On Life and Love

APW 2013: (Mental) Ableism

(This is fourth in a series of posts about Atlanta Poly Weekend 2013.)

Now for a downside of my APW 2013 experience: ableism.

I didn’t perceive very much physical ableism except for an awkward-as-hell “lame” reference in the closing ceremonies. I don’t think anyone even laughed. Then again, I know I’m also less sensitive to physical ableism than mental, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more.

For the mental ableism… it was everywhere. Therapists there used the word “crazy” and people talked about their “crazy, bipolar” exes. One person even said their ex was so crazy “they shouldn’t have been allowed to date.”

In one panel on anarchy and intentional communities (more on that in the next post), one person was particularly interested in sociopathy and sociopaths’ destructive ability — their almost-guaranteed tendency to leave a family in ruins. Indeed, one quote I have is that, “Some people are too crazy to be trusted not to destroy families.”

There was definitely a sense that if there were an “other” to be feared by everyone in the poly community with open relationships and/or kids, it was the “crazies”.

Even when working with a definition that all crazy means is either “not-normal” or “not within our [community’s] bounds”, folks didn’t pipe up with compassionate, inclusive (“let’s change our bounds”), or rehabilitative thoughts. They made sure to distinguish “high-functioning” kinds of “crazy” from… less functional? (It was unclear why.) And to discuss how to identify, contain, expel, or avoid said folks.

It was both bizarre and (sadly) not. People who have strong mood swings are externally diagnosed as “bipolar”. People who won’t settle down or concentrate on one thing for as long as others would like are “ADD/ADHD”. Adult male-presenting people are pedophiles until proven otherwise.

People who hurt other people (through the above actions, perhaps) are “crazy”.

On one point, folks tended to agree: a way to help your chosen community and family remain healthy is to work out agreements of boundaries and how to handle crossed boundaries. This seems to be something that anarchists and other examiners/proponents of intentional societies have already figured out.

With this group, though (and particularly the person interested in sociopathy), it kept coming back to protections from a specific group: “crazy” people.

For all that it was common to hear diagnoses of “crazy” being thrown around, though, there were at least some friendlier uses of it. One presenter said, “We all love each other because we’re all crazy.” Still an othering statement (in the sense that the the monogamous parts of society are “normal”), but not, you know, relegating crazy people to not being allowed to date.

I was disappointed to see a crowd of generally loving and accepting people who seem to believe strongly in self-chosen definitions lapse into ableist rhetoric.

Given the fair amount of voiced anger against Christianity and monogamy-reinforcing structures in our society, I suspect it mostly comes from a place of hurt, but that, too, is a dangerous diagnosis.