Some Thoughts about Steven Simpson’s Murderer’s Sentences

Steven Simpson was an autistic, gay man brutally burned to death at a party (his birthday party). For some background, see this Huffington Post, this NineMSN, or this Daily Mail article.

He wasn’t murdered. No, he just had anti-gay hate messages sprawled on his stomach, face, and arm. He then had his groin set on fire. Oh, that didn’t kill the man. No, he survived in what I can only imagine being the worst possible pain until the next day, when he died at the hospital. The person who did this act didn’t try to put out the fire (according to the Daily Mail), but instead ran away. In fact, nobody tried to put the fire out until a neighbor – not at this party – intervened. Then the murderer tried to say that the man lit himself on fire.

Again, from the Daily Mail:

Passing sentence, Judge Roger Keen told Sheard that the evening had involved ‘good-natured horseplay’ but that putting a flame to a man doused in flammable fluid was ‘a highly dangerous act’.

No, homophobic insults and trying to humiliate a vulnerable person is not “good natured horseplay.” Certainly lighting a man’s groin on fire goes beyond “dangerous act.”

The murderer received 3.5 years for manslaughter.

Let me help out judges and prosecutors everywhere by giving some definitions and examples:

Prank or “Good-Natured Horseplay”

  • Something that the person it is done to will laugh with you about.
  • Typically does not involve having racist, bigoted, or homophobic statements intended to humiliate you.
  • Does not involve inflicting intentional great pain
  • Is reciprocal – you might prank me as a friend, and I might pull a prank of similar magnitude on you later
  • Done by friends
  • If it goes wrong, people stick around and help. There is deep concern when this happens.
  • Oh, pranks are funny, not hate-fueled.

Murder

  • Might involve fire
  • Murderer typically does not want to face consequences
  • Persons committing it do not provide medical help to the victim
  • Sometimes fueled by hate, bigotry, and homophobia

I’d add that anyone that can hear someone who must have been in the pain Steven was in screaming and crying for help and then turn their back and leave…well, that’s not good-natured fun. That is also, IMHO, murder.

I am glad a neighbor showed Steven some humanity and did his best to help, even to the point of receiving his own burns. That’s what anyone should be expected to do, but when it mattered only Sean Banner did it. The murderers (referred to as pranksters by the defense attorney) didn’t help and didn’t care about the human they tortured and killed.

My prayers are with the family of Steven, who lost someone they loved and haven’t seen justice. I can’t imagine what that is like.

The Awareness I Want to See

I want to see us move on from the past and move into “I didn’t mourn for you.” To me, that will be true autism awareness.

I’ve heard the argument that people need to mourn when they find out their child is autistic. I get it. I even get the argument about how they mourn for their own lost dreams when they realize they child they have is not the child they though they have.

But, you know what? We don’t have to have mourning at all.

I look at the LGBT community. 20 years ago, it would be pretty darn common for a parent to be sad, mourn, maybe even be angry when their child said, “Mom, dad, I’m gay.” The best, most pro-gay parent groups at the time talked about the need to give yourself (as a parent) time to adjust to who your child is, and that it’s okay to feel sadness. That it’s a real, authentic feeling.

Nobody doubts the sincerity of their feelings. But that didn’t make it right. While I applaud people who’s views about homosexuality have changed after a family member came out – and am genuinely glad they now accept their child – the reality is that before their views changed, they saw homosexuality in a negative way, not a neutral and certainly not a positive way. It took something very powerful – the love for their child – to help them overcome their own prejudice.

Now, I’m not saying these people are horrible people for having once held prejudiced views. They have changed, after all. And that’s admirable. But at the same time, wouldn’t it be even better to not have been prejudiced in the first place? We can’t necessarily help our upbringing and our ignorance, and, yes, how we respond when confronted with new information is what truly matters. But at the same time, do you not think a gay child (who hasn’t yet come out) is going to feel more comfortable coming out in a family where the parents have already shown acceptance of gay people rather than in one that it will take a process for the parents to grapple with their past prejudice? Of course it’s better to have the acceptance early, not just late.

Likewise, it’s possible for a parent to not be crushed when they find out their child has an autism diagnosis. It’s possible for them to say, “This is part of who my child is” and move on, without tears and pain and fear. And I think focusing so much on the need for some to mourn (which, obviously, is legitimate) keeps us from seeing what the world could look like. The world could be a place where “your child is autistic” doesn’t sound like a death sentence or a painful disease.

