This blog post has turned around in the writing – all because Tamsin Parker has a truly remarkable voice. The voices of autistic women, how they are appropriated and contained, is the theme which runs through my post.
What’s becomes clear in her case, I feel, is that the socially constrained female voice and the issues of ‘masking’ autism combine, making autism a feminist issue.
But learning about Tamsin’s horrific experience at the BFI on her 25th birthday yesterday, was the final straw after a difficult few days.
I’ll be honest, hearing about it has been one of the rawest moments since my autism diagnosis in March 2016.
I rarely talk about being a mum because my children (now young adults) haven’t wanted me to, but the sheer cruelty and injustice of this act pierced my mother heart.
Coincidentally, last week I joined an impromptu group of autistic women using the hash tag #AutisticMotherhood. I’m not a joiner, so this was quite an event in itself, but I felt my voice as an autistic women had been appropriated.
#AutisticMotherhood was born on Twitter in response to Kibo Production’s play about a cold autistic mother character (who it is now claimed by producers is not autistic but has post natal depression). We even have a website where two open letters to Kibo can now be viewed. The play was written by a man who is not autistic, and you can read my views on this in my last post.
It felt important to pin my colours to this cause, but I also ended up feeling tossed about and quite at sea as a result. I reached a low point.
Sinking my energy into #AutisticMotherhood coincided with this cruel attack on Tamsin, and kaboom!
It felt so close – and not only from the point of view of a mother. I can also laugh uncontrollably in public. When this happens my shoulders shake, I wheeze and snort and make a ‘spectacle’ of myself, as well as crying ‘too easily’ – my other party trick. Some of us are emotional and expressive, but I guess I ‘mask’ enough to get by – but this masking constrains me.
Because I am autistic I do also get things socially very wrong sometimes – despite best efforts. The other day someone ran away from me in the supermarket (!) Yes – quite literally, he ran. I thought that was quite rude and showed a distinct lack of social skill, to be honest. Perhaps he was scared of my autism, which I had told him about in an email.
But the cruelty of that scene at BFI runs on a loop in my brain. What cuts deep is the native intolerance shown, and the insistence of some audience members to their viewing rights above common decency. They seemed to find it perfectly acceptable to round on a vulnerable young woman, one man yelling an abusive sexist comment, and others applauding her ejection from the cinema.
The hounding of an unconstrained female voice (as well as ableism) is what I see.
What haunted me was that Tamsin might be alone after this ordeal, and I’m relieved that she was with her sister and was able to go home in a car with her mum.
I’m also doing the best I can as a mum – but honestly, sometimes the scale of intolerance in the world breaks my heart. We have such a long way to go on invisible disability.
But then Tamsin’s mum Lydia posted a film by Tamsin and her powerful voice gave me hope again. I love her energy, which won’t be contained. I love how she sees the world and what she has to say. Tamsin is a strong role model for young autistic women (and indeed for women of all ages and neurotype).
Tamsin deserves so much respect for her love of cinema and her talent in filmmaking. One way to make up for things BFI (if you’re listening) is to put on a screening of Tamsin’s work.
Tamsin, if you read this, I have a diagnosis of Asperger’s too (though I like to call myself autistic). I think Force of Habit is one of the best advocacy films I’ve seen and very inspiring. If people are unforgiving, like the man in your film, then I think they probably aren’t worth knowing (unless they can change their minds).
Thanks so much for reading xx