On the Red Dot – autism

On the Red Dot – autism

Dawn-joy Leong, accompanied as always by her darling Lucy, speaks eloquently about autism and acceptance on a TV programme broadcast last week in Singapore.

Dawn-joy Leong

Lucy and I were featured on Mediacorp’s Channel 5 – On the Red Dot – last week, 21 July 2017. The programme was about autism in Singapore.

The full programme is at the Toggle site – though I am told that people outside of Singapore may not be able to access the site. Here is the link anyway.

A written article on the programme can be accessed via this link.

For friends wanting a ‘preview’ of my upcoming installation, Clement Space in the City (2017), do check out the videos!

Thank you, The BIG Anxiety Festival, for allowing the preview of my installation; and Moriya Diamond, for letting us use your space and providing such a wonderful teatime spread afterwards!

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Whose Charities Are They Anyway?

Whose Charities Are They Anyway?

You can hardly walk though town these days without tripping over some autism charity or another. In terms of awareness, the message seems to be getting out. On radio, TV and in the papers you hear about autism most days.

So why, you might be forgiven for asking, are these autistic advocates and activists not satisfied? Why are they still complaining?

It’s very simple. Awareness means nothing. What autistic people need is acceptance. Equal rights, equal opportunities. An end to exploitation and second-class status.

What does nearly every autism charity have in common? It was set up and is run by parents of autistic children. However well-meaning they might be they are not autistic. Their aims are not autistic people’s aims. These organisations are run for the parents’ benefit, not for the benefit of the autistic children and adults.

So you get Autism Speaks with their infamous blue puzzle piece: autistic children are missing something. What do we have to do to complete them, put them together, fix them?

So you get all kinds of discussions, presentations, conferences where autism is portrayed as something wrong with the child that must be mended. Heaven forbid the child might not behave like most other children! Quick! Train them how to pass as “normal”. After all, that’s what matters: that they not be an embarrassment or an inconvenience to their parents.

This constant message that autism is a disease, that the child is damaged or broken, leads parents to believe that it is something that can be fixed. That there could be a cure. That they can still hope for a perfect, autism-free child. Because they are led to see autism as something so negative, so awful, that far too many of them will subject their children to terrible suffering with unproven, unregulated and sometimes potentially deadly fake cures.

Do the charities speak out against these quacks? Rarely. The NAS (National Autistic Society) issued a statement after much pressure from activists but stopped short of actually campaigning. Others have done less or nothing.

The high-profile UK charity Anna Kennedy Online has an event, AKO Autism Expo, at Brunel University on the 11th of this month. A week tomorrow. After Anna Kennedy OBE herself was personally contacted by activist Fiona O’Leary with concerns over the legitimacy of one of the companies involved with this Expo, Fiona had hoped for decisive action to protect autistic children and their parents against misleading product claims.

No such luck. The company was dropped as a sponsor but they still have a speaker and are still exhibiting at the Expo. Anna Kennedy Online issued a legal disclaimer whereby they explicitly do not endorse any products or any exhibitors at the Expo. The trouble is that having them at your Expo still looks like an endorsement. I believe the moral and ethical decision would have been to remove any exhibitors and speakers where there are serious questions over the legitimacy of their claims.

The company in question, Brain Abilitiez, uses the BrainRx “brain training”, also known as LearningRx, that was developed by Dr. Ken Gibson, a doctor of optometry. Claims that this training was “clinically proven to permanently improve serious health conditions like ADHD, autism” were investigated by the Consumer Protection arm of the US FTC and were found to be unsupported by evidence in a $200,000 settlement last summer.

I don’t know about you but for me that raises major doubts about the claims made for the intensive, expensive “training” offered by this company. What we see here is that the charity has washed its hands of any suggestion that they have a responsibility to ensure the exhibitors at their Expo are all they claim to be.

So I have to ask, whose charities are they? Who are they run for? Are they being run for the benefit of autistic children and adults? Are they being run for the benefit of parents? Or do they exist primarily as a vanity trip for their founders?

