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Neurologic is a podcast produced by autistic Leo Jones about autism, autistic advocacy & self-advocacy, issues of importance to autistics and the autistic community, and much more.

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30 Days of Autism Acceptance Challenge - Day 4: Reactions to “coming out”

Apr 5, 2019

Day 4 and I've fallen into a pattern of answering these late at night - this one will get posted a bit late. My apologies; I will get back on time by the weekend.

To be honest, I never called it “coming out” because I associated that phrase specifically with the LGBTQIA+ community, and as an otherwise straight white male, I assumed it wasn't my place to co-opt it. To do so, in my opinion, would be an appropriation that was unacceptable.

When I was first diagnosed, I didn't really tell a lot of people - how do you actually tell them? How do you respond to their questions, namely “What is it like to be autistic”, when you have no comparison to draw it to?

That question always bothered me, because I truly didn't - and in some ways, still don't - know what it's like to be least in comparison to neurotypicality. I've always experienced the world this way, so asking is an assumption that autism is some sort of condition that you contract rather than begin life with.

Like most autistics, I've had a narrow variety of responses to disclosure - “I'm so sorry”, “You are so brave", “Wow, I never knew you were autistic! I couldn't tell", and the one I abhor the most: “You're an inspiration!”. Often people just don't know what to say, and in that regard, I would recommend saying “okay” or “how can I support you?"

Especially in autism communities with professionals and parents - but seldom anyone autistic - I am definitely treated differently when I disclose; my opinions, advice, wisdom are all checked and often regarded as secondary to those who aren't autistic but work with autistic individuals.

Over time I've heavily moderated and controlled who gets to know my autistic status; unchecked outing of being autistic has caused detrimental effects in my life, so now I often wait to tell people I meet for the first time. I find out more information about who they are, what they do, their stance on issues - and if I feel safe enough to tell them, I will eventually.
Unfortunately, this has combined with heavy attempts at ‘masking’ or ‘passing’; for such a long time in my life, I wanted legitimate friendships with people, to be able to date, to be taken seriously and valued just as much. But those don't come naturally, despite what most people believe - it requires you fit a certain paradigm, act a certain way, conduct yourself to a strict and contradictory set of societal norms, mores and taboos that are hardly ever written down, stated clearly, or even explained. Accessing the societal rule sets is nearly impossible to do, and requires years of practice to emulate.
Depending on the scenario, masking does consume a lot of my spoons; at times I will cancel or refrain from taking part in an activity because I simply cannot handle it. I get exhausted to the point where I can no longer hold the mask - and bowing out is easier than risking permanent damage to relationships and social standing.
This sounds depressing, but what's the alternative? Loneliness, isolation, unemployment, homelessness? From where I stand, the psychological cost of masking is incredibly high, but it's the only way to survive as an autistic - that is, if you do survive in the first place. Even I have, at times, contributed to the pressure forced upon autistics to conform; it's not something I'm proud of, and I am trying to avoid doing so now and in the future.

This is not to say I've had nothing but negative consequences from my disclosure; on the contrary, I have genuine friendships with people who do not view my diagnosis as something bad but rather an integral part of who I am, and embrace it as they do with my personality. However, at my stage in life I've masked for so long that I'm not even sure what being without the mask would be like. Can I even tell the difference anymore? Have I passed so long that it's now hardwired into my brain?

Perhaps as I age I will find more freedom in disclosing - but for now, the consequences are simply too costly in my personal life to be “out” on a public scale.

- Leo Jones