Discover more from Sparkly Dark
Unmasking as social liberation
Smash the neuro-patriarchy
A stroll through autism, gender nonconformity, and my desire to liberate myself and everyone else.
If you’re not part of my FB crew (which, come find me there if you’d like to be), then I have big news: I am autistic. I wrote all about this self-realization here on my blog - how I got there, what it means, and why it took me so long to realize it.
I am in a period of intense self-reconfiguration, and I’m just taking notes here while riding the rapids. Sparkly Dark has turned out to be Emma’s Unmasking Journey. Apparently, unicorns are a gateway drug for being your authentic self—once you start, you can’t stop.
I wrote my blog post on Monday. On Tuesday, after having lots of wonderful congratulatory coming-out type convos with my various neurodivergent friends, I decided to watch a YouTube video on Autism and Gender. To relax, goddamnit.
And then, about two seconds in, merely at the thought of autism influencing my gender, a thought-feeling floated to the surface of my consciousness:
“Woman” does not feel right. “She/her” does not feel right.
And then I immediately thought, "NO. I don't want another thing!! Goddamn it brain, just be normal in ONE THING PLEASE!! NOT TODAY, I AM TIRED.”
I felt like I couldn’t deal with one more stigmatized identity right now. I wanted some safe refuge from having to be constantly different. And this feeling is very familiar…I felt it when I realized I was queer, kinky, going to marry someone in prison, ADHD…it’s this sinking feeling of “Oh no, another thing that makes me weird. Another thing I will have to explain and defend to other people. Another thing that will make it hard to just exist.”
But after I soothed my panicky reaction, I realized…I am through the looking-glass now. I can’t go back. And I don’t want to.
I don’t want to think of these parts of myself that I am rediscovering as burdens. That is seeing them through the eyes of internalized oppression.
This is just who I am. This is just me letting go of trying to pretend I am not who I am.
These moments are mini homecomings, and I want to honor and savor them as such. There is no rush, and there is no problem.
Beyond the grief of “failing at being normal” is the liberation of coalescing as your whole, true self.
Masking autism is not just a social performance. It’s a whole set of internal beliefs and strategies that I created to hide my autism from everyone and myself. I created a “normal” or “acceptable” identity, and tried to live as it.
And I tried really hard. It wasn’t a small project. It was my entire life’s project. My social survival was on the line. Which is my everything survival, because we are social creatures.
So it’s not easy to undo it, and it takes time to come to terms with it on an emotional level.
But it’s also just a literal brain re-wiring process, because these are habits of thinking that I have developed and practiced over a lifetime.
As one brain pattern starts to shift, it affects other ones nearby. As I began to unmask my ADHD, it also began unmasking my autism, slowly. I began to notice all the ways I was actually lying to myself about what I truly feel and experience. I started making a list of “Is this Autism?” and memories kept surfacing and surfacing. The mask began to slip.
Over the last few months, my brain has been re-organizing its sense of “I am” around my authentic self rather than my mask.
And apparently, “female” gender is part of my mask, not my authentic self. Which just means that I get to unpack gender in a way that I haven’t before. I can do that.
When I feel into what gender means to me, it feels like a costume that I can wear to a party. It doesn’t feel like an intrinsic part of me. Sure, I can dress up like a girl. It’s fun sometimes! But it’s like Halloween—I can dress up as a pirate and have a good time, but that doesn’t mean I want to live in a pirate costume every day. And “female” feels like a set of costumes they handed me when I was born, and expected me to keep wearing until I die. Sure, there are different versions of the “female” costume. But they are all still costumes to me. And I don’t want to live in a costume. I’d like to opt-out, please. I just want to be me.
It has nothing to do with my body—my body is fine the way it is. And if “female” were just something that came into play when I went to the doctor, that would be fine. But it’s not. I have to constantly identify myself as a gender, even though it is almost always irrelevant to the situation at hand. So I’m forced to interact as a gendered being, when I don’t feel like one. I’m forced to live in a world that is entirely organized around which costume pack you were assigned at birth. The whole thing is an imposition.
