In light of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Rachel Peck reflects upon the words she has used in the past to describe her brother Daniel, who has Autism.
In August, I wrote a short piece about my autistic brother Daniel.
It was shared by a small circle of friends. It led me to politely remind my mom to stop tagging me in Facebook posts. It made my grandma cry. And then it quickly faded into the hum of the internet, as most things written by anyone other than Lena Dunham do.
The piece was called “Some Good Men Bite.”
Only recently—as I sit, both connected and alone, in the cold space that a community, a country, indefinitely occupies in the wake of tragedy—have I begun to question the implications of the title of my essay, its significance beyond its arbitrary function as a rhetorical hook.
Why did the frame through which I invited the world to celebrate Daniel inevitably materialize through violence?
Some good men bite.
Even as I worked to unyoke my brother from the tethers that bind his identity to otherness, exclusion, and hate, I was only able to introduce my relationship to Autism, to my brother, through acts of violence. Daniel is kind. Daniel is warm. Daniel loves animals and unabashedly holds our dad’s hand at the mall. I love Daniel. But I was woefully unable to articulate my pride in his struggle without reducing him to that struggle’s basest form.
Some good men bite.
Articles, blogs, and social media conversations have exploded in the days following the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Guns. Autism. Asperger’s. Adam Lanza has become a veritable dartboard upon which well-intentioned critics pin social criticism in a perverse, national game of pin the tail on the donkey.
Guns. Autism. Asperger’s.
Some good men bite.
In this web of association, we are captive to a fundamental confusion that demands our thoughtfulness and attention: Why do we remain unable to disentangle autism spectrum disorder and violence? Why, in our collective subconscious, are the concepts symbiotic, mutually reinforcing? Why couldn’t I talk about Daniel’s struggles and success—and my own relationship with his Asperger’s Syndrome—without couching the conversation in a vocabulary of physical aggression?
Though it’s no excuse: Because navigating the intersection of violence and mental health is hard.
Think about your own reaction to this most recent mass killing. You hated Adam Lanza. You hated his parents for raising him. You hated his schools and counselors and doctors for abandoning him. You hated every person who ever met him. And then you pitied him. You pitied him with a painful tenderness that made you question your own ability to commit violence. You felt sure that your kind words could have lifted him from whatever pit of unrest he occupied in tortured solitude. You loved him. You were Adam Lanza’s mother. And then, undoubtedly, you hated him again.
When a person lashes out, we don’t know if we should blame guns or prescription medications or school systems or parents or video games or or or…. We don’t know if excusing violence on the grounds of “insanity” (a vocabulary that is, itself, problematic) is reasonable, fair, dangerous, wrong. We don’t want to minimize the evil of a cold-blooded killer; we don’t want to project rationality onto madness.
The series of tragic events that culminated in an unthinkable killing spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School is complicated and bewildering and hard. But I learned something through the cultural cacophony that erupted as a result of this most recent national heartbreak.
We must stop searching for answers at the expense of countless kind and loving men and women; we must stop searching for violence in autism, and autism in violence.
Daniel is a man who has bitten, but he is not, and will not be defined as, a man who bites.