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I think there is a very common argument about oppression that seems to assume that the only way to stop people from being mean to you because of your axis of marginalization is to stop being visibly marginalized.

Groups I have seen this about: Trans people (“you shouldn’t transition, because then people will harass you on the street and discriminate against you”). Gay people (“if you didn’t flaunt being gay, no one would care”). Gender-non-conforming people (“stop being a flamer and people wouldn’t be mean to you”). Visibly neurodivergent people (“if you don’t get normalizing therapy, you’re going to be bullied”). Fat people (“you should lose weight and then no one will call you a fat pig”).

The important question here is whether privileged people are evil.

For instance, it might be true that, while there are some exceptional non-autistic people who are capable of being tolerant, non-autistic people as a group are simply incapable of responding to normal autistic body language and affect with anything other than ostracism, harassment, and assault. Since non-autistic people are 99% of the population, we must deal with them. In that situation, it is only practical to learn how to conceal the signs of being visibly autistic.

However, in this situation, it would be perfectly reasonable for autistic people to hate non-autistic people. It is wrong to mistreat people because of harmless behavior that doesn’t affect others in any way. It may be that non-autistic people as a group are severely impaired in their ability to behave in an ethical way; people can be impaired in ethical behavior just as they can be impaired in anything else. However, if it is an unchangeable part of your personality that you hurt someone for a harmless trait of theirs, it is entirely unreasonable to expect that person to have fond feelings for you.

In the event that privileged people are evil, it is also important to put resources into separatism and programs of mutual aid. Of course, many autistic people have high support needs, and it would probably be impossible to live apart from non-autistic people entirely. But a space where we can be ourselves is a necessity.

Most of all, in this situation, we must not lie to marginalized people and claim that the flaw is in them. If non-autistic people cannot help but hurt autistic people, then we must be honest with autistic children about this. We must not teach them that their hands should be quiet because loud hands are weird and disgusting and wrong. We must teach them that their hands should be quiet because most people are cruel and mean and will hurt them if they are not.

Alternately, it may be the case that privileged people are not evil. For instance, it may be that non-autistic people, as a group, possess the ability to not bully people for moving their hands in a funny way; it is just that many non-autistic people have never bothered to develop this capacity.

In that case, quieting your hands is a short-term solution. Whether or not non-autistic people have the capability to be nice to visibly autistic people, many of them are, in fact, cruel to visibly autistic people right now. It can make sense to avoid being visibly autistic! I would never tell anyone that they have to go around being mistreated for the sake of the movement. You have to make the decision that makes sense for you within your own personal context.

That said, it must be combined with the long-term solution, which is activism. Non-autistic people must be encouraged– through some combination of social stigma and moral persuasion– to develop the capacity to not bully people, even if those people are knowingly going about being weird in public. This process will probably involve people being visibly autistic, since familiarity tends to make people more accepting.

Personally, I am an optimist. I believe that people who are currently behaving in an oppressive way have, in the vast majority of cases, the capacity to shape up. That’s because of my personal experience. I was taught by my parents to be mean to fat people (for instance, by pointing to fat women in bikinis and saying that no one wants to see that); when I grew older and read writing by fat people, I learned that this was an awful way to behave, and I cut it the fuck out. I think other people who are currently being assholes can learn to behave better too.

This means I strive not to hate members of privileged groups or judge them based on their group membership instead of considering the individual person, and it also means that I tend to have fairly high standards for their behavior. And it means I am very unsympathetic to arguments that treat the behavior of privileged people as a variable it is impossible to change. No one is forcing thin people to be mean to fat people, or cis people to be mean to trans people, or straight people to be mean to gay people. It is a decision by individual people who could have damn well chosen to make a better one. And therefore the blame for the mistreatment of marginalized people is always on the person who’s doing the mistreating.

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