Monday, May 3, 2010

The company I keep

Like many other parents around the world, mine warned me that I would be judged by the company I kept. I paid this little mind, believing that what they meant was something more like Stay Away From Those Who Are Different. People somehow less worthy. It took many years to begin to understand the concept of the guilty bystander. How standing next to a bully while saying nothing made me a bully too. It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn over and over. Now I’m learning again.

For three years now, this blog has been connected to the Autism Hub. About half of my traffic comes through the Hub. I have discussed the Hub and the benefits of participation in several conference presentations. I have met good friends through the Hub. It has been important to me.

Here’s the problem. Lately, I’ve become aware that I don’t know what Autism Hub is. I have thought of it in various ways. I have sometimes thought of it as “community” and “mutual support” and “strength in numbers,” when in reality it is probably no more than a collection of links. I no longer know how blogs are added to the Hub. When I joined, I was simply approved by the administrator. Later, I had the opportunity to vote on new admissions. I haven’t had any of those requests for some time now. The email list for Hub members was discontinued a year ago. Several of the writers whose work originally attracted me to the Hub have left. At this point, I don’t see myself as a stakeholder, but as one of many names on a powerful page of links.

The Autism Hub is billed as “The Very Best in Autism Blogging.” This is a statement with which I agreed at one time, but I no longer find it to be true. Maybe it’s just my autistic black and white thinking, but to me this statement from the Hub’s main page means something different from what I have been seeing: "The Autism Hub promotes diversity and human rights, with ethics and reality as the core guiding principals." I think that diversity means more than whatever someone’s diagnostic papers may say. I believe that the term human rights includes freedom from harassment. Ethics is another big idea: “A theory or system of moral values” is one way to define it.

I no longer have any idea what values Autism Hub represents. This isn’t about censorship. I don’t want a list of links telling me what I can and cannot write, and I wouldn’t want that for anyone else. But membership in the Hub is voluntary. It must mean something. A group chooses to link to me, and I agree. In the beginning, I sought it out. I am a part of this thing. That is different from linking done without my own endorsement, which means something only about what the person linking believes, nothing about what I think of that person's or group's ideas.

This isn’t about politics. There are writers on the Hub who strongly disagree with my opinions on some important matters. Some of these people are my friends. They don’t call me names or make crude comments about me. We share at least one common goal, creating a better world for autistic people. I value these relationships I have with people whose values differ from mine. The people I consider my friends are not bullies.

For anyone who has missed it, one or more Autism Hub members have expressed their ethics and support of human rights by defaming, bullying and harassing other autistics. While others have left the Hub or stopped blogging altogether because of this and similar incidents, the offenders remain. The most recent incident has been especially egregious.

And where have I been? I have not written anything here for two months now. There are two main reasons for this. I have been struggling to keep up with my classes, job, and other responsibilities. There are times when I cannot do everything I need to do, and this has been the case for awhile. With summer approaching, I look forward to having more time to write. The second reason is related to conflict within the “community.” I have seen things that have caused me to question my allegiance to groups I have supported in the past; this has been a time of reflection and refocusing. Perhaps this latest instance of bullying on the Hub is the second bookend flanking these volumes of thought.

This is not the first time something like this has happened, and I should have taken a stand long ago. I hereby request that my blog be removed from Autism Hub. It’s not a good fit for me anymore. While I believe in and support freedom of speech for all, I do not wish to have my name associated with statements which intentionally harm people. Sure, maybe, probably, it is just a page of links. But I cannot in good conscience remain there, knowing that my choice to do so might be seen to support one sort of bigotry in the pursuit of ending another. There are enough people out there claiming that all autistic self-advocates are hypocrites. If such accusations make me more vigilant against such failings, so much the better.

To Kowalski, and to all others who have been victimized by similar behaviors in the past, I apologize for taking so long to say this. That was a sort of silence that wasn’t okay.

Readers: If you normally access this blog through Autism Hub, and would like to continue reading, please subscribe to the feed or bookmark me. It is my intention that there will be more things to read here in the near future.


  1. Well said Bev. I am in exactly the same position. I have blogged very seldom since June and no longer wish to be part of a group, however losely connected, that includes such overt and dangerous bullying. I am also guilty of having done nothing.

