The importance of shutting up when white

I’m going to try to keep this short.

Last night, after reading through my Twitter timeline and seeing one more white woman using her feminism to silence, ridicule, and harass Black women, I posted the following:

White people, sometimes (and a lot more often than we’re willing to admit), we need to just shut the fuck up. Seriously. Just stop.

I was asked to elaborate on what I meant by this statement, and agreed to come back to it this morning. So, here I am, trying to figure out how to address this without additionally co-opting space which isn’t mine to inhabit.

Here’s the thing. Whether we like it or not, whether we’re even conscious of it, as white people, we take up a lot of space in the world. I’ll go even further to say that we take up as much space in the world as we can get our hands on, and sometimes still don’t feel like it’s enough. Our narratives are the default, prescriptive, the “right” way to do things. This is individual, and it’s systemic.

I’m trying to be careful to recognize the space I take up, to listen more than I speak. I’m not perfect at it, and I appreciate when others take time to call me out (though I also don’t expect other people to actively teach me to to be a more thoughtful considerate person – nobody owes me their knowledge). I also feel some responsibility in addressing the space we collectively take up, because this isn’t just about me, or any other one white person. It’s about how 2/3 of the students in my school district are children of colour, and 2/3 of their teachers are white. It’s about how family structure and kinship care doesn’t always reflect the standards reinforced by white-dominated structures (even when those families who deviate from the accepted norm may also be white). It’s about how while this isn’t the Oppression Olympics, the impact of settler colonialism and trans-Atlantic enslavement do mean that our world (and our people) continue to assume that some people are more human than others.

When I say that white people need to stop talking, need to shut up and listen, I do mean all of us. And I hope that when other white people read me saying it, they understand that this isn’t about individual people and their individual acts and behaviours. This is about acknowledging that no matter what our conscious understanding, no matter how we frame ourselves as accepting, anti-racist people, we have systemic skin-colour advantage that validates our stories over all others. EVEN when we’re women. EVEN when we’re poor. EVEN when we’re queer, or trans, or disabled, or all of the above. ALL of us need to shut the fuck up and listen. I stand by that statement, and this sadly won’t be the last time I’ll find the need to say it.

This is already a lot longer than I’d hoped it would be. I hope it provides some clarity.

Happy World Autism Day

Yep, happy. 

April is Autism Awareness Month, and there’s nothing wrong with being aware of something. The question is how, though, are we celebrating autistic April: the way we would Women’s History or Black History Month? Or are we mourning the loss of the children we thought we had before diagnosis, wishing things could be different? A little of both, maybe? Maybe. 

Do we talk about the accomplishments of famous and everyday autistic people in April? Do we list the strategies autistic people have used successfully so that parents of younger autistic children can learn from real experts what works for us? Or do we highlight scientific or pseudoscientific interventions that have been experienced as traumatic or dehumanizing by those who were once autistic children? 

Do we seek out success stories – and not the big names, but the small-scale, people in your neighbourhood successes, or do we look only at the tragic family breakdowns that we blame so often on autism? 

Here. I’ll start with an everyday success. Hi. I’m 40. I was diagnosed at 38 with Asperger’s Syndrome. It took a long time for me to know for sure in part because of my age, in part my gender. Believe me, though. It fits. So, here I am. I’m an extreme introvert, but that hasn’t stopped me from being successful in caring professions. I’m also really good at retail, for what it’s worth. Right now, I’m a teacher, and I think I’m pretty good at it. I’ve managed to have had effective enough social skills to make two humans. I have a few close friends, several casual friends, and a strong complex romantic relationship. I’m raising two children by myself. I pay the rent. I sometimes have three or four jobs at a time, and generally manage to stay on top of things. I’m starting a PhD program in the fall. 

That all sounds pretty successful for anyone, really. I have a good life, as an autistic adult. My friends and partner are understanding, and when something doesn’t make sense, they ask. 

