A Right to Representation

This Buzzfeed article on “Parenthood” and autism (the spark behind this post) uses really poor language, like ‘battling’ autism. Most Autistic people I know, including myself, don’t battle against it- we accept, embrace, and celebrate our neurotypes. Sometimes it is not a picnic, but no one’s life is a picnic, and we don’t have to like every aspect of our disability in order to embrace it and be proud.

It quotes no actually Autistic people and uses a quote from Autism Speaks, an organization that most Autistic people stand against for its propagation of myths such as Autistic people are broken, diseased, require normalization through methods such as ABA, and need a cure. It also uses person-first language (“with autism”) rather than identity-first language (“Autistic”).

I may be rehashing what people have said over and over again in numerous posts about representation in popular culture and about including our voices in articles and policies written about us. In no way am I, however, beating a dead horse. If I was beating a dead horse, there would be ideal representation, inclusion, and more listening to us (and even then, it might not be a dead horse because there would still be people trying to drag us back down).

There’s the thing where they write articles on us without talking to us. People gladly assume we do not like being disabled, or that we cannot communicate about being disabled. Sometimes, perhaps, they do know, and just decide to talk for us anyway. We deserve to be included; we have thoughts. Traditional manners of communication may not work for us, but we still have opinions. We all have the right to be a self-advocate and be heard.

Then there are films by disabled people about disability, but people seem to jump for the sensationalized, dramatized, and either tragic or magically-cured stories. This is why, for instance, the Kansas City chapterof the Autistic Self Advocacy Network created a petition for Netflix to include films about disability and chronic illness by actually disabled and chronically ill creators. They compiled a list of films by disabled and/or chronically ill creators here.

We shouldn’t have to make petitions about better representation, but we do, unfortunately. A lot of showrunners will deny their character is even Autistic because the character either “functions too well,” or they didn’t mean to write the character that way, or they don’t want the stigma of having an autistic character on the show. It’s often a combination of them. Disability in general also doesn’t fare so well. Disabled characters are often played by able-bodied actors, which leaves them able to ‘stand up’ or go off at the end of the show or film. Often we’re depicted as either violent or savant. Often we get cured, get killed, or die in some fashion.

These depictions lend themselves to stigma in multiple ways. People can be afraid of us because we’re not making eye contact or doing “strange” hand gestures or pacing. People expect us to be savants when most of us are not – giving the idea that we’re only worth something if we have some miraculous skill someplace “despite” the disability. Cures imply we need them. Our deaths imply that death is a fate kinder than disability.

This is not just an issue that affects disability; it is intersectional and should be treated as such by all marginalized groups. We are one of a marginalized people and culture. Queer people, trans people, PoC, women, religious minorities and other groups also have a lot to work for in the field of representation. We should just make a collaborative series of films between disabled people, trans people, queer people, women, PoC, and as many religious minority groups as possible, and other groups too… because we all have a right to representation.

(also posted on Tumblr)

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