Friday, June 1, 2018

So I Need to Talk About Gymnastics

Content note: I am going to be addressing the abusive actions that were perpetrated upon US gymnasts over the past several decades. These include physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and a breach of trust. They also include using young girls as a means to an end (that is, medals). I'm not going to be graphic but this post does come in light of all of that, and that is something to be aware of as you read.

Those who know me well, or sort of well, or at all, know that I was a gymnast. I was pretty good. I loved it. Gymnastics is what saved me, to be honest.

Those who follow the news know that USA Gymnastics handed an endless stream of young women over to a sexual offender (Larry Nassar, who apparently has an autistic daughter and I doubt she is safe from him). Those who follow gymnastics know that criticizing Marta Karyoli is Just Not Done, although you cannot square up the allegation that she knows everything with that she didn't know (I personally think the Karyolis both knew from early on that they had a predator. But keeping a predator around is a great way to find which girls will keep your dirty secrets). Marta and Bela have a documented history of being emotionally and possibly physically abusive, stretching back into the 80s. But all that USA Gymnastics saw was medals.

This is disgusting. USA Gymnastics has all sorts of things you supposedly swear to uphold if you are a judge or if you coach lower levels, but as soon as we're talking medals, the athletes are apparently disposable. Fuck that, I say.

Fuck USA Gymnastics. Fuck the Karyolis. Fuck Nassar. I'm going to talk about gymnastics. And my experience is just one, but there's themes in the survivor's narratives that echo my own experience.

Namely this: the sport is not the problem.

Many many children and adolescents (and late blooming adults) will tell you about the benefits they experienced. I made friends with my body. I learned to fly--gymnastics is all about learning to fly, right? Learning to make your body and your brain cooperate because what you are trying to do sounds like a terrible idea, and then doing it anyway. Gymnastics builds confidence, because you spend a lot of time saying "this thing should be impossible. I'm going to do it anyway". And then you do it.

Gymnasts are both strong and flexible. The physical benefits for those who can participate are obvious. You use speed, you use strength, you use a range of motion--and you use those all together. Right? And if you are being taught properly, you learn everything in a stepwise fashion. Everyone is going to have a cap of what the hardest thing they can learn to do is, that's just life and having a body. But before you find that cap, you learn a lot of other things. You stretch your library of movement every day that you're in the gym. It's no wonder that gymnasts go on to succeed in martial arts or dance or other sports. We learn how to move our bodies in so many ways that adding elements isn't as daunting as making friends with your body and also working with a partner or a ball.

Gymnasts who are not dealing with abusive coaches and program staff learn a lot of psychological things too. The psychological things I learned from gymnastics are why I am still here, and gymnasts with supportive families will report similar things. You learn to say "no, you move" to mental blocks. Even when that mental block is your asshole mom. You learn hard work. You learn creative problem solving (everyone else does a full but I hate back twisting? Good thing a front flip with a half twist exists!). Hard work beats talent because hard work shows up. And you learn that moving your body is fun. That's mental too. You learn to trust yourself. All of that is incredibly important.

It also makes what USA Gymnastics supported a betrayal. I'm not minimizing at all what our athletes went through at the hands of the governing body. But those women and I agree, at least according to everything I have read: gymnastics isn't the problem. The people at the top are.

I understand people who are saying that they'd never put their kids in gymnastics in light of all this. I do. But I don't agree with that as a blanket choice. I'd stay the hell away from elite gymnastics, yes, unless the whole system is changed drastically. I'd stay away from any program that belittled children or used weight and diet talk (I cringe so hard when commentators talk about the athletes' bodies, please shut up Tim Dagget), and I'd stay away from a program that never allowed observation--parents do not belong on the floor. Parents should be able to tell if their presence is a distraction to their kids and excuse themselves during practice. I don't like totally shut off gyms at this point. But there's seeing red flags and avoiding them, and there's cutting off a whole avenue for development. I understand the impulse. I don't think it's the solution.

As people who care about the sport and its athletes, coaches and judges have got to be less afraid of making waves. Young girls learn early that people don't listen to them. People do listen to adults. It is our duty to speak up when we see practices that make us feel icky, or see dynamics that could be harmful. Many elite coaches done fucked up on this score--I cannot believe that literally zero adults knew what was happening at the Ranch and such. I cannot believe that people who have the eye for detail necessary to teach such intricate skills and routines could fail spectacularly to miss what a fucking creeper Nassar is, or that the athletes were underfed at the Ranch, or that verbal abuse is a bad life choice and totally happens. You're more perceptive than that, folks. I do in fact hold the elite gymnastics establishment as a whole responsible for the shit that was allowed to happen. I thought I could never be an elite coach because I'm not tough enough. I was sort of wrong. I can never be an elite coach because I care about the athletes, not about the medals, and will always, always advocate for the person. Every time. All coaches should do that. US elite coaches failed spectacularly at that.