Looking back, I’ve had this vague unease with gender for a long time. I remember feeling a sense of surprise and confusion when I saw other people opting out in some way—like wait, you can do that? But it felt inaccessible to me. It’s not that big a deal, I would think. Sure, I don’t feel like a “woman”, but it’s not like I am being traumatized by it. So why bring it up? Why make life harder for myself by being myself?
People who are different are constantly being told to shut up about it.
Stop being so sensitive. I don’t care what people do in their bedrooms, but don’t shove it down our throats. Why do you need another label? Just do it, it’s not that hard. Why do you have to make everything so difficult?
One way conformity gets enforced is through the requirement that people have a “disorder” in order to qualify to be legitimately different. And who defines the “disorder”? People who don’t have it, of course. Autism was defined by neurotypical people as a disorder because it doesn’t match their idea of order. Being queer was defined by cishet people as deviant, sick, and morally wrong. Being trans is still largely seen by the mainstream through a medicalized, pathologizing lens, where the focus is entirely on physical and medical interventions.
Since I don’t have gender dysphoria, and it doesn’t interfere with my functioning (a neurotypical phrase if I ever saw one), I disregarded my own reality. I saw myself through the eyes of the mask that I had adopted to survive, and I made an unconscious decision to dismiss my needs and conform to expectations, because that is how I learned to survive in a world that was constantly telling me my natural self was wrong.
Masking is an attempt at self-erasure that never quite works.
Masking is a form of internalized oppression. It is something like code-switching, but without a “home culture” to go back to. It cuts you off from your real impulses, thoughts, beliefs, and desires. It forces you to live as a caricature of your true self. It forces you to think about and describe who you are in a language that you aren’t fluent in and can’t learn. It makes you see yourself constantly through the eyes of people who don’t understand you and think there is something wrong with you.
When people say autistics are not fully human, I think: “What would it do to a human to have to lock their true self in a prison their whole lives and live as someone else and not even know that was happening?”. And I also think: “Who gave you the right to define what it means to be human?”.
I believe that self-love is a tool of liberation and a weapon against oppression, because it eventually unravels internalized oppression and restores your natural power. And we naturally want to be who we are. We naturally believe that we are OK as we are. That is how we come into the world. The world is what teaches us self-hatred. And I refuse to keep harming myself through thoughts and beliefs I did not consent to.
I want every part of my life to be available for liberation.
This morning I was taking a shower, and I realized I’ve been taught to think of this as a perfunctory chore, but it’s actually a very intimate and intense sensory experience. So I slowed down, and let myself feel the water, the heat, and my skin. I let myself sink into my sensations and enter that wordless space of direct experience. I let myself acknowledge and experience that being naked and touching myself is as an act of self-intimacy. I stopped trying to shower like an allistic person and showered like an autistic person.
Tangentially, I wonder if I could unmask my writing more. Sparkly Dark was, in essence, a project to unmask my writing in the first place. But the way I actually think is in tangents, detours, parentheticals. And that is how I talk when I’m conversing with people who are also ADHD. We run around the conceptual space like a conversation is an amusement park, and it’s wonderful. I don’t think in straight lines. I don’t exist in straight lines. So how could I authentically make art in straight lines?
Writing is meant to communicate, and I value that. But what am I communicating if I edit myself into a caricature? Yes, it may be more understandable to neurotypical people, but is it really my art if I do that?
I want autistics to express ourselves in our own language. I am not self-diagnosed, because autism is not a disorder. I am self-realized. I am self-liberated. I am self-aware. I am free. But I am in no way, self-diagnosed.
I want to help liberate autism itself. Because when I look around, the world needs us. It needs our voice, our perspective, our ethics, and our sensitivity.
I don’t want to just survive in a neurotypical world. I want to be a monkey wrench in the machine. A monkey wrench of glitter and rainbows. 🦄
At least, not as it is commonly defined. I have to do more research on gender dysphoria as it relates to being non-binary. But my point is, the feeling of “I’d like to return this costume pack I was given at birth” does not seem like a medical problem. My body and mind are functioning just fine.