One of my favorite quotations out there, which has greatly influenced the way I approach just about every aspect of my life, comes from the author Junot Diaz, who said once about his writing:
“You guys know about vampires, right? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist? And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”
What I love most about this idea isn’t just that it touches upon the profoundly isolating feeling of not seeing any reflection of yourself as you go through life, and gives it a name. It also tells the reader that you do not have to accept the status quo.
Now, when I’m asked to list my occupation, I reply, “Student, storyteller, and mirror-maker.” I specialize in writing about romance, sexuality, and dating, so I make mirrors for people like me: autistic folk who may have been made to feel unloved, awkward, and indeed, monstrous, when it comes to love.
When I was first diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age fourteen, I read everything that I could on the Internet about my new diagnosis, so very happy was I to finally have a label to describe what I was and how my mind worked. But in addition to being a newly diagnosed autistic, I was also, a teenage girl who got teased mercilessly by her classmates for being not feminine/girly/pretty/fashionable/sexy enough.
That left me vulnerable to believing a lot of silly rubbish about what it means to be autistic. There are books, articles and websites out there, including some from alleged autism experts with advanced degrees after their names, which say that romance for autistic people is almost impossible. I suppose we weren’t invisible altogether, but the picture I found was painfully distorted.
Then I found a sliver of a mirror when I learned that Hans Christian Andersen, the famous storyteller might have been autistic. I reasoned that if someone who wrote such wonderful fairy tales could be autistic, there was no reason why I couldn’t get in touch with my romantic side as well. A little while later, I got my first boyfriend, and that relationship was filled with all the vigor and wide-eyed wonder of any teenage first love. I couldn’t possibly doubt my ability to love and experience romance after that.
Today, it’s not nearly so hard to find stories told about autistic romance, both fiction and reality. There are autistic writers out there who, in mediums from fanfiction to autobiography, have debunked the notions that traumatized me as a teenager. I myself continue to write, both in private and public, about my own adventures in romance.
And now I also plan to use this platform of The New Normal to explore and, when necessary, critique depictions of autism in popular culture and academia – particularly those of autistic love. I’m grateful for all these new reflections, but my own experience teaches that a funhouse mirror – like the writings of so-called autism “experts” – can hurt as much as invisibility.
Leah Jane Grantham is a full-time student and part-time advocate at the University of Victoria, or a full-time advocate and a part-time student, depending on how you look at it. She’s passionate about issues related to autism, self-expression, feminism, disability rights, art, philosophy, and history. When she’s not studying or advocating, Leah enjoys painting, writing poetry, reading, and blogging. Her personal blog can be found at www.quixoticautistic.wordpress.com