag keyring.

Since then, I've met up with C and D together and separately several times, confessed things to them that I normally don't tell people in person, and generally been having tons of fun. I really hope we continue to be friends.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Not All Rape Requires a Rapist

I was just thinking about the boundaries between rape and consensual sex, and the areas where the distinction is unclear. And I realised that I support a more broad definition of 'rape victim', and a more narrow definition of 'rapist', which means that I believe someone can be raped by someone who is not a rapist. (I'm still not sure what to call the person who does this act.)

Essentially, I define a rape victim as someone who had sex that they did not want, and that felt emotionally damaging and/or violating to them. Whereas, a rapist is someone who knowingly had sex with someone who, as far as they could tell, did not consent, could not consent, or when the rapist felt uncertain whether or not they consented.

Examples of situations I'd consider rape without necessarily having a rapist involved:

Someone who believes they have no right to refuse sex acquiescing to sex that they don't want because they see no other option. (Examples include asexuals or gays and lesbians having sex with a partner they're not attracted to because they don't see non-heterosexuality as an option, or CSA survivors who've learnt that their 'no' isn't listened to so they don't bother anymore.)

Someone who feels that sex is required for practical purposes, despite strongly not wanting sex. (For example, having sex in order to have a place to stay and someone to support you, or having sex with your partner to disguise a pregnancy caused by cheating.)

Being forced into unwanted actions that you consider sexual by a person who doesn't see those acts as sexual. (For example, being forced into an activity that triggers a fetish of yours that the other person is unaware of, intersex children being forced to have genital exams and/or genital procedures, or children in behavioural therapy programs being undressed against their will.) Note, in many cases this involves morally problematic behaviour by the perpetrator, but since the intent was not sexual, they're not a rapist. (Conversely, if you are tricked or coerced into an unwanted act that the perpetrator sees as sexual and you don't, they are a rapist. For example an omorashi fetishist interfering with someone's access to the toilet is rape, even if the victim is unaware that this was sexually motivated.)

Being unable to consent due to a neurological, chemical or psychiatric condition that the other person is unaware of. (For example, being too drunk or high to consent, being in the middle of a manic episode, having a complex partial seizure, sexual impulsivity due to a brain tumor, having a metabolic issue such as hypoglycemia, etc, and the other person is unaware of your condition or how it affects your ability to consent.)

Engaging in BDSM or role-play without agreeing on a safe word first because both parties are inexperienced, and the top not being able to tell the difference between role-playing and genuine nonconsent.

Interestingly, this also means that in certain situations, it's possible for both parties to have been raped unintentionally by the same sex act. For example, two sex-repulsed asexuals in a romantic relationship with each other, who don't see non-sexual romantic relationships as an option and don't know that their partner feels the same way they do about sex, might decide to have sex that neither party wants and both feel violated by. Or two people who were both drunk or high might have sex that neither would want if they were sober.

I think drawing this distinction is a good thing for many people. It means that people who need help for unwanted sexual experiences can feel free to sex out help intended for rape victims, without worrying about whether or not the other party was a rapist. It could also help people who aren't ready to admit that their rapist was a rapist, but are ready to admit that the sex hurt them. And it can help us look at how to reduce the risk of accidental unwanted sex, without necessarily stigmatising the people who engage in sex unaware that their partner doesn't want it.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Fetishization, Attraction to Personal Characteristics, and Privilege

The idea of someone having a specific attraction to people of a certain ethnicity, disabled people, transgender, intersex or nonbinary people, or people of a certain weight tends to be controversial, with many people describing it as wrong.

However, there is one type of person-specific attraction that is widely accepted, and generally seen as normal - gender-specific attraction. So, what makes it different? Is it just that monosexuality is the majority?

Criticism of person-oriented fetishes tends to focus on people who are not part of the group they're attracted to, but rather a more privileged group, and tends to focus on the following beliefs about fetishists:

Well, I can tell you with confidence that there are heterosexual men who fit every one of these traits with regards to their approach to women. And yet, misogynistic straight men aren't generally used to argue that women should only date men if they're multisexual. (And of course, bi/pan/etc men can be misogynistic too.) Nor have I heard many people claim that a man being heterosexual instead of bisexual is inherently misogynist.

Just as there are straight men who objectify and stereotype women and straight men who treat women with respect, people with attractions dependent on other personal characteristics can have the same range of attitudes towards the people they're attracted to. Any time you have a relationship between partners who have different degrees of privilege afforded them by society, the more privileged partner could wind up using their privilege in ways that hurt their partner. It's not limited to those who have selective attractions.

