When it comes to what we share about ourselves to others, ultimately, the decision rests solely on each individual regarding what information is private and what is public. The autistic mind can struggle to gauge what is socially constructed as an overshare or and not; this results in either living a secretive life (almost “too secretive”), or being very open (almost “too open”) with those around them. It’s like being either under-dressed or overdressed for an event. The disadvantage of never opening up is the lack of opportunities to build relationships with others. Without some openness, there’s no opportunity for getting hurt nor being loved. On the other hand, being very open leaves someone an easy target for gossip but also allows kindred spirits to find one another. Some people are more comfortable blending in like a classic piece of clothing while some feel more at ease being a colorful item that really pops!
Butterflies are made of beautiful colors yet we never see the part where the caterpillar turns to mush before finally developing wings. I’ve mentioned in a post from long ago that once you reach a certain emotional tipping point, you stop giving a f what anyone thinks of you. The most testing times of my life pushed me to make bold moves - comfort zones kept me from evolving. My intention of coming out was to join a growing army of autistic women around the world in showing that difference is nothing to fear. Coming out as autistic 20 years ago was almost unheard of. Recent social progress has opened people’s eyes that like homosexuals, autistics aren’t some distant damaged model of a human being that should be recalled - we’re as much contributing members of the community as anyone else. Like a wardrobe, variety makes the world come alive!
The same way someone making a joke at the expense of the LGBT community may unknowingly make a closeted gay person within their circle feel targeted, I feel a sting everytime someone mocks a person with autistic traits in presence, and it happens rather often. It’s not to point blame at anyone, it’s how we’ve been socialized to treat differences. It feels like if they really knew me, or if they knew me growing up, they would have rejected me in the same way. My black and white thinking mode turns on making me think that every neurotypical sees autistic people this way . I need to consciously deconstruct my logic to convince myself that the comment was thoughtless and not meant maliciously. Then this deconstruction goes to war with my memories of being bullied by people who made similar comments. I'm left ruminating over the tension between living between two worlds: not noticeably autistic to be viewed as autistic but autistic enough that I feel ''other''. No matter how good I am at hiding my emotions, they bubble beneah the surface and finally burst from my seams in some way or another if I don’t address them. Being honest about my condition has given me a healthy outlet to express my feelings regarding microaggressions towards autistics. No one ever brings up my autism in person because why would they? My online presence gives others a more intimate look inside my heart and mind without having to navigate complex social etiquette like an open invitation to walk a mile in my shoes.
When I allow someone to get close to me, be to entertain a friendship or a potential mate, a part of me wants to lay out all of my difficulties on the table - that way it’s no surprise when I come across an obstacle. At the same time, the other part of me wants to get to know others and they get to know me in person organically without the distractions of labels. It’s like I want to skip the steps of getting to know someone by jumping into what makes me me and what makes you you, but people aren’t a special interest. I’m not a specimen that can be studied. Okay, I’ll admit that I have been studied for someone’s PhD research but what I mean is that you can’t know who I am from my poetry, my blog, or my social media posts. People are complex, emotional, and thinking creatures that need more than memorization and knowledge to be understood. Every person builds a mental profile of who someone is by the information they’re presented, and each person in my life is presented with different facts and facets of my personality. So in truth, it feels like no one can ever really know me except me. And then there’s the fact I’m changing and evolving everyday. The person I was yesterday is different from today. Then one day, when I meet my significant other, I will change again,and hopefully we’ll grow together. The reason I went on a tangent here was to highlight the fact that I can very easily hide my autism from the world, even from a partner. I can fool everybody but myself. At the end of the day, my difficulties will emerge and I’d rather be able to defend myself as autistic than to accept any other labels people have attributed to me in the past, and even to this day. Some moments, however brief and fleeting, I forget that I struggle most of the time. These blissful breaks of reality make me overconfident about how much I can handle - my writing is something that keeps me grounded; it’s the only thing in my life that’s a constant. Words don't change. Words are reliable. Words have meaning and therefore give my life meaning; reading and writing never go out of style.
