By Willow (willowashmaple.xyz)
April 28, 2023
It is not easy to be neurodivergent. Even more, it is not easy to understand a neurodivergent human if you're neurotypical. Casual observers who don't know me well and only come in contact with me infrequently may find me an enigma; or worse, a dishonest and deceptive individual who appears to change my beliefs and opinions so frequently that I give them a whiplash; or, perhaps they think I lack principles and thus I lack character. Like a chameleon, I slither into all sorts of places and infiltrate them. There's something about me that most people seem to find repulsive and repugnant.
Yet, it's something quite relatable to many autistic folks.
First, there's a self-imposed (or imposed by others) pressure to fit in; this means masking behaviors -- copying and emulating what others say and do, hoping to be accepted by them, even though, doing so would consume a lot of my mental and emotional resources.
Second, it has become almost a cliche that autistic people have a narrow "special interest." In reality, it's not always true and it is also common that one could have certain special interests but then could quickly grow out of them or tire of them -- either because of frustration or because of boredom.
Third, and this is something I'd like to focus on here: the harsh realities of autistic burnout.
I tend to go all-in whenever I find a cause or a project that I believe in. Doing so often gives me a much-needed sense of meaning, motivation, and purpose. It also helps me transcend my feeling of inferiority and inadequacy by becoming part of something bigger than myself.
I've done political activism. I've done community organizing. I've sat on several nonprofit boards, church councils, and advisory councils over the past three decades. I've volunteered for several charities. I've done them all with unparalleled zeal and dedication.
Yet, inevitably, burnout comes. Usually, I am the last one to realize I am burned out; everyone else sees telltale signs long before it.
Then I go through the disgust phase. I get angry at people with whom I had worked, and I get mad at myself. Then in a quick leap, I begin resenting and criticizing the "cause" and the beliefs.
Usually, this is followed by a phase in which I quickly pivot to the polar opposite of what I had just advocated. For example, as I was burned out from the Occupy Wall Street movement, I jumped right into Paleoconservatism and Traditionalism, even voraciously reading the works of Alexander Dugin (fortunately, this bizarre extreme phase has quickly moderated, and I shifted to the Intercollegiate Review, the American Conservative, and Imprimis).
This also explains why, after my years of involvement in feminist spaces and causes as well as spending a few years studying feminist theology at a postgraduate level, I spent the last three or so years in a phase where I found myself becoming increasingly espousing an extremely misogynistic viewpoint. I am coming clean on this for the sake of transparency.
Here is what happened during the last several years and how it led me down this path.
Toward the end of the Occupy encampment era, in November 2011, I was invited by the organizers of the Occupy Women's Caucus to join its meeting. This meeting ultimately ended up being just a book study group, heavy on feminist theories, not much on praxis and action. The caucus fizzled out after a few months. Another group of women began organizing the "Women's Network," which later became a "red tent" group that brought a symbolic "women's space" to various events and demonstrations. Though I was unaware, I was being indoctrinated into a kind of feminism that was somewhat hostile to queer people. Soon I left another caucus that I was part of, the "Queers For Liberation," because I was led to believe that QFL was giving a cover to a "violent male" under the guise of "trans rights."
As this group evolved past the life of Occupy, it became even more of a group that only pushed a cisnormative, heteronormative, white-centric, and classist kind of feminism even as it paid lip service to inclusion.
This was happening around the time Donald Trump was campaigning for the presidency and during the first year of the Trump Administration. The Alt-Right movement was growing in the Pacific Northwest. Racism, Islamophobia, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia became part of acceptable speech in "polite company." I heard these women in private say all sorts of racist, ableist, classist, anti-LGBTQ stuff while passing themselves off as "feminists." Even as the country descended into a hostile place for BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled, and poor folks (as well as the Earth itself!), these women talked about their New Age woo-woo, self-actualization, their "online businesses," their husbands and their kids, and their real estate portfolio, about their vacations and passion projects.
I was getting burned out by all this. I did not like these women. I could not relate to them at all. I did not like their lack of self-awareness around privilege. Yet, I was there working hard to promote their events and retreats. I tried to ignore the cognitive dissonance. I tried to engage in some serious mental gymnastics to convince myself that doing so did not compromise my principles and values.
I think it was around this time that I seriously began putting myself out as a nonbinary human, as well. It was mostly a political statement for me at the time, but also an honest admission that I really didn't have much in common with these women and no longer wanted much to do with them (at the time I have not had a lot of contact with other autistic humans yet, so I was not aware of how autism and gender intersect in a way that is very different from the neurotypical people's experiences of gender).
But my resentment toward feminists has escalated astronomically since 2022. From my knowledge, I knew that a faction of radical feminists began a coordinated transphobic propaganda campaign around 2012, primarily through several "feminist" blogs and newly established organizations. In fact, I was indoctrinated by them as well. By 2015, it was public knowledge that some of these anti-trans feminists worked very closely with far-right political organizations. What you read and hear from the Republicans today in their crusade against nonbinary and trans rights, was copied verbatim from the radical feminist discourses a decade ago. Once a fringe element of obscure feminist thoughts, now this hate has become mainstream in the halls of legislature across America (and Britain, most notably) as well as in the mainstream media (not just FOX News but even the Guardian and the New York Times). The feminists were literally giving free propaganda materials and a "bipartisan and moderate" cover to an emerging fascist movement hellbent on stochastic terrorism and even genocide. Seeing this unfold over the years, and how the defeat of Donald Trump in 2020 did nothing to stop the rise of "Christian" Nationalism, I became very angry. First quite subconsciously, then quite consciously, I began hating feminism -- and all feminists. All this is unsurprising to my metacognition in retrospect, it follows a very familiar pattern.
The problem is, I cannot keep doing this. I cannot be on a permanent ideological rollercoaster ride and maintain my sanity or keep my friends. For one thing, I cannot make enemies of (the majority of) feminists when they are almost always the natural allies of LGBTQ+ rights and many other justice and equity causes. I need to find my equilibrium.
Burnout will happen (although I have become much better now to self-regulate and prevent it) sooner or later. But there are only so many extremist niches I can hide myself in and some of them are frankly not the kind of place I ought to be. I mean, after having burned out by all this, would I become a "Christian" Nationalist? A Neonazi? A Trotskyist? A modern-day Pol Pot? I just don't want to keep doing this.
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