I’ve known about my AS for twelve years. I’ve been public about it for three months.
I blame my deep desire to be ‘normal’ for this. It was so deep that it was my obsession for a long time. During the early stages of my therapy and social skills training, this proved to be an amazing asset. But it became a liability as soon as I began feeling like I was lying to others. AS wasn’t something to be proud of for me during my youth. It was a dirty little secret I would do anything to conceal and ignore.
I grew up in a relatively conservative suburb. It wasn’t as cookie-cutter as the town in Edward Scissorhands, per se, but it definitely was an area where image took precedence over expression. From my experience, neighbors kept to themselves, and their children preferred to try out for sports instead of the school play. There were many churches of every denomination conceivable, but the only art gallery in the county was in the city to the south of where I lived. The town shut down at 7PM every night.
So naturally, anyone who stood out in this microsociety was an undesirable. And no one took this philosophy to heart more than my school district.
In my high school, the GSA had approximately five active members during a good semester. The budget cut the art program back every year so that the football team could have fresh uniforms every fall. You’d think the school was the setting for Mean Girls 3 with all the extreme cliquing off that was going on. Being alone not only meant being bullied: it meant hell from the administration as well as the student body. The school was already overpopulated (my class alone had nearly 800 students), and teachers and staff didn’t want to accept the possibility that a teen was more than an ID# or another row in the grade book. Because would require extra concern.
Even the drama kids, whom mass media likes to portray as the ‘accepting’ kids, were mean, self-absorbed, spoiled, and exclusive.
I did have a small group I was accepted by. Among them were the otaku, the fringe artists, a few Goths, and a few neutral teens who didn’t want to belong anywhere else. But even among them I felt like a flamingo in a flock of pigeons. I was hiding my thick pink feathers underneath my baggy hoodies and peasant skirts, even from these ‘friends.’
And, as an aside, I am in contact with a grand total of one of them as of late, and even that contact isn’t solid.
It was socially bad enough that the athletic kids mocked me behind my back, and the academics thought of me as ‘beneath’ them. I couldn’t tell the world I had a diagnosis, mild as it was. I might as well stick my own gum into my hair.
It wasn’t until college that I began to feel comfortable in my own skin for the first time. Comparing it to the 800 other students I graduated from high school with, my university had a grand total of 500 enrolled students (yes, that accounts for all four years of undergraduates). Being at a smaller school meant that you were naturally more likely to stand out. But my school was an open-minded place (generally), where students didn’t care who you were, what you liked, and how dorky you may have been. I thrived. I found true friend. I even found a few love affairs while there. It was heaven.
I still kept quiet about my AS.
Perhaps it was my upbringing in Podunk, USA, or just a matter of being conditioned to shut up and listen, but I was still afraid of coming out.
To this day, despite being ‘out’ to many of my friends, my loving boyfriend, my family, and even most of my co-workers, and not experiencing any direct setbacks as a result of having AS and being ‘out’ about it, I’m still holding back, just a little bit. Maybe part of me still clings to the hope that there’s a truly average, non-diagnosed person inside of me waiting to come out. The other half of me is ashamed for feeling this way, I should be proud of who I am, should I not?
I suppose more soul-searching could do the trick in resolving this last reservation I have about myself, but you can’t just ask for revelations to fall out of the air and into your lap. I just hope it will come with time.