The Value of Intersectionality in the Autism Community

Like many, I’ve spent the last few days thinking over the Kayden Clarke case. Clarke was a valued member of the community, a well-known video blogger whose issues sadly caught up with him. I won’t discuss the police response here, save for saying I think it was completely mishandled and a model of everything wrong in current policing.

Instead I want to focus on another angle. Clarke was a trans man, a fact that wasn’t particularly widely known which resulted in him initially being referred to by his dead name. What strikes me is how quick the community was to correct the error once it was known. I’ve seen almost universal respect for his status as a transgender male among my peers. In addition, I’ve seen a number of us speaking up for the trans community, addressing when their community intersects with ours.

As a result, I’m likely preaching to the choir on the subject of intersectionality. I doubt I’ll make anybody change their minds within the autism community. But just because an attitude is commonly held doesn’t mean it’s not worth discussing. Intersectionality matters greatly.

Intersectionality is broadly defined as the study of how systems of oppression overlap. It’s a method of studying what these vile thought processes have in common. For they frequently have much alike. After all, the frequent core of oppression is judging people based on biological/neurological factors. These are things the oppressed have no control over.

It’s something I think needs to constantly be discussed. After all, autism is never the only facet of a person. There are countless autistics who are also gay. There are many who are people of color. I know a great number of female autistics. And as Kayden Clarke reminds us, there are trans autistics.

These are people who face their own sets of issues that we as a community need to be aware of. I’m autistic, yes, but I’m also a cisgender, heterosexual white man from a loving family who’s married and expecting a daughter. Autism aside, I don’t face much prejudice from the greater society. I live a relatively privileged life. But others don’t so I have to constantly be aware that the advice I give on this site might not be applicable for others. What works for me in my life often won’t work for others. That’s just how it is.

This is why intersectionality matters. By constantly learning and trying my best to be aware of the circumstances of others, I can do better as an advocate for my issue. I can know what to say and what not to say. I can point to people who can give the advice I’m not qualified to give. I can understand this thing that is autism better.

But maybe the most important reason to do it is simple: to be a better person. I know what it’s like to be oppressed. Why shouldn’t I stand with those who are going through it. Much of my work as an equality advocate for women and POC on twitter stems from realizing that fact. I haven’t always been perfect in this regard but I try.

None of this is all that controversial, I concede, but I know why people fight against it. And yes, they do, strange as that is. There’s a real hesitance to admit that yes, other people might have it harder than you. By admitting that fact, it seems like you’re devaluing your own struggle. And that misses the point. We all face our own challenges. That’s not what this is about.

Ultimately it’s about empathy and awareness. Let’s fight for this cause, but let’s never be blind to the other causes. Let’s work together and serve as the best allies we can be. We’re all stronger that way.

Note: I tried to be as informed as I could be on this. If I made mistakes in this, please tell me.

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