Do my words sometimes stop coming when I’m stressed or overwhelmed? Yep. Do I say the wrong thing and make people really angry with me? It happens. Do my special interests sometimes take over my life? Um, see the above PhD reference. Do my sensory impairments make things harder? They make things hard, yes. But I figure it out, and I keep going. 

Parents of autistic kids, please listen to autistic adults. A lot of us are also parents of autistic kids, and we have a lot to offer you in terms of support and understanding. We can also be remarkably practical. And we want to celebrate the kid(s) you have, with you.  

Enough About Effing Yoga Pants Already

I’m thinking a lot about yoga pants these days.

And leggings.

And skinny jeans.

This is my 12-year-old daughter’s uniform. Sure, occasionally, she’ll throw on a pair of loose sweats, but by and large, I get a pretty clear view of my kid’s butt in pants every day. Let me be totally honest with you: I see the curves she’s starting to develop, and my heart stops.  Most of me wants to celebrate the fact that my child is growing into her adolescence totally confident in her body. She’s strong, and unintimidated by what others think of her. She dresses for comfort, mostly, and not for display. Most of the time, she doesn’t have any idea of the impact she already has on those around her. 

The part, however, that stops my heart, that makes me worry, that makes me angry? That impact she has on people because she’s conventionally beautiful (no, really, it’s ridiculous) is going to be framed by others throughout her adolescence as her responsibility to moderate. She will be expected to dress in ways that don’t distract her male classmates if she has any hope of getting through middle and high school without being harassed or assaulted. Because her very existence is inflammatory. Too much. Inappropriate. She and so many other 12-year-old girls in our lives are being told, over and over again, your body is the reason men may assault you. Your body is the reason men can’t control what they say around you, and throw disgusting, unwanted, sexualized comments your way already, even though you’re still a child.  Your body makes the boys your age unable to focus on school work. Your body. 

My child is not responsible for the actions of others. She is not asking for it based on her clothing choices. She will not be asking for it in leggings at 13, in yoga pants at 15, in a short skirt at 17, or in an ankle-length dress at 21. How will you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my child is “asking for it?” She’ll say something like, “I’d like to have sex, please.” 

(and as her mom, I’d like that to not happen for a very good long while yet, for a whole lot of reasons, but for it to still happen when she and the person she chooses decide they’re ready at the same time regardless of when that might be.)

There’s a middle school in Illinois right now dealing with this issue, and not well. The students, however, have launched a protest against what they consider unfair treatment: are my pants lowering your test scores, they ask. 

There’s another side, though, and as the mother of an almost 14-year-old son, it’s offensive to me that he is painted as someone who is incapable of compassion, empathy, communication, and self-control where it comes to his sexual desires. I expect better of him, and he expects better of himself. How about we try something out: instead of investing all of our time and energy into reinforcing the idea that girls provoke boys into sexual violence by how they look, we take that time and energy and support our children regardless of gender in understanding that we do have the ability to negotiate interactions with each other that are respectful. Are boys going to be distracted by girls? Some will, sure. But pubescent boys are distracted by EVERYTHING. Encouraging mutual respect will go a lot further than banning tight pants. 

One Side of the Story

We only know one side of the story.

I keep seeing this, hearing it, and every time I do, it tears out a couple of the ragged stitches I rely on to keep myself together. I’m a practiced mender, and usually catch the holes before they get too dangerous, but stuff seeps out around the threads I pull through my flesh as I keep on keepin’ on.

We only know one side of the story is something we hear for very specific events. When someone stole my bicycle, no one needed to know the thief’s story. Mine was sufficient. When my daughter experienced street harassment, someone assumed she was dressed immodestly. The other side of the story – men policing my child over her choice to exist in public.

A few weeks ago, a man who is well-known and revered for his art was publicly celebrated with a prestigious award. His son and ex-partner spoke out against him for sexual violence he committed against his daughter when she was only seven years old.

We only know one side of the story, crowds yelled from all corners of the online world. We don’t know if this is true.

Let me tell you what is true.