  2. I'm worried for the people who go searching online for answers, find the Hub, and think the remaining squabbling and backbiting is what "self advocacy" is all about. :(

  3. I agree, Evonne. I worry about that too. However, some of the best and most important advocacy blogs are "off Hub" already. I want to associate myself with people who are blogging about a wider range of diversity issues.

    Sharon, thank you. I am hoping that this move will help me to get back to writing more. At this point I am just not sure.

  4. I am damned upset that Kowalski has stopped blogging, and I can't help but feel some guilt there for associating too closely with the other party.

    I am not even too sure what it is all about, harrasment is sometimes in the eye of the beholder and the spectator can't see it for what it is.

    If that be the case, then mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, but what the hell am I supposed to do about it now?

  5. I never joined the Hub for the same reasons people are now leaving it. Too much bigotry there. Rights for autistics are important, but that also goes when the autistics are not white, hetero, cis, etc, and that seems to a be real problem for some bloggers on the Hub.

    Hopefully Kowalski and any other bullying victims will be alright.

  6. Well said indeed. I was eager to be in The Hub. After reading Kowalski's post I changed my mind. If the Hub should exist as it describes itself, it should be more than a list of links. It should be willing and able to support and protect it's members from internal abuse.

  7. Larry: I think that's part of the problem. The sexualized comments were usually not given to her by name. They just said nasty things without saying who they were directed at. Which is a partially-covert form of bullying whose job is to antagonize the target without making it clear that's what you're doing. It's the equivalent of the school bully who always waits until the teacher's back is turned to say something. (He also made periodic derogatory and cruel comments targeted directly at me, but I doubt anyone not very familiar with my stalkers would have been able to tell that they weren't just random comments, and that some of them involved enabling/colluding with some terribly cruel and destructive people.)

    I don't think it's possible to help having not known, but once you do know it's possible to express support for the target(s).

  8. Look if we are going to talk about a they let's be honest about it and name names, I know who is in the frame here, and so far as I see it there is a dispute that has been going on beyond what is expressed openly, something I can't judge on.

    I am well aware that the blogger in question is hostile to you, but he is also hostile to Gary Mckinnon and considering what Gary faces and the impact on his family I think he is being far more offensive there than he is to you.

    I disagree with him about that.

    The blogosphere is a social mess.

    I think the trouble with me is that I have been kicked metaphorically and literally so much that I have developed a really thick skin.

    You know if can remember, that before blogging took off, there was Usenet. You may recall what used to break out on the newsgroup we used to post on, that cliques would develop. Every so often there seemed to be a vendetta against certain autistic people who posted. The usual accusations, they were hateful to parents etc. etc. I often found myself on the wrong side because I defended the autistic posters.

    I have recently been through a procedure where I have been accused of bullying and harrasment. I think I did cross the line, made a serious error of calling somebody a "son of satan" for which I have since apologised. We do make errors of judgement.

    I am still somewhat socially naieve at 50 something years of age, it's not going to change overnight.

    The Hub has distorted what neurodiversity stands for and wikipedia has done that too. One day the scholarly history of a movement will come out, and it will not be seen as without "infantile disorders" of it's own.

    This blogging world is just a subsection of what is going on, and if anyone pretends that every "true" autistic is neither sexist nor racist, nor homophobic or whatever, I am afraid that is not true. The prejudices of society do leak through.

    Next week I am making a key note presentation at a disability conference regarding normalcy. If you think I have never been bullied at conferences, if I have never had actual physical confrontations over communication issues think again.

    I don't want to exclude anybody.

    Maybe what we need is some kind of arbitration and reconciliation service.

  9. Larry,

    There is a lot here that needs to be discussed. I'm going to address a small piece or two for now.

    There is a huge difference between being "hostile" toward a person and sexually harassing a person. That is what happened to Kowalski and it is being defended by friends of the blogger as normal male behavior and as normal autistic male behavior. Anyone who would object to having insulting graphic comments made about her body and sexuality must be a "dyke," man-hater, thin-skinned, hysterical, a supporter of censorship, etc. These are the same tools of oppression that have been used for centuries. Quite predictable, boring and wrong-headed stuff if you ask me.

