Daily Archives: December 16, 2007

Please violate only one stereotype at a time.


What seems like a really long time ago, elmindreda wrote about The difference slot. The idea being that:

The basic idea is that each and every person has their difference, and that it should be respected. Note the singular form, however. When they learn of my autism, which is usually the first major difference to come up in conversation, they seem to think “oh, so that’s her difference”. They then proceed to fill in my difference slot in their mental table, and everything is as it should be.

Or, so they think.

Then, a little while later, I happen to mention some other thing that makes me very different from most other people, and their belief system collides head-on with reality. Usually, it’s another one of my disabilities that triggers it. This is when they almost invariably go “…” for a while, only to finish with “you have that too?” In other words, “your difference slot is already filled, and you can’t have another one”.

What I’m writing about is similar, but perhaps from a different angle. A phenomenon I’ve seen over and over again runs something more like, “Please violate only one stereotype at a time.”

This can apply even if you only have one “difference” (be that autism, physical disability, whatever).

If you have several differences, of course, the problem becomes exponentially harder to deal with.

And there are a number of different ways to deal with the prejudice you encounter where people might be able to handle you violating one stereotype, but leap all over you if you happen to violate more than one.

Some (false) stereotypes I happen to violate, just by way of example:

  • People who use mobility aids such as wheelchairs, canes, crutches, walkers, etc. must use them full-time.
  • Autistic people who are non-speaking or nearly so, must always have had no speech.
  • Autistic people who are non-speaking or nearly so, must be non-speaking entirely because of autism, not because of something else.
  • Autistic people can never pass to be normal or ‘just eccentric’.
  • Autistic people can only pass for normal or ‘just eccentric’, never for anything else.
  • Autistic people who pass can never stop passing, or if they do it’s always by choice.
  • Autistic people are only allowed to lose certain skills within a short window in the first few years of life.
  • Autistic people only lose certain skills right after a vaccination.
  • Autistic people, when they lose skills, only lose skills because they are autistic, never because of anything else.
  • Autistic people, when they lose skills, never gain skills at the exact same time.
  • When autistic people lose skills, it’s always immediately obvious to everyone around them that this is what’s going on.
  • The time an autistic person is diagnosed reflects the time that they became (or appeared) autistic, rather than the time anyone else noticed.
  • Everything unusual that an autistic person does is because they’re autistic, they never have additional conditions (i.e. the “difference slot“).
  • Autistic people are completely unaware of other people and their surroundings.
  • Autistic people can’t communicate at all.
  • Autistic people live in their own little world.
  • Autistic people have one pattern of mannerisms all the time and never vary them and never lack those mannerisms altogether.
  • Autistic people are incapable of love.
  • Autistic people can only be interested in one thing.
  • Autistic people who have an interest in people always look (to people who think that standard gestures of interest are the only way of showing interest) like they have an interest in people.
  • Autistic people can either speak to communicate or not speak to communicate, never alternating between both, and certainly never some odd in-between state.
  • Autistic people who chatter on and on about their interests are a ‘kind’ of autistic person, and that ‘kind’ of autistic person never has trouble communicating in speech and/or language.
  • When an autistic person needs everything the same, you can really tell.
  • Autistic people who have meltdowns do it for no good reason.
  • Autistic shutdowns always take the form of falling asleep.
  • Autistic people are never classified as gifted.
  • People classified as gifted never lose that classification as they get older.
  • When autistic people violate stereotypes (such as, in my case, doing things like failing to hide my facial hair), it’s because they don’t know any better, never because they have made a reasoned choice to do this.
  • Autistic people who do advocacy work don’t really care about other autistic people, they just want to make trouble and/or go on an ego trip.
  • Autistic people who do advocacy work or other work that pertains to autism can really only speak from their own experience, they never have expertise from other sources than their own experience.
  • People who can’t take care of themselves, can’t take care of anyone else either.
  • People with movement disorders always have the exact same degree of difficulty with movement in all situations.
  • People with movement disorders have the same degree of difficulty with all forms of movement.
  • Disabled people have no sexuality.
  • Disabled people never have more than one thing going on at once (that difference slot again).
  • Women who are romantically interested in women have never dated men.
  • Autistic people have never dated anybody.
  • There is no difference between the act of producing speech or typing, and the act of using speech or typing for communicative purposes.
  • There is no difference between the act of producing speech or typing that sounds right (or approximately right) for the situation, and producing speech or typing that actually communicates what the person is thinking (unless the person is being deliberately misleading).
  • Disabled people always have the exact same type and degree of difficulty with something, it never changes or fluctuates or anything.
  • Lesbians can’t also be Christians.
  • Two people with the same disability label are going to have the exact same difficulties with everything, or else one or the other of them should not have this label.
  • Whatever the majority of the current society a person is in considers “a disability”, is the same thing every society a person could be in considers “a disability”, there is no such thing as a set of strengths and difficulties that in one place and time is considered within the realm of normal and in another place and time isn’t.
  • Because of the last stereotype, if a person is not noticed as “disabled” by the society they live in at one time, then they must not have had the same condition that another society (or even another part of society) considers “disabling”.

