(Don’t) Call Me on the Telephone

I have long avoided phone calls. If I have to call someone else, I usually need to work myself up. And when the phone rings, I either let it go to voicemail or (much less often) answer with an anxious aggression.

I have generally attributed this avoidance to PTSD: After I moved out of my mother’s house, she’d call me threatening suicide. That in turn tied to a two-part episode of “One Day at a Time” (the original version) I’d seen as a child; the first part ended with an acquaintance calling Barbara from a hotel, having taken enough drugs to die. My parents refused to let me see the second part, and so that lingered in my head for decades, overlapping my mother’s repeated suicide threats.

Lately, though, I’ve been reflecting on the role that my neurodiversity plays in my anxiety about phones.


One attribute of phone conversations is a diminished lack of control. I’m old enough to remember a time before caller ID was even a thing: The phone would ring and there would be no way of determining who it was on the line. Before that, voicemail wasn’t even a thing; businesses had to redirect their unanswerable calls to a third party company.

So when I was a child, when the phone rang at home, someone either had to answer it and risk whatever conversation might ensue, or ignore it and perhaps never find out who it was.

These days, I always check the number when it rings to see who it is, and most calls go to voicemail. As far as I can tell, this is how most people work. But I remember those old days and the panic of trying to get to the phone on time even when there was something else going on. The telephone was some master control on life, always ready to intrude.


Also, for me, there’s a greater awkwardness in phone conversations. The etiquette and scripts are different then they are with face to face conversations. In face to face conversations, things like body language can be used to indicate when a conversation is being wrapped up, when it’s time to continue, when it’s time to change subject, and so on.

While those conversations have their own scripts which I struggle with, phone conversations are at a different level. Turn taking is more complicated, ending conversations is more complicated, and when a conversation goes the wrong direction it’s more difficult to recover.


Both of these attributes—a history of having to answer, and scripts that are more difficult to navigate—lead to me feeling somewhat trapped in a phone conversation. And while changes in technology (caller ID and voicemail) have mitigated one set of anxieties, phones are now omnipresent, and hence harder to get away from.

I know I’m not alone in these feelings: Newer generations seem to minimize voice calling entirely, usually in terms of texting. Despite the even more reduced access to tone, texting has the advantage of being easier to control the conversation; mistakes can be erased before they’re sent, and miscommunication can be referred back to.

Even so, it feels like many people merely prefer modes other than voice calls, while I actively resist them.


A problem with having CPTSD and being autistic is that it’s difficult to ferret out which aspects of my non-normative behaviors and feelings are attributable to which, and to what extent. But as I continue to navigate through my self-exploration, it is helpful to reflect on how each factor makes up my whole.

“Disabled” and Passive Language

Special interest: Our language choices can affect and even effect thoughts. This is generally known as the Weak Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. And though this generally focuses on word choice, it’s also true of grammatical choices.

One example is the debate between “person first” (“person with autism”) and “identity first” (“autistic person”) language. Disabled people (persons with disabilities) have different preferences, although the majority of autistic people appear to prefer identity first language because person first language is awkward and unnatural and, hence, emphasizes what it’s allegedly intending to downplay.

In this video, Jac den Houting mentions another one that I hadn’t consciously thought about before with regards to disability.


First, a note on structural ambiguity. What is the grammatical structure of “I am confused”?

The structure of “I am funny” is straightforward: “I” is the subject, “am” is a copula, and “funny” is an adjective. The statement gives one of my characteristics.

The structure of “Mistakes were made” is straightforward: “Mistakes” is the subject, “were” is a verbal marker, and “made” is a past participle. In this case, “were” indicates that we’re discussing events of the past, the subject is plural, and that it’s a passive sentence: We’re not specifying who made the mistakes, just that, yes, mistakes happened.

But since “confused” can be both an adjective (“He had a confused look”) and a verb form (“The textbook passage confused him”), “I am confused” is contextually ambiguous: Am I intending to indicate solely that I am in a state of confusion, or am I intending to indicate that something specific has confused me?

