(This is an edited version of something I sent to a friend a week or two ago, when I was sad about disagreements/trouble with allies who expressed frustration, hurt, and anger when the people they were supposed to be allies to criticized them, or called them out. It wasn’t specifically about the “autism community” or parents or advocates–it was actually about a separate situation–but I spoke with both parts of my life in mind. So I thought it would be valuable to share here.)
i know the perspective they come from. i know it. i know it i know it.
it’s the one where people who have tried to dedicate their lives to being supportive and helpful face marginalized people who simply cannot, and will not, hide their anger and hurt at being demeaned, erased, and abused.
and these people who feel like they’ve done everything they can to help, they think to themselves “how are we supposed to actually hear debate and work with each other when every time something awkward or controversial happens, these people express their feelings and their feelings make us feel bad?” except, the way they say it instead is “why won’t they let us talk! why are they saying all these bad lies about us?”
and like, when it’s from people who’s perspective i can understand…i do get it. “get it” in the sense that i can understand the context and cause of their feelings. and if they had said exactly what it was that they were saying, i.e. “how am i supposed to contribute and feel listened to if, whenever i talk, people get angry at me and say things that hurt my feelings?” i would consider their statement valid and constructive.
and i would want to tell them “i know it’s hard, but if you believe strongly enough in what you’re saying, it’ll be worth the hurt.” and i would know this is true, because marginalized people deal with silencing and painful words every. single. day. of. the. week. all. their. lives. and they deal with these words when they’re speaking up about even the most basic stuff, like “hey, i should be able to afford my medicine” or “hey, i should be able to be outside at night without being raped” or “hey, i should not be demeaned and abused because of the color of my skin.”
but the thing is, these helpful people don’t ever say what they mean. they say “why are you silencing us and attacking us.” because they’ve been taught that any feeling that isn’t in line with their own experiences must be a fiction, or a slanderous attack. and how the fuck am i supposed to agree with their expression of their feelings when to agree means accepting their feelings as the standard against which all discussion and reality must be tested.
and then i am angry, because they have made it impossible for me to show them that i believe their emotions are valid without simultaneously perpetuating the idea that their emotions are the same thing as “reality.” and i’m stuck. because if their emotions are the same thing as reality, i have to go back to assuming mine don’t exist, or don’t matter.
i want to say to them: it’s not that your experiences don’t exist, or don’t matter; it’s that you never call them experiences, you call them reality. and you get to call your experiences reality because people like you have spent generations treating people like me as if our experiences don’t exist.
but usually, i say nothing. neither silence nor speech ever keeps me safe, but at least silence is familiar.
Let’s take this figure of the feminist killjoy seriously. Does the feminist kill other people’s joy by pointing out moments of sexism? Or does she expose the bad feelings that get hidden, displaced, or negated under public signs of joy? Does bad feeling enter the room when somebody expresses anger about things, or could anger be the moment when the bad feelings that circulate through objects get brought to the surface in a certain way. Feminist subjects might bring others down not only by talking about unhappy topics such as sexism but by exposing how happiness is sustained by erasing the very signs of not getting along. Feminists do kill joy in a certain sense: they disturb the very fantasy that happiness can be found in certain places. To kill a fantasy can still kill a feeling. It is not just that feminists might not be happily affected by the objects that are supposed to cause happiness by that their failure to be happy is read as sabotaging the happiness of others…Feminist consciousness can thus be thought of as consciousness of the violence and power that are concealed under the languages of civility and love, rather than simply consciousness of gender as a site of restriction of possibility. We learn from this so much, too much. We learn to see what is concealed by signs of happiness. You can cause unhappiness merely by noticing something. And if it can cause unhappiness simply to notice something, you realize that the world you are in is not the world you thought you were in.
Sarah Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, pp. 65-66, 86.