On Micro- and Macrofeminism

I have been confronting issues, for which macrofeminist and microfeminist issue alignment, or more precisely, the lack of a means to align these spheres, makes feminists miserable or saps our agency. A classic example of micro- and macro- misalignment is my gripe about feminist men who post anti-sexism memes on Facebook but let their girlfriends, fiancées, wives, or lovers, do all the chores, cook all the meals, and even serve them to them. This is not an example that I pull out of thin air, exactly*. Erm.

Something about this is not quite feminist.

Something about this is not quite feminist.

These terms may be new. Let me explain what I mean by them. I’m borrowing (obviously) the concept from economics, although there are important distinctions. By macrofeminism I mean our thought and discourse about, our belief in or prioritization of, and all the heartshare, that big, systemic issues take up. The hundreds of millions of girls and women who go without basic access to water, sanitation, and education are a macroscale issue to me – I don’t directly touch on their lives, at least right now. As an upper middle class Indian American in a safe neighborhood – for me, Black Lives Matter is also really a macroscale issue, although for another feminist, these issues may touch much closer to home.

In contrast, microfeminism includes, certainly, all the micro-aggressions that affect us personally, but more generally, the feminism of our daily lived experience – how we are disrespected, invalidated, or erased, how we are made recipients of misogyny (and frequently expected to say, “Thank you” in return), and how we are taught to hate and loathe ourselves or see ourselves as “less than.” These issues relate to macrofeminist issues in much the same way that economies are made up of many small transactions, the three dollars you paid the barista and the change you fed in the parking meter, and so on, which, when considered as a whole, become gargantuan. The big distinction from the economic use of microeconomics and macroeconomics is that, because of all the factors outside of sexism or patriarchy**, and because there is no unifying metric of feminism in the way that economists can at least try to convert all effects to some currency unit, what is microfeminist and what is macrofeminist may differ from person to person.

I choose these terms instead of saying something like, “walking the walk” and “talking the talk” for two reasons. First, there are actions associated with the macrofeminist issues – activated macrofeminists make voting decisions, educate and inform others, and sometimes even mobilize others for feminist movement. This is true in Teri’s case. He isn’t just lazily re-sharing memes on Facebook. His thoughts on this – including the ones that prompted this post – are deep and meaningful, and they are not lacking in sincerity. He is therefore walking and talking in alignment – what feels out of alignment is not his words and deeds, but his handling of the global and local applications of his beliefs.

The other reason I want to use these two terms, since I write every blog post I write, every speech or talk I give, not just to teach and share, but to, myself, try to learn, to learn, intersectionally, to not discount my personal experience wholly in favor of systemic issues that often have limited direct impact on me. See, as I share, particularly when I talk about anorexia and the personality traits I have that align with my anorexia experience, one of the most dominant hurtful themes*** of my childhood was learning that my hurt was always overruled by someone else’s hurt. As soon as I opened my mouth to speak my hurt, someone else would interrupt me, telling me theirs was worst. And I believed them / maybe it was. So I closed my mouth. And waited my turn. That never came. Like, ever. This is directly relevant because, all these years later, and through all my exposure to feminism, I know that I am not the only one of us – women, particularly, but also others – who experienced this. And when I look at feminist movement and women’s spaces, I see that they are filled with guilty women. And I get that. Because social butterfly that I am, I view every social interaction as an opportunity to let someone down – Teri, my friends, my team, my parents, acquaintances, strangers – my thoughts overflow, too, with guilt. I learned as I recovered from anorexia to be done with the idea that, because my hurt never measured up, it would never be my turn to hurt. I finally came to understand that this was the root of my lack of self-esteem, and overcoming this belief – allowing myself to hurt authentically – was central to how I came to have some small measure of self-respect****.

These daily micro- aggressions add up, and we should question expecting feminists to table them for the bigger systemic issues. Source: Wikipedia

These daily micro- aggressions add up, and we should question expecting feminists to table them for the bigger systemic issues. Source: Wikipedia

Back to my classic example. I would not be true to my feminism if I ignored this misogyny in my home because all my effort is on macrofeminist issues. I would not be truly feminist if I ignored it everywhere else I experienced it, like, all the time. But I admit that, sometimes, I do, precisely because of this fear that I will detract from my macrofeminist causes. These are trivial, although micro-aggression adds up. It isn’t all trivial. At its most serious extreme, and yet in this exact process, there have been times when women (not me) have been asked, “intersectionally” to overlook their own sexual assaults because their assaulter was perceived as an ally to feminist or progressive movement. Where this happened – the most flagrant, recent, example, was some of the early response to claims of sexual assault at the hands of Bill Cosby (where the intersection of race complicated the issue but did not warrant invalidating the claims of women reporting rape), but another prominent example from recent years was sexual assault at Occupy Wall Street and other similarly styled protest movements – we are not doing feminist movement, nor women either as a political entity nor as individual women, any favors when we whitewash these assaults.

In contrast, in my usage, say an affluent, ethnically non-marginalized feminist women can talk about black lives and the impacts of poverty and lack of access to education, or about curtailment of reproductive freedoms, for sisters who are affected by these issues in ways she is not (and in that way, is not “like her”), but also, on the microfeminist scale, not feel pushed to ignore or overlook all the times when men objectify or make unwanted sexual advances, making whatever-it-is cents on the dollar compared to men of her own ethnicity, or when she feels, say, like a sucker because all the responsibility in her relationships with men is placed on her shoulders*****. Rather than dismissing her feminism as “white” or “faux,” if she is engaged in discourse and movement both at the microfeminist and macrofeminist levels, we can recognize and celebrate this as a more integrative, and thus more intersectional, feminism.

When we do this, we make her stronger, and we make feminism stronger, rather than pitting feminist cause against feminist cause or feminist against feminist. We also empower her to learn to dynamically balance her commitment to discourse and movement on issues at both levels. I do mean dynamic. When she has just been catcalled, or something has just been mansplained to her, or when her microscale issue is something not so micro, we should understand and embrace her anger on her local issue. We should give her a moment, and not expect her to breathlessly return to advocating on a more systemic level without acknowledging her own mistreatment.

Apropos of the dynamic nature of this process, recognizing this as micro- and macrofeminist alignment has the further benefit that it offers us a robust platform on which we can engage in the kind of prioritizing we need to do, if we want our feminism to be intersectional. This prioritization would not work by denying sexism or misogyny, ever, or queuing up some experiences in dead end “slow lanes” like what was done to all my sorrows when I was younger. Rather, it would recognize that no feminist, even we who throw our bodies into the gears, should be sacrificing her own dignity or self-respect as a woman in order to support feminist movement. This is important because, as I’ve said before, it’s time to have some intersectional real talk and get beyond just saying we’re intersectional and then not thinking intersectionally.

So please give this some thought. It’s not so important that these terms take root – but the idea underlying them is different, and I believe it is one component of our pathway out of toxic, faux, and bullshit feminism, and back to empowering and fulfilling feminism.

