Oops, Wrong Planet

Posted in Uncategorized on June 4, 2011 by uppitywoman1

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s–as an Aspie–in 2009, at 57. 

This is my first attempt to make sense of this, and of my first half century of life.

The day of my diagnosis is a second birthday to me.  That day, I learned what I didn’t know for the first half century of my life, namely, that my brain makes me a different breed of human.  

The moment I heard the diagnosis, I felt an immense, palpable feeling of inner settling.  I had an explanation for the life of head-butting with co-workers, love interests, neighbors, classmates, and family.  I’d had to get along among a people whose language I didn’t speak, without a phrase book.  But now my task is to use what I know to make my way with this alien people, and to fortify my sense of self. 

My new self-knowledge does help, but it isn’t enough.  I’m a living testament to the price many Aspies  have paid for the lack of early intervention and sound parenting.  I found myself in a world that didn’t welcome my kind, and I bargained for my survival by hammering who I was into oblivion.  I need more than just the self-knowledge of this present-day Aspie; I need the self-knowledge of a girl and younger woman whose existence I’d  long denied. 

I grew up in a straight-jacketed family and community where an inquisitive, asymmetrical mind was frowned upon.  That kind of belief system wasn’t kind to the neurotypicals (NTs) caught up in it, and it was soul-searing for an Asperger’s child, especially a girl.  My parents’ hearts were in the right place.  But they’d been raised with a parenting ethic that deemed nurturing and tenderness as coddling children, and as raising weak adults.  They believed in tough, even harsh, love for growing strong adults.  A child who chatted with pansies needed toughening. 

I was undulged until I reached grade school, when it didn’t take me long to catch on to the message that Me wasn’t okay.  The person I was wasn’t acceptable, was disordered, and it didn’t go kindly on me if adult NTs saw me being myself.  I did too good of a job suffocating that little girl–so good that now, doing psychic CPR on her, I’m struggling to get her breathing again.  Now I need her.  I guess I always did, but I had to forego her presence to placate the NT world.  I had to forget she existed, and I did her a huge injustice.

But I wasn’t placating the NT world.  That was the trouble.  Intolerant NTs were picking her up on their radar, and it took me five decades to catch on to this, during my diagnosis journey.  I wasn’t hiding her from troublesome NTs.  I was hiding her from myself.

Even as I write this, I feel myself struggling to make contact with my center, the essential part of myself where emotion, insight and deep thought dwell.  As a survival tactic of decades, I’ve been smothering that center because the awareness it brought left me shaken.  Now that I belong to social circles where Me is okay, even well regarded, it’s safe to bring that essence into the open, but when I do, she recoils.  She stays out of reach.

That vital core eludes me, but memories are returning of episodes I hadn’t thought of in decades.  When I was very small, my parents called me “the mynah bird” because often I sat inside alone, mimicking neighborhood children so skillfully that my mother, in another room, thought they were with me (mimicking skills are common in Aspies).  In the fourth grade I used to stare out the window to escape the ruler-wielding nun and the mocking classmates I found so scary and toxic; the nun sent my parents a note that read, “Patricia is in her own little world,” which brought scathing wrath down on me.  At 13 years old, during a jobs counseling workshop, when other girls in class told the guidance counselor of wanting to be teachers, nurses, and secretaries, I told her I wanted to go to Africa and emulate Joy Adamson by raising lions–and then I launched into a tutorial on lion hunting, mating and cub-rearing practices.  In 8th grade aptitude tests I scored in the top two percentile, and then I flunked the 9th grade.  A high school classmate, knowing how gullible I was, set me up to be humiliated during a slumber party she hosted by squirting red food coloring onto the back of my skirt, telling me I had a blood stain, and after I’d run to the powder room, mortified, gloating to the other girls that I didn’t have the sense enough to use a pad.  I relieved stress in a clerical job by twirling a set of Greek worry beads in the air, which got me fired.

