I’ve finally made it to Quote Quest… 15 weeks late is pretty much on time for me. It’s a good one to get my teeth into this week.
I have wandered through life without much internal idea of who I am. I was shaped by the messages I received from others, but I didn’t realise just how much until I watched a psychologist describe my second child and their poor sense of self identity and how this affected them.
Having adored certain boys from about 10, I think I was 13 when I first had a crush on a girl. She was the classic “bad boy” complete with a leather jacket over her school uniform and was a fifth former while I was a third year student. It never occurred to me to worry about this, because I was straight… or rather it never occurred to me to think about that either. I’d grow up, get married and have kids was a better description and to do that as a girl, you liked boys. Well, I did. So that was ok.
By Uni, I would self describe as bi-sexual, but I didn’t know how to behave as though I was. I had no flirting skills towards either gender and had a disturbing number of crushes on femme gay men, which proved to me even more that I just couldn’t read the room. Masculine people in lace and make up are still attractive to me, as are many other combinations of masculine and feminine coded traits in a package.
Understanding myself and loosing all those pesky messages about how men and women are supposed to behave that are written into our societal coding has finally let me develop into a whole person who is comfortable in my skin and able to interact with people understanding myself and their key signals.
I have realised the packaging a person comes in is just that. Skin and bones with interesting configuration but not what I primarily found attractive. The person inside and especially the traits they choose to project are what attract me.
Confidence. Self understanding.
Pansexual fits best and I’ve been using that for about 6 years.
It is easier to place these non-gendered ideas on other people than it is to apply them to myself. Because if I am not who I thought I was, who am I? I remember asking the psychologist exactly that If I’m not defined by my genitals and child bearing status, who am I? . If my child doesn’t need me in the same way anymore, who am I?
I was never just a walking reproductive system. I was never just their parent. I am, I feel, blessed to be a role model and guide to being a person for my children and for the young (and not so young) people I meet through my day job. Like me, my children walk to the beat of a different drum, as do many of my clients.
I was never just the girl who was going to marry a man and have a heap of kids because he had a good job and could provide me with a home. And I am no less valid as an LGBTQ+ community member for having married a man and having a hoard of children.
I was always someone who looked for people who could take me over. Take control and let me just be. But there was no role model for that. No education. I walked into dangerous situations to get a fix I didn’t understand. I hope I don’t leave my children so underprepared if they have a sexuality that is not heteronormative or conservative.
When you are autistic a key survival skill you learn is how to mask. It is like living your whole life as a C list actor (at best) in a role without a script. I learnt girl as a mask. I had vividly described it to people over the last 15 years without realising that was what I was doing. I shopped at Monsoon so my clothes didn’t go out of fashion and were always smart enough and casual enough. I had my nails done because girls have manicures. I took my eyebrows and hair to a hairdresser with a good reputation and just let them do what they think is best because then I can be just like everyone else. I went to mother and toddler groups with the children despite thinking they were torture.
Just because I realise gender is a performance for me doesn’t mean I don’t respect that for others this might come with some deep internalised sense of belonging to a label or a team or a tribe. Recently, I learnt some of the non binary descriptors belong especially to autistic people. I like the one that says we don’t feel gender in the same way as others and that being autistic is our primary identifier above gender or sexuality.
The world looks different when you realise you don’t have to be in a particular box.
There are new battles to fight. And some battles that you can chose not to fight.
My elder two children also identify as non binary and we have done some learning together about words we might use to help others understand who we are, but also that we don’t have to be the same type of non binary as others to be valid. I don’t have to feel comfortable applying labels like queer and trans to myself if I don’t think they fit me. I haven’t changed. I have always been this me, I just didn’t understand it.
I am still to the outside world a middle class mummy. People still see my tits walk into the room first and assume woman because that is a statistical likelihood. I don’t have time in every professional situation to explain myself, nor do I owe anyone an explanation. I have to explain my autism anywhere it is a disability for me and that’s intrusive enough. As it doesn’t bother me personally, I haven’t changed my pronouns. My children have and I fully support them in doing so. They have them embroidered on their school uniform (as pin badges aren’t allowed for safety) to help those around them remember not to just go by their beautiful long hair and say she, or the depth of their voices and say he.
I still write middle class mummy letters, but now they are to Virgin Care when then insist the person giving permission for a flu jab identify themselves as mother or father rather than parent (gone to moderation). Or to Sponge Cakes telling them when my child want to order me a cake and can’t pick their chosen title of Mx from their limited drop down, this is not good enough (they changed it within 24hours).
I see gendered language of parenting everywhere and spend time trying to find usable work rounds and getting used to them in my speech, so my children’s children, if they have them, will not have the encoded language telling them who they are. I hope my students are not constrained by the limits language imposes on how we draw ourselves in words.
I have spent the last few years changing my wrapping so it fits better with the me on the inside. I don’t like giving a false impression that how I think of myself might be just fit a statistical norm. How can I expect other typically thinking people to understand me if I look one way and behave another? I am as confusing to them as they are to me as an autistic person.
Being a little different is great.
Being able to be true to myself as an autistic person without pretence is wonderful.
Having the confidence to self advocate in a meeting if I don’t understand or need a break, or even just need the lights dimming is freeing.
Changing my packaging is hard. I can’t shake the clothing rules I learnt to mask, but equally I recognise the privilege they bring. When I walk into a professionals meeting in a suit and heels with confident but understated make up and use my masking skills to be the person I know the (usually male) chair of the meeting will respect, I am using that privilege. When I leave and kick off my shoes and bra and take off the ever so respectable wig to reveal my blue hair having secured the package my client needs, have I been played by being forced into an inauthentic package, or have I played the system? I know… have proof from repeated meetings… that the mums with tattoos and coloured hair and tired faces are devalued in meetings below the fathers and the fair, unpainted skinned and those with natural coloured hair, however unnaturally that has been acquired.
At the moment I really don’t know who I am without the clothes I learnt to wear when I was younger, but I know I will work it out.
I want to have the confidence and the social and professional currency to point out the hypocrisy I am part of, but I don’t have it yet. I want to change pronouns not for me, but to walk that path for the person behind me, whether that is my child, my student, my client or a stranger. I want to put the evidence before the people I work with that I am not different if I attend the meeting with blue hair. I’d love to think that writing the occasional piece of erotic work shouldn’t devalue my other work.
I value myself for these things but I also recognise the time for each of these battles will come and I should make myself available and ready to fight, but I don’t have to take them on alone or now.
I applaud those who do. I am encouraged that a member of the children’s drama group has just come out as binary trans at home and at drama and found that easier because my children are open about being non binary. The path had been walked.
But whereas I believe Neville Goddard was correct in the first of his statements, and partially right in his second – that you can’t change people, only offer the opportunity to be educated and the chance to change, I don’t agree they are messengers of who you are. They are simply reflecting their own values and fears, understanding or ignorance onto you. I don’t believe revaluing yourself is enough to be revalued in the eyes of others. The question is whether their opinion is worth worrying about, or whether it is something you should work around, at least temporarily, to meet your aims.
Van Gogh didn’t accept the views of others and kept painting, because others didn’t understand his art. I won’t accept the views of others as the only or primary source of value for myself. I am prepared to be misunderstood, because I understand myself.
Living an authentic life, as one of my children’s favourite youtubers likes to say, is less easy than that. It is a compromise between being comfortable in your own skin, fighting battles for yourself and others, and getting life done, with all the responsibilities you have taken on on the way to where you are now.
Those are values that are fluid and whilst you are responsible for not making life harder for anyone else, you don’t have to fix the world in one lifetime if you don’t feel you have the tools or the strength.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could?