* Meaning I’ve been calling Teri out on it. Teri is a good sport to let me publicly analyze these issues. Make no mistake, I not only love him with all my being, but I respect him – if I use him as an example it is because our relationship is a highly accessible example-base for me, because I push him to be better and I expect him to push me to be better, and also because this is entirely the point of microfeminism. I am particularly thankful for his willingness to embrace the discomfort my baring myself sometimes causes him, e.g., when I embrace the term “bitch” as a reclamation term for myself, and he cringes, still.

** Here, I use a simple operational definition of patriarchy as the system that sustains, reinforces, and expands the reach of sexism.

*** There were many positive themes, and I have lived a joy-filled life through it all.

**** This is a (life-) long journey. Much as I still see myself as fat, always, and as ugly, nearly always, even if I also am able to somewhat accept the fact that I am not fat by any sensible measure, and to understand that I am perceived as beautiful, and that all the people who use words like stunning, lovely, or gorgeous – words I receive probably somewhere or other every week – that all those people are not simultaneously lying to me.

***** All the way down, she gripes at the airport, to “annoying guy behavior,” like blocking the boarding lane at the airport gate when your number hasn’t been called yet, but you’re right directly in the line, so we have to ask you if you’re boarding (to which you always say no) to let us around you. Seriously, why do you do that?

All My Lady Parts Against All The Hate

I delivered this speech on Saturday, September 26th, at the second annual Lady Parts Justice V to Shining V Detroit. I spoke at the first one, last year, and was very honored to be back! Last year’s speech is also here on my blog

We proceeded the campaign with a social media campaign on why we care about Lady Parts - I care because of my belief in building inclusive solidarity. And also I was supposed to use my right hand, which would have looked more like the State of Michigan.

We proceeded the campaign with a social media campaign on why we care about Lady Parts – I care because of my belief in building inclusive solidarity. And also I was supposed to use my right hand, which would have looked more like the State of Michigan. Ahem.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me for a testimonial about why I stand with Planned Parenthood. It made me think. Now, I know I do support Planned Parenthood. But why? And not just why I support Planned Parenthood, but why I support reproductive choice.

I want to start with the answer that I gave her. The partial truth. I come from a pretty classist upbringing – I’m not proud of it, but I am honest about it, which I need to be if I’m going to learn better. And when I think about Planned Parenthood and the women and families they support, I thought, well, they’re not much like me. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (a sister any of us could aspire to be like someday) brought some much needed attention to this, recently. My affluence and connectedness give me options, even as options become scarce. When abortion and reproductive care and sex education get regulated and policed, it doesn’t do very much to my access. Right? I mean, women like me just buy an airplane ticket to anywhere in the world – we get what we want. That’s not the way life works when you’re poor. Class is real, even if it is not to be celebrated, and it makes these sisters not like me. But then they are just like me in one very important way. We have hopes. And dreams. We need to be in charge of our own lives. When we don’t get a choice, it is injustice, and it stops us from making our communities better. And in that way, they’re just exactly like me. So I told her that’s why I support reproductive freedom. And it is. But it isn’t the whole story.

Shortly thereafter, I was up in Cadillac, talking about how trans is beautiful, trans is lovable, trans is proud, and trans can fly given the chance. It’s true. But, okay, so, you guys, know, right, that’s bravado, much of the time. I’m an anorexia survivor and a wallflower and I spend a lot of time faking it until I make it. Haven’t made it yet. I say it not because I believe it, but because I am learning to believe it. Anyways, later that day, I saw the Planned Parenthood coordinated protest campaign, and I was mad. Mad at the idea of anyone who can’t tell love from hate, who preys on vulnerable women and families. And mad at myself, because I wasn’t there to help stand firm against the night.

A few nights later, I put this all in context, and I want to tell you the rest of the truth about why I really support choice.

I am a lucky girl, whose dreams came true.

I am a lucky girl, whose dreams came true.

This is what you need to know: I would give anything, do anything, sacrifice anything, to be able to have my own child. And I can’t. Won’t. Ever. I’m a lucky girl, whose dreams came true, but this is the one thing I want and can never have. I know I’m not the only one, but people don’t always get it, because my reason is different.

We live intersectional lives, right? But I think, when we hear Flavia Dzodan’s famous quote, “My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit,” we think that all intersectionality is just saying that forms of oppression intersect. Which is kind of obvious. The result is that we’ve unintentionally chosen the side of bullshit. To fix that, and to make us better advocates, just like I’m trying to be more honest with myself, and more integrative, about why I care about reproductive freedom so much, we have got to learn to actually understand intersectionally, and not just talk-is-cheap intersectionally. Let me try.

I can’t ever unsee my support for other women’s reproductive freedoms through the lens of my own lack of freedom, and you wouldn’t really understand me if you expected me to. It isn’t wrong for me to think about their choice in the context of my lack of choice – not doing so would hold me back. This is how they’re just like me. They deserve choice, just like I deserve choice. It’s useless to be angry about the reason I can’t have that choice, because it’s not like it’s anybody’s fault, or anybody can do anything about it. For all the times Teri’s held me when I was in tears in the middle of the night, I can’t change my lack of choice. And if you don’t understand that about me, and what it means to me, you won’t really understand why I care.

So honored to speak alongside powerful and inspirational voices like Kary Moss of ACLU

So honored to speak alongside powerful and inspirational voices like Kary Moss of ACLU

I care about reproductive freedom because I can’t have the freedom I need, but my sisters can. I support choice by drawing vitality from my own pain in lack of choice.

An aside: if you were here last year, I introduced you to Teri, my Prince Charming. So, he came home from Lady Parts Justice last year and he said something amazing. Okay, Teri, I told you that the nicest question a man ever asked me was when that waiter asked me if I prefer my chocolate white, milk, or dark. But you said something better. When we got home last year, you said, “Now I finally understand why you’ve wanted me to be a feminist all this time. I finally get it.” That’s when I knew you will be the father of my child. You’ve helped me learn that my child is out there, somewhere, and if I wandered around, lost and alone, for a long, long time, waiting for you, then I imagine how my child feels, and I am going to find them. Like so much in my life, I will come to embrace what I need even if it isn’t what I thought I wanted.

This Prince Charming feminist dude with whom I'm in love, though

This Prince Charming feminist dude with whom I’m in love, though

But back to freedom. I support reproductive freedom because I can’t change my lack of choice, but I can fight for choice for all our sisters who don’t have it. I can fight for a world where they don’t get called nasty things, just because they have the audacity to be poor and need help. I can fight for their dignity when they’re surrounded by people whose religion is so corroded that all their concern for the dignity of human life stops the instant anyone is actually born. I can fight for Purvi Patel and every other sister who is behind bars, just because we live in a land where everyone has a right to own a gun, but owning a vagina is a crime.

And I can fight. I’ve got a voice. I can’t change the rules of the universe, which keep me from what I want, but laws I could change. And minds? I change minds for a living. And hearts? I don’t make them change, but I know a thing or two about helping people re-connect with what their heart is telling them. All of that, I can do.

