Autism News, 2015/03/11

Today, the Sad Things come first, because March 1 was the official Day of Mourning for disabled people who are killed by their caregivers. Vigils were held in many cities, mostly in the US but also in a variety of other countries.

  • For those of you not sure what happens at a disability day of mourning vigil, here is a detailed description of one from Vancouver
  • A eulogy by Ari Ne’eman
  • Kerima Cevik on the role social media plays in this violence
  • Zoe Gross on copycat crimes
  • ASAN has an Anti-Filicide Toolkit here
  • Lisa D., who maintains the Autism Memorial LJ, has opened a Memorial Annex as a side project  – this lists other disabled crime victims she comes across in her autism-related research.

With recent measles outbreaks in the US and Canada, there has been even more talk about vaccines than usual.

April is coming up, and in many places April is Autism Awareness Month. Here is a post by Kerima Cevik about reclaiming the month from Autism Speaks

Some posts on the benefits (and pitfalls) of diagnostic labels:

Some stuff about stories and media:

In “what is it like to be autistic” news:

Misc:

Lady Blue and the Lampreys

Today is the launch day for The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir, which features my short story, “Lady Blue and the Lampreys”. I’m excited and intrigued to see what happens with this book – noir is not at all my usual genre. But I happened to have this story lying around which involved a femme fatale, a gender-flipped fairy tale, and a bunch of soul-eating three-headed lamprey people who invade a dingy little small town. It had enough elements of Weird Noir that I looked at it and said, “Hmm, I bet Claude Lalumière and David Nickle would like this,” and then they did. 😀

Merc Rustad gets major thanks for helping me talk out my vague “I want to write a female Bluebeard because reasons” ideas, way back when this was being drafted, and connect them to a workable plot.

Agency

So yesterday I wrote a mini rant on Twitter about character agency, and how it is actually a function of plot, not of what type of character you have.

It went viral and got posted on io9, which is quite astounding. Some people even told me they were using it to start discussions in writing and game design classes. I didn’t know that was even a thing.

I thought of writing a longer and more coherent version here (complete with corrected grammar >.> ) but considering how many people seem to like it the way it is, I think I’ll let it stay that way.

Though, to be honest, I prefer the Storify version made by Merc Rustad, because it includes some really good additional points that Rose Lemberg made. I talk in the Twitter rant about female characters, but the logic here really applies to all characters, especially marginalized characters (queer, PoC, disabled, trans, or whatever else) who are very frequently sidelined.

Autism News, 2015/02/06

March 1 is the official Day of Mourning for people with disabilities who are murdered by their caregivers (yes, there are THAT many). Vigils will be held in many cities. Most are in the US, but a few are elsewhere. You can find out here if there is a vigil being planned in your area.

This news cycle, there was a lot of talk about the idea of “high-functioning” autistic people dominating discourse about autism, and about whether or not this is acceptable.

  • Here is a good post about this by Dani Alexis
  • And by Lysik’an, a non-verbal autistic person
  • Relatedly, Sparrow Rose Jones has a good post about potential

Some interesting lived experiences:

Some posts about forms of treatment and research:

 

 

Misc:

2014 Poetry: Better Late Than Never

I actually kept up much more closely with poetry this year than I did with fiction! Or at least the major speculative poetry venues. I’ve just been procrastinating, etc on writing it out. Here are some pieces I especially enjoyed:

Dwarf Size

Short

Long

Autistic Book Party, Episode 16: Hawk

Today’s Autistic Book Party was made possible by Rose Lemberg, who generously donated a review copy of the book because she was interested in knowing specifically what I thought of this one. YES, this DOES work as a method of getting reviews out faster. 😛

Today’s Book: “Hawk” by Steven Brust.

The Plot: Vlad Taltos, an assassin / witch / general-purpose organized criminal, comes up with a cunning plan to get the other organized criminals who are hunting him off of his back.

(This is book #14 of a series that will eventually have 17 parts.)

Autistic Character(s): Daymar, a Hawklord and powerful psychic.

We’ve met Daymar before, when I reviewed “Dragon“, an earlier book in the series. Daymar seemed cool but didn’t appear in very much of that book. Everyone’s been telling me that there is more Daymar in this one. And there is. Sort of.

