It happened again, this time at Michaels, the arts and crafts store. I saw you go into the store. I watched without saying anything, because I know sometimes I am wrong, but this was you, I swear it was. Still, I waited until I heard you speaking to your companion. Yes, it was you, I was sure now, so I walked to the end of the Prismacolor counter, up to the endcap where you were standing and said a long drawn out, amusing I thought, hello, and you looked at me like I might be crazy. At least I think that's what that look means. Then you were someone else, suddenly. Wrong again.
I call these events "reverse" prosopagnosia, since they are opposite the more common occurrence in which the other person says hello, not me, and suddenly they are...well, still nobody I know. Sometimes those are easier, sometimes I can "fake it", but most often the person catches on that I don't have a clue who she is or where I know her from. But still, that's easier, being seen as merely oblivious and/or uncaring. As opposed to insane. As opposed to suddenly, every clerk in the store is asking if they can help me find anything, help me at all, help me get the hell out of there as soon as possible.
Shopping while autistic, dining while autistic, walking down the street minding one's own autistic business, chirping a bit, repeating the fact that seven times seven is forty-nine, stopping perhaps to howl in the Speedway parking lot, these are not approved activities in our society. Like saying hello in a silly way to a stranger, they draw unwarranted suspicion and fear.
That really is a shame. None of these activities is harmful or threatening to anyone. They are natural to me, as much as chatting about celebrities, politics and sports are natural to NTs.
Most of us hide our "stims" in public if we can. I find that I do this less and less, at the risk of alienating NT acquaintances who are embarrassed to be seen with me. They accuse me of "acting out" or "giving up" sometimes. They remind me of those heterosexuals who would require gays and lesbians to stop "flaunting" our sexuality. To blend in. To be invisible. To not dare ask for or demand equal standing with those who adhere to social norms.
Autistics aren't even there yet.
We haven't had our Stonewall. We haven't been de-medicalized. I have had the occasion several times lately to speak about autistic civil rights. I bring this into conversations whenever I can. Outside our own autistic community, the idea is often seen as bizarre, if not ridiculous. And I believe that this is not out of spite but of ignorance and fear. People don't know us. And if we keep hiding our stims, keep up the act of "being normal", how will they ever?
Hostility toward gays is still rampant, but impressively less so than thirty years ago. The biggest factor in this is that some (not all, not most) gays and lesbians stopped hiding who they were. People started to realize that the people of whom they spoke so hatefully were members of their families, people they respected. Among enlightened people at least, being gay is no longer shameful; prejudice is shameful. But first they had to see us.
In an ideal world, I would say to the person I mistakenly greeted, "Oops, I thought you were someone else. I'm autistic". And that would be no big deal, she would know what I meant and be less afraid. Unfortunately, as things stand, such a statement might have made her more afraid.
I wish I had said it anyway. It's the sort of thing I think we need to do.