For most of my first fifty years, I wasn’t aware of the irregularities in my weave that were giving me away as an Aspie, and getting on the nerves of the viperous NTs I tangled with–the hand-flapping, the “off” facial expressions and speech cadence, the utter social cluelessness.  But over the years–especially in the work place–I learned how to be a shape-shifter.  It’s a companion skill to the psychic obliteration I’d mastered in childhood, which wasn’t enough to enable me to “pass” as an NT.  And camouglaging my oddities in adulthood called for a craftier approach than it did in childhood.  Once I caught on to the behavior that kept me ridiculed, ostracized, and fired, I began to stifle it.  I observed how NTs behaved and I learned to imitate them.  My mimicking skills served me well here.

That isn’t to say it made life at work easier, though.  For one thing, imitating NTs worked up to a point, but if I became stressed or fatigued, I slipped into Aspie mode.  Once I was branded as “goofy” or “weird,” trouble ensued.  And I don’t mean “shape-shifting” in the sense that a vapor or cloud shifts its shape.  No, shape-shifting for an Aspie is akin to twisting your skeleton into a painful, unnatural position, and having to hold it all day.  It’s exhausting.  And being someone you are not carries a price, as I’ve learned; you have an ever harder time finding your way back to who you are.  The authors of ancient mythology knew this: When returning to human form, werewolves become increasingly weak and debilitated. 

My diagnosis has brought me a better fit for my psyche’s moving parts, but I’ve long since reached a healthy peace with my flawed “fit” with the NT world.  I used to want to fit in, desperately.  For a time, my life was a series of failed stabs at it.  Now, the last thing I want is to fit in with the kinds of people who are fixated on conformity.  That isn’t to say I don’t fit in anywhere.  I do.  I changed my social circles.  I’ve settled in with people secure and intelligent enough not to feel threatened by quirky, offbeat me.  And they’re far more interesting.  I don’t know who might be an Aspie or an NT.  It doesn’t matter.  I”m in a safe place for beginning to gently coax my true center into joining me after all these decades, a safe place for both of us. 


The Painful Matter of Women Against Women

Posted in civil rights, economic justice, equality, feminism, human rights, sexism, social justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2008 by uppitywoman1

Recently I time traveled to a place in the past I never wanted to revisit.


The Washington University in St. Louis awarded anti-women’s-rights activist Phyllis Schlafly an honorary degree at its May 16 Commencement ceremony, amid protests.  The next day Schlafly appeared on TV to react to the protests.  What a sorry blast from the past.  She was in her usual form; with mirth and glee she kicks people who are already down, and she displayed her usual gloating and taunting, offensive to any viewer with even a nominal sense of decency.  Indeed, age has not endowed Schlafly with any decency.  She is too lacking in that attribute to be ranked among public figures deserving of respect.  With her remarks about marital rape in particular (that a woman consents carte blanche to sex on demand once she marries), she spoke volumes about herself.  By contrast, the feminists who fought hard to outlaw marital rape merit the status of sheroes.


Undeserving as she was of the attention she drew, Schlafly revived a matter of anguish to feminists we need urgently to address, namely, that of women who reject the idea of women’s—-their own—-equality.  Seeing her sorry behavior made me ponder the painful matter of women who tolerate, even demand, women’s subjugation.


I struggle to understand women’s resistance to equality, to explain its whys and wherefores, and to discern how to overcome it.  The issue is fraught with painful conflict and complexity.  This isn’t about a bald-faced opportunist like Schlafy, who has profited handsomely from grinding her heel into the necks of other women.  It’s about patriarchy subjecting women to powerful pressure, manipulation, and coercion through the millennia.  Not surprisingly, many women give in to the pressure to sit down and be quiet.  Daunting forces are at work: raw fear and a lack of informed consent.  We face not only male adversaries in overcoming these forces.  We must also rise to the task of instilling in all women the resolve to defy our oppressors.  The latter is the greater challenge.


The task of understanding and overcoming women’s resistance to equality is fraught with pitfalls.  We need to resist the impulse to lash out in anger at women who reject equality.  Nothing justifies patronizing, condescending, demeaning treatment; nothing justifies name-calling.  We need to fix our sights on our true adversary, namely, the patriarchy that has subjugated women through time immemorial by dividing us. 


