07 December 2017

Why we must #BoycottToSiri / An open letter to Judith Newman

Content/TW: Discussions of involuntary sterilization, abusive parenting, mentions of Nazis, eugenics, intense anti-autistic ableism in general.

Why we must #BoycottToSiri

I originally wrote what appears below as a series of tweets, but they read better as a single letter. This is meant for Judith Newman, though I have no idea whether she will ever bother to read this blog post, and frankly, I would be terrified of whatever response she might have. But this must be said, by as many of us as can summon the courage to speak or write or sign it, and so here I am, urging anyone who wishes to do something to support actually autistic people not to buy this book written by a non-autistic parent of an autistic teen, in which (among many other horrifying things) she enthusiastically advocates for sterilizing her son and other autistic people to prevent us from reproducing and fulfilling our inevitable destiny to be naturally shitty parents (her ideas, not mine).

She said that she is "counting the days" until her son turns eighteen so she can gain medical power of attorney and have him sterilized. She described in graphic detail the contents and types of porn that he watches. She said that she can only imagine him ever having sex with the Benny Hill soundtrack playing along with her mental image of it, and that that means it would have to be going horribly wrong. She said that he will die alone because no girl (assuming he must be heterosexual and only interested in girls/women) could ever want him. She said he is immature (HE IS THIRTEEN, CHRIST) and so would never be able to be a good parent. She said he could never be a loving partner (assuming he wants romance now or will in the future) because he is incapable of separating other people's needs from his own, let alone putting others before himself.

This even apart from her misogynistic description and misgendering of Métis autistic activist Amythest Schaber without their consent, and her vehement objections to use of singular they as a gender-neutral pronoun in the introduction to this book (totally unrelated? hello?) while mentioning that she would like to punch her friend (who authored a book affirming and supporting her trans child) in the face for advocating for its use.

Yes, it is that bad.

[photo: graphic with image of an open notebook-style journal, full cup of coffee, and pencil on a wooden table or desk as the background. small text on the notebook says in all capital letters, "Letter to Judith Newman" and "Why We Must #BoycottToSiri." large text on the notebook says in a script, handwriting-like font, "all of this is fucked." large text at the bottom of the graphic says, "There is not enough caffeine in the world for me to deal with this shit."]

An open letter to Judith Newman:

Autistic people are human beings. We can and must make our own medical choices, especially about procedures as invasive and permanent as sterilization.

Forcible/involuntary sterilization because you're afraid of someone like me reproducing? Direct and clear example of modern eugenics.

You can't imagine your son in a sexual situation because he is autistic? You have a serious lack of imagination. Autistic people span the entire sexual and asexual spectrums.

You publicly talked about what kind of porn your son watches. In a New York Times "bestseller." I am so, so horrified, angry, and betrayed on behalf of your son.

You are convinced your son will die alone because no girl could ever possibly be interested in him. That is blatant, horrifying ableism.

You are counting down the days until you can involuntarily sterilize your son, which you want to do because he is autistic. I hope he escapes your house.

This time next year, I'll be a licensed attorney. Many actually autistic and other disabled people are too. Believe you me, we will line up to fight you if you try this against his will.

I am TERRIFIED for your son, because he has to live with you. Your book shows your true self. What kind of parent you are. What kind of person you are. And it's scary as fuck.

Your son needs love and support. Not mockery, public humiliation, condescension, and threats of involuntary, invasive, and permanent medical procedures.

How the hell do you expect your son to learn to be a loving partner to a woman, a man, or a non-binary person, if you already assume he can't be? You are supposed to teach him!

You wrote that you don't believe your son is or ever will be capable of putting other people's feelings ahead of his own. I read that and am sick to my stomach.

I'm an actually autistic adult, and I feel such overwhelmingly intense empathy for YOUR SON that I am crying thinking of what it must be like to be him knowing/finding out you've written this bullshit about him in public.

Do you know about Micah David Cole-Fletcher? He is an autistic poet and a hero in Portland, Oregon. He got stabbed because he stood up to white supremacists abusing two women of color. Two others were murdered.

READ.

We actually autistic people are constantly scrambling with extremely limited resources and the challenges of multiple disabilities to save each other from eviction, institutionalization, and abuse, every day.

That's autistic empathy.

Every day I know of actually autistic people, most of whom will never get news media coverage, sacrificing every second of their time and every bit of their available effort, to fight against violence and harm.