Let’s apply the same logic to “I am disabled”: Is my emphasis merely on my state of disability, or am I intending to indicate that something specific has disabled me?


It feels like most of the time, “They are disabled” is interpreted as referring to a state of being without a particular focus on what is disabling them. It may be relevant how someone is disabled: I am disabled in ways that don’t affect my mobility, for instance, so I don’t use accessibility parking spots. I cannot easily see to my left, so I ask that people walk to my right when it’s just the two of us.

But prior to this video, I’ve struggled to articulate the “what” of my disabilities. My prosthetic left eye, sure, that’s a disability, but the truth is, the only real way it objectively gets in my way is that I have to turn my head farther to see to my left. My situational awareness has improved such that my hearing tends to be more refined on that side. If people could remember my one single accommodation–walk to my right–my disability barely impacts me.


I had a manager once who, knowing this, would deliberately walk to my left. He said he was challenging me, forcing me to go outside of my comfort zone. He was helping me overcome my disability, he said.

No, he wasn’t. He was disabling me.

It would have been one thing if I had asked for something like that. I hadn’t. He took it upon himself to deliberately work against what is a straightforward accommodation request. (And, because he was my manager, he was violating the ADA, but it wasn’t worth filing a complaint.)


By examining the structure of “I am disabled” and looking instead at “XXX is disabling me”, I can see that “XXX” can be filled in with two sorts of things: The disability itself and environments that fail to accommodate the disability.

For every disability, both of these things play a role. We can address mitigating the disability itself, we can address mitigating the environment to accommodate the disability, or we can do both.

In some cases, as with the significant majority of neurodiverse people, we are disabled far more by our environments than by our “disability”, to the point that it’s sometimes fair to question whether there’s an underlying “disability itself” in the first place.


Sure, there are ways in which my brain gets in the way of me doing what I want.

This weekend, possibly for the first time ever, I went to a music concert by myself. A friend had a ticket they were trying to get rid of, and my spouse wasn’t interested in the bands (The Psychedelic Furs and X), so I figured, what the heck, it’s perfectly normal for a person to go by themself to such a thing. I’ll have fun.

But my anxieties started getting more overwhelming the closer I got. I had a long conversation with a friend who experiences similar anxieties, and they helped me calm down. They reinforced the plan I’d already had: I’d promised my friend a t-shirt in exchange for the ticket, so I could go in, buy a shirt immediately, and then leave if I felt overwhelmed.

The way my “social anxiety” normally works is that by far the biggest hurdle is showing up. I still had moments throughout the concert where I was anxious that I stood out because I was all alone and because I was moving around a lot, but those were less obtrusive than the thoughts on the car ride there.

So, once I got there, I stayed, leaving just before the encore because I was genuinely physically tired.

The entire night, though, I hardly said anything. My environment allowed me to do that: I spoke to two employees of the venue, a total of three words. I spoke a dozen to a t-shirt vendor. Other than that, I did my best to fold myself into the woodwork.


My father used to tell this story.

I lost my eye about the time I started speaking. After the surgery, I became non-verbal. He attributed it to the surgery and the trauma related to adjusting to being monocular; he said that I had connected “trying to speak” to the surgery, and I was afraid of future punishment if I tried to speak again.

Then one day I wanted catsup, and did my usual point-and-grunt. My family had been understanding (according to my father) up to that point, but my father had had enough.

“Use your words,” he said, “or you don’t get it.”

I pointed and grunted some more. He resisted more.

Then, finally, in perfect English, I said, “Please pass the ketchup” and have been speaking ever since.

Except, yes, but actually, not entirely. I still struggle with starting a conversation with people. When I attend a new group, I may sit silently for half an hour or longer before saying anything. When I do start talking, it’s true that I can talk on and on, to the point that people might forget how long it took me to talk in the first place.

