Autism, Intersectionality, and Asking Questions

There’s a quote that came across my Tumblr recently on this post, from this article in Disability Studies Quarterly.

Most autistic people who are capable of formulating questions have frequently experienced the following scenario: We ask for information that we need in order to prepare ourselves for a new experience. Instead of answering our questions, NT people tell us that we don’t need to ask these questions at all. We just need to relax and stop being so anxious. The fact is that being able to ask questions, and getting clear answers to our questions, and thus knowing what to expect, are often the very things autistic people need in order to be able to relax and not be anxious. Asking a lot of questions about the details of a situation is usually not a “maladaptive behavior” that increases an autistic person’s anxiety. More often it’s an adaptive strategy that an autistic person is using to reduce anxiety or to prevent being in an anxiety-provoking situation in the first place. It’s very important for us to have thorough explanations and ample opportunities to ask questions.

Jim Sinclair, “Cultural Commentary: Being Autistic Together

This got me thinking about the difficulties I’ve had, as an Autistic person, dealing with social justice advocacy and how properly to engage.

What frustrates me, as an Autistic person, is that the tactics of people JAQing around makes it more difficult for me to be a better ally. The intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and other issues are tremendously complicated, and I know – from very emotionally painful personal experience – that if I don’t know what I’m doing in a sensitive situation, I will step on toes. Worst case scenario, I will say things that are hurtful without knowing that they are hurtful before it’s too late – and in the process hurt people, and be viewed as a bigot and hateful person for my ignorance. Best case scenario, what I say won’t be hurtful, but will make me appear the fool and the crass insensitive bigot.

As much as I am afraid of the latter scenario, the former scares me so much more.

My preference, which I have to fight, is to actively reject any social interactions where this could happen, to avoid interactions with people and demographics where I don’t feel like I’m informed enough going into that interaction that I can avoid those dangers. I would have been more involved in Gay Straight Alliance in College if I felt that I wouldn’t fuck it up. I would have been a better ally to people of color. But I don’t trust myself not to screw up.

And where this leads in to people who JAQ around – is that by doing that – by using “Just Asking Questions” tactics to drain the emotional well-being of people in minority groups, to steal their spoons (so to speak), it means that when I as a person with Autism comes forward looking for advice and help on how to be a better ally, or better handle an interaction, I get a generic, flat, unspecific answer “Just listen”, or outright hostility. So I withdraw, and I don’t get involved, because I feel that if I do, I will be an obstacle to be overcome more than an asset.

This comes up with my consumption of media as well.

When I find out that work of fiction is “problematic”, that it is in a position where it has caused harm, and will cause harm in the future, my first instinct is to actively withdraw from it and to reject it – and this becomes incredibly more strong if it’s a work of fiction that has been important to me in the past, and something that is a comfort to me in the present.

Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons have helped to get me through life. They’ve helped me build social confidence, and find friends – both people my own age and people older than me. That last bit was an even bigger deal when I was in Middle School and High School – when I needed not a roll model, but examples I could look to and see that my weirdness wouldn’t destroy my life. As I’ve grown older, they’ve also provided avenues for me to find friends as I’ve left school. Same with my fandom for anime.

All of these are things which have kept me from being isolated and socially withdrawn. All of those things feel like stuff I can rely on and fall back on if I ever have to move to another state or another city, and leave all my support network behind, to help me form new friendships and build new support networks.

Now we have the recent discussion over D&D’s historical issues with racist material in the games, discrimination behind its production (either from Wizards, Hasbro or both), and fingers being leveled at Magic: The Gathering as being a predatory gateway to gambling from various sources (including, semi-indirectly, Jim Sterling). People who use the trappings of anime for their avatars and social media presence have lead to Anime fandom as a whole being tarred with a brush of fascist on social media by people who I trust, and who speak from voices of authority – from actors who also helped me get through tough spots like Wil Wheaton, to streamers whose shows who help get me through tough times like Nash Bozard.

And all of those reactions push all of the buttons for my fear of emotionally and socially hurting others, in the worst possible ways. It puts the thought in my head of “Did I get through the toughest parts of my life by perpetuating the harm of others?”

“Has the happiness I’ve gotten from the things that have kept me going, that have helped me endure caused more harm than good?”

“Is my existence a net negative to the world?”

Now, I’ve probably got undiagnosed depression to go with my Autism, and as wiser people have said – depression is a lying motherfucker.

However, internet discussion tends towards the side of hyperbole at the best of times and these aren’t those, and this in turn leads to the problem of asking questions. Because the question I need to ask is “Is it okay for me to like these problematic things? Is my need, due to my disability, to use these to form the emotional and social bonds I need to get through life, causing more harm to society and the world as a whole than it’s helping me?”

And I can’t ask those questions to the people I need to – because jackass trolls on the internet have made it impossible for them to safely tell if I’m asking in good faith.

To be clear – this blog, these shows aren’t going anywhere. I’m not dumping any of my projects. I’m still going, and going to keep going.

But as a person with Autism, in dealing with a world that doesn’t have Autism, I think it’s important to just talk about how my brain works sometimes.

If you enjoyed this blog post and would like to help to support the site, please consider backing my Patreon. Patreon backers get to access my reviews and Let’s Plays up to a week in advance.

If you want to support the site, but can’t afford to pledge monthly, please consider tossing a few bucks into my Ko-Fi instead.