Let’s talk about masking today
Let’s talk about masking today
What is masking? Can masking be a privilege? Can masking be a skill you can learn or a trauma response? Autistic people live in a society that doesn’t consider their disability; our world was built with non-autistic people in mind

And that’s why it’s hard to function for us. Many of us said that they feel like everyone else has that inherent understanding of how everything works: what is socially acceptable; how to show and feel empathy; how to initiate conversations; how to keep friendships or romantic relationships; how to be human… and so on. It’s like non-autistic people got a rule book we can’t find, we can’t read, we can’t understand. And we need to figure everything out to fit it, to make connections, to get a job, to avoid being bullied or judged. But how can we do that?

Some of us will learn how to mask. We observe how other people interact with each other, how they talk, how they walk, how they act in certain situations, how they use their body language. We can learn these things from other sources too, for example, books, magazines, TV shows, films, cartoons. Some autistic people practice their facial expressions looking in a mirror to see how to get a proper reaction on their faces. In this way we can think of it as a skill that can be really useful.

Some of us will learn how to mask. They will learn to camouflage their true self, their autistic traits when other people bully them, harass them, judge them, ignore them, exclude them, hurt them… abuse them. A coping strategy they developed due to trauma and an unconscious way that can help them to survive. “It’s not safe to be myself” we think and try to blend in.

But at what cost? It’s exhausting. It’s painful. It’s confusing. It’s performing even when nobody's watching. It’s about being scared to be ourselves, to show even a tiny little bit of our true identity. It can lead to mental health problems too: depression, anxiety, autistic burnout. Can we call it being a privilege based on all of these?

But can it give us access to good stuff? It can be a way to enter a college, to get a job, to make friends, to be safe. Not all autistic people can mask, can learn how to mask, can do it so others will buy it. Some of us wish they could, at least, seem like a non-autistic people for a moment, to feel that they belong, to be able to suppress “socially unacceptable” behavior and have some opportunities in life they don’t have because they can’t mask their autism, even if they are being traumatized by other people, by their caretakers. So what is it?

I don’t actually have a right answer here. It’s up to you to decide, to think about and to realize some things about how this world works, how inside our marginalized group we have more marginalized ones, how draining it can be, how it can literally save your life when you are not visibly autistic (especially for BIPOC autistic people), how it can mess up your sense of self, how it can give you some opportunities.

I just hope that one day we won’t need to discuss this topic because we can finally be safe to just be. But for now… we need to use what we have in given circumstances. Next time we will be talking about an unmasking process. Thank you.

Anna Green Moon

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