Sunday, October 10, 2021

Parental Love - A Form of Attraction?

A long time ago, an autistic rights Yahoo group I was in splintered over an argument about parents. Namely, the founder of the group revealed himself to be opposed to helping needy parents on the argument that "if they couldn't support kids, they shouldn't have had any". This angered all the autistic parents in the group, as well as 15-year-old me. The group was consumed in arguing about this, and then one of the parents made a new group and invited all the other parents and me to join.

This argument was the first time I had really thought about the nature of the desire to be a parent. I'd posited it as a biological drive, and gotten scoffed at by the group leader, who claimed that the "drive" I was talking about was only for sex, and could be controlled simply by using birth control. He wouldn't be convinced that I was talking about something entirely separate from the desire to have sex.

In one of my unfinished stories, the main character is the first ever vampire. At the start of the story, he's alone - surrounded by humans, but still utterly alone, until he is driven by instincts he doesn't understand to turn someone else.

Originally, this was worldbuilding for another story. I'd planned to have the story of the second vampire's turning be a really cheesy star-crossed lovers thing, even though the rest of the setting portrayed vampire turning more as adoption than a romantic thing. I soon realized that it'd make more sense, be more unique, and feel more authentic as an aroace writer if I reimagined the second vampire as the first vampire's surrogate child.

I still haven't managed to finish that story, but I've got the plan in my head. Vampires in this setting age, but much slower than humans, and the first vampire was adopted by a human family and has been passed down through the generations of that family. Right around the time he matures enough to reach the vampire equivalent of puberty, and become able to turn people, his family takes in another orphan, and despite his efforts to keep this child at a distance so he won't mourn his death, he ends up falling in love with this orphaned child. He doesn't understand his feelings - it's not romantic or sexual attraction, vampires are generally not capable of such feelings, but he is deeply attracted to this child. And it's making him feel the urge to bite this child, even though he avoids feeding on children, and this urge feels different from hunger in some undefinable way. He fights the urge, and eventually succumbs - and then, to his surprise, he doesn't drink from the boy, but instead injects him with something. As the orphan boy's physiology starts to change, he realizes what his instincts wanted him to do.

A lot of this, of course, is projecting my own experience. Through much of my teens, I was questioning if I was asexual, having learned the term from the writings of Jim Sinclair, a nonbinary, intersex, asexual autistic rights activist best known for writing an open letter to neurotypical parents titled Don't Mourn for Us. Xe was the first person I'd heard of with any of xyr identities other than autistic, and is the reason why, if I ever decide to switch from she/her pronouns to something else, it'll be xe/xem pronouns. Xyr example has shaped my queer identity in many ways.

But back to my own journey. When I was 18, this questioning came to a dramatic head when I tearfully confessed that I thought I might be a pedophile to my mother, and she talked me through realizing that the intense attraction I felt for a much younger child wasn't a sexual one. We didn't have a concept of romantic attraction at the time, but in retrospect, it definitely wasn't romantic, either.

But what was it? I've sometimes lumped it in with a squish, but I've felt squishes for people I see as peers and squishes for people and animals I see as small cute creatures I want to protect and nurture, and they're very different feelings. Different enough, perhaps, to count as different types of attraction?

Most typologies of love I've seen have mentioned, along with romantic love and friendship love, a type of love that's what a parent typically feels for their child. If friendship love and romantic love are both driven by distinct types of attraction, why not parental love as well?

But it's not just actual, physically present children or pets that I feel this feeling for. It's also the idea of a potential individual. Whenever I've contemplated getting a new dog or cat, I've fell a bit in love with the idea of them, before I've even met the one I decide to adopt. And when I started contemplating whether or not I should undergo artificial insemination and get pregnant, I was already falling a little in love with the idea of the child I would conceive.