My father was well-intentioned and I truly believe he thought my language block was entirely related to my loss of an eye. It may have been partially due to that, even largely due to that, but I believe it was also part of my autism, and that throughout my childhood many of my autistic traits were falsely attributed to CPTSD.


The relevant point of the ketchup story is that, well-intentioned though he was, my father created an environment that disabled me. He continued to do so throughout my childhood, generally under the same misguided belief that my manager had had: That he needed to push me out of my comfort zone for me to overcome my challenges.

It’s far more defensible in my father’s case: It is the role of a parent to encourage a child to grow and develop. His apparent lack of awareness of the full cause of my challenges, though, created an environment in which I learned to mask defensiveness. Now, I am working to dismantle my mask.

(I say “apparent” because he told me later that he knew far more than he let on about a bunch of stuff, so he may have known I was autistic as well.)


Disabled people have two levels to deal with: We have to deal with the way in which the disability itself gets in our way (such as my struggles with attending a new event) and the way in which our environments, including the people in those environments, create hurdles, either deliberately or out of ignorance and indifference.

“I am disabled” only tells the story that I face hurdles. It doesn’t describe the nature of those hurdles. I would encourage everyone, including myself, to reflect on which hurdles we’re creating for other people.

X

This is the Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac Don Henley wrote about.

The first full day that I owned a driver’s license with an X for the gender and no part of my birth name on it, I went to see a band named X with a lead singer named John Doe with a ticket I had not purchased.

From the time I parked to the time I drove off, I spoke only a few words.

To the Guest Relations representative working their way through the line outside, asking if I was going to be drinking inside, I said, “Sure” and showed them my driver’s license, poked up a third of the way out of my wallet. I’m not sure they even saw the date, and the (apparent) woman behind me in line, who was about my age (give or take a decade), joked that the license seemed suspicious, but at 54 I’ve more than lapped 21 once already and it didn’t matter one whit to the Guest Relations representative working their way through the line outside.

To a vendor I explained the shirts I wanted, one for me and one for the friend whose ticket I had, and even in that short exchange I stammered, as if words were foreign invaders that couldn’t quite fit inside my mouth correctly.

And to a bartender, I said “Angry Orchard”, which is how I soothed the anxiety of being alone at my first concert in over a decade, while the world was still muddling through yet another wave of COVID. These were my last words spoken until I got home again.

While we were milling around, I heard a man tell another man that he only had one gray hair on his head, even though he had many gray hairs on his chest, and I wondered how many gray hairs he had on his soul. Right on cue, he started talking about his retirement investment account.

I had been worried about looking not trendy enough, but here I was waiting for a punk rock group to play and I was surrounded by men in polos and cargo shorts who were looking like they were waiting for their tee time.

At this point, my own polo was covered by a black t-shirt of a smiling demon who was reminding me that I must not think bad thoughts, and later when the band played I found myself wishing I was instead wearing Exene’s dress and her leather jacket embroidered with roses.

And since she is now and will always be twelve years my elder, that can be my life goals, while the polo and the IRA talk can be for the others, who are really there for the headliner, which was not X and not even punk.

It’s blurry because I’m not used to photos with my cell phone in that little bit of light.

7/24

I am autistic. I have meltdowns.

When I was younger, I was not diagnosed as autistic. I had an explosive temper. I had anger management problems. I was a problem.

I have multiple memories over my lifetime, especially as a teen and young adult, about how my moods were making other people feel. “We are all entitled to our emotions, but we have to consider how they affect others.”

As if it were that easy.

I spent half a century trying to fix a problem with an incomplete toolset. I came to believe that my explosions were solely the result of being raised in an explosive household: Both of my parents were emotionally unstable as well. My father told me that he used to use his belt to spank us until the day he pulled back, the belt slipped, and the buckle fractured against the wall. It was only then that he realized how violent he was being.

In my 20s, I went to a therapist to get treatment for Intermittent Explosive Disorder. It helped, quite a bit. It took a lot of the edge off. I began to take much more responsibility for my explosions, and management got easier. The flame of the fire went down considerably.

