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Marissa Lingen

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Don't blame autism, dammit. [Nov. 4th, 2010|01:38 pm]
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So I've been taking part in conversation over at jimhines's lj about sexual harassment behavior by an editor or editors in our field, and I was kind of waiting for something to happen, and sure enough, it did. It always does.

Somebody conflated predatory sexual harassment with lack of social skills, and both of them with "Asberger's," by which one can only assume they mean Asperger's syndrome/autism spectrum disorders.

I tried to be nice, but listen. Listen. I have run into both. I know the difference. And I hate hearing this crap, because it unfairly stigmatizes people who are not neurotypical, and it also excuses people who are making deliberate bad choices.

A kid I love is on the autism spectrum. He is 8. And you know what? He gets that you do not make remarks at school about other people's bodies. He gets that, as hilarious as he finds bodily function humor at this time in his life, other people's butts are off limits to him. You can explain to him that remarks about boobies are going to make girls uncomfortable and make it hard for them to learn at school, so he cannot do that stuff or it will make school a sad, unfriendly place for the girls in his class. Because he is not stupid, he's autistic. And he is eight. Okay? So if you're telling me that editors who are much, much more than eight--who are in the range of twenty-eight to seventy-eight--and who work with words telling stories of human relationships for a living--are making that kind of remark to writers they work with or may in future work with, because they do not understand that it is not okay because of their neurological condition, I am sorry, but I am not buying that bullshit, and you should not try to sell it anywhere else either.

People who have poor social skills, whether because of a neurological condition or because they were raised badly or because they have disdained to learn them or whatever other reason--those people make their social gaffes in full view of large groups. Their colleagues are never surprised to find that they have been saying inappropriate things to a particular group of people for years, because they have poor enough social skills that they don't get that they're screwing up. So they don't hide it. These are the folks who will be sitting with you in the consuite and blurt out a remark, about two notches too loud, about the size of your breasts. And if you are a kind person and feel that they might learn, you can gently say something about that not being a very appropriate thing to say.

But someone who waits until they are with someone they perceive to be in a position of less power to make their remarks? Someone who makes sure that there are no witnesses who will have the authority to censure them? Someone who makes a consistent pattern of aiming their behavior at people who will have a difficult time making the bad behavior known or a reason not to do so? That is not someone who lacks social skills. That's someone who is using their social skills fairly precisely.

There are, of course, other people who use their social skills fairly precisely. Who wait until they've been friends with someone long enough to know what their sense of humor is before they make off-color or flirtatious jokes. Who ease into that sort of thing and pay attention to reactions and get to know people as people. That's the other very tiresome problem that comes up whenever you discuss sexual harassment: the idea that any time you object to sexual harassment, you must object to all mentions of sexuality anywhere ever. I'm glad it hasn't come up in jimhines's lj, and I hope it doesn't have to come up here, so I don't have to strangle anybody with their own intestines, because I really don't have the energy. Because dealing with the rest of this crap is tiresome enough.

I discover I have more to say about autism and SF, or rather sci-fi: specifically the show Eureka. But I've gone on long enough and need to do some other productive things first. So I'll get to that later.
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[User Picture]From: coraa
2010-11-04 06:49 pm (UTC)

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Yes, this.

I used to work with someone who was a jerk. Not a sexual harasser, just a garden-variety not-very-nice jerk.

People would occasionally say, "I think maybe he's mildly autistic," I think because he was a geek and a CS person and so on.

But... the thing is, he was always polite to the CEO. He was always perfectly socially acceptable to his boss. He was perfectly fine in situations where it would have been bad for him to be a jerk. He saved it for when there were no real repercussions.

