Selling Sanctuary – The Poison of the Anti-Vaccine Cult

With diagnosis rates in the United States as high as 1 in 68, there are a lot of parents who get told their child is autistic. What they don’t get told is what that means. They are left to find information by themselves.

This is a vulnerable time. These parents are faced with a huge amount of unknown. The way they had imagined their child developing, their hopes and dreams, lie in ruins. They literally do not know what to do, where to turn, who to go to.

Many of them, through luck, find supportive groups where they can talk to families who have gone through this emotionally turbulent experience before and can relate to them, educate them, and thereby help develop understanding and acceptance for the autistic child.

But a few fall into the hands of a much less wholesome crowd: those who believe against all the evidence that autism is the result of mythical “vaccine damage”.

Make no mistake: the anti-vaccine cult might spout platitudes about how they are protecting children but the reality is far from that. This is how they operate.

They start by telling parents that their child’s condition is their own fault because they allowed them to receive “toxic” vaccinations. They play on the guilt and fear, supplying literature that paints a terrifying picture using a mix of lies and misrepresentation of facts to provide the suffering parents with an excuse, an external “bad guy” to transfer the blame to, and so assuage their own guilt.

They basically tell the parents that, yes, they did wrong, but if they follow the anti-vaccine path they can save others and become saved themselves. Yes, it is exactly like religious cults.

  • They claim to have all the answers.
  • They claim that everyone outside the cult lies, that they have been corrupted.
  • They attack or otherwise punish people who stray from the beliefs.
  • They manipulate people through fear and guilt.
  • They have charismatic leaders and promote personal loyalty to the leadership.

In the eyes of the anti-vaccine cult members, the big bad is so-called “Big Pharma”, a conspiracy involving every drug company and hundreds of thousands of scientists worldwide. All these scientists are supposedly being paid to fabricate studies and show that vaccines are safe.

You can see how implausible that is: companies like Novartis, Pfizer, Sanofi, AstraZeneca all collaborating, working together to promote vaccines even as they compete in every other area. And they are paying huge bribes to all those scientists, not one of whom has ever come forward and spoken about it. Literally hundreds of thousands of people involved worldwide and not one breaks the silence. They are all keeping the secret.

Yeah. As if that’s ever going to happen, right? HBO can’t even keep the upcoming plot of Game of Thrones secret!

But, if you’ve been carefully prepared mentally and led up to the revelation about the conspiracy you aren’t looking at it critically. You have been made to feel that your child is broken and it is all your fault. You want answers. You want someone to blame.

And that is when they plant the “Big Pharma” story in front of you, and you grasp at it like a drowning man.

You become invested in the belief system, in the story, because it gives you an excuse for your sinful actions: you were tempted by the devil in the guise of Big Pharma and their doctor shills.

But you are offered a chance at redemption: support the cult, spread the word, be an anti-vaccine evangelist and you too can save people from this evil.

Because it is a belief system, because people are sucked in so deeply and become so personally, emotionally invested in the cult, it is incredibly difficult to get through to them. All but impossible to reason with them.

If you say anything that contradicts or questions their beliefs you are automatically putting yourself on the side of the devil and are to be fought. There is no room for the critical thought that underpins rational behavior. These are people on a mission from their god and any obstacle is the devil’s work.

I don’t know if the leaders believe what they are espousing; I suspect they probably do but that is irrelevant. They are running a cult, plain and simple. The lack of overt religious terminology and its substitution by pseudo- and fake-scientific mantras does not make it any less belief-centered than any other cult like Scientology.

These anti-vaccine leaders are luring well-intentioned but naive parents astray by feeding them a diet of lies and half-truths. Instead of helping their autistic children, they end up harming them because the whole belief system of the cult rests on convincing parents that their children are damaged. That autism is a burden, a curse, a judgement from on high against them.

That does not lead to an environment where the children are accepted. And I haven’t even touched on the very real harm done to entire communities when a substantial number of children are unvaccinated. That is a fertile ground for the spread of preventable, potentially-fatal diseases like measles, mumps and rubella.

Because of the success of vaccination programs the effects of these diseases are not as well-known today, and most people think of them as relatively benign. But they are not. They cause lifelong health problems and death in a surprisingly high number of cases. Much more serious consequences with much higher rates of incidence than the rare adverse reactions to vaccines.

So if you really want to know where the poison is to be found, it’s in the mouths and minds of the anti-vaccine cult. Don’t let more people fall victim to them.

Activism and Alienation – Why I Feel Excluded

I’ve seen a trend over the years and it’s not a good one: activism is increasingly becoming a bubble, an echo-chamber where the only people listening are fellow activists.

There are reasons for this and one of the most telling ones is that the message is not reaching the audience. How often do you read an article or listen to a speech by an activist? If you’re not one yourself, the answer is probably close to never.

The big question is why?

For me (and I suspect for others too) there are a couple of elephant-in-the-room type problems. Activists seem to speak a different language, they bombard us with academic jargon and unfamiliar terms. Even the words that we recognize have subtle shifts in meaning so that understanding remains elusive. And then if we don’t use their preferred terminology or accept all of their ideological rhetoric as the gospel truth we get attacked. To put it simply, we are excluded.

What a great way to convince people to listen to you! Yes, that is sarcasm.

