In case you haven’t heard, Cambridge Autism Research Centre, lead by Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen, have launched a new research initiative. They want 10,000 autistic people to send them their genetic material. There has been a bit of fuss in the Autistic community because of the unsatisfactory answers given by Spectrum 10K when asked about data safety and the way some ‘Ambassadors’ have behaved, including naturalist Chris Packham calling anyone who disagrees with the research a science denier and conspiracy theorist, and ‘comedian’ Paula White calling a respected autistic autism researcher ‘brainless’.
I haven’t commented on any of the Twitter threads, but I’ve been reading them and taking in the information. The main issue is that there isn’t any guarantee about the security of the data, which may be sold to companies at a later date, and that some of the people and organisations involved, even tangentially, are known to want to ‘cure’ autism. Yes, we’re scared of eugenics.
This is a long one, get comfy. I don’t talk about personal stuff much now, since my blog has evolved into a book blog from a general/mental health blog.
For the first time in 18 months, I weighed myself today. Last time I got weighed was at the start of 2020 when I was weighed at the start of a ‘get active’ programme with the local leisure centres, where I started swimming two to three times a week, and then a ‘weight management programme’ a few weeks later.
I will be talking about weight and BMI, so if that’s not a happy thing for you to think about, probably best not to read on.
I haven’t lost or gained any weight, but apparently I’m 6 centimetres shorter than I was in February last year…
I’m a nice person and I like to help my support worker out so I put together a presentation for the Forum tonight. We covered the subject of Queer people. I have a bot of understanding of the subject since I am Queer and I read a lot. I had to do a bit of scrabbling around on the internet to find information I needed, so I’ve added the references at the bottom of this post, with a transcript of my presentation.
The slide show with transcript
Welcome to the LGBTQIA+ Forum. I’m going to talk about this important topic and why it’s important for us to be informed about Queer matters. Any interruptions, homophobia, transphobia or queerphobia etc. will result in me stopping this presentation. I refuse to tolerate bigotry of any kind. If you have questions either wait to ask them or write them in the chat.
About 17% of the population identify as non-heterosexual in some way. About 1% of the population are out as transgender and about 2% of the population are known to be intersex. I use ‘known’ and ‘out’ as qualifiers here, because, like neurodivergent people, at any one time many people are in denial, medically unidentified, unsure or in hiding so they don’t get included in the statistics.
LGBTQIA+ is a long list of letters, and I’m sure most of you know what most of them mean.
L – Lesbian
G – Gay
B – Bisexual
T – Transgender
Q – Queer
I – Intersex
A – Asexual
+ is for all the others not included in the ‘short’ initialism.
We will get to what these terms mean later, but there are others you might want to be aware of; you may come across them online or in reading.
Firstly, there’s the delightfully evocative ‘QUILTBAG’ – as you can see on the slide this initialism covers a much greater range of identities than LGBTQIA and includes more gender terms, such as genderqueer.
Secondly there’s GSM – Gender and Sexual Minorities – which is sometimes used in ‘official’ documents. It’s not that common and some people don’t like it.
Finally, at least for today, there’s LGBTTQQIAAP – that’s a mouthful! It’s an expansion of LGBTQIA+. There are longer expansions that include two spirit, aromantic, agender, genderfluid, it goes on. Because humans come in all shapes and sizes and with all sorts of attractions and genders. This label generally relates to a person’s gender or sexuality, but it can be so much more complicated than that.
We need to discuss some things before we start. Sexuality hasn’s always been seen as an identity. It came about during the late 19th century with the development of sexology and the pathologisation of sexuality that wasn’t strictly between men and women, missionary style, in a monogamous relationship. Anything else was deemed ‘abnormal’, whether it’s who you’re attracted to, how your gender is expressed or identified, what you’re into or the types of relationships you have. It’s in this context that these identities have been developed.
These identity labels have been useful in getting rights for gender and sexual minorities but they bring with them limiting expectations of behaviours and roles. However, we don’t have an awful lot of time to get deep into these things so I’m going to recommend the book Sexuality: A Graphic Guide, by Meg-John Barker and Jules Scheele.
