Stop looking away from intersectionality
Oct 14, 2021
(Warning: This written content includes discussion around themes of racism, transphobia, homophobia, suicidality.)
Almost every time I address the topic of intersectionality on my social media, people unlike, unfollow and sometimes, openly, confidently and obnoxiously object.
When I speak or write about our LGBTQIA+ interkin, when I speak or write about the importance of doing our work around antiracism as white folks, when I speak or write about raising trans children, people struggle.
Sometimes, when we learn we were wrong, when we learn (come on, most of us bloody know) we grew up with inherent and blatant racism, transphobia and homophobia, it can be confronting.
It can be embarrassing, humiliating, terrifying to be called out on social media; to be told we’re being racist and to not understand why.
To sit and read or listen about trans youth tends to be a challenge for so many, and to know that there are communities that 100% advocate for and support our intersecting identities can fly in the face of our social and cultural conditioning.
And that’s kind of the point.
Remember when being gay was pathologised as a medical disorder? In the DSM?
Discomfort around these topics is healthy. But, it’s also a luxury.
It’s privilege. To choose to unfollow, unlike or to shift ourselves away from discussions around discrimination?
Discomfort can lead to growth, if we allow it.
And hey, my “discomfort” as a white person will never, and can never even begin to compare with the trauma, isolation, segregation, abuse, terror, dismissal, invalidation, discrimination (I’ll stop here because these aren’t my stories or experiences to speak or write about) that our interkin have.
I can’t help but wonder what gives people the right to turn away? Why?
Why, when people raise their voices about their experiences of being discriminated against, do people turn away?
How can people be in autistic and neurodivergent spaces, immersed in our identity and culture, advocating for autistic rights; but turn away when the rights of other human beings are addressed?
Our communities are intersectional. We are connected.
My autistic expression and experience is still a privileged one. As are my children’s.
I don’t have to teach my white children to mask before they engage with community.
I don’t have to prepare my children to be able to “pass” as the culture or identity of another person because of the colour of their skin so that they are safe and accepted.
I don’t have to teach my children to act “straight” or to adhere to gender stereotypes.
They have the privilege of embracing and celebrating every single part of their identity.
That doesn’t mean that life will not be hard for them. Of course it will. They’re disabled and we have a long way to go with disability acceptance.
But privilege is about what they will not have to experience as a result of their skin colour, their heritage, their sexuality or gender identity.
I don’t have to worry about my children being harmed and worse, by authorities for just being themselves in public.
The rates of gender diversity are greater within neurodivergent populations, this is supported in current research and, sadly, of those experiencing gender dysphoria, 40% attempt suicide (Adams, Hitomi & Moody, 2017; Bailey, Ellis & McNeil, 2014).
But let’s consider for a moment the impact that us turning away will have on our neurodivergent children, shall we?
Our children notice everything. They are great observers; often silent observers. They learn from our communication, whether it be verbal, body language, written communication, it doesn’t matter. Our children know our attitudes to others. They learn racism, homophobia, transphobia.
The seeds of discrimination are planted so, so easily and so quickly in our children. Our society is set up to be racist, and trans and homophobic, both socially and culturally. Discrimination is insidious, it is cunning and it runs like viral threads through the fabric of human being and human doing, without many of us even having a clue; particularly when it doesn’t effect us.
But here’s the thing: as an autistic person, I grew up with internalised ableism. Other peoples’ attitudes to disability, to autism? I was acutely aware of. I’m still acutely aware of. Those attitudes are ingrained and take a lifetime of consistent, conscious presence with my own relationship with myself to undo, to unravel the attitudes of others having informed my sense of self.
This is also the case with racism.
It is the case for LGBTQIA+ folks.
Just last night I listened with a heavy heart to a brilliant queer, autistic youth, Ash Hem, share that as a younger person, they would wish that when they woke up the next day, their asian appearance would be gone and they would have blonde hair and blue eyes. The shame they experienced due to their culture, their food and their family.
Racism, perpetuated by people who turn away.
These are our intersectional kin who are reconciling their cultural, queer and autistic identity; spending the rest of their lives dismantling various forms of discrimination that have informed their sense of self, and we turn away.
Many of us raising autistic and neurodivergent children will raise trans children. We will raise gay children. We will raise queer and gender diverse children. And their pathways to self advocacy, self acceptance, access to appropriate community and support rests with our attitudes.
Whether we turn away or not will influence the observations our children make about how the world sees and regards them; and will make the difference in whether they confide in us, feel safe with us and trust us as their families.
We don’t get to be in neurodivergent spaces turning away from addressing racism, bigotry, discrimination. That is the height of privilege.
Sitting with discomfort is healthy. Being challenged is important. And, expecting folks who have been discriminated against all of their lives to be gentle and kind about expecting better from us is an act of violent discrimination in itself.
I want to invite others to sit, to observe, to be silent and to learn from our intersectional kin. To follow the accounts of folks whose identity and culture we don’t share; to learn how to be better accomplices (Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex, Sprout Distro 2014) and to amplify their voices.