It's also important to note that person-directed 'fetishes' can easily be accompanied by romantic attraction - and that this doesn't necessarily matter that much to whether the person's pursuit of their attraction target is likely to be hurtful or respectful. Most misogynistic straight men are both romantically and sexually attracted to women, and indeed many of the hurtful expressions of misogyny in romantic/sexual relationships are more linked to romantic than sexual attraction. (Stalking, jealousy, violence in response to possible break-up, double standards and isolating the partner from other relationships are all examples of romantically-coded harmful acts that are frequently related to misogyny.) Meanwhile, aromantic allosexual people can be respectful to their sexual partners, using clear boundaries and honest discussion of feelings to avoid implying a different kind of relationship than what they are truly seeking. And there is nothing wrong with having sex outside of a romantic relationship, whether with a stranger, an acquaintance, or a friend.

So the problems with person-directed fetishes aren't due to the fetish. They're due to racism, ableism, transphobia, fatphobia, and other types of discrimination. Prejudice doesn't cause person-directed fetishes, and having and acting on a person-directed fetish doesn't necessarily mean you're prejudiced. But if you're attracted to people with less privilege in some area than you have, you owe it to your potential partners to unpack your privilege and educate yourself about the discrimination that they face.

Unfortunately, fetishes are stigmatized, even if there's nothing inherently harmful about them. And like anyone else, some people who are targets of person-directed fetishes will be prejudiced against fetishists. In addition, having close ties of any kind to a stigmatized group can result in some of the stigma falling on you (eg "nigger lovers"). And many person-directed fetishes are aimed at people that society generally tends to see as unattractive or undesirable partners, which means that their partners are likely to be seen as lower status simply because they chose a stigmatized partner. ("Couldn't get a good one.")

Friday, June 16, 2017

Better or Worse?

Most people have probably heard of the It Gets Better project, designed to give hope to LGBT youth by telling them that 'it gets better'. And for many, this is true. LGB adults have more freedom to seek romantic partners regardless of gender, and are less likely to depend on homophobic people for their safety and survival. And transgender adults are more likely to be able to access medical transition tools, as well as less likely to depend on transphobic people.

But the same is not true for aromantic and/or asexual people. For these people, it frequently gets worse as we get older.

In our teens, we're often seen as just a 'late bloomer' or 'not ready yet' - even if we try to come out. It's frustrating and hurtful to get dismissed when you try to say something important about your identity, but at least we're not likely to get attacked or kicked out unless we're perceived as also being LGB or trans. Acting aro/ace in adolescence often looks like you're 'saving yourself for marriage' or just immature, both of which are generally accepted ways for teens to act, especially by adults.

But when aros and aces reach adulthood, we start to look more unusual, and get more prejudice.

In my experience, as I got visibly more adult in appearance, straight cis guys have gotten pushier about their romantic/sexual advances. Many guys who wouldn't dream of trying to pressure a teenage girl into something sexual or romantic are quite willing to pressure a woman in her twenties. All female-presenting people get this to a certain extent, but aro/ace women are seen as having less of an 'excuse' - we're not taken, and we're not gay. From what I've heard, this is especially true for aro/ace women of color, who are often dealing with racist fetishization and stereotypes of sexual permissiveness in addition to misogyny and aphobia.

For male-presenting aros and aces, the pressure often comes from other men, who see being a single man or especially a male virgin as shameful and a sign of incompetence and unmanliness.

Aces in relationships are faced with the most pressure to have sex. Sexual incompatibility is a valid reason for a relationship to fail, but societal pressure makes it harder for new partners to discuss sexual compatibility, and leads many aces to try to pressure themselves into being more sexually available to their partners. Allo partners may feel inadequate for not being able to make their partner attracted to them, or may become hostile because they feel like their partner has betrayed or tricked them by dating while asexual, especially if they didn't initially understand their feelings around sex. One of the common contexts for asexual corrective rape is being raped by a romantic partner, especially for female-presenting aces involved with men.

Aros who want strong platonic bonds find such bonds becoming less and less available as they get older. Preteen girls often pledge to be 'best friends forever', and from what I understand boys are less demonstrative but still very close to their 'bros'. In adolescence, many alloro teens maintain a balance between platonic and romantic bonds, and if they abandon their friends for their romantic partners, it's expected that their friends will feel hurt about this. But in adulthood, strong platonic bonds are considered less important, and friends start to drift apart, leaving romantic bonds as the primary bonds in most adults' lives. Aromantic adults often find themselves alone and lonely, with few or no close bonds of any kind - especially if they don't have good familial support.

So for aros and aces, it doesn't get better. Very often, it gets worse instead.