Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Things People Said to an Autistic Person Like Me

This is something I wrote at that point when I had worked out that I am autistic and began to tell friends about it and get autistically obsessive about the subject.  I posted it elsewhere at the time - somewhere I knew that nobody would read it.  I just found it again and post it here without edits:


Amazing how many of these things have already been said to me.  I know I talk incessantly about autism but I haven’t been doing it for long as it was only recently that I was able to admit this about myself after years of denial and even of shame.

On mentioning it for the first time to a small group of intelligent people from the local philosophy society I got the following reactions.  I’d said that I was seeking assessment to get this diagnosis made official.  The philosophers responded:

“But you don’t look autistic.”

“But isn’t everyone on the spectrum?”  That person went on to “prove” that he must be on the spectrum because he likes the Rubik’s Cube.  As if that proved a thing.  In any case, his best time was rubbish compared to my best time - from the year I spent with the cube in the early 80s using what would now be thought of as primitive solving techniques.

“But autism doesn’t even exist.”

I’m not always sure that the local philosophers are particularly philosophical.

A few days ago I was told that I shouldn’t “be doing all that autistic stuff” because it might affect my child.  As if I have any choice whatsoever about doing anything I’m doing to discover and accept myself.  And I have been told that I’m avoiding my family by “jumping on the autism bandwagon.”

Yes.  It will affect my child.  But there are a lot of things that people don’t know.  Long term this will affect my child and my family life for the better.  We talk about it, discuss it at length.  Coming out as transgender brought my family closer together in honesty, openness, compassion, the freedom to be who we are.  What we’re all going through in this autism exploration is having the same effect.  Yes, there are many challenges in all this.  But they lead to a much healthier way of living in this home - the sort of health that self acceptance and the unconditional acceptance of each other brings, the sort of health that means we can all be increasingly open and authentic in our difficulties, knowing that all we will get is support from each other.  It may be a strange thing but my coming out as transgender and now my self acceptance about autism has increased the support my child gets, the safety they feel, and the knowledge that they can be who they are and still have that support - and, giving no details, my child is not exactly “average.”

Yes.  It’s true.  People, well meaning, caring people, really say things like that. Not sure they have a great deal of insight into how this particular family ticks.  They speak from a position that is loving.  It is compassionate.  But it’s a position that lacks knowledge of the inner world of this actually quite amazing and complicated little family unit.

This particular friend feels that the label of autism will drive people like her away because it makes her feel that she will never understand me.  Which is totally backwards:

The label (as much as it is a label) should help her to understand me in a way that she couldn’t understand me before.  It should increase her understanding of me.  In fact it may show that while she may have never understood me before (Unintentionally I never gave her the key to do so) it will now become a lot easier to see me and know roughly how I function.

The only future problem there should be regarding understanding is that the label points to the fact that I will continue to have problems understanding other people.  The only difference accepting the label and the truth makes is that I no longer have to feel so guilty and ashamed about it.  Which should, in time, help with all relationships.

The video is over.  Youtube recommends others. I’ve seen one of the autism ones before when my child showed it to me.  It’s certainly the same video maker - I can tell.  I can’t recognise the person but I recognise the bookshelf behind her!


Much has happened since writing that.  I've grown in knowledge of autism.  I've grown in knowledge of myself.  I've met lots of autistic people and found new friends.  I've grown into more self acceptance.  And it really has not been easy.  There have been very difficult times.  And I've screwed up more than once. Dealing with accepting myself as gloriously autistic is worthwhile and will lead to a better future but it's been the hardest thing I've ever done.  There is still much to work through and more to learn about myself and how best to live and learn to function and even thrive in this world.

Six weeks ago I was officially diagnosed as autistic which is good.  There are benefits to that beyond not having people refuse to believe that I might be autistic because a medical professional hasn't given me a piece of paper that "proves" it.  I didn't find a single person in the autism community who disbelieved me on account of not having a medical diagnosis.  But I found a lot of neurotypical people were unable to accept me as autistic.

By the way, the video maker mentioned at the end is Amythest Schaber.  She posted a video and transcript of a talk a couple of days ago that is really worth watching or reading.  You can find it at this link.  Highly recommended.

The only other thing I posted where I posted this was a haiku.  A company called Stimtastic offered the prize of a stim toy in a random draw.  To enter you had to post a haiku about stimming on a particular day.  I didn't win.  But here's the haiku:

Beads held; caressed, pressed.
Balance in centred comfort,
They become my breath.

How I love my beads.  And how I love the metal chains I grabbed at Autscape.  I wear one round my wrist most of the time and play with it lots and when the light reflects from the little metal links in the chain I can get lost and just hold them in front of my eyes until they become my entire universe and then the feelings of wonder and bliss might overtake the feelings of sensory overload or being socially overwhelmed.  My world shrinks to a tiny point in space and time and it's wonderful.  A year ago I would never have allowed myself to stim or to find this enjoyment.  Now I am learning to and learning that it is a part of who I am, a part to be embraced and celebrated rather than rejected.  A part to be lived even when it looks odd or when the social rules say I should act "normal."  There's still a part of me that shouts at me, "Don't stim, it's bad."  And still people who would prefer I didn't do it, that I wasn't publicly fiddling with a chain or getting lost in the light on it or chewing it.  From the video at the top of this post - I have actually had someone grab my hands and say "Quiet hands!"  But no, these hands weren't made to be constantly quiet.

Three months ago today was the last day of Autscape, four days that have changed my world. One day I may write about it.  There are so many things I should be writing about.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Thoughts on Autistic Hair-Dryers and Neurotypical Toasters.

I've said this before:  I thought that coming to terms with being autistic would be simple but the reality has been that it's possibly the most difficult thing I've ever done.  Yes, this is another one of those "Learning to be Autistic" posts.

As time goes by I begin to realise some of the reasons why it's so hard.

Last night I was writing to someone and used a metaphor for my life - that I'd tried for decades to be a washing machine but it turned out I was a bicycle.

This morning I mentioned this to someone else, who said "Great metaphor ... it's like this ..."  And she showed me a blog post, "A hair-dryer kid in a toaster-brained world."  And that's a much better metaphor so for this little post I'm stealing it.  I hope she doesn't mind me borrowing her rather fabulous metaphor.  If you're not stopping right now to read that post, I can recommend that you do so.

The metaphor explains some of the reasons why I, along with many undiagnosed adult autistics, had a difficult life and why being diagnosed throws up so many more difficulties rather than it just being a pretty rubber stamp on a piece of paper.

The author of the blog explains some things - as to how the autistic brain is quite simply different to the NT (neurotypical) brain and how autistic people thus have different skills to NT people and can have great problems in a world that simply isn't geared to autistic people's needs.  So if you grow up knowing you're autistic you can grow up knowing that you are different - but never less - and learn to be the best version of you that you could be.

But if you are autistic and grow up not knowing that then things become harder.

If you don't know you're autistic then you grow up ignorant of your hair-dryer self and are taught to emulate the toaster people.  You spend your life trying to make toast.  And you keep trying.  And keep trying.  And you fail so many times.  And even when you spend an age working very hard to make toast it ends up looking like very strange toast.  You spend your life wondering how everyone seems able to make toast so easily.  You look at the way the toast just pops up in their lives, how they have heat settings, a defrost button, a neat tray to catch all the crumbs.  And you do everything in your power to toast bread, muffins, crumpets just as they do and to toast in different ways.  Life becomes a frustration of failing to toast bread and you know you're failing and a failure because you think that you're created to be a toaster.  You're a bit useless because your toast making capabilities have obviously been destroyed.  But you keep trying each day to fit in as a good, functioning toaster.

