E is for Erasure

by Neurodivergent K from Radical Neurodivergence Speaking

E is for Erasure

That’s what it sounds like. When your words, your work, your existence are erased from the conversation, from the dialog. From history. From the present.

We have an erasure problem.

First there’s the erasure of Autistic voices. Everywhere you look during awareness season, you see articles about us but without us. To get what they call a ‘first person view’ they speak to our parents and our siblings. The media interviews professionals, neighbors, family members, dogs, but not Autistic people. We are erased from our own stories.

This is especially flagrant when autism organizations put out press releases about our murders and talk about the tragedy of our killers, without ever saying our names. Autism Society, you are never living down the injustice you did to George. His name was George.

Or when you read the special interest articles, where our families speak over and for us. Or you watch the PSAs, where we’re only allowed to be problems, rather than people.

Or when people justify this by saying that people who cannot speak have nothing to say, so they need abled people to interpret, to be their voice. This erases my many lovely, glorious colleagues who speak with their hands rather than their mouths. Folks take this even further beyond the pale, saying that my dear friends have nothing to erase, that their words are not theirs.

That’s really cold. Really harsh. Really unforgiveable. My non speaking colleagues have powerful words, have made huge impacts, how dare you try to hide that?

We have an intercommunity erasure problem too.

First it was the decade or so where much Autistic community was on livejournal and yahoo! Groups. You don’t hear much about that generation, the folks who were not Autism Network International, but who predate ASAN. You don’t hear much about the ANI contemporaries either, but their existence is acknowledged. There’s a solid 15 years of community building and idea stretching that is ignored, erased, because it was a bunch of disabled poor people on the internet, rather than a big flashy organization or a Temple Grandin figure (she may not be Autistic Culture, but she has quite the following).

Then there’s the individuals. The Overton Window shifters. The unrespectable activists. This erasure makes people very uncomfortable to acknowledge, but it exists. The ideas that shiny people with names and backing come out with today? Most of those started somewhere else, with someone you will never hear of because they’re poor, or they’re a PoC, or they are in the uncanny valley where you don’t pass well enough to not make people uncomfortable, but you don’t pass poorly enough to be cast as an Inspiration, or any of 1000 other traits that mean that the community would rather kind of pretend, you know, you just kind of don’t exist.

It’s the whitewashing. The classwashing. The straightwashing (which, you know, talk about shitting where you eat–cishet autistics may not be a minority but we’re a very QUILTBAG neurotype). The general respectabilitywashing.

It’s hearing your ideas from a decade ago coming out of someone else’s mouth. And them smiling and taking the credit, after all the work you put in to get the world ready for that idea.

This is part of a series of posts addressing themes from the neurodiversity movement and paradigm which will be published during the course of April 2016. To read the rest of the posts, please click here.