Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Betrayal of Divergent: an open letter to Veronica Roth

Alyssa over at Yes That Too has written and is writing a fair bit on the topic of how Divergent could have been empowering for our community and instead it was a betrayal. A presentation I did brought it back up to the top of my mind, so here is my contribution to the Disability Discussion on Divergent.

 Dear Ms Roth,

It has taken me years to write this to you & now I'm doing it almost on impulse all in one sitting. There's things you're probably tired of hearing that I couldn't figure out how to avoid doing, so I'm not going to avoid doing them. Instead, I am going to speak sincerely, from my heart, about the impact your work had on me and the impact it could have had.

The first thing I couldn't figure out how to do, Ms Roth, is how to not compare Divergent to Hunger Games. I'm tired of hearing people fabricate similarities beyond the obvious (both driven by strong teenage girl protagonists?) so I can't imagine how tired you are of it. But I can't, because part of explaining what Divergent could have been for me is by comparing it to what Hunger Games was.

If we are being brutally honest, I'm mostly a Katniss. Katniss in the books looks like me. Uncannily like me. We have similar physical abilities. We figured out how to survive because we had to. We are both, if I may flatter myself, accidental revolutionaries and unintentional symbols rather than people to an unfortunately large number of people. I'm not overthrowing any governments, but I do find myself saying "who are all these people and why are they behind me?" more than once a decade. And I'm introverted, socially awkward, and good with a bow.

But Tris isn't not relateable, nor, if I am being honest, is Four. Like Tris I have multiple aptitudes (and Amity isn't one of them). Like Tris I'm an adrenaline junkie. Like Tris I'm bravest when it's for someone else. And like Four it's not so much that I'm naturally brave as that the monster under the bed lived in my home and controlled me until I could get away. (Incidentally, touching on abusive parents who are well regarded by the community was incredibly important for me. Everything shies away from that. You confronted it. That mattered to me.)

The Dauntless manifesto didn't just speak to me, Ms Roth. It sang to my soul. The saint I was named for said "I hate silence when it is a time for speaking," and the Dauntless manifesto took that and spread it out like a secular profession of faith. I believe that the cowardice of good people is what lets injustice prevail. I believe that it is my duty to shout when the person next to me can only shake. I believe to the core of my being in ordinary acts of bravery, in action, in walking what you talk. I believe that silence is assent and that it is better to die on your feet than live on your knees.

I thought I was going to be getting lines tattooed on my body, because the words you wrote are my moral core made poetry.

At least that's what I thought until the end of the second book.

Let's go back to the title a moment. Divergent. To differ from what is expected. I've been using Neurodivergent as a self identifier since I was Tris's age. That's a long time. I am Autistic. I am epileptic. I have C-PTSD (Four and I have that in common). And when you are neurodivergent, you learn to hide--just like in the world you built, the Divergent must hide.

But then we got to the end of the second book.

I can't put this nicely, Ms Roth: you used a word that my community is quite attached to and used it to sell us eugenics.

That's right, I said it. But so did you, though not in those words.

In the world you created, I wouldn't exist. I have genetic conditions that certainly would have been engineered away before personality traits that people don't like (as a biologist, I can tell you that would be impossible anyway, but I'm not here to lecture your science. I'm here to express betrayal that you started off so well and then gave me eugenics).

In the world we live in right this minute, Ms Roth, Nazis are on the rise. Eugenics never went away in the US. I know you aren't aware of disability issues at all, but forcible sterilization still happens to disabled people every day. People are given worst case scenarios about pregnancies that might have a disability, to encourage people who otherwise want that child to try for one that isn't defective. There's places where it is illegal for disabled people to have sex. People murder their disabled children with near impunity. People deprive disabled people of sex ed and of opportunity to develop romantic relationships if they so choose. The barriers to parenting while disabled are enormous. People make sure you know that a child like you is the least responsible thing you could possibly create.

Nazis are literally marching in the street. I am not being hyperbolic; they are carrying swastikas.

And you handed us a pretty blonde girl who is the pinnacle of perfect genes, hidden in a wholesomely gritty young adult post apocalyptic speculative fiction trilogy. That's some really unfortunate implications.

