Thursday, December 6, 2018

'Outing': A Reflection On Why Its Scary

Hey all! I’m sorry I haven’t updated this blog in well over a year – it’s been a really challenging one, filled with ups and downs, and to be honest I’ve needed far more self care and centering time than I thought I would. I have been getting back into this blog and its associated Facebook page more and more though, and I hope you’ll all forgive me for my absence! I promise it was spent on good causes – like finally finishing the second draft of the book I’ve been working on based on both this site and my own life experiences as an Aspie! When I have more information for you about that development, I’ll be sure to pass it along!

With that long-winded and thoroughly Aspie-style apology out of the way, I’d actually like to talk today about something that’s been on my mind a lot lately – coming out. ‘But Adam,’ you might begin, ‘aren’t you already out? I mean, you’re a fierce defender of the neurodivergent in internet land and have met other fellow spectrum-dwelling activists in the process over your years of blogging!’ You wouldn’t be wrong for thinking this, and yet I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who is only ‘out’ in certain aspects of my life. Granted, my friends and family all know about my being an Aspie, and I’m not exactly shy about talking about it in public…but it’s always something I’ve kept out of things like my work life. It’s not that I necessarily think anyone would think less of me, or that I feel I’d be oppressed…its just something that I’ve always sensed shouldn’t be brought in to work. With the aforementioned progress I’ve made towards getting my book published however, I’ve recently had to face the very real fact that if and when it gets published, I’ll be outed in every aspect of my life – including work.

So why does being outed at work like this carry with it so much anxiety? To be honest, it’s a bit of a soup of reasons, but if I were to single out two of them, it would be ‘lack of agency’ and ‘engrained fear of ableism.’ Simply put – while I’ve always wanted to get a book published and I’ve never been shy to speak out about being on the spectrum in my adult life, there’s something simultaneously empowering and agency-depriving about a book being published and suddenly everyone knowing your story…including people you might not want to know. It seems silly to be concerned about this – after all, isn’t this the whole point of publishing something of this nature? Isn’t the ‘consenting moment’ the decision to pursue this, after which any and all outing is to be expected? Maybe, but there’s no denying that an act of supreme agency and self advocacy like this also carries with it the side effect of depriving one of their own agency in day-to-day dealings. Where once one could hide from ableist bigotry behind a perceived veil of neurotypicality, now it’s all out there. It’s like being emotionally naked to the world…and to borrow a term from the younger generation, that makes you feel vulnerable ‘AF.’

This brings me to the next reason this whole process has given me all of the nervousness – my engrained fear of ableism. As an older millennial (what some may call an ‘X-ennial’ because being born in 1988 officially places me closer to the Gen X-ers in mentality than to some of my more stereotypical younger millennial cohorts), I was raised during the 1990s, and for every awesome and rightfully nostalgic element that decade had going for it (Sega vs Nintendo! Pokemon! PlayStation 1, Star Trek and Terminator 2 and…I’ll stop…), it often wasn’t the most progressive and forward thinking when it came to various stigmas – specifically those related to mental health. There was always this undercurrent of not taking anything personal into the public eye and the workplace. Work is about work, or so the logic went, don’t give them any reason to look on you differently or they will find an excuse and fire you! Granted this was never STATED as such, but with the prevailing attitude towards mental health care at the time being ‘avoid the crazy farm at all costs,’ and witnessing first hand how the world treated my mentally ill mother, it wasn’t hard for me to internalize some of this and live in fear of being outed in certain contexts. In fact, this was precisely the reason it took me as long as it did to come to terms with my own place on the spectrum. It doesn’t matter that the world is far more accepting of mental health issues now than it’s ever been, or that I’ve been a part of that change through this blog…old habits and insecurities die hard, and for a time in high school I even didn’t want to be associated with the label ‘Aspergers.’ Coming to terms with this has been and will continue to be a journey, and to anyone reading this who has also experienced similar fears – I get it, and you are not alone. Society has imprinted fucked up attitudes on all of us to some degree, and it’s important we constantly challenge them – not only when we come across them in public, but also when we encounter them within ourselves.

Despite all of this fear and anxiety, however, I do remain committed to getting my book published and continuing this blog. It has the potential to do so much good for so many people, and isn’t it my responsibility as someone on the spectrum who is able to communicate to put my voice out there and advocate for both myself and those that can’t? Isn’t every non-cis-het-neurotypical perspective valuable in this day-and-age of opposing oppression wherever it rears its ugly head? The answer to each of these questions is a resounding ‘yes!’ I will always keep fighting for what I believe in, no matter the cost! After all, bravery isn’t defined by the absence of fear, but rather by the overcoming of it. So I may continue to shit bricks about certain aspects of this fight, but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep stepping forward into the fray.

After all, there’s a reason the Pottermore sorting hat placed me in Gryffindor… 😊

As always, yours in diversity,

Adam Michael

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