Part 75: Bad Actor

Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer. I hope you are all well. I’m writing this on the morning of Saturday 22nd January, 2022. That means I’ve had a full three weeks without alcohol. For anyone who hasn’t been following the blog, let me explain – and welcome, by the way. I don’t think I’m an alcoholic, but I have had a lifelong love-hate relationship with alcohol. I’ve seen the horrific effects of alcoholism in a family, as my father was an alcoholic. As for myself, as a younger man, I used alcohol to help me cope in the social situations I felt I had to be part of – not knowing at that time that the reason for my social discomfort was that I’m autistic, and neurotypical interactions often cause me distress. I always had a fear of becoming an alcoholic, though. In December just gone, I found myself drinking too regularly, spotted this could lead to a problem, and decided the safe course was to come away from it for a while. I’m feeling pretty good after three weeks dry.

I mentioned that I used to drink a lot socially when I was younger. I didn’t understand at the time what I was doing. I mean, I didn’t consciously say to myself, You find socialising difficult, but you’re a young man who should be going to pubs and clubs, so getting drunk will numb you and make you act like you’re enjoying yourself, so you fit in. But there was a feeling I had that I must socialise, and I found socialising became much easier after a few drinks. I would always arrive at a venue feeling stressed, self-conscious and horribly out of sorts, and couldn’t relax until a few drinks in. Once the alcohol had started to take effect, I found it simple to adopt an outgoing persona. I was masking, in other words. I was, in fact, acting. And on the subject of acting…

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Acting is familiar territory for most if not all autistic people. The pressure we often feel to act differently in order to fit in with the neurotypicals around us really is remarkable. Many of us adopt what could be thought of as false identities; we construct the personas we think will help us get by in the world. There are many reasons behind this masking, and a common one is the fear that if we reveal our true selves, it will be met with negativity; fear, anger, dislike, and so on. Many of us have had the experience of being ostracised and isolated as the weirdo or creep. The masking is a survival mechanism in this context. It makes me wonder how many autistic people would be absolutely brilliant actors on the screen or stage. Long-term masking is like method acting; we immerse ourselves in the role. This is probably especially true for late-diagnosed autistics, who have spent a lifetime pretending to be someone else, just to get by. I’m not being flippant when I say that this is a learned skill, and is probably transferrable to dramatic performance. Of course, for some of us – and I include myself in this – anxiety would prevent us from actually making that transition. But for others, this could be a real possibility. In fact, there are some fantastic autistic actors out there in Hollywood-land, including but not limited to Dan Ackroyd, Daryl Hannah and Anthony Hopkins. The myths about autistic people prevalent in popular culture, that like to portray autistic people as deficient in multiple areas, are just that: myths. The evidence is that autistic actors do not have to be “bad actors”, which is my creakingly awful segue into the re-emergence of Sia…

If you’re autistic and you hear the term bad actor, there is a good chance your thoughts will turn to catastrophic pop singer turned movie-ruiner, Sia. If you’re unaware of the Sia controversy, let me briefly recap. The Australian pop star decided to make a movie, Music, about an autistic person. She cast a non-autistic person in the titular role (yes, groan, Music is the name of the autistic girl played by Maggie Ziegler). The portrayal of the character is gut-wrenchingly awful. The visuals of the movie are horribly autism-unfriendly. Worse, the movie contains a sickening scene of restraint – you know, the type of restraint that has resulted in the deaths of autistic people. Incredibly, this isn’t the worst of it. When autistic people took to social media to raise the issues with Sia, she came out swinging, dismissing our concerns, insulting autistic people, and making her infamous “bad actor” crack…

This tweeted reply from Sia was, of course, an attempt to be a smartass. On the one hand, she’s trying to say Helen Z is not very good at acting, and so wouldn’t have got the role. But she’s also using the term bad actor in its idiomatic sense; trying to say Helen Z is just out to cause trouble. Gosh, isn’t Sia clever with wordplay? Anyway, the movie was widely panned, and has kind of sunk with little more than a couple of bad publicity ripples, which is all good. Unfortunately, Sia is back in the news, playing the victim with the support of someone called Kathy Griffin, who is apparently a minor celebrity. So, I came across a bit of Crassy Griffinism on Twitter, and seeing as I felt like being… well, like being me rather than acting not like me, I had to respond…

Interlude: A brief message

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It started with the excellent Eric Michael Garcia’s response to Sia making time in popular media:

Kathie Grrrfinn couldn’t let this entirely accurate takedown pass without her expert commentary, so we got this garbled tweet about a “scale”:

If social media technology ever advances to the stage where tweets come with an odour, then the above from Griffy Kathin will no doubt be scented with Eau De Merde Taureau. (My French is, erm, shit, I’m afraid.) Anyway, I had to hold my breath and respond thus:

Is really Sia autistic? I don’t know. I don’t care. I love the autistic community, and I have some great interactions with autistic people online. There is a great sense of camaraderie, and a lot of care, support and empathy between us. But sadly, being autistic does not make a person perfect (close, though…). It’s possible for an autistic person to be a not very nice person. Like I said in my tweet, if Sia is autistic, it doesn’t give her a free pass. Her movie was horrific, but her defence of it, and her malicious fury at any autistic person having the temerity to point out her failings, was unforgivable. Sometimes, people cross a line there’s little or no chance of coming back from. You could say that she acted very badly…

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I don’t want to waste any more effort on Sia. It’s unfortunate that I have to even mention her anymore at all, but this is what happens when someone with a high profile starts swinging their malice around. Talking about swinging malice around, I also came across this on Twitter today: A new account that had zero followers when I looked before blocking it, tweeting this kind of crap:

This fool’s short Twitter timeline was full of hate and aggression toward autistic people. Clearly, he gets his kicks from trolling autistic people. I reported his account and tweets to Twitter, but they have already got back to me, refusing to take action. I’m sure he’ll get bored soon. Particularly as so many of us are blocking him, and leaving him to tweet to the void.

Before I go, I just want to mention a young autistic man from my city of Sheffield; Matthew Langley. He was kept prisoner in his room by his mother and stepfather, and basically left to rot. When an ambulance came to the family home, Matthew was found close to death. He was catastrophically malnourished and dehydrated, with sodium levels in his body fatally high. He was found surrounded by his own faeces and vomit. The mother and stepfather have been found guilty of several charges in court, and will be sentenced in February. Matthew, fortunately, has survived, and has responded well to medical treatment. Physically, he will continue to improve, but my heart breaks when I think of what this has done to him emotionally and mentally. I wish him all the best, and as far as his abusers are concerned, I hope they throw away the key.

That’s all for this week. Until next time, take care, be good, stay proud.


Why Do I Write This Blog?

When I first found out I was autistic, I was a middle-aged adult and I knew nothing about autism.  I quickly learned that there was a serious shortage of information and resources for adults in my situation.  With this blog, I aim to inform about autism and autism-related issues as I learn, hopefully helping people who are on a similar journey of discovery.  Like anyone who writes a blog, I want to reach as many readers as possible; if you like what I’m doing, please share it with your friends and followers.  I will never hide this blog behind a paywall, but running the website does incur costs. If you would like to support, feel free to make a small contribution at BuyMeACoffee.Com.

You might also be interested in David Scothern’s blog, Mortgage Advisor on FIRE, which covers a range of topics including mental health issues and financial independence.

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