The betrayal, Ms Roth, the betrayal. It cuts. This isn't a simulation. This is real. And the reality is that your popular series undermines my right to exist. That's wrong. I matter.

I believe in bold deeds. I believe in bold words. And I believe that ignoring the eugenics propoganda buried in a popular story for my comfort is an ugly, cowardly lie.


Neurodivergent K.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Lies We Need to Stop Telling Our Kids.

There's another post I was supposed to be writing, but things happened and I ended up writing this one instead. Oops. The general ideas of this one have been percolating for a while; a conversation with Chavisory of Chavisory's Notebook helped me finally crystallize it into words instead of free floating irritation at the state of things.

There are a couple lies we tell autistic kids. Kids with disabilities in general. All kids, to an extent. One of them seems to be aimed more at kids who we presume are girls, whereas the other one we hold onto a lot longer with disabled people than with abled people. And we have to stop.

First things first.

Folks, we have got to stop telling girls, women, disabled people, marginalized people that if they follow the right script they will be safe. I saw a white autistic man at a conference I just went to flogging his solution to police violence. Buddy my dude, the Latina obviously neurodivergent little girl you are talking to is not going to be safe from the police if she does what you say. That's not how this works.

So many 'social skills programs' seek to be the cheat codes to a safe life. If you do what this guy says, you won't get shot by the police (not necessarily true). If you use exactly the right words, no one will bully you. This set of words is protective against medical mistreatment. That set of words will protect you from racial aggressions. If you do this little dance just right, you are safe from racism.

I mean, hell, look at peoples' responses to survivors of sexual violence. The first thing they do is ask "well what did they do to deserve it? Did they give the perpetrator the wrong idea?". That's the first response, regardless of disability of the victim. As a society we have bought into this bullshit idea that if you perform The Safety Dance correctly, if you do all the right things, say all the right things, you're safe. You're safe from bigots. You're safe from predators. You're safe from people running the stop sign.

And that's a lie we have got to stop telling people.

And then there's the second lie, which ties into the first in that it prevents people from responding when casting the circle of protection doesn't work.

Stop telling your children and your clients that 'appropriate' is a steady state. Appropriateness is situational. There are very few things you can do that are always appropriate or always inappropriate.

"I don't like that" and "that is inappropriate" are different things, okay? But the people who are tasked with teaching us to navigate the world don't want to deal with situationals. Rather than say "that's annoying" or "I don't like that" or "sometimes that's ok but sometimes it is not" they tell us it's inappropriate.

Hilariously enough, oftentimes the cry of "inappropriate" is used once the abled person in the situation has failed to convey that something is actually inappropriate. An example that you're all sick of but I am going to keep using until people stop making it so available:

A neurodivergent man traps neurodivergent, and sometimes abled, women and people he thinks are women. He wants a girlfriend. For some reason no one has told him that you can't just corner people and try to touch them and whine at them until they agree to be your girlfriend (this is always inappropriate. There is no people or species that courts like this). People have told him nicely to cut the shit, and have been told it's inappropriate to use that language. People have screamed tonelessly to make him go away, and been told it's inappropriate. Someone finally knees him in the fork, and is castigated for how inappropriate that is too.

There's only 2 people being inappropriate in this story: the man who thinks he can whine someone who said no into dating him, and the almost certainly neurotypical person who is lecturing people on doing what it takes to extract themselves. There are, in fact, situations where kneeing someone in the fork is the most appropriate way to go.

Even in less extreme (though this isn't extreme; find a disabled woman or person read as a woman who has been to disability events and they have stories just like this) circumstance, marginalized people are taught from day 1 that resisting awful things is 'inappropriate'. Racialized children, queer children, disabled children, on and on and on. Defending ourselves is 'inappropriate'. What's actually inappropriate in these situations is how the people who wave that stamp around don't even care until they take matters into their own hands.

Words mean things. Inappropriate isn't a blanket category for a thing. Yelling is always loud. It is not always inappropriate.

Say what you mean.

Stop lying to people to get out of uncomfortable situations for yourself.