~Rumi

All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there...Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul? I cannot stop asking. If I could taste one sip of an answer, I could break out of this prison...I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way. Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.

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17 May 2012

You'll grow out of it, by Melanie Yergeau



Melanie Yergeau is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Michigan. A recipient of the 2009 Kairos Best Webtext Award, she researches how disability studies and digital technologies complicate our understandings of writing and communication. She has published in College English, Disability Studies Quarterly, Computers and Composition Online, and Kairos. Additionally, Melanie is an editor for Computers and Composition Digital Press, an imprint of Utah State University Press. Along with John Duffy, she served as a guest editor for the Summer 2011 special issue of Disability Studies Quarterly on disability and rhetoric.

Active in the neurodiversity movement, Melanie is the Board Chair of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, an organization run for and by Autistic people. Additionally, she serves on the board of the Autism National Committee. In her spare time, she blogs semi-regularly at http://aspierhetor.com, and she is also obsessed with the Electric Light Orchestra.




You'll grow out of it

"Can you blame others for not wanting to talk to you?" asked my former shrink. "If I weren't your therapist, I certainly wouldn't want to have a conversation with you."

The above statement reveals more about our culture than it does about me. It's taken me nearly a lifetime to recognize this.

I spent most of my childhood wanting to outgrow myself. My hands lurched like fist-sized hail; I wanted them to flow rhythmically and unobtrusively like rain. My eyes bounced across humans and objects and air molecules; I wanted them to rest, to focus, to remain stationary and fixed on someone else's pupils. Other kids played, milled seamlessly across playground spaces, talked and gathered and hugged and wrestled and laughed. And I watched, on the outer edge of the grounds, wondering what was so horrible about me, so loathsome and vile.

The fallacy in my childhood mind was the I. I wanted to outgrow myself -- or so I thought I did. Since toddlerhood, well before I'd even been diagnosed with autism, neurotypicality was represented as some idyllic idol, something both to reminisce and worship. But I was never an agent in wanting this; the desire was pressed into me, branded figuratively and literally into my stimmy and non-normative skin. My third-grade teacher somberly informed my parents that I had the social skills of a three year old. Playground bullies chased me with lit cigarettes and shocked my bare arms with exposed batteries from a disposable camera. Pastors prayed over me. Doctors floated one possibility after the next, ideas ranging from cerebral palsy to OCD to lactose intolerance. There was something wrong with me, something seriously wrong with me. I was variously a robot, a brat, a genius, an idiot, a retard, a loser, a spaz, and -- my relatives' personal favorite -- a mental midget. And who would want to be friends with that?

And yet, despite my supposed neurological vomit factory, there was "hope." Hope that I would someday cease to be me. Everyone wanted it for me. And like any faith-based narrative, I needed only to want it for myself. If I worked hard enough, if I trusted enough in God / gurus / shrinks / parental units / educators / Uncle Sam / the kids who liked to beat me up at recess / random sages from the interwebs / former Playboy bunnies / the power of B-12 and multivitamin supplements -- if I trusted in these things, NT Melanie would arise from autistic Melanie's ashes, dressed sharply in a cute pink outfit with a denim pairing. She would saunter over to a bar counter. She would order vodkatinis in a voice brimming with sexually suggestive inflection. She would know absolutely nothing about the Electric Light Orchestra.

These things were both desirable and achievable, according to NT Lore. You don't make eye contact? Nothing that intensive therapy and humiliating classroom exercises can't pound into you. You walk briskly and present with an odd and rigid gait? We'll pantomime your disordered body movements and laugh at your abnormal and friend-defying pace. You find typical conversations and other social ephemera inaccessible? We'll sic three or four bullies on you, and they'll punch sociality into you while on the playground.

This was my narrative. Or rather, this was their narrative, a narrative I convinced myself into telling. I memorized it. I rehearsed it aloud and silently. I'd sit on the bus and gaze longingly out the window. I'd invent plot lines and visualize my transformation into an NT character, a character with friends in greater number than my record collection. I'd imagine the new me, the me with Hollywood-white teeth, the me I would become if only -- yes, if only, if only --

I am now a college professor. I am now nearly three decades into my life. There is no if only -- there is simply only. I am only me. I am singular, I am autos, I am neurologically atypical, I am a stim fiend, I am stiffer than ironed polyester, I am only, only, only me. I am autistic, and my narrative is one of reclamation and protest, of the Electric Light Orchestra and occasionally misused prepositions. My narrative is parallel and stimmy and developmentally pervasive. Being autistic is not unacceptable, the narrative affirms. Being ableist, however, is.