And by all that is holy – because lady parts are holythey, those women who are and are not like me, in multiple ways, will have the choice – the freedom – they deserve. I’m going to use my voice and my heart and my thoughts and my brain – to fight for justice for my sisters. And I’m going to use my most fearsome weapon of all – my experience – including how and why I know what it’s like to not get to choose, for them.

A few select pictures from the event to intersperse: iconic Rep. Brenda Lawrence talking about fighting back against conservatives who don't care about communities, including hers.

A few select pictures from the event to intersperse: iconic Rep. Brenda Lawrence talking about fighting back against conservatives who don’t care about communities, including hers.

And I’m going to use my connectedness to the sisterhood. I’m going to learn from my sisters and our history. I’m going to learn to be braver – like my sisters out there right now who say Black Lives Matter, to a world that thinks all lives matter but acts like they don’t. And there are times when I’m going to have to confront ignorance. I’m going to be more willing to throw my body into the gears rather than give it to a society that treats any woman like ours treats them. I mean that – I mean, the last year for women really emphasizes that it’s time for us to start acting like we’re the majority.

I’m also going to continue to be way more integrative of my identities. My anorexia didn’t make sense without embracing my womanhood. This is how I experience life. That’s what being intersectional is. Our identities make us all very different women. We can’t be the same, but we can listen, we can share what we hear and learn, and we can love each other. We can make our difference strength and not weakness.

This is the kind of integrativeness that I want with my belief in reproductive freedom – I want it to run even deeper in who I am. So this is my challenge for me, and for you: I want to be a woman whose womanhood, a feminist whose feminism, make no sense, whatsoever, unless you understand that I believe that every woman deserves a choice.

Thank you.

Maybe It’s Time I Became an Openly Progressive Woman

I think it might be time I change my perspective on something. I have never affiliated myself directly with a political party – I’ve always been an independent. I’ve voted for many Democrats, especially at the national level, but I’ve cast votes for many Republicans, as well, often at the state and local levels*. I’ll always vote for the best person (ideally the best woman) for the job, but I think it’s time I sacrifice a little bit of my fiercely independent nature and pull in closer to the Sisterhood.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go to the first Women’s Health & Economic Summit, hosted by the Michigan Women’s Progressive Caucus, and particularly Democratic women from the State House. I had been quietly getting to know progressive women here in West Michigan, over the past year, in part because I see very clearly the war on women, on black and Hispanic people, on the LGBT community, and, all too often, on common sense. I do not wish to roll the clock back even farther, and I am keenly aware of the risk the next few cycles of elections holds for all of us.

I walked in on the event, yesterday, with some concern, which was not entirely unfounded. I am a businesswoman who has a very strong sense of entrepreneur identity. I work at a mid-size non-profit (Hope Network, which has a financial size of more than $100M in revenues), and I innovate there. We’re doing things now that have never been done at Hope before, and we already have in our cache the next, next, and next levels of what we’re trying to do (and are prepping the old guard to be very, very afraid). Some people also call those of us who are entrepreneurs “in the big box” intrepreneurs, and I do like that, too, although my businesswoman identity is tied into pro-social innovation, not the big box, so social entrepreneur is probably what I like best. Anyways, as I walked in the door worried that I would not be welcome as a businesswoman, even though we know how many progressive women are small business owners.


Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), a hometown sister, delivering her statements early in the day.

I was a little right. In the Q&A following a morning panel, two people used their opportunity to ask questions to attack entrepreneurs and providers and everyone else who serves in the healthcare industry. While there is some validity to their point, I felt personally attacked by this, because it’s what I do, and although there is a great need for structural reform (for which I myself advocate, in fact, I advocate unhesitatingly for a transition to a single payer system, to, in essence, doing what works in many other parts of the world, rather than practicing American Exceptionalism), I do not believe in an attacking dialog on this, and especially not one in which there is no room even for healthcare providers to have voices.

Intersectionalism runs deep – this is not a claim to my identity, just a statement of fact. It’s the whole point of intersectionalism. I cannot put away the fact of my Indianness. I cannot ignore the fact that, during my lifetime, although Mr. Obama is a noteworthy exception, every time there has been a Democrat in the White House, relationships with India have become jingoistic on the American side, leading to cooling of bilateral cooperation and adversely affecting the lives and livelihoods of my family. I have, nonetheless, supported all the Democrats who tried to get there, during my adult life, starting with hand-delivering get-out-the-vote information for Bill Clinton when I was a senior in high school. In this same sort of way, and perhaps more saliently to me, because my identity as a businesswoman is probably stronger than my identity as an Indian (for better and worse), I can’t put away my belief in economic empowerment through business development when I enter progressive spaces.

I want to back up a step, though. Before that happened, when I walked in the door, people immediately recognized and welcomed me (and I wasn’t really sure there would even be many people I knew). I didn’t have to give my name. My friend, Amber, at the check-in station, already knew it. Representatives and activists came and made me feel welcome. Right away. This is pretty much what happens, time and time again, when I enter the spaces of my feminist sisters. It is frequently not what happens when I enter LGBT spaces**. And it’s something I’ve been listening to, thinking more and more about how I need to embrace my feminist roots, and my feeling that there is some structural mis-alignment (as exemplified by my giving) that over-represents my LGBT identity and underrepresents my feminist identity, when the latter is one I have been clear is much stronger for me. That is, my strongest identity of all is that of being a woman, of being a Sister.

So I did not walk in the door feeling unwelcomed – I walked in the door feeling very welcomed, at home, where I belong. This is a thing I’ll come back to, please bear with me. If the moment I described above validated my fears, they were subsequently invalidated by the rest of the day. I attended two great panels that were about empowering women economically.

The morning session I attended was music to my ears, talking about the value women bring to workforce development, and the many shared goals women of all ages and millennials bring to the workplace. The things with which we will change the world. We talked about fighting sexism, recognizing implicit biases in the workplace that harm women (and minorities), and building a workspace that meets the changing needs of the workforce as women and millennials come to dominate.


Rep. Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) speaking at a morning panel about women and the strength we bring to workforce development

One of my goals is to integrate my life even more – I want to live my career, whether my current role as Director of my Center for Autism, or future ones, in a deeply feminist way. So we’ve been tackling a lot of these issues at the Center. And it’s tricky. I find my millennial leadership team members, amazingly, afraid to ask me if they can bring their young children into work due to a sudden issue with childcare. At my Center where we grow the lives and dreams of young children. In part, they’re scared because, technically, this is against our corporate policy. I respond (and HR may deal with me as they wish) by reminding my leadership team, gently, that they set an example of how to work with the families we serve, who are dealing with the same exact problems, and that of course they should bring their children in, and of course I trust their judgment in the matter. They do not need to say that dedication to their jobs will not be adversely impacted by their children paying occasional visits to my Center. I knew that already.

Time to admit I have some work to do.

Time to admit I have some work to do.

The rest of the day was much like that. Rashida Tlaib, alongside whom I spoke last year at Lady Parts‘ V to Shining V, received an award at lunch and delivered an impassioned and remarkably funny speech. Particularly impactful to me was her story of breastfeeding at the State Legislature and something atrocious a man had said to her, emphasizing that no matter how high we climb, we are still sexualized and objectified and well, treated like women. It mirrored something in passing that another Representative had said, which emphasized how women who are running the State still find themselves running home to cook meals for their families, much like I do.


