Pink background with red gothic text atop it. The text reads: "Autism is not a dirty word."
"Autism is not a dirty word," by Ashleigh Williams.

Being accepted as an autistic artist

Ashleigh Williams, aka Babeworld, discusses the nuance of ‘acceptance,’ revealing the ease with which terms like ‘diversity’ can become instruments of oppression.

For myself, being accepted by someone for being autistic quite often seems to have a direct correlation to what the other person can gain from my diagnosis. Sounds a bit scientific don’t it. Sometimes it can be – sometimes it’s a well cooked up plan. I’m plonked onto art open calls with others to tick the disability box, it’s a plan that’s hard to disguise, but it’s a plan nonetheless. It’s not easy to hide as it’s a repeating pattern (I’m going all scientific on you again) that when you’re the common denominator (ooh, maths now) you can’t help but notice. 

I’m sick of being used as a “diversity” tool. 

How does it feel? It feels like my existence is reliant on performing autism in order to validate myself in society. So that others see me as real. So that others believe my diagnosis. It feels like I have to work extra hard to be seen as kind, as to not contribute to already existing negative stereotypes surrounding autistic people. I know these stereotypes are not true, but I still feel the need to fight them. 

Believe it or not, despite being autistic, I am not an emotionless lizard. We’re quick to call people autistic when there is a negative involved. We’re quick to categorise all autistic people as one entity – sometimes one entity of an emotionless, selfish, and unforgiving nature. And trust me when I say, defining autism by its negatives can take one hell of a toll. Toll on the autistic person, toll on society’s views of autism, toll on the next girl I take interest in, toll on the teacher who grades my paper. 

I’m tired of being flattened into a two-dimensional caricature of “autism” to appeal to, and be palatable to others.

Negatives are used to prove my existence. Whether it’s being diagnosed by a doctor, a policeman harassing me, or interacting with some prick from the RCA – it’s always the negatives that sell the fantasy. It makes them trust and believe me. When negatives are instrumentalised (by society, or doctors, or my enemies or whatever) to define my existence – you can begin to believe that your existence and worth is fundamentally bad. 

Personally, this has led to a lot of things. My mother denies my diagnosis unless the “negatives” seep through. Picture me screaming in a Tesco Express because they only had orange juice without bits. She believes that. I’m autistic then. But on a day-to-day basis, for example, when I inevitably start throwing out every fact about Megan The Stallion my brain can absorb (she’s my new special interest), I’m not autistic then, just annoying. I learnt all the words to Megan’s mixtape ‘Fever’ in a day. Pretty impressive, huh? But she doesn’t care about that, she doesn’t care about when I excel, that doesn’t sell the autism fantasy for her. She cares about when I struggle. Negatives that she has learnt to associate with autism. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is:  I’m tired of being flattened into a two-dimensional caricature of “autism” to appeal to, and be palatable to others. Picture this: it’s your first day at an institution, knowing you’re the only autistic person on the whole course. No one has a frame of reference for your ideas and concepts, you get labelled as “dense” and “complex” when in fact you’re just relaying your own real life experience to a room of people who are all getting naked and pouring fake blood on themselves – to what effect? I’m not sure. I’m just trying to be the representation I’ve been so desperate to see over the years, and to educate others along the way. 

This has led to a lot of apologising. My nail tech challenges me when I see her. Challenges my actual obsession with apologising for any kind of behaviour that could, not always, but could be linked to my diagnosis. “Let’s try a challenge.” What challenge? “Don’t apologise for 5 minutes.” You see, the problem is, I apologise because I sometimes can’t even differentiate between the “bad” and “good” things I do. I didn’t decide on the “bad” and “good,” I don’t understand the rules of “bad” and “good.” All I do know is that I feel pretty pathetic at the fact that the highlight of my week was my nail tech asking for resources to educate herself further. 

What’s helped me cope and also is my downfall is – drum roll please – medication. The daily list seems sometimes unconquerable. I have paper cuts from the curved already-popped-out sections. Sorry, I should say foilcuts – but it doesn’t quite roll-off-the-tongue. The amount of care given to myself reflects that of the aforementioned paper cuts, I mean foil cuts. We should be able to count around 15 between my fingertips, but more likely 5. Most likely 2. 2 out of 15 medications actually taken, 13 pending. By pending I mean forgotten about, never to be revisited. Well, potential to be revisited, if I was aiming to help myself, but I never am. Well, rarely am. 

Help spans from, well, obviously taking the prescribed medication to ease whatever pain it is I’m having. Mental, physical, emotional…sometimes all of them. Sometimes none. Who am I kidding, it’s always one. At least one. Help can be grease dripping down your chin after ordering Morleys because Maccies is closed. Help can be a bath with a 2kg bag of epsom salts, fuck it, bubble bath too. 

With help it’s not one size fits all, autistic people don’t come with elastic backs. 

You can read more of Ashleigh’s writing as well as view her work on her website or by following her on Instagram and YouTube.