Vlad’s cunning plan in this particular book involves a lot of psychic stuff, so he naturally calls on Daymar to assist him. Daymar is as friendly, helpful, polite and cool as ever. The problem is… Well, you can go back and read that previous review. Don’t worry, it’s short. You know the part where I said that Daymar is cool because he asks polite questions when he is confused about things, instead of making rude and arrogant assumptions as so many fictional Aspies do? Yet, despite this, Vlad for some unknown reason finds him really annoying?

Yeah, there’s… a lot of that going on here. And it’s more noticeable here than in the previous book. Maybe just because Daymar shows up more, but for whatever reason, even Daymar’s most helpful and considerate attributes seem to drive Vlad off the deep end. Here is a fairly representative quote:

“It’s good to see you, Vlad.”
“You, too,” I lied.
“When I saw Loiosh, I concluded that you wanted to see me.”
“Good thinking.”
“He let me get the location from his mind, so I teleported.”
“Yes,” I said.
“So I was right?”
I nodded.
He sat back, tilted his head, and waited.
“I wanted to ask you about something,” I said.
He nodded. “All right. I’m listening.”
“You wish me to ask you, then?” I said, keeping my face straight.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s up to you. I wasn’t doing anything important. And I’m not in a hurry. So, take as much time as you want.”
Explaining the joke to Daymar seemed like a poor use of my time, so I said, “It goes back to a remark you made some years ago. We were sitting around Castle Black, and you mentioned a Hawk rite of passage you’d undergone.”

It’s not that any specific exchange of this nature is particularly awful, it’s just that they never really stop being like this. Daymar never stops trying very hard to be helpful and considerate, and Vlad never stops quietly mocking him and being annoyed.

Part of this, of course, is that Vlad is an ornery antihero. I mean, he used to kill people for money a lot, among other evil deeds. So it’s not very reasonable to expect Vlad to be the model of understanding and politeness, whether towards people on the spectrum or just towards people in general. In fact, Vlad is usually pretty snarky to everybody; his snarkiness and cleverness is part of what makes him a good narrator. There are many scenes in the book of Vlad hanging out with people whom he genuinely likes, and who are very important to him, and these scenes largely consist of snarky banter and friendly insults going back and forth. So if it was just the fact that Vlad got annoyed and was snarky with Daymar and Daymar didn’t get it, I’d just chalk it up to Vlad being Vlad.

In fact, I have a suspicion that the reason Vlad gets so annoyed by Daymar is precisely because Vlad likes to be snarky to everyone. Daymar likes to be open, honest, and considerate, and Vlad’s usual communication style goes completely over his head. I think that Vlad doesn’t know what to do with a clash of communication styles of this magnitude, so he defaults to being frustrated and annoyed.

The trouble is that Vlad’s annoyance towards Daymar seems to go beyond his usual rudeness and snarkiness to everyone else. For instance, he talks with annoyance about Daymar to other people:

“I’d ask Daymar.”
“Yeah, I’ve been trying to avoid that.”
He chuckled. “I can understand that. I could look for someone else-“
“No, no. We’ll go with Daymar. I told him I’d be needing his help again.”
“That makes me feel better. If I have to deal with you, you have to deal with Daymar. More klava?”
“Always.”

Vlad doesn’t talk like this to other people about any other character, and he does this repeatedly. Even more troublingly, absolutely everyone Vlad talks like this to about Daymar seems to be as annoyed by Daymar as he is. Even when they are ostensibly also in a circle of friends that involves Daymar.

I can’t figure out where this level of animosity comes from, because Daymar is always helpful and cool. He is oblivious to a few things that seem obvious to Vlad and the other organized criminals, but then, he knows a lot of things about psychic communication that Vlad is oblivious to, so that ought to put them on equal footing.

A final problem is that Daymar’s role in the plot is pretty well limited to letting Vlad consult with him about certain matters, finding rare and expensive items for him, and otherwise helping out when requested. He asks for literally nothing in return for this help; he appears to be doing so because Vlad is his friend. (Vlad does thank him, once, briefly, but only near the end of the book.) Meanwhile it is painfully obvious to any reader that Vlad is not his friend and would much rather not be around him.

