And He Who Walks Behind the Rows did say, “I will send Outlanders amongst you…and these Outlanders will be unbelievers and profaners of the holy.”
–Isaac (John Franklin), Children of the Corn
All right, go ahead and sacrifice me to your respective vegetable-god. I like Children of the Corn.
I know I’m in a minority here. Not even Stephen King likes Children of the Corn, and he wrote the freakin’ story it’s based on. Maybe it’s because I’m a native Nebraskan who’s thrilled whenever her state gets a shout-out of any kind, but I like everything about this movie. The nine-year-olds talking like Old Testament prophets, the choral singing that happens whenever someobody gets killed (“Glorious! Glorious!”), John Franklin’s nasally voice. It’s all good, in an awful sort of way.
There’s not much to understand about a cult of kids in Nebraska who kill adults because their god tells them to. But as many times as I’ve seen Children of the Corn, there’s one thing I don’t quite get. What, exactly, is an Outlander?
The children of the corn are always yapping about Outlanders–you can hear the capital letter whenever they say it–and how they should be killed. Technically, they’re referring to Vicky and Burt, the married couple who are driving through their town on a cross-country trip. But the word doesn’t have a definition. How far out of the kids’ land does an Outlander have to be? If I come into Gatlin, Nebraska from the town outside of Omaha where I live, am I an Outlander? Probably.
That’s because “Outlander” has nothing to do with land at all. Like other labels the kids come up with, it’s just weighty shorthand for People Who Are Not Us. The kids have plenty of words for the people in their group–“prophets,” “seers,” “followers,” and even “betrayers.” But what about all those other people in the world? Those people who, in being Not Us, must all be the same?
Neurodiversity is a movement, not a religion, and there are plenty of things I like about it. I like the idea that because of our neurology, we are each the sort of person we were meant to be–not defective versions of people we are not. I like the idea that the way each of us think is beautiful, and that we don’t have to do things just like someone else does them, because our way works fine for us. But there’s something about the neurodiversity movement that I don’t like– a word that everyone uses, although no one knows what it means. That word is neurotypical.
“Neurotypical” is supposed to be a more accurate way to say “normal,” because nobody on earth is normal. But is there really a typical neurology? Scientists can get an idea of what part of the brain does what, but they can’t say for sure if the part of my brain that, say, perceives the color blue does the very same thing in your brain. For example, 95% of right-handed people use their brain’s left hemisphere for language. That leaves another 4% who don’t. Among left handers, the figures are even more variable–in one study, 15% of ambidextrous people used their right hemispheres for language, and so did 27% of strongly left-handed people. These are people who do not have mental or neurological disabilities, and yet, their neurologies are in no way identical.
So, who are the neurologically typical (NT), anyway? The answer depends on who’s using the term. Autistic people use it to mean “people who do not have autism.” (On the OASIS message board years ago, somebody divided the world into autistics, neurotypicals and “tweeners”–people whose diagnoses had some things in common with autism, but who were not really autistic). People who are bipolar use it to mean “people who are not bipolar.” And on the mailing lists for NLDers and their families I read, we use it to mean “people who do not have NLD.”
In other words, an NT is someone who is Not Us. Or, rather, Not Me.
Like the author who writes for an “ideal reader,” I have a personal NT in my head. It’s someone who can drive a car–can leave the house without an assistant, in fact–and doesn’t have a hard time with math, and knows where her left arm is without it touching her body. But there are plenty of people who fit my definition of an NT, and many actually have mental or neurological diagnoses. Some even have my own.
This Not-Me-ism runs counter to what the neurodiversity movement proclaims itself to be—and, unfortunately, it’s rampant. Every day, people who say they believe in neurodiversity decide who is ”neurodiverse” and who is not, whose neurology is worthy of acceptance and whose is not.
For a long time, I believed that my neurology was valuable because of the marketable skills it gave me. (“Yeah, I may not be able to find the grocery store alone or follow the flow of a conversation all that well, but I can write essays and read Latin!”) That’s not acceptance. That’s trying to prove your own worth to yourself when you don’t think you have any. At its heart, neurodiversity is about the worth each of us have by our very existence–we don’t have to earn it and we don’t have to parade it out like a pedigree to anyone who asks.
Neurodiversity is also about everyone, whether they have a diagnosis or not. Civil rights liberate everybody–no matter their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.,–and you can’t have diversity without the dominant group.
Throughout history, individual groups have come forward and demanded their right to be treated as human beings. But we will never have human rights until we stop fighting for ourselves, and start fighting for each other. For true equality to happen, there’s no room for a Not-Me. Or an Outlander.