29 October 2010

Autism Quotient

Floating around the internet recently has been the Autism Quotient test, a series of questions quantifying experiences and placing individuals on the autism spectrum.  Although never intended to be criteria for diagnosis, the quotient has become a tool for self-diagnosing Aspergers and high-functioning autism.  It was originally popularized by Wired magazine alongside an article titled "The Geek Syndrome".

While the 90s was a time where children were excessively diagnosed with (and medicated for) ADHD, the 2000s saw an explosion of youth on the autism spectrum.  Any social difficulty, exceptional passion, or mathematical talent was instantly blamed on autistic tendencies.  Over-diagnosis is a complicated issue.  Neuroatypical conditions are not and either-or, but rather, they lie on a spectrum, so a diagnosis means deciding where the line between "normal" and "disorder" lies.  In medical terms, this line is usually defined as "clinically significant", or significant enough to impact the patient's life.  Unfortunately, even this line is never clear.

As diagnosis of autism-spectrum conditions expanded, so did their popularity.  The publishing of the quotient a magazine like Wired represents this perfectly.  On the one hand, there is no doubt that people with autism-spectrum conditions would be naturally drawn to certain communities, such as "geek culture".  Mathematical and scientific knowledge and understanding of complex formulas and numbers would be appealing to someone with these conditions, and things like programing are consequently likely to be both interesting and easier (compared to neurotypical folk) for someone with autistic tendencies.  Additionally, social interaction via computers is significantly easier for folk with Autism-spectrum conditions, because it bypasses the difficult non-verbal and implicit emotional elements of face-to-face communication.  Still, the popularity of having these (and other) conditions in geek (and other) communities is unwarranted and dangerous.

Turning an important medical finding into a facebook quiz or a survey in a geek magazine delegitimizes the experiences of folk with autism-spectrum disorders.  Although I do not currently have Aspergers, I did when I was a child, and it has had a huge influence on my life since then.  However, when I mention my experiences, I am typically met with a proclamation of self-diagnosed Aspergers, and how tough life is for us poor weird folk.  I am always insulted by these comments: I am not weird, not do I think it's fair for me to appropriate the experiences adults with autism-spectrum conditions have.  Instead, I am someone who had difficulties with normal social interaction as a child as a result of being a neuroatypical child.

Such an appropriation, as well as other appropriative comments such as "I'm having music ADD!" are rampant in our society.  Constantly, people are appropriating conditions such as autism-spectrum disorders, ADD and ADHD, dyslexia, bipolar disorder, and even more severe conditions like dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia.  This is not ok.  While it's easy to adopt a label of having neuroatypical characteristics for someone who is neurotypical, you don't actually know anything about the experiences of neuroatypical folk.  It is wrong to appropriate such conditions while in no way supporting neurodiversity in society and continuing to marginalize neuroatypical folk.

19 October 2010

There is always a way...

I found salvation in a well-lit hookah bar in Adam's Morgan,
Practiced the art of sacrificing my loneliness into smoke rings,
Escaped a night of staking facebook profiles of acquaintances that will never be part of my life,
In search of a stranger who might change my life,
Like the man playing guitar by the entrance to the Metro:
The great minds of my generation,
I hear their voices in the poetry of past generations,
Escaping the curse of all generations

And I wasn't alone.
Not with a bag full of volumes from used book stores and libraries crossed over my heart,
Not with the words of Ginsberg and Bradbury open on my lap.
Not with the lyrical romance of rhythm in my mind,
There's a mosaic on the roof of my skull,
There is a community in the scribbles of my notebook.

Though the news spoke of murder and institutionalized racism,
Though the art on the walls was probably illegal, and definitely unsigned,
And a one-line poem in black ink on the bridge
Waged peace on the violent: "Shoot cops, not dogs".
I felt hope,
Not the kind that manifests itself in lonely tears,
But the kind that screams.

No one has veto power over my life,
There is always a way to look in their eyes and change their minds.
There is always a way to dodge their barrels and act directly,
There's always a way to build love from tragedy,
You are never alone, there's always someone else in the crowd

(First draft, and I'm not even sure this is a poem, but it's worth sharing.)

15 October 2010

What if I dropped out of school?