Rashida Tlaib of Sugar Law Center being fierce. It’s kind of what she does.

One more thing that resonated with me is how many of the women in the House spoke about how influential women in their communities had told them to run for office time and time gain – sometimes more than ten different women had told them this – before they listened. This has actually happened to me more than a few times in the last year, and at least two women I respect immensely have told me to do it. I need to think much more carefully about this, as I learn about what it is that I don’t know (which is kind of a lot) about the business of running for office. I think I worry, too, that I may not be electable, and that if I ran, I would be taking up attention that another politician deserves – taking up too much space. I don’t know if the former is really founded, because I have so many people in my life who are willing to support me. And I got a good dose of reminder that the latter is how entirely too many of us women think, entirely too often.

This is where I want to leave this story. I think it’s time that I think much more critically about my sense of need for independence, and the extent to which that’s a show, pretend, vs. my really deep-seated sense of Sisterhood, loyalty, and alliance. I need to question the implicit assumptions I have that Progressives and Democrats are anti-business. I need to listen to my heart, that tells me when I’m among progressive women, I belong more than I have ever belonged. I need to listen to my brain, which tells me that women are in a perilous time right now, and solidarity is more important than ever. And I need to listen to my voice, which tells me, sister, you’re stronger than you think you are, and you have more to say than you give yourself credit for. And I will listen. To all three.

* I do own my regret that some of the Republicans for whom I voted did what I wanted as a businesswoman but turned around and sided away from business interests, with social conservatives, when politically convenient, to the detriment both of women and of the LGBT community. While I’m a dimensional, non-single-voter issue, this is a compromise I recognize that I made, in the past, without full appreciation of the consequences, and I am trying to learn better.

** Although even in that story, Christina Karhl and her wife waylaid us for a drink and were one of the shining spots in that awful night.

On Why I Haven’t Been Going to Church

I haven’t been going to church. I’ve been a devout churchgoer for wide swaths of my life – from around fourth grade, when I became best friends with a preacher’s kid, all the way through high school. That church I left, because my first sin against God was physics, and I had no room in my sensibilities for such a religion. After a couple of years off, I spent a significant amount of college, my wonderful time in engineering graduate school, and a few years after, at another church. The excessive focus on sexual impurity, even though at that time, I was a “virgin,” drove me away. I had had enough when a married man earnestly counseled us that we could be committing “adultery in our hearts,” because the emotional connections of our chaste relationships could damage our future marriages. Again, I had no room in my sensibilities for such a religion.

You cannot love both God and this foolishness, dear Sister.

You cannot love both God and this foolishness, dear Sister. Source: Pinterest

Then, after a long pause of probably eight years, I went to Mass, because someone I loved was (is) Catholic. Now I make fun of Mass – the Brothers Fathers free styling over the beat break in the Lord’s Prayer, the recurrent sermons about the Father’s pension account, etc. I am not a Catholic, but I even helped for some time serving refreshments for hospitality at our Cathedral. I found, mostly, that, while I loved the grandeur of the ceremony, I felt a lack of substance at times, although I was thankful to be able to spend time experiencing it.

Finally, last year, I made a couple of attempts to find a church among progressive kinds of church spaces. People from my last church tell us they miss us and that we should come back. We miss them, too. I fear we shall not be back, soon, If I in any event am making the choice.

We do not unite in this kind of solidarity enough. Source: Jewish Women's Archive

We do not unite in this kind of solidarity enough. Source: Jewish Women’s Archive

I am taught by my feminist elders a feminine tradition of understanding the values placed on our bodies and their compliance to society. Certainly, this value is seated in many ways in the sexual roles of women, and compliance is most clearly demanded of our sexuality. We certainly agitate to redefine our roles – we are not bound by our sexuality, we do not exist for the benefit of the male gaze, even when those women among us, who, like me, are attracted to men, choose to allow ourselves to be viewed and appreciated by them. We are not baby making machines nor baby rearing machines, and we are not relegated to domesticity by our sex. But in recognizing the extent to which we do engage in those roles (women do more unpaid domestic work than men even in the most equal countries), there is tremendous power in the notion of the women’s strike as a means of reminding society how much it depends on but how little it values the agency of women.

In the United States, a Woman’s Strike for Equality in 1970 garnered only tens of thousands of women, but it still became a clarion that brought the second wave here to the US. In Iceland, a few months after my own birth, a far more unified strike occurred, with 90% of the small nation’s women refusing to work, cook, or look after children. Although the strike did not end sexism (an enemy that has had too much time to grow too large and too infiltrated by far), it revolutionized a nation and certainly contributed to that nation nurturing sisters who inspire us still today, like fierce Birgitta Jónsdóttir.

This tool is used still, and perhaps we sisters should all be more cognizant of it. Although I recognize that some of our sisters are extremely brave warriors, like many women, I have little experience with violence, and my place in the revolution is through peaceful means. Peaceful, but I shall surely be insistent.

Certainly, I will not make my body available as evidence or implement of violence in the prurient war on impurity waged by many of the “evangelical” branches of faith. And surely I will not support the choice of progressive Christianity to sit by idly, doing nothing to confront their own supposed brothers in Christ, but rather telling gay people that they “love us” when one must surely quip, “What’s not to love?” If I go so far as to call this sin, I call it sin not to decry you as a sinner, but to refuse to participate in it.

Surely, I will not submit to nor enforce the authority of men who have never owned a uterus over the rights of my sisters to make choices over their own pregnancies and to plan their own families. If I must stand for the notion that this is a spiritual question at all, I will stand closer to the American Nuns than anyone else speaking spiritually on this topic, and most firmly with the sisterhood of women of any (or no) belief. And though the Pope does not condescend to ask my opinion, I say very simply, that no forgiveness is required, for no sin has been committed.

Although I can never make the choice to be or not be pregnant, know that this is personal, and I will fight for other women to have that choice. Source: Daily Kos

Although I can never make the choice to be or not be pregnant, know that this is personal, and I will fight for other women to have that choice. Source: Daily Kos

Believe me, I will not participate in a system in which the rich cry to the poor to cast off their sins, while they gather their fortunes. If I do not give you my money, know that it is because you will not use it to do God’s work.

Know that I will not participate in a segregated church world in which white Christians cry out that they are oppressed because they are called to account for their corrupted and un-Godly beliefs, while they turn a blind eye to the smoke rising from burning black churches.

I act only for my own body, and my own sensibility, that body which I own and which no one else may ever own, not even those to whom I give of it freely and richly. I act in pride of ownership, for I own myself, both grace and flaw. And I wish to own my choice to refuse church.

My choice is not a choice of convenience, and I do not refuse church to sleep in on Sunday mornings or for brunch. Anyone who knows me knows I am not ruled by convenience, and although I may do both of these things, they are not the reason you do not see me in the pew.

