Autistic activism is “having a moment,” you might call it.
Or not, actually. It should be having a moment.
Feminists in my Twitter feed are declaring Greta Thunberg, 16-year-old climate activist, their personal hero:
… while erasing the reason Greta “is not playing.” Greta is autistic, and she is literally not playing — not playing at looking like a neurotypical. In the autistic community, we call it masking: pretending to understand neurotypical behaviors, hiding our stims, suppressing our special interests, doing anything to not look autistic.
Greta is “not playing” because she’s not masking.
It‘s strange to witness neurotypicals calling it feminist and empowering for an autistic girl to refuse to mask, when so often in real life they shun neurodivergent people for being ourselves — forcing us to mask to fit in.
They label us too angry. They call us blunt. They disinvite us to events and refuse to grant us stage time because we are unpleasant. They call our facial expressions weird and our voices flat. They think we are robotic, unemotional, lacking in empathy. They call us obsessive. They call us exaggerators and confabulators and liars.
Which, if you’re paying attention, are pretty much the same ableist attacks right-wing commentators have leveled against Greta Thunberg.
When I was protesting inaccessibility at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs annual conference, most of the responses I got were not to my message, but to how I delivered it, which has everything to do with my neurodivergence.
I get these responses to my social media use in general, too: Why don’t you smile more in pictures? Why do you have to talk about x, y, z? You sound angry (when I’m not) or You’re too weird (OK that one might be true). On & on …
Now I watch as the same people (primarily women, primarily self-identified as feminist) from the lit community who said I could’ve delivered my message in a “more pleasant” tone are thrilled by the brand of activism that Greta brings because it angers men …
… while erasing her neurodivergence to make her more palatable to them.
Never mind autistic people are in greater danger of sexual abuse and violence. Then, when we report that violence, neurotypicals come at us again with the “confabulator” and “exaggerator” labels, so celebrating Greta for “angering men” is not exactly the best take.
It reminds me of what happened behind the scenes with AWP: certain neurotypical activists would egg me on in emails or private messages, celebrating how I refused to package my message “nicely.” Really, I just wasn’t going to lie. One time, in a Facebook discussion thread, a fellow activist said, “I would pay money to get Karrie on the phone with [former director] Christian Teresi.”
As soon as I needed backup, though, POOF. They disappeared and left me to the anger of abled writers & conference organizers. I noticed for all their praise, they stopped inviting me to be on panels. I realized they were, in fact, using me for my neurodivergent traits. So I stopped doing it.
And now — on a much larger scale — I see people doing this to Greta. They want her outspokenness and unsmiling face, but they are too busy erasing her neurodivergence to protect her from the ableist onslaught she is experiencing. Who will be her backup?
I ask you to reflect on this question: If you love Greta so much, what love have you shown autistic activists in your “real life?”