Toxic Masculinity and Suicide

I’m not a man but I am well-placed to write about toxic masculinity.

I know what it feels like to be surrounded by people expecting you to live up to their expectations of what a man ought to be. To be repeatedly shamed, teased, or bullied for allowing the mask to slip, revealing the person behind the act.

Forty-odd years ago in a hospital in Manchester I was born. I’m guessing some doctor took one look and decided I was male: that’s what went on my birth certificate. I’m still living with the consequences of their decision.

I might have been given the label but that’s all. It didn’t mean anything to a baby–why would it? But it influenced the way everybody around me interacted with me. How they spoke to me, how they dressed me, what toys they gave me, what future they imagined for me.

I wasn’t given a choice, not even made aware that alternatives existed. So as I grew older and became more self-aware I felt more and more that there was a gap between what was expected of me and how I felt inside.

I’m autistic: there are certain behaviors like hand flapping and toe walking that are natural expressions for me. An autistic body language. I was teased and bullied for them in school and worked hard to suppress them.

But not all the behaviors I had to suppress were related to autism. Others–mannerisms, speech patterns, responses–were shamed as being “girly” or “sissy”. I had to learn the rules to be seen as acceptably male, to conform.

That’s the essence of toxic masculinity: conform or be punished. You will be bullied. You will be abused. Until you fit in. Or you die.

You see, it doesn’t take long before you feel you’re being watched every minute of every day. You watch yourself, alert to every slip. The pressure to conform instills a deep and abiding fear and anxiety.

Living with that day in, day out wears you down. You learn to hate yourself, hate the fact that you must conceal your desires and feelings, that you must hide yourself. You go through every minute of every hour pulling levers behind the curtain of this fake persona to keep yourself from harm.

You become depressed. You wonder why you make the effort when you will never be free. You might self harm just to feel something real, to do something to reach down through all the layers of deadening armor between you and the world.

It’s easy to feel suicidal. It’s understandable. It takes away the crushing pressure of the trap you are caught in. I tried to kill myself a couple of times. It wasn’t like TV and the movies try to show it. There was no note, no plea to the world for understanding. Just utter, wordless despair on a lonely, dark night with a handful of pills and a load of alcohol.

Most of the people who made me feel this way had no malicious intent at all. They just projected their expectations onto me, expectations of masculinity. I’m not male, but even if I were I would have been subjected to the same pressure to conform.

That’s why it’s toxic: it poisons you, poisons your mind with its relentless drip, drip, drip. “Man up!” “Grow a pair!” “Sissy!” “You’ve got no balls!” “You talk like a girl!” “Poof!”

There is no single, right way to be male (or female). There is not a single characteristic that all people of a particular gender share except one: their own identity. Expecting people to conform to your idea of their gender is immoral, coercing them by shaming or violence is abuse.

Trying to prevent people from expressing who they are, even unconsciously by perpetuating gender stereotypes, harms them. It really is a matter of life and death. I’ve lived it, I nearly died. I know.

Tolerance and Teaching

This world needs more tolerance.

It’s getting to the point where you can’t express an opinion without somebody immediately jumping on you and shouting you down.

I get that not everybody will agree with me. I don’t understand or know every nuance of every subject. Sometimes I make mistakes, or fail to express my meaning clearly. Sometimes it’s simply an opposing perspective.

But in this hair-trigger, offence-taking, call-out culture there is no place for uncertainty, mistakes, or a lack of clarity. One foot wrong in this social minefield and the dust won’t settle for days!

I get the anger, I really do. I see people repeat the same old misinformation again and again: whether it’s vaccines or immigration or any number of other subjects. It’s frustrating.

But if I were to attack everybody who says something I disagree with or find problematic, I would be doing neither side any favors. I see it this way: either a person is going to listen or they are not.

If they aren’t going to listen to my argument then however forcefully I make it I won’t reach them. If they might listen, then shouting and bullying them will only make them defensive and unwilling to listen any further.

I know that when I first started writing about autism I was on a steep learning curve. At first I was pretty ignorant, uninformed. I invested my time in learning as much as I could, interacting with people through their blogs.

In the early days my terminology was less than perfect; there was more I didn’t understand than I did. I dread to think of the reaction I would get today from some people I have seen on Twitter and elsewhere!

But luckily the people I interacted with were patient and forgiving. Tolerant of “newbie” mistakes. So my investment of time and effort in learning about autism was worth my while.