It is true that there is nothing to gain from being seen as a child who has been sexually abused.

It is true that the court system is itself an assault on someone who has already experienced violence.

It is true that the assumption of innocence of a perpetrator takes priority over the lived experience of the victim.

It is true that people believe that children and women are liars.

We only know one side of the story.

The words echo in my head, make me doubt my own narratives of violence.

Did I overreact? Was it simply a miscommunication? Was I unclear? Could I have stopped it, somehow?

I blame myself when I hear those words. Beyond all reason, I hear them and think my story means less than some interpretation of objectivity that can’t possibly exist.

My stitches start to pull apart as that doubt grows; I can’t hold the pain inside my too-small bag of skin.

We only know one side of the story.

And our side doesn’t matter.



Full disclosure: I have a white poppy on my coat right now. This is apparently a contentious thing these days, though I’ve not yet experienced much more than a raised eyebrow or two.

Apparently, there’s a cultural conclusion being made that anyone who chooses to wear anything other than the red poppy (including nothing at all) is showing disrespect for veterans, for those lost in combat, and for current soldiers. Canada’s current Veterans’ Affairs Minister Julian Fantino considers the white poppy “offensive” to veterans. I would argue that it is far more offensive that disabled veterans need to sue the Canadian government in order to regain benefits. 

My understanding of the meaning of the white poppy is not that it’s better, or that the red poppy glorifies war. I’ve stayed out of the poppy debate altogether because my reasons for wearing it are not reflected by the words of the Rideau Institute. 

I’d like to talk for a sec about history. The white poppy campaign was started by the mothers, wives, and sisters of soldiers of WWI: both those who were killed in combat, and those who returned home. The women who knew these soldiers best wanted to create a world where they would never again have to go back to fight, where no one else would be lost – soldier and civilian alike. The women who knew these soldiers experienced the untreated mental illness many soldiers brought home with them in the form of alcoholism, drug addiction, abandonment, and physical and sexual abuse.

Soldiers are still coming home in body bags, almost 100 years later. Soldiers are still coming back broken. Female soldiers are at particular risk, less from combat as they are from their fellow soldiers. Partners and children of soldiers who return are still at risk of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, financial. Canadian soldiers, like their civilian counterparts, have poor access to mental health supports and arguably need them far more than the average Canadian struggling with their mental health.

I don’t want to fight with people. I want to create space for dialogue in which we can talk about the impact of the loss of a parent or partner or family member to war. I want to talk about the impact of a soldier returning to their family. I want to talk about the everyday realities of those affected by what a member of their family has experienced. I want politicians like Fantino to understand that dissension is not offensive: it’s freedom of expression. I also want Fantino in particular to understand that engaging in name-calling while actively making the lives of soldiers and their families harder is far more offensive than the act of wearing a white poppy.

I want us to remember.

Then, I want us to act.

What Christie Blatchford doesn’t know about rape

I woke this morning to my Twitter feed warning me not to read an article published in today’s National Post by Christie Blatchford. I won’t link to it, because it’s easy enough to find if you really want to read it without my needing to directly send traffic their way.


I read it regardless of the warnings that it was shaming and awful, and yeah. It was shaming and awful. And, not surprisingly, pretty triggering for me as well. I’m okay, for those who might be worried, but I’m definitely feeling the need to process this out loud, so thank you for your indulgence.

I feel an affinity to Rehtaeh Parsons, in spite of many significant differences in our stories.

She was 15 when she was sexually assaulted. I was 18 the first time it happened to me.

She was photographed while it happened, and had no control over the distribution of said photo. It being 1992, no one would have been brave enough at that time to snap a shot of my assault; as no one in the room at the time had darkroom experience or access, it would have had to have been developed in a shop.

She was shamed out of her high school. I was assaulted on grad night, and only had a few weeks left before the end.

She died at 17. 21 years later, I’m still here.

Now, for the pieces that are too similar to not talk about, the pieces Blatchford shrugs off as being “a mess.”

