Saturday 28 January 2017

Sexuality and Religion - Thoughts after the Church of England Paper

Autistic LGBT people.
Some 600,000 of them in the UK.  (On the latest figures of 2 million autistic people, a third of whom self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual, neuroqueer or otherwise).

As we know, autism is not a mental health condition, nor a learning disability.  Nor is it anything to do with violence and 'bad behaviour'.  Those were old myths, long since debunked.

Autism is a neurodiversity, as confirmed in medical journals such as The Lancet, recently. Part of natural human diversity of brain design, with strengths as well as challenges. Generalising from that research...more moral, more honest, more fair, a great love of learning, creativity, passionate focus on topics, expertise.  So many of our top specialists in society are autistic.  Half of autistic people are female.  You didn't know this?  You had been told myths?  Yes, many were.

It is a brain design built for accuracy, fact-checking, fast detecting of tiny changes and incorrect information.  Our senses are often super-wired to detect the very first hint of smoke, the first taste of food that is going off, the first sound of approaching danger.  In older societies, we would have been of immense value.

Since the false medicalisation of all autistic people in the last couple of decades, our uses have mostly been forgotten.  So many people have been bamboozled (I love that word...) into thinking that all of the two million autistic people in the country are just like a 'badly behaved young boy'.

We're not.  We never were all like that.  I'd argue hardly any are, from my 20+ years as a professional in this work.  Most are lovely, reflective, kind, empathetic, dedicated. 

Many autistic people became marginalised, forgotten, ignored, pitied, hated.   Most die some 16 years earlier than others, because of the appalling misunderstandings and lack of training of the health profession.  Many of us are working very hard to improve things.  

Most, thanks to those myths, have few, if any, friends, so a marriage or loving faithful Civil Partnership becomes all the more precious, all the more our way of showing our love for a cherished other.

A third are part of the LGBT+ community, on the figures we see.  
We're as likely as anyone else to be people of faith, whether that is Christian, Jewish, Muslim or anything else.

 We know from brain scans that, generally, autistic brains are often not of specific male/female design.  The design is different. We've not even begun to explore what God is doing here.

There are a variety of Christian views on what God thinks of LGBT+ people.  Some for example read the Bible very literally, and believe that God condemns all gay relationships.  Others, equally Christian, equally prayerful, take a different theological view.  They believe that God never condemned loving, faithful permanent relationships between gay couples.  Both groups of thinkers love God, believe that the Bible is a foundation of our faith, pray, go to Church, and listen to great leaders on this topic.  It is not a question of one group being deliberately sinful, or wilfully ignoring God. It is not a question of LGBT people leading anyone astray into sin, wilfully.

The Church of England published a paper for its 'Parliament', General Synod.  "Marriage and Same Sex Relationships in the Shared Conversations - A Report from the House of Bishops".  It's quite long.  It's on their website.  You can Google it [Other search engines are available].

We know that loving gay couples do a fantastic job for God and society.  I am blessed with knowing so many wonderful couples.  Honest, caring, dedicated, loving Christians and people of all faiths and none.  Each serving society in the same ways as other couples.  For a time, we were told this was a terrible 'gay agenda', working to destroy other marriage and society.  Some in the LGBT community responded with humour, such as this placard.  Others, with astonishment or despair.  

The CofE has been telling LGBT people that there would be a few years of sharing our stories.  Hotels were booked.  People who are anti-LGBT and people who are LGBT were invited, along with others.  For a couple of days, each person shared their stories.  Things will get better, they were told.  'This is all good.  This a shared journey. We're learning about one another'. Paraphrased. Lots of hope, lots of promise.  LGBT people encouraged to share deeply personal detail.  Detail that could be used against them by anyone unscrupulous, arguably.

Autistic people weren't invited to those.  We weren't deemed suitable.  That's curious.  I'm always interested in the places we're left out of.

The paper?  Nothing changed.    It had still banned its Clergy (Priests, Vicars etc) from marrying someone of the same sex as them.  If they do, they could lose their jobs and homes.  That won't change.  It had ensured that Clergy couldn't marry gay/lesbian couples in church.  That won't change.   It had ensured that Clergy could bless toilets, goldfish and nuclear weapons (no, really), but not gay marriages.  That won't change. Anything important hasn't changed.  Not a prayer, not a service, nothing.

In the report, it says the church should (for example) 'affirm what is good about friendships' instead.  

OK, straight people.  If someone wandered up to you, when you were deeply in love with your marvellous now-husband or wife, and said, "Hey, you could just be friends! God would like you to just be friends and not marry!  If you marry, you are trying to destroy everyone else's marriage", what expression would be on your face right then?  Did you marry in order to destroy society and have an evil agenda?  No?  Quite.  You probably married for the same reason as most other people - because you were deeply in love, wanted to honour society, family, friends, wanted to be part of that covenant of love before God, so you can bring up a family, etc. So do gay people.  They marry for those exact same reasons.   Even if the blessing of marriage seems like a distant prospect, the LGBT community were hoping for something.  Some sign that they had been listened to.  Some sign that deeply controversial language like 'same sex attracted' was inappropriate, given the lack of even a mention of bisexual or trans individuals.

