The world taught me to muzzle myself
November 2, 2023 1:43 AM   Subscribe

The home movies served as a stern reminder to conceal the parts of myself that seemed to bother people. I lived under the assumption that I’d make Dad and others explode in anger if I wasn’t careful. So I tiptoed through life, aware that my obsessive enthusiasm could set people off like a bomb. from Off Camera
posted by chavenet (45 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Well that's a little close to the bone.
posted by Dysk at 1:51 AM on November 2, 2023 [13 favorites]

Toxic masculinity strikes again, neurodivergent edition.

Poor guy, hope he's able to regain some of his creativity and expressiveness later on, and find people who appreciate it.
posted by Dashy at 4:27 AM on November 2, 2023 [10 favorites]

For some reason—it wasn't lack of money as we always had what we needed even if we were not wealthy—my family did not do home movies. I believe there are some that exist, 50+ year old super-8 films of my older brother and me, maybe as an infant or toddler. My family did photos. Lots of photos. I'm really happy to have all those photos, and my dad had dedicated the last 10+ years off his life digitizing them, so many of them slides from the 1970s.

I'm really happy there's no home movies. I wouldn't want to see them. I did not have a horrific or abusive childhood, quite the opposite. But there were parts that hurt, that still hurt, and my family was and still is wracked by trauma caused in part by my dad shipping to to Viet Nam four times in the late '60s early '70s. War affects the entire family, no matter how little the veteran talks about it.

Really glad there's no videos or film.
posted by SoberHighland at 5:04 AM on November 2, 2023 [8 favorites]

I feel seen. Being more enthusiastic than average gets you called a "spaz" (or worse) at school in the 80s, and at home you're told to calm down and be quiet constantly. Particularly by Boomer parents who are very concerned with manners and fitting in.
posted by Fleebnork at 5:10 AM on November 2, 2023 [24 favorites]

I was an exuberant, enthusiastic kid. Then people that mattered told me that I was “just too much.” Really shut me down. That was 50 years ago. The words still sting. To this day I can only be 100% myself when alone.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:29 AM on November 2, 2023 [28 favorites]

The thing that surprised me was the belt. In my house the snapping of the belt wasn't a warning, just a prelude. Between that and the social humiliation at school, they did a really good job of turning me anxious about ever showing enthusiasm about anything. I still have the enthusiasm, but damned if I can talk about it coherently to anyone for fear of getting The Look. Anyway, this was a really good and sad essay, and I hope the kid grew up to find someone who would touch his hair and listen to him talk.
posted by mittens at 5:47 AM on November 2, 2023 [17 favorites]

Most of us have totally different stories of our childhood. I really had to work at performing masculinity, for example, whereas this guy had that part down. But he was definitely bothered by the performative nature of his self-presentation. Authenticity is something that comes naturally to us...until we become self-aware, a moment that may come in preschool for many of us. It takes many years before we can recover/rebuild our natural radiant selves.

All of us hope this has happened for the author. In any case, he has certainly moved past the blame games that are so easy to slip into. Of his father, he says this:

From what I can tell, we all have little or no control over who we are or how we operate. Our personalities just happen to us.
posted by kozad at 5:51 AM on November 2, 2023 [6 favorites]

As I’ve become an adult and struggled to manage my own temper, I’ve realized that Dad, like me, craved a calm and predictable environment, and his atypical eldest son’s chaotic energy destroyed his sense of equilibrium. I don’t fault him for this. His impatience, his need for control, his fury — these traits were a part of him long before I showed up.

These were the words right before those sentences, Kozad, and they stuck out to me too. They made me really sad and angry, actually. Not because I disagree that our personalities "just happen to us," because I don't, but because I emphatically disagree that we have no control over who we are and how we operate. What the fuck is the point of masking like that, exerting massive control over everything we do and see and are, if we can't choose to be better to the people around us? What is the point of building and holding the mask if we can't choose to make one that doesn't hurt the next kids down the line?

I dunno, man. I have big mommy issues, not daddy ones, but my mother's anxious-aggressive lectures and threats and terrifying shouting came, I think, from a similar place of anxiety to the one he describes. I have always been able to see her in myself in a similar way. But I also choose to try to not inflict my own private anxious rigidities on other people. I try to defuse other people's fears. I can't choose who I am, or what upsets me, or what my feelings are, but I can choose what to do about it.