Even now that they're alive and growing inside me, they feel like an idea more than a person, because I can't really interact with them and have only gotten to see them briefly. I imagine I'd feel the same way if I was in the stage of international adoption where I'd chosen a specific child and was still organizing the logistics and paperwork to finalize the adoption. I know they exist and I love them, but I can't really say I've actually met them yet. (Maybe I'll feel like I've met them once I can feel the movements they're apparently doing already. Or maybe I'll feel that way only once they're in my arms instead of my womb. I don't know.)

It's certainly a feeling I recognize in the personal accounts of people who have had to work extra hard to become parents, whatever their circumstances and whatever route they've taken to do so.

We tend to talk about attraction to people, not the ideas of people. Does an attraction to the idea of a person necessarily go along with attraction to people who have a close enough match to that idea? Well, if I look at the allosexuals I know, one of them regularly draws fictional characters that meet his ideal for sexual attraction, and another has told me about her adolescent fantasies about an eventual romantic partner she would someday meet. So it seems that, like parental attraction has in my experience, romantic and sexual attraction often include fantasizing about a person who will meet the ideal for your attraction.

So, in conclusion, parental attraction seems to be a form of attraction. It's felt by people who want and dream of having a child, and by people who find themselves overwhelmed with the desire to parent a child they've met. It's also felt by many pet owners towards their pets, since pets are often a psychological surrogate for children.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

My Life is Changing

 My life is changing dramatically. To illustrate how, here are two pictures I've taken recently:

(Image description: The first image depicts an Ovry-HCG urine test, designed to detect pregnancy. The control line is clearly visible, and the test line is very faintly visible. The second image is an ultrasound image depicting an 8 weeks gestation embryo, head down, towards the bottom of the uterus, with a yolk nearby.)

In August, I had scheduled my fifth IUI with donor sperm, and pretty much everything seemed to go wrong, except for the most important thing.

I'd used an Ovidrel trigger shot once before, and was planning to do so again. We were also planning for me to start taking letrozole, a medication that's supposed to help control the timing of my ovulation more precisely so that we could better time my IUI. However, a miscommunication led to me misunderstanding when I should be taking it, and missing the window entirely.

Still, I decided to go forward with it. When I had my first vaginal ultrasound, I was nowhere near ready to ovulate. Unfortunately, the radiology clinic was heavily booked during the week I was expected to ovulate, so my fertility doctor was afraid that I'd ovulate before my second vaginal ultrasound. She encouraged me to use ovulation predicter kits (OPKs, a urine test to detect ovulation) in the hopes that if I ovulated before my second appointment, I could schedule an appointment for an unmedicated IUI. However, I decided that if that happened, I would probably just skip this cycle instead, and save my sperm vials for a cycle that was going more according to plan.

I ended up getting my positive OPK the morning before my second vaginal ultrasound. I went in, and the ultrasound confirmed that I had two eggs ripening and was in the process of ovulating that very day. My fertility doctor took a look at the results and told me that I should take the Ovidrel ASAP and come in for an IUI the next morning, on August 26th.

This posed a logistical and health concern for me, though, because I live five hours away from the fertility clinic. And while we do own an old house nearby, the lack of human habitation has contributed to it becoming extremely dusty, and dust is one of my major asthma triggers. Worse yet, I was out of asthma medication.

I went to the pharmacy and got the Ovidrel, but they didn't have my asthma medication ready. I injected the Ovidrel without knowing if I'd be able to go to my IUI appointment - if I couldn't bring my asthma medication along, I was going to cancel the trip, because the last time I stayed in that dusty place without my medication, I needed to visit the emergency ward as a result. I ended up picking up my asthma meds just as we were scheduled to leave town - so we could go, after all.

My Dad and I drove up to our old place, and on the way I realized I'd forgotten to bring clean bedding. I managed to find a pillow in a gas station along the way, but we couldn't get any blankets, so I slept with a dusty blanket that made my skin itch and my lungs feel tight. Even with repeated doses of my medication, I was feeling short of breath and my chest was aching by the time we headed off for my IUI the next morning. It took two days for my asthma to fully settle down to baseline.