The document mentions that faithful loving gay relationships are often a wonderful thing.
And then, on page 18, the reality....that our documents say that if Clergy marry someone of the same sex as themselves, they are being a 'bad example to the flock of Christ'.  

Well,  autistic LGBT+ Christians never got a say in any of this.
This precious group just get stuff imposed.  Voices unheard. Stories unexplored.
I don't think that's OK.
I think autistic LGBT+ Christians deserved to be heard.  Deserved to be considered.
Deserve to be included.

I am sorry that my lesbian and gay clergy-friends have had this experience with the church. I am sorry that you are seen as a 'bad example'.

I see you as a joy.  As bringing to society God's love, faithfulness, caring, sharing, honouring.  As disciples, as leaders.  I see the same in non-LGBT clergy-friends also.

I continue to pray for a world where people stop hating. Stop fearing.  Stop excluding. Stop making us stories about motives, in order to keep people fearful of us.

Autistic people have already lived in a world full of hate and fear, exclusion and ostracism.

The very last thing this group needs is more.  
The very last thing that this most vulnerable of autistic LGBT Christians needs is more.

I have stood over the grave of too many dead autistic people, who had ended their lives because they simply couldn't go on.

Not in my name.  Have mercy.


Monday 2 January 2017

Autism and Disability - Charities pretending to enable us

Nearly everyone loves a story that makes them feel good, yes?  The pictures of a noble carer, selflessly devoting their life to caring for 'people like that'. 

I'm a carer.  And I'm disabled.  I've been a carer since age 10.  It's never, ever been about me needing to be honoured or rewarded for that,.  Caring isn't about me 'doing things' to someone else.  It's a relationship of love and respect, in which both people learn from one another.  It's really hard work, for sure.  With little support, little funding, little training or information.  But it's a partnership, always, between me and the other person.

Any idea how it feels to be thought of, or pictured, as just an object of care by some superhero?  Not good, my friends.  Not good at all.  It is disabling, disempowering, humiliating.  Trust me, even the most uncommunicative person knows when they are being treated with disrespect.

When I'm looking for a disability charity to support, with training, with skills, or with finances, I look beyond the 'feelgood' stuff.  The glitz, glamour, awards, presentations.

I ask three questions.

1) Who is leading this group?  Can I see leaders who are disabled, rather than token people put in front of a camera?  Or is it a group of people 'doing good to those poor disabled people'?  Beware of groups of Trustees with no biography information, no clue why they are in this role.  I like groups to be open and honest about their leadership and motives, with clear ways to get in contact with senior people.  And senior people who respond, politely, openly and honestly, to questions from disabled individuals.  I'm always fascinated by the ones who claim to want to change our lives, but won't speak to us.  Why would that be, eh?

2) Who is speaking for this group?  In the media article, is the article about the disabled person and using their own words, pictures, actions, etc?  Or it is about the heroism of someone who cares for that person?  Whose story is it really?  Does the disabled person just get to be a prop, so we learn about the heroic actions of someone else? Or a prop in the story of the carer?  That's nothing to do with respecting disabled people.  Watch out for narcissistic non-disabled leaders who want to be the story, and want everyone to watch them being marvellous.  That's not what it is about.  Watch out for their token disabled person who is allowed into a space, in order to sit there and smile, or read out the leader's choice of words.   That's not leadership or power, and it's not respect.

3) Is the message about enabling the individual to have their own voice, their own way of communicating?  Do the disabled people decide for themselves what they would like in their future?  Or is it about a group deciding what they will do to disabled people?  Who gets to decide?  Why do they get to decide that?    Who got to decide that 'outcome A' was the outcome required and desired?  Why?  Is that the only option?  Ask.  Really ask.  Whilst you're asking, ask how many disabled people are on the staff.  Ask how many are paid, and at what level.  "We have 4% disabled staff" sounds fantastic, apparently.  Except 16% of the population is disabled, and often people mean, "...well, they're like staff, but we don't pay them. They're more like volunteers really.  Oh, there's Mary, she's paid £5 a week to clean the toilet. And Jas, he's paid £5 to clean the cars.  If we put those down as 'disabled staff' it makes our fundraising report look really good."   That's not what we mean by staff.  Ask what they mean by the term.

Any good group will want to make sure that disabled people have an equal voice, an equal chance at leadership. With proper support and training to enable that to happen, not just landing them in a situation without support, and watching them fail.  "See, the poor dears can't do it".  Been there.  It wasn't pleasant. That's how some groups undermine disabled people.  Not clever. 

A good charity or group will want to ensure that disabled people have the ability to decide their own life choices.  To decide for themselves if they want a 'cure' or not.  To decide for themselves whether their actions are wise, or not (as much as is practical of course). To choose their own right response to an unfair or painful situation, and not have that described as a 'challenging behaviour'.

Who has control of the money?  Who has control of the media?  Who gets to decide who is hired, and who isn't?  Look for how many disabled people in that group have the ability to make those decisions.

"Oh but they're disabled.  They can't do that.  They can't even speak".

This is 2017.  There is technology.  We can all 'speak'.  Some speak in words.  Some speak in music, in arts, in movement, in emotion.  We all speak, in our different ways.

We need groups who listen.

Ask.  Explore.  You'll see a lot of things you didn't want to see.  But there's some good ones out there.  Find them, and enable them to thrive.