Pride, noun.

  1. A satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, or the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated.
  2. A reasonable or justifiable self-respect; consciousness of one’s own dignity.
  3. A company of lions.
  4. Antonym: shame.

A satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, or the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated.

My autism diagnosis is a gift that keeps on giving. At first, it didn’t seem like much of a gift: okay, great, we’ve found the latest thing wrong with Lucy, I’m socially impaired and nerdy and awkward and I hate loud noises, hip hip hurray. Like a clumsily wrapped package at a White Elephant party that you never really wanted and have to go home with anyway. But then the second gift, subtle at first: autistic people flap their hands. Well, I never did that, so I wasn’t autistic…except I was; the doctors said so. Then I started to wonder what flapping my hands might feel like. Fluttering fingers, then the movement coils in my palms, quickening blood, metatarsal murmur. A tremble at the wrist, gaining certainty, amassing fervor until I have crossed the threshold from stillness to quivering, from quivering to quaking, quaking to fluttering, fluttering then flapping, then flying. My whole arms now, up and down and side to side and I am another substance now I am sweet uncaged motion, I am river and sunlight and the dissolving seam between sky and mist and ocean. I am not exaggerating. This is autistic embodiment, this is what happens when every nerve in your body is alive, constantly, drinking in every ounce of the world with unrelenting and treacherous immediacy. What happens when you stop dreading that immediacy and start to savor it. What happens when fluttering and flapping sublime to flight.

Gift number three: different, not less. Read this somewhere on the internet, in a book by Temple Grandin, in a book about Temple Grandin, in a book about a book about Temple Grandin or perhaps somewhere totally unrelated to Temple Grandin, or all of the above, because this phrase is everywhere in the autismverse. Three simple words, a careful comma sliding like a splinter into my preconceived understandings of the world. Because most of the time, in most places I go, there is the underlying message and assumption that different is in fact less. I went so long without questioning it. Amazing what words can do.

Fast forward through the next seven or 17 or 70 gifts. Fast forward through stim toys and self-understanding and disability pride and autism acceptance and #RedInstead and loud hands and epic memes but the good kind of epic, the kind that doesn’t hurt people, until we arrive at gift number I-don’t-even-know-what: autistic community. The gift that is really a dozen gifts, several dozen, square the sum, then square it again for every time I find a blog post that puts words to the things I’ve lived forever but never known how to describe, then the artwork on Tumblr that captures a meltdown in a few deft strokes, plus messages of kindness and permission to live autistically, to simply be autistically, and the amplification of autistic voices and the political work, the relentless advocacy and fights for justice and YouTube videos and unbridled joy and the emails I sent out in April to say hi I’m autistic and acceptance not awareness & please visit my blog & oh wait the hyperlinks aren’t working & okay I fixed them & neurodiversity is for everyone & check out my youtube channel & look at these gifs & autistic rights are human rights & like and subscribe. Conversations on Tumblr with humans I’ve never met (or maybe very sophisticated bots), ordering a raccoon to chew on ferociously, special interest revival, respectful therapy, the list goes on and on. Satisfaction derived from achievements. I read this and I think about the autistic community and everything mentioned above and I am proud, of course I am proud, I mean, how could I not be?

A reasonable or justifiable self-respect; consciousness of one’s own dignity.

In a world that dehumanizes autistics and devalues disabled lives, respecting ourselves is an act of resistance. If we don’t do it, no one will. And here’s where I’m lucky, because to much of the world, I am palatably autistic, the kind of autistic that comes with caveats. Autistic, but. I’m autistic, but I can make small talk if I need to. I’m autistic, but I can pass, and I’ve done so for most of my life. I’m autistic, but I’m smart (whatever the hell that means). I’m autistic, but I could be mistaken for quirky and eccentric, absent-minded professor syndrome. I’m not like those autistics. I’m not autistic in a way that scares you, in a way that makes you recoil.

