Sunday, January 30, 2011

Coming Out (When "the World is a Chaos")

"Because [people with NLD] lack the ability to take an overarching view of tasks, they experience the world around them as a chaos..." --Wikipedia

Since this is my contribution to the Spectral Amoebas blog carnival, is it okay if it's a little...long? Grab some fried dough and pull up a chair, because an epic post was promised. We're coming out...yet again.

I don't know how much is common knowledge about the autistic experience, but it's true that people on the spectrum have to come out, if they want to be known as autistic. You can't tell that someone is autistic by looking at them. Even if someone seems "off", or doesn't pass as NT (neurotypical, not autistic), it's hard to know they're autistic unless you hear it from them, or you're a professional who's qualified to make diagnoses. I've thought a lot about this coming out process, which is sometimes called "disclosure", but I don't see it discussed enough. Maybe the concept is minimized because of this idea: if you can pass as NT, then you should. Or maybe people who can pass are not "autistic enough" to warrant discussion. I reject both of these assumptions.

I want to be out as a person with NLD (I call us "verbies", although I totally made that up myself), because I want to spread understanding about us, and I feel that life is too short to not be open about important things. But I find it much harder to come out with NLD than to come out as asexual. Maybe it's because while everyone has a sexual orientation, most people don't have learning "differences". And while everyone can think of some people they're not attracted to, how do you explain the way in which your brain processes information? While a lot of people in my life might know I have "a learning disability", I don't think many of them know how it really impacts me. Part of this is due to the fact that NLD is much harder for me to explain than asexuality. My best analogy is that having NLD is like constantly being in another culture that you don't completely understand. With age, you may learn to move more easily within this culture, but it will never be intuitive to you. And, there is no physical place where your own culture exists.

Asexuality means that I'm not sexually attracted to anyone. But is NLD a sub-set of Asperger's? Is it "mild Asperger's", whatever that is? (And these designations are only useful if you're familiar with Asperger's beyond the stereotypes.) Is it a learning disability or a developmental disability? Is it a processing disorder, is it just a different way of interpreting the world? Is it all or some of the above? There is no fictional character with NLD, which is both a bad and a good thing. No one has a friend with NLD to compare me to (I am that friend), although in terms of coming out, that's probably also a good thing.

In addition, the autistic spectrum isn't something that tends to naturally come up in a conversation. In the 9 years since my diagnosis, I can count two or three times. One time, a few close friends were talking about a guy who often behaved inappropriately, and one of the friends said that "he probably has Asperger's". My ears pricked up at this: Mention of autistic spectrum disorder! I should come out now, it might be my only chance for years! But, I shouldn't. I want to describe myself on my own terms.

If I simply state that I'm on the autistic spectrum, most people won't know how to interpret that, especially if their idea of autism is limited to a nonverbal person rocking in a corner. Me, I can pass as an eccentric NT. At least...I think I can. But I don't want to feel like I owe that to the world, any more than I want to feel obligated to pass as an overly picky heterosexual. Maybe I'm just making my life more difficult than it needs to be...but if we don't come out, it will never be any easier to be a verbie in this culture.

Coming out with NLD is also much scarier. It's so scary that I prefer to do it here, in my relative comfort zone of the written word. Although I've written about NLD multiple times on this blog before, it freaks me out anew every time I write about it. Is it just harder to give up NT privilege than heterosexual privilege? An asexual person will still be seen as "normal" by some, if they fit into social norms in other ways. But an autistic person? Not so much. Part of me worries that if people "really knew" how much trouble NLD causes me, they wouldn't know how to act towards me. I worry that if people knew how differently I really think, it would alienate them.

But maybe that's just a baseless anxiety, since I feel like sensible people would more likely be intrigued. People that care will continue to treat me as they always have; it's probably delusional to think that no one has noticed my "differences". Is naming them really such a big change? Yet another reason why NLD is hard to explain are the many conditions that commonly accompany and complicate it, such as depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, or bipolar disorder (which also carry significant social stigma and can be very difficult to come out with). The nature of intersectionality is to go on and on. I'm strangely anxious about posting this, even though I'm not sure what negative responses, realistically, I could receive.

In the end, I sometimes feel like I have a certain amount of "coming out cards". With asexuality, I used them all up, even though I was far from done. But coming out isn't just that one-time "let's sit down" chat. For some of us, it may be a continuous and long process, where we divulge more detailed information over time. I am told that for many on the spectrum, our thinking can tend towards "black and white". I can see myself in that description, although the rigidity of my thinking tends to depend on the matter at hand. I used to think that if I could just find a perfect way to explain things to people, then they would understand. But I'm learning that no matter how skilled you are in the art of coming out, understanding is what happens in all the days, months, and years after you've come out. Coming out is only the beginning.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Anatomy of Pink Kneesocks

A post on Asexual Curiosities got me thinking about how I express asexuality through my personal style. In a comment to that post, I wrote:

Actually I like [clothes] that are so over-the-top girly, they make fun of it. Like the whole Japanese “fruits” aesthetic. I don’t wear entire outfits like that, but I like the style. Also, I like clothes that are funny or unusual. I’ve worn some very strange outfits in my time. Maybe that’s some version of an asexual presentation, because I’m focusing on something, but it’s completely unrelated to sexiness.