If I’d been bullied for things like person-first language (“person with autism”) or for innocently using problematic phrases that are common in colloquial speech, I think I’d have disengaged from the autism “community”.

I don’t know that I have contributed a whole lot myself, but I know for sure that I would know a heck of a lot less about myself and autism.

So, tolerance. Be forgiving of others’ mistakes. Try to help them understand better, give them a chance to learn and improve.

Some may say that it’s not their job to teach everyone they encounter. But if not, then whose job is it? Do you seriously think everybody will spend time learning as much as possible before they begin to interact publicly?

By putting myself out there in public spaces as autistic and trans I have made myself, intentionally or not, into a representative of those identities. I owe it to myself and everybody else who shares those identities to do what I can to increase people’s knowledge and understanding.

The best teachers are patient, compassionate, and understanding as well as knowledgeable. What use is knowledge that is not shared? What use is a message that nobody will listen to?

This post was originally posted on my personal Facebook wall.

In Vino Veritas

Alcohol notions
Dissolve in black coffee.

Unwelcome thoughts
Tucked away
Like shameful genitals.

But is being candid
Really to be compared
To exposing oneself?

Surely that road
Leads to thoughtcrime
And sexcrime.

My frank words
Corrupt the innocent.

Autism and Gender Variance: Is There a Cause for the Correlation?

This is a guest post on a subject very close to my own heart that I commissioned from Sparrow Rose Jones via this Fiverr gig. Sparrow is well-known as the author of the blog Unstrange Mind and the book No You Don’t: Essays from an Unstrange Mind, which I am taking the opportunity here to recommend to anybody who has yet to encounter them.

Regular readers will know I hardly ever publish guest posts or reblog, but I made one of my few exceptions (my blog, my rules) because I have long valued Sparrow’s writing on subjects that I care deeply about and wanted very much to take the opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on the intersection of autism and gender. And now, over to Sparrow…

Continue reading

A Song For Europe

To the tune of American Pie:

A long, long time ago
I can still remember how
This country used to make me smile
And I knew that in the EU
My dream of peace might just come true
And maybe we’d be happy for a while.

But referendum made me shiver
With every paper they’d deliver
Bad news on the front page
I couldn’t believe the rage.

I just remember that I cried
When I read about the exit tide
Something touched me deep inside
The day the UK died.
So

Bye, bye, all you European guys
They have wrecked it, we’ve got Brexit, ‘cos they swallowed the lies
And them Eton boys who told the biggest pork pies
Singin’ we’re all right, we’ve got old school ties
We’re all right, we’ve got old school ties

Did you hear the tales they told
And do you believe you’ve got control
If that Farage tells you so?
Do you believe migration’s bad?
Are Ukip not just raving mad?
Johnson got stabbed in the back by Gove.

Well I know you wanted Boris in
‘Cause I saw you share that post of him
You repeated his bullshit
Three fifty million, wasn’t it?

I was a voice of reason for Remain
Listenin’ as the experts said again and again
You’d flush the country down the drain
The day you voted Leave.
I started singin’,

Bye, bye, all you European guys
They have wrecked it, we’ve got Brexit, ‘cos they swallowed the lies
Forty eight percent will not just close up our eyes
Singin’ never gonna let EU die,
Never gonna let EU die.

Breaking the Impasse

The referendum was a disaster. There, I’ve said it. I’m not talking about the result. I mean the whole ill-conceived exercise. And its outcome: the uncertainty we now find ourselves in the middle of is not doing anybody any good, inside the UK or out.

Nobody appears to have a plan for exiting the EU: if they did we’d have started the process already. I believe the problem is that if you ask a hundred people what they want the future relationship between the UK and the rest of the world to look like you’ll get dozens of different answers.

The one big positive of the referendum has been to expose the immense dissatisfaction across the country with the current state of affairs. But just as people had many different reasons for choosing how they voted, so there are many different causes for that dissatisfaction.

I’m all for leaving, if by leaving you mean the huge inequalities between the rich and the poor, the increasing squeeze we feel on our ability to simply carry on with our day to day lives, the way that politicians in Westminster feel more and more remote from the realities of life in the UK, the way so many people feel their needs are ignored.

All these things and more came out in the vote to leave. Against them were a fear of the unknown, of some calamity in the event of such a big change. But also a feeling among many remain voters that their situation was bearable and that the ideals for which the EU was founded have deep meaning and significance.

