It’s Pride in my part of the world. I am lucky enough to live in a city that wears a conservative mask but has a super liberal underbelly that it likes scratched hard and often. Pride is a big deal. There is a parade. There are events consistently through the week and then intermittently through the month. The city painted sidewalks rainbow and business all hung Pride Flags down the parade route. The mayor, the Premier, and Justin Trudeau, who really wants to be Prime Minister, were all there. I’m very fortunate to live in a part of the world where being gay is no longer demonized.
That being said, that is a privilege that many groups still don’t have. Racism is a thing, and holy shit is it a thing in Canada. If someone tells you Canadians aren’t racist just bring up Residential Schools. Super. Fucking. Racist. Transphobia is a thing. Fat-shaming and slut-shaming are things. There are still a lot of things going down that are wrong and, for some people, dangerous. And there is a sense of not fitting in.
This is my first Pride having come out as Ace (which is how I shall now refer to asexual because I’m lazy. Also, it’s a cool term for a minority. I have the best abbrevaitions. I'm a BAD Ace XD ). That means it was my first Pride where I was looking for ace representation.
And I didn’t find it.
And I felt kinda empty.
The worst bit of this was that I didn’t know why I wasn’t feeling the same bubbly affirming joy I usually get from Pride. I mean, it’s great to see solidarity. Everyone was hugging and supporting and there were a tonne of allies who were being all awesome. Everyone was very “We’re here and if you don’t like that we don’t care! Lulz!” There were street preachers this year, complete with a soap box and a Jesus Saves sign with a spelling mistake. And how the crowd handled them was amazing. A few people had friendly yet serious discussions with them, most people ignored them, and a bunch of people in rainbow gear got pictures with them. When the parade started people just shuffled them to the back. It’s a super passive aggressive things Canadians do. Just shuffle things we don’t like out of sight. It was great.
But I felt empty because this year. There were gay people and trans people and leather fetish flags and THREE tanks, which was all amazing. But I felt off.
So I got muddling over that. And while I was muddling over the next few days I had a trans woman come up to me at the bus stop and ask me for a light. And this was an interesting interaction. At first she did the hand motion from far away. When she spotted my Pride pin she actually came up to me close enough that I could tell she was trans and started talking to me. And after I caught my bus I realized that the only reason she felt safe talking to me was because of the pin. It was a sign that we were on the same team and that I was safe.
And I realize that that was why I felt so mixed about the parade. There was no one on my team there. I was standing in a sea of people feeling all alone because no one was flying the colors for my team. And I didn’t realize how important that type of solidarity was until that moment. Before I'd identified as straight, so it was easy to just assume that everyone was straight. Then lesbian, and they are heartily represented at Pride and also make it a lot into TV, with icons like Willow and Original Cindy and Dr. Torres to look up to. I didn't even have to google those names. Lesbians aren't obscure or hard to find anymore and a lot of them are very positively represented, though they still tend to get killed off disporportionately, hugs to Charlie and Tara. I'm white, so I still struggle to remember that the media is made for people of my color and I do my best to critique it when it fails. But there is a quote from Whoopi Goldberg on how amazing seeing Uhura on tv for the first time was and how important it is for everyone to have their icons. I thought I got it. I did.
But I had never really understood the importance of representation until I didn’t have any. When it is your team sitting out the feeling is bone deep. It rattles the foundations and makes you feel like dust in the universe, but not in a good existential way. There is no asexual parade. We don’t get a thing to let people know we are out there and let people know that it is okay for us to be out there. And to let people know that if they feel the same way they do that they aren’t alone and they aren’t broken.
And this has made me realize how important having things like pins and Pride jewelry are not just now, but all the time. People need to feel included all year long. You don’t go visit your mom on mother’s day and then not talk to her until next mother’s day. You still talk to her throughout the year.
