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Autism: family & homophily

September 7, 2015

Feeling like a changeling or space alien growing up (un-dx’ed as autistic), I sought confirmation or disproof that I was truly related to the people I lived with, who called themselves my relatives. Thus I developed an interest in genetics in fourth grade. Blue eyes occur in both sides of my family: on my father’s side, often they’re blue-grey; on my mother’s, eyes are bright blue, or they’re cat green. My eyes are blue-green. I have the same red fleck in my eyes that occurs in my father’s mother’s family. Like my mother’s mother, I have big flat feet, a curved back, and kidney issues. Like my mother’s father, I have high cheekbones. Freckles, and severe myopia, like my father. My wavy hair is a mix of my mother’s stick straight and my father’s tight curls. I’m tall, like my Irish father; I also read somewhere that Lithuanians (my mother’s side) are, on average, the 2nd tallest people in the world, after Kenyans.

Even though all this stuff made it pretty unlikely that I was adopted, or had been switched in the hospital, the sheer preponderance of it was, oddly, reassuring —I belonged somewhere after all!

But then, behavior.

My mother seems to perceive the world as divided into very rigid categories: If you’re even a little bit in one category, then you must be all the way in it. And you can’t also be something contradictory at the same time.

I believe I was an ENFP when I was born, but as a baby, I discovered that I would be eaten alive by my mother’s overwhelming emotional needs if I didn’t develop (levels of) armor, so I became an introvert, and I switched from NF to NT. Therefore, I presented as INTP. I revered Spock on Star Trek; I aspired to being a scientist and/or philosopher. (My ‘underground’ NF self longed to be an artist and poet.)

My mother fairly consistently compared me to her sister (Aunt Carol), and to my father. I would agree that we three had things in common, but my mother would insist that I was… essentially identical to them: she (supposedly) knew exactly what they were like, therefore, she knew exactly what I was like.

This… did not match my experience at all.

For instance, I’ve been told that both my father and my aunt are ENTJs.

INTP =/= ENTJ, no matter how you parse it, although temperament (NT) is shared. (ENFP also =/= ENTJ, and temperaments, NF and NT, are distinct.)

The more my mother insisted that I was Exactly the Same as her sister, and my father, the more I felt I had to distance myself from both of them, else I’d be swallowed whole. Any differences between us would be erased in their favor, which would then be used to justify erasing what made me, me.

I will never ever ever describe anyone as Mini Me, even as a joke. It’s viscerally horrifying to hear. I’ve had meltdowns over it, and am in tears right now.

+++

Allistic people use homophily to seek out kindred spirits.

HOMOPHILY is when people like other people who are similar to themselves. In allistic people, in my experience, the similarity can be as basic as ‘we live in the same neighborhood’, ‘we attended the same school’, ‘we go to the same church’, ‘our parents know each other’, and the like. It might also be ‘we all like Dr. Who’, ‘we all write fan fiction’, ‘we all are afraid of slimy critters’, etc.

(For the purpose of this post, I’m ignoring homophily related to ethnic or racial group.)

= = =

I trust differences the way allistic people trust similarities. If I am different enough from a person I meet, I cannot be swallowed whole. I cannot be erased. I cannot be unmade.

Also, we can learn from each other.

If I’m awake, I’m probably learning something. That’s an integral part of who I am.

Therefore, people unlike myself are much more interesting and appealing to me than people I (superficially) resemble. I tend towards HETEROPHILY.

= = =

If I befriend a tree, or a bumblebee, or a river, they have no interest in erasing me — why would they? They are who they are, and I am who I am, and we’re separate, but we can like each other. Indeed, if we choose to like each other, that’s a triumph of interest, since most trees and bumblebees and rivers will befriend only their own kind. Similar to human beings.

Growing up, I had no idea who ‘my own kind’ could be said to be. It definitely wasn’t my relatives. When I had friends, it wasn’t them either. It didn’t even seem to be ‘human beings’. Terrans, maybe? Aliens? I really didn’t know.

= = =

I have a theory that allistic people’s sense of self is dispersed through their social network. Maybe that’s why conformity can be so important to social cohesion that it’s heavily policed.

My sense of self, though, doesn’t reside in anyone but me.

But that means I have to be especially vigilant in reinforcing it.

I don’t tend to trust other people’s recollections of me, since they are often/usually self-serving in how much they ‘make me’ resemble whatever matters to the people talking.

Anomalous things… disappear, or are hand-waved away as irrelevant.

A European gardener arrives in Arizona or Indiana or New York and sees a native green fruit with spines — ‘obviously’, it’s a pear, that for some odd reason has spines. Let’s name it ‘prickly pear’! While it’s true that both pears and ‘prickly pears’ are in the extremely-large group of ‘flowering plants’ (angiosperms), and they’re both eudicots, along with 70% of the angiosperms (~175,000 species), they’re unrelated at further levels of classification.

What has been gained by calling this new plant ‘prickly pear’ when it is not a pear at all?

If we try to make the ‘prickly pear’ conform to pear behavior, who benefits? Definitely not the ‘prickly pear’. Meanwhile, the ‘prickly pear’ may be exceptionally good at something(s) the pear never dreamed of doing. Will anyone notice? Hard to say.

What’s beautiful and amazing about ‘prickly pears’?

Maybe a pear would be jealous of a ‘prickly pear’, but naw, that’s crazy talk.

Maybe a pear tree and a ‘prickly pear’ cactus could become friends, if only people would stop insisting they’re the same kind of thing. (Except that the ‘prickly pear’ is clearly inferior, because Reasons.)

I can love and admire people that I have some similarity to, without having to be Exactly The Same. Indeed, if we are not the same, we are likely well-adapted to distinct circumstances. We can learn from each other in a way that not only benefits us two, but our larger cultures.

Diversity, for the win!

But only if we’re allowed to value diversity. Even when it’s ‘weird’. Especially when it’s ‘weird’.

I am interested in how people think differently. What is uniquely you? How did you notice you were different than others? What drew you to the things you loved? Why are you the person who does X? (Especially if most others do Y or Z) What things would you like to talk about or discuss, but no one else is interested? Or you bring them up, but no one knows what you mean? If someone encouraged you to explore your inner life, what might you address?

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