What is masking?
What’s it like to wear “the mask”?
When I think about these questions, my mind is brought to the traditional lucha libre wrestling in Mexico. Nearly every professional wrestler in Mexico starts out wearing a mask. The mask is sacred. The mask is their identity. They not only wear the mask in the ring, they wear it EVERYWHERE in public. Only at home and among your closest friends is your true identity known.
So let me answer the second question first. Wearing the mask is exhausting. That feeling that you must always be on. You must be ready at everyone else’s beck and call. When you are masking, your life is not your own. Your life belongs to them. They own you…because you want to have a life. Just because I am autistic doesn’t mean I don’t like to have friends. Just because I am autistic doesn’t mean I don’t want to hold down a good job that challenges me. But at what cost? As I have learned what it means for me to be autistic, I have taken the mask off.
My therapist identified it by saying I don’t care to line up for others anymore. If I’m being honest with myself, that is spot on. I really don’t care.
I still want the good job and the close relationships. I still want a life. But I have been forced to meet everyone else’s expectations at the expense of them meeting mine. Isn’t a good relationship one that involves give and take? Isn’t a good relationship one where you meet in the middle?
This is a diversity problem. People EXPECT others to be the same. Problem is, I am different. Because of that, I celebrate the difference in others. I also try and educate others what it looks like to celebrate those differences.
This brings me to the first question. What is masking? Let’s settle the argument right now… EVERYONE masks. The why and the effects are different. Those who are not autistic may need to mask at some level. You can call it social adjustment if you wish. The difference is that they understand what they are doing. It may not be exactly who they are, but it is in their wheelhouse. When I have masked, it’s like a series of lists I have in my head that I access by rote and do a linear modification on my actions. It’s really tiring because these things are not in my wheelhouse.
(You would get tired of looking at a dictionary all day to translate a foreign language in a foreign country, right?)
On “Four-Way Stop” this upcoming weekend, I’ll talk about the effects you may run in to if you take off the mask.
Also published on Medium.