The system is broken. The sport can be sound. Listen to participants. We don't have to throw away a great way to make friends with your body because of a broken system. We need to throw away the system.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Actually, I don't regret it: Mother's day without a mother

It's Mother's Day again. That day that your friends with good parents forget, again, that their experiences aren't the only ones and say shitty but well meaning things to you, asking about what you're doing for your mom. Because of course that's a healthy safe option for everyone, their mom is great.

These well meaning friends, when you say "nothing" or "Netflix with my cats" or "hiking alone where I won't have to put up with brunch traffic" will often ask confused. They may express bafflement that you aren't doing something for your mom.

Many many people, even well meaning, empathetic people, cannot understand what it takes to cut off a parent. Even if they know why, even if they agree that your parent is toxic, they can't grok why that means "I don't do mom-centric holidays". It's like there is a disconnect because that diverts from their experience of the world.

And then they may say the thing that is borderline unforgiveable: "she's your mom. You'll regret this when she's dead."

So, those of you who are well meaning people with good parents: never say that.

But this post isn't for you. Maybe later I'll write a post on how to not be shitty to your friends who disconnected from their parents.

This post is for you, the brave person who got free.

I'm so proud of you. You had an opening. You did what was right for your safety. You did it in spite of growing up inundated with "but family" messages. You left.

Maybe you took a long time to get free. Maybe you did the reconciliation/estrangement spiral before reaching escape velocity. Maybe you will have a reconciliation that sticks, on your own terms. Maybe you won't. It's okay if you don't.

Really. You don't need to tolerate someone just because they're family. And you don't have to reunite. Ever. If that's what you want, I wish you the best of luck, but it's not a requirement.

Everyone knows someone who knows someone whose third cousin's brother's tutor's veterinarian regretted removing a toxic mom from their life. This is the dominant narrative. There's so few narratives about people who don't. It makes people uncomfortable.

Allow me to use my superpower of "making people uncomfortable" for you: I got out, and I have never regretted it. Not even for a moment.

My mother died several years ago. Recently enough that I panic when I see someone who looks like her in public, long enough ago that if I was going to have regrets they'd have set in. I don't regret it at all. I don't regret missing her birthdays, I don't regret missing mother's days, I don't regret skipping her funeral. I don't regret the years of gaslighting, nastiness, and unpredictability that I escaped. Getting out was hard. Staying out had some really rough, touch and go moments. But I have never regretted it.

Now, I have had moments of mourning for the mother I didn't have. All the stories people have of their good times with their moms, the supportive things apparently a parent does? I have gotten wistful. But that wasn't my mother. That was never going to be my mother. She isn't the mom she needed to be to be worth continuing a relationship with. The mom who had my back stopped existing when I was still very small. I can be sad about the alternate universe where things were different, without ever regretting leaving.

Maybe you're wistful like that too. Maybe you had good times so feel like it's not "bad enough" to justify skipping mother's day. But you know the society you live in and you chose to not put yourself through that. It was bad enough. You don't have to put up with abuse of any kind for the comfort of others. You've already done the math. You chose the path that people don't understand because you needed to.

If you, like me, are going to be struggling with the thoughtless "all moms are great no matter what", be gentle with yourself. Do something nice for yourself. Lots of us basically parented ourselves, after all, or we're basically going back through & doing as adults what our parents should have done for us as children. Celebrate getting out.

And don't let anyone tell you that we all regret leaving. We don't. The hard part about today has nothing to do with regretting escaping. It has everything to do with people who supposedly care about me trying to make me do so. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this--how many of those regrets were expressed to shut up people who say "but she's your mom."?

If you, like me, are spending today without your mom, I salute you. You took care of yourself in getting out. That's amazing. You're amazing. I wish society would reexamine its collective prejudices and see how much it takes to cut off a parent. Maybe if they did they'd not be twisting the knives that are already driven into people who can't be around their mothers.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

To the youth I know--you matter. I'm so sorry.

This is one of those posts I highly doubt the people I have in mind as I write will ever see it, or will know is for them. But it's not just the youth I know who fit these words. They're just who I am mentally looking at & speaking to, because Having Feelings at them would be awkward & weird & they have enough to worry about without realizing that I'm a big ball of squishy feelings. 