So life can become very difficult and then you can be given all kinds of diagnoses as to why you're a rubbish toaster.  You're a toaster with borderline personality disorder.  You're a toaster with schizotypal personality disorder.  You're schizoid.  You're schizophrenic.  You're narcissistic.  You're depressed and that can only be solved by drugs and then therapy to become a working toaster.  I've received all those diagnoses and all those experts who diagnosed me completely missed the truth that I'm autistic and transgender.

In short you're a complete mess.  Because you can't make a decent slice of toast.

But then, eventually, you learn the joyful truth:  You're not a toaster after all.  You're a hair dryer.  Bliss.  Wonderment.  Excitement of excitements.  You were never meant to make toast at all.  You're not a failure, you just can't do something that you weren't made to do.  Then you read and study and learn that as a hair-dryer there are lots of things you can do.  And you think that's the end of it.  I'm autistic.  Hallelujah! That explains it all.  Let's move on with the rest of my life as an autistic hair-dryer.

It doesn't work out that way.

What I've learned is that learning you are autistic changes everything.  Everything.  Your entire life has to be seen and understood in a brand new, unfamiliar way.  And that process can become more difficult than you could possibly have imagined.

Today I've been thinking hard about just one aspect of this process: the coping mechanisms and all the things I learned over decades to get through life.  And today I come to a stark conclusion:  All those things were learned in order to get through life as some kind of toaster.  I sought so hard to be what I'd now call neurotypical, rather than seeking to be gloriously autistic and proud of who I really am.

That means I've now got to set myself to examine everything I ever found to get through life.  Because I am not a toaster and no longer want to be a toaster.  I don't want to try to make toast and be a terrible version of something that I never was in the first place.  I want to be me and learn to become the very best version of myself that can exist in this world, to become free, to become fully human, fully myself, fully at one with autism and and with every other aspect of myself.

I need to look at every coping strategy.  Every bit of therapy.  Every self-help technique.  Every little tip I've got in order to get through the day while trying to make toast.  And I've got to ask myself serious questions about them:

Will this strategy help me to become free as myself, or will it hinder that process due to being wholly centred around toast making?
If the strategy is a toast-centric strategy, can it teach me anything about how to be a hair-dryer?
What strategies are equally applicable for a toaster and a hair-dryer?  And I know that there are many things that are good tools for everyone to use.  Because we're all human and whether autistic or NT we share our humanity and share so many traits as individual human beings.
If a toast strategy does turn out to be of use, does that actually make it something I want to continue with, or are there other strategies that would more effectively help me learn to be myself?
What strategies are stopping me shine, stopping me live - even though I might have spent many years using them in order to try to shine and live?
And what new strategies could I learn to replace the old?  Strategies that will help me be who I was always meant to be.

I don't know the answers to any of those questions yet.  It's going to be an interesting ride finding the answers.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Mental Health Hell and the Positivity of My Life

My mental health has been pretty damn naff recently.  There have been horrible days and even worse hours.  Mental health has stopped me doing many of the things I wanted to do.  It's paralysed me at times.  It means that instead of going to Sussex for 11 days I have had to stay in Newcastle.  I've cried lots, broken down very publicly in the city centre, hurt my head through banging it, had a constant headache from sensory overload, and really struggled to keep going at times.

Yes.  I could look at the last month and choose to say that it's been a terrible time.  I could focus in on the bad things.  I could focus on the painful meltdown on Tuesday and the way I stopped being able to function when sorting things for refugees and the way I had to walk out of my mindfulness session and cry in the corridor.  Or I could focus on the good.

I could focus in yesterday on how awful I felt in the morning, how I didn't even have the spoons to get back on the metro and come home from town.  Or I could focus on how good the day got when it became a surprise.

I have a choice.  To focus on the bad and the pain.  Or to focus on all the good things, accept the bad, and move on from there.  Because the bad is bad.  And the pain is pain.  I can't deny it.  I can't pretend that all the rubbish isn't there.  But I can choose to focus elsewhere and see that, even with all the rubbish, life is a wonderful thing.

Because there is so much good and so much hope and so many good people.  Taking - as examples - my Saturdays:

Four weeks ago I danced with a new and very valued friend, barefoot in a thunder storm at Autscape, a conference/gathering run by and for autistic people.  Four weeks on I know that Autscape was very important to me and there are things that happened there and things it taught me about myself that I haven't even begun to process.  In some way Autscape will affect the rest of my life.  That weekend I met awesome people.

Three weeks ago I went to a barbecue from which arose decisions that are majorly affecting my life.  Majorly.  Three weeks ago I found somewhere that has almost become my second home.  Somewhere that I hope will become a big part of my life.  That barbecue was just a barbecue and the person who invited me was really just inviting me to a barbecue.  Neither of us knew that it would lead to so much in such a short space of time.  That weekend I met awesome people and because I met them I went on to meet more awesome people.

Two weeks ago was a day I could say was rubbish.  Because the first half of it was pretty bad in terms of mental health difficulties.  I wouldn't wish those difficulties on anyone.  But then there was a wonderful message from an awesome friend, a message that really helped me face the day.  And then on what had been that rubbish day I had a surprise meeting with another awesome friend.  We pretended to have an appointment at the optician in order to help ourselves to hot chocolate (my awesome friend does things like that!) and then we sat in the street drinking and laughing with each other.

On the worst days there is good.  On the day I broke down so much in town my friends came to the rescue - especially three wonderful people from Autscape who stayed with me as much as they could through constant text messages until I was recovered enough to get myself safe.  I count myself as massively fortunate in the people who have come my way recently, some of whom I've met in surprising ways.  It's like I suddenly have this brand new extended family of people who I love, who love me and with whom there are all kinds of unexpected connections.

A week ago I belatedly got involved in the work going on in solidarity with refugees.  It took seeing people and donations in my new second home before I finally decided that I couldn't stay away from giving something to the cause.  It's entirely possible that the future will see me continue to be involved in that in bigger ways.  And I've met awesome people.  It takes a lot for me to stand up and do something positive.  But I think right now I am standing and I don't want to sit down again.  The work is there and will continue to be there and, if I allow it and choose it, there is space for me to be useful.

And tomorrow I go to a meditation group for the first time.  The start of what will be a weekend I am really looking forward to - though a very different weekend to the one I would be having had I not had all the mental health issues I've had recently.  There will be awesome people there too and awesome people throughout the weekend.

So.  My life has been a mental health hell.  And I could choose to see it that way.  But it has also been a time of massive and unexpected blessings and of meeting the awesome people - many of whom I would never have met had I not experienced the mental health hell.  For the future I can only see more blessings and more awesome people even if the hell continues.

I had an hour this morning when my head was not hurting from sensory overload.  The first hour in a few weeks.  It was bliss to not hurt.  And sometimes it hurts so much and that pain inside my head falls down and across my body too.  But in this life, painful life, I rejoice and in the last weeks have become more and more thankful and more and more able to see the light that comes from without and the light that I have been becoming from within.

My painful life is one of positivity.  And overall, I love the way it is becoming.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Because the fight for LGBTQIA... rights is not just a gay rights issue.

The more I read articles about LGBT issues, or LGBTQIA... issues the more I think we need to separate the T, and Q, I, A, from LGB.  Yes, we've all been persecuted, legally and socially. Yes, we still don't have full equality and the situation worldwide is still atrocious.  But lumping the TQIA with LGB when they're such different things doesn't come without problems.

So many times the headline will use an acronym such as LGBT but the article will consistently speak of "gay rights" which is an unintended exclusion of heterosexual transgender people and of all the other people under that LGBTQIA... umbrella who are not gay.

Perhaps we need to stop speaking of gay rights and gay equality and gay anything else unless the issues only surround gay people.  Otherwise, just speak of rights and equality.  I fully support gay rights.  But the issues surrounding trans rights can be very different and so often end up being sidelined and forgotten in what is a praiseworthy celebration of the varieties of human sexuality.

