The Joy of Acceptance

I’ve written about acceptance before. About how widespread awareness of autism, gender variance and other ways of differing from the majority is a valuable first step but far from enough for us to achieve the kind of inclusive society where differences are visible but not used to judge a person as being “less than” anybody else.

But I have never written about how acceptance feels on the receiving end. I could write about privilege and society, and probably lose half my readers before getting to the end. But I’d rather try to explain in terms that don’t require a degree in social science to understand!

When somebody accepts me for who I am it is not accompanied by pomp and circumstance. There is no fanfare, no ponderous announcement extolling my virtues, no pageantry or bestowing of medals and honors.

The point of acceptance is that it can pass unremarked. That it does pass unremarked. I am just another person going about life in my own way. The way I act, the way I look harms nobody. Acceptance can be a passive act: it can simply mean that I am left to get on with my life without adverse comment.

As somebody who does stand out in public for a number of reasons (I’ve been laughed at by kids outside a local shop because of my physical appearance, and been described as weird because of my poor social skills) it is with a certain amount of trepidation that I step outside my front door. I am never quite sure whether I will face ridicule or even threats of harm.

When I presented as male I looked the part (even if I didn’t act it consistently). There is a power that derives from being male in much of the world, especially a large male. A threat implied by one’s very existence that serves to deflect confrontation. That makes others wary of offending you: a kind of “don’t f*ck with me” aura. It’s not a perfect protection: there are still plenty of people who feel strong enough to attack you with words if nothing else.

I frequently used to wear a leather biker jacket because it made me feel more secure. Even discounting its physical protection it suggested a particular character. As I donned it I took on a certain confidence: its padding emphasized the torso and arms and made me look bigger and stronger. I know it wasn’t real but I would try to project that strength and hint at potential aggression. To be honest, several of my friends secretly hated that jacket and thought it ugly.

But it did engender a sense of security that has diminished considerably since I transitioned. I did not realize beforehand that I would feel more exposed, more vulnerable as a woman than as a man. It is because I no longer have that protective camouflage: I am no longer hiding behind a costume. I am no longer acting a role: the person people see is the unvarnished reality of who I am.

Without that illusory shield I am more sensitive to potential threats around me. I view every stranger with suspicion, expecting to be insulted indirectly if not to my face.

My actual experience has been more positive. Most people I encounter don’t seem to notice me. The few who do speak tend to express either honest curiosity or positive support. Work has been especially good: people I’d not spoken to before have approached me to wish me well or otherwise offer support. Our neighbors have also been very accepting.

Acceptance makes me happy. It creates a sense of safety: it allows me to feel that I don’t need to hide behind masking behaviors. I don’t need to watch every single move I make, everything I say, in case I let my guard down and draw attention. I am free to act naturally, to truly be myself without fear of being mocked, criticized or otherwise made to feel that the way I am is somehow “wrong”. That is acceptance.

What does it require of other people for acceptance to happen? Not much — only that they allow me to live my life my own way. So long as it doesn’t harm them, what possible problem could they have with that? Unless they’re insecure, closed-minded, prejudiced bigots who see a threat in anything that is different from their own limited experiences. But there can’t be many people like that around, can there?

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Words For Sale

Words line the streets
Promising pleasures,
Alluring treats
And sinful treasures.

Words are one of the most prevalent signs of what it flatters us to call civilization, a consequence of near-universal literacy. We are able to encode our thoughts in such a way that others may decipher them: a real life example of mind-reading.

A walk through a town exposes one to countless words. There are utilitarian ones like “Stop” signs and “Walk/Don’t walk” on crossings. There are informative ones like street signs, and names on shops and other businesses. And there are the other ones…

The words that entice us, lure us, influence us. The ones that loiter along the sidewalk trying to gain the attention of passers by. The ones that sell themselves to be used for others’ purposes. Done up in their brightest, most colorful attire they compete with each other to bring in money for their employers.

These are the abused, trafficked, enslaved words, hostage to the whims of the advertisers. Used again and again until they begin to lose their individuality and become mere shadows of a brand. Soulless, emptied of independent meaning, these words live only to be bought and sold.

I Have a Choice?