When you describe your son as lacking in empathy, compassion, and the ability to put others before himself, you directly attack the core integrity of some of the most self-sacrificing humans on this planet.

What about Jennifer Msumba's courage in speaking up against the JRC for torturing disabled people? Of facing the very people who abused her and still justify it, because it might get others out and make the torture stop?

That's autistic empathy.

Look, every autistic person will not have a romantic or sexual relationship in their lifetimes. But that's not either a core trait of being autistic, nor is it a reflection of lesser personhood.

The point that I am trying to make, that I sincerely doubt you will ever be willing to listen to (but yet hope against hope you will), is that your son is a full human being.

Not despite autism.

He is autistic and human and these are not contradictory.

One day, if he hasn't yet, your son will read what you wrote about him, publicly, and my heart breaks for him for when that day comes.

This is betrayal.

This is betrayal.

This is betrayal.

You wrote that your son should not reproduce because he could never be a father. This is wrong.

Autistic people around the globe are already proud, loving parents of children -- autistic and non-autistic. Being autistic does not mean we cannot love or care.

An autistic person dropped everything and drove three hours nonstop to get to me when I was in the middle of a mental health crisis.

(And surely you must know how much we hate interruptions to routine/sudden changes.)

That's autistic love and care.

I know an autistic person dedicated to finding and supporting the most isolated human beings locked in inhumane conditions in prisons with no budget and no donors, traveling from prison to prison in the face of violence.

That's autistic love and care.

My partner (also autistic) and I drove 18+ hours through 8 states to support two other human beings in getting to a safe place to live and escaping homelessness.

We don't want praise or money. Just to do what's right.

That's autistic love and care.

I know an autistic person with multiple disabilities and chronic illnesses who performed life-saving labor for another disabled person who was almost left for dead, even at the expense of their own physical health.

That's autistic love and care.

You say your son cannot be a father or a loving partner because he can't love or care for others. Because he can't put others before himself. If he still loves you after finding out about this horror show of a book, he will have already proved you wrong.

You say he should not father a child because he is immature. Do you realize how many grown-ass, NON-DISABLED men are out there with children who are immature/unempathetic as fuck? (Hint: Some of them are called Senator and Representative. One's called President.)

As an autistic human being, I am enraged and devastated at Harper Books' decision to publish this garbage. Because it's not only your son this has/will hurt. It's many, many more autistic people whose parents will read it.

I teach a college course on disability police and social movements. In one unit, we discuss in brutal, graphic detail the long and continuing history of involuntary sterilizations of disabled people, PoC, and disabled PoC specifically. It's called eugenics.

The idea that disabled people are incapable of parenting, shouldn't reproduce more disabled people, and shouldn't be having sex ... That's called eugenics. It's the very same idea that led to the Nazi's T-4 program. They called us "useless eaters."

You know who else thought we shouldn't be reproducing? The mass murderer in Sagamihara, Japan, who last year stabbed 19 disabled people to death and injured 26 more. He said he wanted to rid the world of us.

You think you're nothing like him but you're wrong.

Here's what you share:

* A belief that disabled people cannot be full human beings

* A belief that disabled people shouldn't be reproducing

The difference is that he stabbed people. You wrote a book with these ideas. But I'm afraid others might be inspired.

Now I know that on the off-chance you ever read these messages, your first reaction will be to tell me how mean I am. (Because you get to be upset if I'm harsh, but I'm just mean because I obviously lack empathy and social skills. /sarcasm, of course)

Your second response will be to tell me that I'm nothing like your child. You will tell me that I'm articulate, intelligent, obviously functional, and successful. You will say that I have a very mild form of autism.

These are ableist distractions.

No, I don't know your son personally. No, I have not lived in the same house as him. But I have lived in a harsh, violent world my entire life with a brain very much like his. (And I'm older than your son. By about ten years.)

The truth is, no matter what specific struggles or skills I have, I'm autistic like your son, and you ... you are not. I am like your child.

I cannot comprehend why or how someone who is supposed to love me the most could hurt/hate me so much.

You may believe you love your son. But we, autistic people, hear what you have actually said, which is that you hate him. You love a version of him that does not exist.

(Learn from Jim Sinclair.)

You have put something incredibly, horrifyingly dangerous into the world. You can't take it back, not completely. But you can and must make amends for your flagrant abuse of your privilege, power, and resources.