As an autistic adult who likes who he is, I’ve found I now have to add a disclaimer: Yes, of course, I’m not saying you should like seizures, aggression, pain, or anything else like that. But of course those things aren’t autism either. And before you make assumptions about me and my life, disabilities I do or don’t have, I challenge you to consider your assumptions. I’m not saying I’m just like your kid, but at the same time, don’t expect me to be happy when you say, “but if you were like my kid, you’d hate autism.”

I’m just wanting “your child has autism” to be seen as what it is: another insight into the makeup of your child. Alone, that statement doesn’t tell you much about the child. It doesn’t tell you if they will have an easy or hard life, if she’ll excel in academics or her career, if she’ll get married or have kids, or even if your family will be able to do A, B, or C – whatever A, B, and C are. It’s possible to not go through months of mourning for that child you thought you had.

Now, maybe you need to go through that. That’s fine, and it’s certainly better to go through it and come out the other side with a positive view of autism than for you to simply hold onto that view. But wouldn’t it be nice to just skip the mourning completely, and continue to celebrate the child you already have? That’s the vision I have. A vision where no autistic child has the experience of bringing devastation to their parents just for having a name for the type of person they are.

That’s the world I want to live in. That is autism awareness and acceptance.

Hints for Allies of “T” People

It’s the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which I wrote about the other day.  I thought I’d share “Joel’s Helpful Hints to Keep From embarrassing Yourself” for non-trans people.

First, a disclaimer.  I’m not trans.  And I didn’t ask any trans person to review this, so it may be full of you know what.  So take this with a grain of salt and defer to actual trans people when they disagree with me!

A lot of people want to do the right thing, they want to show acceptance of others.  But, just like in the autistic community, there’s some things that people do to do that demonstrate a lack of awareness of things important to trans people.  So I’ll give some hints as (hopefully) an ally.  I’m going to assume you’re not a blatant bigot and that you want to be a decent person, so I’m not going to explain why terms like “it”, “shemale”, “tranny”, etc, are offensive.  If you don’t get that, do some Googling and come back when you figure it out.

1. Don’t assume all trans people feel the same way about terms, gender, or anything else.  Gender identity is a key part of all of our identities (including non-trans people), which means there’s deeply held ideas, concepts, and identities that may vary between people.  Some trans people, for instance, hate the word “transgender” used as an umbrella term that includes “transsexual” (they might ask – are they trans-sex or trans-gender, as sex and gender are different, see the next point; defer to an individual before making assumptions).  I use the term “trans” in this post because of this but others use different terms, and it’s ALWAYS the right thing to defer to someone else’s terms when referring to them.

2. Sex and gender aren’t the same.  Gender is not the polite way of referring to a person’s sex, nor is sex a dirty word!  Sex is biology, gender is identity and/or expression.  Some people use the terms male/female to refer to sex, and man/woman to refer to gender.  Others might use different conventions.  There’s a variety of conventions for people that don’t fit the binary in either category.

3. There’s no one set of right pronouns for everyone.  For instance, don’t use ze (or variants) to refer to a trans person unless you know that is that person’s preferred pronoun.  Many trans people believe they do fit the binary system, just not in the way that they were assigned at birth.  It’s insulting to them to put them in a different category (not “he” or “she”, but a third or fourth or fifth category), particularly because of the pain many have experienced of being placed in the wrong category.  Of course I’m talking about people that don’t expressly identify as not either “he” or “she” – if someone doesn’t identify as “he” or “she”, listen to them.

4. If you get someone’s pronouns wrong, or otherwise misgender them, and are corrected, accept the correction and say you are sorry.  Don’t ever try justifying your mistake – things like, “it’s hard to tell” or imply that it’s an easy mistake.  Just apologize and say you are sorry, the move on.  But make sure to use the right pronouns going forward!  If you don’t know what pronouns to use (in other words, aren’t 100% sure), try using the person’s name.  You won’t go wrong there.  And if you want extra points as an ally, correct others when they get it wrong (you’ll lose points and demonstrate you’re not an ally when you don’t speak up).

