Next Monday will be the opening reception of my BFA thesis show. There are also just a few weeks left until the end of my six year journey going to college. I am going to miss it a lot.
I’m very nervous about the show because the topic I chose makes me feel vulnerable to talk about, especially in person. (Especially after being met with doubt by revealing this part of myself on a few occasions to others.)
I have to remind myself that I have nothing to be ashamed about, and that I know myself better than anyone else does. There are also many supportive people in my life who help me when I feel invalidated.
[Note about my use of the words ‘woman’ and ‘women’: The title of my thesis show is a reference to my personal experience. I identify myself as a woman because it’s what I am used to doing, despite feeling varying levels of detachment from the binary of female/male for most of my life. Many autistic people who identify as a gender outside this binary also feel invisible, along with autistic people of color, and autistic people who are non-heteronormative. The use of the word ‘women’ in my artist statement is contextually driven by what our society’s assumptions about gender are, especially in regard to the cultural perception of autism. My intention was not to be exclusive in my use of this word, and I apologize for making anyone feel uncomfortable in regard to my doing so.]
Women finding out they are autistic in adulthood is becoming more and more common. This is not indicative of more women being born autistic – these women were always there. Due to the influence of cultural and social expectations associated with gender, they are essentially invisible. Women who have fallen through the cracks have had to compensate for their communication difficulties. There is an expectation for women to be sociable, attentive to everyone’s needs, and provide emotional labor that they don’t always have the energy or capacity to give. This leads to exhaustion, mental health issues, and feelings of alienation.
This can inadvertently paint a picture of someone who is functioning, making it difficult for their concerns to be taken seriously. If an adult woman is diagnosed as autistic, a common reaction from family and friends is outright denial due to the preconceptions about what autism is. This can potentially lead to feelings of being an impostor and questioning the perception of their own experiences. I’ve also felt this myself.
Living as a woman on the autism spectrum, most of my day-to-day experiences involve maintaining control of my body and my mind. I have difficulties with emotional regulation, executive function, and communication. These things are not visible. Everyday I have to push myself in order to live in a way that is expected of me socially. This is incredibly exhausting.