If they truly want to improve the lives of autistic children and adults, then they need to listen to those very people. Not their parents. Not even “professionals” with their neat little labels and theories. But actually autistic people. The real experts. Only then will we see our rights respected. Only then will we see action directly for the benefit of autistic children and adults.

P is for… Other People

P is for… Other People

When I first came out as trans there were a lot of things I had to think about. Getting used to my changed name, referring to myself as the correct gender, preparing myself for prejudice and abuse from any person I encountered in case they were hostile. On thing I didn’t think about: using the bathroom.

Because who thinks about that, right? You need to pee, you go. Simple. It should be. But there are always those few people who feel a need to stick their noses in to something that is none of their business.

Of course, they are always at pains to point out that it’s not them that has a problem with me using the bathroom for my own gender. Oh no, they are worried that some imaginary other people might take issue with it.

And then there are the real far-out weirdos. Now, I don’t know what they get up to in public bathrooms, and for the sake of my peace of mind I’d rather not find out. But regular people like you and me only go to the bathroom for a couple of things. To use the loo or just to freshen up.

Anyhow, these strange people like to fantasise about male rapists entering women’s bathrooms and attacking women. And children! Yes, it’s not common but it has happened. And they seem to think that the chances of this occurring are affected by allowing trans women to use a gender-appropriate bathroom.

Yes, you read that right. They think that allowing all women to use women’s bathrooms makes men more likely to commit attacks in those bathrooms. Now I don’t know what fucking planet they’re from but here on Earth that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

What does make sense is that these people are transphobic, bigoted assholes, but afraid of the backlash if they come out and say so directly they hide behind a fiction of protecting women (and children) from an imaginary threat.

If they really cared about children they would care that trans children commit or attempt suicide at alarming rates largely because of discrimination and lack of acceptance by people like these assholes.

If they really cared about women they would care that trans women face disgusting levels of discrimination, harassment, assault and murder because of a lack of acceptance by people like these assholes.

They don’t care. It’s just an excuse so they can behave like assholes to trans people. Particularly trans children and women: they don’t seem to realise non binary folks or trans men even exist.

So if you care at all about people getting treated fairly and with respect, rather than being discriminated against through prejudice, be open about accepting and supporting trans people. And, for fuck’s sake, just let us go piss in peace.

The First Time

The First Time

Once again it’s Valentine’s Day, when young lovers exchange tokens and thoughts turn to romance. Valentine’s Day, day of Hallmark cards with trite rhymes repeated in thousands of homes, and wilting flowers bought as an afterthought from the petrol station on the way home.

Oh my, I’m a cynical, old woman, aren’t I? So long in a marriage that the only sparks are static when I take off my dressing gown and go to bed, cuddling my fluffy penguin. That’s not a pet name for my wife: I literally mean a fluffy stuffed toy.

But even people as old and decrepit as us were once in the first flush of youth, and Valentine’s Day with its symbols of love speaks to the surging of life with the first stirrings of Spring.

And the young certainly feel stirrings and surges! I know I did. No more beating around the bush: I’m talking about sex.

Do you become embarrassed when the subject of sex arises? Become coy at the thought of talking about it, never mind actually doing it?

Why is that? What feelings do you associate with the idea of sex? Have you been taught that it’s somehow dirty or sinful? That “good” girls (and boys, but mostly girls) don’t talk about it? Don’t think about it? And certainly don’t go out looking for it!

Well, fuck that! Sex has two purposes. The one you probably got taught about at school is procreation: making babies. But did they tell you about the other reason? The big reason? The reason why so many people have so much sex? It’s because it can be immensely pleasurable.

Pleasure. Joy. Ecstasy. Bliss. Fun. Now, if that’s not a good reason to do something I don’t know what is. I’m not here to try to teach you how to have sex, when to have sex, or who to have sex with (if anyone: it can be just as enjoyable flying solo).

