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What 'My Body, My Choice' Means for Me as a Woman With Autism

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I attended a women’s march in my city because I am scared. I watched Trump get elected, horrified with much of the rest of my nation and the world. Like many others, I found myself in disgust over his misogynistic comments and actions, both historically and throughout the campaign. He has made sexual advances towards people of my gender, made fun of our periods, and joked that if Ivanka wasn’t his daughter, he’d probably be dating her. Talk about objectification.

Less discussed are his mocking of and attitudes towards disabled people. On television, Trump copied the arm movements of a disabled reporter for his own amusement. Not to mention that he is attempting to repeal Obamacare, denying critical care to U.S. citizens with medical conditions. Disabled people are viewed as objects too. Living at the crossroads of sexism and ableism gives me a unique perspective.

At a young age, I was diagnosed with autism, and have had various mental health conditions added to my list of disorders. I was developmentally behind my peers. At 19, I have fewer friends than the average human, and have yet to have a romantic relationship despite the desire to do so. I additionally had difficulty joining in on social situations. Even now, I don’t know how to approach strangers and feel left out during conversations.

I can’t follow instructions, unless they are concrete. I am affected by sensory issues as well, becoming overwhelmed by bright lights and loud noises. I probably despise the idea of nails on a chalkboard more than most. Being easily exhausted by stimulation, I am forced to retire early from events and can only take on so much, thus I’m often viewed as weak. I have always had low muscle tone, meaning my posture isn’t how a “lady” should look according to beauty standards. My slurred and slowed speech is a barrier to being seen as eloquent and being taken seriously.

So I learned to disguise my symptoms. I sat up straight, something my body would not allow; it led to head and body aches. My upper back muscles screamed in pain. I found joy in sharing my obsessions, which are common in people with autism, but I gradually began to hold it in because of being told not to dominate the conversation. Losing my main avenue of social connection, intense feelings of depression would kick in. I have both physical and emotional symptoms. I was in a constant state of shifting moods. I felt bland and numb, as if my life was devoid. My insides were made of sand and wax. My heart and brain became stones. Loneliness and guilt interluded my melancholy, black and blue and gnawing at my chest. When I tried to write, I either lacked inspiration or was haunted by my own creations. I had hypomanic spikes of feeling love and spirituality, but they were short-lived.

In therapy, I have had a chance to reflect where my pain and mental health issues have come from. I essentially learned at a young age that my body is not my own. As a young child, I went through occupational therapy for sensory processing disorder, in which I was shown the “correct” way to hold a pencil and draw. One of my favorite hobbies was interrupted. When I was overwhelmed, my teacher would brush me and squeeze my limbs to calm me down and make sure I sat still. Being touched in that way left me confused and taught me it was OK for people to make me uncomfortable.

I was also put through years of speech therapy to correct my so-called unusual way of talking. I was forced to practice every sound in the English language until I could say each one the way society thought I was supposed to. As I got older, we worked on prosody and rate of speech. Despite years of work, I still do not talk in a typical way. During conversations, people interrupt to correct me.

I didn’t originally think that the phrase “my body, my choice,” coined by the pro-choice movement and prominent in the wake of the election, applied to me. Probably because of my disability, I have never been catcalled or sexually harassed. I don’t fit the conventional standards of what it means to be a woman. Although I am proud to have marched, I was disheartened to see that while there were many signs for women’s rights, there were very few representing disability. It speaks to the lack of discussion about one of the most vulnerable groups, and the ways in which disability intersects with womanhood. Not having my perspective represented in mainstream feminist circles leaves me frustrated. It undermines the particular ways in which I have been objectified, and prevented from realizing that the microaggressions I experience are just as valid as the traumas other women experience from sexual harassment.

Although “my body, my choice” is not an originally inclusive phrase, it can be reclaimed to empower all women, not just those who fit gender expectations of ability. For me, it is about refusing to succumb to neurotypical standards of what is considered acceptable for a woman. People like me should not be taunted and teased for our natural mannerisms. I should not be forced to suppress my natural movements, speech, and behavior. As much as I refuse to stand for Trump’s message of hate and bigotry, I will not stand for the individuals who cherry-pick their activism to accommodate only the most privileged of women.

When I searched for quotes on feminism, I came across “Strong women: may we be them, may we raise them,” and “feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” But when I searched
for disability “activism” quotes, I found “the only disability in life is a bad attitude.” Really? Where are the quotes telling us to know and raise strong disabled people, and encouraging disabled people themselves to be strong? What about the radical notion that disabled people are people too? But then I stumbled on a quote by Helen Keller, a woman of the early 20th century who had lost her sight and hearing. Although she was not autistic and I am not deaf or blind, her words resonated with me. “I am only one but I still am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something I can do.”

I may have low energy. I may fumble over my words. I may
not have the executive functioning to organize the rallies themselves. But I can write. I can take charge of my body in my own way to reclaim myself.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Originally published: February 15, 2017
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