Dear young people I have the privilege of knowing & working with & seeing grow into who you are going to be,

I am so sorry. We failed you. We meaning the adults. Again and again we failed you. No, #notalladults, but yes, enough adults. You're putting up with a veritable avalanche of bullshit and it's not fair. And it's our responsibility. I'm so sorry that you're going to be the ones stuck with the fallout.

I'm so sorry that your generation has targets on its backs, in the places that should be safe, because our lawmakers care more about guns than about you. I know the kind of people you are, and the kind of people you want to be. I fear for you every day. Every time I see reports of another mass shooting I am afraid that we're going to be holding a vigil for you, because you're brave kids and you're selfless kids (I lucked out, getting to know you. You're way further along the road to decency than the kids I went to school with were). I know that every week, someone is having to hold a funeral for someone very like you. And I can't even imagine your terror every day.

I couldn't even get on the MAX for several months after the white supremacist murder. You have to go to school every day. You can't avoid it. I cannot imagine how scary that is, every day. And you're still brave. Every one of you who I know & spend substantial time with is.

I'm so sorry that you grew up being called entitled and lazy. My generation got that too & it sucked. And your generation is being left in an even bigger sociological mess than mine was--that's saying something. Millennials (that's me, not you. You're Generation Z or Generation Screwed Over or Generation Why Aren't You More Nilhistic or something) are the first generation to have a lower life expectancy than our parents. You may be right there with us. That sucks. You deserve better.

I'm sorry that the news is always, always bad. That you're seeing a rise of fascism. That you're watching while adults, who are supposed to care for you & show you the way, destroy the planet. That kids you've known from childhood are being sent to countries they don't remember, all because adults are letting their bigotries rule.

I know your whole generation isn't perfect, but gods what I've seen of you makes me feel both hope and shame. We don't deserve the representatives I know. You're forces for good. I hope you keep being forces for good, although it's hard, especially as good gets dangerous.

I'm so sorry. You're worth more. We should have fought harder for you. We owe it to you. Please, hold on to who you are. Who you are is beautiful. Don't succumb to the bigotry. Learn from our mistakes. My generation & the ones before chose to not. Be better than us. You have an abundance of information at your fingertips. Please. Learn from it.

I'm proud of each of you. I am proud to know you, to get to watch you grow into adults. I wish you didn't have such a mess to come of age in. I plan to help clean it up. You deserve that & so much more.

Love & strength,

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Awareness (TM) has bad effects on typical kids too

I've spilled much digital ink, as have my peers, about how Awareness (TM) actually hurts autistic people, how we need acceptance not awareness, and all the things that go along with that. People don't really want to hear that. It's like how it effects us doesn't matter or something.

Okay. Fine. So let me tell you who else it hurts: young typically developing children. No, really. And their families too.

Here's the thing: autism awareness seeks to make everyone afraid of autism. It can strike at any time! Eat your baby! It lurks! Seeking to destroy you! (because that's totally how a neurology works right?). Awareness charities want everyone to be on high alert for autism and they want you to be scared of autism.

Well boy howdy have they succeeded. Everyone is afraid of autism. Great. Wonderful. Well done. And everyone thinks they can spot an autistic person.

But they can't. So you have all these families hypervigilantly watching their toddlers for signs of autism so they can intervene, because Awareness Inc told them they can intervene and turn an autistic child into a typical child.

Things Awareness Inc has them worried about? Turns out most aspects of autism, particularly in young children, are in no way limited to or mostly found in autistic kids!

Your two year old isn't talking in sentences? That is in fact normal. Your toddler screams, cries, and generally has no emotional regulation? Well yeah, they're very very young. That's normal too. A three year old who hates change and doesn't like to share? That's not out of the ordinary either. A whole lot of traits and behaviors that the Awareness (TM) lobby has you afraid of are just part of being tiny children.

Autism isn't the reason a five year old won't go to an art gallery quietly. Being five is. No five year old is going to enjoy that, okay? Most preschoolers are not able to deal with fancy pants restaurants. They just aren't. It's okay. They're little!

People are really under educated about child development and psychology in general. Over and over, parents and other adults make developmentally inappropriate demands on children, regardless of the kids' neurologies. Adults just, on the whole, are very bad at knowing what is and isn't typical for a child of a given age--what it is reasonable to expect of an average child of any given age group. People ascribe motivations that are far beyond little babies all the time (a 6 month old is developmentally unable to do something to spite you. Ever. They just are). They think kids have more executive functioning capacity than they do, more emotional regulation capacity than they do, and better ability to access their words in times of stress than they do. And this is when we're talking about neurotypical children!

