The Edge of Acceptance

  • Reading time:4 mins read

Until you know who you are, it can be hard to set meaningful boundaries. Like, what are you even going to mark out? Until about two years ago, I had no idea who I was. Even now I’m still figuring it out; the person I am has only existed since maybe August. And I actually like her, and want to foster and protect her—but as to how? Whee, that’s a skill set I’ve yet to develop. Especially in the face of prejudice.

There’s this thing about being trans, where you wind up describing past abuse in gender-neutral terms out of knowledge for how the pain will be minimized, for the assumptions people will leap to if they start getting gender roles in their heads—that everything that happened will be thrown away and dismissed based on genitalia.

Bigotry tends to be about insecurity over personal status and power, and I guess classism tends to be the purest expression of those fears. To which end, my ex-spouse was a raging bigot in private—though showed appropriate politesse in public—and the strongest dimension was all about class. That paranoia about status, it was this fungus that reached through and infected every other thought process. Everything was about performance, about demonstrating to others one’s own personal accomplishment.

None of which makes the beginning of sense to my autistic, ADHD-addled mind. I can’t perform anything, and I’m not really interested in proving myself. It’s a known phenomenon how incompatible ADHD can be with any kind of performance; how it takes you out of the moment and causes you to hyper-focus on the fact of the situation, of making sure that you demonstrate the expected behaviors lest you get in trouble, rather than experience anything for real. You start to dissociate. Yet, you can’t easily say no. Your boundaries just crumble, and then quickly you do too.

There are a thousand reasons that I’m not into sex, but a big one is how impossible it is to get out of my internal freak-out zone. It’s, like, all heightened performance, and with this autistic brain here I am unable to perform emotions. It’s terrifying, really. Mostly I just want it to end, so I can stop my anxiety attack. I’d say easily two-thirds of the sex I’ve had, I’ve wound up faking orgasm, just to find a way to slink away and cry safely.

None of my natural emotional responses really read the way a neurotypical would expect, and I’m so bad at plastering on the right affect to set people at ease. I just about never laugh at things I consider funny; if anything, humor may curl my lips a bit, and make my eyes beam, and make my head invisibly swim with delight. To others, i pretty much look blank—or, I have been told, creepy. When I do laugh, it’s almost exclusively from fear—which is again not usually what people are looking for.

What gets me in trouble is I rarely have clue one what expression I’m wearing. Roll a die to see if I’ve got resting autism face, or if it’s still stuck from something I had on my mind three hours ago—or, if I’m unconsciously mirroring the person across from me. And if I happen to be mirroring that person, and they’re one of those people who closely monitors other people’s facial expressions in real-time after every word they speak, this weird feedback loop quickly begins to develop.

Which leads back to performance, and boundaries. And people not realizing or quite believing that not everyone thinks or feels the way they do.

That’s gonna have to be a project, if I’m ever in a position to make social connections again. Just, I need to find a gentle way to signal and maintain these lines around me, now that I have a sense of where they may be. This is going to be a lot of trail and error, I can feel already. But I think I may almost be up to it.