Most people will be familiar with LGBT as an initialism; it’s the most commonly seen. Lesbian and Gay are terms that usually refer to people with exclusively homosexual attraction, that is attraction to their own sex or gender.
Gay men are attracted to men and lesbians are women who love women. ‘Gay’ is derived from the Old French word ‘gai’ meaning full of joy or mirth, in English it came to mean bright, cheerful, happy, carefree. The carefree meaning led it to be used for prostitutes (‘gay women’), brothels (‘gay houses’) and womanizers (‘gay men’) from about the 1600s; this is the first time it became associated with sex.
In the 1890s the word ‘gey cat’ (Scottish variant) was used to describe a vagrant who offered sexual services to women, or a young man who has just started living on the road and is in company of older men. Sexual submissiveness is implied, and it is this context and meaning that came to be used by the 1920s between homosexual men in the US to mean a homosexual man. It became commonly used after the 1950s and is an acceptable term used now. Since the 1990s it has been used as an insult to mean bad or ridiculous. Don’t.
Lesbian refers to Lesbos, a Greek island that was home to Sappho, a sixth century BCE poet. Sappho was so well known in her time and after that Homer referred to her as ‘The Poet’. Some of Sappho’s poetry is addressed to particular women and are strongly erotic or romantic, although whether they were meant to be autobiographical is in dispute. So, the association between Lesbos and women who love women was established. Sapphic is another word used in this context.
Lesbian and Gay are well known terms, they have been used for several decades and often used to refer to everyone who is not cis-gender and heterosexual. As part of the political fight to gain rights for non-heterosexual and cis-gender people, Gay and Lesbian people are often the only ones remembered and thought about.
It is a very binary approach to both sexuality and gender. I shouldn’t need to tell you that neither sex, sexuality nor gender are binary. Talking of, let us get on to the B – bisexual. This is a complex one. Originally, ‘bisexual’ was an adjective referring to “having the organs of both sexes in one being, hermaphroditic”, where it is attested to from 1824. The meaning “attracted to both sexes” is from 1914; the noun in this sense is attested from 1922. Modern definitions are given as “Attracted to more than one gender”, “Sexual or romantic attraction to ones own and other genders”.
Human sex isn’t binary. No really, I know you’ve been taught that there’s only male and female. Two well defined boxes that people can be neatly dropped into and is obvious from external features such as genitalia. Genetics and gonads – that is the reproductive organs you possess, are used to reinforce this. Except Intersex people – people with ambiguous genitalia and gonads – exist, and genetic studies show that there are many variations in genetics. It’s not just XX and XY. Even brain scans show that humans have a mosaic of ‘male’ and ‘female’ features – see The Gendered Brain, by Gina Rippon for details.
Gender is a complex idea that is made up of gender expression – that is how we express ourselves, gender roles – what society expects of us, and gender identity – how our internal sense of self manifests. It is this gender identity that is important here. A trans person doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth based on external features. So, a trans man is a man who was born with a vulva, was socialised as a girl but who identifies as not a girl/woman, but as a boy/man. A trans woman is a person born with a penis and socialised as a boy, but who’s internal sense of self is as a girl/woman.
That’s for a binary trans person.
A non-binary person is a person who doesn’t identify as either of the binary genders. This may be genderfluid, genderqueer, agender, bigender. This is not a new phenomenon – many cultures have more than two genders, however we live in a culture that for a couple of thousand years has resolutely refused to accept it and have exported this belief to cultures that previously had many genders.
Non-binary people can identify as trans or not. Some consider themselves trans because they don’t identify as their birth assigned gender, but as a gender outside the binary. Non-binary people who don’t identify as trans may do so because they identify as a gender that includes their assigned gender, for example a genderfluid person assigned female/girl at birth who sometimes identifies as a woman, but mostly agender.
Trans people simplify things by saying that they have ‘a fe/male brain in a fe/male body’ but that’s not really how it works. We just need to simplify things for people who have never had to understand that sex and gender are complicated. It only really works for binary trans people, not for non-binary people. Also, there is no such thing as male and female brains, there are only brains that are moulded and changed by life events. I once again direct you to Gina Rippon’s book on the subject. The sense of self identity is not found in some structure of the brain, it’s a cumulative thing that emerges. And that’s getting a bit philosophical, we’re not here to be philosophical tonight.