I just read an article on four big companies and their stance on equal rights.  Hey, I'm glad big companies want equality.  But while the headline is LGBT, the article is "the fight for gay rights", "gay parade".  (Can we please, please stop talking of gay pride parades?)  And the T has naff all do to with "gay" because it is a gender issue, not a sexuality issue.  Just like cisgender people, a transgender person may be straight, or L, G, B or have any other sexuality and trans people, especially straight trans people, get lost under the crush of gay, gay, gay.  And intersex people get even more forgotten and lost in the lumping it all together and just talking gay, gay, gay.  Heck, even bisexual people can get lost and forgotten in the crush and that is part of that variety of human sexuality.

So can we agree not to speak of gay rights unless we're actually talking just about gay rights?

Thursday, 18 June 2015

How Are You? A most difficult question to answer.

I got up this morning and wrote my Morning Pages - three pages of long hand writing about anything and everything.  Three weeks into that practice and every day they churn something up and lead to discoveries and decisions and things that need to change.  That's about 1000 words every morning.  And then I got sidetracked online by a one frame cartoon based on the question "How are you?"  And then the following happened.  Another 1000 words.  Typed - which is so much quicker than using a pen and feels very different inside.  So that's 2000 words of dubious quality and equally dubious meaning, written down by about eight in the morning.
OK.  So this is going to show me to be a bit weird.  Or possibly very weird.  That's nothing new.  There are seventy posts here already, most of which show up some kind of weirdness.  Yes, this is weird - but at least I know I'm not unique.  I know at least one person who feels exactly the same way I do and complains about this very thing.  And he's not even autistic!  Another person who doesn't deal well with those parts of social interaction that are just acceptable nice rituals.
One of my least favourite questions to be asked is "How are you?"  A question that is asked every day.  Part of the small talk and formal social banter we're all expected to participate in.

It's part of that social ritual that means we have to talk about the weather.  Someone is standing next to us and we tell them it's a cold day or warm, or wet, or dry.  As if they don't know that for themselves.  And then they have to respond with something equally banal.

I've learned the weather thing - I just agree with whatever the other person says.  Which becomes hard for me when one person tells me how cold it is and a minute later someone is telling me how hot it is.  That happens.  For me it's quite confusing.  I want to argue with the second person on behalf of the first!
But I have real trouble with the question, "How are you?"
That's because - as anyone reading this knows - very few people actually want to know the answer and I am a pathological truth teller.  I'm generally a very open book and the only secrets I keep are about other people. I have trouble interpreting the words "How are you?" as "Let's enter into meaningless ritualised talking for the next few seconds" rather than as "How are you?". I find it hard enough to give the meaningless "I'm fine" answer to complete strangers and have to force myself against all instinct to say it when asked by people I know.  Because while I know in theory that the question is just a piece of social fluff that doesn't mean anything, in practice, in the moment, I have to work really hard to remember that people don't actually want to know how I am when they ask me how I am.

Most days I can manage to do the polite thing:  "Hi.  How are you?"  "I'm fine.  How are you?"  "I'm fine too.  It's sunny today isn't it?"  "Yes, but they forecast cloud on Tuesday."  "Oh no, I hope it stays sunny."  "Yes.  I've got to go now.  It was good to see you."  "Great to chat with you."  "Bye."  Such a conversation is a bit like two animals passing each other and giving each other a quick sniff, though I dare say the animal conversation contains far more information.  But it's a conversation most of us have very regularly.
But sometimes I'm so drained that I can't manage to override instinct, honesty and openness about pretty much everything.  So what tumbles out is an actual answer to the question.  And that gets me in social trouble pretty frequently.

Please don't ever ask me how I am unless you want the answer, whether it's from the height of ecstasy or from a place of dark pain. Because for me, anything else is physically painful.  Yes, physically painful.  To answer "I'm fine" when I'm not actually hurts me.  To be asked a question that actually means "Please lie to me now" isn't easy for me.

Please don't ask and then tell me off if I respond with honesty.

If I ask you the question it means I actually want to be told the answer, or to be told that you don't want to tell me the answer. It doesn't ever mean that I am making polite and completely meaningless small talk.
If I ask you the question then I don't want the answer "I'm fine" unless you are fine.  Tell me you aren't comfortable with answering.  Or give the answer, whatever that happens to be.  But please don't lie to me just like most people lie to each other dozens of times a day and just like it's become our instinct to lie, avoiding proper relationship while pretending we have it.

If I ask you the question it means that I am seeking relationship with you, based on truth and integrity, on authenticity, not on social rules that force us to be dishonest with one another.

If I ask the question on my own initiative - not as a polite answer to you asking the question - it is an actual question.  It's not small talk - because I'm rubbish at initiating small talk.  It's not ritual.  It's not part of the liturgy of most people's social interaction.  It's a question.

I know all that is strange.  I know that the world doesn't work like that and that such questions will continue to be asked without meaning what the words say.  But it is the way this head instinctively works.

There is another reason why I have trouble with the question "How are you?"  It's open ended and can mean too many different things.  It's not specific enough and I can panic about what the question might mean before coming out with an answer.  Honestly, there are several reasons why I have trouble with the question and I've learned this year that these reasons are common for autistic people.

Some of them are echoed in the comments on this page.  Yes, I could be that aspie friend in the original post.  I'm not, but it's nice to know I'm not alone!

It's fascinating for me to slowly look at my life and thoughts and ways of being through the lens of autism.  It's bringing so much understanding that I never had before.  And with understanding and time and work I'll be able to learn to function so much better in society.  Whether it's the little things like small talk and questions like "How are you?" or the big things like the sources of my temptation of self harm in times of stress, or the ins and outs of sensory issues, defences and social work arounds the whole process is being a revelation for me and is turning out to be a challenge of a size I never could have believed.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Sensory Overload - An Autistic Hell Day And A Difficult Recovery

Yes.  Yet another autism post.

This was written long hand in pen at six o'clock this morning.  I have thought hard about whether to type it up and share it, without any editing because of the nature of that writing.  OK, so I admit one edit because the original was just planted onto the page in one long paragraph so I've separated things out to make it more readable.  This writing is part of a course I'm starting on unlocking creativity, a course that will be wonderful.  But the pages of writing every morning - yes, EVERY morning there's this amount of writing, in pen, on paper - aren't really meant to be shared.  Today I am breaking that rule.  Because this may explain part of my life to people who can't see it because it's not visible.  Here I share a little of what sensory overload can mean to me.  The effects of doing something I wanted to do - and to be able to do.  It is very nice to be able to admit to all this and to be honest with myself and others.  It is horrendous that my unconscious coping techniques and defences took a running leap off the nearest cliff when I started to examine them and bring them to light.  Right now, things are fucking difficult.  I'd say "Excuse my language," but really, don't.  I can't be British and polite and stiff upper lip about this without being dishonest about the whole thing.  And if I'm dishonest about it then what really is the point of me talking about it at all.  Here goes:

There are moments when I wish autism could go and take a flying fuck out of my life. Last night. And this morning. Moments when it would be nice to be able to do normal things, the simple things that normal people do, without it turning into a living hell, without having to retreat and recover until hell subsides.

Yesterday I spent time with people. Unexpected people. For maybe 45 minutes in a noisy bar. Thankfully not the first bar we entered which was too much for me in seconds. I try to act normal for the randomly met people. But it's so hard when everything else is happening, when every second is an inner pain and every moment an overload of sensory input. I try so hard but it is hell. And I just don't know the social rules. Didn't really know how to function and that would have been the case even if we have all been on a deserted mountain with only the sound of the breeze through the rocks and the heather to keep us company.