Sometimes I act in ways that make it appear like I’m not aware that I’m being eccentric or different, but I’m more aware than I present myself to be. “Playing dumb” is a strength that has allowed me to outsmart my bullies over time. I understand neurotypical ways of thinking. I know what stands out and is easily a target of ridicule, blame, or exclusion. Let’s be honest here, I wouldn’t have gotten this far in life if I didn’t know how to play the game and had no effin’ clue most of the time. It’s exactly this clue about life, this knowledge, that makes me rebel against it because I see the absurdity of it. Society is hypocritical. After much introspection, I’ve concluded that some degree of hypocrisy is necessary to make civilization function (okay, maybe more than a little - a lottle). At the same time, it irks me to no end. I feel the compulsion to point out contradictions and double standards we accept as symbolic dominance, especially if it sticks up for a marginalized group. I’m not happy when I feel like I constantly have to outdo, outsmart, or outperform; it’s an ego-based drive that gives me an artificial sense of self. It’s a vicious cycle that leaves me feeling more disconnected. I just want to BE without feeling like I need to NT my way through life. Most people can’t tell scarves from shawls apart the same way they can’t distinguish most autistics from their neurotypical peers. Does that means we should call scarves shawls and shawls scarves? A rose by any other name...
Coming out of the closet is scary whether you’re trying out a new edgy outfit or showing the world who you really are. Before embarking on this wild advocacy journey, I consulted with half a dozen people from different walks of life with various life experience. As expected, the advice ranged from apathy to enthusiasm: “Why label yourself when you’re already successful? It’s only going to stigmatize you.” and “Do what you feel to be right in your heart”. I’m an askhole; I’ll ask people’s opinion and do whatever I was going to do in the first place anyway. My only advice to you is to ponder this one concept: CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT. Try to gauge the person’s vibe and whether they would be receptive to your truth. The people I knew since forever didn’t bat an eye when I came out, but some newer people in my life sometimes look at me a bit differently - like they’re trying to figure me out as though they’re trying to spot the autism that I hide so well. Don’t worry, I tuck my unsightly aspie antennas behind my ears when no one is looking... Why else do you think I never wear hats? ;)
When I disclosed to one of my coworkers, she responded with: “I sensed you were different but I never saw it as a bad thing.” It was a simple comment but a lot considering how Autism gets a bad rep. Disclosing one’s true identity is it sort of like taking your clothes off; it’s a very exposed state to live in. Eventually, you get used to your naked soul unclothed from your ego. It helps to remember that everyone deals with their own insecurities and challenges, or ironically enough, you can just imagine the entire room naked if that helps reduce your anxiety about disclosure. Also remember that no matter how perfectly your tread in life, you can’t please everyone so you might as well do what gives you inner peace. If you’re wondering whether disclosure is right for you, you already know the answer in your heart. Its like when you find that PERFECT dress. You know already if you want it or not.
I’m very much of the philosophy that no one should get in the way of doing what you want to do in life, but the world isn’t always an accepting place for differences. I’m always afraid for very vulnerable autistic women who are too trusting and naive; I’m hoping these women recognize themselves as such and disclose selectively (or not at all). No one is entitled to know how your brain is wired and no one owes it to anyone to explain that part of themselves. Each person should analyze their own personal circumstances carefully before sharing something that can’t be taken back - the same way you’d decide for yourself if an outfit is too revealing or not. You alone, understand your environment, cultural/ social norms, or what makes you feel comfortable in own your skin.
All of us are at risk of being dissed every minute of everyday, but more so if we’re vulnerable - emotionally scantily-clad, if you will. People will diss your clothes (or lack thereof), they’ll diss your creed (or lack there of), they’ll diss everything you have and anything you lack! To disclose or to be discreet about autism, that is the question. But whatever you do: don’t ask, don’t tell. Show them who you are, because unlike fashion, that’s what really matters.
[Dedicated to ‘The Aspie Woman’ Facebook page]