Some of my ability to do that comes from having a framework that helps me understand the ways in which I am different from other people without resorting to simple shame. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of shame there, but at least I have a framework I can lean on and a sense of not being alone so I can talk about it. I have a lot of empathy for people for whom that was not possible. But I do believe this from the roots of my soul: we may not be able to control our personalities or our emotional reactions to the world around us, but we sure can control the actions we take in response to those emotions. We can learn to do better by one another.
posted by sciatrix at 6:07 AM on November 2, 2023 [25 favorites]

Jesus this is so familiar, right down to my dad wanting to put me in special ed. I don't have any videos (and until recently had no photos either) and I wish I did because it might help me make sense of my younger self, but I identify so strongly with trying to make myself small to avoid anger and judgment. Even now, today, I have a note where I can see it: "What would a normal person do?"

I'm 49, and only since my marriage ended two years ago have I realized how much my father's anger (and abandonment when I was 11) and my mother's discomfort with my emotions and inner world impacted who I am and how I relate to people. I married the same type of person as my father was, because that felt familiar to me, and one of the most painful parts of my life is watching my son experience the same suppression of self in order to avoid his father's disapproval. It's a daily struggle to be gentle with myself for not being able to heal in time to avoid passing down some of that trauma.

The most important work we can do is understand and heal the hurt parts of ourselves so we can engage authentically with the world, and show up with love and compassion for the people in our lives. Too few people do this work.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:43 AM on November 2, 2023 [15 favorites]

When I was 16 I went through what I can only describe as an extended out-of-body experience. I would interact with people, and be normal - laugh, shake hands, respond to questions, tell stories - but it was all at a distance. Every single thing I did felt precalculated and robotic, completely inauthentic. Whatever emotions I was expressing with my actions were not making it back to my consciousness. It was like my mind was a computer, directing my body to do things based on some cold, impersonal algorithm designed to trick people into believing that I actually meant and felt the things I was expressing when, in fact, I had no access to that intention or feeling. It went on for months. It was horrifying. I'm glad it passed.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:16 AM on November 2, 2023 [8 favorites]

When I was 16 I went through what I can only describe as an extended out-of-body experience.

I think that's what they call a dissociative episode.

Learning to slide in and out of them is very useful. It's great for going through mildly traumatic experiences or even just boring ones. When it is involuntary, though, it's not good, and usually occurs as a response to a traumatic situation.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:23 AM on November 2, 2023 [14 favorites]

I was literally describing to my therapist yesterday how I had been told by so many in my teenage years that I was too much that I rejected that portion of myself to be likeable. I'm trying to find that girl again now and it is so hard.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 7:25 AM on November 2, 2023 [13 favorites]

Geez, this hits close for me, too. I love my parents, but I'll never forget all the times I was chastised for smiling too big. Or those times I was accused of "acting immature" age 7.

The smiling one REALLY did a number on me. I still don't feel comfortable smiling in photos.
posted by UltraMorgnus at 8:52 AM on November 2, 2023 [6 favorites]

I do not have children myself, but if you can’t handle a kid doing a silly dance while insistently calling for your attention you have seriously misunderstood the assignment.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:08 AM on November 2, 2023 [13 favorites]

When I was 16 I went through what I can only describe as an extended out-of-body experience. I would interact with people, and be normal - laugh, shake hands, respond to questions, tell stories - but it was all at a distance.

[CW: suicidal ideation] Wow, grumpybear69, that sounds very similar to what happened to me at around that age (I think I was 15). I just went on autopilot and watched the world from a step back. It was like looking at everything through a veil. Even colors seemed muted and kind of amber-coated. I would occasionally realize it was happening and be somewhat frightened, but then I'd just kind of recede again. Yet a lot of the time, it was remarkably peaceful and comfortable, even beautiful. I think I finally came out of it when I finally realized that I was feeling suicidal and told someone. Not long after that, I encountered Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb and the chorus parts of the song captured the feeling so perfectly it felt like the song had literally been written to express my experience. I still can't listen to it without crying.

I do wonder how much I masked and internalized masking so deeply that I didn't even realize it. I don't share the author's experience with being too excited and making people angry, but I was a very awkward, shy, and emotional kid and constantly tried to figure out how to be less so around others. I'd never connected that with my adolescent dissociative experience. Wow, food for thought!