What if I took off a year, or two, or three, or five?

What if I spent some time growing up? What if I learned how to cook and how to look for jobs? What if I learned how to make friends in the real world, how to reach out to communities and people, how to interact as an adult, how to not be alone?  What if I dedicated myself to real-world activism?  What if I learned how to make change happen outside of college campuses, and what if I developed skill in the areas of direct action, mobilization, and making change happen?

What if I took some time to find myself?  What if I read all the books I never had a chance to read?  What if I transitioned to a place I'm comfortable in? What if I changed my gendered last name to my stepdad's gender-neutral Nagai, and started going by Cale? Doesn't mean I want to live male full-time, but maybe dress androgynous more often than I do feminine?  What if I figured out what my political beliefs really are?  What if I decided if I'm a radical anarchist or a libertarian conservative, or, more importantly, what if I discovered how to do radical anarchist activism even though I have fiscally conservative beliefs?  What if I advocated for the well-being of marginalized groups I don't belong to, and what if I made some change?

What if I moved in with my step dad in Chicago?  What if I grew closer to him and opened my life up to him?  What if I made up for all of those years growing up without a father in my household?  What if I discovered my place in Chicago, fell in love with the city?  What if I worked there, advocated there, dreamed there? What if I went to the Art Institute every weekend?  What if I traveled?  What if I found a job abroad, maybe in England?  What if I came back to DC after a while and worked here, lived my life here?  I really don't want to leave this city...

What if I came back to school later, after I learned who I am and figured out why college is going wrong?  I remember my first month in school, feeling thrilled with my classes, thrilled with my homework, growing intellectually every day.  I remember telling someone how happy I was, how I can't imagine a place I'd be happier than a college campus.  Then why is it still going wrong?  Why don't I like it here, even though I was sure I would?  Why is there something missing in my life, and I can't tell what it is?  I can't find what I'm looking for if I don't know what it is, if I don't know who I am.  I can't find what I'm looking for here.

What if I still got my PhD someday?  What if I came back to finish my undergrad at the perfect school, in the perfect place?

What if?

09 October 2010

Left-leaning quasi-social libertarian.

aka My Political Identity, Part II.  Here is my original post on the topic.  I've changed since then, so here's another post on politics.

It's impossible for me to talk about my political identity without discussing my political background.  Doing so would probably lend me to more criticism and misunderstanding then I think I deserve, especially from the far-left folk I care most about.

My family is primarily Libertarian, though they vote Republican because they prioritize economic issues over most social issues.  Their perspective is such for really good reason.  My family is from the Soviet Union.  I've been taught the horrors of a Communism and Socialism since I was a young child.  One story particularly sticks out.  My mom recalls sitting in a classroom as her teacher spoke of the merits of Communism.  The teacher told her of how, when the country is Communist, she would be able to enter a store and pick up anything she needs without worrying about money.  My mom glanced at her worn shoes, thinking of how she could use a new pair, and how great Communism would be, because then she'd be able to do so.  Later, she realized that, if she was shown this store, she'd grab more than just the one pair of shoes that she needs, because that's human nature.  Another story that has always shocked me was an anecdote about how med-school required students to talk a semester off to work on a farm due to government policies.  Such tales have made me very critical of leftist thought.

Both of my parents are immigrants who built their lives from nothing, and are now upper-middle class.  My mom is a doctor who immigrated as a single mother of two children, lived for a while with an income of zero and on welfare, but succeeded in passing the necessary exams and pursuing a career as a neurologist in the United States.  Although she was lucky that she had already completed med-school in Russia, become an MD in the US was not an easy process: she spent months reading medial texts and looking up every other word in the dictionary because she had never used English medical vocab before.  My stepdad started his first enterprise when he was sixteen years old and an international student in Detroit.  Although he never earned a college degree, he now owns a very successful small business that he started.  Thus, the spirit of enterprise and praise of fiscal independence has always been important in my family, and fiscally conservative views were always viewed in a positive light.