By making it a stark choice between in or out the referendum completely ignored the fact that many on both sides share common concerns about pressures on public services like the NHS, on schools, on housing, on jobs. For me these are more important issues than whether or not the UK remains in the EU. But they are not being addressed. Both sides in the referendum used them to score points but since the result was called nobody has put forward any plan to improve the state of things.

I think it’s time for a revolution. A revolution in the way we as a country approach the issues directly affecting us, the people, right now. Our democracy is broken. We don’t feel our representatives in parliament really represent us: we vote for them every four or five years and after that we go back to being ignored and told what to do.

The current system lacks feedback; it lacks the input from the people at the bottom, the electorate, about what we need. Not what a political party thought we wanted and promised years ago in order to get our vote, but what we want and need today.

I propose putting together a representative group of people from across the country. All ages, all political leanings, all levels of education. Selected by lot, like a big jury. Give them full access to all the information, all the experts, and let them decide between them what needs to change and how to go about it. We trust juries a lot more than politicians, and that is how juries work.

They won’t be experts themselves, at least not when they start. But they will represent us with all our hopes and fears. They will be us. I’d certainly trust them to work for the benefit of the people of this country. More so than the politicians. I’m sure that between them they could work out a set of priorities and a new direction for the country. One that a clear majority of people could get behind and support.

It’s an idea that is being used (in similar form) in Ireland today to work on constitutional issues. It could work here too. And it would give people a real voice, not only to decide on issues but also to decide what issues are important. Out political system is failing us. Let’s do things differently going forward. Let’s make our democracy more direct. Let’s involve the people directly. And we’ll have a chance to make things better for all of us and not just the 1%, the elite, the rich.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Last Thursday 17 million people in the UK voted to, well, what exactly did they vote for? Not what they were promised, that’s becoming increasingly clear.

The referendum asked a deceptively simple question: should the UK remain in the EU or leave. I say “deceptively” because it was an attempt to put an exceedingly complex issue into yes/no terms.

I’m sure a lot of people, like me, saw the question as one between the known quantity that was remaining in the EU and a leap in the dark. Equally, many suffering under the results of years of austerity felt that any change, any hope was better than keeping things as they were.

I woke up on Friday morning to the result and immediately suffered a huge attack of anxiety because it was clear that my stable little world had fallen down and we were in uncharted territory. I don’t handle change well and this has been change on a massive scale.

At a time when the country needs clear leadership more than ever the politicians are running around like headless chickens. The Prime Minister, by resigning, has become little more than a figurehead while the two factions of the Conservative party fight between themselves for supremacy.

The tensions in the Labour party between Jeremy Corbyn with the support of grass-roots members and unions, and his MPs, many of whom oppose his leadership, have decimated the effectiveness of the opposition.

The country’s economy has been severely weakened with stock markets and the pound falling. The Chancellor, George Osborne, announced this morning that taxes will have to rise and spending will be cut. Not only is austerity here to stay for a long while, it’s going to get worse.

And with key figures from the victorious Leave campaign retracting their pre-referendum claims and promises, Boris Johnson talking about effectively remaining in Europe on similar terms to what we have today, I find myself wondering what it was all for.

The country has been weakened and it will take years to recover. Deep divisions in society have been exposed and the wounds remain open. Although a majority voted to leave there were almost as many who voted the opposite way: it really is a split right down the middle of the country.

Parliament is a representative democracy, but how can they represent such polar opposites? Politics is often a balancing act but right now they have one foot either side of a chasm that is widening.

Things must be resolved quickly to end the uncertainty. That means compromise; there’s not the time to build consensus. The country needs leadership, somebody to establish its direction, but nobody today wants to be the one to make that move from which there might be no going back.

The referendum was an ill-considered response to a problem that had nothing to do with the EU: divisions in the Conservative party. It’s resulted in the country being dragged into a situation that nobody wants: we’re standing on the edge of a cliff and the ground is crumbling under our feet. We either launch ourselves forward or step back, but that needs a leader to make the call. We don’t have that right now.

I want to see some honesty from the politicians. I want to know whether they have any idea what to do, where to take the country. Because all the signs at present are that they do not have a clue.

I believe that if they do not know how to achieve the goals they promised when campaigning to leave then they should abandon the attempt and return to where we were before this mess. Start over. Ask people the right questions. Listen to their concerns about poverty, loss of services, the erosion of community, the increasing disconnection between the average person and the governors in Westminster.

People are angry and with good reason. Angry people look for someone or something to blame and this was manipulated by referendum campaigners who offered a series of scapegoats: immigration, EU bureaucracy. Slogans like “Take back control” and “Stronger in” appeal on an emotional level, deliberately, so that people do not question what they really mean.

