Foreword – The author (who would rather remain anonymous) would like to say this: In this article I have recounted certain events which I cannot prove. The reader can take the account as being true or not, I am not asking anyone to believe me. I am merely recounting events as I have experienced them, and I have been careful to remove references to people or places, as relevant.
I remember spending part of my seventh birthday in a hospital waiting room. It was a Wednesday, so I was happy that I was just playing with the Action-Man figures that I plucked from my new Buzz Lightyear school bag (that I got for my birthday) rather than being in school. I was too happy with all the nice birthday gifts my parents had gotten me to even care about the reasons I was even in that waiting room in the first place.
Fast forward a couple of months, my parents took me to see the principal of a school in the city centre. I didn’t wonder too much about why I had to go and see this man, but it became very obvious that my parents wanted me to go to his school. I didn’t want to go to this school because it meant I wouldn’t see my friend Peter any more. Despite my protests, I started the school in September that year.
It was best decision my parents had ever made for me. My parents had effectively put me in a safe space away from other children who would bully me and teachers who thought I was lazy. After a couple of months I became much more happy and productive, often over achieving in my subjects, especially reading comprehension. I still had some trouble, like when I didn’t get my way, but my future was on bright horizons.
When I was 12, I started secondary school. That meant I was taken out of that safe space. I struggled to make sense of the world I was dropped into. The old ways crept back in. The other students in my school would mock me for my eccentric behaviour and pedantic language, and the teachers couldn’t understand the lack of work I had produced. I created safe spaces for myself in my head when I was in school and television became my safe space when I was at home.
The bullying did affect me. So much so, that I would have violent thoughts against the other students. My life was chaos, and the fact I couldn’t make sense of any of it was probably the most painful aspect of it.
When I was 13, I was looking through the files on the PC my family shared. I came across a word document. It was a letter to the vice principal, about why I was exempted from some subjects. I saw the words ‘Aspergers Syndrome’. I had run to my parent’s to ask them what it meant. I can’t even remember the answer, it was probably so vague. I knew that there was something different about me, but now I had the confirmation.
The month before my leaving certificate (Irish exams taken when you finish 12th form) I was just finished school for the day, when another boy in my year confronted me and asked ‘why don’t you look people in the eyes when you talk to them? Do you have Autism?’ To which I responded ‘Yes’. He was immediately grovelling and apologetic, and said ‘I will never make fun of you again.’ My response was, ‘you are fine man, make fun of me, I don’t care.’ I responded like this because I was nearly finished with school, and I’d probably never see these people again.
Third level was a nightmare. I didn’t get the points I needed to get on to the course I wanted. I ended up getting my fifth choice. I didn’t even last four months at university. I got a part time job working in a petrol station for five months before I went back to college. The place I got in college was last on my list, but I was just happy to get out of the routine of late nights, late mornings (or afternoons) and daytime television.
First year was fine. But second year was awful, and third year was worse. In full knowledge of the fact I had Aspergers and that my mother was practically on her deathbed, my course chair endeavoured to find me a work placement, as was required of my course. My mother died in November that year, and I took three weeks leave from college. When I returned from my break, I was stunned that the company my course chair said she was going to sort out my work placement with was doing interviews, and I hadn’t been invited to one. I went to her office to ask her why, and she had told me that they had safety concerns over my disability, so they declined to give me a work placement. I told my course chair that it was discrimination, but she construed my comment as threatening legal action. This resulted in months and months of battles between me, my dad and my course chair. I finished third year, but I still have yet to finish my undergrad. I had let this derail my progress.
Earlier on this year, there was a referendum for gay marriage, or as I just prefer to call it, marriage. I was in the city centre one night, walking to my bus stop. I saw a whole square kilometre of posters opposed to constitutional change that had been vandalised. I was mortified. I took a picture of it and tweeted it at the campaign in favour of the amendment, asking them to disown the vandals. No response. I decided to join the Yes campaign in favour of the amendment, firstly to show my solidarity with the LGBT community, but secondly in opposition to those who wished to silence the opposition.
