I felt pressed into posting this blog entry, after a case of reverse ableism and ignorance of it caused the demise of a political group that I was co-founder of – Spectrum Labor – on the evening of April 22, 2021.
Reverse ableism exists. Anyone who claims it doesn’t, or “it’s not an issue” or “it’s not a thing” is not living in the real world. It is one of many forms of reverse discrimination. The most obvious of these are reverse racism and reverse sexism. Reverse racism came to prominence in the late 60’s in the form of the Black Panthers. They went way too far in the fight for black rights in America, and in fact one could put the argument that their behaviour is at the very least partly why it has taken so long for black rights in the US to be truly in place after 50 years. I’m not saying that’s right. I’m saying that logically it makes sense. It’s a very good reason for those who are fighting for black rights through the Black Lives Matter mantra need to ensure that such conduct is penalised as best as possible.
Reverse sexism doesn’t have a group representing it thankfully (as far as I know anyway), but I do know of two individuals who are absolutely reverse sexists. Germaine Greer and Clementine Ford – especially Ford. She is well known for infamous anti male remarks that go way beyond where they should be targeted. As far as she’s concerned – all males are bastards. No exceptions. I have to describe a lot of her nonsense as reverse misogyny. Greer hasn’t been as bad as that, but her reaction to Steve Irwin’s passing was pathetic to say the least. These two – and others like them – paint males as the sole perpetrators of domestic violence as an example, and jump on males who have legitimately been victims. It’s true that the majority of incidents like that are male perpetrated and the female is the victim. But there are instances where the opposite has applied. It is ignorance to say otherwise. The actions of reverse sexists – alongside the likes of Phyllis Schafly – are disgusting and in fact one could again put the argument that their behaviour is at the very least partly why it has taken so long for women’s rights to be truly in place. Again – I’m not saying that’s right. I’m saying that logically it makes sense.
So with that background of the threat reverse discrimination poses – we come back to reverse ableism. And in particular, reverse ableism in Autism.
I previously reflected on this blog in the entry “Can there be a truce in the Autism War?” and I said at the time in 2019 that the answer is ‘No’ – certainly not at the stage things were at then. Of course because of the COVID-19 pandemic a lot has changed in the world, but this idiocy that plays a role in splintering the Autistic community has stayed the same.
Late in 2020 we had the proof – the reaction to the trailer for Sia’s controversial movie ‘Music’. The focus at this point was on the fact that the role of the title character, who was Autistic, went to neurotypical Maddie Zeigler. Reverse ableists were jumping on Sia for not casting an Autistic actress in the role, and they were accusing her of ableism. During these tirades it was stated that all roles of this nature should be played by Autistic actors and actresses and no neurotypicals should even be considered.
That is bullshit.
Because it makes us just as bad as those who are shutting Autistics out. The perfect definition of reverse ableism. Neurotypicals should get the chance to play what is a very challenging role – and it has worked and magnificently. I cite Dustin Hoffman’s Academy Award winning performance in ‘Rain Man’ as the best example. Now while Rain Main is subject to more recent criticism of stereotypes, one must remember that they worked from a limited base. It was after all 1983, eleven years before the DSM-IV and four years before the text revision of the DSM-III. Another lesser known example comes from even further back – 1978. Neurotypical child actor David Hollander portrayed an Autistic in the Quincy M.E episode ‘A Test for Living’. This was another magnificent performance, based on limited knowledge and in fact is a really good example of seeking appropriate support – an issue that is just as important today as it was then. The two can’t be compared of course, because the role of Timmy Carson in the Quincy episode was not a prominent one. It was about the parents. The role of Ray Babbitt was absolutely the focus of the movie.
There is a more recent example that I’m not a fan of, but I blame the writers more than the actor in this case – Freddie Highmore in The Good Doctor. His monotone delivery is very stereotypical and not indicative of someone in his position. He should be talking faster for a start and we can speak in a normal tone (I can attest to that and I’m nowhere near the only one).
The attacks on Sia for the casting of Maddie at the outset was not on. Sia knew she was being attacked and fired back in kind – totally provoked. I posted a message in these terms on her Facebook page (it was on here that I was offensively told that reverse ableism was “not a thing”). The abuse was over the top and uncalled for – and a very obvious example of reverse ableism.