“It was only a week later, after the picture surfaced and made the rounds at her high school, that police were first called by Ms. Parsons.”

That she called the police at all is amazing. Most don’t, for a lot of very good reasons. I never have. Is a week really that long to wait post-assault to start talking about it? Not in my experience. I didn’t even process that what had happened to me *was* sexual assault until a year after it happened. A year it took my brain to piece everything together, to feel safe enough to make connections that wouldn’t kill me, to remember details that alcohol and trauma had blocked out when I was not ready to deal with them.

“The girlfriend of Rehtaeh’s who was at the party told police Rehtaeh was being flirtatious, even egging the boys on.”

How does this have anything to do with anything? I too flirted with the young man who assaulted me. I willingly and enthusiastically engaged in a drunken make-out session, with him. That doesn’t mean I consented to what happened afterwards.

“Add to all this conversations police know Rehtaeh had with friends the day after the party, which revealed a young woman filled with regret for what she portrayed as consensual sex with two boys and who was now afraid her friends would think her ‘a slut.'”

I thought I’d had bad sex. The people who were in the hotel room when it was happening heard me crying, and thought I was making “sex noises.” I was embarrassed, as if I’d had some kind of control over the situation*. I shrugged it off. I made jokes about it. I deflected. I ignored. I buried. I got out of the city 3 months later when I left for university, where I started sleeping 18-20 hours per day and only got up to go to class or eat.

It wasn’t until after I had moved home in May, almost a year to the day after it had happened, that I remembered. And felt. And collapsed in tears on the curb down the street from a dear friend’s house one evening as I experienced a full sensory flashback to that night, and the week preceding it. (this could get triggering, so if you’re worried, don’t read anything in italics.)

Sunday before, I run into him in the park. We talk about the cottage party we’d both attended the night before. He asks about a rumour he’d heard about my having sex that night with aforementioned dear friend. I cop to it, having no shame about my sexual choices, not realizing I’d set myself up in that moment as an easy target.

The week leading up: not a lot of academics being accomplished, with the excitement of grad night in just a few days. 

Saturday night. Grad night. Fancy clothes, crappy food, same night, same location as the Much Music Video Awards, though we don’t see anyone famous (except Dan Gallagher). 

Many of us rented rooms at a downtown hotel. We’d crossed the river earlier that day to buy alcohol legally (though drink it illegally, I suppose). My (platonic) date wanders away to take care of some student council schmoozing, and comes back to find me half in the bag, giggly, and already obviously vulnerable. Date asks friend to keep an eye on me, goes back out. 

Friend stays close, offering more wine. Flirtation abounds, and we make out. I tell him I don’t have any condoms, and have absolutely no intentions of having sex with him. 

Date comes back. Disgusted with what he finds. Disappears for rest of the night, finding somewhere else to bunk (I think – that part, admittedly fuzzy). 

Two other friends are in the room a lot of this time as well, are in and out. Also drinking, sometimes interacting conversationally. Blurry. 

Missing time. 

I’m naked. I’m in a hotel room bed, with someone I know trying to penetrate me. I’m crying, it hurts, I feel so bruised. I can’t make my limbs move, or make words. 

I feel shamed that my body won’t do what he wants it to, that my body refused to let him fuck me. I feel him in my mouth. I can’t breathe. The tears and the snot and the choking and gagging are all too much. I shut it all out. 

Except the sounds. The sounds of my friends judging us for our shenanigans, being grossed out by our “choosing” to fuck in the same room as them. And I can’t talk. And I can’t push him off. And really, I’m not even in my body anymore at that point. 

On that curb, a year later, I smelled the port on his breath. I felt the bruises starting on my body, where his fingers held me, where he battered me as he tried to penetrate me. I heard the voices of my friends, of his breath in my ear, as if they were beside me. I heard myself so clearly say I did not want to have sex without a condom, and I watched as that was completely ignored. I watched myself be plied with alcohol to render me more vulnerable. I saw my friends see what they wanted to see, not what they needed to see. 

