Revelation of the Self: Confronting the Internalized Ableism of my Identity

There are things I have learned about myself, recently. Things that have been true for a very long time, but which it took time for me to process as a part of my identity.

Why does it take so long for me to connect my reality with its implication?

Perhaps it is simply another way in which my brain gets stuck.

But I think there are two other reasons. Both are a kind of internalized prejudice.

One has to do with social norms, with stereotypes and stigmatization and fear and contempt. If these traits are part of my identity, then I am Like Them, and They Are Different and They are Bad and I am Not Like Them.

The other is an internalization of the refusal to respect marginalized people’s self-definition and self determination. If Those People cannot define themselves, and I cannot define myself, then I certainly cannot define myself as One of Them.

There are many assumptions on which my sense of self is based. Until I was ten, I assumed that I was straight. Until I went to college, I assumed that I was not asexual. I assumed, also, that I was cisgender.

And until last year, I assumed that I was not autistic.

These assumptions became facts of self-identity that biased me so strongly that I did not notice when my thoughts and behaviors first belied them—like when I was in elementary school and thought, one day, that I wished I was a lesbian, because girls were pretty. I took me a few years to realize that the reason I wanted to be attracted to girls was that I was attracted to girls.

These assumptions were—they are—borne of the normative biases of our culture. To be anything but heterosexual is to be different, alien and apart. Lesbians are different, are other people, bi- and pan- sexuals do not exist. Everyone is sexual, unless they are disabled. Gender is binary, and trans is strange and alien.

And girls who speak and write poetry and make it to adolescence with no diagnosis are not autistic.

At 13 I took test after test online, wondering if I might be autistic. But I underreported symptoms, because I was biased by the premise “I am not autistic” and the premise “I am a fake” and the premise “I only want attention”. Because I was biased by those premises, the results of these quizzes—almost all said I might be autistic, but “high functioning”, and some suggested consulting a doctor—only reinforced that I was blowing things out of proportion. That I was “not that bad”, and I was only seeking attention.

Now, I have accepted the premise that I am autistic. My life is happier with this premise. I am healthier and better functioning and working on getting an official diagnosis, after which I will work on getting help with the skills and symptoms that I struggle with.

But there are still assumptions within this premise which hide my symptoms from me, which hide parts of who I am.

I accept that “I am autistic.”

But “I am verbal”, and “I have no learning disabilities”, and “I do not stim destructively.”

“I am not like ‘those’ autistics.”

Except that sometimes I cannot talk. I am sometimes nonverbal or nonspeaking. When I can talk, my ability is sometimes impaired—it is difficult, or I cannot speak above the volume of a whisper.

Except that I spent high school and my single year of college sobbing over the math that made perfect sense in theory, was as intuitive as breathing and as clear as air and as sensually miraculously beautifully divine as a sigh that comes out like a psalm but only in theory, in theory in theory in theory. All these things in theory but on paper the numbers are transformed into a vast expanse of sand which runs through my fingers and slips beneath my feet and nothing. Ever. Works.

Except that sometimes I am consumed by the urge to tug and pull and tear until my muscles are tight, tight, tight. Until I rip myself apart. And so I throw down what I am holding and I curl into a ball and I pummel my fists against my skin.

But even though this is true, and even though I know this, it took months for me to realize that my perception of myself as a consistently verbal autistic was flawed.

Even though this is true, it took until a few weeks ago for me to realize that there might be a problem with how I process numbers.

And even though this is true, I didn’t realize until a few days ago that sometimes, I really do stim destructively.

I am sometimes nonverbal. Very probably I have at least one developmental disability which can be classified as a learning disability, and sometimes? Sometimes I stim destructively.

And I am one of ‘those’ autistics.

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