“Bullying” seems to be the word of the week here in the autistosphere, and some much-needed attention is being given the harm done by bullies and their supporters. There seems, however, to be a bit of confusion about the term’s meaning. Allow me to clarify some of this confusion.
Bullying is a repeated pattern of harassment, intimidation, assault, and abuse. It is intentional; it is targeted. It is based upon an inequality of power.
From this understanding, we can also conclude that certain things are NOT bullying. Resistance to oppression is not bullying. Disagreeing with the goals and actions of an organization or individual is not bullying. Calling out bullying is not bullying. Being intolerant of intolerance is not bullying. Openly discussing social inequalities is not bullying. Saying something someone doesn’t like is not bullying. Sending someone a group invitation is not bullying. Recognizing and responding to oppressive power structures is not bullying. The Southern Poverty Law Center is not bullying the KKK.
Autistic and other atypical persons are bullied every day. We are victims of physical, mental, legal, financial, and sexual abuse at the hands of neurotypical “caregivers.” We have hateful rhetoric spewed about us. We are harassed, intimidated, and slandered by those who claim to be advocating for our best interests. We live under the rule of governments who consider our very existence a threat to society. This is bullying.
But perhaps you feel that autistic self-advocates are bullies, too. Perhaps you are offended at being called a hateful, anti-autistic bigot just because you hold the legitimate, equally valid opinion that we are incompetent, brain-damaged burdens to society. Maybe you don’t see why we can’t just agree to disagree about our right to exist. You may feel marginalized at being called a “neurotypical,” as this diminishes your individuality. Maybe an autistic person claimed that autism has evolutionary advantages, and you feel insulted by the implication that someone else may have an evolutionary advantage you don’t have. Perhaps an autistic person even called you a rude name once, after you patiently and without animosity shared your personal feelings about the tragedy of our existence.
I light a candle for your butthurt. But you are not the victim of bullying. You will, in all likelihood, never face a single repercussion for your hateful, bigoted attitudes, no matter how vocally you express them. The disapproval of a vocal contingency of a completely marginalized group will never cause you harm. Your choice of attitudes, actions, and affiliations will never cause you to suffer the oppression we face for our immutable characteristics. You have the option, if you choose to exercise it, of reveling in your neurotypical privilege and ignoring the suffering of the people whose lives your ideology destroys. You do not, however, get to claim victimhood when your bigotry is pointed out. You can coat yourself in the blood of a virgin, but chances are good you’ll only attract wild dogs.