Neurodivergent #1

Last Christmas, a youtuber I follow got a very-late-in-coming diagnosis of neurodivergence. He put out an extremely candid vlog detailing what that diagnosis meant for him. Knowing what he is, and how that differs from neurotypicality, has given him the ability to spot the differences, as it were, and to help reduce the friction that those differences can cause. That is difficult, but helpful.

The diagnosis has done something else, though: it has told him that he is not ill. He isn’t going through a phase he’ll get over. He is quite simply different, and those differences, good and bad, are here to stay. All he can do is manage their impact to the best of his abilities.

The most cutting part of the vlog, for me, was listening to him explain how much time he wasted waiting for what he thought were his symptoms to get better, or to go away. He was waiting for the right time to go out and do what he wanted to do. That time will never come. He now has to accept that, and to accept that the time he spent waiting in vain won’t come back to him.

I found that incredibly interesting, as well as incredibly moving. I also found it relevant to the self-defence field. There is a tendency in self-defence and recovery to try and use one-size-fits-all solutions to individual problems, without actually looking at the origins of those problems, without distinguishing between symptoms and personal attributes, and often without trying to disentangle the causality of the issue. Does the student have social anxiety because they were attacked, or were they attacked because they have social anxiety? Can they change their victim profile by reducing that anxiety, or is it a part of them that won’t be “cured” by “standard” fixes, because their anxiety has a different source? Is telling people that you can “fix” them helpful when it is not only untrue, but predicated on ableism?

The thing I find most interesting, though, and the main reason I am writing, is that I can’t post the link to the original vlog here. It is a splendid, honest, open, truthful piece of self-chronicling, and I don’t trust my audience to respect it.

In case someone’s missed it, the world of self-defence is full of people who hurt people on purpose. Some are straight trolls, doing it for kicks. Some justify that behaviour as a teaching moment, because what doesn’t kill you obviously makes you stronger and we all want stronger people, yo. Some are predators of various kinds, often operating under the aegis of other predators – or, worse, of people whose ego is so large and so wrapped up in their identity as Defenders Of The Helpless that they can’t contemplate the merest possibility of sheltering a predator in their midst.

No, I’ve not run a scientific study on this, and yes, there are plenty of good people in self-defence, too; but years of personal experience have taught me that this is A Problem. I personally only realised the extent of it when I had a giant falling out with a prominent self-defence instructor and – hey presto – suddenly stopped having issues with online creeps. I write about creeps all the bloody time, and all I needed to do to remove them from my life was cut one self-defence instructor off. I didn’t see that coming. So much for my expertise, hey.

The world of self-defence has a problem, and it’s a problem big enough that I don’t want to lead it to the doors of people I like, people I don’t want to be affected by the bad company I keep. I don’t want to be the discarded bag of chips that attracts the flock of seagulls; if I take on that role, I will feel responsible for all resulting screeching and shitting. And I cannot begin to express how bad that makes me feel, how disappointed I am at the discrepancy between what self-defence can be, and what it really is.


Safe spaces?

Stolen from, with permission.


Hey folks, recently I have had to explore what it means to have a safe space, particularly what it means in terms of martial arts and fitness studios (Obviously, I mean safe from discrimination, hitting folks with sticks is not necessarily safe).

I think it’s really detrimental to consider your space a “safe space” unless you explicitly vet and gatekeep members before they enter, and if you run a fitness studio or martial arts school, it’s highly unlikely you do (and may be unreasonable to expect of you). There are many safe spaces outside of these groups that DO vet their members, and in that case the label safe is more appropriate.

One of the most common problems I see in these places is the insistence that they are “safe”, when first of all, that’s not a label an authority can apply. Individual community members may decide a space is safe, and promote it as such, but it’s important to recognise that this means safe-for-them and they have a right to say that. It’s not the place of an authority to describe their space as “safe”. This is very different than an organisation being transparent about HOW they deal with harrassment and discrimination.

A space that allows the public in is never “safe”, because as a community leader safety is something you do every day, not something you create and then advertise yourself as being.You don’t know what’s going to walk in that day. Too often a claim to safety is becoming a red flag of an environment that is far more concerned with optics than being better.