At any rate, I've never heard anyone describe something so similar to what I went through so thank you, grumpybear69!
posted by treepour at 10:26 AM on November 2, 2023 [9 favorites]

oh my goodness
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 10:41 AM on November 2, 2023 [3 favorites]

This article made me so sad.
posted by chococat at 10:49 AM on November 2, 2023 [5 favorites]

This article was intensely relatable. I dearly hope I can provide a space for my children to be and feel accepted as themselves.
posted by a faded photo of their beloved at 11:11 AM on November 2, 2023 [5 favorites]

treepour - I'm sorry you went through that, and I'm glad to have found someone else who had a similar experience. I've described it on a few occasions to people and they've all been befuddled. I definitely experienced the muted colors thing, but I never found it beautiful. I just felt incessantly inauthentic, like I was lying to everyone, always. I was also a huge fan of The Wall and Comfortably Numb in particular, though I don't have the same emotional reaction to it. It was a staple of my band's live set at the time. I (kind of) wish I'd kept a diary at that point since I don't have any real records to rely on. Not that I'd like to recall that period in any more detail than comes to me now.

Growing up and navigating adolescence is Extremely Hard in the best of circumstances.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:45 AM on November 2, 2023 [5 favorites]

So, he probably has ADHD, right?

I felt this article. I didn't get shamed quite like this, but I learned early on that people don't like me for me.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:21 PM on November 2, 2023 [11 favorites]

I grew up with a very snap-happy father. I hate being photographed, but I no longer know whether that's intrinsic, or a result of being photographed multiple times a day nearly every day for twenty years.

It's kind of interesting looking through the photos from about 2006, when the powers that be decided that I was too old for the kind of smile I actually had (huge, eyes wide open, you could see almost all my teeth) and also that it was creepy and I looked like Chucky, and also that I needed to learn to smile like an adult. So I went off and watched a bunch of the DVDs we had downstairs and tried to find a reliable adult to smile like. Reader, I picked Harrison Ford. The crooked grin on only one side of the face looks incredibly sexy on him. It looks ridiculous on a tiny blonde ten-year-old girl. So now I have all these photos of me looking like that, and if you tell me to smile, I will do a toned-down version of that. I'm reasonably sure I can still smile like me, but only if I'm not being photographed.

On the upside, I'm told I'm amazingly photogenic. On the downside, I don't really recognize the person in the photos and on the TV.
posted by ngaiotonga at 12:29 PM on November 2, 2023 [3 favorites]

For the record, I kept trying to describe a similar experience as "can't move right" and "being frozen" to, oh, eight years of psychiatric professionals because initiating movement is more difficult for me when I'm dissociating than when I'm inhabiting my body properly. Dissociation is one of those experiences where people often describe the sensation in a very rigid way, and if your experience of the state doesn't involve particular keywords or descriptions it can be very hard to get anyone to recognize what you're talking about--it's such a chicken and the egg problem.

Especially when *finger guns* no one recognizes the shit you're coping with as potentially traumagenic, because it's so closely associated with PTSD and trauma response generally.... and again, you are particularly at risk for developing traumatic sequelae from stressful experiences if you either blame yourself for the stressful experience or feel that other people would do so. Which is generally the experience for neurodivergent people without a framework to understand what is happening and why.

(This is also why I can both deeply understand the OP writer's narrative of "personalities happen to all of us", especially for undiagnosed/unaware neurodivergent parents of neurodivergent children, and feel so strongly about opposing it: if you have this kind of social trauma experience, you naturally have something of a trigger about watching your kid incur the same shitty experiences, and you want to stop your kid doing the things that are creating this surge of sympathetic anxiety and fear because you've learned those things incur big social consequences. Except the problem isn't your kid: the problem is the societal consequences for basically harmless shit like being a silly dancing Egyptian under the Christmas tree.

Which is not clear to anyone without having a framework of neurodivergence to approach, respond to, and turn around and consider... and also requires that parents be able to give up the narrative of that trauma being meaningful because it "taught me lessons I needed to learn" or similar. This is fucking hard, because we often justify and rationalize that kind of experience by inventing meanings, like "this had to happen for me to develop my skills as an adult," which then go on to perpetuate the same goddamn thing in the next generation. On the other hand, "this actually was just a net shitty thing that happened to me" is a very different kind of narrative and a lot more heartbreaking to consider the world through, and so it makes sense that it's often very difficult for people--particularly those who have adapted and shaped themselves into an unnatural shape in order to survive in society--to accept.