Fear—-sometimes conscious and palpable, sometimes unconscious, but always justified—-keeps women subjugated.  This can be fear of retaliation from powerful men, which women have good reason to fear.  Men do retaliate, sometimes savagely and lethally, when women defy them.  Counselors at domestic violence centers and shelters can attest to this; a woman is at her greatest risk of being murdered by her abuser once she has escaped him, gone to the authorities, and obtained a court order requiring him to end all contact with her.  And scholars attribute the global rise in fundamentalism—-and its oppression—- to a resistance to “modernization,” read, advances in women’s rights.  Many women fear equality for fear of incurring the wrath of male supremacists.  They feel it wisest to quietly settle with what men “allow” them because they see how harshly men brutalize women in other parts of the world. 


Fear in other forms can also keep women down.  For example, fear of the responsibility that comes with freedom can work against women.  If you’re emancipated enough to act of your own volition, to earn and manage your own finances, to have finances to manage, to make your own life’s choices, then you’re also emancipated enough to bear the responsibility for bad judgment and unwise decisions.  And none of us is perfect.  No one goes through life without slipping up.  And we are responsible for decisions we make out of informed consent.  That’s as it should be.  Fearfulness isn’t a problem as long as we’ve learned to overcome our fears.  But many women grow up in families and communities that instill fearfulness in girls and women instead of teaching them the skills to overcome fear, instead of building confidence in them—-instead of teaching them that life’s inevitable mistakes are opportunities for learning and growing.  Such girls and women are taught to believe in their own inferiority, weakness, and lack of intelligence.  Once that goal is met, patriarchy has what it wants: fearful women who are easy to control.  Patriarchy spares women the responsibility that comes with freedom—-the responsibility they fear—-and those women learn to prefer that, even at the expense of their freedom.  I once spoke with a woman who said of her subjugation, “I feel safe this way.” 


But that feeling is illusory and it comes at a staggering price.  The false sense of security grows from a lack of informed consent.  Oppressors know that the crucial part of keeping a people subjugated isn’t strong shackles or bars with heavy keys; it’s control of the psyche, and once oppressors have that they can hand the keys to their captives without fear of their fleeing.  Fear goes a long way in gaining the upper hand, but controlling knowledge matters more.  Scholars estimate that during the slavery era in America, about 100,000 slaves tried to escape.  Escape attempts were suppressed in newspapers and not widely discussed, for fear of slaves in captivity taking courage from that knowledge and trying to escape themselves.  Lacking informed consent, slaves stayed put.


The status quo uses the same tactic against women.  Until recent decades, the writings of women and their courageous, solitary acts of defiance were suppressed.  Only recently have they begun to reach contemporary women; only now can we read first- and second-hand accounts of their valor and endurance.  Consider:  The Diary of Lady Murasaki, which she recorded in Japan in the late 10th Century; As I Crossed A Bridge of Dreams, attributed to Lady Sarashina of the Heian period in Japan, born in a.d. 1008; Anne Askew, burned at the stake in 1546 for daring to challenge the roles of women and the dynamics between women and men; Anna Comnena, author of Alexiad , written in the 12th Century about the reign of her father, Byzantine Emperor Alexius I; Aphra Behn, the 17th Century English poet, playwright, novelist, and political satirist; and countless women who defied convention just by writing.  We take courage from the defiance of these women, from their singular acts of escape.  Indeed, many women tried to escape, more than we will ever know.  Contemporary women who never hear of these women do not give informed consent to their subjugation.  That doesn’t make it any less painless to witness, but it explains their hostility to equality.


The distant defiance of these brave women validates the feminist movement.  Under the constant threat of violence, abandonment, even death, women still fought back.  The fact that a feminist movement even exists today, given the legacy of terror used to keep us down, lends the movement unquestioned higher moral ground.  No one can deny us that.  Incredibly, despite this we face the formidable task of winning over women.  But our anger, justified as it is, should not grow from the resistance of women affected by thousands of years of powerful conditioning.  It should take the form of resolve to get past patriarchy’s guard dogs, vicious as they are.  And we can expect to confront them anywhere—-even, sadly, in institutions of higher learning.

Hello world!

Posted in civil rights, economic justice, equality, feminism, human rights, sexism, social justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2008 by uppitywoman1

I’m a proud, defiant feminist and aspiring liberal of the Asperger’s nation.  Welcome to my cyberspace soap box!


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