I can’t explain why this bothers me more than, say, Vlad killing people. Mainly I think that Brust likely does not understand what real-world narratives he is upholding. We all know that being an assassin is not a good thing in real life. But it is so common for autistic people in real life to fall into this pattern, where they believe someone to be their friend and try very hard to help and be nice to that person, but that person turns out to be a bully who is mocking and complaining about them behind their back, or who simply uses them for the one thing they’re especially good at, while actually wanting nothing else to do with them. Considering how common this is, and how common it is for autistic people to be portrayed as annoying enough to merit such treatment, I can’t really sit back and enjoy watching Daymar go through it. I can’t really treat it as funny escapism the way I can when the characters are killing each other. I don’t know.

And we don’t even really get much character development out of Daymar. There’s a little bit – a really interesting couple of paragraphs or so that happen when Vlad asks him about what he’s interested in – but mostly he just shows up when Vlad asks, does what Vlad asks him to, gets made fun of, and goes away again. So while he does show up more often than in previous books, it’s not really a win for readers who happen to be Daymar fans.

I usually really enjoy the Vlad books, so this was kind of a downer.

The Verdict: Not Recommended

For a list of other past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, or to recommend a new one, click here.

Memories

The final question for January is by Adrienne J. Odasso:

something you wish you could remember more clearly.

How my imagination worked as a child. I know I spent long and frequent hours running around with my best friends, making up and acting out some rather elaborate stories. But I remember very little about what the stories actually were, their plots and settings, or the process by which they arose. I suspect it’s very different from the processes by which I come up with things now. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better, but it bothers me that I don’t remember. There might be forgotten things there that would help me be a bit freer with my imagination now. Or it might just be a fun thing to reminisce about – and maybe to use in writing better child narrators. I don’t know. *shrug*

Recommendations

Today’s question is from Eve Prime:

Could you recommend any works that you think do a good job of conveying to NT people the inner lives of people on the spectrum? Ideally a short-story collection/anthology, since there are so many possible ways to experience life and autism.

Answer: Yes!

If you want a full set of my opinions on various works then you should click here and look at the “Recommended” section.

But that’s a boring answer. I don’t know of a single short-story collection/anthology that meets this need. (I’ve heard very good things about “Loud Hands: Autustic People Speaking” but I haven’t actually read it yet and it’s not fiction.)

If I was putting together such an anthology myself, then…

Well, no. If I was putting together such an anthology myself then I’d be running around soliciting people for new work, ferreting out people who have written good things in the past, and trying frantically to figure out a way to ensure that all the intersectionality and different experiences on the spectrum were covered without resorting to some kind of quota system. It would be a big job. It would result in a lot of stuff going into the anthology that doesn’t exist yet, or at least hasn’t existed where I can find it.

But in the absence of that, if I were to put together a mini-anthology of stuff I’ve read that expresses different aspects of the life experiences and inner perspectives of different autistic characters, then the first draft of the table of contents might look something like this.

(Can I put my stories in the table of contents? I would utterly totally not do this if I were making a real anthology, but if we’re just talking about stuff to read, I think I am going to sneak a couple in. You can totally ignore those ones if you feel this is gauche.)

You’ll notice that I’ve supplemented the fiction list with a few essays and blog posts available online when there was an issue I wanted to include but didn’t have a good story or poem for. And there are many more blogs and essays I could have added. If you’re paying close attention you’ll also notice that this list is not very intersectional. If you look back in my autism news posts you’ll find articles about autism and race, gender (although my list is mostly female anyway so that should give you a start on that issue), sexual orientation, and other differences. You’ll also find many good articles on what it’s like to be autistic and go through specific challenging experiences such as grief, depression, burnout, bullying, intensive ABA and childhood abuse – as well as things like parenthood, religion, and being an activist. I didn’t add all of these things to the list simply because then the number of articles on the list would have ended up overwhelming everything else, and that’s not what you asked for! But they are worth reading!

What do you guys think of this list? Do you have more story and poetry recommendations? Share ’em in the comments! If they are new to me, I might even end up reviewing them later!

Fan Diagnosis

Today’s question is by Andi C Buchanan:

This is a bit my pet topic at the moment, so I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts: is it useful/helpful/important/problematic to diagnose fictional characters as autistic where the author has not signified them as such (and particularly in works written before such diagnoses/labels/identities existed), and how does this tie in with discussion of the validity of self versus professional diagnosis?

This is a question where the answer seemed obvious to me at first (YES OF COURSE you can diagnose fictional characters), but I’m struggling with how to express it.