Some of these slides have the flags associated with different groups but not all of them, if you want to see more, have a look at:
Queer – this is an umbrella term; it is also used by people who are complicated in their identities. It originally meant something or someone strange. It only became an insult after it was used to describe Oscar Wilde’s relationships, and by extension all non-heterosexual sex acts and relationships. It has been reclaimed.
Asexual and aromantic – Asexual people generally don’t feel sexual attraction although they may feel romantic or aesthetic attraction. They may also identify as demi-sexual or grey-sexual – that is under certain circumstances they may feel sexual attraction.
Aromantic people don’t or rarely feel romantic attraction, although they may feel sexual attraction.
Rather than treating attraction as an all-in-one package, Asexual communities commonly differentiate typesof attraction, such as romantic, sexual, aesthetic, sensual, etc. Many aces may report that their experiences with one type of attraction may be different than with another.
Because of this, some asexuals have also begin to use multiple orientation labels to differentiate these patterns, especially with regards to sexual vs. romantic attraction. Thus, someone who was not sexually attracted to anyone, but who was romantically attracted to all genders, might consider themselves a “panromantic asexual”, where “panromantic” is their romantic orientation, and asexual is their sexual orientation.
Intersex people, as I said earlier, are people with what is medically known as ‘disorders of Sex Development’ and are about 2% of the population, although there could be more intersex people who just don’t know they’re intersex. Intersex refers to people who can’t be put easily in to the ‘male’/’female’ boxes. They are included in the initialism that is mostly about gender and sexuality because they are a minority that don’t fit the neat categories we expect. The existence of intersex people shows just how complicated foetal development is and that sex is a continuum rather than distinct groups.
There is also a cross-over of intersex and trans communities, in that 40% of intersex people identify as trans.
We are looking at gender and sexuality from a strictly European perspective, influenced heavily by Greek and Roman attitudes and Christianity. That went to the rest of the world when Europeans started their great imperial projects in the 16th century. So, on the slide is a quick rundown. If you want to know more, there are books, go look it up. I’m running out of time so, let’s move on to the next slide.
Why is it important to have a basic understanding of these things?
Well, approximately 30% of the autistic population identify as something other than cis-gender and heterosexual, so there’s a good chance you’ll meet a Queer person if you spend enough time with Autistic people. In fact, purely by being here, you definitely have.
Hi. I’m Queer – pansexual, non-binary, agender, genderfluid, and I’m polyamorous. If you’ve got a problem with that, you can go to hell. *big grin*
Not having a basic understanding of the different varieties of human can make you look an absolute tit, which, I suppose, is better than being thought a bigot. My efforts this evening are made to prevent that, that is unless you want people to think you’re a bigot. A bit of reading will expand your awareness and understanding. I still have so much to learn, I don’t have all the answers, I don’t experience every possible combo of genders, attractions, and sexualities, but I’m willing to try to understand and share information.
There is another important point I want to make; the same people who pathologized neurodivergent people pathologized queer people, the same people who invented conversion therapy for homosexual men and transgender people worked on ABA – a therapy used to make autistic people act less autistic for the convenience of their non-autistic parents and teachers, that is used a lot in the US and is used in special schools in this country, although they give it a different name to make people think it’s not the same old torture. We have too much in common as marginalised communities and a lot of overlap in demographics.
My anxiety has been high, unfortunately. Lockdown 3 has been a sudden change. I do not like sudden changes. It messes with my head. After the interruption to routine that is the Christmas and New Year break, I was looking forward to getting back to swimming this week.
The sudden imposition of lockdown at midnight on Monday/Tuesday meant that the pool was closed and my plans were thrown out of the window. I need to swim because it provides structure to my week, aerobic exercise that I enjoy in the form of walking and swimming, and a sensory environment that I find soothing. Warm tiles, the smell of chlorine, the all-around pressure of the water on my body, floating and stretching my muscles and lungs. It’s absolutely the best thing for my brain.
