Passing has been on my mind since How to Play Normal resurfaced, got picked up by The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism over the course of July and August. Someone called me entitled for suggesting that it costs me more to look allistic than society to accept my mannerisms. This is always a controversial topic. Allistics want us to do it. We would rather not. We debate how much to adapt amongst ourselves. People with passing privilege can avoid some ableism, but it has drawbacks. I spent part of the afternoon mulling it over, also contemplating cars. I just sold one. I will buy another on Monday. I came up with a metaphor that might explain the situation. Passing is an old car.
People make certain assumptions about the capacity of people who drive and own cars. Getting places should take a standard amount of time for the distance. One should have a rough sense of what a trip will cost in advance, near-certainty of arrival, a grasp of how much effort it will take. That exertion should be negligible unless one is doing something most people consider unpleasant, like driving from Atlanta to Dallas in a day. There are norms.
A clunker often looks like other cars. It has the right parts in the right places. Like passing, it mimics the genuine article without holding up as well. It tends to fall apart under strain. Passing as neurotypical is like putting extra time, effort, and resources into keeping a beater rolling while everyone else drives something reliable. Old cars have a way of making one perennially stressed and late. The door needs to be beaten open. A fluid needs topping off. Something is rattling. Is it safe to drive? Like someone with clunker, autistics passing as neurotypical work harder than they otherwise would to get through a day. A jalopy owner appears to have a car, lives under the expectations placed on car owners, cannot always fulfil them.
I felt relief when I got rid of my awful car just as I do when I decide it is safe to stop trying to pass in a particular environment. Asking us to look ‘normal’ to make allistics comfortable is like asking someone to drive a decrepit vehicle because that, arbitrarily, pleases another person. If someone had asked me to keep the nightmare I drove because it kept them comfortable, I would have laughed. I chose not to maintain a ruined car, just as I do not work hard to pass as allistic when I can help it. Both are wasted effort. If seeing me drive an adequate vehicle made someone squirm, my need for safe, reliable transportation would outweigh that. Passing is the same. The effort is draining, limiting, impairing. We are not entitled when we ask to stop. We are reasonable. Things like eye contact and not stimming in public are arbitrary conventions. It costs others practically nothing to excuse us. It is a constant struggle for us to maintain the facade.