Monday, January 14, 2013

Rude questions & power dynamics

One of the things that turned me into a "bad Autistic" was constantly being asked about my bodily functions by strangers. That's rude. Don't do that. Another thing that turned me into a bad Autistic? The reaction of parents-it's pretty much always parents demanding a 25 year poop diary-when I say that's rude, inappropriate, and invasive. Apparently it's disrespectful to tell them that it's rude, inappropriate, and disrespectful. Apparently I should "just not answer". But it's not that simple.

Let's talk about why.

Like many Autistic people, I learned to language via scripts. I also learned that you answer an adult's questions, because the consequences for not doing so really very much suck.

There is no script for "that is none of your business; I cannot believe you are asking me this question. This is rude. What the hell is wrong with you??" apart from what I just said. That works on equal footing. Sometimes. Ish. Some of us were taught the "none of your business" script. Most of us have learned that it doesn't work, because of the other thing we learned:

You answer an adult's questions-no matter what. And we are not treated as adults. Autism is infantilized in society, and Autistics are treated as children. We are taught, over and over and over, that we are the child in the interaction, and the invasive questioner-that they can and will punish us, just as an adult punishes a child, if we do not answer their question-no matter how inappropriate.

That is the power dynamic here. Parents run roughshod all over Autistics' boundaries-and they tend to feel totally ok doing so, because boundaries are a privilege for adults (this is not an attitude I am ok with, but society is totally down with it), and we are not really real adults.

So we have a really shitty choice: we answer your invasive, asshole questions, and have our boundaries thoughtlessly violated again and again, or we defend our boundaries & our dignity, and we're the high royalty of Asshatland for demanding to be treated with a bit of respect.

And the thing that's really baffling here is that parents (who are far and away the most common askers of "oh my god what made you think that is ok??" questions) don't see a problem with this dynamic. They feel entitled to stomp all over our boundaries at will. What are adult Autistics here for if not to talk all about our first sexual experiences & how we coped with puberty? If you don't want to be asked that question than just stay off the internet or away from anything having to do with autism (ok, Jerry Lewis...). They see nothing wrong with this invasive behavior-until you do it to them.

I've turned it around on them before. The indignation is a sight to see. Apparently I have appalling social skills because I saw fit to reciprocate the questioning. It's only fair game in one direction-because of power. Because the NT parent is the "adult" perceiving me as a child at best, as a walking encyclopedia of autism at not-much-worse (a child is percieved as a posession in this society. So is an object. Oh boy! Such choices!)

Parents. You are not entitled to know anything about me. I do not believe for a second that you'd ask a stranger on an airplane if they get the shits when they eat salicylates (or expect them to know what salicylates are for that matter). Someone tried to blow smoke up my ass about talking about shit with strangers this morning and I do not appreciate it (oh right, I'm Autistic so they can lie to me with impunity...just like a child...and they can get all indignant when I don't believe them...just like if a child doesn't). I do not believe for a second you say "excuse me, miss, could you tell me about your first menstrual period? I have a daughter about to hit that age & I need more perspectives" on the bus. I don't. I don't. I don't.

It is just as inappropriate to assume that we want to answer your questions as that the lady on the train does. We have not been given the tools to say 'no'. We have been taught that our boundaries don't matter.

So have some fucking respect and stop jumping on them. Be aware of the power imbalance, be aware that we were taught that we have to answer all the questions, & instead of insisting that we don't have to answer (and then throwing a hissy the one time you come across someone who can defend their boundaries) just don't ask without asking if it's ok first.

Be aware. It's not that hard.


Chickenpig said...

People have really asked you those things? Wow, that is unbelievably rude. Not to mention totally pointless, since every person is different and asking you for information on someone else doesn't work.