So what’s the upshot of this? Stop thinking of your spaces as safe, it makes you complacent. Every time a member of public walks in they are a threat to your most vulnerable clients, and those clients don’t need to be told they are safe when that’s not something you can guarantee (If you could, then great! but you can’t). They need to know that they can express a lack of safety and have it dealt with immediately. They need to know you are aware of the threat and your organisation is equipped to address it swiftly and without hesitation. Essentially they need to know that safety is something you endeavor to, not something you feel you have achieved. This is something I personally am working on (This is not meant as an admonishment, unless of course it’s admonishing me at the same time)

If you are reading this and thinking “But I didn’t know! I couldn’t do anything”, sorry, it’s your job to know. It may mean you are not a terrible person, but it does mean you are unfit to lead a community.

There are tons of great organisations that use the label “safe space”. I don’t mean to criticise them. More to encourage people to consider if that is something they can guarantee, or would it be better for them to lay out what they are doing to be safer?


What they say:

“Conversations about consent are making the issue so complicated that I can’t even tell if I’m raping someone anymore!”

What I hear:

“I prioritise my sexual gratification over ensuring my partner’s welfare. I am so selfish that not only I can’t be sure I’m not raping my partners, but I don’t even want to find out. If I haven’t raped anyone yet, it’s out of sheer good luck or because I’ve lacked the opportunity to do so. I also really, really suck in bed.”


What they say:

“Bullshit like the #metoo campaign has gotten women so riled up that I can’t talk to them anymore!”

What I hear:

“I am only interested in conversations with women that can lead to sex, and discount all other forms of interaction with them. I have no interest in connecting with them on an intellectual or emotional level, or even in talking to them about the weather. I don’t see this as a roadblock in my interactions with them.

My style of interaction with women isn’t working. Instead of altering it, I demand that women change their standards to suit my needs. I am so selfish and inconsiderate that I believe all social interactions should be about me. I am unwilling to take into account the comfort and wishes of the people I interact with. I don’t see this as a roadblock, either.”


“Women aren’t really people and I shouldn’t have to take their opinions into consideration.”


What they say:

“Incels wouldn’t exist if women weren’t such bitches when turning men down.”

What I hear:

“I have never listened to a woman talking about her experience of turning men down , and how badly that can go. I believe that women have the responsibility to alter their behaviour to suit men’s needs. I believe that women are responsible for all parts of their interactions with men, including men’s responses. If I woman gets yelled at / punched / raped, my first thought is that she must have done something wrong and it’s all her fault.”


“I am the kind of person who reacts to a slight from an individual by advocating the rape and murder of that individual’s entire group. I need urgent medical help.”


What they say:

“Women do not become sexually active if they don’t want to get pregnant / only have sex for money or status / similar bullshit.”

What I hear:

“I have never sexually satisfied a woman. I am utterly unable to hear women’s opinions on their own sexuality, so that is unlikely to change.”



As a friend of mine said, “if you genuinely can’t tell whether your behavior is harming others, that’s a real problem that you should want to solve in a way that privileges non harm, rather than just making space for your ignorance to be comfortable again.” If you are so selfish that you can’t see how your selfishness is not only an issue, but THE issue, maybe you ought to revisit your qualifications for taking part in any kind of social interactions. Antisocial interactions is where you’re at.


I’ve been mainlining “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell. I’d read it a looooong time ago (mythology was my first nerdlove), but I’d actually forgotten how awesome it is, warts and all. If you’ve not checked it out, do. I recommend the audiobook, if that’s your kind of thing.

As per the book summary, “Campbell outlines the Hero’s Journey, a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through virtually all of the world’s mythic traditions.” The same elements occur in stories from all over the world, regardless of cultural differences. That theory needs to be taken with several pinches of salt, but it offers an explanation as to how we can relate so easily to stories from cultures we know nothing about. We can appreciate the Bromance of Gilgamesh even if we think that “Akkadian” is something to do with Captain Harlock. We don’t need to know much about Gilgamesh’s cultural or physical environment to recognise him as a Hero; we respond to the parts of his story that mark him as one.