But it didn’t go away. I still struggled with feelings of anger when I got overwhelmed. More therapy didn’t help.

“Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage.” — Smashing Pumpkins

The missing piece of the story was my autism. That would have offered a set of management tools to help mitigate those feelings.

Telling me I need to moderate my emotions for the sake of others doesn’t help much when I’m in the middle of an autistic meltdown. Reminding me that my feelings, while they feel real, are the result of a maelstrom of misprocessed reactions… that does help.

I had multiple friendships in middle and high school end over my meltdowns. I got the message, both from my age cohort and from the adults around me (including my parents) that I was Too Much, that I was Out of Control, that I needed to be far more considerate of the people around me.

That I needed to be tossed out for the good of the group.

This message persisted into my adult years. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy loop where I would ostracize myself before I could be kicked out, and nobody would come after me, thus reinforcing the rectitude of my decision.

I’m still struggling with this today. I see myself as a problem, a nuisance, someone that other people struggle to be around. I hold my emotions close, walking around masked most of the time, because I don’t want to alienate people. I can be intense.

Knowing that it’s because of an information processing issue, that I process information differently than others, that I’ve been blamed my whole life for this without knowing why, that there’s nothing wrong with how I process information, just different in ways that others can’t understand… all of that helps. All of that is information I wish I’d known earlier.

I have those tools now, so I can better manage going forward, but now I have the added layer of false messages that have been programmed into my brain.

Neurodiverse Grieving

This week I had to euthanize one of my cats. She’d been with us for nearly 20 years; she came in as a stray that refused to leave the porch. She was stubborn until the end, but it was clear that her various physical problems, particularly a cheek infection of some sort, had overwhelmed her.

This is the first loss of this nature I’ve experienced since declaring myself autistic. This declaration has allowed me to approach my grieving process in a different, more positive way.

I’ve long thought my grieving process is “broken”: I tend to get emotionless and mechanical. When my father died, I told HR at my workplace that I wanted a few days off, and why, but to not broadcast it to anyone. It’s so common in workplaces for companies to send out mass emails announcing such deaths, and then there’s the deluge of sympathy, and I did not want that.

I don’t generally care for the “Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss” sentiments. From friends, okay, I’ll take them but I don’t really need them. From strangers and co-workers, they feel so insincere. I struggle in offering them to others as well, but I have come to know that it’s part of the script, part of the social expectations.

When I get, “Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss” from someone who doesn’t know me well enough to know that I turn into Spock when I’m truly grieving, I feel like I need to mask up and go along with the tears. I don’t want to be caught at as the cold-hearted robot I feel like.

I used to attribute my emotional shutdown as CPTSD, a self-defense response from living with emotionally volatile parents. In general, my emotional outbursts as a child were a source of potential danger: Fire that met with potential fire from both of my parents.

But that was then, this is now.


I have two early memories experiencing loss. One involved my childhood cat, Ferocious. She had been missing for a few days, and one day on the way home from school I found a bag behind the bushes in front of the house. I picked it up, and my instincts knew from the way the weight shifted that I didn’t want to look in the bag. But I looked, and I was duly traumatized.

Later, I found out that someone had told my parents that my cat’s body was by the side of a road nearby, having been hit by a car. They collected the body and put it there because they were going for a walk. They figured they’d intercept me and have “the talk” and didn’t expect me to find the bag.

I remember feeling shamed by my parents for being upset with them. Couldn’t they enjoy their walk? They acknowledged they’d made a mistake, but it was just a cat, after all.

The other memory was when one of my father’s parishioners died. He was a retired Principal (albeit not mine), and I held felt affinity with him. He had treated me with a level of respect that I wasn’t used to. I believe he was the one who owned the first Rubik’s Cube I’d ever seen. My father said I’d solved it in twenty minutes, but I don’t remember that.