Televised “debates” that were just Britain’s Got Talent contests to put on the best performance. Never mind what they said, who said it in the most convincing tone? The end result: a hideously complicated issue reduced to soundbites.

It took me days of research to begin to understand the issues, and even after that what I came away with was mostly the feeling that international relations and the economics of nation states are almost beyond human understanding. I have little confidence in my ability to make an informed decision, which convinced me that it was better to let things continue as they stood.

Is that even an option now that the referendum result was to leave? Do we have to continue to head out into the unknown, given that the first few steps have resulted in serious negative consequences? We’ve had a little taste of the dish in front of us and it’s unpleasant. Do we have to clean our plate, or can we send it back and order something new?

We know where we stand and it’s on the brink. The question is where do we go from here?

Post Nationalism

I’ll say this for social media: national boundaries are feeling increasingly irrelevant.

The people I have connections to through Facebook in particular (but also Twitter) fall into roughly three groups. There are people I’ve met socially in the flesh, people I’ve worked with and, most of all, people with whom I share an aspect of my identity as an autistic trans woman.

Apologies to those in the first two groups, but with a few notable exceptions it is the last group with whom I feel the greatest affinity. The people who know what it means to be autistic or to be trans without me needing to explain myself.

The thing about these overlapping groups of autistics and trans folk is that they include people from a number of countries and ethnicities but that does not form the basis of the community.

Through interacting with and getting to know these people it has become abundantly clear that what we have in common has nothing to do with nationality: we are able to make common cause within a culture that owes nothing to geographic boundaries.

In many respects I see something similar in my work environment. I work for a subsidiary of a US-owned company. The development department that I’m a part of has teams located in the US, UK, Finland and Poland. I’ve had meetings where every participant was in a different physical location.

Whether you agree with it or not, globalization is a fact. It’s here now and with the world becoming ever more connected it’s only going to become more and more widespread. Barriers are coming down. First information and money, then goods and finally people moving more and more freely across the world.

The EU for all its flaws is, I think, a good example of this. The opening up and integration of most of the continent is a prime reason why there has not been any armed conflict between its member states–even the thought of a Europe-wide war has become almost unthinkable. It’s something that transcends nations, a reason to work together. It’s provided stability and shown that the EU as a whole is much stronger than any of its individual constituents.

That stability is facing a serious threat this week as the UK holds a referendum on its continued membership of the EU. Petty nationalistic interests are on the rise, threatening to not just rock the boat but overturn it. They’d leave us all adrift in uncharted waters. It’s telling that people like Putin who would benefit from weakening the EU favor the UK’s withdrawal from the union, while people like Obama and every EU leader have spoken in support of retaining the status quo.

Everyday Aspergers – Interview With Sam Craft

Earlier today I interviewed autistic writer and artist Samantha Craft whose recently completed book, Everyday Aspergers, brings together her reflections and experiences of life on the Autism Spectrum.

Alex Forshaw To begin, your book grew from your blog posts on Everyday Asperger’s. What first inspired you to write about autism?

Samantha Craft My middle son, who is now 17, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he was 5 years of age. I’d learned a lot about Asperger’s through him and literature. When I started a second Masters Degree (which I didn’t finish) in Counseling, I was required to seek out a therapist as part of course work expectation. I asked the therapist I found if she thought I might have ASD. She was adamant that she thought so. From there, I had an abundance of emotions about the ideas of me being autistic, and needed a place to process what was going on inside my head.

AF I’m guessing that you suspected you had ASD based on what you saw in your son? Similarities between the two of you?

SC I’d always felt out of sorts, different from my peers and even from adults. I’d sought out answers for years from people in authority, such as therapists, priests, psychologists, teachers, and so forth. I didn’t know why I was the way I was. I didn’t connect the dots that I had Asperger’s when my son was diagnosed because very little was known then and what was shared was very stereotypical and didn’t make sense to me, such as: no empathy, no imagination, no creativity, etc. It took me a long time to connect the dots between my son and myself. He manifested his autistic traits differently as he was a child and a male and in a very stable home. In comparing our childhoods, there were a lot of environmental factors that influenced how I behaved. Similarities, now, are numerous and profound. Especially our need for time alone, limited expectation on others, keen interest in creative writing, deep philosophical thinking and discussion, ability to think outside of the box, and confusion over certain societal hierarchies and cultural standards. But these are not common things you find in an ordinary text book or article on ASD. These are things you find in real autistics leading real lives.

