Chelsea Dub: I am an art student currently studying animation and painting at Ball State University. Through my art, I attempt to challenge society’s perceptions of marginalized communities—including other animals—as well as explore the intersections between issues such as ableism, sexism, and speciesism. Read more about Chelsea’s work here.
Content warning: animal abuse, autistic abuse
November 1st was World Vegan Day, and also Autistics Speaking Day, so as a vegan who is also autistic, this day holds extra significance to me. In our anthropocentric and ableist society, the voices of other animals and the voices of autistic people are routinely ignored, silenced, and even hijacked. Although certain people are assumed to be “voiceless,” for those paying attention, communication comes in various forms. Animals who are exploited communicate their distress and resistance very plainly: they scream, cry, kick, growl, whimper, howl, hiss, bite, peck, flinch, squirm, try to run, swim, or fly away, pace, or shut down and refuse food and water, withdrawing completely as they attempt to render themselves invisible and therefore untouchable by their oppressors.
Not only are other animals silenced, but their voices are often hijacked in order to promote interests that conflict with their well-being. In blood sports, fake animal calls that either mimic potential mates or distressed baby animals are often used to lure unsuspecting animals to their deaths. Human voices are also dubbed over animals in food commercials so that they appear to be complicit in their own consumption. Grieving mothers become California “happy cows,” and chickens yearn to become Burger King “chicken fries.” Smiles are drawn on animals’ faces in order to depict their exploitation and slaughter as carefree, desirable experiences. Other animals may be robbed of their voices quite literally by being debarked, debeaked, demusked, declawed, or having their tails docked.
Autistic voices are also varied, and we communicate using speech, nonverbal vocalizations, body movements, sign language, text, art, or augmentative and alternative communication. Our voices are repeatedly ignored over the voices of neurotypical parents, teachers, media representatives, antivaxxers, researchers, therapists, psychologists and other autism “experts,” celebrities, and multi-million dollar organizations such as Autism $peaks. The autistic experience has been repeatedly defined by those who observe it by the sidelines, but who have never actually lived it. Oftentimes, these people who observe from the sidelines refuse to even consider our actual experiences, and then have the nerve to say that we are “voiceless.” Those who utilize non-normative forms of communication are often expected to assimilate. Autistic children who flap their hands as either a form of stimming (self-stimulatory behavior), or to communicate their emotional state, are taught to “quiet” their hands so that they do not disturb their neurotypical peers. Even though alternative forms of communication exist, some autistic children are still expected to learn and acquire speech exclusively, which may delay or hinder their ability to effectively communicate their needs. Autism $peaks, which has no autistic people on its board of directors or in positions of leadership, continually ignores autistic voices while giving a sinister voice to autism itself through its horrifically ableist “I am Autism” video.
In neurotypical-led discussions about autism, autistics labeled as “high-functioning” are disqualified for not being autistic enough to talk about autism, while autistics labeled as “low-functioning” are disqualified for being too autistic to talk about autism. In either instance, autistic people are conveniently left out of the discussion. In order to gain publicity and donations in our name, our lives are painted as tragic and destructive. We are either objects of pity, or objects of resentment. Similarly, other animals are damned as either wanted commodities, or unwanted pests.
One of my earliest memories is from when I was nonverbal as a small child. While I can speak reasonably well now, I was speech delayed (a common autism trait). The daycare I was in at the time was abusive (one of the memories that has stuck with me is of the daycare employees giving us adult-sized cups without lids, and then calling us “stupid” for spilling them). I was fully aware of my situation, but was unable to effectively communicate it to my parents through speech. One day, in the daycare parking lot, I burst into tears and desperately tried to tell my parents about the abuse that was going on in the daycare. I remember knowing what I wanted to say, yet being unable to form the words. My parents frantically asked me “What’s wrong?”, yet all I could manage were scrambled syllables and cries. Despite my inability to use speech, I had communicated to my mom that something was wrong, and I never set foot into that daycare again.
Non-speaking does NOT mean unfeeling or unthinking. On this World Vegan Day and Autistics Speaking Day, please consider the voices of both nonhuman beings and autistic people. As Arundhati Roy once said, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”