And I want to provide that. But I also want to receive it. So I am going to go out and buy myself all the QUILTBAG flags I can find and I am going to sew them into my backpack, no matter how hipster or teenage it looks. I am going to make me into a Safe Space, so queer people don’t have to worry if they see me and wonder where I stand, because I am going to be standing beside them. And maybe they will see my flag on my bag, and maybe they will ask. And maybe they will start to wear it so I will know that they are a safe space for me.
And maybe, just maybe, there will be someone carrying my flag at Pride in the next parade, telling me that I am not alone.
It's Pride in my part of the world. I know that there are probably like, ten people reading this because one person has commented and that is how representation works. I figured that I'd pass on how Coming Out works.
So. I come out all the time.
I came out for being a lesbian. I came out for being bipolar. I came out for being asexual. And having come out that often there is a few things I’ve learned about coming out that I’d like to share.
For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.
Yes, that’s right. Newtonian physics make a great understanding of social interaction. The first time I came out it was a Big Deal. There was crying and hugging. My friend, who is also my ex-boyfriend, actually skipped my first ‘I need to come out’ appointment because he thought I was angry with him and that was why we need to Talk.
Everyone took it quite well. This isn’t to say that everyone is going to be this lucky, but I know my worst reaction was the patronizing eye-rolls of ‘sure you are’ with the it’s just a phase but we are will to pander to your quirks right now. My aunt was really cool and asked me if I was trans in a totally non-judgemental way. And she’s from the deep country and was raised by her Irish Anglican mother. For those who don’t know, Irish Anglicans fought with Irish Catholics because the Irish Anglicans thought that Irish Catholics are liberal. And grandma was Very Irish Anglican.
But going into it I was prepared to lose friends. That being said I am of the firm opinion that the caliber of my friends reflects upon me. This doesn’t mean that I don’t hang with people who ‘lower my status’ in the arbitrary way of constructs. It means I don’t hang out with bigots. So if someone in my friend circle was a giant homophobe then coming out was the quickest way to root them out so that when I did need them I didn’t have to deal with the drama of my main issue and discovering that my friend has a lot of other phobias and biases that make the situation worse.
So the second time I came out, with the bipolar, I toned it down a little bit. I didn’t make specific meetings but I did go out of my way to gather my friends and do the ‘I have something important to tell you” in big groups. It went well enough again. I only have had one person who I was barely friends with (he was a friend of a friend) try and take advantage of my mental disturbances, and now he is just a friend of a friend and so not my problem. I did tell my employers because I like medical accommodation and I had been at my job long enough that I couldn’t just be fired.
The third time I came out as asexual I tagged the people who needed to know, took the “What about second breakfast?” Lord of the Rings meme and made it about second coming out. Yes, I used second because people don’t realize that disclosing a mental illness really is coming out. My tag line for it was something along the lines of “Yeah, I’m asexual. As you can tell I’m deeply concerned about how you are going to handle this. Deeply concerned.”
And by going through this, all of this, I learned a couple of really valuable things I’d like to share.
1) Saying “I’m [insert here]” doesn’t make it any more true. I was just as gay as I was the year before I came out as I was the year after. I was just as bipolar. I was just as asexual. Saying it doesn’t suddenly cement it in stone, like making a pact with the universe. It’s true, whether or not you say it. That doesn’t mean admitting it isn’t liberating, but it’s a lot like saying that you really do just enjoy the taste of tofu. Most people won’t care, some will look at you funny and edge the way out of your life, some will try to convert you to vegetarianism, and some will just gladly hand you all of their tofu. It doesn’t change how much you like tofu, but it does allow other people to act on that information and for you to go get all the tofu you enjoy. dAlso, if you suddenly hate tofu you are allowed to change your mind.
2) How big of a deal you make is how big of a deal everyone else makes. When I came out as gay, as I said, there were a lot of affirming hugs and ‘we love you for who you are.’ When I came out as asexual, no one told me this. There was no affirmation because I wasn’t asking for it. It was here is a fact about me. Cope. So people coped.
