by Akhil Mulgaonker
My Autistic Anger and Pain Transformed into Authenticity
Autists embody an eroticism too often denied and devalued, but which still endures. If being erotic means embracing our desires, whatever they may be, and living out our feelings, then autistic people are deeply in touch with the erotic within all of us. We have what special educators call “obsessions.” We live in a way that other people call being stuck in our own world. We see life in lifeless things, value in disregarded things, and love when love is not given by neurotypical society. We think, love, feel, and interact in ways which society has no hold over. Yet, despite this unabashed nature, we accumulate injuries and wounds because of it. We live as we live while at the same time paying the price for it. You can imagine the frustration I feel that my erotic embodiment cannot be effectively seen, expressed, or known, and when it does, it is too painful for me. Yet it endures; authenticity, persists.
For some, the price for being their authentic selves is everything – every sense of safety and security, every dear part of life – risked and lost. I believe authenticity is our most valuable resource, the store of self-understanding upon which we call for our politics, agency, and strength. For autists, our authenticity is unrestrained, because we do not understand much less enact the social structures that are supposed to shape us as people. However, this overflowing of authenticity exposes our hearts to a too often cruel world, which does not tolerate difference, which seeks to stamp it out for the comfort and position of the privileged.
I am a rational person. I do not believe in ghosts, yet they haunt me. I am a person with no apologies, yet apologies escape my lips. I am a person of deep conviction, though the basis is questioned. Realities which shadow me anger me. I know they shouldn’t, but the tears of frustration streaking my face tell me that none of this is right.
With autism, I do not know what I am in the outside world, nor in other people’s minds, but I do know its effects. I know I am the last to be chosen. I know I am the first to be left behind. I know I am often held hostage, ransomed for the pitiful price of conformity. Despite working long and hard, I can never pay for it. I am both painfully and happily aware that only a dear, precious few people can break this pattern. I feel anger, deep, swelling, hot anger at this unliving that I am forced to lead. I feel anger at other people, at the world, at some notion of God that would allow for my pain, the desperate price for being something else. But, most of all, I feel anger at myself, for succumbing to something that should mean nothing to me. But my cheeks burn most intensely when I confront the fact that I play a part in the sustenance of these patterns. I am unsure of how to speak about the part I play. It is to me deeply shameful, indicating a complicit guilt in my own hurt and the hurt of others, moreover, a sign of the shallowness of my social self and the flimsiness of my psychological self.
I will plainly state it. I see pain within every relationship, even the most cursory online friendship and brief daily encounter. I indulge this pain, maladaptively. I avoid people and thus their love. And when their love does touch me, I tremble with a rawness as though my skin is sunburned, and even the most delicate loving light stings. I cannot bear something that should support me. I fear the implications of my difference. I fear it makes me unwanted and unlikable. I fear it may hurt me. I hedge the risk it offers. Too many potential relationships have failed. Too many times, I have dived headfirst and shattered my skull. My relationships are shallow because they end, partly due to autism, partly because I cannot let them. Their love might be used as a weapon. Indeed, every conceivable weapon has been wielded against me, ever since I was a little child. How can I unlearn the expectation that more troops will array against me, that still now more bullets are zooming at my brain?
Anger is a defiant resistance to the realities foisted upon us, a furious scratching at the walls which enclose us, a spontaneous surfacing of power thwarting the oppressions which infiltrate our interior. We can no longer tolerate breathing in death thickened fumes, nor deny within our bodies the deep, purifying feelings which are the source of true power and knowledge. For that gleam in our eyes is a brilliant sun that can irradiate all the structures which exact our psychic deaths. For the sparks erupting within the margin of our bodies consume us. We may be victims, but we are also warriors, our own heroes.
Anger is both the product of our pain and the source of its transformation into meaning and action. We ask, in disgust, with intolerance and impertinence, why does this continue? It forces us to scrutinize why society traps us in a box, packaging us as something we know we are not. I know I am not the slurry of labels, definitions, and messages that pollute my skin and seep into my blood. I am something different. I had thrown myself in mud, where I believed my skin was like the pigs.’ I extricate myself from the miasma, in a warm bath that I prepare myself, scrubbing away with self-love the grime and the belief that it is my natural complexion.
Yet my difference persists; my authenticity endures. I feel like I purchased my authenticity from society and rightfully own it. I paid for it with the scars on my arm and in my psyche. I paid for it with every foregone relationship, every bad grade, every tenuous social moment. I made it my solace, further bolstered by my anger, solidifying a commitment to living out the deep internal structures of my being. I may bleed. I may be shot down. I may be punched and bruised. But I will always wear my truth. I will return squarely to my eyes the alien parts of myself, even if it means others will not see themselves in them. For when I look in the mirror, I see myself in my eyes.
Society places demands and situates us in unsafe relations, yet we are expected not only to meet and survive them, but also don a smile and pretend like nothing is wrong. If we show how we truly feel, our anger and pain at injustice, then we are told that we are unreasonable and weak. I am not unreasonable. I am not weak. For so much is wrong, and I refuse to pretend.