Saturday, August 23, 2008

Being 'Out' Nonverbally

One big concept that the gay community has introduced is 'coming out of the closet'. 'The closet' refers to pretending to be straight, so coming out means admitting that you are gay rather than trying to hide it.
Some people in the disability rights community also discuss coming out - especially people whose disabilities aren't very evident in the situation they are discussing. For example, one book I've heard of (but never actually read, unfortunately) is called Coming Out Asperger. There are differences between coming out for disabled people as opposed to gay people, but there are also similarities.
One issue that some gays have been talking about is when you are 'out' verbally, but still trying not to be too obvious about it. For example, your coworkers may know you are gay, but you don't hug your lover in front of them (in a culture where a straight person might do so).
I can certainly relate to that. Just because someone knows I'm autistic doesn't mean I'll flap in front of them. It's not that unusual for me to tell someone I've only just met that I'm autistic, if it comes up. But only with people I really trust will I actually act autistic (apart from acting intelligent and obsessive).
And this can't be solved just by choosing to be out nonverbally, because there's a difference between forced nonverbal signals and real nonverbal signals. So, for example, that one pro-choice lesbian in Citizen Ruth kissing her partner in front of a bunch of Christian pro-life protesters was forcing nonverbal signals - she wasn't kissing her partner because she just wanted to kiss her, but because she wanted to shock her audience. (Note: even though I'm pro-life, I much preferred the pro-choice characters in that movie.)
But the big problem is that often worrying about your audience inhibits wanting to act the way you naturally do. If you've spent a lifetime hiding, then fear combined with self-consciousness (that feeling that you don't belong) tends to show up in acting 'normal'. So you don't feel like being out nonverbally.
What can be done about it? I'm not sure. One thing that helps is to force those nonverbal signals until they do come naturally in that setting. If it's too scary, work up to it gradually. I've found strangers are easier than acquaintances, because they have very little opportunity to actually hurt me for being different. I've mostly been hurt by social rejection, which can only really occur if you want a relationship with them.
Anyone else have any ideas?

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Blogger Abigail said...

Great post!

I think this is a constant battle for anyone with an invisible disability.

There is this constant editing that goes on for pretty much any gay person and for many folks with disabilities, I think. How much do you let others inhibit your actions? And how much do you say, "Never mind" and just act how you want to act? Even if it means scaring or offending some people?

I think this must be especially hard for people with Aspberger's. People are scared by "regular" autism. But high-functioning autistics are completely misunderstood, I think.

Honestly, I only know a little about the condition. But I know it must be exhausting to constant edit yourself -- and to then potentially feel guilty about it.

(By the way, I love that you've seen Citizen Ruth. Honestly, I didn't like anyone in that movie. And I'm pro-choice.)

Ideally, we could move to a point where we just stop self-editing. But that's harder in practice, obviously.

When I explain my illness, I get the wide-eyed panicked look. I get so sick of it. I just skip most of the details and give the bottom line analysis. Even then, people don't know how to act. And it's frustrating and anger inducing.

I imagine it gets awfully old explaining Aspbergers to everyone.

Okay, this is a total tangent but I have to ask: As an autistic person, I'm wondering your opinion about the character on Bones. It's pretty trivial, but I've always wondered. Of course, that's assuming you watch the show at all.

10:48 AM  

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