AF You mention the stereotypical nature of much of the literature about autism, and that it is removed from everyday life. Can you give me some examples where your book covers topics that you’d have found most helpful at that stage in your life?

SC Yes, and let me point out first, please, that I would add the word “falsehoods” or “false” to those stereotypes. I have corresponded with many people who are on the autism spectrum or believe themselves to be, and they are for the majority, let’s say 95%, extremely empathetic, kind, compassionate, passionate, insightful, and highly creative and imaginative. These stereotypes are largely based on the observation of autistics—largely on how others who don’t have autism think about autistics and not on the real voices of autistic people.

AF That’s a very good point.

SC It is hard to think of my book in “topics” as I don’t generally write that way. My blog was largely inspired by how I was feeling during that day, and what I felt needed to come out of me in order that I might be able to breathe. Typically I began writing my posts without knowing what I would say or even truly how I was feeling. The writing was my way of getting out my thoughts and ideas. Interestingly, at least a thousand people have written to me to say that I have read their minds. When in actuality, I tend to think they all jump in my head and I have to spill out what’s going on in there. Like a Jungian Collective Unconscious of Aspies swimming in my head. But back to your question, the whole book works as a whole. I cannot separate it into parts of most useful or least. For me, it depends on the given day, how I might be feeling, how I might have been triggered. It’s 150 posts ranging vastly in subject matter. Mostly, for me, it is about community and connecting. For others to be able to see their self in me and for me to continue to see myself in them. For others to know we are in this life and this journey together.

AF I find it interesting that the way you describe your writing sounds a lot like the way I write myself, with the act of writing itself being the catalyst that teases the thoughts into some kind of shape.

You say you see your book working as a whole, and that it is about others seeing themselves in what you have written about your own life and experiences. I know that my big “Aha!” moment was on reading some posts on a blog and realizing that the author could have been talking about my own life.

SC Yes, what you said; that’s it exactly. The act of writing itself is a catalyst. I often just type what I hear in my head. I can hear a still, calm peaceful voice whispering the words to type. It’s a very healing process. I am glad you had that Aha moment. I actually use that phrase “Aha!” in my book a couple times, at least. It’s amazing when we find a collective that understands us and sees us, especially after many of us have felt either entirely too visible in a way in which we were misrepresenting our own selves or misinterpreted by others, or entirely invisible, with thoughts of being isolated and misunderstood.

AF My own experience tells me what other autistic readers can get from your book, but how do people who are not on the spectrum respond, and what can they gain from reading it?

SC I like to say, or rather giggle when I say, “Most of my best friends are neurotypical.” And that’s the truth. I have been fortunate to know some very kind people in my life, especially in the field of teaching. I tend to keep my friends for life, if they’ll have me. Since I have some friends that are not autistic some read my writings. A few I sent my completed manuscript to. And their feedback has been that they feel a lot of what I feel. The primary difference being that I tend to experience life “turned up” or on heightened degree—I mean everything about life, from my thoughts, ideas, emotions, theories, and so forth. So, for the people reading my works that perhaps are not autistic, I would say I write in a way that is accepting of all my self, all my emotions and experiences, and in a manner that invites others to look at their own self and heart. In that, the book could easily be called “Everyday Human,” not just “Everyday Aspergers.” This is not to say that autism isn’t challenging, because clearly being autistic is very hard at times, but it is to say that I, as an autistic, have much in common with others that might not be neurodiverse. Also, interestingly enough, there have been quite a few folks, including some relatives, who ended up discovering they were likely autistic from reading my works, having not ever given it thought before or even known enough to give it thought.

I would add, too, that there are of course other major differences between my non-autistic friends and me, including the constant voice in my head monitoring social interactions, sensory challenges with all my senses, difficulty processing my emotions until time has passed, much stimming, high anxiety, and I could likely list 100 other things as well. Still, there is enough of me that is essentially human in the book that speaks to the human experience.

AF I love that response. Yes, I think it can be very easy sometimes to become so immersed in autistic culture that we forget we have more in common with neurotypical people than we realize. Though our differences, being autistic, are significant enough to affect how we experience life, we are all human and that should count for more than our differences.

Before I wrap this up, I’d like to say that one blog post of yours that I will always remember was your list of Asperger’s traits for women and girls. I particularly enjoyed the way you didn’t just present a checklist of attributes, but instead gave in-depth descriptions of living with those traits. I find your approach very accessible because it’s much easier to draw parallels with my own life when reading how it feels and the effects it has day-to-day.