My choice is grounded not in my lack of faith, grounded not in my lack of appreciation for spiritual teaching, grounded not in any lack of sense of community, but grounded simply in my observation that I have the right to disallow the use of my own body as a means of my oppression. I do not dispense with God, for God is not bound up in your temples. I do not dispense with belief, because belief is not conferred by your priests or holy men. I do not dispense, either, with fellowship. When you are in the world, when you are amongst our people doing good, fighting for truth and justice, when you decry inequity, I remain your natural sister, and though I do not enter the corrupted places to take communion with you, at least not often, I remember every day, the sacrifices made for me. If I vex God, and surely I must often, it is in a spirit of knowing deeper faith, not for pursuit of blasphemy.

Finally, although I pray mostly for strength where I am unstrong and courage where I am cowardly, and most of all, for those who hurt, too often under your feet, I will surely say an occasional prayer for you, as well. If you pray for me in return, do not pray that I return to church. Rather, pray that I will remain strong in my sensibilities, that I will have no room in me for false religion. For I, like you, am tempted.

The strike may not last forever – indeed, I hope it shall not. But please know that this is why I do not go to church.

What I Will Teach My Child About Love

Because it aches me today, to be still far from knowing my child, to not yet have seen their face or hold them in my arms: 

I will teach my child about love. I am not afraid to teach my child about love, though it makes others uneasy. You may wonder what I will teach my child about love, so let me tell you.

I will teach my child about love, because I have studied love, always, to be ready to teach my child

I will teach my child about love, because I have studied love, always, to be ready to teach my child

I will teach my child first about life, because love derives from the joy of life. Although I do not understand everything about life, or its meaning, I will teach my child that this world has a deep structure, that this life means something.

I will teach my child that the root of love for others is love for self. I will teach my child self love. I will teach my child always to find themselves, to learn and discover who they are and what, and that when they find the path to their own self, they will find love pour into their lives. I will teach them that this is a confusing path, and who they will be may at times be hard to see, or even change, but I will teach them always to search, and to not fear what they find inside themselves. I will teach my child that this will be the most important thing they ever do.

I do not know whether my child will be boy child or girl child, both or neither. Even when I meet them I may still not know. But I will teach them that their truth is flickering inside them already. I will teach my child to always celebrate the pursuit of who they are, and if they lose their way, I will love them for the dream that flickers still inside them, and I will coax that flame to roar again. I do not know whether my child will be girl child or boy child, neither or both, but I know their voice will be proud, and their love will be proud.

I will teach my child that their body is theirs. I will teach them to care for that body and safeguard it, and I will teach them to be willing to risk that body only of their own choosing. If I guard their right to make decisions over their body, as a mother, for a time, I will teach them that I do so only for a time, and that I guard a right that has always been and can only be theirs. I will teach my child that no other body can ever belong to them. I will teach my child that the giving or receiving of the gift of another’s body is sacred, to be feared because it is powerful but not because it is wrong.

I shall teach my child so that my child will grow from a young age to know what true love is, through my true love for them. Though I shall always give thanks to the mother that birthed my child, and I will always celebrate her sacrifice, I shall teach my child knowing the truth of my own motherhood was never in doubt, and the truth of my love for my child that derives from that truth. I shall teach my child that true love was how I came to find them, searching for them and fearing for them lost without me, and I shall teach them that my anchor in my wandering search was my own true love for their father, who found me when I needed him most, for whom I had always been looking.

I will teach my child that the bond between me and their father prince is more powerful than any of us can understand, and that no one could separate me from him, but I will teach my child that our love prince for princess and princess for prince, grows not weaker but stronger because of our love for our child. I shall teach my child that they will never have to vie for my love, or earn it, and that they cannot be separated from it, for my love runs truer and deeper than my body or my life, and though I do not know everything that comes after death, I will teach them that it can never separate my child from my love. I will teach my child to know safety by knowing love

I will teach my child that magic is exceeding rare in this world, but that it does exist, and because it exists, although they are very rare, true love and love at first sight are real. I will teach my child that, like precious stones, because they are uncommon does not make them unreal. I will teach my child this from personal experience, and although I do not know if my child will be lucky enough to have such experience, they will know to recognize it if they should ever have that chance.

I will teach my child that, while most of the time, princes look for the princess of their dreams, and princesses brave adventures to find their prince, like I braved and I found mine, that this is not always what happens, that some princes find princes to share their castles, and some princesses find princesses, and their fairy tales do not take away from each other, but strengthen each other. I will teach my child they may love one or many, for years or days, and I will teach my child to rejoice in every love they have, and to build their lovers up and expect to be built up by those who love them.

If the flowers are many, I will teach my child that they can each be beautiful. Source: Geograph

If the flowers are many, I will teach my child that they can each be beautiful. Source: Geograph

I shall teach my child, too, that whether they celebrate their scars in private or openly, they must celebrate their scars, for each scar makes their love more precious, each one refines and strengthens its power and magic.

I will teach my child that, though they are a child of magic, that I bestow on them that rare candle that burns so infrequently in our world, and that they carry that candle and pass it on to others, love that comes from magic need have no fear of the ordinary rules of the world, which do not choose according to love but logic. I shall teach them to learn and know all those rules, too, and this too will make my child’s love stronger.

All of this and more, will I teach my child about love, because my child will know about love.

Changing the Conversation: Re-Defining LGBT Community Values

The following is a speech I gave at the Cadillac, MI Pride, yesterday (August 22, 2015). Cadillac is a town about two hours away from Grand Rapids by car. Its population is about 10,000, although it serves as a hub for rural, outlying communities. Thank you so much to Karen Prieur, David Roosa, Tiffany Robinson, and everyone at Cadillac Pride for having Teri and me out!

The bandstand was actually right on Lake Cadillac, with the audience facing the water. Which was really pretty!

The bandstand was actually right on Lake Cadillac, with the audience facing the water. Which was really pretty!

Good afternoon! My name is Mira Krishnan, and I’m so happy to be visiting with you today from Grand Rapids. I want to ask you to share a little bit of your time on this wonderful day with me, to talk about what Pride really means, and what it means to embrace and celebrate, instead of fear or loathe, diversity. To do that, I’d like to start by telling you just a little bit about my personal story. I could go on for this entire time about me, but I do that a lot. Rather than just talk about me, I want to tell you about me more briefly, to provide you context, and talk about some other things.

Probably some of you in the audience today know a trans person. But, I’m guessing, many of you have never met one of us before, or really gotten to know us. That’s important. We know that a majority of Americans who know a trans person – 66% – support trans rights, but that only 16-20% have met us*. That does make me an ambassador, because I want you to join the “know a trans person” group. Don’t worry, if you’re already there, I think I have a few things for you, too.

I represent one trans story. The story I represent has a simple moral: being trans can be a wonderful thing. Although, like most trans people, I “knew” since I was little, I didn’t come out to anyone until just a little less than two years ago. That first time, I was really aware of the risk that coming out entailed. I practiced what I would say. I didn’t sleep all night after that first time I came out. Similarly, coming out to my company was scary. Coming out to my parents was scary. But for me, what magically happened, is every single person of importance in my life, embraced me. Every single one. That really meant something.