Perhaps I should have said no, and not done it. But damn this. I want to be able to function in a reasonably normal way. I know I wasn't. I know I was finding communication tough. Drifting into a mode where every word is forced and where being non-verbal is the option I want to take. It was nice to be with a very verbal person so I didn't feel an excess of pressure to talk, just guilt for not talking enough and drifting into stimming with the sleeves of my top in order to stay relatively centred.

Yes. I want to be with people. But I need to learn to say no. To be totally honest and say “I am autistic. I choose not to do this because it is harmful to me.” “I am autistic, and while this may be normal life for you, it is misery for me.” For my own well being I need to learn this.

Because it wasn't just that the situation hurt all the time. It continues. The bar is left behind. The noise, in the past. The people left. But that's not the end of it. My hell does not end the moment the situation ends. It takes me time to recover.

Last night was a quest to recover. Yes, there were good things. K's enthusiasm over stones. The blessing of a double rainbow. Writing to a friend. But the evening was recovery, still feeling the physical pain of sensory overload. Still in a state of shock, in a state where the terror and craziness and over-whelming chaos of that bar stayed with me. Every second, no matter how distracted, was a continuation of my pain. Just as a tuning fork takes time for the note to fade.

And last night I didn't see any sign of the note fading. I was in tears more than once because I still hurt so much. And because I know that there is nobody who can really help. Nothing I know that helps. As such times there is always the temptation to self harm because I know that would instantly relieve much of the stress, anxiety that can accompany the effects of overload. But self harm is out. I refuse it and don't ever want to walk down that path again.

Yes. There were good things last night and I hold onto those. But they were fleeting flowers in the fire.

I am fortunate to be taking medication. Because it does make falling asleep easy, no matter what state my head is in. The drug takes me gently away rather than it taking hours to sleep, until total exhaustion means sleep comes. Without that drug, last night would have been worse, have gone on for far longer and the pain would have been with me at every second of it.

So what of this morning? Am I recovered? Simple answer: No. I am not.

I do feel better than last night but the noise and the difficulties of the social area still with me. The noise is still humming through my head. Repeatedly the sounds clamour for my attention even though they ceased to exist in the existence of my outer world, fourteen hours ago. In my inner world they remain, in full surround sound. So glad we were near a window. It means that if I focus to the left of my brain it is a lot quieter.

No. I am not recovered. And I hate that. Fourteen hours and I am not recovered from doing a perfectly ordinary things that perfectly ordinary people do. Fourteen hours and my non-recovery makes me want to cry again for this shitty, shitty life. No. It's not shitty. This is only one side of it. There are many good things and my life is better than I'd ever thought it could be.

But to wake up still wounded from something so simple is scary. It's distressing. It's a picture of how limited I still am. And of how limited I might always be. And I have no been able to accept these limitations. I try not to punish myself for them but that's difficult. And I try not to get frustrated knowing there are normal things I can't do.

Get this through your head Clare: You are disabled. Deal with it. Accept it. And seek a life that sets you free in it.

Waking up like this isdistressing. When pain continues so long after the cause has ceased to exist. Irrationality rises up and says, “Snap out of it. It's just in your head.” Yes, of course it's just in my head. But that doesn't mean it isn't real.

I am so glad to have accepted this autism label – because at least it explains my reality. At least it tells me I'm not just a useless nutter at these times.

So today. I must continue to recover. And then go to church and be the social animal again, the smiling face welcoming everyone, the friend to everyone there. I so much want to be there, with my family who are the church. And I hope to recover enough by then so that I can be back in that quiet place beforehand.

Today is the day when I must start to learn to say no. To not worry if that makes me look selfish or anti-social. Today is the day when I must start to put my own self-care first so that I can care for others from there and not fail to care from my own hell.

I am autistic. It's time to say it. To BE autistic and explain that when I know something will do me harm. Today. Say No. Because the reason is sound.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Being Transgender: A Sudden Decision? No. Of Course Not.

I entered into a facebook discussion again just now having been asked to weigh in and be the person to answer all the questions that can be asked about transgender issues.  Again.  Maybe I should just write a book about it and then when the same questions get asked again and again and again I can just say "Buy my book, the answer is on page 82."
My plan was just to say that I'm not up to answering questions.  Instead I was forced to correct a mistake that had been the basis of much of the conversation up to that point - the quite common belief that the word "woman" is derived from "womb."

The discussion, as too many are right now, revolved around Caitlyn Jenner and whether she could possibly claim to be a woman.  (She can.  Case closed!)  And the accusation emerged that her decision to transition was of a man suddenly deciding to be a woman.  (There's no sudden.  Case closed!)

My plan tonight was to write something about myself.  Because it was two years ago tonight that I stood in front of my mirror and everything that I'd been hiding from for so long, in terms of gender, could not be hidden from any longer.  Two years ago tonight I said hello to myself as Clare - a name I already knew - and welcomed myself into freedom.  Two years on and I have not regretted it for a moment.  The last two years have had lots of difficulties, as those close to me know well.  But my life is vastly better now than it was then.  Once you learn to love and accept yourself it changes everything, no matter what happens in your outward circumstances.  My only regret is the same one that so many transgender people have - that we didn't do it all a lot sooner.

Instead of that writing, there's this.  A single response on facebook.  Much longer than planned because it gives so many reasons why this "sudden" decision is delayed by so many transgender people.  And in some countries and societies there are far more reasons for delay than here.  Sometimes good reasons why someone will never be openly transgender at all - such as wanting to stay out of prison or wanting to stay alive.

Apologies for the bluntness in this.  Actually I don't apologise.  That's a lie.  But if you are offended by swearing, don't read this - there are a few naughty words arising from feeling very strongly about these things, feelings that come from my own experiences and the experiences I've heard of in the lives of friends or seen in the lives of others who I do not personally know.  Some people have experienced far, far worse than me.  Compared to many, I've really had the whole experience of transitioning very easy.  But compared to NOT being transgender, it's been bloody hard.

No need to read on.  Of course, there's no need to have read this far either, but thank you. I'm mainly blogging this so I can look back on it myself and remind myself, not that I'll ever need reminding, of all the reasons why there's nothing sudden about the choice to come out and live as the person you are rather than the person you were told you had to be.  The following was just typed straight out and has not been edited in the slightest for posting here.

The word "woman" is not derived from womb. Not sure where that erroneous idea came from, but: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=woman There's loads online about the etymology of the word.

In any case, there are medical conditions in which cisgender women are born without wombs. Is anyone here accusing those women of not being women? Is anyone here going to define a person's gender by their genitals or their reproductive organs, rather than by the actual person? Is anyone here going to reduce such questions to body parts? Is anyone here going to say that those women cannot be women because there were born without something "fundamental" to being a woman? I sincerely hope not.

I am the friend in question but I'm really not up to answering all the questions at the moment because so much is going on right now that's taking pretty much all of my energy. There's so much good information online. So anyone who wants to learn can learn, from loads of transgender people who have written a ton of good stuff about their experiences. Just google it. Take time to research it and read just what transgender people have gone through in order to be able to live as the people they are.

