Ever since I figured out I was autistic, I have had a somewhat mitigated relationship to autistic pride. I don’t celebrate it, I don’t engage in festivities or demonstrations centered around it. The truth is, I genuinely do not care. And it is fine if you don’t either.
Now, being proud of your autism is a beautiful thing. You can be proud of your struggle against ableism, to be part of a community that has accomplished so many things, or of the way you perceive and process things. All of those are worth thinking about, respecting, loving, and being proud of.
And I know this, I do. I love our communities, I love the way we communicate with each other, I love our rich history. I celebrate our accomplishment and cherish our mutual aid groups. I am invested in my community, and I am not ashamed of being autistic.
But I’m not proud either.
I have tried being proud. I used to think I was such a terrible, such an ableist person if I was not proud of being autistic. I could not make a good enough difference between being ashamed and not being proud. That has changed.
I feel pretty neutral about my autism. It is how I function. It has attracted a lot of ableism and more trauma than I could ever fully describe. This does not make me feel ashamed – it makes me angry.
I am about to relate some of that trauma to you. If you want to skip it, that is fine: head to the paragraph starting with: “I am glad I survived all of this.”
I spent all my life pretending I was not autistic. Pretending white lights and loud background noises didn’t bother me, pretending I didn’t need to keep my hands occupied, pretending I was just “stupid” because that’s the easiest explanation for why I could not understand obvious sarcasm. This mask had deep and scarring effects on me. I wrote another article for Rainbow Roo detailing how this affected my lesbianism, but it is ultimately just one example of how deeply hiding my true self has impacted me. As a child, I already wished I could get to pretend I did not exist at all.
I vividly remember sitting on a bench during middle school recess, hearing my classmates talk and gossip and laugh. I remember not even trying to get in the conversation because I would only make it all awkward. I remember crying because I wanted to disappear.
I was an undiagnosed autistic child, and that was traumatizing. I had trouble making friends, masking gave me terrible anxiety, teachers were mad at me for being rude, and the light and noise in the classrooms made me pretend to be sick more than once because I could not handle it. I am still terrified of accidentally being rude to “adults”, even though I’m 21. My anxiety has only gotten worse with time, and I now have to take meds to function at all. Even then, my hypersensitivities can turn trivial tasks into exhausting ordeals.
Imagine how tired you would be if you had to spend an hour in a maze while tiny needles are jammed in your ear and your head hurts more and more. You now have an approximate idea of how I feel when I go grocery shopping. And that is just one example. I am. SO. Exhausted. My autism is disabling for a lot of reasons, but this is the main one. I love my job, but I am miserable working seven hours a day, and I know I won’t be able to work full-time in the future. I can only hope I will be able to work at all, because social benefits for disabled people are engineered to be “just enough”: the government keeps us poor, and poverty is traumatizing too.
I was only diagnosed a year ago, at age 20, though I had it figured out for a few years already. This gave me the confidence to ask for accommodations in my university and to try and get a “disabled worker” status. This was hard. It turns out that neither universities nor the state particularly care about making things easy for disabled people. I was given accommodations only for them to be taken away a few months later. Meanwhile, the state’s application to be recognized as disabled is a mess of vague instructions. Even my friend, who is a social worker and volunteered to help, struggled to understand some questions. So how was I, a mentally disabled person, supposed to answer?
I am glad I survived all of this. I am lucky I live in a country with reasonable healthcare, so I can get some amount of help for free. But this trauma, this ongoing struggle, has killed any pride I could have had in my autism. Because the truth is that I do not want to be autistic. I just accept it and make do. This took time and effort. It is the best I can do. And it is enough.
Just as I would advise you to never let anyone make you hate your autism, I would caution against feeling forced to be proud of it. Your relationship to your autism is yours to decide. Even if you are an advocate for our communities, pride is not compulsory. Pride is not what gets us rights. It can be a motivation to fight, but it is not the only one. You can simply protest and take political action because you know you have something to gain from it, and that is just as good of a reason.
Just as there is no wrong way to be autistic, there is no wrong way to feel about being autistic.
If you do feel proud, I am happy for you. I am not trying to take that away from you. I just want to detail why I do not feel that way, in the hope of helping people who do not either. And if you do celebrate it, happy Autistic Pride.
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