I went fully public in July of last year – it’s just been 13 months, and it has continued to be like this – not only does no one object, but over and over and again, people tell me that they understand me better now, feel closer to me. I see in their faces that they take pride of ownership in my success. Good people – and I believe most people are  good, with some occasional help – they use the way they respond to new situations as a way to learn to be more good. That kind of unanimous, unambiguous support and love has really changed a lot of things for me. It’s been what some people call a virtuous circle: as their responses got better and better, my coming out experience got simpler and simpler, and more and more authentic. In the Bible, it’s written as, “Iron sharpens iron.”

Thanks to that kind of support, I don’t doubt if I’m a woman any more. I just am a woman. I don’t use apologetic or defensive language. This might be new to you. For me, I reject the notion that I am now or have ever been anything other than female (and nobody really argues with me). I’m not almost as good as anything; I’m amazing. I wasn’t born in the wrong body; I was born in just the right body. And I don’t apologize for being trans – I rejoice in it. That first night I came out, I planned and I planned, and I thought about all the details. Now, when I come out, it’s pretty much, “I’m trans. Get over it.” And people do! That comes from people not just accepting me, but embracing me.

And that means I get to focus on things that really matter, and say, maybe surprisingly, that being trans (in contrast) is actually kind of boring. Let me take a quick pause there. One theme that comes up, over and over again, is allies asking for education. I love that. You might feel, though, at this point, I’m not educating you, because I’m not talking about all the “stuff” – hormones and medications, gender marker changes, surgeries, clothes – that you think of, when you think of transness. This is not mistake nor oversight. You think you need to know the wrong things. Unless you’re trans, or a healthcare provider or close family member helping a trans person make decisions, this stuff really is not what you need to know. That’s like, when people want to get to know black people, my friends point out, we always want to, you know, touch their hair or know how they make their hair look like it looks. That’s really, seriously, don’t be touching people’s hair, it’s creepy, but it’s also wrong-headed, because what they’re telling you when they’re saying not to touch their hair, is that that’s not how you get to know them. Talking about this “stuff,” is not how you get to know us. I am telling you the important stuff. And it is kind of boring, because although there’s a richness in our trans experience, we are diverse creatures in a diverse world.

Let me tell you what's not boring!

Let me tell you what’s not boring!

So, you might ask, what isn’t boring? Let me tell you what isn’t boring. For me, personally, I’ve gotten to spend the last four years building a world-class Center for Autism, at Hope Network, my base camp for changing the world, back in Grand Rapids. We get to change kids lives, and we’ve been building life changing therapies at a quality level you just couldn’t get, and often still can’t get, around here. And I’ve gotten to help waves of young clinicians develop their skills – not just creating dozens of full time jobs with good wages and benefits but building and launching dozens of careers.

What else isn’t boring? Right in the beginning of my coming out process, wobbling still, as I walked in my true identity, I met Teri, my Prince Charming. I got to see that, at least once in a rare, rare while, love at first sight is real. And although everlasting love can take work, we’re up for it. Last summer, about this time of year, Teri came out to me, as a trans man. That makes us the strangest hetero couple maybe you’ve ever seen, but I say also the cutest. Two months ago, he proposed, and I look forward to spending happily ever after with him, although you know, that’ll be a lot of work, because happy ever after is something you’re not totally just given – it’s something for which you fight.

And finally, what else that isn’t boring, my advocacy life has blossomed. I don’t have to advocate for feminist movement while denying my own womanhood, any more. I’ve made so many friends in the women’s and LGBT movements. I’ve gotten to speak alongside amazing speakers, and like everything we do out in the community, feel like, when I get invited to talk to people, I learn so much that I’m the one getting away like a bandit.

That’s my trans experience. It’s not a lot of things. I don’t represent all trans people. I’m what we sometimes  call “binary” – meaning my identity fits much more closely to the male/female gender binary than some people’s do (I’m a feminist, radical down to my roots, so don’t worry, I rock the boat a little too, and I challenge for sure all the things people say girls and women can’t do). But, people tend to react to me with, “Well, if you’re trans, whatever that is, it doesn’t sound very interesting,” and I recognize that I evoke that response more than a lot of other trans people. But while non-binary identities, genderqueer or gender fluid people, may seem more “exotic” to you, they’re actually really cool, regular people, too, and I hope you get to meet them, and they’re not as different or other-worldly as you might fear. For all the things my trans experience is not, my trans experience shows one thing I need you to know. That one thing is: being trans, and loving a trans person (like my guy), can be delightful. Not just survivable, not just okay. It can be a privilege – I’m lucky to get to be who God made me, and I’m lucky to get to love who God gave me to love.

Trans people, before, during, and after they come out, can live joy filled lives, and when we embrace them, and give them room, sometimes they can really fly.

Beautiful cinema vérité moment – performer dancing with two little children wearing Pride tees. This is actually what it's all about. Little kids get it.

Beautiful cinema vérité moment – performer dancing with two little children wearing Pride tees. This is actually what it’s all about. Little kids get it.

There’s a catch. What’s so important about this event is that what can happen is not what always happens. You knew that. You didn’t need me to say it. But I am saying it. This relates closely to the next thing I want to talk about: a much broader notion of diversity, within our LGBT community and allies, and also a much broader notion of what it means to advocate for a world that embraces gender and sexual diversity, and finally, a broader notion of Pride.

A big part of the reason my life has been so great, is something called privilege. Privilege is all the things that make my life easier, but I didn’t earn them. Privilege, for me, is coming from a middle class, highly educated family, which meant that I very naturally slid into being highly educated and affluent, myself. Privilege has always kept me in safe neighborhoods. Privilege means being able to access the best resources, easily, whether they’re anywhere here in Michigan, or anywhere else in the nation or the world.

Privilege is a big part – maybe the biggest, but not the only part – of what makes my life so easy and so wonderful. And I didn’t earn it. This is the first kind of diversity I want to talk about. Opposite privilege – that advantage I didn’t earn that makes life easy for me – is marginalization – the disadvantages that I didn’t ask for, and I don’t control, that make my voice less hearable and block my agency.

I started this by telling you about my privilege. If you’re familiar with this idea of privilege, and particularly if you’re, oh, I don’t know, white, straight, male, maybe you might be surprised that I’m the one talking about my privilege. And you should turn to the person next to you, who’s not straight, and get them to notice, too. That’s right. A lot of us the visible, hearable LGBT voices come from highly privileged gay people.

This is why you’ll hear more and more outspoken advocates in the community, like me, shift and balance so that we’re not just talking about, say, trans rights, but we’re also talking about how black lives matter (even if we’re not black). We’re talking about how, and to whom, and when they don’t matter. Which is precisely why we need the #BlackLivesMatter movement. This is a big change – you look around Pride events, and usually, there aren’t too many Latino or Black faces in the crowd. That’s what happens in Grand Rapids. That’s what happens, entirely too often, throughout LGBT community. And if we’re really talking about a world where gay people matter, then we need to be talking about gay people who are Latino or Black. To give you an example, you might have heard about the epidemic of violence against trans people. This year, we believe twenty hate murders in the US have occurred, already, and there’s a quarter of the year left. These are hate crimes, although the law doesn’t always recognize them that way (here in Michigan, it doesn’t). What you may or may not know, is that here in the US, the lives lost are almost always black and Latina trans women. So if we’re real about ending this, we have to be more cognizant about this. We have to realize, for instance, I’m not the one whose life is in danger – even if that statement isn’t always popular among my non-Black/Latina trans family members. You hear this same story again and again – the vast majority of all violence against LGBT people motivated by intolerance of their gender/sexual identities, is against black and Latino LGBT people, and we can’t fix that if we’re not honest about it.