I value your perspective. I hadn't thought that people would think that my son owes them answers all the time. I certainly don't demand that he tells us what he is feeling, but now that you wrote this, I'd be willing to bet that his teachers do. I want my son to grow up believing that he has the right to say "NO!" Every time I read a post on your blog I gain a little more perspective on what autism really means. Thank You for being willing to speak up and write your blog. You have no idea how helpful it really is.

Unknown said...

Thank you. The importance of learning to say "no" to anyone cannot be overstated. And yes, teachers don't like children who say "no", who do not think that "everyone' is their friend and who do not say hi" to every adult that they meet.

Because those things aren't safe in the real world. Experienced Aspie Mom of Aspie kids who found this out the hard way.

Sparrow Rose said...

"We have not been given the tools to say 'no'. We have been taught that our boundaries don't matter."

Thank you for this. I have been trying to understand why I allowed so much sexual molestation to go on in my childhood without saying anything about it to someone who could stop it. The quoted bit is a piece of my answer. I appreciate getting that piece.

Rolling Joy said...

I have a physical disability (I use an electric wheelchair) and people often ask me about personal things. Sometimes on Facebook we even have contests to find the silliest answers. I find that if I practice an answer in advance, that it's easier for me to deal with a rude question. I don't know if this translates to Autistic adults but I really appreciate your blog.

Lili said...

First time commenter here, autistic mother to a pair of autistic kids. I've made a serious effort to allow my kids to have boundaries. I don't want them to learn to be so compliant that they will quietly acquiesce to abuse of various kinds, as I did as a kid. Luckily my youngest was capable of arguing even before she learned to speak. It's harder with the eldest because I was clueless when he was young and thought the doctors and the school knew best. It's a huge regret of mine.

And I don't understand the fascination with poop. I could get myself all kinds of worked up about my kids' pooping habits, but I know they will come to me if they're in pain, and other than that it's none of my freaking business. I wouldn't dream of asking a stranger, autistic or not, about their pooping habits. And we're supposed to be the ones who don't know how to be socially appropriate? That's a load of shit, pun only partly intended.

Ben Stansfield said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben Stansfield said...

I've never been asked any of these things, by people I know, or strangers. One of my first thought was whether these sorts of asinine questions were more commonly asked of women? The infantilization reminds me of the sort of sexism most of my female friends face at work and socially, the often unthinking pervasive attitude that treats adults as if they don't know their own minds.
Of course, this may be anecdotal, or due to the fact that I'm not terribly social, so the sample size is too small...

Dixie Redmond said...

Reading and possibly learning, agreeing with some things right off the bat.

After I read your blog I can't see other things for a short period of time. I get spirally vision. I think it's the white letters on black thing. Not suggesting you change it, just letting you know. I have to highlight and copy your posts and paste them into another setting to read them.

BiolArtist said...

To Dixie and other readers whose eyes don't appreciate white type on black backgrounds:

If there are color schemes that work well for your vision, you can set your browser to use that in place of the site's color scheme. In Firefox, you can do this in Preferences --> Content --> Colors. In the Colors dialog box, simply uncheck the box for "Allow pages to choose their own colors..."

Lindsay said...

So I have a degree in biochemistry and *I* don't know what salicylates are! At least, I couldn't tell you which foods contain them; I know perfectly well what "salicylate" means, in terms of chemical structure, but I wouldn't be able to translate that into foods.

And yes, these people are being very rude! It's one thing to choose to answer people's questions about what it's like to have autism, but it helps if the people asking the questions know that they're not entitled to an answer.

And, I don't get very many questions about sexuality, but if I do I tend to stress how important it is to teach developmentally disabled kids about consent! Because my first sexual experiences were *not* consensual, and I suspect many autistic/other DD girls' are not! A problem I suspect is not unrelated to the problem of people thinking they're entitled to quiz you about your bowel movements when they've just met you ...

Dixie Redmond said...

BiolArtist. Thanks for that tip. I will use it. I see Kassiane has change the background here and it is much more readable for my oldish eyes. ;-)