Finding Balance Between Masking and Living Authentically

As an autistic person, it is exceptionally hard to live authentically in the world. Most of the world is not particularly friendly to those who develop in their own time and space. We prize conformity and a certain pacing for development that is just impossible to meet. I wrote about this to some degree in my guest post on Nicky Collin’s phenomenal blog and service site. There I was considering how being queer in some form and being autistic are very much postively correlated, and how being part of one spectrum makes it easier to accept being part of another. 

All this thinking through spectrums came during my first week back in the classroom. I teach algebra at a local high school, and I am finding to what extent I have to compromise to preserve my sanity. And like most autists – I’d prefer an all or nothing scenario. 

But beggars can’t be choosers as they say.

Being literal minded and missing out on some of the social cues makes working with other people rather difficult. In my case, two of my colleagues who are NT, like most educators, are thinking of doing something else because the war on public education has made this job absolutely untenable. Huge classes, lack of state and local support, rabid parents (not all, but they exist of course), and a generally broken system full of lost kids. And a lone teacher standing against it all. Most have given up or are wondering if the cost is too high.

Add to that the absolute lack of any mitigation in the midst of two pandemics, and if you know me, you know I am having a very hard time keeping my mouth shut. I mask well, generally well enough to be surprising when the mask slips. And when tired and under undue stress because of the way we do education around here, the mask slips, and truths get littered around like tiny little bombs.

Exhibit A: 

Colleague: I hate this place!
Me: Well there is a staffing shortage everywhere if you are really unhappy. That’s what happens in a mass death and disability event. You have choices as still alive and able.
Colleague: What?
Me: We are in a mass death and disability event with no precautions. Other jobs exist if you really hate it… 
Colleague: I’m here for the kids. 
Me: Oh, but you just said….nevermind. 
Colleague: *gives side eye*

Exhibit B:

Student: Why are you still wearing a mask?
Me: Because over 3000 Americans have died so far this August already from COVID.
Student: What? Really?
Me: Yup. And as much as I love breathing easily, I prefer to do it while not intubated. I also prefer continuing to do it.
Student: Damn. That’s harsh.
Me:  Yuuuup, but true.. 
Student collective: *side eye given*

We will see how this journey continues. I worry what happens when it becomes overly clear I am not “normal” in my reactions. I worry about the brutality of the students and the other teachers. I worry, and that is probably one of the worst things about the mask slipping (beyond the emotional drainage of it). 

And this is why Nicky’s blog request resonates so thoroughly. Growing up queer in Texas meant that I hid who I am. Growing up autistic in this late-stage capitalist hellscape meant I hid who I am. Post burn-out, post diagnosis, I worry what happens when I can no longer hide who and what I am. 

I am also thinking what in the hell made me think I should teach high school. And then I remember that, like my colleague, it’s really for the kids. I’ve already picked out my autistic buddies, and I want to make sure they find space in my classroom to be safely themselves.

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