Anyway, this is one of the common things that hits diagnosed adults when considering their parents, whether those adults were diagnosed as children or as adults. Neurodivergence runs in families, and once you've figured out that this particular frame applies to you, it's easy to see how it applies to parents and grandparents and so forth just as neatly--and absolutely misery to try to nudge someone into thinking "people are different, but this way is how I am" from "this is just how the world works". The thing about having to reinterpret shitty experiences in a way that strips all the "meaningfulness" of them is a big, big reason why that is not an appealing transition for many older neurodivergent people, though: that is hard and enormous and scary and heart-breaking, and let me underscore again, it's painful to consider.)
posted by sciatrix at 12:37 PM on November 2, 2023 [18 favorites]

Anyway, have a related comic that has been making its way around my feeds lately.
posted by sciatrix at 12:44 PM on November 2, 2023 [7 favorites]

Oh man, that comic. That was my life up through the start of high school. It is pretty much one of the reasons I went into music and songwriting, because that is a venue where being weird and expressive is a virtue. Like, in junior high, I was relentlessly mocked. To the point where I would mock myself just to fit in. Super shitty stuff. And then, in 8th grade, I wrote a song - called "Lost" and basically an even more artless version of the Tiny Rick song "Let Me Out" - and performed it at the variety show to the same people who loved to mock me. For the next 2 weeks, everyone wanted to be my friend. It was off-putting and revelatory. At that point I decided I wanted to be a musician as a career.

That hasn't exactly come to pass in the way I had hoped, but I'm happy with my life now and fame seems like more trouble than it is worth anyhow.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:59 PM on November 2, 2023 [6 favorites]

When I was little, my dad would get [more] furious if I cried, and would often threaten to slap me if I didn't stop crying. So I learned not to cry, in bad places, but I would cry later and it annoyed the hell out of people I trusted and loved, how I could cry about stuff years later. As if it was still happening.
I've been 'too much' for most of my recent adult social life, since moving to the midwest. It's been odd and disheartening and very depressing, since my 'too muchness' was also the time of my youth in a free spirited community. Now I interact with nice kinda liberal sorta left (big discussions but let's just say it's a rather homogenous group) set and I'm very careful to be a good host, to not call too much bullshit especially on the mens, and not talk at all about my passions or life pursuits, and above all try to appreciate the food and wine they want me to praise. It's a muffling but I'm not as confused and sad about someone I thought was a friend.
posted by winesong at 12:59 PM on November 2, 2023 [4 favorites]

Very interesting article; what a sad childhood. So grateful that, in comparison, my parents just let their kids be. It's reminding me of a sequence in Harry Shearer's radio Le Show, decades ago, when he took some calls on the topic of What makes you a Nerd? (Being shortly after George Bush Sr declared that "Saying No doesn't make you a nerd") and one response was "Being interested in anything Too Much makes you a nerd. Except Sports." And Harry agreed, that was the best nerd definition: Being into anything too much (except sports). But this guy discovered you could Fail even by being into sports (or rather, stats) too much.
posted by Rash at 1:15 PM on November 2, 2023 [3 favorites]

This is what MeFi posts should do: encourage reflection, about...oh, well, everything.
posted by kozad at 3:13 PM on November 2, 2023 [10 favorites]

As a result of this post, I have made inquiries to a number of therapists for consultation. That is a good thing.
posted by grumpybear69 at 3:43 PM on November 2, 2023 [19 favorites]

I was the sensitive boy (and I'm sure gender is unfortunately relevant here) who cried all the time in kindergarten and the early grades of elementary school. Kindergarten was okay, but this didn't fly in elementary school, and I was mocked mercilessly. It may or may not be relevant that I was in Catholic school through grades one through five. It's undoubtedly relevant that I was also frequently loud, and had a hard time sitting still, while in church during this period, and this resulted in me getting spanked after church. It's probably one of the more efficient and physical ways to make an atheist.

