Over the past year and a quarter-ish, I’d been experiencing a lot of “first”s–the first time doing “this” or “that” since I made my discovery. Sometimes I felt like my own personal version of Lewis & Clark.
This past weekend wraps up the second conference I’ve been to since I found out that I’m on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum.
Thus, it wasn’t one of my “first”s. In fact, I haven’t had a “first” in a while now.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning new Autism-and-Me-Related Things.
This weekend, I learned a lot. Most of the time, I was well aware that I was learning.
Sometimes, I’m not so aware; I’ll learn things without realizing that I’m climbing a learning curve.
This time, it was the fact that I’m not masking quite as much–not even among colleagues. In fact, I’m coming out a little more. And a little more.
Judgmental (some would say “Internalized Ableist”) Me says, it might not be a good idea to run around telling everyone you’re autistic/an Aspie, and it might be career-detrimental to disclose your status like that.
Carefree, Self-Accepting Me says ah, f**k it; I’ve been accommodating the world this whole time by masking and acting, for their comfort more than mine, because of what they expect from me, and I’m tired. I just want to be me, and I want to be accepted for me. And besides, I only told like two or three people.
OK, maybe I told more people than that. Maybe five people.
I decided to conduct an experiment. I almost didn’t have a choice; I was extremely low on energy and resilience, and I just didn’t have it to give. My experiment was to go a day without masking and just allow the raw, Unedited Me poke through.
This was a dangerous experiment to run; the Unedited Me had not been well received in years past. I had been ridiculed and proverbially stoned for my sins.
Adults, I’m finding, are much more like adolescents than I had ever wanted to believe. They don’t always grow up and act with maturity or compassion, nor do they often operate from a position other than their own judgment and self-interest, which is increasingly a giant global pissing contest. This made my experiment all the more treacherous.
But I had done this before, in my personal life, during my off hours, when I’m anonymous and unremarkable and the stakes were (much) lower, and it had been a liberating experience. This was encouraging!
So I decided to take the plunge and do this with a few of my colleagues, people I respect and whom I might see again, people whose judgment mattered more, at a time when the stakes were higher yet.
In a room full of professionals, many of whom were dead set on treating autism, I let my autistic self shine.
I took off the mask.
I decided not to try to “pass” for neurotypical.
I came out to many that day, “many” for me being those five or six people, and at the end of the day, I was no “worse” off.
There was my friend (a doctor) whom I’d seen last year, at the “first” conference I’d been to since my Lewis & Clark Aspie Discovery.
Then there was the really cool lady (another doctor) with whom I schmoozed at the recognition celebration for new graduates of the program that had culminated with my exams two months ago. Turns out that her grandson just got diagnosed as Asperger’s, too, and her viewpoint was very progressive, so my disclosure strengthened our newly-budding bond at a slightly accelerated pace.
Then there were the three people sitting around me who, when one of the presenters made the mistake of suggesting that we take a few minutes and discuss some of the recently-covered points with a “partner” next to us, I cringed. At first, I hesitated, watching, seeing what others were doing. When I saw that they were indeed taking the presenter seriously and obliging the suggestion to pair up, two very nice people behind me asked if I’d like to join their group. My Intuition Antennae instantly told me that they were Safe Enough and gave me the green light to interact.
This was during the morning that I was having a really tough time due to several converging mini-crises (well, maybe not quite so “mini”), so I was grateful to have been invited to join their group, but my dish had run away with my spoons, so I was flat-out straight-up. “I’m afraid this isn’t much of a verbal day for me today; is it OK if I listen to what you think of this, while I remain a spectator?”
They readily agreed, without any judgment, another moment for which I was grateful.
I’m not sure if they thought I was weird or not; such thoughts (worries) had long since stopped intruding into my boundaries of concern. In short: I had stopped caring, at least for the most part, what people thought. Nobody else lives inside my head. Nobody else faces my struggles. I had taken the yardstick, scratched out all the predetermined marks, and drawn my own. Not only is that more accurate, but it’s also more fun. Not to mention freeing.
Because I had my laptop with me and I managed to establish a wi-fi connection, I Google Image-searched for Asperger’s/autism “cards”, the ones that say things like “I’m trying” or “how to interact with me”, and I left one of them on my screen in plain view, in sort of an “I’ll just leave this here” kind of spirit.
Some might accuse me of displaying passive aggression, but that’s not where I intended to go with that, anymore than wearing one of those cards around my neck would have been. It was more of an FYI, in a situation where it wouldn’t have been appropriate to talk, for the disruption that talking would have caused. Doing this also let my computer screen do my talking for me at a time when my energy was low and my words might not cooperate.
It was the best I could do, given the circumstances, and I believe about two or three (or maybe five?) more people saw it.
Nobody batted an eye. Nobody avoided me. It was a relief to not feel like I had The Plague or something.
Maybe, just maybe, the Asperger’s/autism spectrum is becoming more broadly accepted, in wider circles. Maybe, much like the lady I mentioned earlier, some of their (the professionals’) own relatives are being diagnosed as Aspergian/autistic, and they knew those relatives (complete with their caring hearts and their intense interests and their unusual talents–all the positive stuff) long before their diagnosis came, and they’re realizing that Asperger’s/autism isn’t so “bad”.
I have the feeling that the world is slowly changing, in a way that is long overdue and eagerly welcome. In such a world, I may no longer have to feel like I have to significantly alter myself in order to “pass” and a “lack” of “passing” implies some kind of “failure”. Maybe the time will soon be upon me/us where I/we can stop trying to “pass” for neurotypical without feeling as though we/I have failed in some way. It’s possible that in a not-too-distant world, I can simply pass for being me, and it won’t be considered an “impairment”.
To not pass for neurotypical is not a failure; it’s to pass on one’s own accord, by being themselves. And everyone should have that right. 🙂