Wearing Masks, or, Thoughts on Foxes

Last October I wrote a short little blurb on passing, using the mythos of the kitsune as an allegory.  Mark e-mailed me back in April about his newest essay on the Uncanny Valley.  Long e-mail now short, I decided to re-write my little blurb into something more substantial and interesting.

As many autists have stood before funeral wakes and weddings, we all have to keep a library of trained responses and behaviors to continue the illusion that we’re really not foxes/aliens/llamas etc, in disguise. Passing normalcy is like a constant masquerade from hell, with the added complication that no one can know who we really are, just the costume we are wearing.  In a weird sort of social cos-play, autists seem to take off one costume and put on another every day.  The difference between an aspie and a full blown autie is how well one can keep up the charade.

Needless to say, wearing social costumes is exhausting, we’ve all heard that before.  While I may go into a shape-changing metaphor using autism as some sort of mythos and normalcy a mirror allegory to the mundane world, the truth of it all is that as much as I want to wax romances on autism=mythos, the fact is that we’re not fairies, foxes, goblins or anything that changes form to be human.  We’re simply what we are.  Gawky things that wear faces of humans in order to partake the world that we are supposed to be in.  However, despite all that I will use myth to allegorize the art of passing.

The changeling mythos is one of the reasons why Japan already has laws protecting the rights of the developmentally disabled and we Americans are still crying that sidhe took our child.  Somehow, thanks to the backwards mindset of the Anti-vax and the bio-med parents.  We’re still trapped in third century Ireland as if egotism and irresponsibility have created some weird socio-Tardis.  Americans and the West are still stuck believing that the devil has taken their normal child and replaced with a hob-goblin baby.  So what’s a hob-goblin to do?  I guess we could try to be human …

Pretending to be normal is also somewhere locked up in the changeling mythos.  While in Japan the mythos of shape-shifting animals is more common than faeries playing baby-swap, and it’s probably a bit more accurate to use that to explain passing.  Saying that aspies and HFA are Japanese foxes (called kitsune) using their their magic to turn into people and walk among Tokogawa dynasty Japanese is unfortunately ignoring the fact that we’re not always good at it.  We’re more like the earthy and gluttonous tanuki (raccoon dogs) than kitsune. Our shape-shifting magic is decent at best and often our tails and ears show more than the foxes and we tend to be outed fast.  Yet it’s survival that keeps us transforming ourselves.

Passing as neurotypical is more than mythic metaphor.  It’s part of who we are.  The fact that being anything other than normal-human has unfortunate consequences is why aspies train ourselves to pretend to grieve during funerals and smile and laugh during weddings even though the DJ is blasting the music and none one is into watching Time Warp so you have nothing to talk about.  We have a million masks that we all teach ourselves to wear so no one can really see who is actually wearing it.  We have mask for girlfriends; a mask to wear at conventions; a mask to wear in front of our parents.  At the end of the day, we’ve transformed so much to the point we are starting to wonder if we are really tanuki or humans.

Normal people love to jump in and say that they wear masks every day and the totally understand what it’s like and again simplify something that isn’t simple.  Lying to yourself because you are so insecure isn’t the same as being socially disabled.  We wear masks the same way the deaf use their hands to communicate, the same way the blind have seeing-eye-dog the same way the mobility impaired use canes and wheelchairs. It’s a survival tool in order to function within society not an excuse that normal people seem to use to justify being douchebags.

The more solid your illusion is however, the harder it seems for people to believe you were ever a tanuki/kitsune/fae/vulcan or whatever allusion you use.  Taking off the mask just so people can believe that your are actually autistic became something of meme within the autism community.  I think every aspie that can pull off their illusion has had the well worn phrase, “Well I can’t tell that you’re autistic” thrown at them once a month.  It’s typical now for officially diagnosed autists have to tell long self-pitying diatribes about their meltdowns and their sensory problems in order for them to validate themselves to the neurotypical.  I have trained myself to say to take that phrase as the compliment that it was intended to be and say:  “Thank you! I work very hard to make sure no one can tell.”  Isn’t that the point of passing?

While playing human can be exhausting or educating if you are taking things from anthropological view point, it’s a necessary behavior, a defense mechanism that few can master and even something of a catch-22.  If you are too autistic you can’t be visible in human society; if you are not autistic enough society and your peers doubt your diagnosis.  Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.  Making sure not to completely cover every autistic mannerism in order to validate yourself is a balancing act, making sure to keep the right autistic behaviors visible and the wrong ones stay hidden.  Recalling important data and conversations:  Good. Pulling at your face out of stress:  Bad.  Rinse, wash and repeat.

Eventually, you stop caring.

Somehow, I have reached a point where I’ve stopped having to check what the hell I am doing and saying, a point where I’ve stopped caring about validation and no longer worry about how autistic I am and if I am autistic enough.  Somehow, somewhere along the road of passing, wearing masks, and making illusions, I stopped giving a shit.  If I am not “fox” enough, that’s fine.  I know what I am and lying to you in order to obfuscate my identity isn’t worth it anymore.

My identity is no longer something to hide.

Nightstorm blogs at Prism*Song

related:  Mountain Goats of the Uncanny Valley

related:  Passing For Neurotypical

related:  Who ARE You, Really?

related:  The Perils of Normalization

on 09/28/10 in Art/Play/Myth, featured | No Comments | Read More

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