    Did you cross a similar line with the "son of satan" comment? Possibly so. And I think you are somewhat justified in attributing this to naivete because you did not automatically take the stance of defending your "freedom of speech," but when the offense was pointed out you considered that you just might be wrong and offered an apology.

    Of course bigotry is not only practiced by neurotypicals. That is an absurd idea. But this is not an issue of who is a "real" autistic as some of Harry's supporters are also trying to make it. This is not a matter of "autistic communication style," that is just a weak minded attempt to obscure the issue. "Real" autistic people can be direct or subtle, rough or gentle, cruel or kind. Some of us learn to moderate our ways of expressing disagreement more easily than others. Some are able to do so but choose not to for a variety of reasons, some more logically sound than others. None of that has a thing to do with who is properly autistic. It's nothing but a smokescreen being used to derail legitimate complaints of bullying.

    I find it painfully ironic that Harry's arguments against McKinnon revolve around the harm done to autistics by offering a "get out of jail free card" based on an autism diagnosis. I agree with him that such an attitude is harmful to autistics. The arguments defending harassment as normal autistic behavior seem to me remarkably similar.

    Who is autistic and how an autistic person is allowed to express himself, these are not the issues. Bigots can be ignored or argued with or given a dose of their own medicine. The issue I've written about here is whether a group, however loosely constructed, can claim to offer "the best in autism blogging" and can claim to support diversity while at the same time endorsing people who engage in bullying tactics, using a person's gender, sexuality, race, nationality, sexual identity or other key personal factor as ammunition. Of course such a group can choose to do that, but it is clear hypocrisy and not something I will support by having my name listed.

    As I said, you have offered a number of topics for discussion, and I do not have the time to address all of them here. Thank you for continuing the conversation, possibly I will add more later. I would like to add that there was no dishonesty in the way I wrote the blog. Harry is not the only person who has written blogs that I consider harassing, and the victims have not all been people I agree with or like.

  10. Clarification: When I wrote "Bigots can be ignored or argued with or given a dose of their own medicine" I did not mean to imply that these were the only or best responses or that the bullying itself is not a serious issue. As Amanda and others have pointed out, people can be silenced by these tactics to the point that the only voices heard are those of bullies. People have lost their lives because of cyberbullying. It is a serious issue indeed.

  11. Thank you so much, Bev.
    Sorry for my late comment I'm still completely overwhelmed by the happenings.

  12. Well there is a problem to be addressed that is sure, and I have on a number of occasions tried to discourage profanity on my blog (which is a bit hypocritical considering I swear like a trooper IRL)

    I don't even know about all the issues here, only the one between Kowalski and Socrates, I am not a follower of SBWG's blog so I don't know what happened there.

    Yes it has to stop. I have been loath to disallow comments on my own blog or delete them simply because that invokes accusations of censorship elsewhere. Well I need to ignore that from now on.

    The problem has always been to some extent that the blogging discourse too often proceeds like late night drunken rantings in a public bar. The difference is that in the morning those RL rantings are forgotten but in the blogosphere your foolishness remains forever until someone deletes the lot.

    In spite of the tone it has all taken, there are still important matters to be discussed, and if I could try and look at it from a disinterested position, I would see that there is accusation and counter accusation, all of which ought to be heard in a less partisan way than is currently being presented. If only the disputes could be settled and arbitrated without all the mudslinging.

  13. Hello Bev,

    That's quite an odyssey you've endured. Bravo!

    The nature of the Autism Hub having evolved the way it has, different people may feel differently about guilt by association. Some people may see it like living in a particular city, where you can't be expected to feel responsible for bad stuff done by other residents.

    Other people feel that once you know about evil, you need to challenge it or disassociate yourself if you don't want to implicate yourself. Obviously that's the way you feel about the situation in the Autism Hub, and that's fine.

    In your opinion, under what circumstances would you consider it a good idea to stay and fight rather than leave?

    Jeff Deutsch

    PS: Word verification - Vingents. Gentlemen who drink wine together?


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