Acts of Bravery at Dance Camp Wales
Dance Camp Wales is a social occasion I attend that is in many ways even less autism-friendly than the rest of the world. It does have some positive qualities though. It’s 10 days of hanging out with people who are, on average, a lot nicer to each other.
I stopped attending a few years ago, but returned last year (2017) because I was not in a good state to be at home alone. I found that many things had changed since I was last there and I ended up having the same coversation over and over and getting overloaded, so I wrote this to show to people:
HELLO FRIEND, long time no see.
Some things you should know:
- I’ve changed my name. My name is FREYR (say it like ‘FRAY’)
- I’m not a man/male. Please use gender-neutral language when speaking about me. My third person pronouns are ‘they/them/their/theirs/themself’.
- I’m autistic. Please don’t touch me without permission; and don’t take it personally if I don’t smile or don’t make eye contact, or am socially inappropriate/rude.
- I’m still dealing with Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Still mostly just trying to feel safe again.
- I’m grieving for a 6 year close friendship which came to an end last week.
This year (2018) I thought I could be a bit more prepared; I wrote a new one in my Bullet Journal and had it photocopied a bunch of times. Here’s a slightly edited version:
- I’m not okay.
- Dance Camp Wales is a scary place for me. I don’t feel safe at Dance Camp because there’s sort of an assumption that everyone has fewer boundaries and it’s considered normal to touch or hug people without consent and unexpectedly, especially if you think you know them, and since I’ve been attending since I was 3 years old, many people think they know me.
Also a few years ago when a situation occurred in which a mentally ill autistic woman’s boundaries and consent were violated in the sauna and she had a meltdown, Core Group1 at the time chose to evict the mentally ill autistic woman. It doesn’t require me to stretch my imagination that far to see myself in the same situation, treated the same way. I do not feel welcome here and, interestingly, neither do the elementals. Dance Camp Excludes.
My being here is an act of bravery. Leaving my circle2 is an act of bravery. Even leaving my tent is an act of bravery.
- I may be surly and/or growl at people.
- When I don’t feel safe, I tend to pretend that everything is okay and normal. I pretend to be neurotypical3. Sometimes very convincingly and sometimes less convincingly. I hug people when I don’t want to; I smile without joy, I make normal jokes and say normal sounding things. I do this because I’m afraid of how I would be treated if I were authentic.
This is not paranoia or an anxiety disorder - there are many, many instances in which I have been myself and people have reacted very badly. Sometimes it leads to the end of a friendship, sometimes it is even physically dangerous. Yet there are some people who appreciate my real self just as I am. So I take the risk whenever it seems safe enough.
The pretense is stressful, harmful and unsustainable for me, so I usually avoid situations in which behaviours that are unnatural to me are expected. And if it’s not avoidable, I need to rest for a long time afterwards. Needless to say, the non-autistic world i.e. the world4 is an exhausting place for me.
This phenomenon is very common among autistic people, especially those raised as girls.
- I have an invisible disability.
- I’m still learning how to speak. I’m not very good at it. Stuff comes out wrong much of the time. Even worse is when it comes out wrong but sounds like normal speech. Sometimes it comes out better when I write instead of speak, as it gives me time to process. That’s why this message is in writing and not spoken.
- I’m also still learning how to hear; how to listen. I misunderstand people. sometimes I think I understand when really I don’t, and this is compounded when I then respond in a way that seems to make sense.
- As well as autism and PTSD related cognitive differences, I’m at a point in my spiritual journey where my perception of reality shifts/flip-flops back and forth between tow profoundly different ways of experiencing everything. Eventually I will only see things the new way, but in the meantime my thoughts, speech and behaviour are inconsistent. I haven’t forgiven inconsistency yet. I’m always trying to be consistent.
- I’m telling you this because if you don’t know what is normal for me and you assume my general experience is like yours, how can we have a conversation that is normal for both of us?
- I have many unkind thoughts.
a rotating set of volunteers who run the camp ↩
everyone pitches their tents in ‘circles’ with the front facing inwards, and the camp fire in the middle, sharing cooking and other things - a community within a community ↩
what us neurodivergent people call people who have the socially acceptable neurotype instead of ‘normal’. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then you’re probably neurotypical ↩
except for some very special autistic-spaces run by autistic people ↩