on passing

Recently I wrote my blog post “How out to be.”  In it, I briefly mentioned that I can pass most, but not all, of the time, and much of it’s premise was on the fact that sometimes passing just isn’t possible.  (also, please note – in my blog when I talk about “passing” I am specifically referring to hiding disability)  While I never explicitly stated it, I imagine it would be entirely reasonable for a reader to assume that if I could pass 100% of the time, the question on being out would have a lot less pressure.  Not only that, but if I could pass 100% of the time, I would.

It’s not even something I had really thought about.  It was implicit in that post because it was implicit in my thinking.  Of course I should pass if I can, of course I should try to hide my differences, of course I should make my disability non-obvious.  Then, in an entirely different context, a friend of mine shared this here link.  Now, this blog is really not about my situation at all.  It speaks of disability in terms of masculinity and feminism, and possibly importantly, it spoke of physical disability.  My disability is only physical in that it is neurological.  There is nothing wrong with my body, and it only shows to others in my behavior.  Still, as I was reading I got to this part:

“It also feels like I have spent years betraying other people with disabilities, by hiding mine, and trying to avoid as much ableism as I could, which, much like any sort of passing and any sort of systematic oppression, is always a losing game.”

The author was speaking of passing as able-bodied (not-disabled) and eventually no longer being able to.  And that really struck me.  I thought (well, not in words since I rarely think in words, but this is how it would roughly translate into words), ‘waitaminute, you mean to say that not passing is an option?  And that it might be the right option?  What?’

It actually took a few days for my brain to work through that one.  Who would have thought that deliberately not passing was an option?  Now, I have seen plenty of discussions on the perils of passing.  I have seen people talk about how challenging it can be to pass, how it can feel like never being allowed to be oneself, how they are worried that their ability to pass may be going away, how annoying it is that when you pass people think that means you don’t have problems anymore, and on and on and on.  Never once have I seen someone say that maybe it’s better not to pass.  Because of course you pass if you can.  It’s better that way.

Importantly, there actually are good arguments in favor of passing.  AS does not always get a lot of respect.  I have seen some say that the increases of “mild” autism is making the public think that autism isn’t a big deal, and that such people are taking away much needed resources from those on the more severe end of the spectrum.  I tend to feel ashamed and guilty when I see such statements and I have yet to figure out how to resolve the inner conflict that comes up when that happens.

Additionally, there are people out there who use AS as an excuse to be assholes.  I have no idea how many of them are actually on the autism spectrum as opposed to people who think AS simply means “socially awkward” and decided that it would be a good excuse.  In any case, that has also shaped public opinion.  I don’t want people to think that about me.

Yet another thing – as I mentioned, AS isn’t physical.  Even people with physical disabilities face challenges that they should be able to do what everyone else does if only they want it badly enough, or if they’re just willing to try hard enough.  With a disability like mine, that attitude becomes so much stronger.

Plus, the fact of the matter is, society only tends to tolerate differences so far.  There are accepted ways to be non-conformist, and if you don’t conform to those ways society tends to punish you.  Having AS means that I am different in ways that many people really do not accept.

All that seems to add up to my prior implicit assumption – that if I can possibly pass, I should.  But then I think about the blog post again.  And I wonder if maybe letting myself be who I am might be the right choice in another way.  I could try to reduce the stigma around mental illness.  I could be an example that disability does not have to be physical.

Or in a less grand, societal way, I could think in terms of bettering myself without mashing that up with also hiding myself.  When people use language metaphors I could let it show that I need a little time to decipher them instead of trying to race my way through the logic to figure out what they mean while not letting on that I need to do so.  I love the idea of not being ashamed of being different.  That would take a lot of courage, though.  To be painfully honest, I’m not sure I have that kind of courage.  Especially not in the face of the challenges to not passing I mentioned above.

I feel it is important to mention – this is not simply a matter of being out.  I can be out and still work on passing for normal, or conversely I can refrain from trying to pass for normal but not be out.  In any case, people intellectually knowing that I have AS is a very different thing to people actually witnessing the ways that I struggle, or even spimply witnessing my oddities.  Heck, even stimming in public is a thing aspies try to hide.  Even nice people will look at me funny and avoid me if I’m rocking in a public place.

I don’t really have an answer to this one.  It is a very new ponder for me and I have barely begun to wiggle my way around it.  Still, I find it interesting to think about, and the idea of simply being my literal, strange, stimming self without trying to hide it all the time is very appealing.  Scary, but appealing.

Thoughts would very much be welcome.

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3 Comments

Filed under ponder

3 responses to “on passing

  1. Tricia

    Above all else, be true to yourself.

    I also “pass” while out; very few know of my issues and for many that do, it’s under the blanket “medical condition.” I consider this being true to myself still in that I don’t let those assumptions about who I could be with such a label get in the way of my job. Maybe that’s not being true because I’m just avoiding it.

    But I don’t feel the need to wear my condition like a badge. I am me. I have quirks. I have some strange quirks. Some are more obvious in certain conditions.

    My job in life is not to educate everyone, but I am willing to educate those who want to learn.

    This is something that has come back several times over with KC – those who want to learn more about service dogs will get the full 30 minute explanation. Those who are rude and are not willing to learn get dissed without comment.

  2. Deborah

    At the risk of sounding ignorant, does not passing sometimes actually make the situation worse? For example, if I am nervous about something and trying to appear not to be it seems I stumble and stutter all over myself even more. If I were to explain, “dang, I am just so nervous” I feel I receive somewhat of a pass and feel a little less stressed. I suppose it would be hard to determine what is best at all times and the answer lies in the individual situation. But, bottom line is what Tricia said…be true to yourself. I read somewhere….“Be Who You Are and Say What You Feel Because Those Who Mind Don’t Matter and Those Who Matter Don’t Mind.”

  3. Judi

    It,s our differences that make us unique, make us special. There are so many people that dont know, dont care, dont even want to try to understand the differences or struggles people go through. If you dont fit into their box of conformity then there is something wrong with you. I’ve read more of your blogs and your honesty, the intensity of some of your articals are fasinating and very easy reading. Thanks for sharing,