Or why I choose to disclose and talk about disability.
I am something of a self advocate work in progress. Unfortunately, my disabilities are cognitive and sometimes make perspective taking and perspective making rather difficult. My forward thinking and insight can be impaired, especially if put on the spot(see: routine changes, unexpected stimuli or lines of open ended questions). But, the way I see it, is that these disabilities strongly shape who I am, at any given moment of my life, and while there are times I can totally pass, there are other times when I do not pass at all as neurotypical in any sense of the word. Yeah, I’m one of those people. I’m one of those people whom people are uncomfortable just being in the presence of me because of my weirdness. I have always walked to the beat of my own drum and heard time and time again how “unique” I am(it was always so patronising). And yet, I have always felt alone and isolated. I have often been the only person like me in a room; I have been a self narrating zoo exhibit, or just a creepy oddity, or a mere pain in the ass to people. I have seen that face people make when I’m being neurodivergent in their way. That isolation and sense of alienation is precisely why I DO talk about it. It is not just an act of self advocacy, but an act of outedness. A challenge to the world, and a call to those like myself. It is a message that tells others, “you are not alone.”
I don’t really care how “inconvenient” others may find my perseverations, as a devotee of the Defender of Midgard, part of my worship is to act as such. I am not only an ambassador for myself, but I am an ambassador for those lonely passersby, the aliens among us, who see me and hear me and know that they are not alone. It’s those little acts of outedness that matter to me.
The world does not want us to be out, to be fully and unapologetically ourselves. Most therapies, and the one-size-fits-all system of schooling and employment are designed to squash our neurodivergent tendencies, to hide them, no matter the mental health cost to the person forced to bury the way they move and think. When we just can’t perform to neurotypical standards anymore we are seen as alarming and embarrassing, simply for existing in the public sphere in our own biological way. This is a world that would isolate ourselves from our own peoples and our own cultures. It is the effect of colonisation, assimilation and so-called “enlightenment”. In a post-asylum era, neurotypicals seek to abuse us into conformity, lock us in seclusion rooms and tie us down in restraints. All for the sake of silencing us, and separating us from not only our own selves but each other. It is damaging. It is patronising, in the real sense of the word. It is ill-sought paternalism and it is evil. It is a festering wound, a chasm that must be closed. A few of us would see the wound healed and the chasm closed. We can see our doppelgangers on the other side, alone, separate, damaged,
All people want to know themselves, and all people want to know that they are not alone on an island. We did not get this far in evolution by being alone. It is our social brains(whether allistic or autistic, tourettic or epileptic) that carried us to the present day. Our large social brains allowed us to hunt more effectively, in trade for our relatively neotenous and skinny splinter-limbed bodies that could not survive the harsh palaeolithic world alone on an island. Neurodiverse people deserve access to society, and full, unadultered access to understanding our own brains and seeing ourselves in others. That kind of representation is priceless. And so, it is those little acts of outedness that bring us together, that give us peace in our hearts and minds, and provide us with the insight to know ourselves(theory of mind be damned).
It is a kindness to be unapologetically open and disclosed. When I got my Autism diagnosis, I made a rule to myself that I would always disclose. I was done with the isolation, the stares, the disgust at my presence. I had seven long years in the Neurodiversity movement since my second(and first official) diagnosis of Neurodivergence-my Dyscalculia diagnosis. To this day I still struggle with the fear of being alone. I don’t mean solitude either. I often prefer to do things by myself without the presence of other physical bodies near me. I mean loneliness. That feeling that you are on the periphery, an oddity or an embarrassment. The desire to see just one other person ticcing or stimming as you walk down the street. That is the reason I disclose.
I recall seeing a nonverbal Autistic man passing me on the street, loudly humming an atonal vocal stim as he skateboarded past me. He met up with friends on the other side and communicated with them without speaking a single word. That was a little act of outedness. The wiggle in my toes became a wiggle in my fingers, bare to the world and visible. I felt at peace.
The first time I read Aspergirls, I cried, hard. I cried so hard I had a headache and my face stayed swollen and red the whole next day. I was not crying in sorrow, but in happiness. That was a little act of outedness that allowed me to feel just a little less alone.
A man approaches me at the deli counter, his hands over his ears, face scrunched up. We make contact. A small notice of recognition. An act of outedness. The next time I was overwhelmed, I let my hands find my ears. The sense of barely suppressed rage that usually roils below the surface dissipates. I am free.
I have been told that my own little acts of outedness have helped people discover who they are, and eased the fear that they are alone, or wrong, or broken. If we cast the shackles off of our flapping hands, the million sighs of our aching joints, the anxieties and fears we have, we may find that we are not alone. We may also learn of better ways to deal with our issues and insecurities. The paternalistic Neurotypical world may want us to bury it, to ignore it, in the hopes that what is “all in our heads” will simply go away. But it wont. It is in the way we move, the way we feel, the way we think, what we know, how we know it. It is in the way our toes wiggle in our shoes, or our socks provide us pressure. It is in the way we close our eyes, and with the backs of our hands, feel the surfaces of the world around us.
Little acts of outedness erase shame. Keeping it all inside is the modern asylum. Hiding it is the modern asylum. Seclusion and restraint, those looks of embarrassment, ABA and other select therapies, are all modern day aspects of asylum. Each act of outedness breaks a link those chains.
It frees us.
Spread your wings, flap your hands. Free yourself.