Disability Day of Mourning 2019

Content/trigger warning: filicide, abuse mention

We’ve established that I’m not the most eloquent person out there. There are other members of Disabled Twitter and Disabled YouTube who have expressed what Day of Mourning is about better than I could. (Alice Wong, Lydia Brown, and Amythest Schaber in particular have said important and poignant things this DDoM.) But I try.

For those of you who are new to this blog, Disability Day of Mourning is a yearly vigil where members of the Disabled community gather to remember those Disabled people who were murdered by their carers. ASAN, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, spearheaded the organization of these vigils. Other organizations like Not Dead Yet are often involved; the vigil I attended was set up by Autistics Against Curing Autism (AACA) and Quirky Citizens Alliance. At the vigils, opening remarks are read, and then the names of those lost to filicide are read. ASAN distributes an anti-filicide toolkit (found here) that includes other pieces that are often read at DDoM vigils. The point of DDoM is not only to mourn the dead, but also to acknowledge the role that ableism plays in filicide, particularly the ableist way the news media portrays the murderers who kill Disabled people as sympathetic.

I signed up to be a site coordinator for this year’s DDoM. After my escape from my abusive household, I was a ball of hypervigilance, flashbacks, and nightmares for the next month. I had to hand off the role of organizing my city’s DDoM to AACA. However, AACA was gracious enough to allow me to read opening remarks.

Below is the original piece that I read.

Changelings – Remarks for Disability Day of Mourning 2019

Good evening, everyone. My name is Amaranthe Rae Zinzani, and this is the first Disability Day of Mourning I have been able to attend in person. This is because I recently escaped from an abusive household. Said household contained people who rejected the idea that I was Autistic and also rejected the idea that I currently have PTSD from—among other things—their attempts to make me seem “normal”. Despite how badly I wanted to be here, it’s still extremely painful for me to think of why we are gathered here today, and I would like to extend my warmest thanks to all Disabled attendees for braving the horrible reality of the fact that we are here to remember people who were murdered for being like us; murdered by those who should have protected them, no less. To any abled attendees, I encourage you to listen with compassion and with a mind open to learning how to help the Disabled community make the changes to the world that will hopefully, one day, decrease the number of new names read at Day of Mourning to zero.

I haven’t given a speech like this before, so I decided to start with something familiar to me. I enjoy fantasy stories, so I would like to start by talking about changelings. There are days when I still am disappointed with myself for not realizing until well into my third decade of life that legends about changelings were about Disabled children and other children with socially unacceptable differences that could be blamed on the otherworldly. For those of you who are unfamiliar with changeling legends, the idea of the changeling is found in the folklore of several places in Europe, including the British Isles, Germany, Spain, and Scandinavia. In folklore, a changeling is a fairy or other eldritch creature left in place of a human child. In many of these stories, the method for forcing a changeling to return to their own people and bringing back the human child is killing the changeling.

So these stories are about justifying the murder of Disabled and other “undesirable” children, right? Why did that take me so long to understand? Internalized ableism is powerful and convincing, I know, but you see, there is a book that I read as a child so many times that the spine fell apart that should have clued me in. The book was The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw, published in 1996, picked up by me in 2000, and read again and again until at least 2008. The book The Moorchild is about a half-human, half-fairy called Moql who is forced to replace a human child because her human genetics mean she represents a threat to her people. Moql is literally a changeling, according to the legends: a fairy child left in place of a human child. So why should this literal interpretation of a changeling story have informed me of the true nature of changeling legends? The answer is relatively simple: the book was dedicated to me.

Well, the book was not dedicated to Amaranthe Rae Zinzani, but the dedication did make part of my brain jump up and down shouting with joy: the dedication read, “To all children who have ever felt different.” I still remember that the word “different” was set in italics. I would imagine that many other people here today would have identified with that dedication, too.

I read the book for the first time only a few years before I first began to suspect that I was Autistic, and it was about 13 years after I first read The Moorchild that I paid $2,000 out of pocket for someone with a few letters after their last name to confirm that yes, according to the insurance cookbook—sorry, I mean the DSM—I am Autistic. (If my word choice and tone of voice aren’t making it clear, I am deriding the fact that formal diagnosis is often seen as the only legitimate way to diagnose disabling conditions.) And it was still another few years after that, years after I wept tears of relief at the knowledge that the reason I had felt so “different”—in italics—was because I was Autistic, that it took a damn Tumblr post about the history of developmental disability to make me realize that changeling legends came about as a justification for filicide. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to believe that if my circumstances had been a little different, I would have been left to die of exposure or drowned…or thrown into a bonfire, the way the townsfolk threatened to do to Moql in The Moorchild.

While the year The Moorchild takes place is not explicitly stated, changelings are mentioned in historical records as early as the 1500s, with both Martin Luther and the brothers Grimm reporting what they claimed were real life changelings. In Ireland—where The Moorchild is implied to take place—there was at least one recorded killing of a non-speaking child, Michael Leahy, under the claim that the child was a changeling in 1826. This was approximately two hundred years ago.