3) The relief is totally worth it. One of the things that has made me the most uncomfortable with orientation was trying to have friends include me in the game. I understand that this came from love, like lending a friend your favorite books. You keep doing this in the hopes that they will love one of them as much as you do. But for me this was a huge problem because it made me feel broken. I’d go somewhere with a group of female friends and they’d go, “That guy is so hot! Don’t you think so?” Unless they pointed or there was only one guy there I’d actually have no idea who they were talking about. If I could figure it out through guess and speculation, I’d still not know why he was hot. I’d smile and nod and go totally and hope no one asked me any skill testing questions.
After I came out it got a bit better, but then everyone, guys and gals, would ask me which celebrities I figured were hot. I made up a lot of stuff. When I finally came out as ace that all disappeared. Yes, I can recognize aesthetic appeal, but that is built on very different components than sexual. Breast size is not a big thing for me. Bigger boobs actually freak me out a bit, especially when they aren’t proportional to the person they are on. It’s not an aesthetic I find appealing and I’m letting those who do like it to know that I’m not competition. But now a lot of the pressure to engage in sexual game behaviors has adjusted to fit me, instead of me having to pretend to fit it. It’s an enormous relief.
So, since I have gotten some feedback I now no longer have to assume that people are perusing this. Which means I should probably have said this first, but whatever.
One of the most important things when engaging in these types of conversations, whether because you are neurodivergent or you are just trying to be a better person, is to be gentle with yourself.
1) We were all raised in a society where neurodivergence is labeled ‘mental illness’ and therefore ‘all in your head’. Most of our first introduction in psychology is through Freud, the man who discovered conversion disorders and decided that boys all secretly wanted to do mom. That’s not a great place to start, especially since conversion disorders are one of the few actual mental illness and can be treated through talk therapy alone. Neurodivergence technically is all in my head, but in the same way that a heart attack is all in my chest. So most of our first introductions into the topic are deeply flawed.
2) Media makes it worse. Ever since Deuce Bigalow came out everyone thinks that having Tourette’s means you have the uncontrollable urge to swear. This only occurs in about 10% of cases, and even then it isn’t every third word. Also, making fun of a frustrating condition through misinformation. Thanks guys. It’s hi-lar-ious. *note sarcasm. Comedy needs to punch up, not punch down.
Ever since Forest Fucking Gump came out everyone believes that the neurodivergent are wise and prejudice free, innocent with the eyes of the child that see our jaded world in a fresh and healing way. Bullshit. Think of being neurodivergent like being straight. You want to date the opposite sex. Guess what? Not everyone wants to date the same person you want to date, nor do you all have the same outlook on the world. People with Down’s Syndrome all have Down’s Syndrome. That’s it. Down’s Syndrome varies in severity and people with it have varying personalities. I’ve met some very nice people with it. I’ve met some total jerks.
And House. Screw House. Dr. House also harbors this weird romanticism that neurodivergents are lucky because we are outside the insanity of the structure of society or something. I tend to rage black out House’s “I wish I was crazy” moments, especially since as an addict he is neurodivergent (addiction changes the shape of the brain, which is why cravings become a thing and you never stop being an addict).
Of course, this is all ignoring how many times the neurodivergent are actually scary serial killers. Nearly everyone out there has identity dissociative disorder (which may or may not be a real thing. Research is still out. I’m going to assume it’s real, but it is super hella rare) and they have a personality that is murdering people. Criminal Minds used this trope TWICE. Seriously, we are either mystics or murders or comic relief and nothing else.
3) We aren’t supposed to talk about it. I have to fight with my support network to make them understand that, as a crazy person in a crazy place, I don’t have control or awareness that I am acting crazy! And that I NEED them to point it out. And when I tell them this, they usually go, “oh. That’s new. So-and-so has this and we don’t talk about it.”
