Youth, beauty, and #Aspergers / #Autism – the perfect storm for the young woman I was

young woman sitting cross-legged with her head resting on her left hand
Me – 25 years ago – around age 26, sitting in the garden of the townhouse I was renting in an upscale neighborhood. Everybody thought I was under-achieving, but I was living quite the posh life.

Yesterday a very cool thing happened on Twitter. A couple people were talking about posting selfies, in order to overcome the biases about ActuallyAutistic people. We see so much misinformation, which triggers abject despair on the hearts and minds of parents of autistic children everywhere. And frankly, it’s a poor way to think about things. It’s under-informed. It’s half-truth — if there’s any truth to it, at all. And it’s unfair, both to the parents who want to do right by their kids, as well as the children who are saddled with a crappy prognosis for life, from the point of their diagnosis, on.

Overcoming that disinformation campaign (which certainly serves the needs of “helper” organizations who want your money) is so, so important. I was hesitant about joining in, at first, because I prize my anonymity and I don’t want people in my offline life to connect the dots. If Trump becomes president (and there’s actually no 100% guarantee that he will), my situation could become pretty dire, if people realize I’m autistic and start to act towards me the same way that DJT acts towards disabled people. Plus, he’s on the “vaccines cause autism” bandwagon, and … well, I can’t even…

Anyway, people started posting selfies with the hashtags #ActuallyAutistpic and #ActuallyAutisticpic, and all these really great photos started showing up. I wanted to participate by sharing photos of myself earlier in life, which don’t show me as-I-am right now (I need my anonymity). So, I started looking back through my old photos, and I came up with some cool ones.

Here’s me at age 7:

7 year old girl holding a book and looking off into space
Me at age 7, in my element – alone, with a book, wearing my long-sleeves under a t-shirt

And at age 10:

10 year old girl with glasses and pigtails and a yellow shirt
Me at age 10, after I couldn’t deal with getting haircuts anymore – I wore those same pigtails for years.

And as I was combing through my old photos, it occurred to me that – gosh! – I was a pretty cute kid! As I got older, I got even better looking, too. I was absolutely struck by how much natural beauty I’d had, and how amazing I looked. I’m not being vain. It’s a simple fact.

An old college friend of mine told me once that she was star-struck by me, and she thought I was the most beautiful person she’d ever met. When she told me that, I was taken aback. All during my growing-up years and my early adulthood, I never really thought of  myself as attractive. At all. But clearly, logically, looking at the pictures now, I can see plainly that I was, in fact, a pretty hot ticket.  Some of my high school pictures and college-age pictures make me do a double-take. Holy smokes, I was extremely hot! Again, that’s not a vanity thing. It’s an objective fact, verified and validated by my partner of 26 years, who exclaimed with admiration a number of times, while I was showing her some of my old pictures.

No wonder I was popular. Especially with guys. No wonder some girls in my junior class got nervous around me… shades of homoeroticism among 16-year-olds… My guy-friends fortunately (and perhaps unexpectedly) were often well-behaved around me and didn’t pressure me for sex or other intimate contact. Some guys got flustered and nasty around me, and I could never understand why. Now, I look back and think that perhaps they were attracted to me, and they didn’t know what to do with that “energy’.

And yet, all during my life, I had absolutely no awareness of just how attractive I was. It wasn’t on my radar, and I couldn’t read the reactions of other people at all. I couldn’t understand why people wanted to be around me, since I was obviously such a dunce and an idiot, for not being able to follow conversations or get along socially. I got distracted. I said things that offended people. I had twitches and tics that made others uncomfortable and made me the butt of their jokes. I’d been bullied throughout my school years. And people loved to laugh at me when I was clueless about what was going on. They still do, at times.

All those years of being made the butt of others’ jokes, being told (and thinking to myself) I was a stupid dunce who would never amount to anything… Small wonder, I had no awareness of how attractive I really was. Or how smart I was. Or how much I had going for me.