But here's a rant I accidentally typed:

Just to say, it's not sudden. By no means sudden. This has always been with me in some way but I couldn't face it, face myself and accept myself until two years ago. Because from earliest childhood society told me that I couldn't be me, that such thoughts were evil, even that I am an abomination. With such crap thrown at you through childhood and adult life it's hard to accept yourself. And when you know that shit will be thrown at you when you do deal with it, by idiots, by the ignorant and by bigots, it's hard to act on that acceptance. And when you start to deal with it and get rejected by friends and family and when every time you leave the house you are abused by people then it's fucking hard to continue. And when you haven't got the privileges and riches of Caitlyn Jenner and the cash to pay for everything she's done then it's even harder. When private health care isn't an option it's difficult. When national media insults you. When hatred is thrown at you for even daring to live as the person you are then life can be more than a bit difficult. Overcoming all the crud that's been thrown at you for decades when you have done your very best to deny who you are because of who society thought you should be when you were born is never easy. Never. When people fear you. When news agencies and politicians try to get other people to fear you and think that you're only doing it because you're some kind of sexual predator who wants to assault and rape women in a toilet. When you are at far greater risk of being beaten up, and in many countries murdered. When obstacles are put in your way or it's made impossible to be legally recognised as your own gender. When in many countries even trying to be yourself would result in a prison sentence. When you see transgender friends assaulted. When you are sexually assaulted in a transphobic attack (which happened to me). When churches reject you. When they throw you out of ministry. When they seek legal help to try to make it impossible for you to even enter the building. When ministers try to exorcise the devil from you for daring to openly be who you've always been inside. When you are told you are damned to burn for eternity for being transgender. When friends turn from you and family members won't even speak to you at your own mother's funeral (which happened to me). When all these things happen it's just fucking hard to even consider coming out and saying "Yes, I am transgender. Yes, I am going to live as myself rather than as a shadow, a wraith. Yes, I am going to accept myself and love myself". So difficult.

So no. It's not sudden. It's not sudden at all. It's just very, very difficult because of all the crap that gets thrown at us and which makes us feel worthless until we find that immense courage needed to turn round and live as the people we already know we are.

To accept myself is a decision I made two years ago. In my early forties. Two years ago tonight. A decision which pretty much instantly ended a period of thirty years of constant depression.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Dreamscape. When Dream Lingers into the Waking. And Calls Unto Renewed Death.

An hour after waking:

I hate that dream.

I hate that house.

It's not happened for a while in any of its variations.

Tonight was the worst, not necessarily for the events but for the place.  Other dreams have far worse events.

Dream events are nothing compared to this place.

This place is entirely the essence wrongness.  I have no better word.

Every wall, passage, room, staircase is wrong.  Physically the walls look just as walls, ancient wood.  But psychically they exude the stench of something far beyond simple death.

The fabric far beyond darkness.

The wood, the walls, the house itself is hard to survive inside my own being.

And it has HIM in it.  Whoever he is or represents.  HIM.

There is no light in HIM, none.  None.  Just venom, hatred.

Somewhere in that house, he will be.  Always writing, whatever HIM writes.

Tonight he saw me and moved with more resolution and speed than I've seen before.

Urgency.  Urgency.  Desperate to come to me.  To steal all light from me.

He is fear.  That place is fear.

The whole place is twisted by Presence, vile presence, manifesting whatever it wants and able to exclude Spirit-Source from the house, able to transform calls to Spirit and fight back, increasing the wrongness and the manifestation.

But worst of all is HIM.

I feel HIM now.

I see him grasping for me because this dream takes too long to fade.

If I must go to a dream house, can't I go to the other one?  Yes, there's a door there that passes through to an Elsewhere that isn't right.  And I can't not go to it.  But that Elsewhere feels like Hell has passed away and the place just needs to be brought to life.  Tainted but not threat in any major way.

Tonight's house, ancient wood, is entire threat, entire psychic danger, sometimes physical danger.  And tonight's house remains into the waking and calls for me to return.  Return and have the hope of Spirit, of the creative, of Being, ripped from your being.  HE can do it.  There is no Spirit there to stop him.

And I see him now because whatever HE is, that is still within me.

Mother of being, protect me.
Father of light, protect me.

Because that place, that HIM, are within and they want to return me to my death.

Inside.  That place is real.  And it wants me to return. To stay.  In waking and sleeping.  To stay.

If dream is manifest psyche then inside me, that place is real, HIM is real.

And he must one day, in my waking, be addressed and fought.

Mother of being, guide me.
Father of light, guide me.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Different ... But Not Less: Autism, Temple Grandin, GPs, Ignorance and Celebratory Pride

"Different ... but not less."

Never less.  That goes for all autistic people no matter how supposedly "high" or "low" functioning we are.

And it goes for ALL disabled people.

No disabled person should be thought of as less, demeaned as a lesser human being.  No matter how severe the disability.

And it goes for all genders, sexes, sexualities, colours, nationalities as well.  It goes for all groups of people who have had to fight, and often still need to fight to be treated equally.

"Different ... but not less." 

This tiny quotation comes from the closing speech in a TV movie about Temple Grandin PhD, starring Clare Danes.  I haven't seen the movie - does anyone have a spare DVD?!  This three minute video contains that speech.  It would be nice to think that approaches to autism have come a long way since the 1981 conference where the impromptu speech was made.


If you want some extra entertainment try watching the clip while reading along with the English transcript youtube helpfully provides.  The software isn't quite perfect yet.  But as always, don't read the comments.  They include such things as "Can autistic women have sex?"  With the answer, "Dude, autistic people cannot have sex, they don't know anything."  All rather depressing that people think such things.

I happened to have a book by Temple Grandin in my bag when a GP said during a consultation, "How can you even think about autism when you can speak and are intelligent?"  That made it easy to respond with, "Hey, GP, look at this science book by an autistic lecturer with a doctorate.  GP, your views on autism are entirely wrong."  I find most people are amazed by that GP - surely everyone knows that there are plenty of very intelligent autistic people.  Everyone apart from that GP.

There is so much to know about the human condition that sometimes GPs don't know things.  The best GPs are the ones who admit that they don't know - and who find out what they don't know so that they can be of use.  The worst GPs are the ones who pretend they know everything.  Fortunately at least a couple of GPs here are open about it when there's gaps in their knowledge.

A GP my whole family likes fully admitted she didn't know about the referral process for adult assessment.  "But," she said, "I will find out and I will refer you and if there's any problem then I will contact you personally."

And the good GPs here are fully open that they don't know the ins and outs of the medical side of my gender transition.  But that's fine.  They are happy to follow instructions from the gender clinic.  And to a large extent they are happy just to follow my instructions, trusting me to know far more about it than they do.

Yes.  GPs do not know all there is to know about medicine.  That would be impossible.  But that's fine.  We cannot expect them to know all the answers.  Not knowing is acceptable, as long as they don't pretend to know everything and in doing so say ignorant things and mistreat their patients just as that GP said to us.

That's a lesson for us all.  We're all ignorant about things.  Let's accept that and be humble about our own lack of knowledge.  Let's all refuse to speak in ignorance as if we were the knowledgeable ones.  Let's accept that we really don't have all the answers, just lots of questions that we can't yet fully understand.

Regarding autism, I was ignorant.  Six months ago I knew really very little about it.  And although I keep reading, there is still a massive amount I don't know.  And although I have a few autistic friends, knowing them and learning of their lives doesn't by any means give me cause to say I know about the lives of all autistic people - because there is so much variation.  Six months ago I hadn't even come to the point of accepting that I too might be autistic - but I've covered that in another post.

I was ignorant.  Knowledge coming from the media, which often gets things wrong.  Knowledge coming from stereotypes.  Knowledge coming from seeing the sort of traits mentioned on Simon Baron-Cohen's autism spectrum test.  Basically - often dodgy knowledge and sometimes totally erroneous knowledge.

I was ignorant about autism.  I've been ignorant about many things.  Two years ago I knew virtually nothing about anything to do with transgender issues.  And yet I am transgender - so my ignorance really didn't serve me well!  There are many things I am still ignorant about and there always will be.  I am fine with that, as long as I am always prepared to own up to what I don't know and am always prepared to keep learning.  And I confess that on occasion I've slipped and haven't lived from a position of that humility.

I was ignorant about autism.  But that's fine.  Because, in the main, I was able to accept my ignorance about other people and not tell them about it and say all those things that well meaning ignorant people have said to me in the last few months. Unfortunately the same ignorance meant I could not accept myself.