The “other side” to my story? I went to university as a Women’s Studies major. I came home with a “rape story” because I’d been indoctrinated into believing that all sex between women and men is, by its nature, nonconsensual. Yes. This is what the young man who assaulted me said to me. This is what he said to everyone else, when I started to talk about my experience, to process it out loud, to name it. This is what many of the people he told believed. This was the “other side.”

Please let me reiterate something I’ve had to explain too many times to count. There is no cachet in being identified as a rape victim. It’s not “better” than being seen as a slut. Mostly because you’re seen as a slut anyway, but now you have more people thinking it. What Blatchford’s article today has done is slut-shamed a young woman who died in large part as a result of that same behaviour. Blatchford, rather than recognizing that we need to work on our culture of empathy and respect, validated the behaviours of those who tortured Rehtaeh to death.

She’s right, though: it’s never as simple as what it looks like at first glance. She just chose to stop looking too soon.

* One thing a lot of people don’t understand is that tolerance for alcohol is widely variable. I am a tiny person. At 18, I was 5’2″, and weighed about 115 pounds. Two drinks made me a happy drunk. Three left me unable to walk or speak clearly. The assault happened after 3.5 drinks.

This can’t continue (a probably triggering post about sexual violence)

I’m not sure how coherent I’m going to be as I write this. 

My heart is in a very bad state right now. This week has been stupidly hard for anyone who gives a damn about ending sexual violence. 

A 19-year-old young man went to police immediately after being sexually assaulted by four women. He was widely ridiculed over Twitter, but Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno decided that wasn’t enough attention. Jokes have been made at his expense about how this is some men’s ultimate fantasy, that the description of the women involved was the reason he reported it as sexual assault and not as consensual sex (because 4 short fat women would never be part of that fantasy), that there must be something wrong with this guy to have not just shrugged off the whole thing. He’s 19, and he felt his power was taken from him. His right to choose what happens to his body was taken from him by four women who have bought into the myth that all men want indiscriminate sex all the time. 

But he has, so far, survived. 

The same cannot be said about two teenaged girls who committed suicide within the last week, after being sexually assaulted, photographed during the assault, and having the photos distributed either via cellular phone or social media. 17. 15. Their peers, rather than standing up to protect them, did the opposite. They attacked. They slut shamed. They took the photographic evidence of what happened to these girls and used it as justification to police their sexuality. Bad enough to do when a young woman makes choices that lead to exposure, but when the two young women were NOT consenting to the acts being forced on them, when they did NOT consent to photos being taken of them, and when they certainly did not consent to those photos being distributed as rapist badges of honour … I can’t even finish the sentence, I’m so exhausted by the emotion that went into writing it. 

I learned something last night, from someone just on the outskirts of one of these events. Someone who had received a copy of a photo, and deleted it. When I first found out that someone would seemingly thoughtlessly delete the photo of a crime, I was angry. Then we talked about it a bit. This person didn’t know the act captured in the photo was sexual assault. This person couldn’t identify the girl in the photo, as her face was not in the shot. This person had no understanding of the legal implications of having a photo of 15-year-old “having sex” on their phone. Had this person known that they were in possession of child pornography, maybe they would have made different choices around deleting and reporting to police who had sent it. 

Here’s the thing: if you don’t know, it makes sense there’s not a lot you can do. Is it really the act of a bystander letting things happen if they don’t know what’s legal and what isn’t? 

I’m not excusing the behaviour of the students who made these girls’ lives hell. What they did was reprehensible. But as I started to talk about above, we’re socialized in a Canadian/USian context to believe there is something shameful about being a woman (young or otherwise) who has sex. Not only is it shameful, but we must actively shame those who are bold enough to transgress. “Dressing like a slut” is threatening, but I think there may also be perceived safety for many, girls and women in particular, in constructing the sexually available woman as she most likely to be raped. If I don’t flaunt my sexuality, I won’t draw attention to myself, and I won’t get raped. If I don’t make it known that I like sex at all, boys won’t get the wrong idea about me and make me have sex when I don’t want to. Having a “slut” keeps the herd safe. One sacrifice makes life easier for everyone. 