A recent story shared by George Takei on Facebook about a 12 year old winning the right to have his birth certificate changed to reflect his correct gender attracted a lot of comments. This is not surprising, nor is the fact that so many were negative or transphobic. Not surprising, but very depressing.

Along with the usual equation of physical characteristics with gender (penis = male; vagina = female) there were many comments saying that 12 was too young to make this kind of choice.

Choice? Are they suggesting that somebody can choose their gender the same way they choose what to wear or eat?

Coming out, informing people around you that your gender is not the one you were assigned at birth, is not a lifestyle choice like being Vegan. It is a recognition of the true essence of one’s self.

If you asked a hundred random people of all ages what their gender is you would almost always get a hundred definite answers. Would you doubt that these people know what gender they really are? Would you insist on testing their chromosomes and genitalia? Would you even dare to ask a random stranger to confirm their gender?

So why is it that the element of doubt raises its head when the “transgender” label is present? Surely a transgender person has just as clear a view of their own gender identity as anybody else.

I didn’t choose to be a woman. I appeared to be male at birth and was raised as such. But from puberty onwards (about age 11) I knew that my body didn’t develop correctly. It didn’t (and still doesn’t) look like my internal self-image. I look in the mirror and if I’m lucky I will catch the occasional glimpse of myself, but more often I only see the out-of-place male characteristics. My brain developed as female, my body as male.

If you are not transgender yourself then imagine this: you are yourself, the same person you have been all your life, but every time you look at yourself you do not see what you expect to see. You see a face and body that is the opposite gender. Now also imagine that everybody else sees that too, and acts towards you as if that is your actual gender. But you know it’s wrong. Every day of your life you know, but you are stuck with it. Yes, it hurts to the point that it can be hard to carry on.

Unless you start to tell people that the way you look is not who you are. Unless you confront their disbelief, prejudice and mockery. Unless you fight to change your body so that it matches what you know inside to be your true self. The alternative is to try to pretend that you are somebody other than yourself, to live a lie. I tried to do that until it almost destroyed me. That is gender dysphoria.

So please try to be understanding when a transgender person comes out. Be accepting. It is hard enough living with the discomfort and distress of your body being of the wrong gender without also having to suffer prejudice and abuse.

Note: I have simplified things here for rhetorical purposes to mention only binary gender identities. These account for the majority of people but there is a significant minority for whom the categories of male/female do not fit. I’m not going to go into details here because there are many excellent articles about non-binary gender and I do not have the personal experience to add to what others have already written.

Twisting the Tale

I

They called the old woman a witch,
Drove her from her home.
She found a refuge
Deep in the forest.

Her family resented her:
Suspicion followed them,
Mutterings when they walked
Down the village streets.

Her grand-daughter blamed her
For the bullying she suffered.
She resolved to search
Until she found her.

II

The girl prepared carefully,
Packing a basket of food
And wearing a woolen cloak
Against the elements.

The trees loomed dark
As she ventured forth,
Following forest trails
For mile after mile,

Until tired and footsore
She finally spied smoke
Rising from a clearing
In which stood a crude hut.

III

Timidly she approached.
A barking dog announced her
And the door was opened,
Revealing a filthy crone.

“Grandmother?” she called,
“Can that really be you?”
She knew the answer
Even as she spoke the words.

Her rage at her grandmother,
The reason for her torment,
Took hold and the girl
Grabbed an ax from the woodpile.

IV

Incoherent screams sent birds
Flying from the surrounding trees.
The red mist cleared.
The old woman lay dead.

Leaving the body there
To attract the forest predators,
The girl made her way home,
Designing a sad tale.

Sobbing as she returned,
She told of the wolf’s attack.
Relief that the witch was dead
Blinded people to her lies.

V

Tales were told of the girl
Risking the wild forest
To bring food to Grandmother.
Her cloak was blood red.

#My Writing Process Blog Hop

A couple of weeks ago I received a message from my lovely friend Renee Salas inviting me to take part in this blog hop. I was very interested and not a little flattered to be invited to add my piece alongside such writers as Cynthia Kim, Michael Monje Jr., Sparrow Rose Jones and many others whom I hold in high regard. Renee reassured me that I was worthy of inclusion, so here is my description of my writing process.