Some thoughts:

  • It is important to be able to identify with people in the media who are like you in some way, especially if it’s a socially stigmatized way and the character is a positive representation
  • Some authors write characters that are marked as autistic, but write them in really problematic or insulting ways
  • Some authors write characters that are marked as autistic and are sort of okay, but are full of the medical model and strongly othered or stereotyped
  • Some authors write characters that are cool, and behave a lot like the way an autistic person would behave in real life
  • Some authors write characters that are cool, and behave a little bit according to autistic stereotypes, and a little bit not, and are likely not an accurate representation, but are cool enough and just close enough to being autistic that many autistic readers really strongly want to identify with them (I think this is what is going on with Sherlock fandom, for instance)
  • Sometimes these authors with cool characters mark the character as autistic, and sometimes they don’t
  • If we say that we can’t armchair diagnose people, we are effectively saying that autistic people are allowed to identify with the really problematic, medical-model characters, but not with the cool characters who act a lot like good autism representation but happen not to be explicitly marked that way
  • That seems obviously wrong to me

Also:

  • There are various reasons why an author might write an autistic-seeming character but not mark them as autistic
  • The author might strongly believe that the character is not supposed to be autistic
  • The author might be trying to write about a related neurotype which is not quite autism but very similar
  • The author might not know enough about autism to know that their character seems autistic
  • The author might be afraid of getting into big discussions of disability politics, and might think that the only way to avoid these is to avoid explicitly marking the character
  • The author might be afraid of not selling as many books (or getting as many ratings, or whatever) if they start explicitly talking about autism
  • There are lots of other reasons
  • Just because a character is not marked as autistic does not necessarily mean that diagnosing them is a violation of what the author intended
  • On TV there are also characters who are created by more than one person – for instance, written by a team of writers and then brought to life by an actor
  • The different people involved in creating a character might have different opinions about whether the character is autistic
  • (This is part of what’s going on with Sheldon Cooper, for instance)
  • So there isn’t even necessarily one single author with one single intent that readers must adhere to

And:

  • People in fandom have “headcanon” and infer things or even just make things up about their favourite characters all the time
  • Even if it blatantly contradicts what the author intended
  • If you think headcanon is okay but head-diagnosis is not, then you have a double standard
  • Because a fan diagnosis is really just headcanon about what a character’s neurotype might be
  • The only reason to object to fan diagnosis but not headcanon is if you think disability is somehow sacred and special and can only ever be talked about by experts lest we Get Something Wrong
  • But for a lot of us, disability is just a part of life
  • And experts are sometimes wrong, especially if they are stuck in the medical model
  • Autism experts do and say a lot of hurtful things (#notallautismexperts but a lot of them do this) and are not always aware of the full lived experience of the people they study – which is why we have so much self-diagnosis and so many people slipping through the diagnosis cracks in the first place
  • Given their track record in real life, I don’t see any reason to let such experts dictate what we can and can’t have in our headcanon

This is not to say that headcanon can’t be problematic. Like if someone has a terrible stereotype in their head and diagnoses people according to the terrible stereotype even if they act nothing like how a real autistic person would act. But I think that when problems like that happen, they are best dealt with individually by the rest of fandom, not by some pronouncement that you Shouldn’t Diagnose Fictional People Ever.

I also think that the benefit of us getting to decide for ourselves what characters we identify with outweighs the cost of any problematic headcanons that might get thrown around too.

So that’s what I am thinking, in general.

(January is now half over, but if you’re late to the party, you can still pick a January blogging topic here!)

Dinosaurs

Today’s question (a day late >_<) is from Merc Rustad:

something in retaliation to dinosaurs, just because

Well, okay. I am sure you meant “relation”, but I am not above taking a typo and running with it!

Ladies and gentlemen! Enough with this dinosaur obsession! Sure, they are adorable with their scales and feathers and big cute reptilian eyes and the way that they stomp through the underbrush in their beautiful sleek ancient perfection but…

Um…

What was I saying?

Yes. ENOUGH! For all you have to do is watch any movie with “Jurassic” in the title to know that these adorable monsters are actually responsible for killing and eating huge numbers of people! Why should we stand for that? They were supposed to go extinct sixty-five million years ago anyway! It is time to destroy these so-called dinosaurs!

*sings the Mob Song from Beauty and the Beast*

Fear not, fair citizens, for we will take back our modern world and restore-

*gets eaten*

*is dead*