He clearly had a perfectly good grasp of social dynamics and niceties, and was using them to his own advantage—it just happened to be that he wanted to use them to be a jerk.
[User Picture]From: pnkrokhockeymom
2010-11-04 06:53 pm (UTC)

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I'm not participating over there so thanks for doing so; I encountered atrocious victim-blaming in the first 100 or so comments I read and had to stop. I'm really anxious this week and that had me triggery too quickly. I guess I just don't have the spoons right now. :(
[User Picture]From: zunger
2010-11-04 06:53 pm (UTC)

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Amen. And well-said.
[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2010-11-04 06:54 pm (UTC)

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I'm glad you're on this. In my experience, people with ASD are the last ones you have to worry about in terms of sexual harassment, sexual assault, etc. Will they corner you and bore you absolutely to death with a long monotone conversation about something you don't care about and not take any hints that you want to talk about something else? Yeah, they might do that. There are worse sins.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-04 09:15 pm (UTC)

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And neurotypical people totally do it to me too. Just about different topics.
[User Picture]From: moiread
2010-11-04 06:54 pm (UTC)

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Oooer. You know the face I'm making right now.
[User Picture]From: jimhines
2010-11-04 07:02 pm (UTC)

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Thank you.

My son is ASD. I'm working on my own response to this, which will likely be a separate post.
From: orbitalmechanic
2010-11-04 07:03 pm (UTC)

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THANK YOU.

Also, what kind of bullshit excuse is it to say, "Oh I know that guy makes everyone unhappy because he doesn't know any better, so I just stand around and watch it happen over and over and over."
[User Picture]From: swords_and_pens
2010-11-04 07:10 pm (UTC)

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I haven't had time to read the comments over at Jim's blog today (nor do I think I have to head space to do so right now), so thanks for this.

I don't know who I want to club more: the people saying this, or myself, because I as SO SICK of people excusing everything from a social faux pas to egregious behavior as "possibly ASD." ASD is not an excuse, people--it's a neurological/medical condition. And no, just because some of the people in fandom/work/the park are geeky, or awkward, or inept, it does not immediately mean they are ASD, or have "ASD tendencies" (is that like "almost pregnant"?), or whatever people want to call it. It means they are geeks, or awkward, or inept (or worse).

My youngest son is ASD. Believe me, there are days I wish, for his sake, he was simply geeky or confused or inept--it would make his life SO MUCH easier. Geeks don't need therapy to learn how to sit still, or not endlessly repeat everything they hear, or spin in circles, or lose it for twenty minutes over the fact that we are out of chocolate milk. But he's not just a geek: he has autism. And that's a daily struggle. It's not something you turn on and off at a con, not something you "manage" only around certain people at work, not something you have control over, and *not something you use an excuse for poor behavior.* It is something you struggle with, something that influences everything you do, every interaction you have, every person around you. It is who you are.

But it is not a fucking write-off for assholes and arm-chair apologists who don't have a clue.

GAAA!!!! Gods, but this pisses me off!
From: diatryma
2010-11-04 07:29 pm (UTC)

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The (autistic and otherwise special-ed) students I've worked with sometimes become inappropriate for various reasons.

"No thank you," "We don't do that," "That's inappropriate," and "(other student), get a teacher NOW," are all valid responses. Letting it slide? Not so much.

If you can consistently do it to your secretary and not your boss, you know better than to do it at all. For many, many values of 'it'.
[User Picture]From: chinders
2010-11-04 07:45 pm (UTC)

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Wow. Yes, absolutely this. Dude.

The stupid and/or wilfully misinformed, it burns.
[User Picture]From: columbina
2010-11-04 07:49 pm (UTC)

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/agree

Also: "I hope I don't have to strangle anybody with their own intestines, because I really don't have the energy" has been the story of my week.
[User Picture]From: mmerriam
2010-11-04 08:01 pm (UTC)

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just fyi, if you need someone to strangle people with their own intestines, you can pencil me in as your DH.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-04 09:17 pm (UTC)

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I always do. You are the Big Papi of my intestine-strangling lineup.
[User Picture]From: coffeeem
2010-11-04 08:14 pm (UTC)

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Well and wisely observed, and said.
[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2010-11-04 08:22 pm (UTC)

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Yah. Assholery != lacking social skills/autism. I mean, sure, sometimes lacking social skills leads to hurt feelings. But generally assholes are being assholes deliberately, because they have determined/decided that they can get away with it. Which is, as you note, using social skills fairly precisely. Just not in a way which most of us deem socially acceptable.

