Now that the Christmas season is over, and we have waved our handkerchiefs as it sails off towards the horizon, it’s time to throw away the festivities and joy and focus on what I really want to talk about today: anger.
More specifically: Autistic anger.
Not the type of anger that I’ve touched on previously – the anxiety that materialises as anger, or the meltdowns and outbursts that result from the claustrophobic frenzy of sensory or emotional overload. That type of anger can be corrosive and incidious, creeping in to innocuous situations and hurting both me and the people around me. That is the type of anger that I am working to create a more constructive model for, rather than giving in to the rage monster in its entirety.
No, the type of Autistic anger that I’m talking about is the justifiable outrage at our marginalisation and the indignant refusal to accept any more nonsene from the world we are forced to live in – the anger that surges forward and forces the world to change.
As the To Siri With Love saga continues on its ill-fated and dismaying journey, I’ve seen many different narratives emerging from within the Autistic community. I’ve seen ferocious, irate reactions borne from trauma.I’ve seen hurt, dismayed reactions, the fatigued broken-heartedness echoing in every syllable. And I’ve seen people take a more subdued and logical approach, seeking to engage with the author on a conversational level in the hope that she will realise where she’s gone so terribly wrong.
The myriad of responses is to be expected from a community so vast, so differing in experiences, and so intricately made up of varying personalities, emotions and temperaments. In fact, all of the above reactions have a part to play; they are each justifiable and demanding of respect in their own right. My own reaction to the snippets I’ve read has been, as it often is, a somewhat potent mix of the first and the second – sad anger or furious upset, call it what you will.
However, I’ve seen a few commentaries that have been…how should I put it…not quite so respectful of the more emotional reactions.
And that makes me angry. Which is ironic, really.
There is a suggestion that we will achieve more if we temper our anger and focus our energy on peaceful, self-contained and ‘constructive’ conversation. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that – if that’s what you want to do. But I’ve seen a tide of criticism against those who express outrage, as if we have to be better than that if we are going to achieve what we want to achieve. As if we must idealise that nice response rather than the raw power of an angry backlash.
In regards to the To Siri With Love debacle, I’ve seen it suggested that the reason Judith Newman has refused to engage with the Autistic community is because many people initially reacted with anger. That maybe if we’d approached tentatively with our hands outstretched, whispering sweet nothings about how it was ‘all okay’, maybe then we could have coaxed her to the table and made her see the error of her ways.
Perhaps I am a cynical old crone, but I don’t believe for one second that Newman would have spared a single second for even the softest of Autistic voices. And her book not only hurt from an emotional and personal perspective (as even the things that I thankfully haven’t ever experienced make me want to cry out for the the Autistic people who are experiencing them), but exacerbated an already socially-permeated attitude that actively and physically causes Autistic people harm.
It is an attack. Is there any wonder some people responded with swift and unrepenting outrage?
Anger is an emotion like any other. It’s there for a reason, and it’s purpose is valid. It is the act of pushing an aggressor away from you rather than asking nicely if they would please stop hurting you. If you can reason with them, then that is brilliant. But, for the majority, pushing away is the far more effective technique.
To hold back that very real and justified emotion is to expend an enormous amount of emotional labour. And the sad fact of the matter is that many neurotypical or able-bodied people would not expend the same effort on our behalf.
Do we engage in endless circles of reasoning for ally-ship that is dropped at the very first bump in the road? Do we wear ourselves ragged in conversations that are so readily forgotten, or dismissed as ‘not very nice’ by the mere fact of it ever so slightly pricking at their comfortable bubble?
I don’t have that in me any more. So I choose not to hold back my anger.
There is a place for my anger. And it’s an important place.
Anger is a powerful force for change; a loud, screaming voice in the dark that can’t be ignoed. It is the motivator for uprising and the catalyst for many victories of social justice.
The Blackshirts – essentially the British Nazi Party – were unable to get a foothold in the UK in the 1930s because people screamed, and shouted, and blocked them bodily in the streets, and forced them scuttling back to their basements with hands and feet and rocks and wood and sheer all-encompassing anger.
The LGBTQIA+ movement gained speed and traction – particularly in the US – because a group of poor, disenfranchised, trans and queer kids (mostly also people of colour) decided they’d had enough of being harassed, arrested and assaulted and fought back against the police with everything they could get their hands on (hell, the riots are said to have started when a shoe was thrown through a window). And today the biggest LGBT (they’re working on the other letters) organisation is named after that anger.
This isn’t the anger that eats you up inside, or makes you lash out against the people who least deserve your rage. Nor the anger that materialises as slurs against other marginalised groups or death threats that you don’t really mean. I’m talking about the anger that gets channelled forward. The anger that lights a fire beneath a movement.
Anger is a force for good. It gets people out onto the streets. It gives people the strength to stand up and say no I won’t take this anymore. It demands that we be given the respect, rights and humanity that we inherently deserve, whilst rejecting the notion that we should be begging for table scraps and grovelling for the morsels we get. It fuels art, and stories, and blogs, and films, and songs, and poetry, and communities.
And we have an awful lot to be angry about.
So let 2018 be the year that Autistic anger burns bright. Let it be the year that Autistic people demand better than what some people would reduce us to. Let it be the year we rise up against harm to even just one of us. Let it be the year that we make people realise that we are here and we will be listened to. Let it be the year that we blog, and sing, and rally, and force the world to overturn its backwards attitudes towards us. Let it be the year in which they can’t pretend they can’t hear us any more.
Let 2018 be the year that Autistic anger changes the world.