Then you add the urgency of Awareness (TM) on top of this. Now you have every adult who sees a kid having a hard time hypothesizing that the kid is either spoiled or autistic. That's a snap judgement on very little information and mighty hasty. Little kids of all neurologies have loud failures to deal. Kids do in fact have to learn to talk, and they do it later and slower than people seem to think.

Not everything that baffles or inconveniences adults is either spite or a developmental disability. Sometimes it's developmentally right on time. Panicking that everything is a sign of autism isn't helping these families. It isn't helping typical kids whose parents panic and decide they must have autism--even if they avoid harmful interventions and quack treatments, that's still a lot of stress and a lot of microscope-examining (which is more stress) all around.

Breathe. Calm down. Not everything autistic people do is something just autistic people do. You don't need to be Mad Eye Moody with his constant vigilance. It'll all be ok. Give your kids time to breathe, to develop, to learn how to do things like regulate their emotions and use their words. They need more time than you think they do.

We need more awareness of how children develop in general, less panicking about neurodivergences in specific. Awareness(TM) without that background provides a lot of unnecessary worry and that's bad for everyone.

Friday, January 26, 2018

To those I went to middle school with

Dear (heh) class of 1997 at a certain Catholic 4-8 school in central Illinois,

This letter has been a long time coming. See, I have so many words to say to you and most of them are profanities. You're not worth the eloquence I use for most things, though, so here we go.

We are old enough to have children in school. We are old enough to have children at that school. And that is horrifying. Not a single one of you should be allowed near children, ever. I know that statistically, many of you have your own kids or may work with kids. This is horrifying. There's no way who you are at 14 grew up into a decent enough person for that job--I knew most of you at 18, you were just as insufferable. You were bad people. Every one of you.

"We weren't bad. We were just kids". Guess what? I was too! And because, unlike you, I've never been a perverse waste of carbon who takes joy in torturing other people, I work with kids. I know kids. I know kids the ages we were. They'd have thrown down. I'm not just talking about one of my kids I know, either. I have known multiple young people who'd have taken on bigger and badder folks than yourselves, in a larger number, because they can find "wrong" with two hands and a map. Youth isn't an excuse. Youth isn't a reason. You were cowards and you are bad people.

Let me tell you something you should have known, given that supposedly we were all super smart and learning good solid morals or whatever: you were torturing, intentionally, a child who was being abused at home. So great job. A+. But you had to make sure, since you weren't the richest kid at school anymore, that you maintained your status. Oh, and while I have grown into a person who doesn't give a shit about test scores because they don't determine who you are as a human being, let it be known: 2 people in our whole grade got in on the merits of our tests rather than on the merits of our parents' wallets. I am one of them. That doesn't matter though; I'm a better person than you because I don't torture people who are being abused at home for funsies.

I'm sure at least one of you would wring your hands and cry "but we didn't know" when you find out I'm autistic. Thing is, you shouldn't have to know. The way you treated me for five years, five hellish years, is unacceptable no matter what. If you had known it wouldn't have changed anything. Don't lie. You were bad people. The core of your being is cruel, cowardly pieces of shit. That's just facts.

You were sure pleased with yourselves, huh? I bet. Are you pleased to have contributed to a rip-roaring case of Complex PTSD? Are you? Did you say "gosh I hope I star in someone's nightmares for the rest of their lives?" Oh wait. I know the answer to that question, since you told me to kill myself, daily. You wanted me to not have any more nightmares. Because you are cruel wastes of skin, every one of you.

I sure hope none of you lies to your children and tells them that you care about bullying. You don't. You may care when it's your kid, because they are an extension of you (people as self centered and awful as you don't change that much--patterns exist, sorry I see them), but you don't actually care. You probably relate to the bully more than to your own child. Unless of course your child is neurodivergent, in which case do them a favor and call social services on yourself. You shouldn't be trusted with a dog, much less a neurodivergent child.

The sad thing is? You all had every opportunity to not be literal human garbage. You had money. You wanted for nothing. Most of you had at least one significant talent. Your families may not have been perfect but they weren't horror shows. You could have chosen to not be like you were.

But you didn't. All these choices were available to you, and you chose instead to be the worst of humanity. And you'll never experience any consequences for it, because all those options were available to you. Funny that.

May who you were haunt your dreams. That's still who you are. May you live every day knowing that you deserve nothing good or warm in your life, and that's because you chose to be vile. It's your choices who tell who you are, more than your abilities, and of all the routes open to you, you made a conscious effort to be scum.

I may have nightmares about you still, but at least I'm not a coward. At least I can look at myself in the mirror and say "I never tortured a person for fun". Sure, you literally fucked up my ability to meet goals, but that's on you. I'm worth 1000 of you.

You fucking scum.