With all that chaos, I didn't have high hopes. This was the first two week wait where I didn't somehow convince myself that I definitely had to be pregnant - truly ironic, given the outcome. In fact, I barely even thought about the IUI. This may have been in part because I'd just recently started raising mealworms and got my first beetles while I was away for the IUI, so I had other things to focus on.

The day before my period was due, though, I decided it was time to test. And then everything changed when I spotted a very faint second line on the test. Over the next couple days I took multiple urine tests and got a blood test, all with the same result - positive.

Since then, I haven't had any vaginal bleeding, and my breasts have been aching. I have felt bloated and gassy, and my uterus area feels sensitive, making tight pants uncomfortable. And yesterday, I had my first ultrasound, and got my first look at my child. I watched their heart beat, and felt utterly overwhelmed with joy.

So, this is the start of a major new phase in my life, and a new generation in my family.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Separating Culture and Language

 It’s popular nowadays for language instructors to insist that language and culture must be taught together. And certainly, culture shapes language in ways that can be difficult to disentangle. However, I think the embracing of “language = culture” can sometimes have some bad effects, and it’s valuable to consider teaching languages in a more culture-independent manner sometimes.

I attended French immersion classes from pre-Kindergarten to grade 6. And while I was proud of my French language fluency, my exposure to French culture was a deeply negative experience.

The first problem is assimilationism. “Language = culture” generally presupposes that each language has one singular, uniform culture attached to it, usually either the most politically dominant culture overall, or the one most represented in the local community. In Canadian French immersion, the culture taught is mostly French Canadian culture with some highlights of French-from-France culture. No mention is made of other French-speaking cultures.

The French immersion school system requires that attendees have French ancestry, defined officially as “ancestors who spoke French as a first language”. With my father being third generation Belgian, with an even mix of Flemish-speaking and French-speaking Belgian ancestors, I qualified. But French-speaking Belgians - also known as Walloons - are culturally distinct from people from France, and my French immersion school gave me no real connection to my own French-speaking ancestors’ culture.

My parents once suggested at a PTA meeting that they could ask a friend of a friend, who was from a former French colony in Africa, to come and speak at our school about French-speaking culture in her home country. The response they got was hostile and incredulous - why would they possibly want some African to come and speak to them about French culture? (I have no doubt that racism played a big part in their reaction.)

In my school, the assimilationism was explicit, for reasons I’ll get into shortly. In other language classes I’ve seen, the assimilationism is more implicit - simply the failure to acknowledge that any other culture associated with that language could exist. My Spanish class, for example, made no mention of Latin American culture, while talking extensively about the dominant culture of Spain. He also made no mention of linguistic and cultural minorities in Spain, such as Catalonia, and even objected to me suggesting that we should acknowledge that not literally everyone in Spain spoke Spanish*. (In retrospect, maybe that’s a bad example of implicit assimilationism.)

Controversy in the USA about African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) - a dialect of English often treated by English teachers as simply “bad English” - highlight that this linguistic assimilationism is not just a problem in second-language instruction. The idea that there’s one true dialect of every language, spoken by the one true culture for that language, permeates language instruction in general.

And let’s talk about culture. Even setting aside the issue of cultural diversity, should we really be uncritically holding up any and every culture we associate with the speakers of a language as the ideal for language learners? Should learning to speak French inherently go along with learning to be French?

After all, though it’s controversial to say in these days of cultural diversity and equality, the truth is that cultures can have bad elements. French culture, in my experience, includes a significant element of racism and nationalism, as well as an obsession with purity. French is superior, according to my teachers. French language, French culture, French ancestry, all of it is superior, and to be a French-speaking person with the right French ancestry makes you a superior being. Meanwhile, a person who is speaking French poorly is disgusting and worthy of mockery, because they are not French. And someone who lacks French ancestry can never truly speak French properly. (It really irked them that I was actually good at French, despite my inferior ancestry.) And the worst thing of all was to use a loan word or Englishism in your French - even when French people from France happily do so.

