A few words about unmasking

I presume if you’re interested in neurodiversity (and I guess you are if you’re on my blog) you might have heard about unmasking movement. It has nothing to do with taking off the masks we were supposed to wear because of Covid pandemic.

Masking is all the effort autistic people do to appear neurotypical, and I do admit it is an extreme demand for us and it may cause meltdowns. So some autistic people came up with the idea that we should stop masking and just ‘be ourselves’. And believe me, I tried that. I was diagnosed 6 years ago so I had plenty of time to see how unmasking works, and I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t.

One of the problem with unmasking is that I pretty much don’t have any demeanour, just totally none. Everything that I do around other people is form of acting, absolutely everything, there is no ‘me’ when I’m with others, not even with my partner. So if I want to unmask I need to ignore people totally and only talk to them when I actually need something practical from them. But then, what people think is, that I don’t need any social interaction, which is not true. I still need social interaction and the only way of getting my social needs met is by playing a role, which is masking.

I am now trying to refrain from playing a role of confident and lively person, as that is too difficult, and would be especially impossible to keep playing it consistently. Instead I choose to play a role of a polite introvert, which is much easier, but again the problem is I don’t really think I’m an introvert. Therefore once in a while I allow myself for an outburst of extraverted energy that, I suppose, is confusing for people. But still, all of that is masking, just in a way that works better for me and isn’t very taxing.

The other thing that I don’t like about ‘unmasking movement’ is that I really believe that we should make an effort to see things from another person perspective. And to be honest that isn’t that difficult, after I’ve done it a couple of times. Unmasking doesn’t allow for that, instead it all focuses on us, up to a point when it can get very sad.

So basically I saw that post today on one of my Facebook groups today. Post was done by a neurotypical wife of an autistic man, and a mum to an autistic child. She complained that their child, autistic as I said, is very sensitive to how his autistic dad talks: child feels rejected by dad’s harsh tone of voice. The mum was asking how to handle that and asked for autistic people only to comment. There was one single advice there: please explain to the child that dad doesn’t mean anything wrong, he’s just like that.

And I thought, seriously? Clearly the fact the child is autistic is not preventing them from being put off by harsh tone of voice, so it is not true that autistics will always be able to communicate well with each other, so why no one says that the dad needs to practice to talk in a more gentle way?

Neurotypical parents constantly look for ways to improve communication with their kids so why are we not expecting even this tiny effort from an autistic parent? So that they didn’t need to mask? And instead we require the child, also autistic, to understand.

Is that really what we want from an autism awareness?

4 responses to “A few words about unmasking”

  1. I think some degree of regulating one’s own behaviour for the sake of others is a basic part of being a socially functional human being. If someone annoyed me, I might have the urge to say something nasty to them, but it’s better for everyone involved if I keep a lid on that reaction. I think some degree of unmasking, whether that’s autism or depression or whatever, could be empowering, but if I fully unmasked and just let ‚er rip, I would have zero people in my life because people would run screaming.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree that some degree of behaviour regulation is part of living in a community of other people. as an autistic friend of mine (and retired health practitioner) likes to say „there are some rules everyone has to follow, no matter who you are. Disabled or not.” This, in my opinion, is different from masking. Masking is doing things that are contradictory to who one is as a person, and often feels destructive. Making an effort to get along with other people, without betraying one’s own sense of self is not masking, that’s just being a decent human being. That said, there is such a thing (and too many autistics seem to think this is acceptable, even appropriate) as taking things too far in going the other way. Being deliberately rude, or offensive, or not making any attempt to behave in a reasonable manner when someone has pointed out to you that someone you’re doing comes across as offensive, is never okay. But neurotypicals do think they have a right to have a stranglehold on what’s considered „acceptable”, and do have a tendency to take offense at things that they have ‚read in’ to a situation or interaction that never existed or were never intended by the other person (autistic or not). There is a balance that needs to be struck, for sure, between advocating for oneself, and one’s ability to just be different, and fitting in for the sake of fitting in. It’s something I’ve managed to find, but it certainly took work, and the support of a community of other autism and disability rights advocates. And of course, different people will always have different opinions about how much diversity they’re willing to accept. (which is a whole separate subject.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oops. Sorry about the typos. I meant to say „when someone has pointed out something you’re doing” not „someone” – obviously. And apparently there were issues with the quotation marks for some reason.

      Liked by 1 person

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