And if I'm totally honest, I think my beliefs, somewhere deep down, ran contrary to that statement of Temple Grandin,  "Different ... but not less."  I was fearful.  "If I admit this, if I tackle the possibility head on, does that mean that I am admitting that I am not just different, but I am less?"  The answer, of course, is "No."  It's taken seeing myself plainly in the mirror of another person's life to get me to realise that I can accept the possibility and not have to fear myself.

Like Temple Grandin, like my still few openly (to me or the world) autistic friends, like all autistic people, I am different.

But not less.  Never less.  Never.

In fact, I am proud to be me.

I am proud to be autistic.

And actually in some ways I am glad to be autistic.

In all the difficult times I am still glad.

When breaking down from sensory overload I am still glad.

Beyond all that, there is so much good in this

And I am starting to recognise all these good aspects.

Get that?  I am GLAD to be autistic.

I could not imagine my being to be anything else.

I am glad.  I am autistic.  Good.  Celebrate.

Because it makes me who I am.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Autism and Sensory Processing: When Even the Quiet is Overwhelming

Something written about an experience of today.
Written as it flowed.
Unedited.  Not proof read.
It's honest.  It could be nothing else.
But it's by no means some polished jewel.
Right now, this is my life, or at least a part of it.
And it hurts.
And again, I do not know how to deal with it.
And again, I will begin to learn.
All will be well.
It's just not well now.


I never used to have this problem.

Not like this.

OK, I knew that it existed.

But I'd learned long ago to live with it, to work round it,

To cushion my head against the blows.

Now I cannot escape this problem.

I admitted my autism

And never expected any of this to happen.

I knew there was something.  I always knew.

But this whole thing has taken me by surprise.

Something within decided to show me a series of revelations:

"Here's what you are really like.

Underneath the forty year development of defences, strategies.

Underneath all your learning to focus.

Beyond the skills you learned in tunnel vision, tunnel hearing, tunnel senses.

Here, here, here is what you really are.

Here is the truth."

There was no escape today.

I have lost those skills.  All my learning wiped away.

Without those ways to cope, this is now my life:

The streets were paved with Hell.

So I sought out the sanctuary of a library.

The peace, the near silence of a library.

The only way I could see to cope with that Hell until I was called into life again.

Not so.  No.  Things were too bad for that.

The library.  Too noisy for me.

With quiet noises coming.

Many noises.  All around.  Unpredictable.

Music.  Two sets of music.  Driven to the heart of my head.

Voices, so many voices in so many places, in quiet conversation.

The clicking of computer keyboards.

The intense sound of a soft broom on the floor.

Sudden things being dropped.  Scaring.

Each suddenness a new instinctive threat to be considered.

Footsteps on the stairs.

The overpowering machinery of the lift.

The sound of the building, breathing in air conditioned cool.

So much noise.

So much more than that.

All of it quiet without.

But each sound appearing as an explosion within.

And so much movement.

And so much light.

So much pain.  So much heat inside.

The approach of a kindly man who asked if I was OK

Far kinder than the man who laughed in my transgender face this morning.

Or the two guys laughing and insulting me in the street.

Not that I cared about them.

I am too sure of myself right now to give a shit

When the idiots and ignorant try to rubbish me with abuse.

The kindly man wanted to stay, to chat

Because he heard me say I was artistic.

Until he walked away, with speed and determination

When he realised I was not artistic but autistic.

With all my old defences I would have hardly noticed it.

And that man would have hardly noticed me.

But now.  Undefended.  Naked.

The confusing quiet of library became unbearable.

Every sound, every suddenness a new scream within.

Back to the noise and movement of the more predictable streets.

And home.  Fast.  Weeping on the Metro.

Weeping.  Because I could not escape the feeling that I have failed today.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Guilt and Shame of Autism. The Needless, Regretted Guilt and Shame.

Yes.  Another post about autism.  Wasn't this meant to be a blog about gender? - a plan that went wrong from the very first post.

Last night I was online, starting with multiple entertaining viewings of S#!T Ignorant People Say To Autistics which everyone should watch and never, ever say any of those things. That turned to hopping between autism videos on Youtube.  There are so many good, educational videos - and some terrible ones too.  Really terrible.  Morally horrific.  But we won't get onto the less than savoury aspects of Autism Speaks, or onto bleach cures, anti-vaxxers, other autism cure and prevention videos or any of the other rubbish that makes most autistic people so angry and only increases their pride and willingness to make good videos.  No.  We won't get onto those horrific things.

I happened on one of the good ones.  Not perhaps a well made video but with excellent content.  It contained a list I hadn't encountered before, of traits that may be seen in females with Asperger's Syndrome.  And that video linked to the blog containing the list, yet another autism blog that I haven't seen before.  So much to read and study.  So little time and energy.

I found myself going through this list in some detail, not just a quick "Yes, yes, yes ... yes, no, yes ... ooh, nearly a perfect score there." - which was educational.  Possibly is was a bad move because I didn't find the list until gone midnight and it took rather a while.  By the time I finished, my drugs had long since kicked in and when I closed my eyes I could see and feel figures passing over my head and stopping to press my forehead in a most colourful manner.  Either I was completely shattered or the angels were being very active!  I really must learn to escape the internet earlier at night even when it is absorbing to the point of saturation.  I must learn to say "The page will still exist tomorrow, Clare, go to sleep."

As I read the list and discussed each point with myself out loud, I was amazed.

Not by the amount of things I tick "Yes, definitely" to.  I've got used to ticking "yes" on these checklists, and questions and tests.  Clare is autistic.  OK.  Moving on.  That's old news even if she hasn't worked out what that means for her life, her person, her past or her future.

But I was amazed by the way total honesty with myself last night led to the amount of things I tick "Yes, definitely, and I've always felt massively guilty or shameful for it and tried my best to stop this, get rid of it, not have it as part of my life."

So much shame.  So much guilt.  So much self eradication.  And some of that shame and guilt are over things that I look at and wonder how I could have ever felt that way.  The rest of it I know to be unfairly felt and applied, but can understand where it came from because those things are so often frowned upon in polite society.

You know when I said that accepting my gender makes a much bigger practical difference to my life than accepting my autism ever would or could?

I think I was wrong.

At this moment all the changes that have come through transitioning to live as "female" seem almost insignificant compared to the vast range of things that learning to be autistic includes.

Yes, gender is a big deal and dealing with it transformed so much.  Dealing with gender pretty much cured decades of depression and a large black shadow that hung over my life even on the best of days.  It meant I could smile more and better and learn what it meant to cry tears of joy.

While each facet of autism is small, they are beginning to add up to something bigger than gender, whether that's in the way I treat myself, the way I interact with the world, or the way the world treats me.

Gender tackled gender.  Learning to embrace my autistic self tackles everything.  Nothing in my mind, in my life history, in the way I think and behave is safe from the magnifying lens of the autism microscope.

Maybe if anything was safe then I wouldn't be autistic!  After all, that list includes such things as "Analyzes existence, the meaning of life, and everything continually." Yep. I don't just analyse.  I over-analyse.  Everything. Even the things that have no deep reason behind them. And get told about it frequently and told to stop it and just accept what is and get on with things.

So not only is dealing with this harder for me than gender transition, it's bigger too and, if I am faithful to this process, it will transform every part of my life.

Shame must fall away.  Guilt must fall away.  Into true self acceptance.

This is just who I am.  How I'm wired.  And how, at least in the broad strokes, countless thousands of other people are wired.

I have killed myself for too long.

Now is the time for resurrection.  For self knowledge.  For accepting without making value judgements about the so-called "good" and "bad" aspects of who I am.

Now is the time to learn to be autistic.  To learn to be me.  To learn to live.

Now is the time to love myself.  To be proud of who I am.  To be proud of what I am.