But it doesn’t. Because this is the part that’s missing. If we, as a community, think it’s okay to treat one person with such disdain, such negation, such dehumanization, we think it’s okay to treat anyone that way. Slut-shaming doesn’t keep the rest of us safe from being raped, it just takes even more power away from individuals who have already been disempowered. It deludes us into thinking that it will never happen to us. It deludes us into thinking that we will never be the rapists who do this to others, with or without the designation of slut. 

So how do we fix this? Can we? 

I’m going to continue to try. I’ve done a lot of work to anonymize this blog as much as possible, but I think it’s time to come out again. 

I’m working on a project right now to more easily incorporate a consent-based education approach into classrooms. The document I’m working on will be a k-12 resource, made for teachers. It will be tired directly to curriculum streams, with concrete lesson plans, secondary resource suggestions, and lists of possible questions that may come up with students at specific ages (with suggestions on how to respond). 

More information about this project can be found at Indiegogo, where I launched a crowdfunding campaign to help me develop this text. I am thrilled to tell you that there are many amazing people who believe in my vision and who have funded me to my initial goal. There is still time left to donate, though, and while I am now funded to develop an Ontario-specific resource, I can now focus on raising funds to adapt the text to provincial and territorial curriculum requirements across Canada.Oh, and every resource I produce will be free. Forever.

I won’t pretend that what I’m doing is the answer. But it is an answer.

Hey, mom? Have you ever dated women?

In a Grade 5/6 split class this year, my daughter is one of the leaders of her school. She and her classmates are occasionally tasked with teaching the younger children about specific school-wide initiatives as a way to foster leadership, public speaking, and mentoring skills. Today, they split into teams and visited the younger grades to discuss the Day of Pink, happening Wednesday, April 10. As this is an International Day Against Bullying, Discrimination, Homophobia and Transphobia, I was thrilled to hear that her school was encouraging the students themselves to take the lead in promoting a culture of acceptance and resistance against violence. She talked about how one of the kids in the Grade 2 class she talked to spoke about her moms, and how they weren’t bullied for being lesbians. 

As these things often do, her telling me about her day led to an interesting conversation. 

“Hey, mom? Have you ever dated women?”

I answered that yes, I have, though not in a while. 

“How many?”

I said I wasn’t sure, but a few. 

“So… three? ‘Cause that’s a few.”

Eh… probably more than three, depending on how you define dating, but I’m pretty sure the play by play wasn’t her focus. About 20 minutes or so passed, and she came to me again: 

“Did you date any girls in high school?”

Oh, what a complicated question. I explained that no, I hadn’t dated any girls in high school, because I attended a Catholic school in the 80s and early 90s, and that time and place just wasn’t safe for girls to date girls. She asked if I’d wanted to, and I said that of course I would have loved to have been able to. But it just wasn’t safe. 

“What do you mean?” she asked. She thought that maybe I was afraid of people making fun of me or not wanting to be my friend. She was shocked when I told her I was afraid of being beaten or murdered for dating girls. (I didn’t mention that I was also very afraid of being raped for doing so, because, well, baby steps.)

It had never occurred to her that someone would be so filled with hate and feel so threatened by the act of two women or two men dating that they would react so violently. When I was in Grade 5, I already knew it wasn’t safe to talk about being anything other than interested in boys. With a solid majority of the regular adults in her life being out as some flavour of queer, this is not her experience at all. 

I genuinely hope that her perspective never changes, that she doesn’t see the violence that can come from people’s homophobia and transphobia, that her peers and those who follow are those kids who say that enough is enough, and who change the world. 


“You’re obviously high-functioning autistic, though, right?”