I feel weird because transferring to a public school for middle school and beyond made my school experience better for me. I understand that not everyone has that experience in middle school, and some of it still sucked, but it was better than what I was experiencing previously.
posted by mollweide at 4:01 PM on November 2, 2023 [6 favorites]

I'm the boy and the dad. But being the boy has shifted how I perform as the dad. Sure, my patience can run out, and yes, occasionally I have to tag team in mom to get through the "won't eat anything" stonewall. But I was the boy too, and I understand.
posted by Wetterschneider at 5:57 PM on November 2, 2023 [8 favorites]

Absolutely there, Wetterschneider.
posted by mollweide at 6:00 PM on November 2, 2023 [2 favorites]

There are times when I'm really glad that I don't remember my childhood.
posted by MrVisible at 6:38 PM on November 2, 2023 [2 favorites]

I feel like I'm still kinda incapable of really being myself, of not watching and policing myself. I don't know that I ever will.
posted by Dysk at 1:08 AM on November 3, 2023 [8 favorites]

I have literally no idea how not to mask. Like, that's supposed to be the liberating bit of a late diagnosis but I have no idea who 'real' me is, without paying attention to if I seem weird to other people.
posted by hfnuala at 5:35 AM on November 3, 2023 [15 favorites]

I'm still trying to practice unmasking for myself, too. I am finding that just casually talking about it--noting when I'm actually having a "weird" strong emotional response to something, for example, and making space for that--is a really helpful practice.

Stuff like -- I had a conversation with my (also neurodivergent) junior officemate the other day, who reflexively asks me if it's okay if they eat in our office every time they're here for lunch, right? So I noted last time "it's always okay with me, but it's also okay if you have to ask every time: it really and truly doesn't bother me, but sometimes it's hard to trust that people are telling the truth about what does and doesn't bother them and you have to check." And then we had a nice conversation. It turned out that my colleague is particularly sensitive to the sounds of chewing and is absently attributing the same sensitivity to me, and while that actually isn't a thing that bugs me it's also a pretty common sensory thing. So we chatted for a bit about the times when we get anxious about asking for other people to do the stuff that is "irrationally" hard and then settled in to do work.

Or like, I do get stuck and, especially if I'm overwhelmed, I find it really hard to start moving or drop a hyper focus or transition between tasks. I've found that it's really helpful to have tactile input to help me ground and shift focus, so I've taught my dog to bounce up and nose poke me either in response to a verbal cue or a timed phone alert. For whatever reason, that actually makes shit easier, but it is very definitely not stealth. I'm fairly anxious about not knowing why exactly it works, but I don't have to know why: I'm not pretending to be normal right now, and my boss is fine if my dog comes to work with me and sleeps on my couch while I get shit done as long as she's not disruptive.

Or we talked and realized that my spouse really hates there being dead houseplants because they tap into their hyperempathy and make them feel really bad for dead plants. They're also overwhelmed by the texture of soil, so.... I do the weeding, which is a thing I like. We try to talk openly about the sensory shit that is just No Bad now and then accommodate it so no one has to do things they feel No Bad about, even if this means that we sometimes divide household tasks in very idiosyncratic ways. (Most evenings I portion out the cats' wet food and then my roommate delivers it upstairs to the cats. We are both very relieved about this state of affairs. It doesn't have to make sense.)

The thing is, the more I practice paying attention to what bothers me without worrying about how it looks to avoid those things, the more I discover little stupid shit that really does bug me: greasy hands and bad pants and the tyranny of socks and gritty floors. So I am trying to make a practice of, like, accepting that my preferences on these things actually matter. Even if they're not normal, even if they don't make sense. Often I uncover strong sensory opinions that were buried under a thick layer of "normal people don't--".

So that's the kind of thing I find under my mask, basically: the accumulated grit of learning to ignore my own feelings and preferences in favor of what is "reasonable" or "normal" to other people. I'm weirder now. My hair is often shorter (I cut it when it bugs me). My clothes are often softer. I make more weird noises. I take notes in exciting conversations. I'm still pretty much me, but I'm more often a me that startles people rather than setting them at ease. And I'm doing a bit better for it, too.
posted by sciatrix at 6:54 AM on November 3, 2023 [22 favorites]

hfnuala: I hear that. I made the terrible mistake in my twenties of going into a career (or rather, a career in a certain part of the country) where I had to relearn masking twice as hard -- without realizing exactly that was what I was doing. I just thought I'd been spoiled by college and cool friends in high school and had to stuff my personality back under some Jones New York and Ann Taylor clothes like everyone else. I thought I was being grown up. I could shake myself. But at the time I was young, you didn't diagnose ADHD for girls who had good grades and pleased their supervisors; you didn't even talk about the autism spectrum, let alone for pleasant young ladies. So I can't let that bitterness take hold.

