Friday, March 18, 2011

From Garden City USA to Garden City Canada

Trigger warning for disablist language

Throughout my childhood, I never once moved. Every summer, my family would take a vacation to either Montana or Canada, but apart from that, I pretty much stayed with the same group of people from preschool to high school. That's partially what motivated me to go to Montana: To get as far, far away from my classmates as possible. I wanted a clean slate from being the "freak" and the "retard", and get a chance to make friends with people who wouldn't base judgements based on my childhood stint in special needs classes, the way kids in Hawaii tended to.
I got a fresh start in Montana, but I had to cope with a fresh wave of problems. I had to repeatedly come out of the closet as disabled, and not many were willing to accept someone who had a multitude of cognitive disabilities in their midsts. I had to contend with my evolving realization of my queerness, my budding progressivism, and realizations that, even though most of the people in school were a wedge or more smarter than my high school peers, many of them were heartless, inconsiderate, and wilfully ignorant of ways of thinking outside of their own neurotype, race, religion, and upbringing. They presumed all shared their experience, and grew angry when I differed because of my autism, my Jewishness, or the fact that I was raised in Hawaii.
I also came to realize how suffocating it was for me to be in a predominantly white environment. Even though my skin is light and I have green/grey eyes, I grew up accustomed to Hawaii's diversity, not only in terms of race and ethnic background, but in terms of religion and country of origin. In Montana, my school is, as one professor put it once, "positively mayonnaise". It was an uncomfortable experience for me, because like I said before, the white students assumed that my whiteness implied a shared experience with them, and that I would join in when they started bashing affirmative action, or complaining about the presence of nonwhite students in the classroom. I also had the unpleasant experience of having people stare at my mom, a Montana Native (in more than one sense of the word) when she came to visit me, and pester me about why she was so brown.
It got better these last few years, because I found out that I didn't have to limit myself by interacting with other students. I found friends in people who worked at the University or the Rural Institute, and discovered that I share a lot more in common with disability advocates old enough to be my mother or grandmother, than I do with college students in my own age group. I also discovered that grad students offered me a fun and enlightening friendship, and there were a few wonderful friends my age who stuck by me. I will miss them all when I leave Montana.
But now that brings me to my new fresh beginning: Victoria. It awaits me in May, tomorrow I find out whether or not I will have a place to live for the summer. Victoria will be an easier adjustment than Montana for me. I'm older now, and more comfortable with my queerness, my disabilities, my beliefs, my Jewish identity, and with myself overall. I no longer take shit off anyone, and I'm a lot more certain about what I want to do with my life and how I want to reach there. But like any autistic, I have a niggling fear about not fitting in, and not finding friends.
Change can be difficult for an aspie. But it's an ever-present force in the universe, and I am not yet capable of escaping this Samsara. My only hope is that, within Victoria, I will find myself either feeling something I've never felt all-encompassing in my home, absolute acceptance, or that I will be able to tend to my own little corner with my own closely cultivated friends to give me solace.
Who knows?

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