Today in Intersectionality: Disability, Gender, Sexual Orientation, and More

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Debbie says:

queer-crip

Once we get Intersectional theory into our framework of thought, it crops up absolutely everywhere. Intersectionality is the concept that we are best served by looking at overlapping (i.e., intersecting) identities and “related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination.” Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, who first coined the term in 1989, would be interested in these two posts:

First, Andrew Gurza, writing at the Huffington Post, connects the dots of queerness, disability, and depression:

When I was a young disabled kid, I was told by everyone around me to speak up for myself, and to go after what I want. I learned that I had to do this, to be seen and be heard; to be taken seriously as a disabled person, I had to be obtuse about it. I had tried to apply this same principle of directness to dating dudes while disabled. I was dismayed to learn, almost every time, that asking for what I wanted, standing up for myself as a young queer cripple, didn’t work in this arena. I was knocked down by ableism time and time again. Each time, the guy couching his ableist rhetoric in “unawareness” and “honesty.” They would tell me that they were telling me the truth, and being real with me about how my disability affected them. They’d say this in easy tones, as if I should be thankful to them for hurting me. They could care less about how their words affected me, leaving a scar bigger than the last.

This kind of subversive ableism that runs rampant in our community is not okay. It is dangerous and divisive. Moreover, the disabled individual dealing with this has nowhere to turn. No one to talk to. Our friends, no matter how kind or empathetic, “just don’t get it”, and therapists are ineffectual, and altogether financially inaccessible to the queer cripple. C’mon, would you want to pay $150 an hour to have the person charged with helping you, tell you that they never even thought of how things might affect people in your circumstance? Yeah, didn’t think so.

That last experience happened to him, when he laid bare his issues to a therapist who said, “Oh, I never thought of it like that.” It makes me think of a friend of mine who was discussing BDSM with her therapist, and the therapist, having been trained to believe that all BDSM was simply about power dynamics, said naively, “You mean it hurts?”

***

Second, Matthew Rosza, writing at Quartz, addresses gender stereotyping and autism diagnosis, also paying some attention to racism. (Warning: lots of out-of-control web ads at the site can take over your browser. But the article is worth some patience.)

“I believe that my experiences as an autistic person has definitely been affected by my gender and race,” says Morenike Giwa Onaiwu of the Autism Women’s Network. “Many characteristics that I possess that are clearly autistic were instead attributed to my race or gender. As a result, not only was I deprived of supports that would have been helpful, I was misunderstood and also, at times, mistreated.” …

“Social awkwardness? Of course not; apparently I’m just rude—like all the stereotypes of ‘sassy’ black women rolling their heads and necks in a circle while firing off some retort,” Onaiwu says. “Lack of eye contact? Apparently I’m a ‘shy girl’ or ‘playing hard to get’ or ‘shifty.’ Or maybe I’m just being respectful and docile because I’m African and direct eye contact might be a faux pas. Sensory overload, or maybe a meltdown? Nope, more like aggression or being a drama queen. Anything but what it really is—an Autistic person being Autistic who happens to be black and happens to be a woman.”

The issue, according to Rosza, can go both ways. Girls can be underdiagnosed, transitioning women can be considered “not feminine enough to transition,” and autistic men can get some degree of acceptance unavailable to women.

“Some of the behaviors displayed by those on the autism spectrum scale seem to be the way many men in patriarchal societies (like ours) conduct themselves,” explains Esther Nelson, an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth College. Nelson, who believes her husband’s symptoms are consistent with an ASD diagnosis, has written about the intersection between autism and feminism, especially in terms of relationships. For example, Nelson notes that men who seem “rigid,” aggressive or lacking in empathy may not stand out in the way that women exhibiting the same behavior might. Even people who are aware of autism and are educated to some degree are more inclined to give her spouse a pass for certain negative behaviors.

Kudos to Rosza for bringing in race, gender identity, and various ways privilege expresses itself beyond straightforward sexism. And kudos to both authors for shining a light on intersectional relationships rarely examined.