Inhabit Your Weirdness*

So, it’s that time of year again.  Time to take stock of the ways the dominant culture crushes all the parts of our selves and our spirits that don’t fit with dominant paradigms, and makes us feel ashamed and wrong to be in the world with/in the unique ways that we are.

Recently, I’ve been having some “disown my weirdness / how do people ever like me if I’m this weird?” feelings.  And I do have a lot of weirdness: some (a lot of) neurodivergence, which results in unusual information processing/social skills/behaviour, emotional and physical trauma damage which ditto, multiple illnesses and disabilities that need atypical access, unusual gender/sexuality/romance alignments and relationship styles, my immigrant psyche and the cultural training from the country of my childhood, so different from super-polite Canadian society, my willingness to talk about having survived brutal multi-perpetrator abuse, etc.  I mostly love the weird things about me.  They are mine, they are hard-won, they make me me, they often make me happy/contented, the people who love me often enjoy these things about me.  But sometimes — especially after I’ve been interacting with super-normative folks and spaces — I end up feeling Wrong and like I need fixing, instead of like, “Oops, this is a reminder to go spend more time with my species”.  (And I mean that more broadly than this article.  As an ace-spectrum relationship anarchist, all relationships are Relationships to me.)

And/so I thought it was time for the seasonal “Accept your weirdness” self-workshop.

Want to join me?  (If you do, I hope you’ll take from this writing whatever is healing for you, at this time, and leave whatever doesn’t work right now.  Sharing our coping skills with each other works best, I figure, when we are totally free to tweak them to our particular needs.)

Step 1. Make a list of a few ‘weird’ things that you disown/have trouble accepting about yourself.

Step 2. Think of where these come from.  Do you have compassion for their genesis — or even outright enjoyment of these things about yourself?  E.g. I know which trauma experiences dictated my deep dislike of gore and deception in films/other fictional narratives, and I respect that I survived the horror show that was my childhood.  And I generally like that, as a result of my upbringing in a different culture and my neurodivergence, I am blunt, literal, and don’t want to commit social lies.  This makes me feel real and grounded, and not that willing to put up with bullshit.

Step 3. If you don’t have compassion or enjoyment of these qualities — could you make a list of times when you think they have harmed you in your life, and a list of times when they have helped/when folks have told you they enjoyed these things about you?  What jumps out at you?  How significant was the damage and the help?  I suggest you weight these experiences appropriately: if e.g., most of the times your weirdness has contributed to harming you, it happened in an environment that you don’t enjoy/don’t spend much time in, this might be less important than times you’ve felt appreciated for your weirdness in an environment where you thrive.

Step 4. Are these qualities that you can change?  And at what cost?  Are you willing to pay that cost?  (I’m not assuming the answer is no.  These are your choices!)  If yes, how do you want to work on these in a way that doesn’t shame who you are today, and doesn’t attempt to destroy you?

Step 5.  If these are qualities you are working on changing, what kind of self-care are you providing yourself in the meantime?  Because you won’t change them overnight, and the you that you are right now absolutely deserves gentle, appropriate care.  E.g. I used to believe that my inability to tolerate loud noises and images of blood/gore, being super-sensitive to the texture and fit of my clothes, a hatred of dating and a preference for romantic relationships that emerge from close friendships, and my difficulty making eye contact of any duration, were trauma damage, and I needed to heal them.  (I’ve since realised most of these are part of my ASD, or my demisexuality, and likely here to stay for good.)  And even as I was trying to heal these, I should have been asking myself: How can I take care of myself in the meantime, when these things aren’t better yet?  Cuz right now I still have trouble with eye contact and clothing sensitivity.

Instead, I was forcing myself to pretend these weren’t significant issues, which just made me feel helpless, bad, ashamed, and overwhelmed.  I wish I had taken care of myself and asked for content warnings and voted for appropriate-for-me film choices; I wish I had given myself acceptance about the level of eye contact I could manage on any given day; I wish I had used ear plugs and post-trigger soothing as needed; I wish I had put clothes that made me feel wrong back in the closet, instead of forcing myself to wear them.

