Content/trigger warning: cursing, Autism $peaks, discussion of ableism
I’m not quite sure why I didn’t think to write about this earlier, but I went to my first protest last month (June). Fittingly for me, I was protesting at one of Autism $peaks’ walks.
I went with a nifty little group called Autistics Against Curing Autism (AACA), and my fiancee accompanied me. We both made signs; my fiancee’s said “Autism $peaks doesn’t speak for me” and mine said “my brain is not a puzzle, goddammit”. (The “goddammit” was in much smaller letters.) My sign also featured a crossed-out A$ blue puzzle piece and a multicolored brain. The brain was hard to draw.
Here is my sign (photo taken by Timotheus Gordon, who can be found on Twitter at @timgordonjr):
The protest was harder than I anticipated it would be. Standing while holding a sign for several hours wasn’t all that bad, as I was wearing comfortable gym shoes (protip: if you’re ever attending a protest, wear comfy shoes), but what I didn’t anticipate was how fucking intimidating it was to see an unending wave of people whose views were diametrically opposed to mine, people who believed in a hate group’s mission, coming straight at me for three hours solid. I know intellectually that A$ has many supporters, but I have a hard time conceptualizing large numbers. And even if I could conceptualize large numbers, seeing concrete evidence of so many supporters buying into A$’s pro-eugenics ableist bullshit who think they’re supporting their Autistic family members by hating them was. Fuck, I can’t even describe it well. It felt like the bottom had fallen out of my stomach. I pitied the people in the walk who were ostensibly there out of love, but I was also angry at them for supporting a hate group that wanted me—and their (supposedly) loved ones—to not exist. I felt completely helpless, like I was trying to climb out of a pit of black holes using a ladder that was also made out of black holes. At least there weren’t pigs there; that would have terrified me even more.
We got…reactions. Some good, some bad, some weird. One allistic woman with two Autistic boys came up to us because she liked my poster(!) and asked what our problems with Autism $peaks were, because she just wanted what was best for her kids. We gave her a flyer and pointed her in the direction of some Autistic-run organizations. The only other possibly good reaction was someone in the walk noticing us and saying cheerily, “Look, they’re back!”. We puzzled over this for a while, because the person’s tone seemed very chipper, but why the hell would you be happy to see protesters two years in a row and still do the thing being protested? Oy, allistics. As far as the other reactions…well…
The worst was someone, a white man, who yelled at us “What’s wrong with you people!?”. That scared me, but I was pissed, too. I wanted to say “I know what you think is wrong with us” or something, but I wasn’t quick enough to come up with something pithy, and it wouldn’t have been a good idea to antagonize him anyway. Also, I’m kind of pants with facial expressions, but it was…weird to see people’s faces look bright and eager to read our signs, then watch their expressions turn to confusion or dismay. Part of me took a perverse pride in it. Part of me was scared. I don’t understand allistics at the best of times, and I was afraid of confrontation. My CPTSD does not like confrontation.
One of A$’s board members also came by and tried to tell us how he was glad we were advocating for ourselves and that he wanted to make sure the organization worked with self-advocates. I didn’t believe him for even a zeptosecond. I refused to shake his hand and gave him my best Eat Shit and Die look. This was rude; I don’t care. I was protesting, dammit.
Making matters even more uncomfortable was the radio station covering the event. (I would totally name names if I could remember which station it was. I think it was an Xstian station, but I’m not positive.) The DJ kept asking people in the walk what team they were on, and everyone was just so damn enthusiastic and happy to be promoting ableism. Despite the raging CPTSD, I was there to make a statement, and I wanted to go up to the DJ and say that I was part of a group protesting the walk. The person who organized the protest advised against it because it might invite pushback like a police presence (meep) at next year’s protest. So I hung back until after the event was over, and then another member of AACA and I headed over to the DJ and gave him a flyer. He seemed receptive, but maybe he didn’t like confrontation either.
Then AACA went for lunch to recoup fuel and discuss the protest. I feel like that was key. It definitely helped me recoup fuel, and I felt like the discussion was productive. It was also comforting to be around other Autistic people. Post-protest decompression and discussion seems like good social justice praxis to me for multiple reasons.
I’m so glad my fiancee was there. Watching the three-hour cavalcade of blue coming at our tiny group—even though they kept moving their trajectory father away from us, as if we were scaring them—might have been too much for me otherwise. I don’t know if I would have been able to last all three hours without my fiancee standing next to me.
I’m definitely going to next year’s protest (if my fiancee is able to come with me), but fuck do I hope there still aren’t cops.
P.S. I can’t figure out how to use tags anymore…WordPress, did you change something? I’m Autistic! I don’t do change!