How the heck are we supposed to understand the neurodivergent if we teach everyone to not talk about it? Not talking about something is the opposite of learning about it! Oh, talking about suicide is uncomfortable. SO IS FEELING SUICIDAL! We are living in a world where our emotional comfort is being placed above the safety of the people in question. Dan Savage once said, “Fuck your feelings, gay kids are dying.” I think the phrase has application here.
4) It’s largely invisible. If you meet me in real life you will have no idea I’m bipolar until I tell you. If I’m manic I’m just a weirdo. If I’m depressed I’m probably waiting for the caffeine to kick in. We all have stories about why people are acting outside of social norms, and rarely do we attribute neurodivergence. And when we do we tend to be all judge-y. “I bet they are off their meds.”
So, as you can see, we didn’t really stand much of a chance of growing up to be people who are understanding of neurodivergence. Considering that even the label is wrong on top of all the rest, how were we supposed to figure this out?
So don’t be hard on yourself. Holding your guilt up for the world to see actually hurts the conversation. Not only does your guilt not actually improve my life but it actual distracts from the conversation, because it refocuses it on how bad you feel instead of where to go from here.
For those directly affected, same thing. I feel guilty about some of the things I’ve done, but I’ve let most of it go. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t know better. And beating myself up over it doesn’t help those who were wronged and actually makes my condition worse. So there is no point.
But what is important now is that in this moment, you know. You now know that you are wrong and you now have the responsibility to change. And if you choose not to, then, and only then, are you being a terrible person with regards to this.
So be gentle with yourself as you learn. We all make mistakes but we all have the opportunity to do better next time, and as long as you are trying to do better and as long as you are learning as you go along, you are going the right way. It's okay that you aren't perfect, and it's okay to be have been wrong as long as you are willing to search for what is, if not right then at least better.
And that’s all that anyone can really ask.
Last time I left off with the grandiose and radically claim that current attitudes towards mental illness are killing us. Here is my justification. Also, Trigger Warning for Suicide and Angst.
People internalize attitudes. It is why aboriginal people can be racist towards aboriginal people, why women can be mysogynists, anf why homosexuals can be homophobic. When you are raised in a culture you are immersed in the assumptions of that culture’s unwritten rules that we all ‘know’ to be true. For example: wearing a hat inside is rude. Wearing a hat at a funeral is rude. Wearing a hat into court is rude. What you may not know is that hats being rude is a Christian value, and there are many religions where wearing headgear is a sign of respect (Sikhs, Muslims and Jews are a few examples). So the claim that hats are rude is a cultural assumption that is very North American, but also found in nations that were historically established as Christian territories.
These assumptions are based on our histories, our mythologies, and our current institutions. They are re-enforced in our media, in our political system, and in our legal structure. Having them is how we build a society. But problems occur when we refuse to examine these assumptions and they become oppressive. A Canadian Muslim woman was denied the right to present a court case in Quebec because the judge deemed her headwear to be rude and demanded that this woman remove her hijab, while the woman didn’t because her hijab was how she demonstrates her faith and being forced to remove it is religious oppression.
Right now, we have a lot of assumptions about neurodivergency that are killing people.
The first time I seriously considered suicide I was in my mid teens- around 15, 16- and I had come into the possession of five feet of rope and our house had an unfinished basement, which meant exposed rafters. I fantasized quite seriously but I never followed through on anything that could be called an attempt because my little brother would have been the person to find me, and my older sister would have never forgiven me for that. That wasn’t the last time. That wasn’t the last time that year. But one thing never changed. My little brother would find me.
Then I moved out. Things got a bit better for a while until they weren’t anymore, because that is what being sick means.