Throughout the campaign, there was plenty of dirty tricks pulled by people on the ‘Yes’ side – not to say they had anything to do with the campaign. Pulling down ‘No’ posters, throwing eggs at little girls at ‘No’ events. There was even one campaigner, in my charge, who wanted to circulate a story about a relative of a ‘No’ campaigner. I sacked him from the campaign, after some very harsh words were exchanged. There were two Gay ‘No’ campaigners who were very public faces. During the campaign they were labelled as ‘Self-Hating Queens’ and so on. Even I joined in on this ad hominem attack, something which I regret. They are entitled to their opinion, and to express it, even if it is seemingly contrary to their progress.
Now I am 26 and I see this policing of language as what a friend of mine correctly describes as ‘social fascism’. Words like ‘problematic’, ‘mansplaining’ and ‘manspreading’ are being used to describe first world problems from which grown adults, who are presumably neurotypical, are seeking a safe space from. Video games in which the protagonist either is seeking to liberate women from sex trafficking or the player is penalised for violence against female characters are being described as ‘misogynistic’.
From the safe space of my chair at my computer, I had watched the videos of Thunderf00t and The Amazing Atheist talking about the societal damage that ‘third wave feminists’ are wreaking. The inanity of the ideas coming out of college campuses, especially from the Women’s studies departments, and from people like Anita Sarkeesian, Arthur Chu, Jonathan Macintosh, Zoe Quinn and Randi Lee Harper (the list goes on) is unbelievable.
Adam Pearson, an actor and campaigner for disability rights, who has Neurofibromatosis, has recently done a programme for BBC Three about disableism (as I write this Microsoft Word doesn’t even recognise it as a word). He highlighted the problems of violence and discrimination against the disabled, of which I abhor. He played a part in the movie Under the Skin, starring alongside Scarlett Johansson. He looked in the comments section of a clip of the movie on YouTube, and noticed one comment to the effect of ‘He should have been burned alive at birth’. It is a hideous thing to say, either anonymously or to his face, and I will say I can’t even begin to imagine the kinds of abuse that Pearson has had to put up with in his life. Consequentially, he wanted to make a complaint to the police about this comment. However, the comment didn’t make a threat directed to Pearson, like ‘I’m going to’ or ‘everyone should’. While I understand his intentions, I have to disagree with those sorts of actions. I know according to the program someone can be prosecuted for such comments, but I don’t think that they should. To prosecute somebody over an opinion, no matter how hideous, is a step too far. One would have to ask the question, where does it stop?
Jonathan Butler, a student at Missouri University, went on hunger strike because he heard someone use the ‘N’ word from a passing car and someone had drawn a swastika in excrement on a bathroom wall. I am almost certain he would claim I am ‘privileged’ because I am white. I’d say he is more privileged than me, because it has been alleged he comes from a family worth $20 million. If I went on hunger strike every time someone used ‘autistic’ in the pejorative, or made a stupid caricature of an autistic person, I would have died a long time ago. Mind you, I flinch every time I hear it used like that. The same goes for other disabilities like Down’s syndrome, but they are only words.
For these social fascists, to be offended when people use these words is a disableism of lower expectations. I am more concerned about carer’s allowances or independent living allowances being cut, either here in Ireland and in the UK, than Kylie Jenner ‘using a wheelchair as a fashion accessory’. I am more concerned about the disabled who are preyed upon and those who are attacked, like the ones Pearson mentioned in his programme, than nasty comments on a YouTube video. The real social justice is action to protect these people from living in poverty and from violence rather than making sure a few bad people don’t make faux pas, whether they be jokes or nasty comments.
Don’t get me wrong, there has been a spate of autistic children and teenagers who have either taken their own lives or have tried to, because they have been bullied. They deserve all of our love and care. The weak and defenceless need our protection. But to treat grown adults who have none of these problems as infantile is absurd. The people reading this might not know, but I am still stuck in my safe space. It is like a prison, and I am both the prisoner and gatekeeper. It’s up to me to leave it. The difference between me and these ‘triggered safe spacers’ is, I want to leave my safe space, and I know the world I’ve created is a subtle refuge from reality rather than a designated area.