Masking and powering on when I didn’t realise I am Autistic #Takethemaskoff

I have this picture, or used to have, of me just before a short speech at a launch of a youth service.

A piece of paper is in front of me, on a desk, and I am looking up to the camera. I am in the middle of writing a speech.

I am in a red tee-shirt with short sleeves, a broad grey stripe across my chest. My chest is relatively flat because I bound my breasts. I am wearing blue jeans and black boots. A bright red cap is on my head, with an unimportant logo on it.

I remember the day vividly. It is one of the first times, if not the first time, that I drafted a speech. Usually, I’d just wing it, getting on stage and assuming I would know what to say.

This time however, I want to be more professional. I’m only feeling slightly nervous as I revise and rewrite the speech.

I am in my own little world, the only accompaniment are people in my imagination, responding to things I may say – a clap here, a handshake after, and finally telling people what I want them to know about me. I’m trying to get ready for any eventuality. I don’t want to be looked at with scorn today. This is a big day.

Finally, I finish. I relax then gaze around the room, slowly.

There are quite a few people attending this launch. Maybe forty or fifty. A number of them are gathered around a long table with food on it. ‘Food’, the thought is clear and gives me a direction. Only then do I realise that I am hungry. I either couldn’t afford too much food at the time, given my uneven spending habits, or I just didn’t want to waste time eating when I could be preparing for today.

I look at the plates on the table, one by one, noticing the different types of sandwiches, the various rolls of sushi, and taking my time deciding what drink I feel like. I load my plate, spend a minute eating in my own little world.

Then start noticing things people are saying. I hear their voices, each pitched differently, some slower, some faster, some excited, some people sound bored.

The people surrounding me and the sounds from every direction is disorienting. I listen until something sounds familiar. A lady’s voice reaches through the mess and I find it easy to grasp. I inch my way over, looking at her occasionally. Aah, she’s talking about youth homelessness. I know about this, I live in temporary accommodation after all. I almost had to live on the streets one night.

I speak as confidently as I can, masking thatt I have no idea how to start a conversation with this woman. With this group. I speak, probably too loudly, letting her know I understand what she means. Looking surprised, she smiles, and asks me who I am. I hand over my business card ‘I run a magazine’ I say. ‘Its called Cookies’.

Now I don’t know what to say. A handful of things swirl in my head, competing for my attention. They all sound trite, or possible things to be ridiculed for.

I try my best to not show fear on my face, just smile knowingly at the group conversation. This stranger might laugh at me when this event is over. I’ve got to be nice and make a good impression.

When the confusion gets too much, when I can’t think of anything to say other than a jumble of words, I say my goodbyes, thanking her for her time, and hoping she will call me about a public speaking gig.

My heart races, I am disoriented, and look around for someone familiar. Someone who I can connect a feeling to. I find someone. I introduce myself to someone I don’t know in the group. I ask a question, and I listen, able to follow the group’s sentences, but unable to figure out what to contribute. The lady I know, her familiar voice, the way she structures her sentences, her values are familiar and soothing. My muscles slowly untighten, my heart beat feels softer, and I calm down again.

Ooh, the event is starting ‘Soo soon?’ I think. I’ve just started meeting people! Well, here we go.

The youth service is described, the need for it is palpable for me. I feel like this group of people have one mind. We want to make a safe space for young Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex people (LGBTI). Kids are getting bullied at school, their parents angrily dismiss them, they have limited space to relax and just speak their minds. At the event, we know that, or we should. I wonder who here doesn’t have much experience with hanging around LGBTI young people? People from Department of Housing maybe? Other youth service workers? Who knows. There’s got to be a few here.

Its my turn to speak. My nerves build up as I walk to the stage, up the stairs. The moment I step onto the stage, I relax. I am in front of people, knowing their attention is on me, uninterrupted. These people are interested in what I have to say.

Well, I have plenty to say. I look at my notes – what to say first, what comes next, how to end it. I introduce myself and there is clapping. My body betrays me and my cheeks tighten and move up into a grin. I am blushing and broadly smiling in wonder. ‘Stop it!’ I think. ‘You’re here to talk’. So I talk. I share how I am transgender – a female to male. I have been homeless, and this house I’m in is my third supported housing service I’ve needed. This service has already helped me feel less alone. Given me somewhere safe to hang out.

Back then, I probably looked at people as a group. Not focusing in on any one person, with one exception. He is on the board of the housing service where I am living. At one point I mention them ‘Prospect House’ and look at him, so he knows that he is being acknowledged. I don’t know what I talked about that day. I just know that there was laughter once. I finished my speech, stepped down to applause, and stood next to the board member. I felt we had shared a moment of acknowledgement. He saw me on stage, and I saw him helping LGBTI youth.

Afterwards, I made my way to the food table, and introduced myself to a few more people. ‘Did you hear me? I can do speeches for you guys you know. Here’s my card’ was the general drift.

After a while, utterly exhausted, I leave and sit at the Fortitude Valley train station for a while. I just need some peace and quiet.


I did a speech recently in June 2018.

I’d prepared by brainstorming, outlining, and recording audio drafts. I listened to the final draft a few times. On the day, I fidgeted way more than I’d like. I am still very proud.

I didn’t force myself to talk to strangers. I knew what Masking was this time. Knew the Anxiety, Depression, and burnout it has caused me. I left when the room of about 15 people felt crowded and suffocating.

I slept for the rest of the day.

I was aware of my limits and to let my overactive mind time to settle down. I was not hounded by shame that I was exhausted afterwards.

Just allowed myself space to recover, in peace.


If you liked this writing style

You may like my “Getting used to places” blog post.

I share an experience of breaking up with someone in the “Sneak Peak at memoir Elusive Identity” blog post.

I also share an experience, of my teenage years, in this blog post about my third memoir. The excerpt is about halfway down the post.