Something occurred to me yesterday, as I was on my Sunday afternoon walk. I was getting pretty bent out of shape about people trying to find the genetic “cause” of autism — ostensibly in hopes of developing a genetic intervention that prevents it from fully developing.
This mindset seems to be based in the belief that autism is a horrible, terrible affliction — an epidemic, if you will — that is holding us back collectively as a species and putting an undue strain on society. People say we’re developmentally delayed, we’re violent, we’re embarrassing, we’re disordered. They say we’re a terrible burden to our long-suffering parents who must make all manner of sacrifices to keep us safe from ourselves — possibly till the ends of their own lives, as we can’t be trusted to take care of ourselves.
And somehow, it seems to be assumed that finding the genetic roots of autism is going to open the door to finding a “fix” for us.
The thing is, there are all sorts of genetic variations that are just part and parcel of normal human development. But one genetic morphing, in particular, stands out for me.
This genetic mutation produces individuals who have statistically been shown to be more aggressive, more predatory, more violent, and incredibly demanding on society, in terms of policing and incarceration. Their contribution to destruction is indisputable. Their patterns of abuse and threat are well-established throughout history. Their genes start out as one thing, and then for some mysterious reason, they morph into something else in the womb, which turns them into menaces to society.
Of course, not all of these “victims of mutation” are a problem. Many are placid, peaceful, benevolent, and kind. Many find ways to modify their behavior, even after they’ve been violent, predatory, and the source of untold costs in terms of damages to property, families, and social health.
But the numbers don’t lie. These products of genetic mutation are statistically speaking, a public hazard. Furthermore, the havoc and suffering they cause to families and societies everywhere makes the impacts of autism seem miniscule, by comparison.
These “victims of genetic mutation” are men.
All newly created fetuses (is that the right plural term – maybe feti?) start out with two “X” chromosomes. Then something happens, and one chromosome turns into a “Y”. So, that’s a genetic mutation.
And it’s a perfectly normal, absolutely essential part of life.
This genetic mutation — when viewed through the eugenic autistic researcher’s lens — could be seen as the cause of terrible, terrible suffering, worldwide. It could be seen as the root of untold billions of dollars / euros / whatever being spent on defense and rebuilding from the effects of toxic masculinity. It could be seen as a source of incredible suffering for parents all over the world.
And yes. That would be ridiculous.
Because you can’t say all across the board that ALL men are toxic and violent and a burden to society, just because some of them can be that way. You can’t say, without exception, that maleness is BAD and should be eradicated, because of the pain and suffering some men cause. And we don’t pour untold billions in local currency into the study of what makes an X-X chromosome turn into an X-Y chromosome, playing on the desperation and fears of parents who get no support – but plenty of judgment and persecution – from society, because their children are… Male!
Has it sunk in, yet, just how ridiculous researching genetic causes for autism is?
Has it sunk in, yet, how brutally unfair it is to judge all men by one narrow standard?
Do you get it, that just as we judge men on a case-by-case basis (ideally, anyway), and each man is responsible for his own behavior and overcoming any “toxicity” he may have picked up along the way in a society that’s effed up in certain significant ways, we should do the same for autistic folks — and we autists need to take responsibility for our own improvement and contributions to society.
There are plenty more parallels between the situation of men and folks on the autism spectrum — more than I have time for, right now. In no way, shape or form, does this mean I endorse the idea that “autism is extreme maleness” or “an autistic brain is an extremely male brain”. Those statements are as LoLoLoLoLoL-producing for me as they are damaging to the autistic community.
In any case, it’s an abstract analogy that makes perfect sense to me. And maybe if more people thought about it in these terms, they would see just how futile, fruitless, and deeply harmful this kind of profiling and distribution of research funding really is.
We can do better than this.
We are better than this.