This was not a good influence on me. I took to mocking my own mother for making mistakes in French when helping me with homework, and although I thought of it as playful, my mother told me it hurt her feelings. And the negative experiences and associations I built with French culture eventually robbed me of my French fluency, since once I was out of that school and no longer forced to speak French, I found it triggering to speak it or hear it spoken. The French pronunciation of my real name still makes me tense up sometimes.

Lately, however, I’ve found that I want to reclaim my French fluency, and teach my child (once I have one) to speak French. But in order to do so, I have to figure out how to reject French culture while still speaking French.

When I was playing World of Warcraft, I found a non-player character who was a human, at war with the orcs, who spoke Orcish well enough to translate a letter I gave him as part of a quest. This random fictional character came as a revelation to me - I’d always found that if I disliked a culture, it was impossible for me to motivate myself to speak their language, and yet here was an illustration that you could hate a culture and be fluent in their language. Granted, this character was a racist, not someone to emulate in many ways, but he did illustrate one important fact: language is not culture. The fact that he was fluent in Orcish didn’t mean he’d accepted any influence of Orcish culture on his sense of self. And that gave me a model for how I might regain my French.

* After all, Spanish people have children, and a child doesn’t speak any language for several months. And although at the time I was unaware of the linguistic minorities native to Spain, I knew there had to be immigrants, as well as Deaf people and people with communication disabilities.

Friday, September 03, 2021

Protection vs Preparation

I'm reading a book about preschool education in the USA, and it said something that struck me as interesting to discuss. It said that a lot of debate on how to care for children has been focused on finding a balance between protection and preparation.

Which is interesting, because although the author of that book is right that people treat those as dichotomous, I really don't think they are at all. I think they're orthogonal to each other.

There are a lot of things that can harm children and have absolutely no benefit to prepare them for the future. For an obvious example, a car accident - suffering a car accident is more likely to make the child less able to meet future challenges (eg, if they acquire a permanent disability). 

For less obvious examples, I've heard many people try to claim that various forms of childhood abuse can "toughen kids up" (ie, serve a benefit for preparation), but this is absolutely not borne out by the research literature at all. Trauma doesn't toughen you up, it makes you more fragile, more likely to fall apart in response to future stressors. This is true even for those people who get through a trauma without developing a diagnosable mental health issue - although they may be fine now, they're more likely to develop issues in response to further stressors.

And this includes peer abuse. A lot of people call it bullying, rather than a form of abuse, but a persistent pattern of hurting someone else in the context of a power dynamic is definitely a form of abuse. And like other forms of abuse, it has no redeeming value.

Allowing two children in conflict to sort it out without adult assistance can sometimes be a good idea, but abuse is different from conflict. And even with conflict, while leaving kids to sort out conflicts by themselves can prepare them for future conflict situations at the cost of not protecting them from the current conflict, you can also accomplish both of those goals at once. I've read several resources on child caregiving that argue that a caregiver should learn how to mediate child conflicts. 

What this means: instead of stepping in to solve the conflict, you step in to help coach the children through how to find a solution between themselves. This seems like a strategy that accomplishes both protection and preparation - the adult's presence inhibits the children from doing actions they know are obviously harmful to each other, like physical violence, while the adult is also teaching them a strategy they can apply to future conflicts where the adult is not present.

And there are plenty of options like that. For example, when I first started learning to drive (a process I'm still working on), my Dad didn't just hand me the keys and wish me well. He rode in the passenger side, ready at a moment's notice to grab the wheel from me to protect me. After all, as I observed above, being in a car accident isn't generally a good way to prepare for adult life. Being coached through the process of driving a car, by someone who will actively prevent you from causing a car accident, is a far better way to prepare for driving independently.

Would I have been safer if I didn't drive at all? Perhaps. There are situations where preparation and protection can be at odds, but that's true of any two parenting goals. I don't think it's necessarily more true of protection vs preparation, though, and certainly far less true than people think - because people often don't see the options like mediation of child arguments, and because people mistakenly think that trauma can be beneficial.

