As a person who has been affected by bullying from autistic “leaders”, I feel the need to share my thoughts on this subject as I am seeing it frequently on social media recently.
The elitism and silencing tactics that advocates are experiencing from “leaders” in the UK is also present in North America. The ostracism of other advocates, the public shaming, the gaslighting, the DARVO tactics, the boycott lists, letting your personal issues affect the world of advocacy — they all have to stop now.
I am no longer accepting punitive justice from autistic leaders as a means of controlling my behaviour.
Specifically, I will not collaborate with people who participate in disposability culture (also called “cancel culture”).
When I say I am opposed to cancel culture, what I mean is that I specifically oppose a culture that makes demands for ideological purity (e.g., only specific ideas and language are “correct”), publicly shames anyone who does not meet their standards, and then either (a) ostracises them by harassing them any time they do anything from that point forward or (b) ostracises them by also ostracising anyone who continues to work with them.
Leadership in autistic-led groups in both America and Canada did this to NeuroClastic/The Aspergian.
I’ve written private entries about this topic so many times, but what it comes down to is this. The situation ultimately was not about whether The Aspergian was an appropriate name or not. There was no “correct” answer. The answer is as complex as every individual’s personal relationship to the word “Asperger’s.”
It was about the fact that people used their positions of influence to enforce their personal ideologies on other activists. It’s elitism. It’s believing that your personal experiences and moral judgements are more valuable than the personal experiences and moral judgements of everyone else.
Specifically, autistic leaders acted as if their personal values overrode the 200+ autistic contributors to The Aspergian and decided that they would refuse to support the website. None of our autistic “leaders” are elected, however. They are all in their positions by opportunity and privilege. In other words, they may be respected for their work, but they are obligated to listen to the whole community, not just the people they agree with.
The claim made was that the name was doing “harm” (by recalling the actions of an ableist “loud minority” whose ideals were not reflected in the content of our site at all).
It’s certainly within an individual’s personal agency to refuse to share from the site. However, it wasn’t just that. The fact that we had apparently committed a moral transgression with the site name also meant that we were labelled “bad.” In many social justice spaces these days, once someone is labelled “bad,” everyone else is suddenly allowed to be as cruel as necessary to get them to shut up.
And that’s what I oppose about cancel culture.
With regard to The Aspergian, people spread false rumours about the site, lied about specific events, misinterpreted situations, jumped to conclusions, etc., and because the site was already “bad,” it meant that no one really cared about checking their sources. Anything else “bad” that we did was automatically believable.
When I came to an executive member from the autistic-led group I was personally a part of, to speak to them about their refusal to share any links from the site, they also deemed me “bad” and completely dismissed my input as irrelevant (even though I was being polite).
When I spoke to another executive member about this later on, he insulted me for hours while I tried to explain my side of the story, and after I gave up, he harassed me until I blocked him.
When I tried to talk to a different autistic-led group about the behaviour of the leadership in this group, they ignored me. I saw Facebook post where this group had said they asked a leader step down for acting in harmful ways, but that they believed that even harmers should remain part of a community. These are transformative justice values (and I agree with them). But in my experience, it looks like transformative justice only applies to harmers they like. If you’ve been deemed “bad,” punitive justice will do just fine.
So, again, if it was an individual person making the decision not to support the site, this would be an argument of personal agency. But it wasn’t. We were treated like we were disposable.
And we were treated like we were disposable by other autistic people. These are advocates who talk about trauma constantly! But if you’re a “bad” person? Then acting in ways that are abusive are perfectly fine. Damaging reputations? Sure. Gaslighting? Go right ahead. Withdrawing support? Totally fine. Giving them the silent treatment? It’s all for the greater good. They just got what they deserved, right?
The psychological damage that has been done to me by activists whose sole advocacy-based disagreement with me is over the name “The Aspergian” exceeds any harm that has been done by allies who made a mistake by using puzzle piece imagery or using a functioning label.
I am not part of “the Autistic community” because there is no such thing. There are only different cliques of Autistic people, one of which spans many of the positions of influence in autistic self-advocacy. It’s disingenuous to claim that “the Autistic community” wants or needs anything because we aren’t a monolith. We don’t all agree with each other.
Mainstream autistic self-advocacy is traumatizing many activists because our leaders and influencers do not model trauma-informed conflict resolution. I choose not to collaborate with any group that isn’t committed to doing so.
I will certainly collaborate with individual people who are committed to trauma-informed conflict resolution, though, regardless of who they are affiliated with. I have learned that it is less important to me that people I interact with have the exact same views as me and more important that we are able to communicate in a clear, honest, emotionally mature manner.
I’ve noticed that, whenever I just do what I do best, the right people seem to show up.
I will no longer be begging people to acknowledge my worth, exactly as I am, flaws and all.
I will just keep collaborating with the people who do.
To be clear, I am calling on all autistic-led groups to commit to trauma-informed conflict resolution (between their own members, between other advocates, and between other groups).
This is not a declaration of war; it is a request for a ceasefire. But if you continue to treat me like your enemy, you have made it clear to me that you are a person who wants power, not a person who wants to build community and create a better world for autistic people.