I started to write this article after I wrote my poem, Unmasking as Autistic Pride, but I put it on hold when a special interest took over. I want to come back to it now.
When I wrote Unmasking, I wanted to make sure that it included all autistic people. There are a few lines about talking, but ultimately, to me, unmasking is about letting my body do what it wants.
Many autistic people, though, have a body that will sometimes compulsively act on its own accord. Many autistic brains tend to be not-so-great at executive functions that plan movement.
I only experience this to a tiny degree comparatively: I don’t lift my feet high enough when I walk and can trip over seemingly nothing.
I’ll be looking where I’m going, but not realize that part of my body is still going to hit something. I don’t have a firm grasp, and things fall out of my hands if I’m concentrating on something else. However, I can stop myself from stimming if I want to.
I can also use my vocal cords, lips, tongue, and teeth to speak. Many autistic people can’t do these things with reliability. I don’t support the use of functioning labels, but it does no one any good to deny having what Mayer Shevin called “fluency privilege.” Instead, I try to recognize where I have advantages that others do not; and when people talk about how they have been discriminated against in a way that I don’t experience, I try to listen.
To me, unmasking is becoming “visibly autistic.” I wear ear defenders and sunglasses outside now. I don’t stop myself from stimming if I need to. I try not to worry too much over whether or not I said the right things, used the right tone, or made the right face.
To me, pride is acceptance. People will like me, or they won’t. People will understand me, or they won’t. And that’s okay.
It’s okay, because there are people out there who do like me. There are people out there who do understand me. And many of them are autistic or neurodivergent themselves.
When I’m trying to let go, I think of those people. My people. I think about the others in the world who haven’t been able to accept and embrace themselves as easily, who have a much more difficult time with interactions than I do, who aren’t as fluently-speaking as me, whose bodies move in different ways.
I unmask not just for me, but for others, so that others see someone who is like them, and then maybe they might feel a little bit better about who they are.
When I wrote the line, “I don’t owe the world,” what I meant was that I don’t have to pretend to be normal just for the sake of fitting in. I don’t owe the world a sanitized version of myself that can be deemed acceptable.
If you exist in public while the world is trying to erase you from existence, you are revolutionary. You’re changing the world just by being here, and I am so proud of you.
You should be proud of you, too.