Discovering I’m Autistic During the Rise of American Fascism

Posted: August 25th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Autism, Misc, Personal | No Comments »

In the past year and a half, my personal self-understanding has increasingly been framed and explained through the lens of my discovery that I am and have always been autistic. That personal journey has been juxtaposed against the national resurgence of fascism, active white supremacy, and neo-nazism respresented and fueled in the mainstream primarily by and through Trump, white evangelicals, and the GOP.  That deeply personal revelation and our ongoing national tragedy have been intertwined in my experience and perception almost from the outset.

You see, I know my history.

For some reason, many people don’t seem to be aware that the Nazis didn’t only target their Jewish citizens. A number may be aware that they also targeted homosexuals. Comparatively few seem to know about the “Law for the Prevention of Progeny with Hereditary Diseases” instituted in 1933. The law instituted mandatory sterilization for people with conditions considered inheritable. That included people with learning disabilities and mental illnesses. And the Nazi propaganda machine began actively targeting disabled people as a burden on society.

And that process of dehumanization culminated in “Operation T4” instituted in 1939. Operation T4 was the name given to the program of euthanizing disabled people. In the first two years, 70,000 people were exterminated, mostly using poison gas. That process of mass extermination was the precursor and test bed for their later “Final Solution”. By the war’s end, an estimated 275,000 disabled people had been killed.

But I really do know my history.

The state mandated eugenics movement originally took root and grew here in the United States. The first state level forced sterilization law was instituted in a state here in 1907. By 1931, 28 states had such laws. The Nazis modeled their law after the laws then in place here in the United States. Those laws resulted in the forced sterilization of over 64,000 people. The eugenics movement was at least partially discredited after the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed to the world. But forced sterilizations still continued in places in the US throughout much of the 20th century.

I knew my history. And I’ve always tried to stand with the marginalized and use whatever voice and attention is afforded me as a white male to help, or at least not hurt, groups with less privilege in our society. But the ongoing process of discovering that I’m autistic has also involved recognizing the way that very identity places me squarely in an often targeted group.

In the not too distant past, that would have been an interesting fact, but less directly relevant for me in my day to day life than for many other autistic people. I am older and well-established. I am white. And I am male. Individually, those all carry weight. Collectively, they are powerful indeed, much more so than an autistic identity I had long since learned to conceal to some degree and with some success from a hostile world.

But my autistic self-discovery has been juxtaposed at every step with the resurgence of hate and politically powerful authoritarianism in this country. Hate requires targets. Fascists and bullies love to target first those they perceive as weak or unable to fight back. As a result, the disabled are often among the first groups targeted. We witnessed ridicule of a disabled journalist first-hand from the candidate himself during the campaign. The GOP has been increasingly targeting the disabled for some time now. And those attacks have often been embedded in policy decisions in many spheres this year, even failed ones like the most recent attack on Medicaid by the GOP. Or rather, their failed attempt as of this writing. I’m not so naive as to believe they’ve given up.

And that reality has been a factor in a number of the choices I’ve made. While I haven’t actually told very many people in my personal life about my diagnosis, I’ve made no secret about it in my online life. I did not create a pseudonym and I’ve clearly published that fact in my various profiles. And I’ve created an online autistic footprint that cannot be retracted at this juncture. Work has an official coding system which is voluntary and kept in confidence, but used for aggregate reporting purposes. I updated that information. Those and similar actions place me front and center. If and when they come for disabled people in earnest and with targeted policy, I intend to be standing front and center. They will damn sure have to come through me if I have anything to say about it.

Or at least that’s my hope and intent. I have no illusions about my individual strength, power, or ability. I fade quickly in crowds. I’m confused and easily contained, at least in the immediate term, by direct confrontation. Hell, most days it’s a personal victory for me to overcome whatever resistance, anxiety, or fear makes it so hard for me to make a damn phone call. I’m not really a hero or defender, at least until or unless you threaten my children.

But I can write. Words are my tool and my soul. And I can place my name and my autistic identity in the public sphere. I can preemptively make myself a target who will be difficult to ignore when they do come for those with developmental disabilities. I don’t necessarily feel disabled much of the time, but that’s the appropriate socially constructed box for my identity. And the fascists don’t and won’t care how I feel.

I’m also not under any illusion that my actions will make a difference. I’m just one person. I’m just one voice. And while it helps immensely to be a white male in our society, it won’t magically amplify my voice or confer power I lack.

So why be public at all?

It’s something I can do. It will likely have little, if any, impact as our national descent continues. It’s not the only thing I can do. I can continue to write letters to Congressmen who will ignore them. I can donate where I think it might help. I can continue to vote. But I’ve lived an autistic life without the benefit of a descriptive label; I simply believed I was broken and deficient. Having discovered that I’m not alone, in a sense affirming that I’m really human, I want to stand with that group, whatever the cost.