On the Origins of “Giraffe Party”…

In April of 2014, a little-known, but extremely self-serving musician named Johnny Orr decided to throw his two cents in on autism, despite having no direct ties to the autism community (aside from an alleged “friend” whose two children are autistic) and not being autistic himself. These two cents were in the form of a hackneyed song, with lines that say autism is “a prison” and say autistic children live “in pain”, along with focusing on how autism affects people who live with autistic individuals, rather than the autistic individuals themselves… all under the guise of spreading – yep, you guessed it – “awareness”. But really, to promote himself, his band, and to allegedly raise funds “for autism”. Y’know, as you do in April. [insert eyeroll here]

Autism Women’s Network – a rather fabulous organization which promotes inclusion, assuming competence, and acceptance amongst other positive ideals for the autistic community – posted about this song, along with a rather insightful letter to Johnny Orr. This letter was written by 14 year old “E” …an autistic young lady who had this to say:

Dear Mr. Orr,

My name is E. I am 14 years old. I have autism. I heard your song and it makes me sad. I was shocked and offended. And it makes me sad because you described me as being broken. You described me like I’m a huge problem. That my mom is bawling her eyes out every day because of me.

You made autism seem like a cage that locks emotions, or a disease, when it’s really not. Being autistic doesn’t mean you’re the hulk. It doesn’t mean you’re a sickness in your family driving them nuts. It just means you’re different. We are still human beings, just like everyone else, we just process things a little differently. We love, we eat, we sleep, we breath, just like “normal” people.

You say that I cannot say that I love things out loud, but only in my mind. Or that I don’t speak too well. Or that I like playing by myself. Those things just aren’t true. Not for me and not for my friends with autism. I don’t just scream and yell because I am angry or in pain. I talk. I communicate. I do those things because my mom worked with me to help me learn how to do those things ever since I was a little girl.

What hurts my heart isn’t autism. What hurts my heart is how you sang about autism. Autism is apart of who I am. And you sang your song like it is a bad thing. Like being me is bad. Like being me causes my mom pain every single day. Like being me is a bother.
You know what makes me ok with having autism? My mom. Why? Because she accepts it. She doesn’t want to cure me or fix me. She doesn’t see me as broken. She sees me as me, E, her daughter. And I love her for it. And I can tell her that i love her. And I do every day.

I am proud of being autistic because it makes me different and makes me who I am.

If there’s one thing I can’t STAND when it comes to autism, is ignorance. We’re autistic, deal with it. We do.

I just thought these were things you should know.

-E

Johnny Orr decided to pop into the comment thread on the AWN Facebook page, with the following:

“My song was written about a friend and her own personal struggles and her own 2 children’s struggles. It is not meant to be a documentary on autism. It’s simply telling their personal struggle. And it is reaching thousands of others that struggle the same way. I hate that there are some that don’t see that it may not be their story, but that it is definitely someone’s story and that should be ok for me to write about my friend to help her while raising awareness to others who feel the same way. I am not ignorant, I wrote this straight from the horses mouth of someone who actually deals with it this way. I’m compassionate towards all that deal with this, I’m sorry that this song offended anyone at all. That was obviously not my intention and I wrote this song from a pure heart with good intentions and respect for my friend who asked me to write it for her to begin with. Be encouraged everyone.”

I feel that it is a shame that the lighter side of autism is even called autism to begin with. Most of those who deal with autism on the lighter side of it only need acceptance. They shouldn’t even be labeled anything because they are just like you and I. They are perfect in every way. It’s the ones that have to deal with this on the heavier side of the spectrum that go through so much of a harder time in their family life that really need financial help and guidance and the tools to help the kids develop. I feel for everyone and am trying to be small part of helping somehow.”

“And I will sing this for all who struggle this way and give back to those in need. It’s my heart. I love y’all”

From a private message sent to Jocelyn Eastman from “Johnny Orr Band”:
“You should really watch the ‘Back Story’ on the song and video. I wrote this for a friend that has 2 autistic sons that are 7 years old and just coming to a place out of ‘non verbal’. This is not a generalized autism song, it’s written from the extreme spectrum, based on her children, and I believe that you’re taking the word ‘Prison’ too literal. No I have not talked to anyone that has a high spectrum because they can’t talk or communicate. If someone can talk and function as an autistic person in society, then this song does not really apply to them. People use the word ‘Prison’ as a metaphor. It’s not literal. It just means that they’re confined to not being able to communicate with their parents or others and can’t seem to get their feelings out the way they want to. You have to understand what the metaphor means, that’s all, don’t take offense to something that isn’t about you or anyone like you, it’s for those that have the same struggles. I’ve spoken with many parents since releasing this song and they feel strongly that it applies to their kids.”