The other major shift we need to make is talking about poverty and how it relates to the LGBT community. The visible image of us, all too often, is a limited image of a small segment of us – you know, the stereotypical young, pretty, toned, gay men on a yacht. They have a lot of disposable income. They know all the best places to get brunch**. They’re the kind of person your business wants as a customer, and the kind of person you want as your new gay best friend. Right? I mean, yes, I know people who actually fit that stereotype (and I fit too closely to that set, myself). But that’s not a representation of the whole LGBT community. While many of us have high earnings, many more are highly impoverished. They might have the education, the talent, the skills, but they can’t get the job. Or they might have had their chances cut off way before all of that, when they were just kids. And here in Michigan, where you can get married on Saturday and fired the next Monday for being LGBT, that’s a big deal.

Cadillac Pride, and Prides like it, are particularly important, because we’ve got to recognize that every queer person does’t live in San Francisco or Manhattan or London. Right? We’re everywhere. The Network brought Pride to Grand Rapids, from Washington, D.C., a little less than 30 years ago. Because it turned out that there were gay people in Grand Rapids, too, not just big cities. And that same message goes to the importance of not just the legacy they left us in Grand Rapids, but what you are building here in Cadillac, and also how we reach out to all those little communities up here, you know, the ones that think of Cadillac as the “big city,” and look at you like you’re city slickers? Yeah, it turns out, they can be gay just as easily as you or I can. But they can’t get resources as easily as we can. And we need to support them better.

The second kind of diversity I want to talk about is what it means to truly embrace and celebrate people who are different from “us.”

At the Network, in Grand Rapids, in partnership with MDCH and organizations throughout Michigan, one of the exciting things we’re working on is talking about LGBT wellness. We’re starting with smoking cessation. What? Well, smoking kills more LGBT people than hate does. And while there are still people out there who do hate us, the tobacco companies love us. They’ve been studying for decades how to get minorities and gay people to smoke and keep them as loyal customers. You know, like, to the grave. It’s time to remind them, we don’t die easy. And that’s just a start in a broader message that we have to take care of our own community in order to be able to take care of our towns and cities. At the Network, you’re going to hear us talk more and more about health and wellness for LGBT people. At the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, we launched Our LGBT Fund last year, with more than $350,000 committed so far. What are we going to do with it? Help support the most vulnerable LGBT people. 40% or more of homeless youth are LGBT or questioning, and it’s time to say NO MORE, and engage to help families of LGBT youth stay intact, help parents through their children’s coming out, end the practice of kicking kids out of the home because they’re different (this isn’t some hypothetical situation – it didn’t happen to me, but it did to my fiancé). And if LGBT youth do become homeless, these are kids who hold our society’s future in their hands, not refuse to be thrown away, and even though they’re more likely to be homeless, the system often doesn’t accept or help them, because they’re different. We’re going to put an end to that.

Those are two different takes on diversity. Here’s a third. Back to Pride. Be proud. Don’t come up to me and apologize – I don’t want to hear it, and I’d much rather be your friend than hear your apology. Yes, I, like a lot of LGBT people, I do struggle with being one of the “lucky” ones, survivor’s guilt. But I’m here. And you’re here, and you’ve made a choice to be a part of this family. Be proud of it. Whether you’re gay or straight, Pride belongs to you – it’s a birthright – if you are invested in a world that celebrates difference instead of fearing it. And although the sexual and gender diversity you straight people bring to the table may not be as visible as what we bring to the table, diversity belongs to you, too. Being heterosexual is a sexual orientation. Being cisgender is a gender identity. It’s okay to own yours, even if it isn’t like mine.

So thank you for giving me the opportunity, especially those of you who’ve never met a trans person before, to let you get to know me. And please, stay in touch. Come talk to me and to Teri. Connect with me, if you’d like, online – my blog is at miracharlotte.com and you can even hear Teri and I tell a part of our story in an audio excerpt I’ve got there from StoryCorps. You’re very welcome to find me on Facebook, etc., too, and stay connected that way. And please keep being a part of embracing pride in gender and sexual diversity, and making the world better for all of us, straight or queer, by making it more inclusive of all of us. Thank you.

* I said 61% from stage, sorry! Well, the numbers are approximate, anyways.

** Right now, it’s TerraGR, people. But that’s really not the point of this story.

Navigating “Us” vs. “Them” and the Role of Lived Experience in Regulating Ethical Healthcare Practice

A colleague shared this recent piece by a social advocate who chose to leave the practice of applied behavior analysis. The piece was noteworthy to me for a couple of reasons. First, she and I believe in a lot of the same things, broadly – inclusion, advocating across lines of lived experience for marginalized people, as allies and not as usurpers of their place in the conversation. More specifically, like her, from what I can gather from her blog, I believe in a world of co-advocacy and partnership with autistic and non-autistic people. Although I believe in the idea of the autistic cognitive architecture, I also think that, much like the idea of “white” obscures differences inside the majority culture and maintains the us vs. them system by creating a false appearance of homogeneity, recognizing that neurotypical brains vary greatly is important, as well. Like the author, I’m uninterested in curing autism – I simply want a world in which autistic people can recognize their dreams and have the means to chase them*. So, we’ve got some common basis from which to agree and disagree. Second, of course, although some time ago, I made clear that I am not an evangelist for ABA and not even a practitioner of it, myself, I did make the choice, really, and take full responsibility for it, to focus my own Center for Autism on early identification, treatment planning, and early intensive behavioral intervention, or ABA therapy, for autistic** preschoolers.

As an aside, watch this. We need to embrace and empower autistic voices.

Back to Steph’s viewpoint. I think it is an interesting viewpoint – I had not seen this particular article before, but I’m familiar with the perspective, and she has a lot of important things to say. Part of me wishes she would not have chosen to do what she did – walk away. I respect why she did it – and I could see making the same choice in her shoes. I also respect and embrace the anger. But the reality, too, is that there’s a groundswell of support behind the idea of ABA – 39 of 50 states, I think now, covering the vast majority of the population, individually passed coverage bills, most of which specifically apply to ABA (and not broadly to autism therapy). In all of these states, strong networks of the parents of autistic youth were involved in advocacy. I can’t speak for them all, but I was here, in Michigan, as a small part of this happening here, and I do know that I testified alongside autistic young adults who supported the legislation. But while the point that this did not happen over the dead bodies of autistic people, in the sense that there is disagreement amongst autistic people over the topic of early interventions, the point really is that it did happen.

