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On flirting and other things that don’t make sense
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Question 1: Am I broken?
Growing up in a toxic home where emotional abuse and gaslighting was frequent, it’s really easy especially as a child who had never experience anything different to think that I was the problem. If only I could just do everything perfectly, the problems would go away, right?
I always felt different growing up too. I was uninterested in flirting until it became obvious that others thought this was strange (they nicknamed me the ice queen for starters), so then I studied flirting like an anthropologist and tested my skills on baristas at Starbucks to see if I could get free coffee. Very high success rate there for a while, and I was mostly just purposefully being friendly, maintaining good eye contact, all things that felt like not that big a deal and I still can’t really understand why people think this is flirting.
But then I’m not really great at reading people’s faces. It would probably help if I could remember to look at faces, but that’s something that’s always been a learned behavior as well, so depending on how many faces you throw at me and how tired or overstimulated I am, I have varying results with that.
As it turns out the answer to the question “am I broken?” was in letting myself sit with two other questions for a while before I was ready to answer them. Both of them helped explain why flirting never made sense to me.
Question 2: Am I queer?
Every so often a female friend of mine will post a picture of some shirtless, usually male celebrity. You know the type. Rippling abs, arms slightly flexed even though they’re leaning on something to give an air of relaxation, and they’re staring into the camera with a knowing twinkle and a half smile, or else they’re staring intensely with more than a hint of smolder. You with me? No, I’m not posting actual examples.
Then some sort of conversation would follow about how this person was one of their “exceptions” agreed upon with their husband. As in, if they got a chance to meet up with this attractive stranger they had permission to have sex with them.
I’d read these threads and think, “ewww!”
Who wants to have sex with someone they don’t actually know?
As it turns out, there’s a lot of people who’d possibly be willing to have sex with someone simply based on that person’s appearance.
Is there something wrong with me?
Some years ago a friend of mine posted that they are demisexual. Intrigued by a new word, I looked it up. Demisexual means you don’t experience sexual attraction without deep emotional intimacy.
Well, would you look at that! I’m not broken!
Acknowledging that made me realize there was another question waiting to come to the surface as well, even though I sat with it for another couple of years. Am I bi? Actually, I knew that one, I just wasn’t ready to admit it, so perhaps sitting with these questions is a way of letting truths we don’t want to admit to ourselves rise to the surface.
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Question 3: Am I autistic?
I knew my husband had ADHD when I married him and other than some time-blindness and a habit of leaving the kitchen cabinets open, it didn’t really affect our relationship much. Then our oldest was diagnosed at the age of five.
So because I wanted to be a good mom to the kid in front of me, I started reading up on ADHD and neurodivergence. I read everything I could get my hands on. You might say it became a special interest. Yeah, you see where this is going.
I followed adult autistics and ADHD’ers and those with combined diagnoses. And the more I read, the more I was like, well if that’s ADHD, and that’s Autism, at what point do I just admit that I am both Autistic and ADHD? I finally had a conversation with a friend of mine about it, someone who’s worked with many autistic individuals in her life. She’d been telling me how she can spot it in folks, now and so I just paused and asked her, “Have you ever thought I was autistic?”
“Oh yeah,” she responded without missing a beat.
And that set me off on a journey to try to confirm it. I still have yet to receive a formal diagnosis because I haven’t found a way to do so that’s covered by insurance. There’s a lot of acceptance in the Autistic community for self-discovery, but me wanting to be thorough recently embarked on another step, something a friend of mine calls peer-reviewed diagnosis.
Basically I found two decent online tests used in teaching about Neurodivergence, and I sent them to about a dozen friends so far and asked them to share their scores. I sent them to people I knew had formal diagnoses, and 2 neurotypical friends (I have a few more than 2, I swear). We took the tests and compared scores and the test scores held up. Autistics tested Autistic, ADHDer’s tested ADHD, and some people, like me tested both. I tested more ADHD than my husband.
I will still get a formal evaluation if I can find a way to do it that doesn’t cost something around two thousand dollars out of pocket.
It’s funny, I’d worried about writing about being Autistic before getting a formal diagnosis, but it turns out the only people that ever question my use of this label are neurotypicals, and I’m beginning to worry about that less and less.
Question 4: Why does it matter?
Letting myself sit with these questions allowed me to come to a newer, kinder understanding of myself. It also let me stop masking so much.
For those of you unfamiliar with the idea, masking is something Neurodivergents do to attempt to have Neurotypical-friendly conversations. We measure eye contact in whatever doses we can stand, develop personal tools to remember what we wanted to say without interrupting the other person (it’s not because we don’t care about what you’re saying, it’s just so easy to lose our own thought), we avoid info dumping, or sharing personal stories to identify with what you’re going through because even though this is normal communication for us, we’ve been told it’s rude and selfish.
