When you tell me that I do not look autistic, I do not see little blond boys on brochures and PSAs, bound and gagged by wads of cash, with puzzle pieces forcibly superimposed over their souls. I do not see static images, silenced and easy to swallow, frozen in time and space because the alternative is communication and the alternative is terrifying to you.
I see the amorphous ‘us,’ a million faces that will never see the light of an awareness campaign. Inconvenient activism, your failed Peter Pans, all grown up and ripping the gags out of our mouths.
When you tell me that I do not act autistic, I do not see my soul mapped out in train tracks or written in constellations. My spirit is not shrouded in the things you have given me permission to love. I do not and will not solve for X in order to find myself.
I find myself in the treasure map of every book I have ever read, the secret code of my favorite songs, the trail left behind by all the things you have deemed me incapable of understanding. I find myself when I pry the pieces bit by bit out of the box you have shoved me into, and I am the only one left unsurprised when none of those pieces are missing.
When you tell me that I do not sound autistic, I do not hear silence.
I hear communication both verbose and wordless. I hear the shouting of millions of loud hands, begging not to be silenced. I hear advocacy that cannot be contained by the arbitrary rules of what you say that it sounds like. I hear cries for justice that you have seen fit to ignore for all of these years.
When you tell me that I do not seem autistic, I hear every friend I ever believed that I could confide in, asking me if I am sure. I hear my family drawing lines in the sand between what they know of autism, and what they know of me. I hear every person who has ever said “I never would have guessed” and expected me to respond with “Thank you.”
When you say that I do not seem autistic, I learn more about you than I do about myself.