Trading one type of conformity for another? Notes on not belonging anywhere.

road leading into a flooded lake
Whatever road I choose seems to lead me nowhere.

Try as I might, I just can’t seem to fit into any type of community. I fit into all of them, to some extent. Enough to make others feel like I belong.

I mask and blend extremely well, after all. It’s one of the advantages of being Autistic — learning how to survive, even thrive, in all sorts of conditions. Being able to play my part, support others, be a productive participant whose contributions are valued.

I’m a member of the community gardens in my town. I’m also on one of the town boards. I’m a valued contributor at work, and people seek out my input. I’m loved by my family. I’m also a member of an Autism support group for folks over 50 years of age, and they miss me when I can’t attend.

All this is great. For them.

But I never seem to fit well enough to be truly comfortable myself.

This is especially true of the whole new gender / sexuality scene. There are so many “new” words for different ways to be, I can’t even keep up. And while I can relate to a lot of them, I don’t find myself neatly fitting into any one catgory. Ace. Aro. Demi. Pan. Enby. Queer. Gender Fluid. I probably fit into any or all of them, at some point during my life — or day — but nothing ever “sticks” for me very long.

And I’m sure there are plenty of other definitions and categories that I’d fit into, here and there, as well.

But nothing really fits me 100%. Even if it seems to, it rapidly changes. And then I don’t fit anywhere.

Again.

That’s one of the reasons (I think) that I haven’t been blogging that much here, lately. The whole Autism landscape feels like such a minefield, and anything anyone says can be weaponized against them — or someone else. Even honest mistakes or lack of information get lobbed back at people like they’re deliberate attempts to harm others. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. Or (given what I know about human nature) they’re a combination of both. There’s never an easy answer.

But that seems to be what so many people are looking for, these days.

Easy answers. Clear delineations. Black-and-white categories to define who’s in, who’s out, who belongs, who doesn’t, and so forth.

A lot of that seems to be coming from the younger generation(s), it seems. Maybe I’m wrong (it’s been known to happen), but the pattern I see is folks who are young enough to be my children doing their best to make sense of the world with new categories, definitions, re-definitions, and unique identities. And I don’t fit into any of them. I understand the desire to do that. I did it, myself, when I was in my 20s. But I just don’t have the spare energy for that, these days… especially considering what how impermanent my “final say” assertions about the world turned out to be.

Plus, I have a lot on my proverbial plate. I’ve been working insane hours. Not getting enough sleep. Keeping my garden going. Driving my partner to and from her events. And trying to keep my own projects going. There’s so much happening in my life, I just don’t have the resources to keep up with all the new ways of thinking about people.

Or of thinking about myself.

Back about 20 years ago, I lived as a man for some 4.5 years. I put my female body into male clothes, a male role, a masculine way of moving through the world. I was pretty serious about transitioning, at that time. And then I ran into the buzz-saw of Community Requirements, and the types of behavior and acceptable conduct felt even more restrictive to me than outside the circle I was hoping to join. Nasty comments on online forums. Getting sized up and dismissed.

I didn’t feel free. I felt even more restricted than I had before. And I realized that I didn’t belong there, either.

Everybody’s got their “stuff”, of course. And who knows why people interacted with me the way they did. 20 years ago, the trans community was going through a lot of changes, growing pains, just getting started. And not everybody was sweetness and light.

Rather than getting into it and stirring things up, I dropped the whole transition thing. There was really no support for me, personally, and the costs outweighed the benefits. Everybody’s different, and everybody has their reasons. There are plenty of people who see more benefit to shifting their place in life, and I’m glad they have a place to go to.

But for me, there doesn’t seem to be any one place where I’m 100% comfortable. Except with a very few friends, and also in my own company.

I guess that points to me being Autistic. Of course it does. And of course, it’s not a deficit in and of itself. If anything, it’s a strength. Because the rest of the world is pretty much  a big old mess. And even the parts that aren’t a mess can be so distressing to interact with, that it’s only logical that I (and others like me) would pull away and not want to have anything to do with it.

That goes for Autistic corners of the world, as well. Those of us who are hyposensitive can be painful for those of us who are hypersensitive. I should know. I was raised by a hyposensitive mother, whose interactions with me were the equivalent of her beating me on a daily basis. She didn’t realize it. It wasn’t her fault that she couldn’t sense where her body was in space, or she had to over-contact every single thing and person in her life to experience them. It’s not her fault, and I quit blaming her, years ago.

But that doesn’t change the fact of the effect of her behavior on me. I’m still stuck with the enduring trauma. I’m still convinced, deep down inside, that I’m a bad person who deserves to be punished, because I felt “punished” every single day of my life in her house, and I’d been taught that you only get punished if you’ve done something wrong, or if you’re a bad person. No matter how unaware she was, I’m still tasked with recovering from it, every living day of my life.

