One very important thing that I think about often is the bit in the First Branch of the Mabinogion when Pwyll, the cool prince who has two Welsh vowels in his name, thank you very much, sees this fantastically beautiful woman on a really cool horse, and he says to himself “well, I guess the only logical thing to do would be to get on my own dang horse and chase her,” and he gets some of his buddies together (but just the ones in Pony Club, because the horses are important) and he says to them “right, we’re just going to chase this woman for a bit, is that OK?” and his pals are like “I mean, can you quantify ‘a bit’?” and Pwyll just shrugs and says “until I catch her, I guess,” and then his friends all look at each other and say “yep, that seems like a solid plan, count us in,” and they all get on their horses and they start to chase her and
they keep chasing her without a break
for three days
and every time it looks like they’re catching up with her, time does this weird skippy thing like when you play a bad CD (a scratched CD, I mean, not just Kelly Rowland’s disappointing solo efforts) and they’re suddenly miles behind her again, almost like it’s magic, or possibly a very niche science trick that the men just don’t have the capacity to comprehend in a world without flushing toilets. Gradually, Pwyll’s men just bow out, some gracefully and some probably weeping about piles and missing dinner, and then Pwyll is alone in his pursuit. Exhausted, starving and probably desperate to use one of the aforementioned non-flushing toilets, Pwyll just cries out “I don’t understand! When I saw this woman riding ahead of me, I only had one option, and that was to chase her desperately like the protagonists of La La Land chased a false Hollywood ideal. There’s literally nothing else I can do, but I can’t carry on, and it’s not working,” and then suddenly this idea comes to him and he calls out to the woman “hey, can you stop!”
and she immediately stops
and he catches up to her
and she’s like “fucking hell, I’ve been waiting for you to ask me to stop for three days, I’m absolutely knackered. Also I’m conveniently madly in love with you,” and Pwyll is like “if you’re in love with me, then why didn’t you stop? I just ran about eight triathlons, and by ‘I’ I mean ‘my horse’, who will likely never forgive me,” and the woman (Rhiannon) just shrugs and says “well, you didn’t ask me to stop.”
And either it shows something about the perils of pursuing a goal relentlessly without taking a moment to consider your approach, or it’s a commentary on male expectations of women, or on hubris, but ultimately it’s just really fucking funny.
I didn’t want to post a selfie for this. It didn’t feel significant enough. My haircut, my eyes, the lines of my face, the shape of my nose, these are all the last things you need to know about me if you want to know autism. There is no autistic look, no physical trait, no outfit we all wear to be seen. Autism is our brain, the dense tissue of cells, fibers and liquid - the ugliest organ, one might say, a light shadow of pink and a lot of slime, nothing remarkable. Yet it holds all our thoughts and dreams, all our fears and hopes, all our memories, and our identities. All of the the things that make us, us.
Autism is our brain and it can’t be seen or heard or touched. But many things can be. Many things are so very obvious. My faked, exaggerated facial expressions and awkward raptor hands. My intonations, too high, too low, voice too loud, too expressive. My fingers, always moving, always going through rounds and rounds of repetitive motions. My shakes and flinches in reaction to bad sounds and unexpected touches. My words, often “smart” and sophisticated, sometimes carefully prepared, and repeated again and again. And my happy flappy hands when I feel the joy channel through me like a lighting strike. Those are things you can notice: if I allow you to. Or if I’m too tired to hide them.
I hide them because I have been taught to. Not by so-called therapists, thank god, but by people around me. They did not give me stickers for saying please and thank you. They did not take away my toys for not making eye contact. They just bullied and shamed me for years until I picked it up myself.
Every time a kid at school laughed at me for taking so long to tie my shoelaces, or ridiculed me for talking about science fiction, or tricked me into an embarrassing situation because they could - I learned. Every time a teacher blamed me for not being able to get up early in the morning, or accused me of deliberately being rude, or told my parents they should “beat me once or twice” to fix my problems - I remembered.
And I trained myself to pretend. I became an outstanding actor. I rehearsed every word, every expression, every step of every scenario, until I forgot why I was doing it. I painstakingly copied everyone I interacted with, from their smile to the way they moved their hands when talking, until I forgot what it was like to be myself. I thought I was broken, and I was repairing myself. Only it didn’t make me feel better. It only made me feel more broken.
I am autistic. It is in my brain, in that complicated network of neurons we call ourselves. But around me I have a shell. A cover, maybe, like the camouflage suits that solders wear. I made it for myself, one thread at a time, because I had to. Autism is there, underneath, but the outside world sees the cover. I know now I am not broken. I know now I am wired that way. I do not wish to have that cover anymore, yet I can’t get rid of it. I try to. I learn to live as an autistic person, not as a broken neurotypical, and I am shedding that cover, slowly, one thread at a time.
This is why we need acceptance, not awareness. Awareness would just put a new word in the mouth of my bullies to shout at my back. Awareness would just give a reason to my teachers not to help me and a cause to write down on my “expelled” papers. Awareness would just make me feel like I am a tragedy, a burden, a fate worse than death and… how is that any difference from what I felt for so many years?
Acceptance tells me that my struggles are real, and can be made less with support and accommodations. Acceptance tells me that the way I move, the way I talk, the way I am is okay, a part of natural human variation, and not something to be ashamed of. Acceptance tells me I am not alone, and there are people like me out there. Acceptance tells me my life can be beautiful, amazing, fulfilling, and just as happy as a neurotypical life, no matter how much help I need or how much I can do. Acceptance tells me - it is not all bad. There is a place in this world for you.
So today, do not support Autism Speaks, do not support Light It Up Blue, and do no support autism awareness. Awareness is the last thing we need right now! What we need is for people to understand us and to stop trying to fix us. Maybe we aren’t the ones who are broken. Maybe society is. Maybe it’s time to fix society. And then, there will be a place for us, just the way we are.