Addendum to the “passing” discussion from a month or two ago:
I realized recently that I don’t actually pass as well as I think I do.
What do I mean when I say I have “passing privilege”? I basically mean that, if I’m prepared and understand what’s going on, I can walk into a room full of strangers, perform some expected interaction, and walk out again, in a way that approximates “normal” sufficiently closely that none of the strangers end up squinting at me and saying, “Hey, I bet that girl is disabled.”
I mean, this is a form of passing, and it is a form that some people can’t do. It is not a thing to take for granted, and I didn’t always have it (although the time when I didn’t have it was really only a couple of very bad years in my early teens).
In anything more complicated than the “room full of strangers” scenario, though? At work, or in a friendship, or – heaven forbid – in a romantic or family relationship? No, I don’t pass. People might not sit up straight and say “she’s autistic”, but with sufficient IRL interaction, everybody starts to notice something’s up, even if they can’t put their finger on it.
People who get this level of interaction generally fall into 3 groups.
1. People who get mad or dismissive or grossed out because I am weird. I don’t get as many of these as I used to in junior high school; partly because I really am doing better, and partly because I’ve learned to just freeze and be super quiet and not noticed instead of doing things that might elicit this reaction. I do occasionally still get them, though, especially if they are in a position of authority and are wondering why I’m not following their instructions properly.
2. People who like the weird, and who mention it as one of the reasons they like me. (Being in this category is kinda a prerequisite for dating me, BTW.) Nobody ever says to me, “You’re not weird,” except in one very specific context that I’ll maybe talk about later. But a lot of people say, “Hey yes, you’re weird in mostly good ways, and I like that about you.” Often these are people who are pretty weird or non-neurotypical in some way themselves.
(As a side note, this is why I’m not wild about the classification of the word “crazy” as a slur. Because a lot of the people in this precious second group use the word “crazy” to describe the things they like about me. It can be used in a dehumanizing way, but not always. “You’re crazy” can mean “Yes, I see you. I see the things that are different and sometimes-difficult about you, and it’s okay, you are cool in a way that includes these things.” It can mean other non-dehumanizing things, too. This is seriously ALL about context. I’ve been on the receiving end of all of these usages regularly, and the insulting ones suck, but I really do not want the non-insulting usages to be taken away from me. Replacing them with some random neurological or mental health diagnostic term doesn’t always make any sense.)
People in this group don’t pretend that my neurotype is all cute quirks and rainbows. They see that I struggle with certain things and that it’s hard sometimes. But they see that there are some really good things about being me, too, and overall they like me and like spending time with me. This is WAY better than people who pretend that my weirdness doesn’t exist.
3. People who treat me as though I have a chronic physical illness. This especially happens in professional contexts, when I am trying very hard to act normal and polite. I can cover up the “weird” and “crazy” behaviors if I try, but when I am simply overwhelmed and can’t function, there’s no covering that.
I had a friend in a church choir, for instance, who was always motherly and nice and never breathed a word about me being “weird” or “crazy”. But every few weeks I would get the You’re So Pale All Of A Sudden, Go Sit Down And Put Your Head Between Your Knees, You Should Eat A Lot Of Chicken Soup, Get Better Soon talk. Then she would drive me home and I would get home and be out of the overwhelming church environment and be just fine, thank you. No actual sickness here!
She never quite worked that one out.
This is a form of passing, but it’s not the same as being mistaken for someone whose physical/sensory endurance and emotional reactions work normally.
I think sometimes I over-emphasize my own passing privilege. It is a thing that I’ve worked for, and it certainly makes my life easier than it was in junior high school. But often when I get up and say “But Obviously I Have All The Passing Privilege,” it’s not about acknowledging the work that I’ve done to fit in, or about acknowledging honestly that some lives are harder than mine (which they are). It’s, perversely, a kind of a brag. Look At Me. Look How High Functioning I Am, even if I know better than to actually use that term. Look How Socially Approved All My Behavior Is.
Except not only is that insulting to other autistic people who don’t fit that metric, but it’s not true. All The Passing Privilege (as opposed to Some Of The Passing Privilege, Plus Getting Away With Things ‘Cause I’m Smart Or Cute) has never really been my life, anyway.
(Same goes for the other common refrain of high-functioning folks, “But I Get Through Life Without Too Many Accomodations”… Which, just like this one, is kinda-sorta-true-ish but not, and is a way of measuring oneself on entirely the wrong axis. What’s “too many” accomodations, anyway? Who decides?)
So, tl;dr, I need to stop talking about myself this way.