I’ve been doing quite a lot of neurodivergence advocacy lately, and I noticed a shift in how I swim through my world. I thought I’d write it all out, as it might interest or help other people.
Now, this blog isn’t about my dogs, but my dogs will feature. I know what the internet feeds on, so for context:
This is Gamble, aka Gamboltumble, aka Gambolino, aka Wingnut. He is extremely ADHD and basically perfect in every way.
This is Selma, aka Selly, aka Sillyselly, aka Fluffbutt. She lived on the streetz for at least three years and is very much her own person, but as her chances of surviving the collapse of civilisation are about 12x mine, I can’t really fault her.
I fully expected it to suck for me. I’m no stranger to dog training, and I have never found a class that didn’t suck for me for the same reasons most classes that train physical skills suck for me: I do not respond quickly enough to instructions, I forget series of instructions, I am uncoordinated, there’s a bunch of stuff I am physically incapable of doing without hurting myself, I can’t reliably tell left from right, and so on. This isn’t stuff I do on purpose, or because I don’t care. I don’t actually enjoy sucking at things. Unfortunately, I have auditory processing problems, working memory problems, dyspraxia, unstable joints which have led to a bunch of injuries, lateralisation problems, and the list goes on. I am neurodivergent. While my brain is a heap of fun and I love it, it does struggle with some stuff. As a result, I tend to suck at learning physical skills in a class setting. And as a result of how instructors interpret my sucking and respond to it, classes that that train physical skills suck for me.
This class is no exception. Things started to go sideways during the first lesson. Gamble was excused from training as he is already perfect, and Selma and Criminal Dog behaved much better than I expected them to. However, it became obvious that the trainer didn’t think the same of me. He didn’t talk about it with me – had he done so, I would have explained my situation (although, 99% of the times that doesn’t seem to work). Instead, he started to make snide remarks about me, both to me and to the other participants.
In the olden days, before I knew that I’m neurodivergent and what that entails, that would have hurt. I have never suffered from an innate respect for authority, but I did use to care about people’s opinion – even the opinion of people whose opinion on literally any other subject would have been wholly insignificant,. That made no logical sense, but I couldn’t do anything about it: if anyone told me, directly or indirectly, that they disapproved of me or my behaviour, that hurt. The only exception was in cases of open warfare, when I was dealing with overt bullies; in that case, all the rules I normally lived by went out the window.
I have blogged in the past about the relief I used to feel when a creep turned out to be a predator, and I was finally able to give myself permission to deal with the issue without having to worry about the social implications. The same phenomenon applied to dealing with people who seemed bent on making me feel bad about myself, setting my social group against me, or on making me do things they knew I didn’t want to do. Open, overt bullying is easy to deal with, because the worst that can happen is that you, huh, get horribly beaten up or killed. Bullying that skirts the line between what is socially acceptable and what isn’t is a nightmare, though. If you don’t react to it, it will go on forever, but if you take action and you are deemed to over-react by the people around you, you will be the one at fault. It’s exactly the same situation as with creeps vs. predators, really; clever people learn how far they can push things so they never get punished, but you will if you speak out against them. As a result, it’s easy to end up stuck in no man’s land, waiting for things to escalate so you can actually take action.
…or, rather, that’s what’s supposed to happen. The creep script is designed to trap you in your own insecurity, which gives the creep the chance to victimise you indefinitely without suffering any consequences. Thing is, we don’t have to follow that script. And if we don’t, if we refuse to step into the role the script sets for us, then the script falls apart. It becomes a one-sided monologue that doesn’t give the creep what they want, and might make them look mighty weird to any onlookers – or to onlookers able to recognise what they’re looking at, anyway.
I discovered that by accident when I started to write about creeps. All of a sudden, instead of being worried by the possible social costs of having to deal with them, I was interested in observing their behaviour in action. It was like being an entomologist, and finding a bug under your bed: you don’t really want bugs down there, but hey, look, a fresh specimen! It turns out that creeps really don’t like to find themselves at the receiving end of that kind of attention. It doesn’t just throw them off their game: it picks their game up and throws it right out the nearest window. They are left with two options: either they have to back the hell up and give up on you, or they have to escalate their creeping to the point where it might become socially unacceptable, which is the point where it might also become socially punishable.
It looks as if the same might apply to petty bullies. It definitely applies to this bully, anyway. You see, I’ve been so immersed in writing about entrenched ableism in academic and medical settings that when he started to throw bullshit in my general direction, I automatically started to examine and dissect it. That didn’t give me the chance to respond to it – or, worse, to react to it. Instead of getting flustered or mouthing off, I pondered. His script became one-sided, and he clearly doesn’t like that. So, instead of changing my behaviour, he is changing his. By the end of the second session, he had graduated to increasingly obvious manifestations of threatened authority: looming over me (I am very smol), setting me unachievable tasks, spouting non sequiturs about his (totally irrelevant) qualifications, and making comments so pointed that they make other participants wince. Problem is, that’s making him look bad, and it doesn’t really bother me. I’m genuinely intrigued as to how far he’s going to go before he either gives up on reforming me, or gives me my money back and sends me on my way. I’m good either way.
What is interesting about this whole thing is that I didn’t do it on purpose. i didn’t set out to work on my self-esteem, develop resilience, battle my RSD, or anything like that. I just immersed myself so deeply into ableism as a community issue, as a societal issue, as an issue that affects children I would like to see growing up a lot less messed up than me, that I no longer see it as personal. It isn’t personal, really; it isn’t about me, about who I am, or my value as a person. It’s about other people’s inability to accept the validity of other people’s experiences, needs, and limitation. It’s about ableism, and while it touches me personally, it says nothing about me as a person. It doesn’t make me any less; nothing that guy says can make me any less now, because he has revealed himself for who he is. I wouldn’t stand for him treating another neurodivergent badly, and everything I would say to that person, I can say to myself.
So, yeah, that’s the point of this blog: learning about -isms is often deemed as difficult or even harmful, but it’s actually pretty damn liberating. I hate the word “empowering”, but it applies here. This stuff is liberating, it really is. It takes a personal issue and shows it to be societal, and while that doesn’t resolve it, it can make it cut less – or cut in a different way, anyhoo. It might not makes us unstoppable, but it makes us harder to stop. At the very least, it can make us incorrigible; and for people dealing with the kind of nonsense we have to face every damn day, that’s a pretty good place to be.
(Before anyone asks why don’t I just quit, two reasons: Criminal Dog actually needs this, and you pay for the term in advance.)