This past week, I was on a business trip, and man, oh, man… straight people can be pretty extreme about their gender compliance. And they can be pretty demanding, when it comes to others’ compliance, as well.
I spent four days in a row with my workmates, who are all profoundly straight and gender-norm-conforming. And what a pain in that ass that was. Talk about masking. I mean, seriously… I kept things pretty much under wraps. It wasn’t worth tangling with their fragile sensibilities. Their gender rigidity was intense. And they were definitely not open to any sort of divergence.
The new woman who’s joined our group is friendly and motherly and a long-time engineer. She’s also extremely traditional in terms of male and female roles, and she was quite keen on “the girls” sticking together when we traveled. There were three women in our group of nine, and she was always keen on keeping the women and the men separate. She’s new. We wanted to make her feel welcome. So, we went along with it.
But it was strange not to hang out with the guys. It was definitely a different dynamic, this time. On other trips, I’ve been the only “woman” in the crowd, which has been kind of strange, because the guys always treated me like a woman… although I’ve rarely felt even remotely “female”. Erg. Please. This is definitely not the group to go all-out Queer with. They spook easily, and frankly, I need to work with them.
So, on goes the mask. And I “tone it all down” in the way I do.
People might think I’m capitulating, that I’m not being true to my whole self. Yeah. No kidding. Thing is, I have to make a living. And this job has been the best deal going for me, for pretty much the past 15 years. Maybe longer. So, I make my concessions. At least they’re not assholes, which is more than I can say for most of the other gender norm-compliant people I’ve had the great misfortune to work with in the past.
Well, whatever. It’s all a grand adventure. It just makes me more keenly aware of how queer I really am… and how much I value what freedom I can find to just be myself, as myself, in the privacy of my own home… even if I can’t get it anywhere else.
I don’t consider myself transgender. I’m not sure I consider myself non-binary, per se. I’m just gender non-compliant. Fluid. Just being me, independent of any gender norms.
Whatever specific label and territory people have marked out… I don’t belong anywhere within their boundaries, no matter how queer they may make those boundaries.
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.
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.
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.
Rather than the body being
collateral damage in
this process of awakening,
it is instrumental.
The biggest shift in the entire
process of Waking Up to the
new reality is realizing
the body is the vector
for enlightenment. It is
literally the delivery mechanism
by which we experience
the vastness of
who we really are.
I’m not sure why more isn’t discussed about the physical autistic experience. Maybe it’s because the folks getting funding aren’t aware of how big a role our physiology plays in shaping our psychology. Maybe they don’t know how much their own bodies affect their thinking.
Maybe their creed prohibits them from admitting it, and they take as gospel the disavowal of the body for the sake of the soul — never asking, never plumbing, never peeking beneath, what the source, the root, the base of that rejection might be:
The kind of pain-discomfort-overwhelm that overrides the will, that injects the sudden need to think something – do something – imagine something – block something into the process of living, even before conscious thought has a chance to form.
The kind of unsettlement that blocks the awkward thought even before it has a chance to register, which protects us from our own silent suffering with a blanket of unawareness. Distraction. Something Else to think about that has Nothing To Do with what’s happening now. Right now. In the body. In the system. In the vessel, the container, the vehicle for our daily lives.
Autism is like that — at least, for me. It’s a never-ending stream of impressions and sensations and clues and cues that my body cannot ignore. And it doesn’t want to. Waves … Yes. Waves. That. Those. The continuous connection to All That Is, in every conceivable way — especially those that have nothing to do with what the average block-of-wood body walking around freely admit exist… numbed and succumbed as they are, in the ways they can tolerate.
I am not like them. I am not like most people. 67 other people, for every one of me. IF the numbers can be trusted, which I’m not sure they can.
I am not the sort of person who can block all that out, or pretend it doesn’t exist. I’m not the kind of human who can ignore the signals I pick up — even if I wanted to, my body is tuned to them, attuned to them, always able to sense and decode and interpret and then pick up some more again… a never-ending stream of electrical impulses running through my system — body and brain — shaping me, connecting me, affecting me.
It doesn’t stop.
It never stops.
Even when I sleep.
If you wish to plumb the depths of the autistic brain, look to the autistic body. Consider the effects of traumas — large and small, starting from the very moment we begin to become aware. Consider the effects of stress — of every ilk, including the “stuff that shouldn’t matter”. Because it does. It most certainly does. To those of us who cannot block it out — who tried, for years and years with drugs and alcohol and all-consuming passions and self-abnegation… and now (once we’ve acclimated and discovered Better Ways to modulate it all) wouldn’t, even if we were given the chance.
The autistic brain starts with an autistic body.
Before the mouth says strings of words that make coherent sentences.
After the mind learns how strings of words made into sentences — whether spoken or read — can soothe the burn of the Surround.
Before the expectations of Everyone Else are decipherable as express demands, they register with us as wordless wants.
After the Tyranny of the Collective makes itself known as that indecipherable amalgamation of arbitrary caprices, all of which have thorns that prevent us from grasping — at-tall — they pre-register with us as a looming storm cloud flashing with electric threats — will that pinpointed fork of searing failure strike close or far? will it strike us at all? or can we obliquely slide on past with pre-rehearsed stock answers to questions we barely hear and cannot interpret before the askers need our Reponse?
The brain, the body — both work so tightly in concert with one another, it’s impossible to separate them. Not for us. Not for anybody. But for autistics, it’s inescapable. We’re wired. We’re connected. Within. Without. To ourselves. To everyone and everything else, God Help Us.