“If this song does not tell your story then it doesn’t apply to you bro. You’re just taking it way too serious in the words (which are posted underneath the video on youtube)- That’s great that your autism is not like a prison. Not everyone’s is at all. But for some, it is… just like any disorder, sickness, nationality, some marriages, their job, their abuse, their addiction, anything can be related to a prison if it’s something that you can’t seem to break free from for some reason or another. Don’t take it to heart, it’s just a word in a song to help show the extreme side of a feeling. Just know that I wrote it from a pure heart and that it does not apply to you, and that’s great that it doesn’t apply to you. Let it be for those who need it, and for those who want to hear those words.”

[NOTE: Bolding done by me.]

This, as you would expect, set off many autistic advocates and allies. They laid into Johnny Orr, as he rightfully deserved, after spewing that litany of ableist, ignorant crap. It was painfully delightful to read them giving him what for. Delightful, because he – and his few misguided supporters –  needed to read the truth. Painful, because advocates shouldn’t have to continually fight this battle against people who have no idea what they’re talking about, insisting that they speak for us and force their way into the spotlight by speaking over us.

Someone decided to pipe up and demand that artists be allowed to write songs about pretty much whatever they want, without having to answer to the people they claim to represent in those songs. One of their more choice comments was, “So am I to elicit that I cannot paint about being a giraffe.. because I’m not a giraffe?”

It was then explained by several autistic individuals that if it is not YOUR autism, you don’t get to write about the experience of how it feels. Kassianne S. made this excellent point:

“If you aren’t a lamp you should probably not write about being one, no….” 

And followed it up with: “Also people don’t kill lamps and say it’s mercy. And. Um. theyre lamps. they can’t be killed. But people kill autistics & say it’s mercy all the time.”

Amy C. (AC): “We could totally write a country song about all this…Oh wait…”

Kassianne S. (KS): “a whole album entitled ‘lamps are not like people (and neither are giraffes)’?”

AC: “In our song, we must address the ‘lighter side of autism.’ I presume that these folks use the force while the rest are siths but I’m not clear.”

Deanne S.: “I think it’s the folks that have the lighter side of autism that are the lamps. I could be wrong.”

KS: “I want a giraffe lamp”

Cara S.: “Lol! So wait, the giraffes are Sith, or the lamps are? Just, in terms of tone. Society has taught us that being polite gets us ignored, while being loud gets us listened to -sometimes-. While neither is ideal, which will you choose for better results, you know?”

Beth R. (BR): “are giraffes high functioning or low functioning? I think high because they have those really long necks. hmmmmmm 😛 ” 

AC: “It all depends on their wattage, Beth”

Sparrow J. (SJ): “http://www.babymakingmachine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/giraffe-lamp.jpg

BR: “ummmmm that looks low functioning. and is therefore not a giraffe lamp worthy of giraffelamphood”

SJ: “no, see! It’s two giraffes! A low functioning and a high functioning one. That’s what ‘functioning’ means, right? How tall they are?”

BR: “You’re so right Sparrow. I didn’t see the low functioning one which shows that the high functioning one is so Not like my child….I mean giraffe. 😉 ”

SJ: “Well, you know, low functioning giraffes get overlooked so much. That’s why we have to sing songs about how sad they are that they can’t stick their head through the lampshade, too. It’s like not being in a lampshade prison.”

SJ: “And here it is! Souvenir t-shirts and stickers to commemorate this epic thread.

Available in t-shirts (and hoodies, tanks, etc.) and stickers:

http://www.redbubble.com/people/sparrowrose/works/11840515-autistic-party-giraffe

And also a version for folks who prefer their t-shirts (and their lamps) dark:

http://www.redbubble.com/people/sparrowrose/works/11840545-autistic-party-giraffe-white ”

Thus begat the Autistic Party Giraffe. I was not involved in this conversation due to the amount of spoons required for it at the time, but I was observing the entire time. I value and respect everyone one of the ladies involved, standing up for me and the rest of our peers.

You can read the entire thread at: https://www.facebook.com/AutismWomensNetwork/photos/a.131169816899804.23226.112933545390098/843051022378343/

So… why did I decide to use “Giraffe Party” as the name for this page/disjointed blog? Because I strongly identify with, respect, and love my tribe. We have used this as an inside joke for nearly a year now and it has become a dark-humored way of dealing with the ableism, gaslighting, dismissal, and exploitation we deal with regularly, as autistic individuals, advocates, and activists. What’s the best way for me to pay tribute to those who have held my hand through accepting my own being autistic, as well as those who continue to advocate for me and our peers? Throw a Giraffe Party, of course.

I encourage you all to throw your own Giraffe Parties… share your experiences and educate the world on what reality is for you. Do not allow others to speak over you. Do not allow others to dismiss or disrespect you. Do not allow yourself to be exploited. Be true to your authentic self and do not stray from that path. Be loud. Be genuine. Be strong. Be you.

And remember, don’t be so serious in the words 😉