Now is the time to allow others to love me - and lovingly critique me - without rejecting that love.

And now is the time to learn better to love others.  To be proud of who they are.  To be proud of what they are.

Now is the time to build myself up.  To stop falling back on forty years of abusive self criticism based on needless shame.

Now is the time for forgive myself for all the abuse I have poured upon myself.

Now.  Now is the time.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

About My Breasts, Fucking Passing, And The Wisdom of Autism

Warning in advance:  This post contains completely honest, no-holds-barred, discussion of my breasts.  If that is going to offend you, stop reading.  Right now.

Not long after I had started wearing skirts publicly someone at church asked me an important question:  "Have you thought of chicken fillets? That's what I use."  The person who asked was cis-gender and was wanting to say that using them is OK, because plenty of women use them.  No.  I hadn't thought of that.  In the amazing rush of coming out to myself and going full time two months later, somehow I'd missed thinking of buying someone to give me the appearance of an obvious bust, the appearance of breasts that could have been there for years.

So.  I bought breast inserts.  I bought bras of the right size to hold the inserts in place and wore them with pride.  All of a sudden, the public Clare went from being flat chested to having C cup fake boobs that plenty of people told her looked good.

They really helped with confidence.  Because you know that when the idiots are staring at the shape of your fantastic chest they're not looking so much at your manly looking face so won't throw abuse at you as much.  Unless they look up and think they've just accidentally fancied a bloke and start worrying about their own sexuality.  At least that was the mental theory that boosted my confidence - whether it had any basis in truth is an entirely different matter.

But the time has come to change.

For the last couple of days I have ditched those inserts.  I've been walking with my chest being the shape it currently is naturally.  Yes.  This really is an entire blog post about my breasts.  There will be no photos included!

So.  Why?  Why have I taken the step of putting aside those confidence building, good looking, breast forms?  Am I mad?  Do I want to start getting more abuse again?  Why, Clare?  Why?  Isn't your life hard enough?

Three reasons.

One:  For the good of my own health.

I've now been taking oestrogen every day for seven months.  The dose is still low - in fact it's still lower than what the normal start dose would be in the USA.  And roughly two months ago I started to receive implants of goserelin, which is an anti-androgen.  Basically, it blocks the production of testosterone (and of oestrogen too but that doesn't affect me).

The hormone treatment is having an effect.  I am going through the soreness that any pubescent girl goes through when their breasts grow.  And the inserts affect this.  Yep, it all gets painful at times.  Not that I'm complaining, just laughing at the pain because it means the hormones are doing their job.

The inserts I have are designed to fit over breasts that aren't growing - either because someone wants to add to what they naturally have, or because someone has had a mastectomy and wants to appear to still have their previous appearance.

That's no good for me because my breasts are growing.  That process has begun, though just as in any other female puberty it will take years to complete.  (Too much information?!  If that's the case, why didn't you stop reading when warned at the start?!)  The inserts, because of what they're designed for have a concave back.  And that's no good.  To press growing breasts into them is to try to force them into a shape that they shouldn't have.  And now they're growing there is less room in that bra so the pressure is greater resulting in increased risk of growing misshapen breasts.

So for my own health - and my own comfort too because any woman can tell you that extra constant pressure on growing breasts isn't exactly a blissful physical experience - I have decided to ditch the inserts, regardless of how that changes my appearance or increases the perceived risks.  ("Perceived" is probably the right word, rather than "actual".)

Two:  Passing.  Passing.  Passing.

Readers of this blog will know that I recently have had to come to terms with being autistic, after so many years of denial.  This process has taught me so much and affected me in ways that I'll be working through for a long time.

I always knew that I had a tendency to rock, to stim, to do some of those typically stereotypical autistic things.  And I felt terrible about them and did everything I could to not do any of them.  Don't rock Clare.  Don't stim.  Stay still.  Stay very, very still in case the autism detecting T-Rex in your head sees you and devours you.  (Yes, autistic people CAN invent metaphor and play with words!  Even while often being over-literal about anyone else's metaphors!)

What I have noticed as I have begun to let go and let myself rock and pace and move and play with stim toys and so on - and I know that I have only begun, not finished - is that holding myself still was bloody knackering.  Letting go has been challenging but it's also being a source of freedom and I have a lot more energy through not fighting myself every moment of every day, consciously or subconsciously.

What I've realised is that for all this years I have been trying to pass as neurotypical.  And it's been such hard work even when denying my as yet unofficial diagnosis.  Passing.  Passing.  Passing.

And that realisation has come as something of a revelation and it's affected the way I can treat my gender presentation too.  Because I've been trying to pass there too - pass as reasonably cis-normative so I don't get abused, to look like what other people might think a woman should look like, so that I can claim the same privileges that any cisgender woman is automatically given.

With the autism I decided that, as much as I can manage it, I shouldn't try to pass anymore.  I should just be myself.  And that should be easy because I haven't got a lot to lose in my life and I know that the important parts of what I do have - my family, my church, my friends - are not going to be lost if I learn to be openly autistic, openly the person I am behind the masks.

With the autism I just haven't got the energy to pass.  I haven't got the energy to put on that act all day anymore.  To do so would be more crippling than it was when I didn't even realise how much I was doing it.  And I haven't got the desire to pass either.  I keep reading the writings of people who are proudly autistic and they have been influencing me so much.

So with the autism I came up with a catchphrase.  I penned it and proclaim it.  I used it in the last post on this blog.  I am massively thankful for the people who brought me to the point of proclaiming it.  And bear in mind that I never used to swear and would never have let such a phrase cross my lips in the past.  But ...


Easier said than done. 
"Fuck Passing"

Because not passing is not conforming.  It's a risk.

"Fuck Passing"

 It's a letting go of security, of respect, of automatic privilege.

"Fuck Passing"

Yes, that's easier said than done.

"F.U.C.K P.A.S.S.I.N.G"

Because I'm still on the path of discovering what I am and what not passing might mean.

Fuck Passing.
I'm done with it.
I choose the harder life of standing out.
I choose the easier life of being free.

And that's fed back into my gender.  It's easy for me to say because I generally pass pretty well anyway.  I look reasonably like what people think a "woman" looks like.  But for gender too.  Fuck Passing.  I'm not going to get into all the discussions that could be made but these days my use of make up is minimal - far less than a lot of women wear every day.  And I realised.  In order to stay true to my little obscene slogan, the breast inserts had to go.

3.  Women.  What are they anyway?

To be brief:  Breasts do not make a woman.

That's obvious of course.  But if it's so obvious, why should I wear fake breasts?  Doesn't that imply somewhere along the line a view that breasts DO make THIS woman?  Aren't I just falling into some completely bullshit view of what a proper woman should be?

Yes.  At least to some degree - beyond all my concerns of security and self-confidence - that's what I've been doing.

So those breast inserts have to go in order to not stand against the misogynist world that would define a woman by her cup size.

That might be a bit radical.  And I know full well that in some ways that leads to questions about hormones and eventual surgery.  But there are other issues involved there and it's far more complicated than any discussion of sticking bits of silicon in your bra in order to appear "normal" or "acceptable".

So.  There you are.  My chest is worn as it comes.  And I walk with pride because this is who I am and this is what I am and this is the healthy, risky way to be.

And thus I had to buy new bras.  Those C cup bras will have to be put away, at least for the moment.  Who knows what the future will bring and what the medical treatments will do?  And thus I join the moans of all other women:  "Why are bras so expensive?" and "Why doesn't anywhere cheap sell them in my size?"  Honestly, I tried Primark.  Would anything fit?  Not a chance in hell!

It's a new day for my boobs.  What you see now is far less than what you would have seen a week ago.  But what you see is mine.  All mine.  And they are what they are and will be what they will be.

