I’m tired of people trying to define me. My whole life, people have been telling me who and what I am, how I should act or react, and how I should live my life.
It started very young. When I complained about bright lights or strong smells or loud noises, they told me “it’s not that bad”, and I should “stop being such a whinger”. When I was a teenager, I was told I “shouldn’t be so anti-social”, and I should “just make friends”, as though this was easy. If I tried to say I couldn’t do something, I was told that “of course” I could do it, and that I was just being “unco-operative”.
If I wore certain clothes that I felt comfortable in, I was either ridiculed or pressured into wearing more “fashionable” clothes. I was told that my behaviour was “rude” and “un-ladylike”, and that I must be “nicer” to people, especially men. Later, after I became a feminist and came out, a different bunch of women let me know I was expected to be a “right-on-sister” instead - a different set of expectations, but no let-up.
My differences were cast as personal flaws or deficiencies, and I was told that I just needed to “try harder”. They would tell me to “just relax” and “be myself”, but when I did, they said “not like THAT!” If I expressed my real feelings or thoughts, people told me I was weird, or that “nobody” felt like that, and that I needed to “shape up my ideas” or “get real”. Or they would tell me I “must” feel such-and-such, or have this or that neurosis, because of my behaviour or attitudes. I was told I should “speak up more”, or that I was talking too much and should let others have a turn. I was “too quiet” or “too loud”, “unfriendly” or “clingy” or “nosy”, and on and on. No-one, it seemed, was quite content with me, no matter what I did.
My (now-ex!) partner would oh-so-confidently explain to me what I “really” felt. Or that what I felt “wasn’t normal”, that it was symptomatic of all that was wrong with me, and that if only I listened to her and did what she told me to do, and became what she told me to be, all would be well. She told me exactly what sort of person I was, and what my faults were, in great detail. According to her, I was a terrible lover, a lousy friend, a bad mother and, she implied, deficient even as a human being.
When I became ill, some thought I was “just being lazy”, or a “piker”. Even when I finally got diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, it didn’t stop. There was the alternative healer who told someone else that it was a “pity” I’d been diagnosed, implying I’d use it as an “excuse” to “wallow” in my illness. And the counsellor who asked one day why didn’t I “just go for a run round the block?” This same counsellor also once spent almost an entire session ripping into me for being on a benefit. It became obvious she had a low opinion of beneficiaries, and me for being one.
Even those who accepted the diagnosis and meant well, would tell me I needed to “just take this seawater solution”, or do this or that pet therapy of theirs, or some other “miracle” cure, or “just think positively”. Or that the vitamins I was taking were “just expensive pee”, always without asking me what worked for me.
And then I discovered Asperger's and autism, and oh look, another lot of definitions. The ‘experts’ solemnly pronounced me incapable of empathy, of having emotions, of understanding others or even myself, of being able to relate to others or be a good parent, etc, etc, etc. It seemed that, once again, I was a deficient creature, barely even a human being, in the eyes of others who had never even met me.
Being autistic and physically disabled aren’t the only things about me which others have used to try and define me of course. Religions have tried to reduce my innate sexuality to a mere “lifestyle choice”, and tell me that I’m a “sinner”, and even claim, as one NZ religious leader has, that gays cause earthquakes (no, I’m not kidding).
Men have tried to ‘mansplain’ things to me, told me I “should smile more”, or suggested I “don’t understand” how the world works. Able-bodied people have tried to ‘able-splain’, in the same patronising fashion, without bothering to find out first what I actually already know or don’t know. Or they’ve treated me as if I was mentally deficient, again without bothering to find out anything about me.
Sometimes even other autistics don’t understand me, their image of me seems to be incomplete, or even totally wrong, like the one who told me I was a “man-hater”, when I challenged his sexism. It never seems to end.
But my feeling now is – NO.
I’ve had enough of this. I refuse to allow my life, my very self, to be defined by anyone else, ever again. I am what I am, and that’s good enough for me. And it’s just going to have to be good enough for the world too.
Everyone has their bottom line, the point beyond which they won’t and can’t go, and this is mine.
I don’t mean I’m going to go around wildly starting arguments or pushing anything on anyone. I do mean I will stand my ground, and no longer allow others to define me, to tell me what I am or should be or how I should live my life. I will back off, but I won’t back down.
This is me. The real me, as defined by me. Get used to it.