By Mabz Beet
2015 is considered by many to be the year transgender people and the issues they are faced with were brought to mainstream attention. Transparent, a show that has employed more transgender people than any show in the United States, returned for a second season. Laverne Cox continued to be a role model for transgender people. Tom Hooper’s latest film, The Danish Girl, chronicles the life of Lili Elbe, one of the earliest recipients of gender confirmation surgery (The film was surrounded by controversy for casting Eddie Redmayne, a cisgender man, as the lead transwoman). And perhaps biggest of all, Caitlyn Jenner, Olympic hero, partriarch of one of the most famous families in the world is now a transgender heroine, icon, representative.
Sadly, 2015 was also the year where twenty-one transgender people were murdered. And more were lost to suicide.
We still have a long road ahead.
The autistic community had its share of mainstream attention last year. Autism Acceptance is spreading further and further. More and more people are beginning to realize autism is not a disease to be cured but rather a difference to be accepted. Autistic activists continue to fight for their human rights and the concept of neurodiverity is gathering more attention and was recently added into the Oxford English Dictionary. Steve Silberman’s groundbreaking book Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiverity was well received and critically acclaimed by autistic people and their families and won numerous awards including the Samuel Johnson Award for Best Non-Fiction and was described as one of the best human rights books of the year. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, a stage adaptation of the novel of the same name, won several major awards, but like The Danish Girl faced criticism for casting a neurotypical person as an autistic person. Sadly, more autistic people were murdered and more autistic people committed suicide.
See any similarities? Transgender people fighting for transgender rights and acceptance. Autistic people fighting for autistic rights and acceptance. Stories being told about transgender people without transgender people. Stories being told about autistic people without autistic people. Transgender people lost to suicide and murder. Autistic people lost to suicide and murder. Our struggles are the same.
Transgender people and autistic people are both seen as less than the rest of humanity. They are both treated as abnormalities that must be fixed and made “better.” Transgender youth and autistic youth are subjected to conversion therapies designed to make them appear “normal.” Some parents disown their children for revealing they are trans and kick them out onto the streets, whilst some parents accept them for who they are and fight for their rights. Some parents attempt to cure their child of autism, whilst some parents accept them for they are and fight for their rights.
For me personally, 2015 has been a landmark year. This was the year in which I embraced my identity as both a transgender person and an autistic person. I began to take pride in my identities and more importantly my communities. I have been in awe of the strength and the courage possessed by individuals in these communities. Transgender people are speaking up and sharing their identities and stories. They are becoming less afraid of being open about who they really are. This enabled me to become less afraid of being open about my gender identity. I have personally seen the strength of transgender with my own eyes. In August, I took part in a short educational film called It’s My Right. The film features transgender youth staring into the camera and stating their rights.
“I’m Mabz, and I’m non-binary. You may see people like me in the streets, but don’t shout at us. Don’t harass us! We have a right to feel safe.” These are the words I spoke as I walked towards the camera in my black dress and make-up. I felt empowered and I became more confident than ever. Maybe someone should make a version of It’s My Right for autistic people. “It’s my right to be treated like a human being; it’s my right to use non-verbal communication; it’s my right not to be cured; it’s my right not to be described as an epidemic or a tsunami or a global health crisis.”
Just like I’ve watched transgender people speak up for themselves and fight for their rights, I have seen autistic people doing the same. From using hashtags like #ActuallyAutistic and #AutismAcceptance to voice their views and educate a neurotypical society to using hastags like #BoycottAutismSpeaks and taking over #AutismSpeaks10 to voice their disgust at an organisation that claims to speak for them but actually silences them and makes decisions, such as finding a cure for autism, without involving autistic people meaningfully in their organization. From seeing the groups lead by autistic people like the Autistic Self-Advocay Network and the Autism Women’s Network educate society and work within the system to implement changes to support autistic people and their families, to see individuals like Emma Dalmayne and Fiona O’ Leary raise awareness of the abusive treatments many autistic children are being subjected to.
These things give me hope that soon autistic people and transgender people will both be accepted and included by society; that our rights will be recognized and our lives will no longer be threatened by intolerance and ignorance.
All in all, 2015 has taught me to embrace and take pride in the fact that I am autistic and transgender. I am a child of two spectrums; a citizen of two amazing communities filled with amazing individuals many of whom I have now call my friends. I guess we’ll just have to see what 2016 has in store for me and my two communities. Will more transgender and autistic people speak up? Will mainstream media pay more attention to us and our stories? Will the abuse of transgender and autistic youth become a thing of the past? Will people stop saying that being transgender is a mental illness? Will people stop saying that autism should be cured and listen to us when we say we don’t want one? Will Autism Speaks stop silencing the people they claim to serve and instead work with us?
Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, let us celebrate the progress that these two communities, both of which I am honored to part of have made and take pride in who we are. Our futures depend on it.
Mabz lives in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England. Mabz is an aspiring actor and filmmaker dedicated to spreading acceptance of diversity and squashing intolerance.