The state of the world isn’t helping, although my dogs are. Ezzie has taken up standing next to me when I’m at my desk and keeping her eye on me all the time. Gyfa takes over at night. She has a bed in my room and likes to climb into bed with me until I fall asleep.
I last left the house on Sunday when I had to go to the shop to get dog food. I have to go out later to get more dog food. I’ve spent the last three days persuading myself that it’s safe to go out to walk the dogs. We’ve just been out for a half hour walk, though so I managed to push through it. I need to go out with them again tomorrow or Sunday. I’m dealing with the anxiety of other people, the dogs being reactive and people treating us badly because they’re reactive, with dogs off their leads running at us and the dogs feeling threatened.
I’m scared of humans generally anyway, but there is a level of judgmentalism by dog owners at times. Ezzie and Gyfa are protective of me and reactive around strange dogs, while my anxiety makes it hard for me to talk, so it can be hard to be around other people and dogs. I prefer going out at dusk when it’s quiet, but I need to go to the shop later. That means I had to take them out earlier than usual.
I’m mentally gearing up to go to the shop. I have my visor ready, my bluetooth headband has a fairly full battery so I can listen to an audiobook and put the visor on. I tried wearing masks but the sensory pain is too much when added to the sensory overload of the shop. I like to go shopping in the evening when it is quieter and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. On Sunday it was rammed; I was not happy, I got so overwhelmed that I had to get a taxi home, and I think that put me in a bad place to start the week.
Every time I have a bad experience I have to treat the next time I do the same thing as though it were the first time and reset my anxiety and routine. It can take a while to feel comfortable again.
I need to rebuild my routine and make it through the lockdown.
I have occasionally joked that I learnt to be human by reading fantasy. What I mean by this is that fantasy explores so many different possible situations, so many different characters, that I was able to learn about human behaviour and psychology. I sometimes even learnt the appropriate responses to situations and why typical people do things that seem nonsensical to me.
Actually, most of the stuff they do is still nonsensical but I try to be tolerant. I’m probably more tolerant of the typical need to make small talk than most people are of my need to not make small talk, for example.
I write autistic main characters most of the time, it is sometimes deliberate, sometimes not. For me it helps to have a character that is trying to navigate a situation and to put myself in their place. I struggle to visualise things so I have to embody that situation instead. I can’t know how the character will react until I put myself there. I can usually work out how the other characters will react though, based on past experiences or reading, e.g. MC gets into an argument because the other person is in the wrong, other person either admits or gets defensive, MC will get upset and other characters will chide them for bringing up something that people don’t want to talk about. Creates conflict.
Or the end of the world is coming, Autistic MC has a sensible, logical plan, everyone else is panicking, how would they react? Baring in mind, my sisters and I regularly plan out what we’d do in even of a zombie apocalypse, and I have seriously considered preparing a go bag and clearing out the cupboard under the stairs to use as an emergency shelter, this is something I can ’embody’ fairly easily.
I have written accidentally autistic characters, who react and process their lives in an unconsciously autistic way and I have also written deliberately autistic characters. The difference is, when it’s deliberate there’s a purpose behind. In my Lucie Burns stories (especially my unfinished Dissertation piece) the purpose was to show a realistic autistic woman as a police officers, in opposition to the less than realistic and sometimes actively harmful depictions of autistic women in books and film/TV.
I’m currently working on a story for my writing group about a forensic psychologist who is autistic and helping to investigate a series of child murders (I go through phases of loving crime fiction and wanting to write crime all the time); I don’t have a defined purpose in this story, I just want to show an autistic person in a situation people might think unlikely – I don’t think people realise we make decent psychologists, teachers, social workers, etc. because they’re ‘people’ jobs and we don’t like people/have no empathy/all that nonsense. Also, I wanted to. I sounded like fun when I first planned the story out. I might even have my two autistic investigators meet in a future story, just for the hell of it. I expect their colleagues would all be ‘oh you’ll like (character), she’s autistic too’ and they don’t hit it off at all. Because we’re all human and different.
I do think representation is important, especially Own Voices representation, because for too long other people, typical people looking from the outside in, have defined us, defined our narrative and told the world they’re the experts. No, we are.
