It oversaturates discourse and throws your community under the bus.
I see this shit in several activism / advocacy-based communities. It’s based in respectability and a belief that oppressive institutions should be reformed instead of destroyed. As usual, this piece is gonna be intersectional. Though I see the emphasis on stereotype-dispelling in just about any community purportedly for my demographics, the autistic community’s especially embarrassing.
The mainstream autistic community online has it so bad with the stereotype-dispelling for a few reasons: they believe in getting a seat at the table, they don’t see a world outside the one they navigate, and they’re uninterested in challenging those first two things. It’s troubling because a lot of the biggest Autfluencers write short posts about intersectionality, but turn around and only platform things that serve their own interests. But then they pat themselves on the back for leading more people to get diagnosed. However, the vast majority of the people they’ve been helping were already predisposed to receiving a second look over other groups. At that point, I just want to ask them why they don’t acknowledge this. When you’re a big account, lots of people listen to you. You have to take some responsibility for how you influence the narratives in our community. But that’d lessen their credibility when they position themselves as marginalized, I guess. I mean, yeah, autism is a disability. Yeah, there are a lot of LGBTQ+, a lot of women, a lot of physically disabled people. But it’s like they forget or ignore that they’re white and have more money than the people who need liberation most.
Newsflash: a post saying “listen to black/queer/BIPOC/etc. creators <3” isn’t enough. Platform us. No, a retweet isn’t enough. We need jobs, money, connections. Make us mainstays of your organizations if you’re so invested in reform over revolution. I’m not content with being a guest blogger that 4 people go look at. And by the way, none of the virtue-signaling posts mention poor/low income people. I think that’s the key to the issue. If we address class beyond the small community that alludes to the inadequacy of disability checks, we can no longer present the “non-stereotypical” as a monolithic identity-based group in need of more special attention than everyone else.
But that’s what’s going on right now. It’s easy for Autfluencers to conceptualize and market a “non-stereotypical” autistic person because all they have to do is say the stereotypes cater to cishet white men. Though it’s true, Autfluencers use that fact to present themselves as revolutionaries for platforming more white people with money. They’ll go, “But they’re queer,” “But they’re disabled,” or “But they’re a woman,” as if society doesn’t see race and class alongside these things. The society we’re in will always see race and class. Disability’s negotiable if you’re white and have a certain status. This doesn’t erase the oppression they’ve experienced, but when you only platform these people, you water down the effects oppression has on most of us. So the perspective shift to “autistic women” is almost useless for the long-term because it’s a model based on middle to upper-class, Western, cis white women.
So when we talk about “autism in women,” it’s often about that specific demographic of women. Sure, you have some people who relate to that profile, but they often have something in common with that demographic. For example, you can be queer and black, but not poor so you can relate to the lack of class-based oppression and thus have experiences that align with your class group. The autistic community pays a lot of lip service to the ridiculousness of paying to get testing and other resources, but only when it’s those issues in particular. There’s this expectation to have a certain relationship with one’s special interests, with what you can buy to help yourself, and other things like how “smart” you were considered growing up. These all have a heavy bearing on race, gender (and how you present as / perform that gender), biological sex, and class.
When we talk about autism in particular races, it’s non-stereotypical nonwhites that get platformed and disrespect both autistic people and the people of their race by insisting that being “the stereotype” is bad. Stereotypes are bad because they’re used to abused us. Going “I’m not like the other [people part of my group]” because of your insistence on being a Good Whatever-You-Are overrides your pursuit of your people’s liberation isn’t helping anyone but people like yourself. Stereotypes are a problem because they’re used to demean you, not because the mischaracterize you personally. Stop and think. Who’s an “angry black woman” hurting if she’s right about the shit she’s mad at? She hurting your feelings? I have no problem with saying that stereotype has been weaponized against you, but it’s a problem when you start acting like, “I’m so pure and docile, how could I ever be so like those other blacks?” The non-stereotypical nonwhites’ resentment of the “stereotypical” black people tends to perpetuate some pretty racist ideas. Why is it a bigger insult to be told you “talk white” then to be systemically oppressed and told your speech is primitive because you use AAVE? You’re fundamentally told that your way of communicating is lesser in the second option. It’s sad as fuck that the non-stereotypical black people platformed can recognize this in autism but not in “the stereotype” of their race.
It’s also important to acknowledge that when stereotypes are dismissed as personal insults and not tools of oppression, we make it harder for the “stereotypical” to get help. Nonspeaking autistics, autistics with self-injurious behavior, and mentally disabled autistics are all routinely considered myths because it’s convenient. For all of us to be liberated, our society needs to be a livable place for these people. Autfluencers do so little to platform their experiences. It troubles me that it took abusive practices at the Judge Rotenberg center for autfluencers to step up even a little. They talk about normalizing the autistic experience but only showcase the trauma of certain forms of it. I get that it’s very important to show autistic trauma, but when we don’t show autistic joy or steps towards liberation, we have a 1-dimensional view of autistic trauma.
When we only have in-depth narratives on one particular “type” of autism to combat extensive shallow narratives about another, we’re not helping the autistic community. It’s unproductive to write about how many undiagnosed people there are with the perspective that all of these people are like yourself. It’s frightening how little of the autistic experience is discussed as the current discourse is framed as an unambiguous step forward for every autistic person everywhere.
Here’s what y’all can do moving forward: Actually look into the histories of the demographics you try to platform. It’s not enough to “listen to” a black person that has the same demographics as yourself aside from race. Think about what you’re missing in your activism. Think about why this stuff is missing. Stop ignoring class. Stop ignoring culture. Stop trying to work with a system intrinsically against us.
We’ve seen with the DSM-5-tr that getting more people diagnosed isn’t a fundamental solution to autistic problems. The DSM needs exclusivity to effectively apply a narrow problem-solution model to disability. Attacking confused people for “watering down neurodiversity” on TikTok is misidentifying the problem. They’re ignorant and they suck but without institutions that make life harder for disabled people, abled people wouldn’t be so good at trivializing us. Redirect your anger. Systems, not individuals. Focusing on the individual level for too long gets people at each other’s throats in a way that completely ignores the root of the problem. We don’t need to interpersonalize centuries of harm towards entire societies.
If you’re so scared of conflict, stop making systemic issues interpersonal. Because that’s why you’re in comment sections fighting with people who don’t want to hear you. Destroy your personal will to power, please.