07 December 2014

Passing "Privilege"

If you have read my blog before, then you know at least a couple of major components to my identity: I’m queer, and I’m an Aspie.

(Being kinky is definitely another aspect of my identity, but it feels less inherent to me than those first two. If I never got spanked again, I would be disappointed, but I would still be me, just a version of me who is able to sit on hard benches more comfortably.)

With both my queerness and my neurotype, I have what is sometimes referred to as “passing privilege”. Unlike with, say, my white privilege, which is unequivocally positive – I have never experienced racial discrimination, and I exist and thrive in a system that awards my whiteness both subtly and overtly – the privileges I receive from having people externally identify me as straight and allistic constitute a double-edged sword.

If society defaults to white, male, cis-gendered, straight, and able-bodied & minded, the aspects of my identity that matter to me are the ones that fall outside of this paradigm. I identify as primarily female but genderfluid, queer, and mentally disabled. My whiteness and my able-bodiedness do not factor into my self-descriptions, because society expects those qualities from me unless otherwise stated.

I have a boyfriend. I also have the ability to generally appear as shy and slightly awkward, rather than disabled. Sometimes, these things can be a relief. But more often than not, they result in the erasure of my identity. I am dating a man; thus I am straight, and when I try to work my sexual orientation into conversations, I am accused of either offering too much inappropriate information or not being queer enough (a strange quirk of having men be the standard is that when a queer woman dates a man she is presumed straight, but when she dates a woman she is bisexual – the assumption being that everyone will default back to men in the end). Similarly, I am able to hold my meltdowns in until I can rock alone on my floor; thus I am neurotypical, and my strange quirks that I cannot control are annoying, bad habits that can be changed, instead of a part of my neurological makeup.

I think about these things most frequently when I’m required to do a lot of socializing. We’re entering into the holiday season at the moment, so I will have my game face on for the next month or so. It will be a time when I am often required to socialize well beyond my comfort zone (causing extra stress and stealing all of my spoons) while also being a time when it is least acceptable to melt down. This is a joyous time of year! I’m out with good friends and good food! No matter how hard it is for me to hold back, climbing under my friend’s kitchen table when the crowd gets too noisy and my auditory processing goes out the window will not be an acceptable response.

So I smile, and I make eye contact (one of the main reasons why it was so hard for me to talk a therapist into exploring autism with me is my ability to fake proper eye contact, as though no one could wrap their head around the fact that in over 20 years of trying to survive in a neurotypical world I could have possibly taught myself to emulate socially acceptable behaviour.) I eat food in front of people, because it’s polite, even though eating publically is one of my major triggers. I manage. I get by. But I do not thrive.

When Sheldon and I took a break from our relationship last year, the straw that broke the camel’s back was a meltdown I had at the university library one very rainy afternoon. I had been supposed to meet up with coworkers, and no one showed. I had run out of spoons before any of this happened, and I had zero ability left to cope. I rarely carry an umbrella (because I am afraid that it will not rain and people will stare and judge me for having an umbrella with me when it is not raining, and I prefer getting wet over having people look at me), and I did not have it in me to find my way home. I had lost all of my executive functioning skills. Whereas most people could resolve this situation in a few minutes – wait out the rain, take a cab, walk it anyways – I did not have that capacity. All I knew was that I was stuck, away from my apartment, away from my safety zone, and I did not know what to do. I fell apart. I called Sheldon, the only real resource actively in my life at that moment, and I sobbed that he needed to come get me. He needed to drive into the city and take me home. When he said no – he was, I believe, actually in an appointment when I called him – I melted down completely. I hung up on him, then texted a number of truly awful things, then curled up on the floor in the corner of a private study room and rocked.

I finally managed to get myself home after I regained some functioning by calling a friend in Toronto who talked me through the walk home, but the damage at that point was done. My meltdowns had reached a point where asking my partner to continually shoulder the burden of helping me function constituted abuse.

I was at a complete loss. I was too broken to take care of myself, but not broken enough to qualify for help.

I went through so much darkness during that time, and I try not to think about it too much. What got me through – and what got me to a point where Sheldon and I were able to resume our relationship – was finally accepting my identity as autistic. When I was fighting it, I was fighting myself. I was refusing to accept my limitations, and, as a side effect, failing to notice my strengths. After we split up, I started looking into accommodations. I started taking note of the number of spoons left in my drawer and learning to take a step back before I ran out.

But I still don’t appear to be struggling publically. I write about it, and so people know, but I often get the impression they don’t quite believe me. My insides and my outsides don’t match. When I explain my difficulties, the reaction is most often along the lines of “but you don’t look disabled.” Well, no, I left my “Don’t Kiss Me, I’m an Aspie” shirt at home that day, I suppose. I think that people view it as a compliment – “You seem so normal” – rather than an erasure of my identity.

I don’t want people to think I’m “normal”, any more than I want people to think I’m straight. But carrying around a sign that says “I kiss girls and hit my head against the wall when I’m upset” seems like it would probably tire out my arms, in addition to reducing my complex identity to a couple of isolated points.

I spent a very long time trying to be anyone else but me. Now that I finally want the world to know who I am, I’m starting to realize just how little we allow people to define themselves. So I’m learning how to just be comfortable knowing who I am, murmuring to myself happily in the darkness.

I don’t have a non-awkward segue into my usual “with great love”, so I’m ending instead with a poem from one of my favourite childhood authors who wrote a great deal on evolving identities, and who closes off her poem with one of my all-time favourite expressions of self-love.

Hey World, Here I Am!

I said to the World, "I've arrived.
I, Kate Bloomfield, have come at last."
The World paid no attention.
I said to the World, "Hey World, here I am!
Don't you understand?
It's me, Kate Bloomfield."
The World ignored me.
I took myself into a corner.
"Guess what?" I whispered. "I made it.
You know ... Kate Bloomfield."
My Self bellowed, "YeaaaAAY, Kate!"
And spun six somersaults up the middle of Main Street.
The World turned.
"What did you say?" said the World.
I paid no attention.
After all, I gave it its chance.
It's not my fault that it missed me.

-Jean Little

4 comments:

  1. Thank you so much K8. I am very grateful for your blog. Through you I have learned and continue learning so much about myself. I have not had the privilege of being educated as much as I would like to be and as a result I cannot express myself well. I feel things but I do not have the words or a framework to describe my experiences so when I read your blog my world and myself start open up to myself, it starts to make sense to me and parts of me where there was dark before become illuminated. I can relate all to well to your entry today and even more so to the poem.
    Thanks you so much for sharing <3 G

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! I'm always so happy when people can relate to what I'm saying. I struggle a lot with words out in the real world, so it feels wonderful to have a space where I can communicate comfortably and have people connect with what I'm saying.

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  2. K8 -
    I just found your blog tonight, and I haven't read all of it, yet. But I wanted to say - you have a beautiful way with words. Your writing really touches me. I feel like, as I read your posts, half the time I'm thinking "yes, that, that's exactly how I feel," and the other half thinking "oh, now I understand how some other people feel."
    I don't know if this makes any sense....I just thought that I would let you know that I want to keep reading. :)
    - H

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    1. Thank you so much! I feel much more at home writing than I do speaking, so sometimes it seems like everyone else is having a totally different life than me. It's so awesome when I get to feel like my experiences don't exist in some sort of void, and that other people have these feelings too :)

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