Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Coming Out Autistic at BlogHer

Jean Winegardner
www.stimeyland.com

So I am at BlogHer. And it is crazy and wonderful and overwhelming and fun and some of my favorite people are here and I have a lot to say about it and photos to post, but I have something rumbling around that I have to get out.

I've been thinking a lot about my own autism at this conference. Partly because of my social and sensory issues, but also because autism is so central to what I write about.

When people meet you at BlogHer, they ask what you write about. I usually say, "I write a humor blog about autism and rodents," partly because it's true and partly because it's funny to see people try to digest that information. I usually follow up with, "I have a son with autism."

This year, however, when I've said that, it has felt less honest. This is because although I still identify most strongly as an autism parent, the truth is that I have Asperger's and that is an important part of me. As I understand this new lens more and adjust to this new part of my identity, that identification will probably become more important to me.

Not mentioning it when it is pertinent seems dishonest and as if I am hiding a part of myself. Which I don't want to do, both for me and as an example for Jack. I always say that my goal for Jack is to raise a proud, happy, autistic man and he can decide on the rest.

But I can't expect him to be proud and open and full of love for every part of himself if I can't lead by example and do the same. And part of that is being out.

I am out as having Asperger's. I have disclosed that information here. But there is a big difference between writing about being autistic online and actually saying the words out loud to people in real life and accepting the judgments, stigma, and assumptions that might follow.

And, yes, a lot of the people who live in my computer also exist in my day-to-day real life world, but other than four or five people I am closest to, I hadn't yet said to someone's face, "I am autistic."

I went to a BlogHer panel by Deb on the Rocks, Mocha Momma, and Faiqa who talked about the intersection of identity and issues in blogging, in their cases, largely gay, race, political, and Muslim issues. As they spoke of closets and responsibility and power, I thought about the way I feel about the autistic rights movement and how I see it as a civil rights issue and it all felt so parallel to what they were saying.

Then Deb said something along the lines of (and dear lord, I hope I'm not misrepresenting her), if there is an impulse to be closeted, we need to examine why that impulse is there.

Right?

I understand why some people would choose to not disclose their autism, but I think that if I can be out about it, if I can disclose it, don't I have a responsibility to do so? On a micro scale for Jack and for me; on a macro scale, for all autistic people who fear identification?

I'm still figuring all this out. This is why I wrote about my diagnosis and haven't touched it since. It's a big identity change/addition/modification/retooling. Please bear with me over the coming months.

What I'm trying to say is that I feel as if not saying, "My son and I have autism," when I am explaining why I write about autism feels disingenuous. Yes, I still own my status as an autism mom and I own it fucking proudly, but now there is more to it.

So this weekend, I started to tell people in person. I started to come out of the neurotypical closet (Or is it an autistic closet? I told you that I'm new at this.) And you know what? It didn't hurt at all. Some people made the small talky comments that means they don't much care, some people glossed over it, some people wanted to know more, and at least one person told me she is an Aspie too. Also, when I kinda freaked out over this sample of the core of a gel mattress, the lady at that Expo booth kind of gave me a weird look and then walked away from me.

(Also, one person congratulated me, which is, without a doubt, my favorite response to my diagnosis and has come almost solely from autistic people.)

It feels strange on my tongue to say it, but it will become more natural. And I know that all the feedback I get won't be good, but at least it will be honest on my part.

So. If you see me walking around the world?


This is me. I write a humor blog about autism and rodents because I like to laugh, my son and I are autistic, and rodents are goddamn funny.

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This essay originally appeared at www.stimeyland.com.