Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Abuse Survivors: Stop Contributing to Ableism!

I was sexually molested by two different people - one from the time I was 10 months old to three years, and the other started the same time but continued until I was five.

Both of them were adopted. Both were cisgender, one female and one male. Both were Metis but passed for white, and both showed characteristics of a variety of psychiatric conditions falling under the general umbrella of trauma-related and attachment-related disorders - one had symptoms of dissociative identity disorder and borderline personality disorder, the other had symptoms of borderline personality disorder, conduct disorder, and possibly alcoholism as well.

When I talk about any of their characteristics, I try to consider how my words might impact other people who share characteristics with them. Because it’s the right thing to do - the moral thing to do.

If I were to, for example, generalize that since they were Metis and abused me, Metis people must be inherently dangerous, and go on to make a bunch of dehumanizing and stigmatizing comments about Metis people in general based on the characteristics of my abusers, people would call me racist, and rightfully so. However, if I did the same with borderline personality disorder, instead of their race, I’d have a bunch of people nodding along, applauding me for “speaking my truth”, and chiming in with their own stereotypes and generalizations.

Incidentally, both of those characteristics, statistically, are linked to a higher risk of committing abusive acts. Of course, the link is stronger for BPD, but Metis people, due to the intergenerational impact of racism both today and in the past, are at higher risk of committing a variety of crimes, including ones that harm vulnerable individuals.

But in both cases, what’s true for some is not true for all, and people can and are being hurt by stereotypes based on the worst behavior of others who share stigmatized characteristics with them.

No psychiatric diagnosis automatically translates to abusive behavior. Some diagnoses signal a person at higher risk, but even people with conditions such as borderline, antisocial and narcissistic personality disorder are not guaranteed to abuse others. Not everyone with a certain condition has every characteristic associated with that condition - just as not all people with BPD attempt suicide, not all people with BPD abuse people.

In addition, no form of abuse is inherently unique to a certain diagnostic category. The same actions can be done for a wide range of reasons. Not all child molesters are motivated by sexual attraction to children (pedophilia), for example - some just want to hurt someone sexually and a child makes a convenient target, some want to hurt a child specifically and sexual abuse is a convenient means, some have things so twisted in their mind that they don’t see sexual abuse as hurting, some are pressured into sexual acts with a child to please someone else, some are performing in order to sell child pornography, the list goes on.

Similarly, hitting someone, verbally belittling them, neglecting the needs of a dependent, and any other abusive act you can think of can also be done for a variety of reasons by people with a variety of motivations and/or diagnoses. It's even possible for people with no diagnosable mental health condition to abuse others - for example, on the recommendation of misguided parenting or therapeutic philosophies.

And being in pain and needing to vent never excuses harming others. Whether that is directly by abusing them, or indirectly by encouraging societal prejudice and stigmatization of characteristics they have.

So, the next time you’re about to talk about “narcissistic abuse” or call your abusive parent “borderline”, take a moment to think. Is what you’re about to say harmful to people who share similar psychiatric symptoms and aren’t abusive? If you were saying a similar thing about a member of an ethnic group with a higher crime rate, would that statement be racist?

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Autism and Religious Alienation

I've heard a lot from queer people who grew up in religious backgrounds (mainly Christian, a few Muslim) and feel alienated from their background specifically because of the cisheteronormativity baked into their community of origin's view of religion.

And yet, despite being a queer person from a religious background who feels alienated from that background, I find it hard to relate to many of their experiences. Because I was alienated from religion long before I knew I was queer.

A big part of this alienation was related to my experiences of CSA, and the unsupportive responses I got from teachers in my religious school when I discussed it. A lot of people have already discussed the poor ways that many religious institutions have handled CSA (and not just CSA perpetrated by them!), but that's not the whole reason I feel alienated by religion. It's also because I'm autistic.

Several research studies have found that autistic people are more likely to be atheist. This has often been interpreted as being due to theory of mind deficits. However, while I can't speak for other autistic atheists, I can say that my atheism doesn't stem from being unable to imagine a sentient Creator's mindset. In fact, my own imaginings in that area have actually contributed to my atheist beliefs, because I would predict the world looking very different if it was deliberately constructed - in many similar ways to how video game worlds tend to differ from reality. Specifically, my interest in the Creatures game series helped to solidify my atheist beliefs by giving me an example of a world in which creationism is actually true and what creationists would call "microevolution" is the only evolution possible.

I also remember thinking about things in early elementary years that would strongly suggest that my own theory of mind development was not delayed. For example, I remember talking with my counselor, around age 6-7ish, about some of my few clear memories of one of my abusers, including theorizing about his thoughts about my thoughts during those incidents, suggesting that I had second-order theory of mind by then.

Of course, atheism and religious alienation aren't the same. There are atheists who don't feel alienated by religion, and there are religious people who do. A lot of Neo-Pagans, in my experience, seem to be people who feel alienated by Christianity but still crave a religious connection in their lives. I also know a number of Christians who have felt alienated by the Christianity of their community of origin and have reimagined Christianity in a form that suits them better, including my own parents. However, atheism and religious alienation are correlated - in particular, most atheists from religious backgrounds, like me, seem to be alienated from religion.

In the research on atheism and religious belief in autistic people, very few studies acknowledged or looked at religious alienation. However, one Dutch study did touch on the topic, finding that among religious autistics, autistic traits were correlated with less positive feelings about God, more anxiety about God, seeing God as judging and punishing, and possibly more anger towards God. AQ social impairment was more strongly linked to perceptions of God than AQ attention to detail.

In my experience, autism heavily shaped my experience of religious authority figures in church and  especially in school. In particular, my experience of school involved me frequently being punished for things I couldn't control, didn't understand, or didn't agree were wrong. A lot of research has shown links between attachment style and views of God among Christians, and I personally feel that even if they're not attachment figures, childhood relationships with religious authority figures tends to shape how people from a Christian background view God. Certainly, it did in my experience.

The people who were most concerned about my religious development were also modeling a very harmful form of authority - authority that's capricious, incomprehensible, uncaring and unreasonable. In combination with my lessons on Old Testament stories, this led to me drawing parallels between their style of authority and God's, and seeing God as capricious, incomprehensible, uncaring and unreasonable. As such, when it occurred to me around age 8 or so that God might not actually exist, it came as a relief, because it meant that I only had to deal with fallible mortals being harmful authority figures, and not an immortal, immensely powerful being acting the same way.

Unlike being queer, being autistic isn't explicitly forbidden by many religious people. However, many ways that autistic people tend to act are diametrically opposed to the way my school felt a good Christian should act. Curiosity and asking questions was wrong. Thinking outside the box, even in ways as minor as using a mental shortcut to solve a multiplication problem, was wrong. Noncompliance was wrong. These wrongs were not just framed as misbehavior that displeased my teachers, either. I was explicitly told, numerous times, that my misbehavior also displeased God Himself. My misbehavior meant that I was bad, and the fact that I was bad meant that I would go to Hell.

The religious communities that tend to generate religious alienation are religious communities that heavily value conformity. And that makes them inherently unfriendly to autistic people, who are both less motivated and less able to conform.

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.