There are days when it pains me more than I can express with mere words how little has changed. Abled people still fundamentally misunderstand us—they still see us as subhuman—but instead of blaming arcane creatures, they say it is our diagnoses that stole their real relatives and left inhuman nightmares in their stead. They still believe our lives are more tragic than our deaths. Only now they’re more direct about it. And their reprehensible actions are still met with sympathy. And their cries of “I had to do it” are amplified by the misinformation and pseudoscience and lies spread by organizations such as Autism Speaks.

Other carers of Disabled people see the outpouring of support received by those who commit filicide. They are bombarded by ableist ideas about how Disabled lives exist only as burdens on the carers, such as in the execrable play All in a Row, which premiered only last month. There are more deaths, more names mentioned only once or not at all, while their carers’ names trend on social media as other carers rush to defend them. The victims are forgotten by the news cycle…but not by their community. Reporters do not read the victims’ names, but the names will be read today. And we in the Disabled community will not rest until our lives are seen as worth what they truly are.

To paraphrase Mary Harris Jones, “Mourn the dead. Fight like hell for the living.”

Thank you.

Like I mentioned, this was the first DDoM I attended in person. It was a landmark moment for my internalized ableism. There are still times I feel like I’m not ~*~really~*~ Autistic. But last night, I felt like I was among my people. I wish it had been on a less…emotionally devastating occasion, but I’m glad I went. I hope I made my community proud with my reading.

Hermeneutical Injustice

Content/trigger warning: discussion of ableism, cursing (these are probably true for most entries…), mention of Autism $peaks, eugenics, ABA

Internalized ableism is sadly common. I see it all the time, from Disabled people who choose to use terms like “person with a disability” and “the disabled” to those who are pro-eugenics. I’m also queer, and I see internalized ableism far more often than I see internalized queermisia. I’m also female, and I see internalized ableism far more often than I see internalized misogyny (in general; if we’re talking specifically about white women, that’s another story). I’ve often wondered why so many Disabled people so staunchly advocate against their own rights and don’t understand that their lives have as much value as those of abled people. As much as I want to boost the voices of other Disabled people, when Disabled people are advocating against disability justice…well, I struggle with that. I can’t say their voices don’t matter, but when another Autistic person says “figuring out the genetic causes of autism is important so people like me can be eugenically eliminated”, I sure as shit don’t want abled people hearing that and thinking that Autistic people universally want to stop existing.

I thought about how difficult it was for me to find information from Disabled self-advocates and how long it was after my various diagnoses that I started learning about disability justice. I started to wonder if so many Disabled people have such terrifying internalized ableism because they don’t have access to information about disability justice. Not only do they not have information about disability justice, what they do have is an omnipresent avalanche of ableist bullshit. I mean, hell, when a newly diagnosed Autistic person googles “autism”, they’ll probably find fucking Autism $peaks. (I’ve discussed before why that organization is a hate group). They’ll probably also find information on conversion therapy based on the mistaken idea that autism is a behavioral disability, not a cognitive one, and aimed at making Autistic people more palatable to the allistic people in our lives at the cost of our mental health and autonomy. (This “therapy” is called applied behavior analysis, or ABA, and I’ll do another entry on why it’s harmful later.) Ableist disinformation is everyfuckingwhere because ableism is built into society, and I started thinking that the fact that Disabled people internalize that disinformation is a manifestation of ableism.

As it turns out, I might be onto something. A philosopher named Miranda Fricker defined the term “hermeneutical injustice” as follows:

“In cases of hermeneutical injustice, we harm people by obscuring aspects of their own experience. Our dominant schemas–our assumptions, what we take as common ground–about a particular group can make it difficult for members of that group to understand or articulate their own experiences qua members of that group.”

That’s in academic-ese, so let me try to translate. Hermeneutical injustice is when society keeps important information about group X from the people in group X and instead feeds them bullshit, making it difficult or impossible for members of group X to understand or talk about being X. Doesn’t that sound like what I was talking about a few paragraphs ago?

So when I see Disabled people with deeply ingrained internalized ableism, I try to remember that they probably haven’t had the access to the resources I do, and I try to share my resources. I’m still working out how to discuss hermeneutical injustice with the people it affects. Nobody wants to be told “Your ideas are wrong because you’ve been fed bullshit”, even though that is frequently a logical response to statements like “I can’t be ableist; I have a disability!”.

How do we address hermeneutical injustice, then? I try to make disability justice resources more available, and I write this blog, but hermeneutical injustice comes from societal oppression. The best way to confront hermeneutical injustice is to dismantle the oppressive structures that perpetuate abled supremacy (and white supremacy, patriarchy, etc.; they’re all interrelated. Intersectionality may be an entry for another day…or multiple entries. Hmm. I’ll get back to you on that). Yeah, yeah, I know. Tall order. But the alternative is for Disabled people to continue believing our lives don’t matter. And that’s unacceptable.