(Nor was I focusing on current trends, ease, or a certain gender presentation.) Writing this comment brought me back to a few years ago, when I was meeting a guy I kiiinda liked. By that, I mean I was trying to figure out whether or not I was romantically attracted to him. If I was, it only lasted for a few days. But even so, I had the desire to "impress" him at a certain event. I was able to dig back and find a picture of what I wore. It looked like this:
  • A Clash t-shirt
  • A blazer, striped with different shades of blue
  • A short denim skirt
  • Pink leggings
  • Pink and white striped kneesocks
  • Sparkly purple slippers
Now that I think about it, this outfit screamed "I am asexual!", a thing I never told him out loud. Clothes may seem superficial, but they expressed something important when words failed me. I wouldn't call it a "sexy" look by any means. (At least, not to the average 20-something American male.) It wasn't something that would traditionally be read as either straight or lesbian. At the torso level, it said something like, "Why yes, I do like punk rock and hanging out in libraries reading the classics." But below the knee, it became totally eccentric. It was saying, "Thrift shopping? Unicorn riding? Discussion of obscure Swedish popsongs? I'm your girl. Sex? Not so much." But none of this was going through my head; I just wanted to wear something that would make me feel confident.

I can think of similar stylistic choices throughout the years, both pre- and post- asexuality realization. Maybe the most obvious was the outfit of t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers that I wore to clubs during my months of study abroad. The outfit completely ignored the sexual/romantic intentions of the place. I don't remember feeling awkward in my casual clothes, maybe because they also conveyed important facts. In my jeans and sneakers, no one ever hit on me, allowing me to dance in peace. If I put on a skirt and heels, that changed.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Escape From Gender Roles Island!

(I found this draft from last year, and thought it was worth resurrecting. It was originally intended as a continuation of this post, but will make sense without it.)

Part of my (albeit minimal) romantic attraction towards men is probably innate and unexplainable-- I'm guessing that's how most people perceive attraction. But I wonder. What about the fact that I assumed I was heterosexual until I was almost 21, and that people who don't know me very well assume the same? What about the fact that, as far as I know, I "pass" as heterosexual without trying to? I wonder how much of my attraction to men would exist in a cultural vacuum.

Whatever romantic attraction I have, I don't see it as a shadow of sexual attraction. I see myself as queer, not as a straight person with one form of attraction missing. A conversation with a friend comes to mind-- she told me she was "attracted to masculinity". For her, this manifested in her romantic relationship with a man. But for me, this attraction to masculinity was only realized on an inward level, through my "mental androgyny". I wouldn't find masculine traits in men, but in myself. That one comment made me realize how different my concept of gender might be from most other people's.

On AVEN, I remember a transwoman (male-bodied, mentally female) writing that part of her distaste for sex related to the idea that she didn't want to have sex "in the male role". I can relate to that. Having sex "in the female role" makes the process sound even more unappealing to me than it already does. However, having sex "in the male role" doesn't seem like much of an improvement. I feel the same way about dating and other social rituals. I don't want to be in a romantic relationship in "the female role". However, I don't want to take "the male role", either. I want to escape those roles altogether, as much as such a thing is possible in this world. It's not surprising that I've always been single.

My romantic attractions never facilitated relationships, not even close. Years ago, I lamented the fact that I couldn't seem to be attracted to a guy that one of my friends didn't already have a crush on. But looking back, maybe that was part of the point and/or reason. I felt like as a woman, I was supposed to maintain this constant hustle to "get a man". But these straight men in question seemed to display no effort whatsoever to get their admirers. If they tried desperately to be liked, it wasn't visible. They seemed confident, unstudied, and autonomous. They weren't freaked out by the attention, like I would have been. Would dating them-- and most likely, being placed immediately in the "female role"--been gratifying for me? I'm not so sure. Maybe what I really wished for was the chance to be seen by others in the same way these boys were seen by girls. That alone, unadorned, and despite my flaws, I was something worth getting truly excited about.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Year I Stop Looking

“If only we'd stop trying to be happy we could have a pretty good time.”
--Edith Wharton

I said to myself that I wouldn't be making New Years resolutions. I'd already made some goals over the summer that I'm still working on; surely those are enough? But apparently I love to resolve things, because I ended up making at least five resolutions on January 1st. Most of them were just things to keep in mind, rather than actual activities. One of them was to stop looking, which I'll explain:

For most of my 26 years, I've been on an epic quest to find community and belonging. I've had successes, failures, and many moments of uncertainty. It's a worthy endeavor, but I feel like I've been going about it with the wrong mindset. And my mindset, I realized, was sort of the non-romantic version of those women in chick lit novels who are obsessed with finding their soulmate. It's set me up to feel like if I don't experience belonging, or a sense of community, that my life is a failure. And I don't think that's any better than thinking that your time is a waste unless you have a romantic partner to share it with.

To those chick lit women, you know how someone always says, "If you want to find love, stop looking?" My goal in 2011 is to "stop looking". Inside my "looking" is also a lot of worrying, because I've been known to worry in lieu of actually looking. I'm aware now that my looking and worrying were my attempts to solve a problem, but they did more harm than good. I worried that if I stopped looking, I would somehow become...wait for it...asocial, but I don't think that's realistic for me. If I want to start looking again in 2012, I can, but by then, I don't think I'll want to anymore. I imagine being more productive, freer, and more "present" in my current relationships, if you'll excuse the New-Agey term. I've spent too much time worrying about doing the "right" or "correct" thing in every social interaction, and I want to try to let go of that pressure.

I don't know how much sense this made, but I thought I'd give a go at posting it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Zine Sherpa

How do I justify this act of shameless self-promotion? Well, if you enjoy my writing, it would be cruel to deprive you of further opportunities to read it. Uh...yes? Along those lines, my zine is now available here, on Etsy. It's about my experience dealing with unemployment. It would be a fascinating gift for that unemployed person in your life. While you're there, Mage also has zines for sale, and they're actually about asexuality. (What are zines? Little magazines that people make themselves.)