I plan on homeschooling my child, in large part to protect them from the potential for harm in mainstream schooling (or special education!). Between peers and teachers, abuse in school systems is unacceptably high, and if I have the choice to avoid putting my child in an abusive situation, I will. 

I've been told that this is overproduction, and my child won't be prepared for adult life. But a few days ago, my mother woke up shaken by a nightmare about being a high school student. My mother is 57, and none of her adult life has hurt her as much as her schooling did, over forty years ago. I know far too many adults who are trying to recover from their schooling to consider it worthwhile to put my child in the same environment. After all, think what we could have accomplished if we weren't recovering from school!

Sunday, July 18, 2021

It Was Supposed to Be Over

 I've had two COVID vaccinations.

So has my whole family, in fact. I've been terrified of losing my Dad to this disease, because he's in his fifties and has diabetes and the COVID risk prediction tool gave him a 30% chance of death if he contracted COVID. But he never did, and now he's almost entirely immune.

A couple days ago, I forgot to grab my mask when I accompanied Dad to the store. And for the first time in over a year, instead of staying outside or wearing one of the dirty masks my Dad had left in the car, I went into a store unmasked.

I'd just barely made it through the door when I remembered the nightmares. I'd started having them shortly after mandatory masking started. Nightmares of somehow finding myself in a public place without a mask. They reminded me of the nightmares I used to have about finding myself nude in public, except those nightmares tend to have a happy ending as I discover that nudism is OK. These maskless nightmares, on the other hand, have no ending, and nothing but the dread of sickness.

By the time we were at the till, I was shaking.

Last night, we ordered pizza, and I was so preoccupied with the fear and uncertainty I felt over the delivery guy's suggestion that I didn't need a mask, and my decision to take that suggestion, that I was confused when my brother complained that he hadn't brought the pizza sticks in.

I thought being double-vaccinated would mean it was over, at least for me. I've been looking forward to the time when I can go into a store without sensory discomfort on my face and the inability to see through my glasses.

It hadn't occurred to me that after almost two years of training myself that going without a mask was dangerous, I might not be able to unlearn that so easily.

I hadn't thought of this as a traumatic experience, not for me. Aside from a couple online friends, and a right wing asshole anti-masker who was part of the reason I stopped going to karate, I don't even know anyone who got COVID. I certainly don't know anyone who has died from it. My Dad does, because he's more active in the church, where the majority of parishioners are over 60, but I could never keep the old ladies straight in my head, and didn't form any bonds with them.

So it feels like "trauma" should apply to people who have had it worse than me. But this is a trauma response. These are trauma feelings.

And if I'm traumatized, and I have barely been affected by COVID, what does that say for everyone else?

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Elephant Family

 Carnival of Aces April 2021 focuses on the idea of a “new normal”, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the question of how asexuality influences your plans coming out of the pandemic.

Two years ago, I made an appointment with a fertility clinic. I ordered sperm from a sperm bank, had three unsuccessful IUIs, and ran out of money, so I took a year off to save for more sperm. Just as I'd saved up enough, the pandemic hit.

If I was heterosexual, maybe my partner and I might have spent our time sheltering in place trying to conceive. Especially in the latter half of 2020, once the data was pretty clear that COVID-19 doesn’t have much interaction with pregnancy, and it’s probably reasonably safe to try to conceive. For me, resuming trying has been more complicated than it is for many heterosexuals. (Although of course there are heterosexuals who are trying to conceive without a significant other, or who have fertility issues that prevent unaided conception, so I could be in the exact same situation regardless.)

Besides the simple delay, the pandemic has also led to restructuring my plans.

Before the pandemic, my parents lived and worked in different cities, and I traveled between them. My plan was originally to spend my pregnancy and my child’s first few months of life living in my mother’s apartment. I found it a lower stress environment, got more exercise there, and had more places worth walking to. And it was a place with a spare room that could be easily adapted into a babies’ room, and overall would have been relatively simple to childproof.