Thus, I am primarily libertarian.  With a few exceptions, I have liberal social views and conservative political views.  My exceptions are as follows:
  1. I am uncertain about my views on abortion, except in cases where the life of the mother (or the infant?) is in significant danger.  PLZDONTKILLME, I just have yet to find a convincing argument for the morality of terminating a pregnancy that doesn't also imply the morality of infanticide, the killing of certain mentally disabled folk, or the killing of other living people.  I am fairly certain, though, that abortion should be legal, even if it is immoral, because of the right to property.
  2. I am not a proponent of an open-border immigration policy.  I am an immigrant from overseas, and my family is very anti-illegal immigrant.  I don't share their views, either, and I believe I am rather independent when it comes to my views on immigration, although I agree with Democrat perspectives rather than Republican ones.  I completely disagree withe Republican techniques, such as the patrolling of borders and the deportation of individuals.  Patrolling the borders really doesn't do anything other than prevent the endanger the lives of people and destroy border communities.  Similarly, deporting undocumented individuals does nothing to solve the overall problem, especially when explicitly racist systems like the one in Arizona are created.  I think there's no doubt that the government and business are at fault for the existence and the persistence of undocumented immigration form Mexico.  In the past, businesses would bus Mexican folk to the US because they needed cheap labor.  These businesses continue to hire undocumented immigrants very low wages.  Unfortunately, our government discriminates way more against immigrants than it does against businesses, and there are no systems in place to prevent businesses from hiring undocumented folk.  If these systems were put in place, undocumented immigration would become impractical, and the demand for labor would become obvious, and legal systems of temporary and permanent immigration from Mexico would be set up.  These systems would also assure that immigrants will be paid legal wages, and the whole system will be better for everyone on both sides of the argument.  (All this being said, I do approve of the Dream Act.)
  3. While the former two represent my exceptions to socially liberal views, this one is my exceptions to fiscally conservative views (although this does border on a social issue, as there's no clear line between social and economic questions).  I think the government, ideally state and federal, rather than local governments, should do everything they can to fix racial segregation in education and improve schools for poor folk, especially poor people of color.  This is a huge problem that cannot be addressed at local levels, and there's no excuse that such horrifying differences in education continue to exist today!
I say I am left-leaning not because my views stray that far from a libertarian perspective, but because I am very radically left-leaning on my political views, while I am more moderate, although still right-leaning, on my economic views.  Also, social views typically matter to me more than conservative views, so I tend to vote Democrat.

By quasi-social I hope to indicate the distinction between social- and individuals- libertarianism (and, as a result, social- and individual- anarchy).  While individual libertarianism is based on individualistic, objectivist philosophies, primarily that of Ayn Rand, social libertarianism (and anarchy) is about communal, supportive environments with limited government.  Although I definitely prefer social libertarianism to individual libertarianism, I hesitate to say I am a social libertarian, because this often implies libertarian socialism, which often implies social anarchy.  Although I think social anarchy is awesome, although I sympathize with socially anarchist perspectives, although I think social anarchists are doing more today to help oppressed people than anyone else in today's society, I am not a social anarchist.  Rather, I believe a socially anarchist society can be best achieved or approached not through leftist practices, but through libertarian and fiscally conservative measures.  I do, though, envy the community anarchists tend to have. -sigh-
To the radical anarchist asking a Republican to dance - Andrea Gibson, Say Yes (I think).

07 October 2010

Lessons of a Canvasser

I spent the last few weeks working as a canvasser on the streets of DC, primarily around Dupont Circle.  After a few weeks of work, I quit.  Although I was really good at it and got paid really well, canvassing proved to be more emotionally exhausting than I was able to handle, and as the cold, rainy days of fall came about, I simply could no longer subject myself to the stress and the rejection.  In those weeks, I learned some real-life lessons that I never expected to learn. Here they are:

1. Sexism is real.  Being someone who is perceived as a female and working on the streets put me in a position where I had a lot of sexism directed at me.  It was frustrating.  The mildest form was when people would call me "cute" when I came up to them.  It was totally infanticizing and disrespectful.  Worse were comment from men asking me to look at them or to pay attention to them: not because they were interested in what I was doing, but because they felt entitled to my attention.  The company I was working for is an environmentalist group, and one of the worst incidents was when a man asked me to look him in the eyes because "all green people have green eyes".  When I ignored him, he shouted after me, insisting that I should give him my name so he could call my boss, because he'd signed up for the e-mail list yesterday.  It was disgusting.  Another awful incident was when two men who I approached stopped to listen to what I was saying, and then began asked me about my accent and started asking me to speak Russian, commenting on how cute and hot it is.  Feeling insulted, I asked them if they want to sign up or not in a rather aggressive tone, and they commented on how "bossy" I am.  This double standard made me really upset.  When will there come a day when people perceived as women don't experience misogyny on the streets?