As any autistic knows all too well, NT Lore persists. It persists with my ex-therapist, which is reason for his ex- affix. It persists with many colleagues. It persists with students and relatives and doctors and so-called friends. It persists with society writ large. And sometimes, in moments of despair and crushed spirit, it persists with me. In these moments, I summon my aut pride self. I summon my pervasively polyester narrative, the one that sports tie-dye aut gear. It tells NT Lore to STFU.

8 comments:

  1. Thank you, Melanie (AKA Miss Awesomesauce)!

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  2. Good to see a new post here, Elesia. :)

    And Melanie, I'm glad you had enough pride to ditch the ex-therapist. One of these days, our society will grow out of it.

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  3. I COULDN'T BE A MEMBEr OF THE AUTISTIC PRIDE COMMUNITY, though as an Autistic person (I HATE THE TERM PERSON or PEOPLE OR STUPID THINGS LIKE THAT!! Even human sucks, but it's better than "person," presuming you choose to identify as "human," which I DON'T really. It's the same struggle I have with being called by my binary gender, when I DON'T identify with it because I'm NONGENDERED or whatever, completely OUTSIDE OF THAT STUFF and GENDERLESS!! SO SCREW!! AAAAAHHHHH!!! And that's it. I'm ending the parentheses stuff. RIGHT NOW. Now!! 1, 2, 3.......OK!! But still SOMETHING ISN'T RIGHT!! Now it is. OK!!) I have self-respect and love being who I am, whether who I AM is AuTiStIC OR WHATEVER. THOUGH OBVIOUSLY I AM AUTISTIC, of course. Though I would find just as much difficulty in that community as I would with the supposed "normal" humans!!!!! And I would be just as unconventional thERE and 'DISRUPTIVE' and I wouldn't be able to expressSs$ssSs my views. As an Autistic, I am SOLITARY. I find no benefit being part of a collective and my brain doesn't work that way at all. AT ALL!! I am solitary, self-involved, whatever you want to call me. ><{{o> I don't empathize with others, Autistic or NOT!!. Some doctors SAY WE Auties and Aspies Don't empathize, but what tHE HELL IS THAT? I don't even understand the concept of empathy, to be honest. I'm not an empath, it's not how I operate, and from any perspective I just don't GET it. It's not part of my reality, I couldn't develop it if I wanted to, and I don't care anyway. THAT DOESN'T MEAN I DON'T CARE ABOUT OTHERS THOUGH!! AND THEN THERE'S THE ISSUE OF MISUNDERSTANDING, FOR INSTANCE!! SOMETIMES I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHEN PEOPLE ARE IN PAIN BECAUSE I DON'T EXPERIENCE THINGS OR EXPRESS THINGS IN QUITE THE SAME WAY, but IF SOMEONE TELLS ME "I'M IN PAIN" I UNDERSTAND AND WANT TO HELP THEM!! I CARE!! BUT EMPATHY, NO!! I DON'T HAVE!! WHAT IS IT???????

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  4. LACKING EMPATHY ISN'T THE SAME AS whatever.......... I DON'T HAVE TO KNOW HOW YOU FEEL, OR PRETEND TO KNOW HOW YOU FEEL, TO CARE, I GUESS!! AND I DON'T KNOW HOW YOU FEEL, OTHERWISE I'D BE YOU!! I DON'T EVEN always KNOW MYSELF, REALLY, BUT I KNOW THAT I AM MYSELF, but EVEN IF I DIDN'T KNOW I EXISTED IT WOULDN'T BE SO BAD, REALLY!! YAY!! MINDS ARE cool. I HAVE A GOOD BRAIN!! I THINK there are a LOT OF "normal" humans WHO KNOW WHAT humans and non-humans ARE FEELING AND YET REALLY don't CARE ANYWAY, LIKE THOSE HORRIBLE HUNTERS, MEAT-EATERS, AND SCIENTISTS!! I HAVE A SCIENTIFIC BRAIN BUT I CARE!! I CARE!! A LOT!! I GET VERY EMPASSIONED AND SCREAM AT THE TV SOMETIMES AND HAVE TO AVOID WATCHING CERTAIN THINGS BECAUSE I FEEL SO BAD!! AND I easILY BECOME UPSET WITH OTHERS BECAUSE theY DON'T CARE!! I CARE!! It's LIKE TALKING TO A BRICK WALL!! WE JUST DON'T CARE ABOUT THE SAME THINGS, OR DON'T UNDERSTAND each other. BUT I LOVE YOU SILLIES!! ALL OF YOU FOLKS!! AND I LIKE HUMANS AS LONG as I DON'T HATE THEM >:( Uh oh!! I MEAN, I LIKE HUMANS AS LONG AS THEY ARE TRUE AND INDIVIDUAL and don't force STANDARDS on me!! Nuckanuck!! I ALSO don't GET POLITENESS!! NO!! I LIKE HAVING AN AUTISTIC BRAIN, GENETICS, NEUROLOGY, AND BEING WHO I AM AND SUCH AND SUCH!! Yes. Trryt!! Beep beep! OOOOOOOOOOOOK!! And that's what I HAVE TO SAY UNTIL THE NEXT POST COMING IN A FEW SECONDS!! OK!