That’s a whole lot of stereotypes, and that’s just off the top of my head. I’d venture a guess that most people violate at least some stereotypes of some kind. But some stereotypes have more consequences to violate than others.

And what I’ve found, is that people prefer people to violate as few stereotypes as possible at once. If you can violate no stereotypes or only one stereotype, that is great, that is expected and mostly acceptable. The more stereotypes you violate, the more trouble you get in.

And there are a number of ways to react to this, as a person who violates many stereotypes. I’ll just list some of them, not an exhaustive list either.

  1. You can take the attitude of basically, “Yeah I violate a lot of stereotypes, screw ’em if they can’t handle it.”
  2. You can be open about violating stereotypes, but ashamed at the same time.
  3. You can be open about violating stereotypes, but claim that everyone else fits the stereotype.
  4. You can be open about violating stereotypes, but claim that none of the stereotypes ever apply to anyone.
  5. You can actively try to hide some or all of the stereotypes that you violate.
  6. You can just fail to mention some or all of the stereotypes that you violate. (I’m talking about on purpose here. I’ve certainly failed to mention some that I violate by accident, only to find that people really thought I was doing it to hide the fact that I violated them, when that was the furthest thing from my mind.)
  7. You can try to hide some or all of the stereotypes that you violate, while at the same time condemning people who violate the exact same stereotypes openly.
  8. And you can even take a step beyond that. You can go to people that you know cause trouble for people who violate those stereotypes. And you can, while hiding a lot of the stereotypes that you do violate, say, “Hey, look at me. I’m okay. I don’t violate all those stereotypes. All those people who violate those stereotypes are really bad people. I’m not a bad person though, and I’ll say whatever you want me to say, including condemning people just like me, as long as you accept me.”

Like most people who violate these stereotypes, I’ve done most of them before. And I’d never entirely condemn anyone for doing any of the ones that involve hiding, even the last one I mentioned, because sometimes it’s what people need to do to survive in any number of ways.

But obviously, some of them can be hurtful, either to the person doing them or to a lot of other people, and this can be both directly and indirectly, and intentional or unintentional.

Doing the ones that involve just hiding those traits in some way, while in some ways innocuous, do make it somewhat harder for people who do violate them to be open about them. It’s easier to be open about something like that when you know that other people are as well. (And yep, autistic people can find things easier just because other people do them, we’re not immune to that whole thing.)

Doing the ones that involve actively condemning other people who violate stereotypes, and the ones that involve actually aiding people with more power who condemn (or do worse things to) other people who violate stereotypes, can not only really twist up the conscience of the person who is doing them, but actively do harm to people who violate the stereotypes. In these cases you’re basically actively adding to the prejudice that already exists against people who violate the stereotypes, and in the last case you’re aiding people who have the power to act on that prejudice in ways that can shut people out of powerful positions, shut people out of receiving services, or other things like that.

And there can also be a kind of harm in saying that nobody fits a stereotype. A person saying that should take great care to see whether it’s actually true. Otherwise, you can end up inadvertently creating an opposite stereotype. And if you say that you don’t fit the stereotype but everyone else does, you’re obviously reinforcing the stereotype.

But, in the end, I have to say that the idea that people must violate only one stereotype at a time is just as nonsensical as the difference slot. (And I’m still not feeling great, although I’m feeling way better than I was, so I’ll end here and hope that any dots I have not connected in my writing above, can be connected in the heads of people who read this.)