So, there I was, a teen-aged female… and then a young woman… with almost preternatural beauty, without a clue about what social signals meant. Plus, I was drinking heavily, so that I could handle social situations (or felt like I could, anyway), and that blurred my perceptions even more. I hung out with people who drank… whose inhibitions melted away… leaving me exposed to their whims and desires. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I have very little memory of a lot of those interactions. I do know that I lost my virginity in a blackout. Before the evening of heavy drinking, I was a virgin. The next morning, I wasn’t. Surprise! And it was a surprise for me, because I had just a few dim recollections of the evening before, and none of them had enough detail to let me reconstruct the evening. I do know that I wasn’t raped, so I guess that’s a plus.

Even so, when I think back on how my life was, how exposed and unprotected I was as a young, beautiful, socially clueless woman, all alone in the hungry, needy, take-what-you-will world…  Yeah, I was pretty vulnerable and exposed. And it wasn’t good. I was actually almost abducted and sold into white slavery, while I was traveling in Europe in 1985.  Of course, I didn’t realize it at the time. But years later, it occurred to me that there was a reason that a friendly young man had struck up a conversation with me and brought me to his brother’s bar on the far edge of Zurich, in a sketchy neighborhood. He’d insisted on bringing me my drinks for me… and there was a reason I started to feel weird when I drank those beers (can you say, “mickey”?), and he led me to a back room to lie down… and locked the door so I couldn’t get out. There was a reason, all those men down at the other end of the table in the bar kept looking at me like I was a piece of meat, and kept talking amongst themselves and insisted I not sit near them, while they were talking.

Holy shit… But I was clueless at the time. I literally had no idea about what any of it meant. I just thought it was weird. I never suspected anything nefarious. Even when I was locked in the room. I was young, beautiful, energetic, engaging, and I wanted to experience life. Well, mission accomplished. I did exactly that. I did it over and over and over again, getting into scrapes and near-misses and actual problems that resulted in ongoing legal problems, restraining orders (against me, not against my attacker, ironically), and years of being terrified to leave my home without a specific destination to be reached along a specific route I mapped out meticulously in my head beforehand. And I developed a nasty case of PTSD in the process.

So it goes, when you’re in my shoes.

And all this just makes me more adamant that autistic / Aspergian girls especially need to be diagnosed earlier, and provided with the proper supports and information to help us get through life without getting raped, exploited, abducted, abused, neglected, and treated to the full range of shitheaded behavior that ravenous, angry, take-what-I-want people rain down on us.

Also, autistic girls need to told they’re beautiful. They/we need to be taught how to handle that, what to look out for, what to be careful of. Hans Asperger himself remarked “the ethereal beauty of his patients almost as if it were a diagnostic symptom“. The Guardian actually has a piece about the beauty of Aspergers kids, which I find problematic in a number of ways, not least of which is the language… and that implicit assumption that as long as their autistic kids are attractive, parents can find comfort that offsets the distress that comes with raising an autistic child. Then again, the article is 15 years old, so… But it does touch on some important points. So, I recommend giving it a quick look (with a grain of salt).

Anyway, poorly informed news articles don’t change the fact that a whole lot of autistic people are attractive to others, but we’re unaware…. and we don’t know what to do with / about it. What’s more, our own striking beauty is often not even on our radar — we have physical ideals we don’t live up to, so we think we’re ugly. We all have our reasons for overlooking our own beauty — mine was a real deficit in reading people socially from early on, along with a lifetime of being told I was stupid and a hindrance and a problem somebody else had to solve, not to mention the ongoing distress at not doing as well in life as I so desperately wanted to.

So, yeah. Perfect storm indeed. Only now, decades later, can I fully appreciate my own beauty of years gone by. I like to think it isn’t gone completely… I tell myself what I must, in order to keep the grief at bay… the soul-raking grief of never having had the means or the opportunity to enjoy such an essential aspect of myself, while I still could.

8 thoughts on “Youth, beauty, and #Aspergers / #Autism – the perfect storm for the young woman I was

  1. This field was intentionally left blank

    What an amazing post! To go with amazing pics!! Hell yeah, grrl, you are extremely attractive. (I don’t mean that in a creepy way) 😊 I imagined you looked pretty cool, but when I saw those pics, they were even better than I thought! They simply reflect your beautiful personality and your incredible mind.