When I was 21 I was severely depressed. To this day it remains my worst episode. I would go for days without sleeping and then sleep for days. I only left my room for food, and my room was tiny-maybe three and a half feet by seven feet?- and I only left the house when the food in the fridge was all gone, which took a long time because I was eating small meals once a day, and by meals I mean something out of a can because I certainly wasn’t cooking. The only people I interacted with were online and my friend Kate, which is also complicated but a story for another time. Also, Kate was an agoraphobic so she was still more of an online friend. And everyone but here thought I was a guy, probably from the states but possibly from Europe. My actually personal life was never a topic of discussion. When we were sharing details, I lied. When they wanted pictures I used ones of a guy who had a travel blog and claimed to be him. I wasn’t working and had a little bit of savings scraped together, that lasted longer than it should have because I wasn’t leaving the house, what with all the social anxiety.
I started to think about suicide a lot. This wasn’t the warning sign it should have been, because I had been flirting with suicidal thoughts since the first time I got serious about it. They’d come and go and were so familiar they were comfortable instead of terrifying. It was like having an option in an option-less world. Even if I wasn’t planning on taking it, it was nice to know it was there. I made and discarded plans with varying degrees of seriousness. The weirdest part was that I wasn’t always unhappy. I was a satire troll on this one website, which means I was a hilarious jerk who attacked opinions instead of people, and I enjoyed that immensely. Kate acted as my partner in crime and man, did we have schemes. I took over the forum so thoroughly that someone wrote me a bible and I founded a Troll Guild and was invited into the Troll Basher Guild. It was fun.
But I wasn’t okay.
I wasn’t making plans to get back at everyone, but I was in a lot of pain. Much of it was physical. I developed an unspecified form of arthritis (still unspecified) at 18 and was undiagnosed bipolar, so I lost a lot of friends and many of the people left weren’t good for me. My family, turbulent at the best of times, wasn’t giving me a lot of support. I got told to stop wallowing a lot. I didn’t handle my arthritis gracefully but I was young and damaged and losing the ability to handwrite. So whatever.
I remember I was walking somewhere. I lived in a small city, so no public transit and taxis were sketchy and expensive. Also, I don’t drive, so if I had somewhere to go I walked. I was headed to a department store, Zellers or Walmart or something. There was a four-lane highway that cut through town, busy because it was a main route and often used for trucking.
I still remember very clearly watching the cars go by as I was walking, and wondering what it would be like to step in front of one. How much would it hurt? How could I make it hurt less? How close would I have to time it to get maximum impact before they were able to slam on the brakes? Which model would get the job done?
I was obsessing. It was a hyper-focus. It’s another symptom of mine in either side of a swing. I latch onto an obsession and I can’t let go or be rational or reasonable about it. And in this case I had this deep, unyielding need to know. I don’t remember why I snapped out of it, but I do remember looking down at my feet and discovering I had crossed from the far side of the sidewalk so I was closer to the road. I was maybe an inch from stepping off the curb. I didn’t remember moving.
And that scared me.
I called Kate and made me take me to a walk in so I couldn’t run away before my appointment. I still had a small panic attack. And I was still crying because I was so terrified the doctor would tell me I was fine because that was the only thing I knew I needed. I needed someone else to tell me I wasn’t fine. The doctor was good enough. He believed me, gave me samples of an anti-depressant, and told me how to get to a psychiatric walk in. By the next week I had a job interview, a crappy psychiatrist, and a manic episode, but I wouldn’t be diagnosed bipolar for three more years.
My family doesn’t know the only reason I sought treatment was because I was suicidal. But I now know that they had been worried about me for months. They had been talking to each other about it. But not to me. No one called me. No one came to see me. And until I started walking towards the road possessed by the sound of breaking glass I thought I was fine because no one who could see that I wasn’t bothered to tell me. And as someone who is ill, I lacked the mental capacity to figure this out on my own.
I had a narrative. I was taking time off for me. I was slumming it. Wearing pyjamas all day was a way of spoiling myself. I was being frugal by not eating. Sleep was for the weak. My down moments were passing moments of emotional weakness that just proved me to be a self-centered individual who couldn’t stop wallowing in self pity, even though other people have it worse.
