There are some questions that I’m not supposed to ask. It’s not because I don’t want to ask them, or because I think they’re bad or wrong. It’s because I’m told that these questions are too inflammatory, too controversial, and that I’ll be eaten alive for trying.
It doesn’t matter if I do so respectfully or curiously or with no intention of hurting anyone. Many people, particularly at Stanford, where social justice culture is thriving, don’t believe intention is important. It doesn’t really matter what you believe or how you form those beliefs or whether you’re willing to change them. It matters that you align yourself visibly and vocally with whatever cause is deemed right, and that you agree to view yourself and the rest of the world through the simplistic framework of privilege and oppression.
All of this exploded at the beginning of the summer. At Stanford and throughout the rest of the country, people were scrambling to voice their support for Black Lives Matter, their commitment to anti-racism, and their condemnation of police brutality. As I watched this unfold, I had so many questions about everything, but I knew better than to ask them. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been social justice-bullied, and I definitely don’t matter enough to anyone to be canceled, but I’ve certainly had interactions that have taught me to be cautious about speaking my mind.
At one point in high school, during a class discussion on queer representation in literature, I mentioned that in the novel I was writing at the time, one of my characters was queer. I asked if the discussion facilitator had any suggestions for writing that character respectfully and thoughtfully. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but I do remember a handful of girls in that class who pounced the moment I spoke. One of the girls – and this is someone I very much like and whose company I enjoy – resentment flashed across her face, and I felt like I’d been doused in ice water. I didn’t know why my words had triggered such a reaction, but I could tell that I’d done something wrong, and she snapped at me, “You should ask people who’ve actually had that experience.” Which was funny, because I’m not sure how she could know whether I myself did or did not have that experience.
That was one of the paradoxes of LGBT culture at my school. Some kids were out, like out out, and vocal about the subject. I have no problem with that. I learned a lot from and am friends with many people in this category. But what did trouble me was that as this extremely vocal minority dominated conversations, they seemed to work off of the implicit assumption that anyone who wasn’t out was straight and therefore, part of the problem. In conversations, everyone treated students who were openly queer with a kind of respect, even reverence. They were on a higher moral dimension, whereas the rest of us needed to shut up and listen. The Q stood for “queer” or “questioning,” but privately questioning didn’t shield a person from the disdain toward heteronormative cisgender everything.
I never wanted to share my sexuality publicly, and I don’t have any desire to do so now. I’m not sure I need a name or label for my romantic/sexual experiences. I’m not sure I have a gender identity, or that I really understand what it means to be nonbinary. I’m not sure I agree with the assessment that we live in a devastatingly heteronormative world where every single person must constantly fight for their right to exist, because my own world – my family, friends, community, school – isn’t heteronormative at all, and it seems like these sweeping generalizations overlook the nuance between countries like the United States and countries like Saudi Arabia.
What I am sure, though, is that the above paragraph can easily be used as proof of my moral shortcomings and bigotry. Cancel culture is appalling, but it’s hardly a surprise that an ideology so concerned with orthodoxy and purity would eventually develop practices of excommunication. It’s probably a good thing I’m not at Stanford now. I’m an easy victim: a little too willing to get on people’s nerves and a little too oblivious to certain social cues to see the difference between minor irritation and cause for cancelation – althought admittedly, the two are converging with spectacular velocity. Given this, my goals at the moment are twofold. One: be kind, always be kind. Kindness is everything. Two: think freely and dangerously. Use my autistic immunity to groupthink as a tool in the search for truth and meaning. Ask the questions that can’t be asked and that therefore must be asked.
This blog has taken on a new purpose. I’ll continue to write about current and past experiences of autism and other neurological oddities that shape my life. If I develop any sort of prophetic powers, maybe I’ll write about future experiences, too. I’ll certainly keep working on Autism Hacks, as I’d like this to be a platform for practical suggestions that make other people’s lives better. I may release a series of Joe and Bob comics (Joe and Bob are two characters who never change positions because stick figures are the only things I can draw). And at the same time, I’ll begin to ask those impossible questions. Kindness of heart and freedom of thought.
The house may be burning / but keep writing. This is the title and the first line of a poem by Margaret Hasse, one that inspired the branding of this blog back in June. Houses burn, hills blaze, clouds crumble. My pen never stops moving. Lately, it seems like the world’s on fire, but this, I think, is the beauty of autism, the richness of self that some mistake for distance. I am content with myself, at peace within myself, cradling danger and light. Whatever goes on outside goes on, and so do I.
The air tonight teems with smoke. Each breath is like a convulsion. My computer hisses with the digital echoes of strangers’ worries, thoughts spill from fissure to fissure, memory beckons, time wilts, and I keep writing anyway, swimming across a deep lake with a soul I’m making.