D.L. Mayfield interrogates, as a late-diagnosed autistic, whether or not the pursuit of healing itself somehow can become twisted into a kind of masking.
Like so many late-diagnosed autistic people, autism itself became my new special interest, and it gradually morphed into a special interest in healing from the impacts of a society that not only doesn’t accommodate neurodivergence but a society that has wounded me in multiple ways. From high control religion to compulsory heteronormativity, the impacts of being pressured to conform from a young age have built up in my body.
Why would this interest in healing itself become camouflage? She writes of the temptation of wanting others to see her as healed—a kind of performativity.
I saw a Tik Tok that mentioned the pursuit of healing can be another form of masking for autistic people. A way to prove our self worth and to prove we are doing well (or at least working on being less of a bother to other people). It is a way to fit in, and a way to get positive encouragement. When actually it can be a way for us to continue to hate ourselves—by fixating on “healing” what’s “broken”.
I’ve talked before about how psychotherapy either can be engaged in social work or in social control—something to which I’ve returned now and then)—and the same can be said of our own search for health. Mayfield notes that she does "not want to heal in order to make people more comfortable" but "because I want to be alive".
To be concerned with other people seeing you as healthy, let alone with making people comfortable or being less of a bother, would be a kind of internalized social control.
In an earlier piece, Mayfield suggested that conversion therapy is everywhere, and I’d argue that in fact its the extreme and more directly violent form of a more general conformation therapy we’re all being subjected to simply by living in a world built to enforce normativity and productivity.
We’re implicitly and explicitly told that our value and our worth come only at the expense of our sense of self. It’s something I’ve described in the past as a kind of "background radiation" to which we’re all exposed, consciously and unconsciously alike.
The age of self-abandonment is over, however. The rest of my life will be spent unpacking the masking skills I honed in order to survive a culture hell-bent on homogeneity. I’ve recently discovered I’ve been undergoing what amounts to conversion therapy for most of my formative years, and the impacts of that are real—for my mental and physical health, the way I relate to people, and even to my current ability to engage in spiritual practices (spoiler alert: I can’t!).
Self-abandonment precisely is what everyday conformation therapy seeks to instill in us. It necessarily seeks to negate solidarity and capacity. It’s why mental health, of course, must be political.