Photo of one of my actual kids and one of my actual (past) therapists, both of whom I love (source: Hope Network)

Photo of one of my actual kids and one of my actual (past) therapists, both of whom I love (source: Hope Network)

Here in Michigan, we’ve added well over a thousand children to ABA therapy in the last three years. So this is a thing. And the reality is that most of the people trained in behavior analysis have no exposure, at all, to the debate on its morality – they are definitely taught ethics, but the ethics are unquestioning (or at least, they seem this way to me, based now on knowing many practicing behavior analysts) with respect to the basic tools they use, as well as the basic assumptions they make about the lives of the kids they serve***. So the result is a strong divide – hardly anyone inside the system is talking about this, and hardly anyone who is talking about this has any relationship to “the system,” which is a real barrier to positive change. This means that things even that shock the vast majority of us, about which there is little or no controversy, like the Judge Rotenberg Center, whose use of shock therapy to “treat” autism is internationally considered torture, but continues quietly in Boston, even right now****.

To me, there are two big issues we must somehow overcome, besides retaining people like Steph from the article in the conversation (if not as therapy providers, as participants in developing a more ethical range of services).

The first is addressing the lack of autistic people in the ranks of early autism service providers and developers – I think this is a real shame. It was a big deal to me to have an autistic staff member, and I finally accomplished this some three years into being at my Center, and more than two years after taking control of my Center. What I really want, but I will admit I don’t know how to do yet, is to have autistic therapists collaborating on the therapies or services for autistic kids. I really hope someday the universities who train in this area do more to get people who have lived experience to join the ranks of trainees and therapists. The problem is that none of us can ever really know exactly what it’s like to be an autistic person, and this will always be a limiting factor with respect to our ability to make ethical judgments. And given the amazing range of autistic people, unlike some other populations, this should be an addressable problem.

The second is that autistic self-advocacy is full of people who have voices – people who are not or not very “impaired” or “disabled” in the sense that society traditionally defines it, whether or not they identify themselves in that way, and who thus are able to participate in the traditional, unmodified discourse (that is ableist and assumes the kind of dialogues that neurotypical people have and use). I love these voices of autistic people, even if they are a subset of a larger whole, and I celebrate them even if they say things I don’t want to hear, but the danger implicit in this is the same kind of danger, say, that would occur if affluent black people who are isolated from deprivation, poverty, and violence, were the only advocate voices on behalf of all black people*****. Or it’s a danger I navigate, myself, when I advocate for trans people – suicidality, poverty, lack of family/community acceptance, and hate crime / violence are all real things, that happen entirely too often to “my kind,” and at the same time, I’ve never experienced any of them******. This is actually more relevant than it might seem – Ivar Lovaas, relatively later in his career, collaborated with John Money of Hopkins in developing LGBT conversion therapies, essentially applying ABA to the LGBT “problem” with disastrous consequences…. Now, many states are now in the process of making conversion therapy illegal (I hope Michigan joins, someday) and President Obama has joined this call, himself. I wasn’t taught this when I was first exposed to Lovaas’ work. I did become aware of it, shortly after I started at the Center, and ever since, I’ve always been conscious of it in trying to build and to understand.

The difference is that, although it can be hard to hear them, people marginalized for their race, their sexual/gender identities, and by poverty, deprivation, and violence – they do have voices, and more and more, they are taking their place in these advocacy frameworks. But, in the kind of neurodiversity view for which the author advocates, how exactly do voices of people who don’t have voices count? This isn’t rhetorical. It does sound entirely like the maddening conversation in which the majority always asks to be educated on the backs of the minority. At the same time, there is legitimacy in a question of how a conversation is shaped that is truly inclusive, if one believes this kind of broad neurodiversity model (and eschews the idea of any kind of therapy or special services that seek to help autistic children gain skills that neurotypical children gain and they don’t, or which NT kids gain more easily than autistic kids, whether or not they are based on a “curative” model).

And, I think there’s a complex question of how much relevance people who do have voices have to the welfare of people who don’t, although certainly, just as in the case of LGBT advocacy, lived experience should count for something, even if that lived experience necessarily has gaps with respect to the broad range of lived experiences.

Anyways, the big thing that I think, in response to this article, is that we have to learn to question the ethics and morality of everything we do – even the things we most believe in – more openly, and we have to be prepared for critical moments when it turns out we were doing the wrong thing, and be ready to change in those moments instead of doubling down. And just like we believe that our therapy can become technically better over time, we have to believe there may be ways to make it more moral and more ethical, too, and we have to set both of those goals, not just the goal for technical excellence.

I guess the problem with these none shall pass moments is that we’re always stuck in what we know today, and not what we will know, tomorrow. (source: Wikimedia)

For now, I’m trying to continue standing on the bridge and making sure that therapy is ethical and truly good for kids. I’m doing it for them, and for myself, and not for anyone else, because I don’t think they owe anyone anything. I respect Steph, the author, and her choice to advocate from the outside. I embrace the disagreements we likely have in our philosophy towards autism, and just the fact that our lived experiences are likely very different. I hope that we can both, together with actual autistic people (since that is neither of us) do something to make a world that is better for autistic kids, and autistic people generally, and I recognize that none of us knows precisely what that world will look like, because we haven’t lived there yet. But  I believe, together, I hope, with her, and with all my autistic friends, that it will be wonderful.

* And importantly, I feel I have no say in what those dreams are. That’s none of my business, unless / until someone chooses to share them with me. Certainly, I’m not in the business of telling anyone what their dream is. Although I suspect I’ll live to see my world changed in unimaginable and wonderful ways by them.

** Regarding the use of the phrase “autistic people” – this is something I encourage everybody to read. I’ve heard many people say (and probably said, at some point, myself) some kind of analogy like you wouldn’t say “cancer kids” (actually, people who’ve worked a lot with kids with cancer do, but that’s another conversation). For what it’s worth, autistic people who both use this language and recommend that others use this language recommend it precisely because they don’t think analogies like the one with cancer are appropriate. I used to more navigate the fence between parents, who preferred the “child with autism” language, and self-advocates, but I more and more give in and agree that the self advocates have it right.

*** This isn’t a criticism of Behavior Analysis. Certainly, right now, Psychology as a field (and the roots of Behavior Analysis came from within Psychology, and although many now identify their field as a different, separate field, many behavior analysts also studied psychology as undergraduates) is just visible dealing with the aftermath of a miserable ethical and moral failure. This came in the form of our field’s unwillingness to take a firm stance against torture and our allowing the American Psychological Association’s rules and ethics code to be twisted to condone and even torture. If you don’t know about it, read the Hoffman report.

**** Changes were made, albeit with a “grandfather clause” that allows some people receiving services here to still be treated with the skin shock aversive, although apparently new patients are not receiving this, any more. But that change did not come from organized rage within psychologists or behavior analysts, but from the outside.

***** Look no farther than Dr. Ben Carson, although, for all his many, many, many flaws, he is actually less racially ignorant than many of his rivals in the current Republican primaries.

****** The complex dynamics of survivor guilt play a big part in this discussion, as well, since I am, admittedly, primarily “lucky” (or privileged) to not have experienced these ills.