2. On being overlooked.  A canvasser is overlooked.  The reactions of the folk I approached quickly began to eat away at my heart.  People looked right through me, or they didn't look at me at all.  Some people wouldn't react at all when I approached, pretending that I didn't exist.  Some people gave me those facetious smiles.  Some people would straight up make rude comments about wanting to be left alone as I approached them.  Being overlooked hurt, yet I am privileged.  I am white, I am visibly middle-class, I was visibly employed, I speak Standard English (be it with an accent).  I felt entitled to the attention of the people I approached, not consciously, but because I've always felt entitled to attention before.  What about people who don't have my privileges?  What about poor people of color on the streets? How about homeless people asking for some money just to buy lunch?  What about the folk selling things like Street Sense in DC or Voice in Denver?  I've never experienced such rejection before, but there are people who experience it every day, people who live in rejection, who are perpetually overlooked by passerby's and politicians.  Like Andrea Gibson said in the poem For Eli: "One third of the homeless men in this country are veterans, and we have the nerve to support our troops with pretty yellow ribbons, while giving nothing but dirty looks to their outstretched hands".

3. Environmentalism for the elites.  I was canvassing for an organization that partnered with sustainable businesses in the area, creating a network of local, eco-friendly business.  I collected e-mail addresses for people to receive discounts similar to Groupons in their inbox.  Everyone working for this business was so passionate about what the were doing.  They wanted to truly make change happen, they wanted to expand nationwide, they wanted to do something great.  They were truly great people with great intentions.  The "rap" I would say when I came up to people started out with "we want to make green living affordable for everyone".  Every time I said it, I felt like a liar and a traitor.  Here I am, walking the parks, intentionally avoiding people I knew don't have e-mail: the poor, the homeless.  Yet here I am, saying we want to make green living affordable for everyone.  Who is everyone?  Why does everyone never include poor folk?  Environmental issues disproportionately impact poor people of color, such as communities in developing countries threatened by climate change and pollution or residents of neighborhoods like East St. Louis that are built in the gutters of industrial waste.  Poor folk of color cannot access green food, much less any healthy, affordable food due to the lack of supermarkets in their neighborhoods and the lack of public transportation to access supermarkets elsewhere.  We never hear about those people when we discuss the environment.  Mainstream environmentalist movements ignore and erase the lives of poor folk of color.  So these young, passionate, optimistic, well-meaning entrepreneurs like the people I worked for simply don't know about these issues.  These things don't ever cross their mind, so no one ever bothers to help the people that truly need help.  Environmentalism is environmentalism for the elites.

4. What now? I fell in love with the streets during those weeks working as a canvasser.  I grew close to the sidewalks I walked and the parks I frequented.  I became attached to the faces I saw and the people I passed by.  But my heart grew weary and weak.  What does it mean to think these thoughts? What does it mean to write them down? Here I am, flaunting my command of "big" words, sharing my knowledge of academic studies on marginalized and oppressed folk, listing all these -isms I've never experienced, yet I'm not doing anything to help anyone.  Sure, I do trans advocacy on campus, but what does that really mean?  I'm not saying I shouldn't be helping the trans folk on campus, but what bout poor trans women of color, who are most likely to be attacked and murdered?  What does it mean to read about their murders but to do nothing?  What does it really mean to care? What does it mean to ask these questions?  I want to do something, but I really don't know where to start.  I think I'm going to start reading about and learning about direct action again.  I was really inspired by the Food not Bombs people that I saw at Dupont every Sunday serving food to anyone who wanted it, and I know that's a prime example of an anarchist direct action organization.  But reading won't do much, either.  Direct Action is about acting, not reading, and, well, I don't know where to begin.  But maybe I did begin.  Maybe step one is learning, and maybe this is a process I'm working towards.