Anyway, I read a bit of fiction written by other autistic writers who also have autistic main characters, and I find it helpful, because other writer present other perspectives. I want to know if it’s deliberate, or their default character writing, I want to know their purpose, and reasoning. Is it hard to write about the difficult parts of being autistic, is it hard to write typical characters. I find my typical characters can be a bit flat, while my autistic characters tend to be more rounded. I actively have to try not to make older male typical characters bigoted boorish drunks, for example. Can’t imagine why…
I want to know about the writing process. I write almost a script first then have to go back and fill in the details, like body language and descriptions. Writing is an active process. I might get flashes of a scene in my brain but then I have to embody it to move beyond that. How do other autistic people work, especially if they have aphantasia?
I never know what my characters look like beyond an outline, and I actively have to pin things down as I write the story. I have face recognition problems if I haven’t seen people often or if I have haven’t seen them in a long time – especially with children. Do other writers have this problem, or do they know write from the start what their characters look like and will do?
How do they cope with characters of different backgrounds? I actively stick to white AFAB main characters, because I can’t begin to know what it’s like to be anything other than that. I have a limited ‘pool’ of friends and where I’m from isn’t diverse, so except for my BFF who is half-Egyptian and who has talked about what that means, and obviously I’ve observed, since we’ve been friends for 25 years, I don’t have much reference material. I don’t think it would be right for me to write a character from a different background if I couldn’t get a really detailed understanding of what it’s like to be someone who isn’t a white, working class AFAB person. I have an intellectual understanding of people’s experiences with discrimination and different cultural backgrounds but not the visceral understanding. I need to visceral understanding to embody a character. Is that just me, am I limited in my ability to ‘put myself in others’ shoes’ or is it a common thing?
Do autistic people, as readers and writers, use fiction to form their identity, as part of autistic culture or as a human in general? How does fiction help with this identity formation?
There’s so many questions, and I don’t know how to get the answers. I want to do a PhD on autistic writers and their autistic characters, but I don’t know how to phrase what I want to study, I don’t know where to start with applying for PhDs, either. It’s such a niche area, who would I even talk to?
Luckily, a new ‘neurodiversity and literature’ list serv has been started so I can ask them. If I get my courage up to ask all these academics with scary qualifications and careers.
Good morning, I’ve been doing some thinking. I’m completely booked up for September and October. I keep getting myself overbooked and it’s stressing me out because I put pressure on myself to do everything, to help everyone. I don’t like to disappoint anyone, especially Anne Cater at Random Things Tours, Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources, and Kelly at Love Books Tours, who have been so helpful and supportive in my blogging adventures.
I have also collected quite a large number of books that I want to read and haven’t had the chance because I’m committed to so many blog tours. I do want to read some of the books I have bought for myself in the last 15 months. I have at least 100 books in my TBR pile, some from Harrogate last year, plus my Pen & Sword pile. Not to mention my sci fi and fantasy collection. I have enough that I need a new six foot bookshelf.
After October, I plan to focus on my TBR pile; I am sure a book will come up that I won’t be able to say no to, so there will be occasional blog tours but they won’t be as regular as they have been. Maximum, one a month. I will be reviewing the books I read because they deserve to be talked about.
There’s an awful lot of people out on bikes at the moment and I’d really like to get one but past experience tells me that standard bicycles don’t really work for me.
My arse is too big for the standard seats on a bicycle
The tyres are usually not robust enough
My balance is terrible
I could do with power assist sometimes, especially on hills.
I’ve been looking around. Tricycles seem a good option for the balance challenged and they come in electric and with fat tyres, but they still have the uncomfortable seat. Recumbent tricycles have a decent seat, plenty of arse and back support but they’re too close to the ground and I haven’t seen any electric ones. And they tend not to have baskets.
What I need is a tricycle with a recumbent style seat, fat tyres and a decent battery. I’ve been looking at various websites for options. I couldn’t afford one even if I did find one that was suitable.