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  5. I embrace the Neurodiversity philosophy in my own way to apply to all things, not just for Autistics, but for ALL. Sociopaths, schizophrenics, Kanner's/Asperger's Autism, bipolar, ADHD, supposed "freaks," ect. Why? Because Why not? IT'S LOGICAL AND NOT STUPID!! WHAT MAKES CERTAIN PEOPLE NOT WORTHY OF INCLUSION? Not because I empathize, meaning "can place myself in their shoes," whatever, but because I hate things that don't make sense and bullshit like norms that for the most part I don't even realize exist unless they are shoved in my face. MY FACE!!! I embrace the concept of Cognitive Liberty. Unlike political movements which EMBRACE PeOPLE as A COLLECTIVE, even if they are vastly DIFFERENT, as long as they are unified by similARITIES within the context of a LABEL, which is INTERESTING, I don't feel the NECESSITY of being part of a COLLECTIVE, and I don't want to FIT IN, mostly due to simply BEINg INDIFfERENT to that sOCIal shit, more than anything else. I'm not interested in social groups and issues surrounding them. I look forward to the break-down, decadence, destruction of society though BECAUSE it would be BEST. Like the famous Groucho Marx quote, "I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member." I don't want to be herded into a "group of cats" or whatever the hell.(My face itches. Nheeehrrrr!!) I would tear shit up, were I forced into it, or even if I chose to be involved. All of these Autistics would likely hate me or want me GONE or something, even in spite of their claims to include all Autistic people!!!!Because THAT is my unconformist nature. I refuse to conform to un/non-conformity as well. And I love that NATURE of mine. That is something I truly take "pride" in, even more (in fact, significantly much more) than simply identifying with my AUTISTIC brain structure.

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  6. I'M NOT A MALICIOUS PERSON THOUGH!! Not deliberately!! OF COURSE NOT!! I'm mostly PLAYFUL and Stuhuhuhuhuuuff~~!! I will not help Autistics start a society in any way. Mostly I would be destructive. And those are the people Autistic movements REFUSE to acknowledge, people like meeeeee. Just as they would likely refuse to acknowledge sociopaths. OF COURSE the school system wanted to get rid of me, also. I'm ABSOLUTELY not going to "behave."

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  7. NOOOOOO!! I'M NOT A SOCIAL THING!! I'd be instantly banned from WrongPlanet or AFF or Autism Hub. Neurodiversity wouldn't want me in their ranks, and I wouldn't want to be there, though just like with the school system, I find it awfully discriminatory, regardless of whether or not it is supposedly "necessary" to exclude me~~~~. The one thing I like about all of these movements is that they help me form simple responses such as "I only want to do, such and such, on my terms" or whatever and also self-advocate. Since I like to define my world and set the parameters, it helps to be able to say "I'm setting the parameters here" which otherwise would have been hard for me to do were it not by rote. So yes, it's nice to have developed an AUTISTIC way for myself to be all "kiss my butt," quick little rote things that I can say when I feel encroached upon, defensive, or whatever the hell. By the way, functioning labels are stupid. Most things I can only do by rote. Yeah. So that is, in fact, ultimately what I have to say about all of that. Yeah. That's all. Yes!! YES INDEED!! Why yes, sir!! Farty!! BYEEE NOW!! I think I should go play, EVEN THOUGH I REALLY should sleep!!!!! Ohhh!! Something SHoULD be DONE HEReeeee AT THE END!! v^V^v^v^V^v^v^V^v^v^V^v OHHH YES!! I think THAT IS ADEQUATE!! SATISFACTORY!! NOW I CAN CONFIDENTLY SAY THAT I AM READY TO PRESENT MY POST!! I like LUNGS AND BRAINS AND STUFF!! OK! POST TIME FOR MEEEEE!! Right now!! I POST! NOW!! OR ELSE I'LL NEVER POST AND BE STUCK IN THIS DILEMMA!! OK!! THAT IS ALL I HAVE TO SAY!! YOU GUYS ARE NEATO!! I LIKE THIS POST!! MY POST IS GOOD SO I WILL POST AND YOU HAVE TO LIKE IT BECAUSE I KNOW I LIKE IT MYSELF, BECAUSE IT'S MY POST!! YES!! LET'S POST!

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  8. Melanie rocks. But it makes me SO SAD to read about all the things people did to her when she was a kid!

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