Except sometimes I am, and even when I’m not, I could be. My disability is conditional. If you (insist on) call(ing) me high-functioning, you have to realize that I am high-functioning because psychotropic medications exist, and without those medications, I would not be able to communicate coherently or manage day-to-day life or live independently or perhaps even live at all. And even in scenarios where those meds do exist, my functioning is conditional on so many other forms of privilege, like the money it takes to pay for them, the doctors who prescribe them, my ability to find those doctors, those doctors’ ability to understand autism, which then is dependent on the color of my skin, because if I were not white, I would have faced far more barriers to getting diagnosed and receiving treatment in the first place. And then there’s serendipity, and whatever you’d call its opposite: I’ve never had a brain injury, a genetic disorder, a car crash, an illness, any of the things that could have made me disabled in ways that I’m currently not. So yes, I am the flavor and intensity of disabled that people find easier to accept, but this state of being tolerably autistic has everything to do with circumstances far beyond my control. What I’m trying to say here is that I am at once very different from and very similar to other autistics who face much more stigma in prejudice than I do. And as a result of this luck, and the lines society draws between us and them and them and me, it is easier for me to have self-respect, because I’m not constantly facing a barrage of messages telling me that who I am is wrong and flawed and broken. The perception of dignity is a privilege. It’s a privilege I handle carefully, a privilege that can become a tool, when wielded thoughtfully. And I am trying as hard as I can to wield it thoughtfully.

In the words of Morénike Giwa-Onaiwu: “There is no grade scale when it comes to disabilities…I won’t let you ‘rank’ us. I won’t let you divide us.”

In the words of Maxfield Sparrow: “It’s not enough for the world to accept us; we must accept ourselves.”

In the words of Amy Sequenzia: “I will not stop celebrating being me.”

A company of lions.

On a lighter note, I’m pleased to announce that after some logistical coordination and collaboration with a number of zoologists I met on, I will now be working with a large group of lions in order to advocate for autistic rights, inclusion, and acceptance. Though they are bloodthirsty and often violent, as is to be expected from wild animals, these lions are very nice if you get to know them. They’ve been trained to pounce upon and devour anyone who claims autism is a disease, tells me I’m “too high-functioning” to talk about autism, is in favor of abusive therapies, supports mandatory autism screenings for fetuses (aka eugenics), or uses the word “autistic” as an insult. Watch out.

A photograph of a large male lion. The lion is sitting down with his front paws outstretched and looking at the camera. He has a very large face and a thick mane. The background/surroundings are yellow-green grass.
This lion has no patience for ableist jerks. Source.

Antonym: shame.

Back to the serious stuff. This is the kicker, the not-so-subtle punchline. (I’ve never been great with subtlety.) I look at it this way and the answer is so, so clear, because when it comes to June 18th I essentially have three choices: I can be apathetic. I can be ashamed. Or I can be proud. Apathy equals stagnation. Apathy devolves so quickly into indifference, and here, there’s such a fine line between indifference and dislike, indifference and frustration, indifference and anger, then shame.

Shame, caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming. Shame: a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute. The world we live in gives autistics infinite cause for and sources of shame. Be ashamed of the way you move, so strange, so different, too different, and not in a good way. Be ashamed of how you do or don’t talk, how you hate to look people in the eye, how you flail in conversation like a rider losing grip on a spooked horse. Be ashamed of the way that you’re alone, be ashamed of wanting to be alone, be ashamed of what you don’t love and what you do, be ashamed of everything. Especially you. Shame, that insidious poison, so easy to slip in, so hard to scrub out. Shame in the puzzle pieces, the talk of cure, the quiet hands, the warrior rhetoric (fight; overcome; defeat). Shame, the infinite series of questions: why can’t you do this, why won’t you do that, why do you act this way, why do you do that, what’s wrong with you, why are you like this. Why are you at all. And pride? Pride is the answer. 

Pride: this is who I am, this is how I am, and I don’t need to tell you why, because it should not take a certain IQ or compliance or conformity or an unbreakable façade to justify my being in the world. 

Pride: these hands are never quiet. 

Pride: I don’t have to look you in the eye. 

Pride: since when is different less? 

Pride: you can’t fix what isn’t broken. 

I choose pride because I refuse to give into shame. Pride doesn’t mean being autistic is easy. It doesn’t mean my life is all rainbows and butterflies. It means loving myself for who I am instead of hating myself for who I’m not. 

Pride: I love someone who’s autistic. (It’s me.)

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