Nipple play

Content: psychiatric abuse

I am thinking about a field. This field is filled with pinwheels. I stim in this field. Hands wrenching, full and swaying body movements, words that are cool and crisp, words like pulchritudinous, all echo-localized, parallelism is repetition but repetition isn’t always parallel, pinwheels, pinwheels, pinwheels.

I am lately working on a book project, a book project about the neurologically queer and how we crip rhetorical traditions. In support of my book project, I’ve had to read a great deal of psychiatric literature. By psychiatric literature, I mean the kind of literature that beholds the mentally disabled as though we are animal crackers. The gaze, the psychoanalytic gaze: Autistics are anthropomorphic cookies, and doctors will probe and digest our body parts, piece by piece.

Somewhere in the field, a pinwheel crumbles under the weight of painful metaphor.

Daily reading, part one. Ivar Lovaas constructs his shock room in the late 1950s. He lines the floor with electrodes. He sends in a child patient, a child patient with a flappy, swaying, stimming body. He flips a switch. The child convulses. She learns a lesson, until she stims again, until she finds her neuroqueer self wiggling and spinning in clinical spaces with shocking gazes.

A young girl stands on the electric floor and is shocked mid-stim

Photo from Screams, Slaps, & Love, 1965, Life magazine. A young girl writhes, mid-stim, in Lovaas’s shock room.

Daily reading, part two. Frances Tustin in 1972 declares that the nipple is an autistic object. I first read Tustin while in the field, my hands roaming, fingers tangled in rubber bands. “The nipple is an autistic object,” she writes. Several years earlier, Bruno Bettelheim analyzed drawings from his “feeble-minded” child patients, in search of nipples. Nipples he found. Nipples, and breasts, black breasts and white breasts, racialized interpretations of autistic drawings, nipples, finger paintings plentiful in nipples, oh, the rhetoricity of the nipple.

A child's drawing. The whole page is covered in dense, thatched black lines, except for an empty spot of white toward the top of the page -- what Bettelheim presumed was a nipple.

From The Empty Fortress. Pictured is an autistic child’s thatched-line artwork. Bettelheim captioned the drawing with the following text: “Drawing probably symbolic of the ‘white’ breast — that is, the good one.”

I am stimming as I read of these things, clinicians and their autistic objects. Tustin suggests that stimming, that autistic gesture writ large, is a kind of psychogenic nipple play. Autistics are always searching for breasts, for that which we supposedly lost. While I ponder Tustin in the field, I channel SAT prep books. Breasts are to autistics as car keys are to neurotypicals. Analogies abound. I imagine Tustin rummaging through a pocketful of breasts, a fruitless search. I look at the dust jacket on my book, where a reviewer in 1995 notes that Tustin’s work is still relevant “today.” How long must we dwell in “today”?

Part three, 1967. Bertram Ruttenberg and Enid Wolf declare that echolalia — the repetition of words and phrases — is a kind of autistic autoeroticism. (Or, is autistic autoeroticism redundant?) Nipple, I mutter to myself. Nipple, nipple, nipple. I think about arousal and the so-called prison that is autism, a prison so-called by breast-obsessed shrinks and the proteges of B.F. Skinner. I think about rhetorical arousal, erotic rhetorics, autistic eros, the electric current that narrates our history and our present. I wonder about the nipple as an autistic placeholder: the meaning in movement, the queering of pinwheels in a field, where autistic objects of all sorts commune.

A field of pinwheels

Sexy pinwheels spin in a field. But maybe these pinwheels symbolize breasts. If they were taller breasts — erm, pinwheels — they might even make electricity.

Disability/Culture

It’s been a while since I’ve written. In many respects, my blog silence has been a good blog silence. There have been ebbs and flows — negative along with the positive. But I love my job, the students, and the people I work with. I’m mostly trying to figure out how to keep blogging while balancing everything else.

Summer’s ended, and I hope to write here with more regularity again. I’ve also begun re-organizing things on my blog, so there might be some blips with hyperlinks and such for the time being. To start things off, I wanted to post a short video documentary about disability culture, created by The Olimpias. In February, the University of Michigan hosted a three-day symposium on disability culture. It was a really lovely event, directed by Petra Kuppers. The Olimpias, which is the disability performance group that Petra also directs, recently released a 22-minute, open-access, fully subtitled documentary on disability culture and the UM event.

Both Mark Romoser and I are in the documentary. Mark starts off the Aut culture segment around 12 minutes in. The aut culture bits last about five minutes (hooray).

I stim, therefore I am [Loud Hands Blogaround]

I’ve become obsessed with my kindergarten graduation. Initially, the video was painful to watch: I am stimming, I am ticcing, I am moving — in ways that visibly differ from my peers.

But lately, I am resisting passing. When I teach, I talk through and about my stims. I fire my rubber bands across the room, trip over classroom furniture, flap and wrench my fingers, rock back and forth as my elbows grate against the whiteboard. This is me, I say. My body is narrating.

When I first read about The Loud Hands Project, I flashbacked to kindergarten and flashforwarded to my future as a teacher. I imagine a world where my hands roam free, where stimming is simply a part of being — and I created the video below as part of that imagining. I hesitate to call this video a poem (because a poet I ain’t). So, I’ll simply call it a stimfest. A captioned stimfest.

From the Loud Hands website:

The Loud Hands Project is a transmedia publishing and creative effort by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, spearheaded by Julia Bascom. Currently, we are raising money towards the creation of our first and foundational anthology (Loud Hands: Autistic People, Speaking) and accompanying website.

Loud Hands: Autistic People, Speaking features submissions by Autistic authors speaking about neurodiversity, Autistic pride and culture, disability rights and resistance, and resilience (known collectively by the community as having loud hands)

I’m excited about this project, to say the least, and encourage you to read through the project’s website [preferably while hand-flapping]! Stim hard, people. Let your bodies be lively.