5. Don’t ever disclose for someone else.  If you’re asked to tell people by the trans person, feel free to do so in the way you were asked.  Otherwise, keep your mouth shut.  This is not a topic to gossip about.  And, no, you don’t come across as “more accepting” or “more progressive” because you talk about your trans friends, outing them in the process.  When you tell someone about your friend, it’s not important to say that he’s trans.

6. No, you really don’t have any business talking about their genitals, asking about their genitals, trying to figure out what genitals they have, expressing curiosity about their surgical status, etc.  This is even true if you think you’re asking it in a disguised way, trying to watch what bathroom or shower they use, talk about how you don’t understand why someone who is a (insert gender here) would want to have sex with someone who had a (insert genital description here).  Yes, people do ask that kind of stuff.  But it’s not your business.  If they feel you are someone who should know, they’ll tell you.  Otherwise you don’t need to know.  If most people asked or talked about my genitals, it would be considered rude and creepy.  That wouldn’t change if I was trans.  Don’t be rude and creepy.

7. Not everyone considers “trans” to be permanent.  Many people that once identified as trans no longer do, feeling that they have transitioned to their new gender.  Once transitioned, they are simply a man or woman.  They aren’t a different category of trans.  Others keep the identity.  Respect people’s choices.

8. Most trans people that identify as a man or woman want to be seen as a man or a woman, not a TRANSman or TRANSwoman.  There are lots of people brave enough, or required because of circumstances, to publicly acknowledge that their birth gender assignment doesn’t match who they are.  But it’s still respectful to treat them like any other man or woman.  And that goes double for someone who doesn’t want to be seen as something other than a man or woman.  So treat them as a man or woman (obviously I’m talking about people who identify in the binary here, not people who don’t).  Likewise, it’s not important to always distinguish yourself from trans people – don’t constantly refer to yourself as a non-trans/cisman/ciswoman/cismale/cisfemale or similar when the situation doesn’t warrant it – all that does is reinforce the difference (certainly there are times to disclose you aren’t trans, such as when you are speaking as an ally and it’s important to let people know that actual trans people’s views are more important – but using this terminology in other settings can make people feel they either have to lie or disclose something about themselves that they don’t want to disclose – that they aren’t cis-whatever).

9. A trans person may be “out” as their true gender in some situations without being out in others.  If the person is using a different name and pronouns in a different setting then when you met them, they may have an important reason to use that name and set of pronouns.  Respect that.  Their livelihood, family, or other things may depend upon it.

10. Trans people are more than gender identities and genitals.  While many are very interested in talking about gender and their own experiences, everyone likes to be seen as a whole person!

11. No, having some masculine or feminine traits that don’t fit your gender does not make you trans!  It’s about identity – nobody is perfectly masculine or feminine.  If you are trans, feel free to relate.  But if you are not trans – even if you have some non-typical traits – that doesn’t mean you have had the same experience.  Your experience is valuable, but it’s not the same and can’t be directly compared.

12. On stereotypes: there’s more to transwomen than beautiful models.  And more to transguys than muscular hunks.  Non-trans women don’t need to wear dresses and extravagant hairdo.  They don’t need to avoid “man” hobbies like restoring cars.  They can be a woman who likes to get her hands dirty.  So can transwomen.  Too often, only ultra-stereotypical trans people are shown on TV and the media.  Not every trans person could pass as a model (for women) or hunk (for men), nor should they have to.  Nor do you have to go out of your way to tell a transwoman she’s beautiful or a transman he’s masculine.  If it would sound funny saying “you’re a beautiful wonderful princess beauty pageant model” to a non-trans person, it still sounds weird when you say it to a trans person, even if you think it makes you look accepting and progressive!  It’s fine to compliment people, certainly.  But you don’t need to overdo it to show you see them as a woman or a man.

13. Being “supportive” by saying “I see you as a woman” or “I see you as a man” might be a bit (or a lot) insulting to some people.  Nobody tells non-trans people these things!  They don’t have to.  They just treat non-trans people according to their gender.  Actions speak much louder than words in this case.  “I see you as a woman” can be rephrased to “I see you as ALMOST a woman.”  Wouldn’t it be better just to treat that person as a woman?