Seriously, neurotypical world, you’re a mess. Clean up your act. Why do you think we’re so autistic? Because we have to deal with your trashy, unkempt psycho-emotional lives, the trashed-out world you force us to live in, the detritus of your egos, the flotsam and jetsam of your latest attacks on whoever appears to be floating by your panic-stricken hair trigger lust for destruction.
You’ve declared war on your own bodies, and consequently, ours. And the results… well, just look at them. You don’t much like them. But rather than addressing the issues you’ve caused — pollution, destruction, malnutrition, indentured servitude at every level of society — oh, no — you’d rather “cure” us. Eradicate us. Send us off to be electroshocked, or ply us with junk food till we comply with your selfish, self-centered, self-delusional versions of “what should be”.
That shouldn’t be.
Nor should we be subject to your whims and wishes. You’re a trash fire, you neurotypical head-cases. Cutting yourselves off from your bodies, cutting yourselves off from the natural world, cutting yourselves off at the neck, and pretending nothing exists below.
. . .
Ah, never mind… what is… well, that is. That rant is just the corticosteroids talking. I’ve been on a topical application for poison ivy for two days, and I’m experiencing an interesting mutation of “roid rage”. I’ll stop now. Take a breath. Remember, that’s my body amping up my mind.
. . .
Where was I?
Oh, yes — autistic bodies, autistic brains.
Long story short — the foolishness about how autism is All About The Brain needs to stop. The hallmark of our essence is an all-pervasive connectedness with everything. Everything, I tell you. You cannot separate the autistic brain from the autistic body, and you cannot solve the mysteries of our being, unless you look at our physiological state — first and foremost. The body, its pre-conscious, anticipatory, protective instincts are what compel and propel many of us in our own unique ways. And until you wrap your heads around that, you’re never going to “get” us. Nor will you accept us. Nor will you accept yourselves.
Autistic bodies — autistic minds.
Come to terms with us and our reality, and you might just learn a thing or two about yourselves
I came across an article today about The Real Reason Women Quit Tech (and How to Address It). A quick scan of the article, which is thoughtfully constructed so you can visually pull out the salient points, reconfirms what I’ve been thinking, as a woman working in high tech since 1992. It’s been a long 24 years. And truth be told, if I could earn the $$$ I do in tech, by doing something else, I’d leave in a heartbeat.
It’s been an educational experience, but it’s wearing thin with me, day after interminable day, month after endless month, year after tiresome year. Seriously, dealing with the institutionalized sexism, racism, and all those pointless -isms that are a pox on our society… it just gets old.
All the “diversity hiring” gets old.
All the “great place to work” surveys get old.
All the talk about “better together” gets old.
Because not much of it seems to translate into anything more than official statements in shareholder reports, as well as rankings in global conglomerate HR reputation horseraces.
At the level I work at — and where the vast majority of the -ism-ish bullshit takes place — none of that ever translates into anything substantial or meaningful.
Because nobody at my level has any impetus for change. All the guys I work with are struggling to make ends meet, and they need every advantage they can get. Changing how they are, how they talk, how they interact with people Not Like Them could mean losing their advantage. And in this cold, cruel world, nobody — but nobody — is going to forfeit what slim margin of advantage they may have.
So, on that note, off I go to work. To my racist, sexist, classist, myopic, self-centered buddies who either have no idea how their behavior affects others, or don’t really care. I’ve been dealing with their devils, making friends with their monsters, lo these past 24 years, so nothing’s any different from how it’s been all along.
The main difference is that I’m sick of it. Well and truly over it. And it’s good to know that I haven’t at least lost touch with my standards. And that I’m still able to be sick of it, rather than succumbing to a variation of Stockholm syndrome and convincing myself that I love it … and all the flaming jerks (lovable as they may be) who make each day working with them into a tiresome chore.
I might look the part of a long-suffering comrade-in, but inside, I know better.
For today, it’s best to overlook that fact of my cynical disenfranchisement, and just get on with it.
I’m one of the little white girls in the group photos below. From Kindergarten through fourth grade, I was in classes where white kids were the minority. I always thought that my social difficulties were because I was white. Maybe it was actually because I was a little Aspie…
As the years went by, more and more white kids dropped out and went to other schools. This was during the early days of integration, the end of segregation, and a lot of white parents didn’t want their children around black kids.
My parents weren’t like that. In fact, when a black family moved in next door to us, and everyone else on the block put up “For Sale” signs in their house windows, my parents refused to do that. Eventually, some signs came down. Other neighbors moved on.
Over the years, I became increasingly frustrated and turned around with regard to socializing. I had a hard time hearing the differences between sounds, and I thought that I had trouble because I was a white girl surrounded by black kids. But I was having a ton of different problems — total sensory overload.
Socially, it was very difficult for me to interact, not least because I didn’t know the rules for how to interact with other kids. White kids had one set of rules. Black kids had a different set of rules. I couldn’t figure it out. Plus, I couldn’t figure out why I was being treated like a girl, when I was obviously a little boy.
I called myself “Billy”. There’s an old bulletin board in my parents’ house that still has “my real name” on it. I put it there with magic marker.
I’m an autistic activist deeply invested in queer politics, and I’ve managed to fumble my way around without ever developing a conventional understanding of gender. Growing up, everyone around me assumed I was a girl based on the genitals I was born with, but I always felt deeply uncomfortable with being labeled a “girl” or “woman.” I don’t feel like a woman, but I know I’m not a man either. I now identify as genderqueer or non-binary. It wasn’t until partway through college, though, before I began to question what gender might mean to me, my explorations largely kindled by developing important relationships with many openly trans autistic people through my activism.