What Am I Working On?

The main things that occupy my time are my day job as a software developer and caring for my wife, Anne. Unfortunately there are too few hours in the day for me to devote as much time as I would like to other pursuits.

I am likely unusual in that I do not have writing projects that stretch over much time: I believe a few days is the longest I have ever worked on a single piece. That said, I do have a couple of pieces scheduled over the coming months. One is for an anthology about the impact of the internet on being trans. The other is user documentation for an application I developed. Quite a contrast, I know.

I am also starting to work on expressing myself visually through drawing and painting as a way to complement the images I set down in words.

How Does My Work Differ From Others in the Genre?

I am far from the only person writing about personal experiences, but my combination of autism and gender dysphoria does give me an unusual perspective. I write both prose and poetry; my prose is often poetic in its imagery, which is a consequence of being visually-oriented in my thinking. I like to think I have my own style of expression, a fingerprint that identifies my written voice.

One thing that has struck me since I first began to read others’ writings about autism is how much we have in common in the way we experience the world. Surely this is the source of the strength in our community.

Why Do I Write What I Do?

I had been writing for many years before I ever started publishing my words on a blog. It began as a form of therapy, a way to express and release the thoughts that swirled around my mind, distracting me from everyday functions. I progressed from handwritten journals to typing, and from there to here was but a short step.

It wasn’t long after I began blogging before I started to receive comments from autistic readers who drew parallels between my accounts and their own experiences. I realized that simply by documenting events from my own life I was helping others feel that there was somebody else with whom they had things in common: the same response I felt myself on reading what other autistic authors had written.

I made a decision that I would try to promote understanding of autism through my writing. My goal is acceptance of neurodiversity, and recently I have added gender variance as well.

As for choosing my subjects, well that is difficult to explain. I have no tactical plan, no list of topics that I intend to cover. Which leads to…

How Does Your Writing Process Work?

I write, so I guess whatever my process is it works. For the most part I find I am inspired by a particular event in my life that highlights an aspect of autism or gender non-conformity. Or else I might draw inspiration from a conversation with a friend, or reading others’ writing.

Whatever the source I will find myself with a concept crystallizing from the solution of thoughts and feelings within my mind. Once that happens it is just a matter of shaping words into a facsimile of my mental construct. Sometimes this feels more natural in the form of poetry.

Ideas crystallize,
The shapeless given form,
Nebulae collapsing
As bright stars come to life.

End of Line

I’m afraid that this particular branch of this Blog Hop must end here. No excuses. I simply put off contacting potential contributors until events in my life conspired to distract me from the task, until the deadline loomed too close to avoid.

Instead I will simply point you in the direction of the writers I linked to in my opening paragraph. All of them are writers I hold in high regard and I hope that if you are not familiar with their works you will take this opportunity to introduce yourself.

Flash Blog: Autism is Not a Crime

alexforshaw:

Another terrible mass murder. Another excuse for the lazier elements of the media to trot out the tired old cliché of autism causing somebody to go out and kill. Even if the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome is accurate, correlation is not the same as causation.

The causes in this case were probably complex and interwoven, but certain factors stand out. This young man felt tremendous pressure to conform to societal expectations of sexual activity. He had access to a firearm and ammunition that were not stored securely. He presumably had nobody to whom he felt able to talk about his problems.

I’m not trying to paint him as a victim here; I do not condone his actions at all. I do think that society as a whole needs to take a closer look at his situation to understand what motivated this terrible act. I see it as a symptom of sickness in society that crimes such as this are committed.

Originally posted on Gretchen Leary:

Dear Autism Community,

Considering the recent sad tragedy and the false media stigma that seems to be rising up – I want to ask you to join me in doing a flash blog tomorrow using hashtag #Aspergers & #Autismisnotacrime so we can find each other’s posts.

Although I cannot host everyone’s blog posts on my page, if you email me your blog post I will tweet it out. (Authorleary @ gmail dot com)

I’ve never led one before but I feel compelled to help clarify this false stigma that the media has placed on our community.

Will you join me and write a blog post about the most positive way that ASD has affected you? Please post it tomorrow to show the world that this stigma is wrong and our community is nothing to be afraid of.