No, I’m here to promote a positive attitude towards sex. And an important part of that is destroying the myth about it being something special, or precious. Ditch those thoughts: it’s not. And virginity? It’s bullshit. Just a crock of shit cooked up to try to control women.

See that body of yours? It’s all yours. Nobody else’s. There is not one single other person on this whole planet who has any right to tell you what to do with it. Bodies are great: endlessly fascinating. They make funny noises. They can look weird; they can look amazing. And you can play with them. In fact that’s part of the fun of having a body: playing with it. Doing stuff with it that feels great.

Sex is one of those things that can feel great. And really it’s not any more exotic than another activity I find pleasurable: eating. Now, when I first started eating I was very young. Far too young for sex (that came later when my body had developed more).

I wasn’t very good at eating when it was all new to me. I don’t even remember my first time. For a long time it was just messy and awkward, but kind of fun too. And you can turn it into a game: play with your food. I might have forgotten my first time but over the years I do recall the best times.

Sex is just like that. When you stop thinking of it as some special, magical activity and just take it as it comes you can start to relax and have real fun with it. Like most activities you get better with practice. Your first time will probably be messy, awkward and even uncomfortable. There’s no reason to expect it to be perfect or even memorable. Would you expect your first time riding a bike to be perfect? So why set unrealistic expectations when it comes to sex? Hey, you’re new at this: you’ll get better. Practice.

Focus on the things you like. Experiment, try new stuff, see what you enjoy. Always be in control: it’s your body so you decide what happens to it. If you don’t want to do something or you don’t like something, you get to say no. You decide to try something and change your mind, you get to say no. You set the boundaries. That’s the essence of consent: nobody does anything to you unless you give permission. And you can withdraw that permission any time it suits you, for any reason.

Anyone at all who doesn’t ask your consent, who doesn’t respect your boundaries, is in the wrong. There is no middle ground, there are no grey areas (especially not fifty shades of them). Sex without consent is rape.

I’m a great believer in exploring your own body, discovering what turns you on or off, what sensations you enjoy. The better you know how your body responds to various stimulation, the more able you will be to talk to a partner about it and let them know what you like. And hopefully they will have done the same and you can both be off to a running start.

The bottom line is that sex is not a mystery. It’s a normal bodily function, like walking. Although most places it’s probably best to keep the sex indoors. Or at least out of sight of other people. Walking in public is fine though.

So get out there, or stay in bed, or whatever suits you, and have more sex. Have different kinds of sex. On your own or with a friend. Also, be responsible: think about the risks and take steps to minimise them. After all, you don’t want anything to go wrong. It’s like making sure you have appropriate gear before going walking in the hills: the sensible thing to do. Yes, you could try to walk up Ben Nevis in a T-shirt in the middle of winter but bits would probably drop off and I don’t think you’d make it back.

Above all, approach it with an open mind and a positive attitude. Even joke about it. (Don’t penises look funny? Imagine one with googly eyes!) Who knows, it could become your favourite hobby! Or even a career! Sex is not special, but it can be great fun. And fun is generally worth the effort.

Confidante

Confidante

When I was younger I was dismissive of people who saw therapists. “What’s the use in that?” I used to think to myself. I didn’t get it at all; it made no sense.

But now I think I’d like to have somebody I could talk to about anything that was on my mind without worrying about being judged or that it might affect a relationship with a friend.

I need a confidante. Somebody to listen while I pour out a stream of thoughts from my turbulent mind. I’m not looking for answers or advice so much. But somebody who could prompt and guide the process would help.

I’m not seeking offers here; I don’t want to have to worry about how much I open up, about confidentiality. I need the reassurance of a relationship that is entirely professional and governed by professional standards.

I guess I’m in the market for a therapist. The younger me would be aghast.

The bottom line is that I need to open up about certain things. Keeping it all in is becoming harmful. It’s making me more vulnerable to depression.

There are some things from my past, some from my present. Things I’ve locked away, things I try to avoid. Things that worry me and others that absolutely terrify me. They’re not going to go away, but just maybe I can learn to live with them.