Then again, those of us who are hypersensitive can be pretty intolerable for those of us who are hyposensitive. We’re picky, we’re persnickety. We’re so demanding. We need a lot, to function, to feel at home (if we do at all), to feel safe… if even for a moment. I pitch fits. I freak out. I snap. I meltdown. I collapse. And that’s not helpful for anyone, especially me. But that’s where I’ve landed. That’s how I am. And it’s my job to figure out how to live with it in ways that don’t harm everyone around me. I harmed a lot of people around me, for many, many years. And I’m tired of it. I’ve devoted much of the past decade to learning how to not do that, anymore.

But no matter how I try, I’m not sure I’ll ever really get to a place where I really feel comfortable. Anywhere. It probably has a lot to do with me being as sensitive as I am, which makes it hard for me to fit in over the long term. I’m most comfortable by myself, and that’s okay. And at this point in my life, I’m getting used to the idea of piecing together community where I can get it — and not relying on any one group or any one category to provide a safe haven or a sense of identity for me.

In some ways, it feels dangerous. On the other hand, it feels safer. More realistic. None of the labels fit me completely. None of the identities feel like they’re a good match for all of me. I almost envy people who feel like they do fit into a category, like they do belong in a certain group.

Almost.

But not quite.

Well, it’s Monday morning. I have to get to work. I’m officially out of time, for today, for thinking about this stuff. Maybe later, when I’ve caught up on some sleep.

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8 thoughts on “Trading one type of conformity for another? Notes on not belonging anywhere.

  1. I’m envious of those autistic people who manage to fit in because I’ve never managed it. The only time I am comfortable is when I’m alone. I do keep trying though. I am going to try to attend a group for adult autistic people and see how I go. I don’t like being around people, but I worry about becoming too isolated further down the line – so I think I should make the effort. Either that, or become a hermit, which I’d probably enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can relate to so much of this. I’ve never fit into any specific spot or box, but can function well (or well enough) in many. I’m not autistic but I am a Highly Sensitive Person, and a lot of the “traits” overlap. You may be both autistic and Highly Sensitive. There’s a great book by Elaine Aron called The Highly Sensitive Person. I read that book and it was a true ah-ha moment for me.
    Trying to change every bit of the outside world is impossible. I’ve learned that it’s okay to just be me, labeled “Angie”. I keep my circle small.
    My 23yr old daughter and her peers can fight, they’ve got the energy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Someone told me once that some people prefer to divide everything (including people) into distinct categories and to make each thing fit neatly into only one category: if there are differences amongst things in a category, they’ll divide that category further until everything in it fits without differences… And then there are people who prefer to cluster everything (including people) into large groups of general commonality: as long as things have even one aspect in common, they belong together, but that also means they can — and do — belong to more than one group.

    I agree that sharply defined categorizing seems more common amongst Millennials. (It’s not just because they’re young. I remember what young people were like when I was that age myself, and even though I looked at most of my age-mates and wondered, ‘What the f— are you people doing?’ twenty-year-olds then weren’t like twenty-year-olds now.) And logically, if you keep breaking down the categories smaller and smaller to make every person in them fit exactly, eventually you have just one person per “category,” because no two people have literally everything in common. (My own preference is to find people with whom I have ENOUGH in common for us to be able to interact with one another in whatever way is relevant for a given situation. Even that is difficult, because sometimes what I think will be enough… isn’t.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I empathize on many levels. I never quite manage to fit in anywhere or in any category, even when I try my hardest. And I have the perspective and understanding that I never remain static myself. I’m always changing and shifting.

    I definitely under the issue between hypersensitive and hyposensitive, but from the opposite direction. Outside a few areas (and most intensely vision where I’m extremely hypersensitive) I tend to be more sensory seeking or hyposensitive than hypersensitive. It’s a mix and some forms of touch, feelings of clothes and tags, some foods, and other things still fall into the hypersensitive column, but I definitely recognize the difference with my wife and youngest daughter.

    Both are hypersensitive to sound and my wife to smell. The audio sensitivity is intense enough with both of them to meet the criteria for an independent SPD. And since a lot of my own stims involve either repeating words, saying things semi-consciously under my breath, or seeking music I can feel (with perhaps some synethesia involved), that can be really challenging at times. And the one part of prosody I was never able to teach myself well was controlling the volume of my voice. I’m forever speaking either too loudly or too softly for a given setting. It’s frustrated me my whole life that I could never get that quite right. But when I’m speaking too loud, I can see both of them wince. It’s never intentional, but I can see it hurts them. It’s really hard.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Isolation and Belonging – Eclectic Autistic

  6. My gawd I love this post so much. That “kind of sort of” fitting in feeling. Like things are not quite right but . . . if they are not awful why rock the boat!? That kind of thinking left me in a relationship 12 years too long. And thank you for confessing that there seems to be generational gaps. I’m in my 40s and self-diagnosed just a few years ago. I am still trying to connect all the dots in my story to build a new narrative for ME and MY LIFE.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. VisualVox

      Thank you!

      You’re definitely not alone. A lot of us are working through that process. It’s amazing, just how much things can come together if we just get the right information.

      Like

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