With far too many activists it’s a case of “my way or the highway”. You either interact with them entirely on their terms or you get bullied into submission or retreat. And most people won’t submit, so the audience dwindles until the only ones left are those who echo the activist’s ideology.

What’s the point of being an activist, of fighting for social justice, if in the end you are only preaching to the choir? The congregation has gotten fed up with your hellfire and brimstone and the pews are empty.

You’ll notice the overt religious imagery I’m using here. That’s deliberate. Running into an activist has a lot in common with running into a fundamentalist preacher. They are so convinced of the rightness of their beliefs that to question them in any way brings down their full wrath.

 

 

Last weekend there were the largest protest marches in US history, responding to the inauguration of Donald Trump as President. These protests were instigated by women in response to fears about the actions and intentions of the new administration.

But what were the majority of posts I saw on Facebook saying? Were they talking about the historic scale of the opposition? About the importance of standing up for rights that are visibly under threat?

No, the majority of posts I saw were basically saying that the majority of those protesting did not have valid concerns, that they should be ignored for not doing things the way the activists would prefer them to.

That because they were marching for reasons that meant something important to them as individuals but did not explicitly seek to include other groups they were somehow hostile to those other groups.

Now I’m not saying that ignorance and privilege are right or fair. But they exist. And unless activists engage with these people they will continue to exist. Shaming women who believe that sexual assault is wrong and got behind the “pussyhat” because “not all women have a vagina” is a shitty thing to do. For a lot of women the vagina (and associated organs) is something they strongly identify with as symbolic of their gender. Denouncing this as binary gender essentialism, or reducing people to their genitals doesn’t change the way so many women feel. It might not align with the activist’s beliefs but that doesn’t make it less real.

The culture of calling out and shaming people is wrong. It’s the tactics of the oppressor, the bully, of those we are trying to fight. It doesn’t advance the cause of understanding or acceptance. It’s just asking for them to turn around, say “Fuck you!” and decide you’re irrelevant. You might get kudos from fellow activists for being “on-message” but you’ve been counterproductive. You’ve stopped someone from listening to you before you even explain your point.

Bullying people into complying with your wishes and demands breeds resentment and opposition. If they comply they do so under duress, and as soon as they feel they are no longer under scrutiny they will actively undermine you. It’s about hearts and minds, not about coercing people by threat.

If we truly want to achieve equality, acceptance, understanding and all the other good stuff we need people to come to us willingly. Every person we alienate is a potential opponent, every person we support is a potential ally. We have a lot of opponents and some of them are very powerful. We need allies and supporters. We need to include them, not shame them and drive them away. Once they’re in the door we can educate them, teach them why some of the things they do might be problematic.

I’ve stopped interacting with activists online. It’s a toxic environment, like traversing a minefield where the slightest mis-step leaves you injured. I’m excluded, and I’m saying this as an autistic trans woman who ought to be feeling supported by rights activism. But I don’t feel supported. I feel threatened, unsafe in those spaces. I feel I have to watch every word I say or write, second-guess everything. And I’m not willing to do that – it takes energy I can’t spare to avoid any mistake that will bury me under an avalanche of bullying verbal assault.

I support many of the aims of activism for rights, but too many of the tactics are actively dangerous to my health and well-being. That’s why I am alienated. That’s why I am excluded. That’s what activism is getting wrong, for me and for others.

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.

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

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.

Holding Out For A Hero

It’s really hard to be inspired by people. To find somebody you can look up to as a role model. A hero. Hey, I’m hard to satisfy but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop looking.

What am I looking for in a hero? I need somebody I can relate to. Someone whose life has enough parallels to my own that I can identify with them. And I’ve got to say that as an autistic trans woman that’s a hell of a tall order!

There are people I admire greatly. Lynn Conway and Sophie Wilson are both incredibly talented engineers who are also trans women. But the very fact of their exceptional contributions to electronic engineering and computing sets them too far above anything I could dream of achieving.

It seems everywhere I look my candidates for hero have talents I do not share. Fantastic autistic writers like Sparrow Rose Jones, M Kelter and Michael Monje Jr. Outspoken activists and advocates like Morénike Umoye, Fiona O’Leary and Lydia X. Z. Brown.

I dismiss myself as an average wordsmith, an armchair supporter of my own rights, somebody who would tentatively raise her hand but would never be the first to raise her voice.

No, I found my own hero closer to home. There is one person I have known, and known very well, that I continue to look up to and admire. Someone who set an example with her own life to the extent that when faced with a dilemma I can ask myself, “What would she do?”

It’s no big surprise. That person was my mother. Of all the people I have known she was the one I want to emulate. Such generosity and love towards others, and yet with an uncompromising strength at her core. Even at the end of her life, after years of suffering with a brain tumor that left her unable to care for herself at all, she had moments of snappiness but still managed to think of others before herself.

So I do have a hero. I do have someone to look up to. And every time I fall short of her example (which is more often that I’d like to admit) I think about her.

She didn’t give birth to me but I was her child. She loved me unconditionally, always believed in me and supported me. Nothing in her power was too much trouble for her if I needed it. If I was with her I would always be safe. And if I ever need to consider what would be the “right” thing to do I need only think, “What would mum do?”