I never know how to answer that question. Mostly because it’s a bullshit question. Today, I am not functioning very highly at all. I got up, woke up the kids, showered, and walked them to school. I spoke the entire way there, reassuring an anxious child that school would be okay today, and that they could do it. I left the school, and haven’t said a word since. 

This weekend, I was in a situation where I had to disclose my autism during a training session that had gone right off the rails for me. I was unable to attend to anything by that point because of my sensory defensiveness, and was struggling with a migraine, to boot. When I was required to figure out where to stand based on which metaphor resonated most with me as a response to a question, I was done. I sat down, disengaged, and waited for the activity to end. When the trainer asked for feedback, I explained that I was unable to participate in the activity because thinking in metaphors is a challenge on a good day and impossible on the day in question. 

And so she stated that I must be high-functioning. Because how else could I be in a teacher certification program? How else could I have been actively participating up to this point? How else could I not be rocking in a corner, banging my head against a wall? (believe me – that’s pretty close to what I wanted to be doing by then, but, well, time and place, right?) 

a) It’s none of your fucking business where my levels of “function” vs. “dysfunction” lie, unless it is directly relevant to you and unless I am comfortable sharing that information; 

b) I don’t think we have the same definition of “function.” My being able to play the neurotypical game doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost me more than I can afford at times. Yes, I am capable of accomplishing tasks in the way that the NT world requires. Can I do it at a sustained level without break? Not so well. 

Today, I’m at home, in bed. The last four days, I dealt with mind-killing pain. I walked for an hour and a half this morning, and can barely type this post now. “Too much” is relative, but wow, have I gone long past its definition for me. 

The kids’ll be home in 2 hours, and the one task I said I would do, I haven’t. I will do my best to turn on again for them when they come home, because while they get the need for quiet disengagement, they also need me to be present in ways that can feel like too much on days like today. 

Pushing through really hard stuff doesn’t make me more functional than those who avoid or melt down. I *want* to avoid. I *want* to melt down. It takes an astonishing amount of energy to force myself to stay “appropriately” engaged. Inevitably, I pay for it. In, as it goes, sweat. 

So, no. I am not high-functioning. I function. And then I don’t. Repeat repeat repeat. 

The Impact of Ignoring “No”: A Response to “Autism Ethics: Permission to Say No.”

Brenda at Mama Be Good wrote a piece yesterday on giving children with autism the permission to say no in a therapeutic context. She touched on how many therapies for autistic kids focus on compliance to achieve tasks, and that “no” is heard not as a boundary word, but as resistance we must break through to achieve success. 

This, of course, as Brenda agrees (more politely) is bullshit. I don’t need to go over what she’s written, because you should just go read her words, but I am going to make the connection to autistic people and sexuality. Because “no” is a really important word for all of us when it comes to negotiating safe sexual boundaries. We all have the right to decide our own limits when it comes to sexual expression, and we have the right to have those limits heard and respected. Some of us know we have those rights.

Disabled people often don’t. Rather than have opportunities to develop the confidence to assert ourselves, many of us have had medical and therapeutic treatments performed on us not only without our consent, but without even any explanation. Rather than a care provider explaining what the procedure is for, and offering options on how to accomplish it, we’re given no room to develop negotiation skills. Is it any wonder why many of us struggle with recognizing our right to maintain boundaries in other contexts? 

All of us are safer, healthier, happier people when we have the ability to enthusiastically agree to our participation in pretty much everything in our lives. All of us are safer, healthier, happier people when we have space to negotiate for workable compromises when those yes moments are more complicated. All of us are safer, healthier, happier people when we can refuse to engage in an activity and have that refusal respected. 

All of us deserve to be safe, healthy, and happy. Reinforcing the idea in childhood that disabled people don’t have a choice in how we communicate, that we don’t have the ability to negotiate a middle point, that we can’t ever just say no and have it be heard and acknowledged and respected as a hard boundary, leaves us vulnerable both as children and through adulthood. 

When we value compliance over negotiation, we value less those whose compliance we seek. 

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