Posted in Advocacy, Autistic Identity, Neurodiversity

Ableism, Underemployment and Disabled Guilt

Yesterday’s post about not feeling great at work (or at life, I guess) was bleak, and I apologize for that.

Today, I guess I just want to write a little bit about how all that negativity about the limits of being Autistic has to do with the Neurodiversity movement, which I strongly support.

In our “outside” circles, I guess, we Neurodiversity folk get a bad reputation for focusing on the positives about what it’s like to be Autistic (or otherwise Neurodivergent) and I generally do try to do that.  In fact, I firmly believe that what’s happening to me right now has nothing to do with me as a person or even the employers of the world out there as much as I believe it has to do with society; society Disables me and because I’m privileged enough to be white, raised middle class, and can hide my Disability if I want to (or, at least, I can try to hide it; it takes getting to know me before people might see it).  Because I am so privileged, I end up acting sometimes like I don’t have the sense to realize the ableism around me and how it impacts my life.

But I am very aware of it.

If anything, I’m more aware of it because I still have that “manifest destiny” thing inside me (as racist as that is besides).  I firmly believe I should be able to author my own fate and change everything.

But then I realize that despite it all, I can’t do it.  I will always be less because my view of the world impacts me considerably.

And beyond that, being a fat person impacts me (that’s the thing they can see), so I don’t fully appreciate the “head start” some Autistics can get before people realize they are not neurotypical.

This doesn’t mean Neurodiversity is a bad thing at all.  It just means that many of us are busy having these conversations amongst ourselves and trying not to include the real world in our discussions about how much life can suck for us that neurotypicals can overhear.  It’s why I feel guilty about “whining” about these struggles I have, because someone will read these things and decide that we Autistics are a drain on society.  Someone will abuse their privileges society gives them to take away more from people like me because I shared what I’m struggling with inside.

The thing of it is, ableism is really, really bad, and some people will try to fight it by listening to Autistics and other Disabled people.  If you follow a bunch of Disabled folks on Twitter, sooner or later you will see all the anti-ableism activists talk about what sucks about their lives in a show of solidarity.  And then we’ll sort of get on with ourselves, like we do.  Like we have to, because we’re the public face of everything.  But if you keep listening, you’ll hear only a tiny portion of what we face during the day because so many of us are aware of how we have to present ourselves to the public.  Also, some of us have been so mired in ableism so long we honestly don’t know these are not things you able-d people have to face on a day-to-day basis.  We internalize our oppression to the point where we figure abled people are struggling like we are and it’s the same (it can be similar, but it’s never the same).

But if you listen to us, you’ll learn and you’ll use your privilege to speak out for us when we do let our guard down and tell you things (often in a joking fashion) about things that happen to us that aren’t so rosy.  We need your help to amplify our voices (but not to speak for us).

See, Neurodiversity activists are still human, too.  We just are mindful of how society paints so many of us as serial killers.  That kind of press does tend to make our “little” problems with underemployment seem like nothing.  We need your help to change that perception.

But our problems aren’t really little problems at all.

And we do need your help to stop these problems.

Anti-Neurodiversity folk tend to focus only on problems and they tend to irritate those of us who are activists because, honestly, who wants to listen to people whine about who got what benefit and how?  Whining is not helpful or picking at each other.  The Disabled community has a lot of people like that and they tend to harass those activists who talk about, you know, getting on with life and becoming at peace with who they are, as if we’re all supposed to mire in despair because we’re not made like some random people think we’re supposed to be made.  If you’re following someone on Twitter who is whining all the time and never focuses on anything positive, I would be surprised because who wants to listen to that?  At the same time, I wouldn’t believe someone who is Disabled who believed everything was a bed of roses and always, always was ultrapositive because that person wouldn’t be living on this planet, where ableism is very, very real.

So, while I’m sorry if yesterday was bleak and it made you feel uncomfortable because how can someone whine because she has a good job and is unhappy, know that I am mindful of the Disabled people who don’t have what I have and at the same time I want more for myself and others who are underemployed.  Underemployment is a serious problem in Disability circles, and those of us who do find work inevitably feel guilty because we at least got some work.

But that’s setting the bar too low.  None of us should have to be underemployed because we are gatekept out of positions by a privileged society any more than we should be unemployed.

After all, it costs a lot more to be Disabled than it costs to be abled, so we’re already paying in more just to stay alive.

And society wants us to pay more because they are afraid we can’t handle higher level positions?  Really?

This is why it’s hard to be Disabled and why we have to fight together to do better.

And this is why we need abled people to help us amplify our voices so that we can be heard better.

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