When I was in middle school, a friend told me I laughed like a monkey. I didn't have too many friends, so I took it to heart. I was intensely self-conscious about laughing in public for years. I developed a ladylike giggle, a substitute chortle ... where did that laugh go? The real one?
posted by Countess Elena at 6:56 AM on November 3, 2023 [9 favorites]

Well, since we're talking, I'll mention that I think this issue of masking is probably where I get my interest in how consciousness works. The masking process is consciousness made visible (sorta)--there is a part of your mind that has built a socially-influenced model of how people should look, talk and act, and it is monitoring you to make sure you follow that model rather than whatever 'natural' (dangerous word!) behavior you would normally do. Except it submerges itself, becomes habit, becomes automation. And much like consciousness, it over-metaphorizes itself, so that we begin to think of a true self beneath the mask. But of course it's the wrong metaphor, there is no mask, there is no true self, there are only cycles of monitoring and adaptation.

But I do struggle with the idea that there is no 'real me' beneath the thing I've constructed to avoid insults and being made fun of. I think the word "exhausting" gets overused in a lot of these discussions, so I don't want to say I'm exhausted by trying to figure out the difference between things I like, and things I should like--but I will say it's so much more work than one would expect.

Just a case in point, I used to be a huge science fiction reader, plowing through a novel or more a day, as I think a lot of nerdy kids with lots of free time will do. As an adult, I find myself reading less and less of it. And part of that is that I know I shouldn't--based on that socially-influenced model that crystallized sometime in my early teens, I imagine. You should go read something else. It's weird that so many people are reading this awful stuff, ha-ha! Weirdos! But recently I've turned to short stories--the time-limited person's version of plowing through fiction--and what I found surprised me. I genuinely did not like the science fiction stories I was reading. I flipped around trying to see how long the story was, how much longer I'd have to sit there reading. I was bored. And I don't want to overstate how strange this was--I have still read some science fiction over the past few years I found interesting--but I've changed. And yes, of course, tastes change as you get older, things I would've found abysmally boring at 13 can be much more intriguing at 52--but the psychic resistance to these stories was something new to me. I wasn't telling myself I shouldn't like them, at least not in a conscious or semiconscious way. I had simply internalized that these things just should not be for me.

Okay yes, that's like the most minor example in the world of the problems masking can pose--oh no, someone didn't like a book! too bad there aren't any other books in the world!--but for me it's much easier to think through these things as questions of taste rather than of behavior, because my behaviors are pretty well frozen in place at this point, and I don't expect them to change, even though I'm sort of horrified by how hollowed-out I feel by them. (and oh lord this whole comment was actually supposed to be about writing rather than reading but I got sidetracked.)
posted by mittens at 8:02 AM on November 3, 2023 [9 favorites]

Countess Elena, I have been known to say that moving to Edinburgh from London was great for me in every way except work wise and I do think part of it was I didn't have to hide myself as much working at 90s internet company as I did in 2000s finance in Scotland. Some years I managed it better than others but it was always ill fitting.

Whereas the Edinburgh based friends I made online were comfortable with my weirdness. I wonder if younger neurospicy folk have it harder as everyone is online now so it isn't as reliable a way to find kindred spirits.

I have been thinking about masking a lot recently because I am slightly worried my new counsellor might be working her way up to saying she doesn't think I'm autistic because I do eye contact fine and I can do self-reflection. Hopefully she will remember that autism is not why I am seeing her and isn't her area of expertise but I get very tired of my eye contact being the thing everyone says when I mention the tism.
posted by hfnuala at 10:46 AM on November 3, 2023 [4 favorites]

I really appreciate this post and everyone's comments. It's causing me to do a lot of introspection as to how this operated in my own life and my kid's. Come to think of it, introspection is probably something else I taught myself not to do.
posted by mollweide at 4:15 PM on November 3, 2023 [4 favorites]

@hfnuala Not to mention that some of those adaptations are the result of having had to live in this world for long enough that it becomes automatic. Kids haven't had to build up those tolerances yet so it can be more evident.
posted by tmt at 4:52 PM on November 3, 2023 [3 favorites]

Some of my ability to do that comes from having a framework that helps me understand the ways in which I am different from other people without resorting to simple shame. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of shame there, but at least I have a framework I can lean on and a sense of not being alone so I can talk about it. I have a lot of empathy for people for whom that was not possible. But I do believe this from the roots of my soul: we may not be able to control our personalities or our emotional reactions to the world around us, but we sure can control the actions we take in response to those emotions. We can learn to do better by one another.