We try to figure out how to couch what we’re saying because we’ve been told our directness is “blunt and rude.”
But really why it matters to sit with these questions and accept the eventual answers is that no one should walk around feeling broken and out of place. I’d been using neurotypical standards for everything and nothing worked properly. When I stopped, I began to find tools that not only worked for me, but were so much less exhausting.
I watched a recent Netflix RomCom this past week while recovering from Covid, and the premise of the story is a young woman whos an aspiring musician can’t really make a go of her music career because she’s working full time as a waitress while driving for lyft and door dash, and struggling not to be evicted because she has medical debt from a diabetes diagnosis.
She ends up in a marriage of convenience with a US Marine so she can get the insulin she needs and not, you know, die. Also the Marine gets a pay raise that he splits with her and she suddenly is getting another thousand dollars a month which allows her to stop driving for Lyft and Doordash.
Now over the course of the movie, they fall in love, and her music career takes off. The movie implies that it’s because of the love, but I’m sitting there watching it and thinking, gee, when you have proper healthcare and don’t have to work eighty hours a week, it really frees up the brain to create.
Implications for nationalized healthcare and a universal basic income aside (not too far aside, though, you know me), being able to stop masking has been something like that for me. It’s amazing how much more creative I can be when I’m not spending so much time questioning myself in unhealthy ways and replaying every conversation I’ve ever had to spot the errors. Okay, I still do some of the conversation replaying, but it’s a hard habit to break.
So what are my current questions?
A musician acquaintance of mine posted recently and asked if people actually liked his music, and I was shocked because of course I think his music is brilliant and that should be obvious to him. But it also made me realize that I often sit here and go, why am I writing? Is anyone reading this?
I’m still surprised when people tell me they’ve read Inward Apocalypse. I mean, I did write a book with the idea that people would read it, but still.
And then I flip and struggle with disappointment because more people aren’t subscribed here, or more people aren’t reading Inward Apocalypse.
I hesitate to share any of this because I’m not actually looking for affirmation, but rather sharing current questions.
Am I a good writer? (So subjective! Lol). Am I foolish to continue to pursue this? Is it a vanity exercise? Why am I writing? Who is it for?
There’s no real way to answer these without just continuing to try. I am a firm believer that each of our stories matters and that sharing them with each other is how we build a better world where everyone can thrive.
What questions are you sitting with today?
What got me started thinking about questions in the first place was the song Judas by Joy Oladokun, which consists almost entirely of questions and it’s so, so lovely. Here’s her video:
And while we’re jamming together, check out “Fly”!
“There is a truth that can heal us if we let it…” This is a lyric from the epic new anthem “Fly (aka Fortune’s Song),” Co-produced by Lisa Sharon Harper and Andre Henry, performed by Andre and written by Lisa with Common Hymnal’s Phillip Joubert and Vincent Charlow, mixed and mastered by Jay Kale. Inspired by Lisa’s book, Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World–And How To Repair It All, “Fly” is a clarion call to truth-telling and repair in an age when state governments are legislating the suppression and twisting of history. “Fly” offers us a way forward; daring us to dream of the healing truth can bring, if we let it.
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“I wish I could still believe in God, but I can’t be a Christian anymore because of ______” Fill-in-the-blank with racism, misogyny, homophobia, toxic capitalism, and so on. I’ve had this conversation with different people almost word-for-word over and over. White American Christianity has so defined God that many people cannot separate God from the toxic theology they were taught.
But this isn’t the God I see in the Bible. The Bible shows us a God meeting people where they are and nudging them towards justice and total thriving for all: shalom. The Bible details arcs of justice and societal reform. If we understand how radical those arcs were in the context of the day, we can extend them forward into the future and figure out how to work for justice, total thriving, and societal reformation in our day.
I grew up in that first world view. Come along, and I’ll tell you the story of how I escaped, and I’ll show you a theology that I believe paints a more accurate picture: a faith for the common good where everyone thrives and no one is left out.
Anna Elisabeth Howard writes highly caffeinated takes on shalom as a lens for everything from her front porch in Hendersonville, TN where she lives with her husband and two sons. She is a community organizer and movement chaplain with a background in youth and family ministry and is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary. An avid hiker and backpacker, many thoughts start somewhere in the middle of the woods, or under a waterfall. She is a regular contributer to Earth & Altar and her latest book is Inward Apocalypse: Uncovering a Faith for the Common Good.
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