Saturday, April 7, 2007

An open book: thoughts on privacy and silence, disclosure and pride

For years, I was so "private", I wouldn't answer questions like "where did you go to high school?" or "what kind of music do you like?" I got furious when my partner repeated a conversation I'd had with a server at a restaurant to some friends.

Most of my life, I lived by these rules:
(1) If someone wants to know something about me, it is his/her responsibility to ask, (and) (2) It's really not anyone's business!
But then, that's defining it someone else's (NT) way. Seeing stubbornness in a harmless, innate inclination to be quiet and/or reserved.

There is also, of course, the fact that the presence of a question can cause the answer (especially in spoken format) to temporarily disappear. This was an issue for teachers, as they were sure I was lying when I didn't know the answer in class, and had just written a 2000 word essay on the very topic. If they liked me, I was then "shy", pathologically shy, until that became the larger part of my self-definition. If not so much, then I was "stubborn" or "difficult", and that too I swallowed whole.
"Private" has sometimes been a euphemism used by friends and family to explain various facets of my character. It has stood in for "secretive", "selfish", "pretentious" and "rude". It has explained "vacant" looks and harsh glares and thus satisfied the general need to explain and categorize some foreign and unfathomably autistic behaviors.
"Sharing" as it's sometimes called in touchy-feely circles has never occurred to me as a useful thing to do, unless there was a specific and practical problem to be solved. Anxiety, certainly, has played a large part in this too, as the presence of more than one other person has often presented a problem. Mostly, though, I have been surprised when people have said that I don't talk much. I have never counted the number of words people said or didn't say.
The thing I am trying to get at is separate from my expressive communication pattern. It's about the "nobody's business" part of it, the thing that made me say to co-workers, when asked if I had any children, or where I grew up, "I don't talk about my personal life at work" or "why would you want to know that?" And more than that, how I got to here from there.
By "here", I mean discussing my thoughts on a weblog for anyone to see, telling students and professors about autism, speaking on panels of autistic adults, and posting my photo on A2P2.
How did this happen? How did my life become, seemingly overnight, an open book? I was going to say that it comes down to responsibility, but I realize now that's not quite it, it's more like gratitude (for the diagnosis itself, for finally knowing) or a combination of the two.
I believe that visibility is the key to eventual acceptance. A few years ago, when straight people tended to believe that all gays fit certain stereotypes, it was easy for them to hate or ignore us. To think that making derogatory statements was okay as long as no one fitting their particular stereotype was in the room. It took a lot of people coming out to get to the point where we are today, which I'm not saying is anything like ideal or correct, but it is better. I want to see "better" for autistic people, too. Following that logic, I want to be visible.
So when someone asks me what "Aspie" means on my wristband, I tell them, and I wear my neurodiversity t-shirt to work and I tell them. Because as much as I hate it when people say, "No, you're not autistic!", I think it's my job to at least put the question in their minds. I want to see the day where this is no longer considered "disclosure" or "revelation" or "coming out". A time when I don't need to "take pride" in who I am, because there is no stigma attached to begin with.
After all, I don't disclose that I like jazz. I just say it.


  1. There must be some commonality: when I was little, they used to say I was often "aloof", or like a "distracted professor".

  2. OMG, really?! You don't look like someone who would like jazz. ;D


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