And it's the interests of said assholes to try and blur that line as much as possible, to the detriment of those who *actually* lack social skills or are autistic or whatever. Basically using them as cover. And that's not okay.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-04 09:18 pm (UTC)

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The number of things that get used as cover in this situation really upsets me.
[User Picture]From: dlandon
2010-11-04 08:24 pm (UTC)

I am SO glad

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That I didn't get far enough in the comments to see this. My baby doesn't need the spike in my blood pressure.

Because, really? This particular editor knows *exactly* what he's doing, as you so eloquently point out he is using his social skills very precisely. And there are so many kinds of wrong with saying that it might be Asberger's (even if I didn't know the individual involved) that it blows my mind.

Also, some thoughts about Eureka and Allison Blake's son have floated in my head, too.

- D

[User Picture]From: buttonlass
2010-11-04 08:25 pm (UTC)

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Exactly.

I get very fed up with people equating lousy social skills or (much worse and what this sounds like) predatory social skills with legitmate special needs like autism or developmental delays. I also know some very lovely people with those diagnoses and I find it very offensive to group them with jerks and sexual predators.
[User Picture]From: dd_b
2010-11-04 08:26 pm (UTC)

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Yep, differentially exhibiting the bad behavior is extremely diagnostic.

It also seems like a good narrative; most people will understand that.
From: thoughtdancer
2010-11-04 08:29 pm (UTC)

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I was mute until I was 4. I was diagnosed autistic (before they had more refined diagnoses). I have have the social skills of a slightly buzzed, overworked clown.

And none of that would justify sexual harassment. If someone is adult, living in society, and that person breaks the laws of that society, then they broke the laws. We may show mercy in the punishment, but the judgment stands.

And cornering someone to make sexual comments about them in a business environment is sexual harassment. If the person(s) mrissa is discussing did that, then being on the autism spectrum *would not change the fact that sexual harassment occurred*. It would only possibly impact the punishment received.
[User Picture]From: brooksmoses
2010-11-04 10:40 pm (UTC)

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...being on the autism spectrum *would not change the fact that sexual harassment occurred*

Yeah, that's a really good point.
[User Picture]From: la_marquise_de_
2010-11-04 08:49 pm (UTC)

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Thank you.
I'm Kari, btw: we've met briefly on others' ljs. I followed a link to your wonderful post.
I've been on the receiving end of a lot of harassment over the years and the harassers have sometimes tried to play the 'poor little dysfunctional aspergers' me' card to excuse themselves. It doesn't work, not one bit: these guys may have problems, yes, but not on the ASD scale. Indeed, to a man, they have been manipulative and sneaky and all too aware of how to find and push buttons to get what they want. They get very short shrift indeed from me these days for trying the ASD label: it's abusive to those who genuinely have the condition.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-04 09:19 pm (UTC)

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Hi, Kari! I do recognize you from elsewhere, and you're always welcome here.
[User Picture]From: booknerdguru
2010-11-04 09:01 pm (UTC)

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Oh thank you. As someone with an ASD, thank you! Would it be alright to link back to this post?
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-04 09:08 pm (UTC)

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Of course! Link away.
[User Picture]From: kirizal
2010-11-04 09:07 pm (UTC)

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I've been ranting to Zak about this exact thing the past few days...
[User Picture]From: panjianlien
2010-11-04 10:21 pm (UTC)

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Well said. I wish it didn't need to be.
[User Picture]From: shweta_narayan
2010-11-05 12:12 am (UTC)

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...Thank you.
Words for the wrong, they are good.
[User Picture]From: matociquala
2010-11-05 01:31 am (UTC)

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<3
[User Picture]From: sdn
2010-11-05 01:42 am (UTC)

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And then there's what a colleague refers to as "Geek Asperger's," when people self-diagnose. "And they don't have Asperger's," my colleague added. "They're just assholes."
[User Picture]From: bluestalking
2010-11-05 08:30 am (UTC)

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I like your colleague.
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