For the sake of your son.

For the sake of others like him.

For the sake of those to come after him.

We deserve to live free of fear of violence, especially from the people who are most supposed to love and protect us.

And make no mistake -- forcible, involuntary sterilization, and legal authority over another person's medical decision-making, these are forms of violence.

You are plotting to take away your son's right to control his own body.

You are plotting to become the biggest, worst, and most inescapable abuser in your son's life.

You still have a chance to stop and backtrack. To be a supportive, actually loving parent.

But your window of time is shrinking, fast.

You need to start with apologizing to your son and coming clean about what you've done if he doesn't know already.

And then you need to do your damndest to combat the dangerous messages you've put out there in the world.

You need to make sure that your son knows that he and he alone controls his own body.

He and he alone gets to decide what, whether, when, and how other people can do anything to him -- sexually, medically, reproductively.

That means apologizing for violating any tiny sense of privacy he might have ever had.

That means apologizing for thinking of him as less than a full person.

That means apologizing for publicly humiliating and mocking him.

That means connecting him, ASAP, to autistic adults who can mentor and support him coming into adulthood as an autistic teen.

That means making sure he gets real, meaningful sex education about reproductive choices, reproductive healthcare, and what consent is.

That means promising to him and to yourself that you will not be counting the days until you can legally steal from your son his right to control his own body.

(Yes I am stuck on that. Because it's disgusting and morally appalling.)

If you want to show to your son how to put others' feelings ahead of their own, retract the book. Demand the publisher ice it. Forgo the royalties, the speaking engagements, the press.

Put your son ahead of yourself. Put his dignity and his humanity first.

If you still want to write another book later, let it be an honest book. Let it be a book where your son is humanized instead of dehumanized and mocked. Let it be a book where you are a flawed human instead of a hero/saint/angel/martyr.

Until you are ready to accept full responsibility for what you have done to autistic people present and future as well as your own son, and take appropriate action to rectify it, we have nothing further to discuss.

I will take my rage and weeping apart from you.

________________

Interested in putting $$$ where it counts?

Harriet Tubman Collective @HTCsolidarity: badass group of Black Deaf and Disabled organizers

Autism Women's Network @autism_women: intersectional powerhouse/support network

HEARD: @behearddc: fights Deaf wrongful convictions and coordinating community trainings

Autistic Self Advocacy Network @autselfadvocacy: leader in D.C. policy advocacy

Disability Visibility Project @DisVisibility: amplification of disabled activism

Ramp Your Voice @RampYourVoice: Black disabled woman-centric project

NOS Magazine @NOSeditorial: magazine by/for neurodivergent writers and language access

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund @DREDF and Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law @BazelonCenter: cutting-edge legal advocacy

Sins Invalid @sinsinvalid: performance project centering sick/disabled QTPOC

Krip Hop Nation @kriphopnation: PoC-centric disabled cultural activism via hip-hop

Barking Sycamores @BarkingSycamore and Deaf Poets Society @thedeafpoets: Disabled/neurodivergent/Deaf literary ventures

Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective (contact Mia Mingus @miamingus)

Ala Costa Adult Transition Services @alacostaACAT: direct services agency run by autistic adults

National ADAPT @NationalADAPT: grassroots direct action against harmful legislation (saved Medicaid repeatedly)

National LGBTQ Task Force @TheTaskForce: First LGBTQ+ org hosting disability justice project led by disabled TWOC

Sylvia Rivera Law Project @SRLP: legal advocacy for low-income, people of color, immigrant, and incarcerated TGNC folks

Autism Spectrum Navigators at Bellevue College @BellevueCollege: peer support/full integration/autistic culture symposium

All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism edited by Lydia X. Z. Brown, E. Ashkenazy, and Morénike Giwa Onaiwu: first anthology by autistic racialized and people of color

Disability Intersectionality Summit: what it says on tin/contact @IntersectedCrip

Alliance for Citizen Directed Supports @CitizenDirected: association for real community integration and self-determination for ALL people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Another awesome publisher centering multiply-marginalized #OwnVoices: Cuil Press @CuilPress led by disabled founder Michón Neal

Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind @ColumbiaLight direct peer-led services for Blind/DeafBlind/Blind+Disabled people

Youth Organizing YO! Disabled and Proud @Yodisabledproud: disabled youth leadership+empowerment

And lastly, if you're reading this, learned something, and have privilege and money? Consider donating to support me and my work (much of which I do not broadcast publicly but directly benefits/supports marginalized people). PayPal Lydia at autistichoya dot com.

