Sunday, June 28, 2015

Neurotypical Privilege Part 2: Examples from my life

Now that you understand what neurotypical privilege is, check out the next blog post about examples of neurotypical privilege as I've seen them in my own life-- not just from people on the far right, but supposed liberals, the same who would scream at a white man to check his privilege.  

So ended my last blog post. Here is a recent example of an encounter I had with someone on Facebook who maliciously did not check his neurotypical privilege and dismissed my experiences of having Asperger's and its implications for adulthood. I encountered this guy through a friend (we'll call him Red, as that is the color I used to cover up his face and name). The guy in question who shot me down, we'll call Green (for the same reason):

Correction-- you actually have to fall below $17,000 per year to qualify for free healthcare in Massachusetts. 

Ironic, isn't it, that Red who also is on the autism spectrum couldn't relate to what I was going through. But, as I've said men on the autism spectrum have much easier lives because of, well, male privilege. They don't have to live up to the same social expectations that women do. They aren't expected to be nurturers, gentle and meek. And no, I'm not blaming some abstract patriarchal conspiracy. Honestly, I get more shit about my social skills from other women than from men. I think it might be an in-group/out-group mentality-- that is people policing their own social groups (just as men are more likely to chew out men for "acting gay" than women are). 

But look at what Green said. This guy is clearly a right-wing libertarian. And because of his neurotypical privilege, it's easy enough for him to dismiss my experiences because he will likely never have the same issues: "Asperger's...... GET THE FUCK OUT..." as he said. Over the years I've heard things such as, "You're not trying hard enough" or "You're using Asperger's as an excuse" or, "Life isn't always fair. Deal with it," or "Everybody has problems. Why do you think you're so special?" Yeah, so these people don't appreciate what I've gone through in life. And it must not be real.

And one more thing on this-- isn't it funny that the people who complain about those who use social services are those who are likely never going to need them?

But it's not just right-wingers who (likely) watch Fox News-- a program in which the anchors dismiss bullying as part of growing up and would probably dismiss Asperger's as a sort of fad diagnosis-- who are embroiled in neurotypical privilege. Well, maybe those are the types who are embroiled in it maliciously, but I experience tons of frustration from those who have no malintent.

A perfect example is my mother. She's as neurotypical as they get. I've been screwed over royally by a number of people in my life, many of who were important to me, and she's only been severely screwed over twice, as far as I know. In one recent case, when the person in question screwed her over, she did not once have to ask herself, "Was this my fault? Did I cause this?" She completely owned her emotions and was able to say, "Yes, I got screwed," without any question. And in some ways I felt a bit of anger towards her for that. Why? Whenever someone has screwed me over, I've had to reflexively ask myself if it was my fault because my mother (sometimes my father, but mostly my mother) drilled it into me over the years. Mom often assumed that I played a role in any socially traumatic experience I had. And, to make another point about neurotypical privilege, NTs are often taken at their word-- their perception of events is rarely questioned. To this day many people (fortunately, my parents not so much anymore) question my perception of events. 

As I alluded to in my previous blog post, there is a blog post that has a neurotypical privilege checklist. This one is my absolute favorite:

My opinions on social mores and societal issues are not dismissed based on my neurology or on the assumption that I am incapable of understanding how these things work. Likewise, my gender identity and sexual orientation are not discounted because of my neurology.
That one is one I could really relate to. I spent my summers as a teenager at Camp Negev, a very left-leaning Jewish summer camp. It was there where we often had intense discussions about gender roles, social norms, and more. When I told my mother that I felt masculine, she told me I needed to get over it. If I told her that people from camp agreed with me that gender roles-- yes, including that it's worse when a girl burps than when a boy does it-- are stupid, she didn't believe me, or thought that people were telling me what I wanted to hear in order to avoid conflict. Of course, had a neurotypical teenager told her the same thing, she would have believed them-- she's pretty liberal. But it took over a decade for her to finally start believing me when I told her that other people agreed with me on certain issues with which she didn't agree. The same was true with my father, but to a lesser extent.

Another case of neurotypical privilege: If a neurotypical screws up, it is looked at as an isolated incident, not as a further affirmation that they are "defective". In fact, when I lost a recent job, some of the things that led to my losing it were not huge issues. Or at least they wouldn't have been had a neurotypical person made the same slip-up. I've talked to my shrink about this, and she says she thinks that what happens is people pick up on something about me being a little "off" and thus they are more sensitive when I make mistakes. In fact, this phenomenon of not being able to get away with even the slightest thing without getting into trouble (socially, if not with authority figures) is textbook Asperger's.

And finally, for those on the far left: Yes, some of those same people who love screaming at white men, "Check your privilege!" have some privilege-checking of their own to do. These self-righteous people who think they have the last word on how to be helpful to sometimes-oppressed minorities are sometimes the first to wag their finger at me and write me off as an oddball or an insensitive clod. I saw it when I went to Camp Negev as well as when I worked at a similarly-left-leaning camp in Michigan. At both places, many of these people would dismiss labels as a way to "other" people and present themselves as huge social justice advocates. But when it came down to the nitty-gritty, many of them did not live up to their own standards. My peers at Camp Negev understood me, but in 1998 (the year that I was a CIT), it was very clear that many of the counselors didn't and were just looking for me to screw up. The same was true in the summer of 2002 at the camp in Michigan. I would find out that people labeled me as "weird" and "not right". In other words, social justice applied when the person in question was an ethnic or sexual minority or physically disabled, but not when it was in regards to someone who was hardwired a little differently.

Now granted, I hadn't even heard of Asperger's Syndrome back then, and neither had they. I imagine that this label would have been helpful to make them understand and be less judgmental, despite their ostensibly eschewing labels. But even today some people with similar attitudes, knowing I have Asperger's Syndrome, are quick to write me off when I make a social faux-pas. In fact, one place where that happened was a Meetup where one of the rules was to make sure we check our privilege, and ultimately I felt pressured to leave. Newsflash: privilege doesn't just apply to race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and economic class. Um, you guys at the Meetup, if you're reading this, please check your neurotypical privilege.

And for what it's worth, a white male that I am friendly with online has checked his neurotypical privilege-- better than a lot of people I've met-- and has checked it well.

Neurotypical Privilege Part 1: What is Neurotypical Privilege?