The final class of the summer session, my voice group began to get into nonverbal language, which we’ll explore in more depth this fall. What struck me was, eight out of ten of the signifiers they went over that day were things people have spent a lifetime drilling out of me. One thing after the other, they were all, “Here’s what you might want to try doing,” and it was precisely what I have always been told not to do: “Cut that out. It’s inappropriate. It’s gross. Do this other thing that makes you uncomfortable instead.”
But I’m no good at lies, and I can’t really perform. So I just bottle up, and do nothing. I suppress what I’m told is wrong, and I can’t make myself do what I’m told is right, and I glitch out and get weird.
In Dial M for Murder, you know how the husband dictates everything the wife should say to the police, explaining, “It’s much simpler if that’s how you say it happened; that’s what they expect you to say; it will raise fewer questions”—all of which makes her seem more suspicious? In hindsight, every relationship I’ve been in, they just lied to everyone about me—about who I was, what I did, where they met me, what my background was—and kept updating and feeding me these scripts that I was meant to play along to, to support their lies. If I failed to convincingly play the part or foresee lies they hadn’t provided but expected me to figure out, they grew furious with me for undermining them and raising questions they didn’t want to answer. I was going to ruin everything, by… existing.
I am so used to people being ashamed of me, and terrified that those things will reflect back on them. Of them being so ready to punish me for disgusting them, while telling me they’re helping me, and that I should be grateful. It’s such a thankless job, abusing me day and night. The least I could do was recognize their effort.
There’s all this overlap between ABA and conversion therapy, right. So many of the behaviors that they try to crush in autistic young men to make them seem presentable are traits that are described as overly effeminate. And for others’ comfort and my own safety, I sure have had to learn to mask my neurology. And now, we become aware of this. Now we come to actual, overt gender issues—and for me at least, it’s the exact same breakthrough. This is just like learning what stimming is, and why it is, and why it’s good and neutral and necessary. It’s the same process of seeing all these things I have been trained out of doing, and realizing that, no, this is who I always was. I was supposed to be that way.
It’s the revelation that everyone in my life, they were wrong. It’s that, holy shit, they all knew—and my obvious queerness bothered them so much that they tried to make it go away. And I ate it, because I didn’t know any better. I knew I was wrong, because I was always wrong, and they told me what I needed to do instead.
So much of my transition, it seems, is less a matter of learning some new performance than to learn to stop papering over my own natural behaviors to make other people comfortable. To figure out where things went wrong and how to be myself again.
There’s a reason I am such an awkward, nervous bundle of confusion. And it’s not my fault. It’s the abuse. Everything I get into, everything I unpick, it’s not about making this new thing. It’s archeology, digging down and piecing myself back together. Undoing damage. Rebuilding myself from first principles, with mostly all the same pieces but without someone else striding in every few steps to tell me what shit it all is and what I need to do differently, according to a completely unrelated set of plans that requires pieces I don’t even have.
It’s just. The epiphany of being told step by step the way I might want to try behaving to support my identity are exactly my natural behaviors that I have been abused out of performing because they were wrong and disgusting. I was always right. I was always me.