Best,
Gretchen Leary

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Reflection on Refraction

The rain has passed; I step out
From the place I found to shelter,
Breathing deeply to savor
The fresh greenness of the damp air.

I spin round to see the colors
Washed clean of their dirty dullness
Shining with vibrant newness
As the sun sparkles on droplets.

I raise my eyes as the clouds
Recede, the sun warm on my back,
To be greeted by wondrous
Light bridging the far horizon.

Those many tiny raindrops
Perform a final miracle,
Bending beams of solar light
Into a beautiful rainbow.

Rainbows and departing storm clouds, Minsi Lake, Northampton County.

by Nicholas_T on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

A Word About Anti-Depressants

I no longer think that my prescribed anti-depressants are helping my state of mind. Since I have been unable to arrange an appointment with my doctor until the middle of next week I have taken the unilateral decision to halve my dose.

I was finding that I am less able to function. My concentration is impaired and it has been affecting my work: I have had to take time off sick because of the side-effects. These include nausea and light-headedness. I have come to realize that my difficulties in establishing a routine in the morning are not entirely due to my autism: the medication is preventing me from concentrating sufficiently to move from one task to another.

When I finally do see my doctor I am going to tell him that I no longer wish to take these SSRIs. I will start the process of weaning myself off of them. I am not saying that I no longer have depressive episodes; I am saying that I do not believe that this medication is helping. I would rather try to deal with the low mood with a mind unclouded by chemicals.

Light Show

I fall into the diamond sparkle of light refracted by my cut-glass tumbler. Shards of shattered rainbows glint and swirl kaleidoscopically as I spin round and round, drawn deeper into this well of visual stimulation. My world is reduced to the immediacy of this pyrotechnic extravaganza: colors explode, burst, shine briefly and fall to earth while still more rise on trails of glitter to take their place. As I am drawn deeper a cloud of iridescent bubbles floats on the air all around; I am lost in a cloud of polychromatic ephemera. The bubbles burst to reveal a swarm of butterflies, nacreous wings flashing in the light. I float among them, borne by their fluttering, reveling in my weightlessness; they carry me up, higher and higher, until they metamorphose and dissipate into a whirlwind of flashing color, fragments resolving into spectra until I am returned to where I started, captivated by the beauty of the prismatic play of light on my glass.

Expressions of PosAutivity #AutismPositivity2014

Autism Positivity Flash Blog 2014

In the three-or-so years since I started this blog after recognizing I was autistic, I have come a long way in my understanding of autism and of myself. I have found myself, together with other autistic people, parents, advocates and allies, as a member of an extended online community that in my experience sets the standard for friendliness and mutual support.

Most of all, I feel fully accepted by my peers for who I am. Among my circle of friends, most of whom I have never met in person, I feel safe. These online spaces — blogs, social media — are a kind of refuge to which I can retreat when Real Life threatens to overwhelm me. In honor of that here is my contribution to the 2014 Autism Positivity Flash Blog.

Threads

Like the Norse of long ago
Whose Norns would weave the threads of lives,
Warp and woof and who could know
When theirs would end with flashing knives,
Live your life from day to day
As if each sunrise were your last.
Friends and love: for these I pray;
All else is moot, the runes are cast.

“God does not play dice,” it’s said,
And Chaos rules the universe.
‘Til the day you wind up dead
You play the hand you’re dealt at birth.
Should you feel you have no choice
And all is written in the stars,
Listen to your inner voice;
Accept yourself for who you are.

New threads join: new friends, a wife,
And how it ends I cannot say.
Grasp the threads that form your life
And weave your pattern your own way.

Coda

Discovering that I am autistic was a positive experience for me. I was finally able to understand why I am different from so many of the people around me. It gave me a structure on which to build my self-understanding. From understanding grew acceptance which blossomed into love: I love my autistic self.

As I have mentioned many times before I have made a number of friends within the autism community. From the first person with whom I connected online, Bird, my circle grew and there are too many loving, supportive friends for me to mention them all. But it seems unfair not to recognize at least some of the people who hold a special place in my heart. So, in no particular order, …

(I know there are many people I have not mentioned, and I apologize to those I did not list here.)