I formed plans, I dreamed dreams. And then my mother got laid off due to the pandemic, and no longer had any reason to stay in that town.

Now, I’m most likely going to be raising my child, once I finally have one, in the office building we run our family business out of. My brother and I have been sleeping here most nights for a couple years, and I could probably readily set up some rooms to be appropriate for a little one. They’ll need more supervision here than they would have needed in the apartment, and it’s less friendly for going for walks. But it’s workable.

Asexuality, aromanticism and autism aren’t really separable things in my life. The fact that I’m 31, single and dependent on my parents isn’t due to any one of those alone, but all three combined. The same is true of the fact that my brother is the most important person in my life, and the one person I most want as a role model for my child.

The family I hope to build isn’t the standard two parents and one or more children. Nor is it the stereotypical ideal single mother by choice family, one high-powered executive in her early forties and one child. It’s a family of generational interconnectedness, where independence is an unnecessary and superfluous concept. In some ways, it’s like an elephant family, where a younger female is impregnated by a male she might never see again and has her matriarch mother help her raise her calf.

And things are coming together. Pretty soon, I’ll likely be getting a special retirement savings plan specifically for disabled people, giving me something in case I can never make it in the employment world without my parents support. My family has survived the pandemic. My Dad, the one of us most at risk, has already been vaccinated. We're looking forward to the future again, not just surviving day by day.

Friday, April 02, 2021

ABA Practitioners: Put Your Words Into Action

 If you're an ABA practitioner who responds to criticism of ABA by saying that the ABA being criticized is "bad ABA" and you practice "good ABA", then I challenge you to put your words into action.

There are a lot of former ABA recipients and their families speaking out against ABA. Including families of children who have received ABA recently - not just people who had ABA in the "bad old days" when Ivar Lovaas was spanking children to make them stop stimming.

Which means, if all of those are examples of "bad ABA", there's an epidemic of bad ABA. And if you really want children to be able to reap the benefits of "good ABA", you need to do something about it.

As it is, given how common "bad ABA" must be, a parent considering ABA treatment for their child is essentially playing Russian roulette with their child's mental health. Maybe they'll luck out and get a good ABA practitioner, or maybe they'll get one of the bad ones, and their child will have PTSD. They have to weigh whether they want to take that risk.

In other fields, you can often look for accreditation or credentials to help rule out the bad ones, and if a bad one slips through, you can report them to make them lose their credentials. For example, if my mother, who is a lawyer, scams or abuses a client, she could get reported to the Canadian Bar Association and lose her license to practice law.

Ideally, the BACB certification process should serve that purpose, but it doesn't. There are BCBAs who work in the Judge Rotenberg Center, which is still running as of 2021 despite repeated efforts to shut down the center due to human rights abuses. The Judge Rotenberg Center uses aversives, mostly notably a wearable electric shock system known as the GED. 

If you claim that "good ABA" doesn't use aversives, then clearly, a BCBA who accepts employment in the JRC and cooperates with crafting behaviour plans involving the GED should lose their certification. The fact that they don't should be something you are outraged about and lobbying to stop.

Similarly, if a parent says "my child's BCBA ordered the therapists to hold them down while they sobbed for hours", this should prompt you to encourage them to report that behavior to authorities who will get that person to lose their certification. Or, knowing that such a report would not be effective - let's face it, you know it wouldn't - you should be joining those parents in lobbying the BACB to stop certifying child abusers to practice in your field.

The fact that you criticize "bad ABA" only when people are saying that no child should be in ABA treatment, and only to defend the existence of "good ABA", makes it clear that you're not trying to help autistic children. You're not trying to make sure that parents don't have to play Russian roulette with their child's future.

You're like the Catholic Church, when parents made allegations against sexually abusive priests - you're covering up the problem, and covering your own asses, at the cost of the children you're supposed to be helping.