SC I am pleased to hear you appreciated the Ten Traits post. That is the post that brought 1000s of us (meaning those of us who are autistic and those who support an autistic loved one) together. I recently did a YouTube reciting that post because after four years and with the coming of the book, I wished to put my tone and inflection to the words, to bring it even more life. Thank you for the kind words about my approach. I try to release all expectations, and thoughts of future, when I write. I write to write. I have a faith. I hesitate to say strong, as it wavers, that is uniquely mine and that I don’t ever intend to push on anyone, but this faith, my connectedness to source, helps me to write in a form that feels free of judgment, strong opinions, or want of anything. There is a definite freedom in my writing that others have reported, and I believe, allows for a person to be as they are without expectation of change.

AF Speaking of autism in females, do you think that we need stronger focus on how it affects women and girls differently?

SC In answer to your question, you likely know that answer.

I believe a wave has begun of autistic teachers, activists, advocates, authors, artists, professionals, and leaders and with this wave is a secondary wave of neurodiverse supporters who don’t necessarily identify with being autistic. I believe this wave will continue to build and in doing so bring increased awareness to the autism community and the neurodiverse community at large. This wave will bring to light many of our struggles, those of the autistic community, but also of the struggles of living life on this earth. It will bring connection, community, support, and a sense of purpose. It will encourage service and acceptance of differences.

This wave will naturally in its current expose the world to the autistic nature of an autistic individual. I no longer think it is about gender. As the false stereotypical traits are being eradicated by the true voices of autistics and we are seeing whether male, female, or an individual who doesn’t identify with a gender, we are alike in the way we experience autism; and in the same way we are also uniquely individualized.

I do understand what you mean by differently, with aspects to genetics and social expectations, and how girls naturally try to fit in, but in my experience, most of the men I speak with identify almost entirely to my female traits list.

AF Well put. I see this comes back to the principles of accepting differences while celebrating all that we have in common, building communities on those strong foundations. After all we are all stronger together.

Thank you very much for your time.

Everyday Aspergers by Samantha Craft is due to be released in June 2016. Please visit her website Spectrum Suite to find out more about her, her book, and a range of autism-related resources, events and links.

What Is Empathy?

Empathy. Everyone knows what it is, right? It’s that sixth sense, a kind of ESP that picks up the vibes of what somebody else is feeling. Except that telepathy doesn’t exist, and given the lack of Betazoids on Earth there is nobody who can genuinely “hear” emotions broadcast by your brain.

So what is empathy and how does it work? It turns out that it’s based on observation. Minutiae of expression–body language–signal emotions at a subconscious level.

Humans being social animals, we have evolved to be sensitive to these signals from others around us. They provide hints for how we should approach others, how we should adapt our behavior to their moods so that they will be more receptive to our interactions.

But since we cannot actually read the thoughts of another, cannot infallibly know what they are thinking, we rely on projecting what we can observe onto our own psyche. We predict their responses based on what we ourselves would do in their situation.

There’s an elephant in the room of this analysis of empathy: it relies completely on an assumed similarity of thought. To be able to mirror the thought processes and mind state of another person requires a certain degree of equivalence of culture, environment and neurology.

Among the mostly homogeneous communities around the world this works well enough for the majority of people that they take its universal applicability for granted. But that is not the case.

Those of us who have a different neurology, or were raised in different culture, think differently. When we try to imagine another’s thoughts we predict them based on our own minds. We use the knowledge we have gained through our own experiences.

But, when those experiences are sufficiently different from those of the person whose mind we are trying to model we find that the conclusions we reach are different from those that they would arrive at.

The converse is also true: neurotypical people are equally bad at imagining what autistic people (and also people from different cultures) are thinking and feeling.

Empathy is not some magical ability. It is nothing more than considering the question, “What would I do/feel in their situation?” It’s simply a forecast based on what we can see of them.

For accuracy forecasting relies on both knowledge of the initial conditions (what we observe of their situation and mood) and an accurate model of their behavior (how they think). It is this second part that explains the disconnect for autistic people.

We simply do not think in the same way. We respond differently to the same stimuli. And so when we try to imagine their thoughts we imagine them responding as we would. And that is different to how they would respond.

The result is that we are assumed not to have any significant capacity for empathy, for putting ourselves in the place of others. But my view is that the very definition of empathy means the odds are stacked against us even before we begin.