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This is very much my blog, so don't be surprised if this doesn't follow accepted patterns and norms. It is a place where I can be anonymous and honest, and I appreciate that.

It will deal with many things and new readers would do well to check out the "Story So Far" Page above this and the "New Readers" tag down there on the right. Although there's nothing too bad in here there will be adult language, so be careful. If you think this needs a greater control, please let me know. Thank you!

Friday, 17 April 2015

How Autism Works

Debating is a passion that few can master, I find.

I can't.
It may not be immediately apparent but I like debate. I like challenge, both being challenging and being challenged. I am also hyper-aware of issues surrounding gender for what are, perhaps, rather obvious reasons. I am also, I realise, a poor choice of ally or poster-person for such conversations and debates surrounding this issue. As someone who is intensely private in real-life about my own identity, playing a role most of the time and switching it around often so people can't tell what is act and what is real, I am a bad person to take the high-road on getting others to express themselves authentically. Equally, as a beard-wearing masculine heteronormative privileged white middle-class person, I am a poor advocate of most things on the trans-spectrum; not least given the fact that I even managed to court controversy with a photograph on Stana's blog where people are pretty good at being open, honest and supportive even when faced with things outside their own comfort zone. I am no stranger to controversy.

Wait, what did you just say?
At work there is a trans* person who has decided to identify as their actual feelings rather than as what is represented on their birth certificate. I have found it challenging to refer to them by their desired gender without making a thing of it (look, I'm doing it right) or making the whole thing uncomfortable. So, naturally, I have been challenging myself to get it right and not to be a complete ass. When another colleague insists on using their assigned gender to refer to them, correcting any 'slips' when they agree with the person's self-identity, I naturally spoke up and challenged it. Another colleague then started a debate about how my protection of the pronouns meant that I was making the issue impossible to discuss as I was "wrapping it in cotton-wool" and started applying it to race. I debated back, this is linguistics between professionals, neither of us would be arguing actual deep-seated beliefs (as we were both very much on-board and supportive of the trans* person in question and recognised that the whole thing was fine and laudable).

You can call a spade whatever the fuck
you want to call it, because a spade is a
fucking inanimate object without an
internal sense of identity.
Au contraire. Except that I did take issue too. What did it for me was the analogy my colleague used to illustrate the difficulties faced if we went down my line of reasoning, it was called 'stretching a point' until it broke to illustrate the absurdity of my position, apparently. The analogy was this: if a person wishes to identify as a different gender to what was on the birth certificate it was similar as saying one's car was a Ferrari but it was a Peugeot - no amount of linguistic protection would change that a "spade is a spade" and that we would call it a Peugeot in order to explain things. I'll admit I did see red. Under the guise of having an unconnected debate I attacked: the analogy pre-supposed that reality was different from what was being presented. If we defined gender by sexual organs then what of people who had them removed or damaged or were born without - were they less of that gender as a consequence? Genetics were brought in, I pointed out that brain chemistry, as far as I understand the root cause of gender dysmorphia, was based on genetics and so that did not offer as objective a reality as we would like.

My colleague agreed that gender binary was an issue but to try and use preferred pronouns when in conversation away from the trans* person was confusing and shouldn't be pursued as it didn't allow a reasonable conversation about the issues. I was angry at this, I felt a bit betrayed by my colleague who I had always assumed was morally better than I and whose previous pronouncements had suggested that they would be arguing on my side rather than against it. I countered that objectivity may well exist but I couldn't presume to know it for myself, anything that I took as objective was necessarily subjective as being through me. I'm not a post-modernist, I believe that there is objective reality and I aspire to learn it but I am always willing to be told where I am wrong. This was apparently "telling me what I think" to my colleague who then made the, frankly, bullshit comparison that my way of thinking wouldn't allow a child to name a toaster a blender and refer to them both as the same item. I told my colleague that this was a "bollocks comparison" as it was not rooted in reality and made the bogus suggestion that my use of linguistics precluded reality - the same flaw as with the original Ferrari analogy - it assumed in the premise that reality was automatically different from the trans* person feelings and identity, which I believe to be dangerous. My colleague was riled, so I took the deflationary route here and apologised.

Or, to put it another way, #sorrynotsorry
But, and here's my autism, I do not believe that my colleague had the right to be upset. They made a shitty analogy, implied a whole welter of privilege in their views and refused to be called on it. They were angry with me for being over protective of a tiny minority who challenge the societal preconception of gender which I had heard my colleague despair over many times. No, I had the right to be angry with them. They were mollified, offered mitigations, but no return apology.

In role, to Tilly and to my colleagues around us in the pub, I professed upset that I had offended my colleague. Gave apologies. Made out that the debate was "for fun" and that I had not realised that I was offending my colleague. I sought calm, I sought an end to the confrontation. I had gone too far. Without revealed more of myself there was no way of showing what was going on in that debate and why I felt it was important to have it. So I backed down and apologised. But I remain angered by it. Fuck my colleague. Fuck all of them for letting the analogy stand as a 'reasonable' way to have discourse on transfolk.

Or, is this just my autism. Is this just my giant inflated ego and sense of self-important entitlement? Should I even have forced the debate? Should I have got my head down and moved on to the next topic of silliness? Or, having forced the debate, let it lie and not challenge the implicit privilege in the initial analogy (that still has me spitting feathers) in the interests of not poisoning such an important topic in the eyes of people who are struggling to deal with the implications of someone else going through it in their own reality?

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All comments are welcome, I have a thicker skin virtually than I do in real life!