Recently, I was having a conversation with a new acquaintance, exchanging life stories and getting to know one another, when she hit me with an unexpected question: “Are you neuroatypical?” she asked. I immediately began to wonder why she would ask me that, was it something I said? I mentally reviewed the conversation up to that point and couldn’t pinpoint one specific thing. Was it when I said I make lists every day, even listing household chores, just so I can feel accomplished when I cross them off? Did it have something to do with how I like to sleep in a cold room, with the ac down to 68 and a fan on high two feet from my head, with the covers pulled to my neck? Was it the fact that I keep a clean and orderly house, though not obsessively so? I didn’t ask and I let the conversation go on to other things, but I knew I would analyze the conversation later. And I did.
It wasn’t the first time someone had brought up the subject. The first time had been my ex-husband. He used to claim that it was hard for me to stay on task, that he would witness me start one task, realize I needed to also do something else, so stop the first task to go do the second task before coming back to the first. He continuously reminded me that I was just making more work for myself. It never seemed to occur to him that he was the reason I did things that way. Throughout the majority of our marriage he had been emotionally abusive to me, in part by expecting things done a certain way. In trying to accommodate for his ways, I became erratic in my movements as I remembered halfway through a task that there was something I had forgotten to do. I only realized after I left him that I don’t act that way all the time, that he was the common denominator for that behavior. At the time, however, he had me contemplating whether or not I was on the autism spectrum simply because of his misreading of the situation.
When The Big Bang Theory came out I, along with most other geeks and nerds, eagerly awaited the series. Finally, a show that wasn’t just a mindless sitcom, this show would highlight science and would also be funny. My ex would sit beside me, often dumbfounded by the geek humor, unable to understand why I was laughing at jokes he didn’t understand. This led him to his conclusion that I was just like Sheldon Cooper. I tried to argue that I was more like Leonard if I was like anyone. Meaning that I wasn’t as unaware of social mores as Sheldon is, that my geekiness did not prevent me from interacting with others, it just sometimes made me shy and awkward. But he couldn’t be swayed, and he stayed convinced that I was Sheldon’s twin, and later diagnosed me as ADD.
I was able to dismiss him at the time and not think about it, but when a second person brought it up, it made me doubt myself and sent me on a Google search for reputable articles that explained more about the behavior and mannerisms of someone on the autism spectrum. It wasn’t an in-depth search, I read just enough to ease my mind that nothing in my behavior pointed to any particular diagnosis. I could relax in my geekiness and accept that.
But it didn’t end there. Then I started to analyze my reaction in the first place. Why had I been offended at the implication? Surely I knew that there was nothing wrong with being atypical. And it’s true, I do know that. Then why did it bother me so much? What I finally realized was that for one, I don’t like when anyone thinks they have the authority to put me into a box in which I don’t belong, no matter what’s written on that box. Also, it was the idea that autism is another form of othering, of separating and labeling people to show just how different they are in such a way as to promote ostracism. I had had enough of that being bullied in grade school.
What I finally came to was that atypical is just a synonym for queer, and I have been an out and proud queer for over twenty years. If someday a doctor ever pins the label of atypical on me, I will wear that with pride also. Because there is nothing wrong with thinking and perceiving the world differently from everyone else. Normal is boring and should be avoided at all costs.