Sunday, December 12, 2010

Letting Down My Entire... Spectrum?

Today on Geek Feminism's Blog, a post delved into the difficulties of being representative of your entire gender/disability/race and the guilt that arises from taking a breather- Not going on to get your PhD, or anything else. Other examples I can think of, in terms of gender, are choosing whether or not to stay at home after giving birth, or choosing whether or not to have children, whether or not to get married, an absolute plethora.
But the main place my mind went to when reading that was not regarding my gender or sex, but my disability. Every paragraph hit me like a sack of hammers as I remembered all the times I rigidly attempted to be on "my very best behavior" when in a crowd of neurotypicals or a neurotypical-dominated place, like a classroom, a social function, or an awards event. And more recently, I've become active as a speaker on autism, doing local events in my community such as at the children's development center, and hosting my own advice column, "Dear Aspie" on my university's autism club's facebook wall. Sometimes, I have to defer, I love the work, but I don't always know the answer:

So you feel guilty. For yourself, for other people. You feel like changing the world rests in your hands, and you let the world down because you had to say no. You had to quit. You had to hide. You were capable of doing it — that was not in question — but you didn’t want to and you’re worried people will think that was a sign of weakness. You chose not to. And you’re feeling guilty.
Yup. Pretty much. That's how I feel whenever I get a mediocre grade on a test, whenever I needed to drop a class, whenever life got in the way of me doing what I thought was best. Or, whenever I lost my temper. Truthfully, visible signs of my autism didn't bother me. I had no qualms about stimming, or my curious speech or mannerisms, and have made no effort to correct those.
But I worry constantly that it is my duty to be as kindly, charitable, bright, creative, sweet, and articulate as I can muster, to compensate for other autistic people I have met who have made me shudder with embarrassment. On and offline, I've met autistic people who fulfilled every negative stereotype about Asperger Syndrome: Conniving, arrogant, self-serving, cruel, misanthropic, sexually frustrated, and suffering from a ripe combination of poor hygiene and delusions of grandeur. This has led to undue stress on myself as I attempt to emulate what I grew to see as the "perfect" aspie: Humble, quiet, intelligent, gifted, conventionally attractive, and quasi sexually appealing while remaining smartly chaste. Like if Temple Grandin and Miss America were mishmashed together.
I can't live up to that however. But what's more important than discontinuing the act is to figure out: what can I do so that I don't have to feel like I need to follow the act? What steps can be taken to eliminate these negative stereotypes in a way that doesn't leave me drained?


  1. (((Leah Jane)))

    Sometimes I feel that way, too, although with me it's specific to being able to explain things adequately. Like in this post by Amanda Forest Vivian --- she describes a professor in a class about developmental disabilities in children talking about autism in a way that bothered her, and writes down what she wishes she'd had it together enough to say to him in class that day.

    I get *THAT* all the time --- feeling like I'm not doing a good enough job of, not really being a Good Aspie, but of being Everybody's Disability-Rights 101 Teacher as it pertains to autism.

    (Also, the mental image of Temple Grandin and Miss America mishmashed together is hilarious! I'm totally keeping that one).

  2. I had an accident today and felt like I had let my gender down. You know, the whole "women are bad drivers" stereotype.

    I've also felt that pressure when I had to do things differently because of my OCD, too. It sucks.

    I added you to my blogroll, by the way. Sorry that took so long.