Honestly i don't think we can talk about this without talking about how differently women with these kinds of issues are treated from men, and how we're expected to act about it. Like men really, in general, just get to act like this.

This piece made me cry honestly, not so much because i relate to the authors own experience but because i relate to his experience of his father.

In all honesty, it took me understanding my own gender shit to understand why, and how deeply that kind of thing alienated me and didn't resonate with me. It wasn't just that i was the boy with the dad, other people punished me for not acting differently too. But at the same time, i'd witness boys around me being completely enabled to either be weird or act quite rigidly.

A big thing i had to realize in growing up was that both my parents were "a little odd" or "had oddly specific needs they were rigid about". The difference was that my mom openly admitted that she was probably on the spectrum, whereas my dad and his entire family refuse to acknowledge that's a thing that existed before the 90s... or... something. I've watched my mom grow and change throughout my lifetime. My dad is still the same old caveman. And i don't even really say this with hate in my heart, he just is who is he... but everyone around him just allows him to be like that. He even got a therapist who agrees he's just Like That and Isn't Going To Change and should just be allowed to barf anger on people.

But there really is something quite interesting in how even before i was sure of who i was, other people seemed to be able to tell, because they just didn't let me act like that. They pick up on something and expect you to figure your shit out like a woman. It's interesting, if a little depressing.

But regardless of the why, i agree with it. I refuse to be that fucking person. I refuse to be the Dad.
posted by emptythought at 8:31 PM on November 3, 2023 [8 favorites]


posted by chavenet at 4:39 AM on November 4, 2023 [2 favorites]

Wow, what an amazing thread (and article). I'm so glad to be in this space with everyone here.
posted by treepour at 9:28 AM on November 4, 2023 [3 favorites]

tmt, I have been reflecting on the advantages inherent in being an adult who doesn't do paid work atm, owns her home, whose kids are both teens and who has pretty good control over my environment. If I am in overwhelm I can stay at home. If I run out of cope to cook the kids have the skills to feed us. I don't have to be on public transport at rush hour. I control the food available in the house. I'm certain I have sensory stuff but it is easy for me to manage them in unobtrusive ways.
posted by hfnuala at 3:04 PM on November 4, 2023 [2 favorites]

This could be the abstract on a long treatise about how to find oneself in and how to stay thoroughly in the closet while growing up gay:

Even in my early years I knew, as if by some animal instinct, that if I didn’t pay close attention to my behavior, I’d betray myself, and everyone would know I was different.Even in my early years I knew, as if by some animal instinct, that if I didn’t pay close attention to my behavior, I’d betray myself, and everyone would know I was different.

Funny thing is, I can pinpoint exactly when I realized how outwardly gay I was presenting—which is to say exactly when I started changing myself to butch up and hopefully evade detection—to the day my 4th grade teacher recorded my class joyously singing a song about a book we were reading. I feel like I can remember every millisecond of watching that moment, maybe two minutes long, with the entire class. In hindsight I imagine no one noticed it but me, because I was jsut being the person I had always been. But I watched it in absolute horror. I watched it thinking, oh my god I sound so gay, my movements are so gay, my smile is so gay, everything about me is so obviously gay. The next day, I was a literal different person. I receded from view and only slowly, angrily, bitterly started building up a revised, straight public persona.

It took me a very, very long time to claw back from that. About 25 years and counting. I don't think that work will ever be done, that clawing back, but I very much wish I could see that video again with my adult eyes. I'd like to compare it to my memory of it. I'd like to apologize to that kid for not seeing the big picture sooner. I'd like to hug that kid and thank him for getting us through those deep plague years safely. I'd like to see it for the sake of curiosity, so I can marvel at how clearly these moments of being recorded and played back to us act as a kind of mirror that we don't have without video recording. It's such a modern thing to see oneself recorded, to hear oneself recorded. It was a luxury then and now it's already so common that it's banal. What would that tape look like to me now?
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:05 AM on November 7, 2023 [7 favorites]

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