________________

(Note -- in writing the original tweets, I was torn between naming people without their consent, versus describing them without naming them to avoid potentially unwanted naming/outing/visibility -- which itself can often be dangerous, exploitative, and abusive. I erred toward not naming people since I did not have time or spoons to ask each person I was thinking of for their consent. Where people are named, it is because they have already spoken/written/been described very publicly and as an autistic person.)

5 comments:

  1. Well said Lydia!!!
    That's appaling! I couldn't figure things would go that ugly.
    Waiting until 18 to get him sterelized, seriously!!?
    Newman's son dignity and integrity are in jeopardy to me.
    That might only be my opinion, and nobody has to totally agree with it, but I believe that every autistic child should be taken away from sh#tty disablist parents and given up to adoption to whatever couple neuromixed (a couple formed by two person with a different neuro-identities) or not who would provide to the child acceptance, safety, accomodation and love instead of loath, fear and ableism.
    Especially when the disablist parents relation to their child is at high risks to turn dangerously eugenistic.

    Blessing. 😊
    #ActuallyAutistic

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is her honest book. She has laid out her plans as plainly and honest as it gets. How much clearer can she be about what she thinks about her son and those like him procreating ?
    This is frightening to any and all who are working so hard for equality, respect and standing in the disability community. However, it is reality. This book is getting more attention and acclaim and making the money than years of publications that those actually living the life are with their works. This book and “Wonder”, a totally fictitious book about s child with cranial facial differences are what are raking in the people and money. At least Gus exists and his mother is living with an autistic child instead of pure spin fsntssy of “Wonder”. Thes books are wake up calls as to how most of this country regards disabled people. Such people get blasted out of the Cyber space of Autism and disability blogs written by and for disabled adults, but the vast majority of space and people are more like Judith Newman and her supporters. Also, it is doubtful Gus will be sterilized against his will. His parents and other adults in his life will have him readily agreeing and signing to the procedure at that time. If he is able to communicate about what his views on the matter are at all. That’s how it’s done. I’m surprised the Newman’s are waiting until he is 18 unlike the Ashley Pillow Angel who was desecrated with sterilization as well as growth stoppage and pre mastectomy. No consent needed for her and there are a dozen cases like hers that have followed. The mountain is very high and this book cleared some fog to show how high far disabled people have yet to go to even come close to the goal of the peak of equal rights

    R. Yourug. As Google function not working

    ReplyDelete
  3. TW: suicide stuff

    I read about this book as much as I could without contributing to it. This mom sounds exactly like a parent with Munchausen's Syndrome by proxy. More stunning is that she investigated his porn habits. If a father did that to his daughter he'd be arrested for pedophilia. If a mom does it to her son it's okay, she's concerned, you should understand.

    It says a lot that the community of parents of Autistic children has condoned such a culture of overcontrolling their children it would be easy for a child abuser to hide among them. To Siri with Love is a book that is an example of this. A mother who reportedly destroyed Gus' favorite toy when he was 7 months old because he didn't respond to her correctly. Who talks about his most private habits without his permission. Perhaps this might be what's needed to make parents of Autistic kids realize discusding your adult child the way a parent discusses a 3 year old's bathroom behaviors is child abuse. That discussing anyone's private issues without that person's consent is how abusers treat their victims.

    This book is a manifesto of a mother's controlling child abuse under the reasoning that he's supposedly Autistic. Despite many of his behaviors sounding like that of a child reacting to years of abuse.

    So parents of Autistic children who defend being controlling of their kids past the point of pushing their boundaries. How are you going to justify yourselves after a Munchausen by Proxy parent has proven they can get away with child abuse if they claim he's Autistic?

    ReplyDelete
  4. It’s not just autism that get the Go flag for sterilization. It’s cognitive abd intellectual disabilities that get people on the sterilization list. Add those who cannot easily communicate to that list as they are often lumped into that category. Anyone that gets a medical guardianship is at high risk but, in particular, are those who have been talked into the sterilization over years as Gus certainly will be. It’s very clear what is being advocated to him by his parents

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you, Lydia for this article and you always rock the show, I wish I could keep up with you in the way you write. However, everyone can do things if we just put our minds to it. Thank you again!!!

    ReplyDelete

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