The next day, at school, I was sad and crying, doing “normal” grieving stuff, albeit probably excessive for someone I’d met a few times and felt some closeness to, but not an immediate family member. A school counseling parapro was called in to have a chat with me to make sure I was okay, and I couldn’t explain to her why I was as upset as I was.

Since then, I’ve experienced losses that have cut much deeper, and my standard reaction is to shut down and not feel like I’m feeling at all. I’ve been feeling pathological, even sociopathic, but now I believe I’m just autistic.


Yesterday, feeling that detached “meh, what’s the big deal, my cat of twenty years who was completely bonded to me just died, what’s for lunch?” emotion, I did a search on autism and grief and found Autistic Grief is Not Like Neurotypical Grief by Karla Fisher. This article resonates with my own experiences with grief: In the moment, feeling fairly “business as usual” but then having a crash days or weeks down the line.

Is the experience there 100% my own? No, not at all. Is it similar enough to reinforce that I’m not broken, I’m autistic? Yes. This passage stood out: “The thing that probably helped me more than any other thing during my struggles was the realization that what was happening to me was sensory processing failure versus just going insane.”

Meanwhile, this is a perfect description of how I grieve (from the article linked above):


ASD Grief Things to Think About

  1. May or may not cry or overtly show emotions. Alternatively, emotions may be delayed or very extreme when they do come.
  2. Grieving will very possibly manifest itself via increased ASD
    symptoms (increased sensory processing issues, shutdowns, meltdowns,
    decreased social abilities, etc.).
  3. May be unable to articulate what is wrong or talk about feelings.
  4. Increased desire to be alone to work things out (this is opposite of most NTs who will feel better by sharing how they feel).
  5. May not relate to many emotional or relational concepts designed by NTs.”

It is so reassuring to know that a lifetime of emotional reactions that I’ve been taught are problematic or reflections of mental illness are in fact fairly typical behaviors of an autistic brain.

Twitter: Autism Story Time

Prompt on Twitter: “When did you first notice feeling confused by social expectations?”

Reply:

I don’t remember “first”, but… story time! When I was in fifth grade or so, the bully wanted to beat me up. I told him he could, but only if it was after school where nobody could watch. I told him that we’d wait fifteen minutes after school.

I picked the meeting place and he agreed that if anyone showed up, he’d make them leave. We met. He started punching me. Other kids started showing up. I yelled at him to chase the other kids away, but he just keep punching. So I just started walking away.

Two of my friends followed me, insisting I go back and finish the fight. The bully himself just stared, too confused to follow me. I couldn’t figure out why he hadn’t kept his end of the bargain. If what he wanted was to beat me up, then I was giving him that.

I wanted it to be transactional: He gets to beat me up, but I didn’t want the public shame. Why couldn’t he, or my friends, understand that? Anyway, after that, he never bothered me again. He started bullying other kids instead.

Oh, and no, I made no effort to fight back. Why should I? I was destined to lose, I wanted to make it quick. My friends thought I should have fought back. Again, why?

Othering and Otherkin

There’s an urban legend going around that says that furry youth are demanding–and getting–litter boxes in high school bathrooms. I have yet to see any credible evidence that a single such box has been seriously demanded, let alone installed. But that doesn’t stop people from railing against these fictions.

This morning I saw a photo of someone wearing elf ears and saying they were a thousand years old. Yesterday, I saw a video of a teenager who was teaching people how to meow like a cat. I once knew somebody who said he was a werewolf.

At one point in my life, I thought I’d been born on Alpha Centauri.

Lately, these stories have been weaponized against transgender people and more specifically against the idea of transgender people using appropriate bathrooms. But the mocking nature of these stories fails to address the real complexities behind them.

Why would somebody deliberately present or pretend to be any anything other than human?


The most common and most harmless reason it’s that they’re just playing. It’s fun to be a cat. It’s escapist to be an elf.