14. Not every non-trans person is straight.  Nor is every trans person straight.  If a transwoman (that is, a woman that wasn’t fortunate enough to have been assigned female at birth) is attracted to women, she’s like any other woman attracted to women: she’s a lesbian.  Likewise for transmen attracted to men – he’s gay.  Insulting follow-up questions to this are anything along the lines of “if you’re attracted to women, why did you feel you needed to transition” or “but a man has better parts for sex with women” or anything similar.  If you wouldn’t tell most lesbians or gay guys that, you shouldn’t tell a lesbian or gay guy that happens to be trans that, either.  Finally, if a transwoman is attracted to men, she’s straight.  And a transman attracted to women is straight.  You don’t have to be gay to be trans (but you can be)!

15. Speaking of sex – unless you are in an intimate relationship with a trans person, generally it’s not considered polite to ask how that person has sex.  Once again, if you wouldn’t ask a non-trans person that question, you shouldn’t ask the trans person that question.  Nor the related questions of “how are you going to have a kid” if the person says they want to have a child – once again, that’s personal and generally invasive (and, frankly, probably doesn’t need to be asked if you actually have a reason to need to know – you’ll already know).

16. If you’re curious about surgeries, gender identity expression, or other general transgender topics, how trans people have sex, or any number of other things, there’s this wonderful thing called the internet.  I assure you it is on the internet somewhere.  You can find out without embarrassing yourself by insulting someone!

17. Once again, actual trans people override any of the above thoughts of mine.  Defer to them.  Always.  Using “correct” language to refer to someone while ignoring what someone tells you is pretty much exactly the opposite of respect.

It’s not a big deal.  If you treat people like they want to be treated, accept that you might be wrong, and leave your need to be seen as a progressive or understanding or accepting person behind, you’ll do fine.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Sometimes, as a member of one minority group (in my case, autistics), it’s easy to forget about others.  It’s easy to think that your own group faces the worst suffering or abuse.  Suffering and abuse isn’t like that – there’s a lot of horror in the world.

I believe in justice for all, not just my people (autistics).  So I want to highlight something that is happening this week.

It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, Nov 20th, is Transgender Day of Remembrance.  It’s an annual event where people take a few minutes out of their day and remember that people have been killed for living authentic lives as the gender that they are rather than the gender that some would have them live.

One way you can show support for people is to attend a public remembrance event.  See http://www.transgenderdor.org/ to find one near you.  I’ll warn you that it’s very difficult to listen to the names of the dead without realizing that someone’s brother, sister, dad, mom, son, daughter, friend, wife, or husband is forever gone.  You can help those who know someone who died, and those who have been hurt by others, by showing your support for them.  You don’t need to know a trans person or be a trans person.  Just being there will show love and support.

Trans people don’t just face the threat of death (at a far higher rate than others in the LGBT community), but also face injustice in many other areas.  A heartbreaking read is Injustice at Every Turn, a report on the state of discrimination against trans people in the US.  There are a bunch of horrible statistics there.  For instance, nearly 1 in 5 (19%) of trans people say they were denied medical care because they were transgender.  Imagine for a minute having your doctor say “I can’t treat people like you,” simply because of a medically irrelevant characteristic and a wrongheaded view of morals (hint: medical needs should take priority over your religious hangups; if you can’t do that, the medical field is the wrong field for you).

I’m praying for a day when people are allowed to be who they are without fear of attack or discrimination.  Until then, I’ll speak out when I see injustice.  I hope you will too.  The worst thing we can do as allies, short of actually attacking another person, is to enable that attack by remaining silent.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. also said:

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

It’s Complicated…No Shiny Boxes

Shiny boxes don’t fit real people. We’re way too complex for that. It’s a point I often make about autistic people: we don’t fit boxes well. It turns out that autistics aren’t the only ones who don’t fit in boxes. In honor of National Coming Out Day last week, I’m posting a video that sums up a lot of academic ideas about sex, gender, attraction, behavior, and gender roles all in a few minutes.

There are tons of LGBT people in the autistic community (I suspect a far larger percentage than in the non-autistic population). Plenty of autistics don’t fit the stereotypical idea of a man or a woman. I’ll give a hint: just like an autistic person may intelligent but not speak, or may have sensory issues but not communication issues, there’s a lot to human sex and gender, and the different pieces are not necessarily related to each other. It’s bad to make assumptions about an autistic’s abilities. And it’s bad to make assumptions related to sex, gender, attraction, and behavior.

Enough of my writing – this person explains it much better: