The Passer

I’m a passer: I can pass for NT, I can behave in such a way that people don’t see me as autistic. I’ve got to thank communication skills courses and years of amateur plays. And I’ve always been a kin observer of people, it helps too.

At some point at school, the very same point where I was a close to being a complete failure and I was loathing it all, I had the chance to meet a teacher I had a good feeling with, and that guy was teaching us communication skills, for IT students of all things. We were all quite bad at it, but I liked the guy, and despite looking down at the idea of faking being someone I was not, I started to listen to those things he was trying to teach us. Silly things they were, like making eye contact, having a good posture, or a measured voice.

Because of the good connection with the teacher, I was game. And then one thing happened: I was once to be an observer during a debate where others were to use those skills we were taught, and rather than just give my observations to the class, I decided to make an experience; I got up, adopted a good posture, a measured voice and talked to the teacher while making direct eye contact. And then I found myself short of material and started to ad-lib, making up stuff. And that teacher, the guy who taught me the tricks, completely felt for it

That’s when I understood how powerful the thing is, and what I had been missing for years. It wasn’t easy at first. it was actually far from natural for years, but then the other thing happened: I started to be an actor in amateur plays. Real life is not a great laboratory for social skills when you’re always afraid of being rejected, but being on a stage? Oh my! It’s like free reign: do as you wish, try whatever, you’re even allowed to try an different way to act and react to the same thing ten times in a row, and to observe people’s reaction, even have them tell you exactly what’s right or wrong about your acting, or the way you’re talking, or subtle details like what to do with your arms, what exact kind of smile to sport to make your point.

Being introduced to communication skills then spending years being regularly on a stage to experiment them is one of the most important things that ever was in my life. It’s how I went from being a clumsy teenager, who didn’t know how to talk, how to behave, even how to walk, to become someone having what has been described to me by several people over the years as having a presence.

That term of “presence”, or others expressing a similar idea, is something I heard over the years by different kind of people, ranging from girlfriends to colleagues. It’s not how I see myself: years of being ignored while in a room, at a party or trying to get something from a waiter, made me someone very insecure in that regard. But I recognize there’s something to it, that I can somehow project that in certain settings.

It’s now one of those things I see two sides of: I feel very insecure about it, I’m still traumatized by years of being ignored, and at the same time I recognize than all those years of working on it have had a tangible effect. To the point of nearly accepting it when I was recently described as a fucking planet because of the attraction that kind of presence creates.

The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. I’ve got reasons to doubt that last person’s good opinions about me. But I know people whose body language reminds me of my younger self and I can appreciate that I made huge progress since.

The final result is that, unless I’m heavily stressed, clumsiness, stimming, monotonous voice or troubles making eye contact are now very well hidden. To the point that the very idea I could be an Aspie was just a big No, even for my best friends (though it must be said that the same ones were very supportive, as in “Oh. Yes, it makes perfect sense after all”, after the diagnosis).

I’m a passer. I’m great at hiding what’s inside.

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