Now this is relevant to the demise of Spectrum Labor – because the subject of Sia’s movie was brought up during an online event late last year. I repeated the view on Sia’s conduct, and I also stated at that time that Spectrum Labor was against reverse ableism. That was a tacit note that it was banned from our group. Maybe I should have made it a formal rule, but I doubt that would have made a difference in hindsight.
The threat posed by reverse ableism is real. One of the things I have always been big on is diversity and equality. Reverse ableism goes against both of those things. The anti diversity factor is demonstrated in those who insist that the diagnostic process has to return to the DSM-IV and further the Autistic Spectrum be divided into totally separate conditions. Someone called it Neurodiversity 2.0. Again – it’s BS. And it goes back to a lack of understanding of Autism.
The equality factor goes wider and in a different direction. Here, the reverse ableism lies in not so much understanding of Autism itself, but understanding it from the view of those outside the community. I don’t mean agreeing with it of course – that’s not the point. If you understand where they are coming from, you are in a much stronger position to deal with it appropriately.
Which leads me to the reverse ableist incident that led to the demise of Spectrum Labor.
Compared to other acts of reverse ableism, or indeed reverse discrimination of any description, the actual incident was minor – concerning nothing more than a minor change to the access process of certain books for Autistics (not books in general on the subject I would point out) being available in a public library. My co-founder called it blatantly wrong. I tried to talk her down (while noting that the library’s handling of it wasn’t the best) but she wouldn’t listen. It was the first inkling of reverse ableism – and if she hadn’t been my co-founder I would have just booted her out of the group. But that wasn’t an option. So I deleted the comment in the hope that it would blow over.
But my co-founder came back and complained about it. I didn’t respond to that, but I saw in the comments from another member a complaint about the lack of democracy. It was also here that the comment was made about reverse ableism “not being an issue”. I deleted the comment again, and set my co-founder’s original comments to admin approval hoping again that it would stop her. I also posted a message stating that I was on the verge of shutting the group down and the reasons why. To prevent more reverse ableist complaining, I locked the entry to comments.
But it didn’t work. It would be a private conversation in PM that would convince me that I had no choice. No one was seeing the problem. The co-founder was making a mountain out of a molehill (or as I put it in the PM conversation “making a federal case out of it”) and yet she was getting support. Not from the person I spoke to in PM – I want to make that clear. Also it was clear that no one was respecting the tacit ban on reverse ableist activity. Now – granted – I should have made it clear at that point. But I could tell the infestation was out of control, and as I said – I had no choice.
I removed everyone from the group – shutting it off. I unpublished the Facebook page and set the website to private. I also blocked my co-founder. I wanted nothing to do with her now. She’d played her hand as a reverse ableist and that meant she was not a part of the solution. She was part of the problem.
When I posted on my own timeline about the demise of the group, the person who said “it’s not an issue” roared in (she was on my friend’s list at the time) and again attacked me for a lack of democracy. She was imputing clearly that the issue of reverse ableism needed to be discussed.
That is giving voice to the devil. It’s giving voice to the Black Panthers in race issues. It’s giving voice to Greer and Ford in women’s rights issues. It is giving voice to those who want all acting roles in the Autism realm to go exclusively to Autistics. It’s all anti diversity and anti equality. It should not be discussed. It should be silenced. It paints the core movement in a bad light – a bad apple in the barrel if you like. You don’t discuss the presence of the bad apple. You chuck it out.
As I said – I am all about equality and diversity. I am against those who threaten it. I blocked that other member, and two more who liked her comment. It was not on, and it showed just how bad the infestation was. My decision was vindicated.
So what am I doing going forward? No actual decision has been made yet on whether or not I’ll create another group. Aside from the fact that I should not do it straight away (that would be seen as petty), there is already the issue of getting our message out at least to the Labor Party here in Australia. Not to mention my own issues of getting my core website stable and online. But whatever I do I will be back. I will continue my work as an Autism Activist. Reverse ableists beware. You are not on the side of the Autistic community, especially when it comes to Autism Acceptance. Not Autism Awareness – Autism Acceptance. You lot keep up your antics, you’ll continue to alienate an already fearful general community who we should be educating.
Not depriving them of their rights to equal whatever in order for us to get something we want. It doesn’t work like that, it never has and it never will.