We watch actors and don’t question their sanity even though they’re pretending to be somebody they’re not. In fact, many actors are pretending to be cats and aliens and elves. We don’t question them, but we question some teenager on TikTok doing exactly the same thing. Worse than that, it’s often the people who complain that kids don’t play enough that are concerned about kids pretending to be cats.

By and large, “furry” refers to someone who knows full well they are human but is pretending to be something else. When teens cosplay Iron Man, adults don’t worry that they think they’re superheroes. Furry dress-up is not significantly different (including the reality that some adults enjoy dressing as animals or as favorite fictional characters and engaging in sexual acts… but that doesn’t mean either furry or superhero cosplay is inherently sexual).


It’s true that there are people who believe that they are in whole or in part something other than human. In the worst cases, this is a characteristic of a mental illness that is otherwise debilitating enough that it warrants professional help. However, in many cases, their belief in their nonhumanness is a coping mechanism connected to societal rejection. The solution to that is not more rejection.

Why would an otherwise healthy person want to believe they’re not completely human? An obvious reason is that they have received a message that being human requires living by certain parameters that they don’t wish to live by. Even worse, they have concluded that their mismatch with what they interpret to be the parameters of humanness is so strong that they must not be human.

I have recently seen a theory that the folk tales about changelings are really about autistic children. It argues that whatever historical truth there is in those stories was about the confusion that parents felt upon discovering that their children were different. In order to keep from blaming themselves, they came up with a story that their child wasn’t even really their child.

Given how certain portions of our society treat anyone anyone outside the norms, especially the neurodiverse, why is it a surprise when some people outside of the norms conclude that they must not be human?

This is not a mental illness, this is a natural result of being given toxic messages about our identity. It is a coping mechanism. If you truly want to help somebody through that identity, the solution does not involve mockery, it involves compassion, starting with accepting the validity of their perception for themselves.

I don’t know that I ever truly believed I was from another planet. I do know that I’d wished it was true, and part of me still does. I was such a misfit, and my parents didn’t seem to want me around. It would frankly have been easier to believe that I was in fact a changeling or, in my case, an alien, than to believe that my parents had brought somebody intentionally into this world just to torture them.


By the way, furries would not even want to use a litter box (at least, not in a public restroom). People who truly believe that they are in part not human are properly called otherkin or therian, not furries. So when people insist that furries are demanding litter boxes, they’re indicating they don’t even have the most basic understanding of this topic.

That aside though, I think it’s important to note that even the otherkin are a mix of genuinely mentally ill people and people who are struggling with deep societal rejection and questioning their own identity. Regardless, though, these people need support, not mockery. If you can’t support them, and it’s certainly not your obligation to do so, at least just walk away without comment.

.

Broken Systems

This morning I saw a headline that said that some 400 police officers were on site in Uvalde before an off-duty non-police-officer border guard showed up and killed the shooter.

My first instinct was to sarcastically comment “That’s a lot of bad apples”, but I didn’t. Instead, my brain decided to compare the standard police message to what has become the standard message of the Democratic Party. It’s a defensive message; it’s not “we’re great and doing an awesome job and the world is better because of us”, it’s “if you get rid of us, then what?”

I went off and did other stuff, and in the middle of brushing my teeth I was thinking about education. Why do we send kids to school? Ostensibly, because they need an education. But we know that public education in this country is highly problematic in ways that we continue to fail to adequately address.

Imagine I was a parent who served my child nothing but candy. Someone challenges me: “Why are you feeding your child candy?” My reply: “We all have to eat.”

Yes, but that’s not the question.

We all need education. But that, in itself, is not a proper defense of public education. I’m not saying it’s as bad as feeding a child nothing but candy, but it’s not a properly balanced diet, either.

Humans do need some sort of arbiter and force that can step in when some of us are doing bad things to each other. But that, in itself, is not a proper defense of the current state of policing.

One way in which malfunctioning systems self-perpetuate is by convincing people that the absence of that system would be worse. Sure, public education isn’t perfect, but can you imagine if we didn’t have any? Sure, the Democratic Party isn’t perfect, but what if the GOP was completely in charge? Sure, the police aren’t perfect, but what kind of anarchy would we have if we didn’t have the police?

