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.