Step 6.  Find other humans who share your weirdnesses.  There are social and support groups for autistics, non-binary-gendered and trans humans, folks with long-term trauma histories, PTSD, and DID, aces and aros, chronically ill folks, including MCS and CFS and POTS folks, just for starters.  Go; get acquainted; bond about your weirdnesses; gain knowledge of others’ coping skills and the ways they harness the power of their weird for good.  Let them role-model self-acceptance and groundedness/lack of apology for how they are in the world.  Let yourself experience what being in a (physical or virtual) room full of folks like you, who won’t reject you for that weirdness, can feel like.

Step 7.  Notice which experiences around your weirdness(es) make you feel the best.  Is it hanging out with alike folks?  Is it calmly acknowledging your difference to more-typical others, and then going on with your interaction?  Is it experiencing being celebrated for your difference?  (E.g. my loved ones love my visceral, squealing, jumping-up-and-down excitement about even small things.  I let their smiles and words of appreciation/affection about these moments nourish me.)  Is it feeling understood, and helping someone else feel understood/less alone, when you talk with your-wavelength-of-weird folks?  Is it noticing how much strength or fulfillment or professional achievement you gain from your weirdnesses?

Step 8.  Make a plan for practicing self-acceptance.  Make sure it has practical steps rather than general intention statements (e.g. “I will check out those recommended books by self-accepting autistics from the library” or “I will calmly explain, when relevant, that I don’t recognise faces well, and resist apologising abjectly when I fail to remember a face”, instead of “I’ll try not to feel shame about stimming in public”) — and include ways that your loved ones/community members can help.  Humans are social animals; we heal and practice self-acceptance best in groups.  Involve your humans in your self-love work.  Let them tell you that you are loved and special and appreciated as you are.  Let them nourish you as you need to be nourished (e.g. with trigger warnings, keeping track of your many food allergies, providing sustained intense pressure when you need help calming down, remembering to check your pronouns if they change, etc.).

Step 9.  For support and solidifying of your self-acceptance, plan to take in supportive media.  I can’t stress how important and vital that is.  Our brains (cuz humans are social creatures…) have a tendency to revert back to group-normative-think when not supported in our own unique perspective on the self.  So seek out autistic-positive, madness-positive, fat-positive, NB-and-trans-positive, ace-positive, IBPOC-centring, intersectional-analysis-providing, etc. videos, articles, photo sets, etc.  (May I recommend Kim Katrin Milan, Jes Baker, Lydia X. Z. Brown (Autistic Hoya), Kat Blacque, Annie Segarra, Ragen Chastain, The Body Is Not an Apology, and We are Genderfluid!, for starters?)  Let them re-affirm your commitment to loving yourself as you are.

Step 10.  Try to figure out what/which situations cause you to feel Wrong, or otherwise interrupt your self-acceptance project in a pretty aggressive way.  (E.g., for me it’s often hanging out in spaces where folks seem pretty normative and have a lot of privilege, or in spaces where normative communication and ways of perceiving are overvalued or, at times, required.)  Then plan to practice self-care around those factors.  This can include limiting/lessening your exposure to triggering spaces or situations, setting up aftercare with loved ones, or bringing self-care items into those situations (e.g. your favourite comfortable sweater, a hidden stim object in your pocket — or in plain view but disguised as a useful item — snack food so your blood sugar is stable, mp3 player, etc.).

Step 11.  Spread the love.  Model self-acceptance to other non-normative folks around you.  Write or vlog about your experiences.  Provide acceptance and tenderness to your non-normative clients, peers, friends, lovers, etc.  Be the change and kindness you’ve needed.

A cross-stiched phrase, "Inhabit your weirdness", surrounded by flower and leaf motifs, encased in a dark frame.
One of my partners hand-stitched this beautiful thing for me. It hangs right beside my front door, reminding me of my mission every time I go out.

(*This title phrase is borrowed from Alice Sebold’s memoir “Lucky”, which was the first place I’d heard/read this phrase used.  If you know of any earlier usage and a different person to credit, please let me know?)

Edited on 15 & 16 II 2017, for grammar issues, and adding clarifying information & links.  The meaning of the content hasn’t been changed.

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