Just got back, I had to walk off some of my giddiness. I had a wonderful time. I spoke to a few people, authors mostly, plus Anne Cater the fabulous blog tour organiser and Karen Sullivan, publisher. I bought 6 books, some from authors I’ve read before, like Matt Wesolowski and Antti Tuomainen, and some by authors I haven’t read but I liked the bits they read out, like Will Carver and Kjell Ola Dahl. I also got the Vanda Symon book I was missing, Ringmaster.
And it was 3 for 2 so I had a bit of a spree and supported a small independent bookshop, The Bookcase in Lowdham, Nottinghamshire. Indie publisher, indie bookshop, supported by a local library. It’s wonderful.
I really enjoyed meeting Johanna Gustawsson. I have all three of her books but I only brought Blood Song as it was the first one of hers that I read and I didn’t want to overwhelm her. We had a chat about realistic autistic representation.
I am slowly calming down, the walk through night time Southwell and then writing this has helped, but I’m still all bubbling with happiness. Going to journal for a bit to ground me again. I need to get some sleep tonight.
It was probably a mistake getting a room at a pub. I can hear conversations down in the bar.
I’ve noticed something and I’m confused. A review I wrote in August is suddenly getting a lot of views (557 in October, November and December, 135 so far this month). I can’t think why, unless the book was released in the U.S. recently? That seems to be where a lot of the views are coming from. It’s unusual for any of my reviews to get this many views.
Personal stuff, Ignore if you aren’t interested.
Also, I have been crocheting a Willendorf Venus for a friend today and I’m supposed to be going to the Adult Autism Forum Cafe tonight. The topic is hobbies. I think I’ll take my Venus with me.
I had some trouble from a couple of the other people who go, the last forum and cafe were distressing for me, so my sister is going with me. Six months ago I told someone who couldn’t respect my boundaries that I wasn’t friends with them, then I treat them with the usual polite distance I have with most people. They, on the other hand, have been engaging in nasty pettiness and in November helped trigger a meltdown (haven’t had one in a couple of years), and have since recruited other people to harass and slander me as a bully at events.
People are weird.
The facilitators have been mixed in their response, one has been incredibly supportive and the other has been making weak sauce ‘can’t get involved’ excuses. This person was the instigators psychologist for a long time so I suspect they just don’t want to have to deal with them.
I’m so stressed by it all I started scratching my scalp until it bled again, my blood pressure is high, and I have acid reflux again.
I’m not massively into the festive season, mainly because I find it loud, bright and busy, and people are massively hypocritical. The fuss is massively overstimulating for me and makes we tired, grumpy and generally not well. I find hiding in my house with the lights low and no sounds except possible low nature sounds or classical music in the background to be the only way to cope. I’m already finding it hard to focus if there is too much going on.
There’s the expectation of being around people and I can’t really cope with it. I like visiting people but I need to be able to escape when I want. Going to spend 25th with people has a lot of expectation that I’ll be there for a certain amount of time and because I can’t drive I need the other people to get me there and back, so I feel reliant on people. I don’t like being reliant, I don’t like feelings of expectation, I don’t like not being able to escape when I want to.
I do like giving gifts but I struggle to know what to give people. It’s easier if people just give me a list of the things they need. I don’t like buying people things that’ll get put on the shelf and forgotten. I’d prefer them to actually want and need what I give them. There are a lot of books being given this year.
The hypocrisy of people spending two weeks pretending to care about less fortunate people when they spend the other 50 weeks of the year being selfish and only caring about their immediate family gets right on my tits. Don’t do stuff just because it’s Christmas and New Year or because you want people to think you’re so wonderful (charity gifts for example); help people because you actually care and want to help people.
Also, if you don’t want to spend shed loads of money on gifts, don’t just to keep up with the neighbours (or the in-laws). Actually, if you don’t want to do the whole traditional roast dinner/Christmas day thing, don’t. It’s not compulsory. If it’s the only day you’re getting off for a month and you want to spend the day in your jammies eating chocolate, do that. If you want to go on an adventure, go on an adventure (a friend has the week to herself for the first time in almost 30 years, and is going to the West Country with friends – because she can and she wants to). Don’t let other people’s expectations and demands stop you dong what you want to do, if doing that makes you happy.
Right, I’m getting off my soap box now and getting dressed. I’m going to see my bestie, exchange gifts and eat mince pies.