It made me thing about a couple of real-life situations I’ve just witnessed. The first one involved a young acquaintance of mine who has recently met a fellow and quickly proceeded to give up her entire life to be with him. Public responses to the events have been interesting, inasmuch as they revealed a clear gender split. Guys have either expressed no opinion or been very positive about the whole thing – how wonderful, how romantic, are they getting married? Responses from women have been entirely different. Not one of them has been positive, or even neutral. Every single woman who has expressed an opinion on the subject has voiced deep concern about my acquaintance’s decision, the possible fallout, and the likely character and intentions of the man involved.

The people watching that simple, everyday story unfold respond differently because they recognise two completely different narratives. The guys see a love story. The women see the start of a narrative of control and abuse.

I originally thought that I had never seen such a gendered response to a story before… But of course I have, too many times to count. Isn’t that what happens when women raise concerns about creeps, and are told by the men in their life that they’re seeing things? The women recognise the elements in a narrative, so they know what kind of story they are in. They can anticipate what will happen next because they know how the story goes. The men don’t know that story, so they don’t recognise its parts. To them, if the inevitable comes to pass, it will come as a surprise.

The second situation showed a different kind of split. A commenter mentioned on my page that his young daughter is only allowed to have social media accounts on condition that she gives him all her passwords. To him, that restriction is a way to keep her safe: there are a lot of creeps out there, and he can’t yet rely on her to make the right self-defence decisions, so he wants to monitor her communications. I’m sure that a lot of people will see that as a perfectly valid parenting choice. A whole bunch of my friends, however, had a totally different take on it. Depriving one’s partner of privacy, and particularly of the ability to have confidential communications, is a standard tool in the abuser’s kit. This kind of parenting strategy can actually weaken children’s ability to self-protect later on in life by normalising abusive strategies. The fact that in this girl’s case her  privacy is breached “for her own good” doesn’t really help, because that rationale is also used as a tool of abuse.

A whole bunch of us looked at the elements of that story and projected a narrative: the story of a girl who reaches her teens, rebels against parental constraints, and proceeds to fly into the arms of a controlling partner because she was raised to conflate control and love. If that unhappy situation occurs, she may not only lack the resources and tactics to resolve it, but even the ability to recognise it. It’s hard to spot that you’re been abused when you’re used to the exact same behaviours from those who love you.

Neither of those stories has to end badly. We’re hopefully being unduly negative. However, even if that’s the case, our mistake won’t be caused by brain worms or a love of drama. We are not making shit up because we like to scare ourselves or others; we are recognising the elements of stories that we’ve seen replayed time and time again. Maybe we’ve lived them ourselves, maybe we’ve “just” watched people go through them; either way, we recognise them, so we identify them as a certain type of story and expect them to have a certain type of ending.

What is interesting to me is that some people are unaware of those stories. On the surface, it could simply be the result of differences in life experiences; those whose lives have kept them safe from that kind of story won’t be able to spot it in the wild. There must be more to it than that, though, because people can learn from each other’s stories. That is why mythologies and folk tales were created in the first place: they allowed people to absorb lessons without having to go through horrible ordeals. The quality of the learning isn’t equivalent, because some lessons you can only learn first-hand, but second-handing it does cut down drastically on death and dismemberment. If you run a cost-benefit analysis, it works out pretty well.

Somehow, a bunch of modern narratives are failing to make it into the canon, and it’s not because they’re rare, or they’re not being spoken about. Some voices are just not being heard. And that not only harms those telling the stories, because having one’s experiences discounted is never a lot of fun, but also those who could benefit from hearing them. We’re depriving people of cautionary tales. And while that has the potential give us countless new heroes,  it’s also filling our ranks with victims and survivors.

Free and not

‘Tis that time of year!

This ebook will be free for 5 days starting tomorrow. Please note that timezones are a factor beyond my control. If it comes up as not free, hold on a few hours. It’s extremely short, so I’d recommend that you wait and save your pennies.


This one is not free, but it’s hopefully, worth the price tag. It’s fiction, again, but it’s kinda sorta fantasy, though it’s mostly about messed-up people trying not to mess up their lives. I like it, anyway. If you have a problem with swears and non-binary characters, you probably won’t.


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