This position protects the broken system for having to do any real self-reflection. The system doesn’t need to improve because it has created a monopoly. Even when there are alternatives–charter school, the Republican Party, private security–those are even more problematic, further protecting the system.

One argument for charter schools is that they would create healthy competition. Public schools would have to improve in order to compete. On one important level, it seems to have had the opposite effect: The perpetual mediocre-or-worse state of most charter schools has shielded public school from improving. Indeed, the concept of “charter school” has gotten so tarnished that many charter schools have started calling themselves “public schools” just to distance themselves from the concept.

One part of the solution is to simply stop letting “If you think we’re bad, imagine if we weren’t here!” be a proper defense of broken systems. Some systems are redeemable but have systemic issues that need to be drastically altered. Some systems are so corrupted that they need to be torn down and replaced.

In other words: Yes, let’s do what they ask. Let’s imagine if they weren’t here. If we could form a system for adjudicating wrongs, what would it be like? If we could form a system for offering education properly, what would it be like? Excellent questions, that we can’t answer as long as broken systems are deliberately shielding themselves from repair.

7/21

The other day I was watching a video on Imposter Syndrome and disability. One thing that Jessica Kellgren-Fozard said (at about 5:30) that really stood out to me was that because they’ve been disabled for so long, they don’t really have a good meter for what’s it like to not be disabled.

My primary physical disability is that I have a prosthetic eye. I’ve had it since I was a little over a year old. I have absolutely no memory of having two working eyes. So I don’t see myself as disabled, I see myself as me. I don’t really know what it would be like to have two working eyes. Sometimes I think the rest of you are the weird ones.

I was thinking about that again this evening, about my other traits that I’ve been feeling like a fraud over: I’m not trans enough, I’m not pansexual enough, I’m not autistic enough. And on each of those, the reality is that I am who I am and who I’ve always been. Perhaps I feel like identifying as trans means that I have to start doing something dramatically different. Objectively, consciously, I know that’s not true, but being myself isn’t any different than being myself was a decade ago. All it really means is living without a mask, and if who I am without a mask is trans, pan, and autistic, then that’s who I am.

Then there’s the word: “Enough”. It was thrown at me in two other ways. During my outbursts, I was told, “Enough!” “Cut it out!” “Stop being you!” I don’t think anyone ever literally said the last thing, but maybe they did. It’s what I heard. And then there’s the feeling that I can never really be enough anyway. Study harder. Write more. Improve yourself. Never falter.

“But if you fight and if you fail, don’t fall back into yourself / You can fall back on me” (Camper Van Beethoven)

I was too much; I wasn’t enough. Both of these were carried in that one word: Enough. I was a problem that needed fixing. I was a disappointment. I was a nuisance. I was infantilized and expected to be an adult at the same time. I wobbled on the highwire of conflicting anticipations, and I never felt like I could make people happy. But I felt like I was supposed to.

My goal is to be neither proud nor ashamed of my autistic brain: It simply is. I simply am.

My goal is to be neither proud nor ashamed of my gender or sexuality: It simply is. I simply am.

The labels are useful only in the same way that it’s useful to call one place a Chinese restaurant and another place a Mexican restaurant: It gives other people some ideas, some parameters of what I’m like, but that’s a pretty broad description. A Chinese restaurant probably has a spicy chicken dish or two. It might have a decent egg drop soup. It probably won’t have spaghetti, but it might.

Because I was using an analogy, I decided to look up autism and analogies, and I found this article: Autism and Relentless Analogizing: We make analogies about making analogies. This passage in particular hit home: “We are wired pattern thinkers. We see the Interrelatedness of All Things.”

