2021 is almost done here in the US, and it’s been a rough one. There seems to be no end in sight to the threats of school closures, and no matter how safe we have tried to be, it’s looking like we must largely give up on preventing Covid. Vast swaths of our friends have already been afflicted. Nothing but fuck you to the forces that have made this decision for us, and same for the folks telling us to just suck it up and let it wash over our households. If you think autism and Covid are somehow a workable combo, I invite you to come babysit should we catch it. No? I thought not. So don’t tell us how to manage our already shattered mental health, when many of you in much more functional households have been falling apart since March 2019, and without half the challenges we face.
I’ve been reading voraciously to get through December. This week, I finished “Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India” by Sujatha Gidla. This is not an author who pulls any punches. Her descriptions of grinding familial poverty and trauma are stark, and remind us upper caste Indians that there are many erasures to what we have been shown of our heritage. Her family was deeply involved in the Communist movement, and Gidla spares no effort to show us why the only names a whole lot of us know of prominent Communists are educated upper caste ones. Even communism could not escape the taint of caste, and the leaders of lower castes were never allowed to hold top positions, much less expect to be paid for their work, or be kept safe from police brutality.
I have to admit that the way this book exposes how casteism and the attendant desperate poverty produce a sort of terrifying aggression and indifference to mental and physical trauma has really shaken me. At the same time, I have no wish to opine on it because it’s not my place, and would center my own emotions. So I will just say that I believe I, like many others, have a lot to unlearn, and I can intuit that the writing of this book must not have been a trauma-free endeavor for Gidla.
I was reminded of how often grassroots activists are expected to carry on the struggle while also living on scraps. This applies to a great many causes. How many people whose social media or blogs that you follow do you remunerate for the education you get? Too many disability activists live in government mandated poverty–even if they get married, they could lose their disability benefits. Yet people feast on their posts. Hearts and hugs do not pay for food and clothing, or even a cup of coffee. Pay up. Better yet, pay attention when initiatives to better the lives of the disabled are up for vote. Don’t wait till it happens to someone you love. Act when you are asked to. No more armchair philosophizing.
R and I were chatting about various things the other day. It’s nice to have him home for a bit. We meandered to the topic of hormonal changes, since we are both actively subject to their impact. R said that he can vouch for how testosterone has lessened his instinct to tear up and/or cry when he is emotional (he has very kindly given me permission to share this detail).
Reader, I gasped. I cannot tell you how much I hate the way sexist men (and some women) judge girls and women for the ease with which we cry. As if expressing our emotions is the pathology. Hah. As if our intent is manipulation. As if our tears don’t, so often, come from our wholly natural responses to male anger.
So here is my trans son bringing data (not that it should be required; fucking trust and believe women) to show that there is indeed a difference based on hormones.
What is the work here? Certainly it is not for the marginalized to do. For one, it is way past time for men to unpack their own fears and biases. Simply by having more power, their biases have a more harmful impact.
But more generally, it is for people with power, whether that is parents, men, abled people, thin people, racial and caste privileged people, cisgender and heterosexual people etc to learn how to hold their own hands during challenging interactions. We must not put the work of acting like us or performing normativity/obsequiousness onto those with less power so that they can “earn” rights and respect. Somewhere, we need to learn how to stand back and observe our own biases, then refuse the instinct to inflict them on the person in front of us.
What do I mean by this? Men can and should stop demanding that women suppress emotional expression that is considered weak in order to be treated as equals. That’s one example. Another is thinness. I do not care how much you believe that fat people are unhealthy. They still deserve to have a shame free environment to exist in, and if that means you have to censor your fatphobia, you go ahead and do that. Don’t make being around you something people have to survive, then go home and fall apart over because you are so confident in your toxicity.
People tend to act worse around behavior they think can and should be altered to suit social norms. That happens with autistic expressions all the time, as it does with queerness. When the truth is, we should be altering our own behavior. Holding our own emotions instead of forcing others to do so. The main reason autistic people are so erased is because, in a lot of circumstances, they simply do not have the capacity to perform this labor of normativity, and thus, do not have utility in the eyes of the neurotypical.
Anyway, here’s to more emotional honesty in 2022. I really think the only way we can survive this mess is to be better stewards of the greater good. And we can’t do that if we are posturing all over the place.