Learning to Think

Learning to Think

One of the most pernicious lies I can think of is that it’s wrong or weak to change your mind. That once a decision is made you are committed to that course regardless of the consequences. To which I simply say, “Bollocks!”

As we grow we acquire a cultural opinion–a meme if you like–that decisiveness is what matters. It’s better to make any decision and move forward than to stop and wait for a degree of certainty.

Motion is everything, the direction secondary. Except that you must never backtrack. No about-face, U-turn or retreat. Think about those terms: “backtrack”, “about-face”, “U-turn”, “retreat”. See how they are imbued with negative connotations: you have been conditioned to see them that way.

The consequence of this is that a bad decision is seen as better than no decision at all, and that bad decision, once made, commits you to a particular course of action. This is accepted by many without question and yet it is utterly false.

Let’s think about a simple scenario: you want to cross the street so you decide to step out into the road. Okay, you’ve made a decision (good for you!). Are you now committed to crossing that road come what may? Or should you change your mind and retreat if you notice a car approaching after stepping out?

My point is that we rarely have all the information at the point of making a decision. We try to predict what will happen but in all except the most trivial cases we cannot know. This means we know more about the consequences of our decision after making it, once we have taken the first steps along that course.

Which is more foolish? To argue that a decision has been made, it is set in stone and we must continue along that particular path, or to re-examine the decision periodically and judge whether it is still a beneficial course of action?

It’s not a new phenomenon. Wellington was castigated in the weeks and months following the 1809 Battle of Talavera when rather than advancing on French-held Madrid (a key aim of that summer’s campaign) after the French retreat, he made a rapid withdrawal back into Portugal and spent the winter sheltered behind the defensive Lines of Torres Vedras.

At no point did Wellington have complete information about the size or disposition of the French forces opposing him, but his success in the Peninsular War long-term was a result of planning for different scenarios together with his ability to abandon a plan when he saw that circumstances had changed.

If not for the support of influential figures in London, Wellington would have been replaced as commander and the history of the Napoleonic Wars would have been very different. And even today it is politically almost impossible for anybody to change a decision once made.

The core of the problem is absolutism, the idea that every question has one correct answer. Reality doesn’t work like that, but few people are comfortable dealing with probabilities. But incomplete information means that a decision based on what appears most likely at one point in time can easily turn out to be the wrong course of action, something that comes to light later as we learn more.

Politicians don’t help their situation by applying absolutist arguments to justify their decisions: their way is the One True Path, the only way that will work. It means that when events conspire to frustrate their plans they need to maintain the fiction that their original decision was correct and continues to be correct.

There can be no wrong decisions because their jobs depend on the illusion that they alone have the right answers. We are all losers because this binds them to inflexible ideologies and prevents them from adapting to changing circumstances.

The way out of the trap is to recognize and admit that the world is a complex place and it’s not always clear how best to get to where we want to be. Admit that pressing on regardless sometimes means going further down a dead-end path, wasting time and resources in pointless activity.

Adaptability and flexibility are what matters most. Setting goals matters, but it’s not so important how they are reached. Indeed, stating what outcome you hope to achieve should be the most important thing.

Regarding the EU Referendum, the biggest problem with it as far as I’m concerned is that is offered a choice of two courses of action (leave the EU or remain in it). Nowhere did it ask people what they hoped to achieve by those actions. It was like asking people whether to turn left or right without giving them any idea where they were trying to get to, or where either path might end up.

It means that the government have a (narrow) mandate to take a particular course of action–leave the EU–without saying anything about what it is intended to achieve. Is it supposed to create jobs? Cut NHS waiting times? Stop it raining on Bank Holidays?

At times like these it is more important than ever to scrutinize those in power. To be critical. To ask “Why?” and “How?” Don’t be satisfied with attractive but empty slogans. Push for the details, and if they can’t or won’t provide them ask yourself why they might not want to reveal their objectives. Are they really working in the best interests of you and me, or of corporate lobbyists?

Question everything. Be critical. Think for yourself.