It was one of those moments when you realize that the reality of a situation is almost stranger than fiction. Id est, I could not have made this scenario up even if I’d tried.
I had arrived at an auto repair shop, and while waiting for them to find my keys I was eyeing up the various magazines they had to offer: Handyman or Women’s Health. Being neither of the two, I instead chose to read about the looming “nuclear option” method of electing a conservative US Supreme Court nominee. It didn’t make me feel any better.
They could not find my keys. The owner’s wife, who has many times chauffeured my partner to and from work when the car’s been in for repairs, offered to drive me home to pick up the spare set of keys while they continued the search for the set we’d left there this morning. En route I mentioned I wasn’t in any hurry, just so long as I could vote in the local elections today. So the owner’s wife stopped at the polling place so I could vote, and I got back in her car feeling like, in my own vindictive way, I had done my civic duty to chip away at the conservative choke-hold seizing the country. We drove a few blocks down to my place, I grabbed my keys, and we took off for the auto repair store once more.
In true Midwestern fashion, we started chatting about the weather. I mentioned the weather down in Colorado, as my private contracting employer had recently had a snow day. So then talk turned to my private contracting job, which is to essentially catalog correspondences to her mental health practice, all of which deal with gender questions, transitioning, finding transgender resources, or else an upcoming gender identity workbook.
The auto shop owner’s wife went off on the subject, pontificating on what wonderful and necessary work it must be, to be a mental health professional in the business of helping transgender folk fully express themselves, “to make that difficult transition and become happy,” as she put it. I gauged the situation, then mentioned how, since I’ve been through that process myself, I knew how needed such services were, which is why I’d offered to do contract work for this therapist.
I’m not sure she believed me at first. After many no way! or seriously? sorts of remarks, she clarified that I must have been born female but transitioned to male. I stopped, breathed, and mentioned that this was sort of correct, but I didn’t identify that way. She stopped, then said that she obviously was no expert on me, but since I was, could I explain how I did identify? So I did. I explained what it means to identify as non-binary, in a very general sense. She seemed to understand, because when I started talking about the current requirements for transition in the US she didn’t ask for any further information. We spent the rest of the ride talking about one of her former colleague’s daughters, who also happened to be transgender, and that having proper support was the real reason I wanted to go into providing therapy for transgender clients myself; in short, so I could provide trans folk with at least one means of support as they transition, even if they have no one else supporting them.
After I’d claimed my car I sped off, and felt a sense of unease about the whole conversation. Not because of how it went per se, but specifically because of how it ended: the shop owner’s wife, upon my departure, said “You work so well with other people, I know you’ll make a great therapist someday.” I don’t doubt I’ll make a decent therapist, but to say I “work well” with people seemed like a stretch to me. No I don’t, I thought as I stopped at a red light, I’m terrible with people, I focus too much on what to say, or what not to say, and whether I expressed myself correctly, and whether or not I’m stimming too much or acting “neurotypical” enough for people….
And then, just before the light turned green, I had the most incredible epiphany. For at least ten years, I’d thought of myself as socially inept. Those were the words I’d used to describe not having many friends, or being desperately introverted, or not wishing to engage in small talk, or being told after the fact that I said something “rude,” or not knowing when it was socially acceptable to touch or embrace someone…or any number of other social issues I’d experienced since kindergarten onward, but had only become a real problem in the past nine years or so. No, I wasn’t socially inept, I thought, I’m just autistic — which I’d only been diagnosed with on April 10, 2016 (for those of you counting, one year in six days). I wasn’t socially inept, just autistic but undiagnosed. Not socially inept, just neurodivergent, and therefore with a different way of communicating with people.
And really, it was more than that. I’m autistic, communicating with a neurodiverse — but probably predominantly neurotypical — audience. I’m transgender, communicating with a mostly cisgender audience; I’m more specifically gender neutral and non-binary, communicating with a binary, cisgender society. And I’m asexual, communicating with a sex-saturated, non-asexual audience. On a daily basis, I am forced to interact with a society that, on so many levels, is unprepared to understand the differences I bring to the proverbial table. And on a daily basis others must interact with me, and I’m so far gone down the intersectional rabbit hole that I can barely comprehend others’ unique way of being and socializing.
And even though it was a daunting thought, I finished the rest of my drive home feeling so much more at peace with the world. Because, for the first time in nearly ten years, I understood why I struggled so much socially. It’s not because I’m socially inept — it’s just because I’m adrift in a society that, at least for the moment, has not taken the necessary steps to meet me halfway. So I’ll keep making my steps forward, and I can only hope that maybe someday, society will meet me in the middle ground.