Kage Baker had Asperger’s Syndrome. She was what is usually called “high-functioning”, a label that incensed her. It was her opinion that she was always high-functioning, no matter what she was – and for the rest of the world to label her so cavalierly and condescendingly was an insult that drove her to rage.
It annoyed her so much that, in her late 40’s – after a lifetime of hiding, avoiding triggers, finding compensatory habits, forcing herself to find safe ways to communicate: Kage threw all her armour to the winds and outed herself at a convention. From then on, she identified herself firmly as an Asperger person and fought online and in person for those less fortunate or gifted than herself. And also to let people know that she, herself, was not a genetic freak nor an aberration, but a talented writer whose brain was simply wired even more differently than most.
Funny thing. Most of my birth family has Asperger’s, as well as Kage. Maybe it’s why she and I were instant sisters from an early age; I was used to it. Kimberly has Asperger’s – her husband has Asperger’s – and their son, my nephew Michael, has Asperger’s. They are all “high-functioning” -really, that is such a loathsome phrase! – and I have spent my life defending those I love (when necessary) from strangers who think there is something wrong with them. It’s not usually needed, because my family is intelligent, well-mannered and fierce: but I’m the one who can stare into your eyes like a basilisk, and am never rendered speechless. Eye contact? Cutting repartee? I am your woman.
My sister and brother-in-law are now retired – but before that, they were both teachers. She taught kindergärtners, and early education is not an easy field. He taught physics – is there anyone who thinks that is a field for the sub-average? Michael is currently an in-home assistant for his ailing father, a vocation that requires both brains and empathy. Like Kage, he also works Fair with me; being someone else for a few weeks a year in the company of friends is apparently quite beneficial.
Kage and Kimberly both enjoyed the nickname “Aspies”. I find it unnecessarily cute, but it’s not my nickname, so I figure it’s basically none of my business.
And that is, really, part of my musings on this subject. It’s none of my business. Not for anyone, not for anything they want to call themselves. It’s no one else’s business, either. This is a subject I honestly thought was solved a few years ago – but now it appears that one of the new targets of our evil-addled government is going to be those citizens who happen to have disabilities. And for lots of people, alas, Asperger’s is a disability. The reason it was not for Kage, nor for my family, nor for people like Temple Grandin nor Stanley Kubrick nor Darryl Hannah nor (most likely) freaking Leonardo da Vinci – is that those people had adequate support systems. And those are not easily come by, Dear Readers, which is a large part of the tragedy of Asperger’s Syndrome.
Asperger’s can be an immense disability, all too easily. In some cases, it always is: where there is intellectual impairment, or neurological deficits; where there is non-verbalism, or crippling fear, or obsession – then, yes, it can be a dreadful disability. And those who suffer at that depth are truly helpless, and must be taken care of a lot more than ordinary people. Not dismissed! Never dismissed!
Would you dismiss someone who had trouble with their legs? Well, yes, come to think of it – there a lots of people who would, and far to many of them are working in the government. My point is that it is evil.
Does anyone you love have Asperger’s? Do you, yourself, know or suspect that you are not just shy, but actually an Aspie? Regard the title of this blog , then, and take it as the battle cry it has always been for the different and the outsider. Shakespeare gave the speech from which it comes to the most recognizable outsider of his world: the Jew. Its universality is such that it has remained a banner for anyone, everyone, who finds themselves cast out of society through no fault of their own.
Read the rest of Shylock’s immortal speech. Hear in it the despair and passion of someone who knows themself to be human, and knows as well that the rest of the world does not see them as such. Consider the implications of disabilities being reduced once again to non-persons, second class citizen, inhumans – and consider, too, the last line of this speech …
“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”
Blood-curdling, isn’t it? All of it. Just think about it.
Good evening. I spied your email from across the room, and the words that came to my mind were, “Comfort Food.” I almost always learn something of interest from you, and I have always found learning, comforting.
Learned a lot tonight. I only knew Kage through her works, her words. And they are wonderful.
When I hear “High Functioning” I can only think of Sherlock. I think it went something like, “Oh, do your homework. I’m not a psychopath…I’m a high-functioning Sociopath.”
I can almost hear the Queen of Mars telling someone, “Oh, do your homework.”
Thank you, thank you, Brad. Not only do you make me feel good, Kimberly liked your comment, too. We all adore Sherlock, and that is one of our favourite lines – I mean, really: know your mental diseases, man!
“High Functioning Aspergers” just narked Kage because it implied she (and the many,many like her) were only a few steps above a drooling idiot. And when she was having a bad day, she was also indignant because, she claimed, there was no way she was high functioning! Not logical. but realistic. Sometimes Kage could not stay in line in a store with me, if it was crowded; sometimes she could hold 200 people in a crowd with her voice alone. No one is a stereotype. People are complicated.
Like Brad, above, I only knew Kage through her work. But her work! For me, she captured the light and shadow play of being human better than any writer I’ve encountered. Her characters were so achingly and beautifully human which is why I still treasure reading her. Her Outsider’s eye pierced right through to the heart of things.
Thank you for this blog.
Thank you, Yes, Kage excelled at at portraying human nature. It constantly amazed me, and I had been reading her work since we were children. Aside from a brief teenage flirtation with writing bad dialect (which will never see the light of day, or I will be cursed forever), Kage was always spot on. She never forgot anything, you see. You know how they say, be nice to a writer or you will end up in their book? The truth is, it doesn’t matter if you are rude, nice, or never even speak to them: if the writer notices you/them/it, they WILL write about you/them/it.
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