    When I got to the part about your near-abduction, my heart started pounding. I’m so very relieved that you made it out of that situation ok! (Aside from the PTSD, of course. PTSD is nasty!)

    It’s a good thing you wrote about it, though. It’s an important wake-up call. Maybe rather than “treatments” designed to make us more “normal”, the professionals we often rely on for help might get a clue and start basing their strategies on stuff that’ll actually help us! Like “this is the ugly side of the world, and this is how to tell when you’re in a risky situation, and this is how to defend yourself and avoid harm”. I can only hope.

    Thank you for such a fantastic post! 👏🏼👏🏼❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. VisualVox

      Thanks for your kind words. Seriously, it wouldn’t take so, so much to train young autistic women how to spot questionable situations. We’re quick learners. People just haven’t figured out how to help us…yet.


  2. Emma Schade-Stylli

    The photos are lovely! Reading these posts bring a tear or two to my eye. One for the sadness I so often feel and one for the hope I can see growing in this world for autism🙌

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “vulnerable and exposed”

    It never dawned on me just how much my presentation changed over a few short years until I was cropping and posting my class pictures for the autist pic hashtag. It was a lot more striking, now that I understand what I’m seeing, than I ever knew. I certainly didn’t recognize it from inside my eyes looking out.

    I also remember being almost completely clueless about how vulnerable I was. I didn’t feel vulnerable. I felt competent and capable for the most part. But I looked at that 8th grade picture and realized it was just a few months after it was taken when an adult female family friend began staying with us intermittently, ostensibly to visit and get help from my mother. And maybe it even started that way. But looking back, much of it was about grooming me for sex. But it literally took me decades to see it for what it was, much less understand its impact on me. I still don’t understand why someone would do that to a child.

    And I was always vulnerable and often used, even if the rest weren’t quite on that scale. When I realized I had been fooled and taken advantage of by someone, I generally hid that fact, even altering the story I would tell, because I was ashamed of being such an idiot.

    Your post made me reflect back and wonder if I was attractive when I was younger? Maybe? I never really thought of myself that way and I don’t really have many pictures to go back and look through. Any I might have are buried in storage somewhere. I had a lot more offers of sex than I ever accepted, from men and women. But other than my current and long-time partner, the people that I didn’t turn away were mostly using me or were even abusive. And looking back, I think many more people tried to “flirt” with me than I ever realized. And my kids are all pretty attractive in their own striking and different ways. I never thought of myself as particularly attractive, but perhaps I should reevaluate that self-assessment.

    But yes, I was definitely vulnerable and exposed. And had no clue just how vulnerable I was. I think predators can sense vulnerability, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. VisualVox

      Thanks for writing. Yes, I think predators can sense vulnerability, especially when it’s coupled by a belief that we are competent and capable. We’re just so set up for bad things to happen to us, if we don’t have the right information.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. kaptionthisblog

    That was very hard to read. Uncomfortable feelings I cannot make sense of rose up. Things I had forgotten, or pushed aside.

    I could never have handled having a daughter. This post, and my memories, tell why. Mind you, I fear for my boys, but females have a different set of issues to contend with.

    Someone posted a picture of herself with me from 19 years ago. I felt like vomiting. Here was a prettyish young woman with a smile that didn’t give her autism away. She looked like she had her life ahead of her. Then I looked at a recent photo of myself now. What happened?! Peoples’ problems with my autism got etched onto my body and into my soul. I feel like the ugliest woman imaginable. Maybe one day I’ll look at this recent photo with more compassion.

    A world goverened by autistics would be a very different one. Maybe everyone would be beautiful…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. VisualVox

      Ah, well, don’t be too hard on yourself. What we think is “ugly” isn’t always for others – and it’s far more interesting.

      I’ve been feeling lately like my life has literally slipped away from me, with most of my dreams left undone.

      I’m over 50. Finally I get things I “should” have gotten years ago. And it feels like constant catch-up. But I’m not sure I ever will.

      I’m making up for lost time. Each and every day. Who knows how it will turn out.

      Thanks for writing. I hope you can find compassion for yourself – what would you tell a friend in your same situation? That’s what I ask myself all the time.

      Liked by 1 person

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