As a teacher, this is one reason why it’s important for me to explore my autism. I see mathematics as a huge mushy interconnected cloud that includes language, computer programming, art, and other things. Prior to exploring my autism, I just thought this was the way people in general would see mathematics if it weren’t for public school education messing it up. But now I suspect that it’s more complicated than that, that my autistic perspectives shape my perception of mathematics. (Also, back to the Chinese restaurant: Just because I happen to serve a killer sizzling rice platter doesn’t mean that the Chinese restaurant in your neighborhood even has it on the menu.)

Anyway, the original point was that maybe I don’t feel “trans” or “autistic” or “disabled” because the attributes that make me each of those things are so intrinsic to my being that they’re just “me”. Those labels are helpful for me to explain myself to others, and they’re helpful for me to find others like me, but they’re not straitjackets for me to live within, and they’re not measures to which I should compare my enoughness.

FB: On automatic gender identification

Let us assume for the moment that transgender and intersex people don’t exist. Let us assume that every single human has either XX or XY chromosomes and genitals to match. This is not true, but let us assume it is.

Even under this assumption, recognize that our brains are culturally programmed to identify within seconds of seeing someone what their genitals are. The person at the end of the aisle in the store that you’re never going to interact with again? We need to know their genitals. A photo in a book of a crowd scene? We’ll sort through their genitals.

Not explicitly, of course: It’s code. “Man… woman… woman… man… man…”. But that’s shorthand based on our assessment of how well a person matches our stereotypes of people with certain reproductive organs.

It is so automatic that most of us do this without even being aware of it. We came up with cultural dress codes to help us out: Men can have these hair styles and clothing options; women can have those hair styles and clothing options. We even coded which side the buttons are, and clothing historians have denied the claim that this was because women had other people dressing them: The pattern became solidified less than 200 years ago, well after the height of rich women having handmaidens to dress them. https://maggiemayfashions.com/use-of-buttons-on-historical-womens-dresses/

Why are we so obsessed?

Certainly there’s an evolutionary need to know who proper breeding partners are, but even accepting that it’s not weird to evaluate people on their fitness for mating, we do this even with people outside the band of appropriate ages. Indeed, we arguably do this MORE with children. Why in any healthy society would we need to know the genitals of a Kindergartner?

And even with potential breeding partners, there’s an irony: We went to great lengths as a culture to completely cover up the genitals and even the breasts, to the point that breast-feeding in public was made taboo, and then went to even greater lengths to come up with cultural rules to make automatic genital identification easier.

Additionally, there’s also a circular safety loop: We raise presumed boys to behave in a way that encourages promiscuity and minimizes culpability, making boys and men less safe to be around, especially for girls and women. We then raise presumed girls to behave in a way that protects them from the risk of rape and sexual assault.

Since we have a whole system in our brain for threat assessment, and because of “boys will be boys” and us putting rapists in positions of power, it definitely makes sense.

But if we dismantled the system and held boys and men truly accountable (especially yt men), we would have less need for the automatic genital assessment AND the world would be a better, less threatening place. (Mass shootings would also go down dramatically.)

Instead, with the overturning of Roe, people who can impregnate are an even GREATER threat to people who can become pregnant.

This instant bucketing, I believe, is a major threat, if not THE major threat of visible transgender and intersex people: We point out the bizarreness of this automatic genital identification process. We insist people reprogram a process that many people have never examined before and many people don’t WANT to examine.

We are the messengers. The message is: Having an automatic system for identifying the genitals of every stranger, regardless of age, is, um, honestly a little weird.

It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s a cultural system that gets programmed into us from birth. But how much does that system serve a valid purpose, and how much is it getting in the way of cultural growth?

When Anderson Cooper asked Lady Gaga about the rumor that she has a “male appendage”, she responded, “Maybe I do, would it be so terrible?” https://jezebel.com/lady-gaga-gives-perfect-answer-as-to-whether-she-has-a-1848870366

So… yes, it’s complicated, but attacking transgender people for revealing the nature of this is shooting the messenger. If it makes you awkward to think about how often you think about the genitals of strangers, that’s not my fault.