Fuck Passing.  Because the only person I want to pass as is me.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Problems and Politics of Passing for a Proud, Autistic, Transgender Woman

What follows is part of what I wrote to someone today on facebook.  They were asking about some transgender issues, mainly about hormone treatments and surgery.  They weren't asking about "passing" though we'd mentioned it earlier in the conversation.  But I got sidetracked.  And when I get sidetracked into something that I'm passionate about then there's almost no stopping me, especially online (see the other sixty posts on this blog for evidence of that).  So here goes, some thoughts on passing, as written almost stream of consciousness in a facebook message but edited and tidied a little here.  And inevitably added to greatly in places.  There's also a section missed out because it mentions a friend whose life is nicely anonymous to a trusted friend in America but who doesn't need even a tiny part of their story plastered here for the world to see.


Passing in some ways is a toughie for transgender people. We know we shouldn't have to pass. And we know that we should just be able to be who we are. But we also know that it makes life easier - I used to get abuse pretty much every time I left the house, from idiots and now it's a very rare thing. So we get caught up in the politics and pros and cons and the fact that some people will NEVER "pass" no matter what they do. We talk of how not being invisible, not passing, speeds up the change in society. And recognise that you've got to be brave to be the one standing out. I've gone through all this with trans issues and many people have written eloquently of the issues and of their good and bad experiences of passing, not passing, and of not wanting to pass in the first place.

And then this year I've been forced, in bigger ways than expected, to consider autism. And then recently I've been starting to read wider into other disability areas, something that is probably going to take quite a lot of time and reading and talking with people to truly get to grips with in any deep sense. And what I find when I read is that there is EXACTLY the same language.  So many groups of people speak of passing - the need to pass as "normal", the different reasons why people would like to pass, the need to not pass if we want society to change at any pace, the dangers to oneself of passing, the dangers of not passing, the politics, the thought that it is not the place of people to conform to society merely because they are different, but the place of society to learn to accept those people.

It's exactly the same language.  However, I am beginning to work out that there is a big difference though between transgender passing and autistic passing.  A whopping, massive difference that means there are two forms of passing that mean very different things.

Passing in trans land is to fit in to society's picture of what you should look like if you're claiming to be who you are.  Society says that there is a certain picture of what a woman looks like, sounds like, walks like and so on, or what a man is like and if someone appears in public who doesn't fit either of those two boxes then there will be a reaction.  To seek to pass is, in some way, to seek to fit into one of the two societal boxes.  Which is understandable, given that it makes life easier.  Passing says, yes, I am a woman or man and am proud of this but for whatever reason I'm going to seek to fit in with what you say that woman or man should be.  I'm pretty lucky.  I don't have to do a lot to pass reasonably well.  At this stage it's almost not an issue for me - though I'll keep up the hair removal that's already paid for and still spend four minutes a day applying makeup.  At this stage I almost fit into one of the boxes naturally.  But other transgender people will not be able to "pass" whatever they do.  And many transgender people don't fit in one of those boxes anyway - because those boxes aren't the only options for a human being to inhabit.

Passing in autism land is to fit into the picture of someone who isn't you, passing as neuro-typical in order to gain the privileges and simple life of an NT person. There can be lots of reasons for this.  A negative reason is shame.  Many autistic people are told that the outward signs of their autism are bad and they come to believe it and end up spending their lives trying to cover up who they are in order to avoid rejection, from others and from themselves.  A positive one - though one that needs to change in the future as society changes - is that sometimes an autistic person has to pass in order to fulfill a dream or to be able to follow a particular career. Not passing as neurotypical means almost automatic exclusion.

I think that's a big, big difference even though the language used about it is the same. Passing in trans land is hard physical work at times - not that I'm a hard worker.  Unless you are non-binary - which brings up a whole load of new passing issues - you don't pass by saying that your brain and soul are anything other than you know them to be.  You just change the physical. Whereas passing in autism land or in most mental health lands is a mental and emotional thing. And that's stupendously harder. Passing in trans land says "I am a woman (or whatever else) and proud". Passing in autism land says "I am autistic but for some reason I don't want to let you know, or know that I can't let you know because then you won't let me do what I want to do so I am forced into a pretence in order to have anything like the life I want."  Passing in (the binary bits of) trans land is thus all about externals, fitting how you present externally into society's picture of who you already are internally.  Passing in autism land is quite the opposite.  It's all about externals, true, but it's about fitting how you present externally into society's picture of who you are NOT internally.  Which is massively exhausting.  I'm only now realising that as I watch others who have to pass and as I let go of all the defences I'd built up against allowing myself to be me.

I think of those people who pass for neurotypical in their day to day lives because they have to.  At this point they have no real choice.  It's either pass as "normal" or do something very different with their lives.  Of course that's wrong, in many ways it is abhorrent, but just at the moment it's how things are. Hence the calls from many autistic people for autism acceptance rather than autism awareness. I hear the cry and see a local group say "It's autism awareness month, hey let's all wear blue." Except, I say, and my friends say, and those I've been reading online who are autistic and proud, "Hey let's don't because the organisation telling us to wear blue is one that we really, really want to stay clear of if we want to be proud as autistic people rather than thinking of ourselves as deformed."  There are lots of posts online about autism acceptance, such as this one by Amy Sequenzia, whose writing I quite adore.  The organisation mentioned about is called Autism Speaks and almost the first advice people have given me when I've asked is "avoid Autism Speaks."  There's loads of reasons for that - and if you look online you can find a ton of good autistic people who will tell you the many shortcomings of that organisation.  I am fortunate to have people around me who give me good advice and probably that single phrase "avoid Autism Speaks" set up the foundation of the ethos for so much I believe about autism and about wider issues.  Here's Amythest Schader again about that avoidance - I watched this with child earlier today, alongside a lot more of her videos.

So it's only really when dealing with the ASD things, letting the defences down and seeing what happens that I've been able to see just how hard I've been working, every day, to be what I'm not and appear as what I'm not. And it's only when that's happened that I've been able to turn around and say "Fuck Passing!" and believe it. This feels SO good. Physically it feels wonderful to let go and start to learn to be myself - to learn to be autistic as a wonderful blog post put it. Emotionally and mentally, it is a new freedom. Calling myself Clare brought great freedom - without which I wouldn't have been able to take this step. But this brings even more freedom. (By the way, I don't ever swear!  But Fuck Passing!)  Amythest Schader in one of her youtube videos puts forth the idea of "guerilla stimming."  Basically, to stim everywhere whenever you need to and not hide it.  Because society will not change while autistic people are invisible.  Just as the pace of change for transgender people has increased almost directly proportionally to the visibility of trans people in the last few years - and the conservative counter-reaction and shouting has increased too in its death throes - so the pace of change for autistic people and for people from a wide variety of excluded groups will increase with visibility.  To stim publicly and with pride and just to present yourself  as completely normal in your stimming is to change society.  If you don't know what stimming is, here's one of those Amythest youtube videos on the subject.

There was a point in all this that I could have taken the neurotypical blue pill and continued to deny what I'd always half known. I've taken it for years. But thanks to my friend, deep thanks to her, I've been able to find the strength, courage, and curiosity to take the red pill. Staying in Wonderland with all its challenges. Rejecting the false living. And what I'm finding is that this particular rabbit hole is far deeper than expected.

And this rabbit hole doesn't allow me to pass as normal. Because everything adds to everything and words like authenticity have to win. Yep. As you say, be yourself. Be proud. Be free. And so on.

Hmm. Sidetracked a little there and the whole Autism Speaks section was rather a sidetrack within a sidetrack. Kind of foresee that once I get myself a little more sorted I'll have no option but to be some kind of activist in a bigger way than tweeting and retweeting about it all. Actually this whole ramble about passing is a sidetrack and wasn't meant to happen.