|Peace and Power
Timely Note: There is a movement happening right now. We are perched precariously in a place where women, girls, boys, men, people are speaking up about abuse and are beginning to be believed. We are wobbling on nervous legs here, hoping to do the right thing and make a safe, correct shift that doesn't demonize or frighten folks to the point of imploding an important and necessary change. I, too, am hopeful and anxious and reliving past pains with present understanding. Many people we love and admire are playing various roles in this story and we are being asked - being required - in real time to figure out the safest way to handle this. For ourselves and, even more so, for future generations. I am sharing the following conversation I had with a local girl as an example of how I am trying to be candid, honest, clear, and kind. It is my habit, in the interest of being liked and avoiding confrontations, to easily agree with people or simply smile and nod understanding of someone else's opinions when I don't agree. But over the last few years I have been actively practicing sharing my opinions in the moment, with thoughtfulness, even if they clash with the person I am speaking to. I hope that my caring came through as I spoke up for all the victims in the following story. ~Tsara
A condensed version of the conversation I had last night with a young girl in our small town:
I stepped outside of our local grocery store and she was sitting alone on a swinging chair that is for sale. She is often sitting there, asking for things from passers-by. She and many of her other family members are known to do so.
HER: So, I guess you know where my kid-brother is.
ME: I think so? I heard he was in jail.
HER: Yes. Do you know what he's accused of?
ME: I'm not sure.
HER: Well, I'll tell you. Wait till these kids walk past.
She hesitated; the kids frowned at her uncleanliness and strong scent as they walked past; I acknowledged the moment as important before being certain why.
HER (Con't): Well, he's in jail for rape of a family member. Can you believe that? Now, you've known me and my brother for years and years, does that sound like something he'd do?
She looked at me expectantly.
ME: Oh, I can't say I know. I've experienced and known people to experience rape and assault enough to know that it isn't possible to guess who would or wouldn't. But I am sorry for you and your family. This must be a rough time.
HER: Ya, okay, I see your point. But you've known us long and is that something you can believe he would do?
ME: Like I said, I don't know. I hope not. There was absolutely no way I would have believed my step-dad could molest me, yet he did. He was the one who would never do that, we were sure. We just KNEW he would protect us from such things and were only afraid he may overreact if someone else did do something of the sort. Yet, he molested me. My mom had to leave him.
HER: Okay, fair point. That sort of thing has happened to me, too. But the girl who's accusing him, okay? Just days before she said this happened she had been running around having sex with a few guys. How can she then call anything rape?
ME: Oh, I've done that, too. You can be promiscuous but still get raped. In fact, it often happens. Sometimes people will think that you aren't the kind of girl or guy who says no, and when you do they get pushy or full-on dangerous. It does happen. I'm not saying that your brother did rape this girl, by the way, I'm just being honest that I can't pretend I don't believe it. My feeling is I don't know.
HER: Oh, well, you probably even know this girl. You'll see what I mean when I tell you who it is.
ME: I probably don't know her, actually.
HER: Oh, ya, that's right. You always stay out of everyone's business. That's good. That's a good idea.
ME: Look, hun. I'm not trying to be mean. I honestly feel for you and your family. I honestly care and hope that things turn out for the best in this situation and that everyone discovers some sort of important lesson. I do. I promised to keep you in my thoughts.
HER: (quietly) I just keep thinking that we are going to look so stupid if he really did do it, you know? All of us who are fighting for him and believing him. My mom wants to kick the b*tch's ass, but what if he did do it?
ME: Listen. You can love, support, and help your brother whether he did or he didn't do it. If he did do it, he will need support and love just as much if not more. He will need strong people insisting he NEVER do such things again. Strong women SHOWING him how to treat a lady with respect. People willing to say what needs to be said and risk hurting his feelings while coming from a place of believing he can make changes, he can be better. And if he didn't do it there is likely a reason she said he did. There is likely a lesson still to be discovered and acted upon. Does that make sense?
HER: Yes, I see. Yes. Well, you make good points.
ME: Well, I don't know if they are good or not but they mean a lot to me. They have helped me. Seriously, I'm sorry about the situation. Truly, I'll keep you in my thoughts and send love and hope your way.
HER: Thank you. Thank you. Hey, tell Tyran* that when he's a famous actor I want to walk the red carpet!
ME: (Hugging her) I'll let him know! We tell him all the time that you say so. Have a nice night!
I climbed into my car and hoped I had not been too cruel but also felt proud of myself for being honest and clear.
Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)
*Tyran is my second oldest son and his ex-girlfriend is a cousin of the girl I was talking with.
Autism Answer: You know, there are a few reasons why I think I was able to be clear and kind and honest when talking about this uncomfortable subject with this girl. One of those reasons is simply, as I said in my introduction, that I've been practicing. But in all honesty the two main reasons I was able to speak up in this way are:
1) I am much older than this girl. Because of that she automatically talks to me and listens differently while I inherently do the same. Had it been her mother talking to me I'm not as certain that I would have spoken up. I have been practicing so I may have. But I also may have reverted to my uncomfortable habit of keeping quiet while simply nodding understanding. I am quite good at not pretending I agree with people that I don't agree with, but I'm less good at making my disagreement clear because I am busy being sure they see I understand their point of view.
2) However, the biggest reason I was able to have the conversation this way with this girl is autism. Growing up in a home filled with autism - where one of the biggest challenges is social understanding - has meant growing up in a home that speaks clearly about every single type of social interaction. We could not shy away from sex or sex talk as my brothers grew older because they were, as most living creatures are, interested and intrigued and curious about sex. So we often talked openly about what is and what is not okay, not in broad terms but with very specific language. Even, sometimes, role-playing social situations so that we all could practice and clearly understand possibilities, reactions, and choices. It was not only enlightening for my brothers but, man, did I ever learn a lot about behavior! It encouraged empathy. It encouraged honest introspection. It encouraged combining strength and kindness as a rule.
While speaking with the girl I felt empathy for her, I thought about my own mistakes and allowed her the same leeway, and I insisted on strength from myself and for her as a kindness. And the conversation was not entirely uncomfortable because, for me, it was familiar. The specifics were different but the message was the same. Social situations are filled with invisible baggage and warring wants and personalities that mingle with often unpredictable effect. Sometimes someone we love or admire does something we can not allow. Sometimes we ourselves do something we can not allow. We must be willing to see and change these things without needing to demonize or hate. It isn't easy, darn it. But it needs to be done.
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