And that’s the thing. People who are neurodivergent are the last to notice. We have either always been like that, because we have been undiagnosed since day one or we rewrite the story so our current behavior seems like its always been, or we fall into it so gradually that the sinking from yesterday to tomorrow seems miniscule, but over the span of a month has become catastrophic. I used to joke about being bipolar, and sometimes it was because I was scared it was true, but mostly it was to justify my ‘quirks’, like how stress made me hyper (manic) and then I calmed down and was fine (depressed). So we need other people to point this out. And no one ever does because it is uncomfortable or because the other person may take it poorly or it isn’t our place.
But even after identifying the problem it doesn’t get better. Bipolar patients go off their meds all the time because they believe they are ‘cured’. Because that is what society tells us. Taking pills = being sick. Not taking pills= being cured. This is a dangerous false dichotomy. It simply isn’t true. As is not taking pills = strong. Going to Bipolar Forums is terrifying for me because of the number of people who aren’t taking medicine and are expecting to control it through will power. Being bipolar means your willpower is broken. You have failed your will check. Also, physical. You don’t will a wound to stop bleeding. You apply pressure, find a doctor, and stitch that sucker.
Or you die.
So it is up to us, the cops who arrest us over and over again (I’m 4 times more likely to be arrested) or the doctors who see is for an hour once and a while or have revived us after our latest botched suicide attempt to figure out we are sick, instead of the people who know us well enough to be worried. And when we are sick we need to get better (ie cured) instead of accepting that we are neurodivergent and it isn’t are fault. We aren’t weak. And not being able to be cured doesn’t mean that things don’t get better.
I’m lucky I was hit with arthritis first. It taught me that lesson before I was diagnosed bipolar, and it was hard enough to learn when it was a fairly common physical issue. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to sort through while trying to accept that I really do go a little crazy sometimes in a world where going crazy isn’t really a thing.
But even after all this there are more problems. I have to brow beat my support network into willing to be able to point out I’m in an episode. They’ve been taught to not talk about it their entire lives and the one thing I need is for them to mention it to be. The worst case scenario is that I don’t believe you, and if I am irrational in my disbelief then they know they are right and can take appropriate actions, like telling me I really don’t need a $200 Darth Vader plushy.
My mom believes I should be off medication because I had a bad round with something that washed me out. My dad believes I should be on medication but that I was raped* in my second year of university and if I could admit it and talk it through I would come out cured.
*I was not. I’ve told him. I’m telling you on my super over share personal blog. I’ve never been raped. I promised myself I wasn’t going to consciously lie here, because the only person I would be lying to would be me. But my parents are both obsessed with the idea I will be/have been. They have problems.
Back to the main point. I’ve discovered I’m sick. I’m miles ahead of almost everyone else because I’m okay with being sick. This is something I want you all to know. Despite the fact that I have bad days, I’m actually kinda okay. I don’t resent this. I’m okay with being sick and I know the difference between being cured and being in remission and I know which one to aim for. And people still do not believe I am sick or that drugs will help. My older sister believes me when I am manic, but has not actually discussed what manic me needs (needs, not wants. Very different). She’s great with depressed me though, and to be fair I need to approach her and tell her what I need when high.
And once again, I’m lucky. I took philosophy in school and it saves my life over and over. Logic is more important to me than being emotionally comfortable, so when people tell me I’m manic I’m able to consciously consider if they are right and still make a reasonable judgment. So far they’ve always been right. And I logically know my parents are incorrect about my state and how I need to deal with it, though the idea that I can be fine and off meds is romantic and emotionally alluring, it is like a siren leading sailors to death.
And it is all of this, together, that is killing us. We aren’t sick. But if we are it isn’t real. And if it is we will get better. And if we don’t we are weak.
There is a TED talk about the speaker’s experiences with suicide. It’s quite powerful and I recommend it. I’ve linked it below. It’s not for those easily triggered, and the comments are worse. But I suggest going through them and see what I mean. There is a lot about suicide being self. There are a lot on how this isn’t the real story. There are a lot of comments that kill us.