Why Asking “What’s Your Name and Pronouns?” Can Add to Anxiety

Feature image description: Image is of a rainbow flag high above the clouds. The background is a blue sky with clouds and very distant terrain.

(CN for mention of misgendering)

Hi all,

Autistic LGBTQ+ people struggle to integrate into LGBTQ+ spaces for a variety of reasons. One of these reasons is to how inaccessible dedicated clubs and spaces for LGBTQ+ people can be due to sensory overload. However as someone who is at the start trying to integrate into these spaces to help me become comfortable with myself (as I am still in the closet) I am hitting the first hurdle and I’d like to talk about that a bit today. The hurdle is the very question used to help introduce people into LGBTQ+ spaces so people know how others want to be identified and that is…

“What’s your name and pronouns?”

Now before I continue I want to make it crystal clear that I fully support trans issues as well as the normalisation of pronouns. In other words – all the motives behind this question. I myself am trans and I don’t identify with any gender on a deep level however I do wish to be treated and seen as feminine hence the need to disclose pronouns.

Disclosing pronouns makes it easy for trans people to work out who is safe to be around as many people who do not disclose pronouns aren’t allies to trans people. Furthermore, as gender is different for everyone and there are more than two there is the need for language to change and reflect this (or be normalised in the case of the singular pronoun “they”).

However, I do think in certain situations the way this question is asked can potentially make LGBTQ+ spaces inaccessible for autistic people – and by extension those that have anxiety. Hence this is something I’d like to talk about today.

Imagine this – you are an autistic person whom has just realised they are LGBTQ+ and need to seek friends in real life for support. You’re not fully out to the world and you need to get a bigger support network who will lift you up rather than put you down. You managed to get to one of these groups overcoming deep anxiety and fear of the unknown. Will you be accepted? Can you trust the people here to keep your secret safe until you’re ready to show the world?

You are too anxious to talk to others. There are so many people here talking to each other. Some people are out whereas others are in the closet. This environment is unfamiliar and you are getting exhausted due to all the sensory input. You feel like you could be welcomed and accepted here – but also very anxious at the possibility of having to deal with awkward situations with the other people there until you feel comfortable opening up. The anxiety won’t go away until you feel comfortable trusting them with your orientations.

You want to trust others here but you know it will take time and effort on your part and theirs. They may be willing to play ball so you’re going to give it a chance. But for now you only feel comfortable passively participating in the events. In other words – say what you feel comfortable saying and don’t pressure yourself.

You hear the organiser say “So before we begin we are going to go round and ask everyone’s names and pronouns.” Oh no. You’re going to have to out myself to other people before you’re ready. The reasons are perfectly understandable but is only heightening your anxiety. This goes against the mental plan you had in mind and may only make things harder for you in the long run.

People start responding to the question in order around the way you were all sitting. There’s so many different names and pronouns. You can’t go by how people present so you have to try to remember what they say even though it is difficult for you due to your anxiety. It got overwhelming. There is no way you are able to remember them all. Then the question finally got to you.

“Erm…I don’t really feel comfortable answering that,” you meekly say with visible anxiety in your voice.

It feels like a cop-out. You want to say “Hi I’m [redacted] and my pronouns are [pronoun 1/pronoun 2] but the nerves are just too much. You’re too shy and you wonder if other people feel that you aren’t interested in engaging or whether you aren’t safe because you aren’t disclosing your pronouns.

This was me at my first LGBTQ+ event. So in short – the pronouns question is giving me anxiety because it is putting me on the spot before I am ready to give the answers. This is because I am shy and am finding the unfamiliar situation overwhelming for me.

On social networking sites like Twitter disclosing pronouns is much easier. The pressure is off as users putting pronouns in their bio gets around asking the questions directly. Not to mention online spaces are often the only place somebody can be themselves before they are able to out themselves in real life.

Transferring this idea of having name/pronouns written down in real life support groups would be a good idea. Having stickers with your name and pronouns written on them would greatly help people like me better remember how to address people properly and avoid misgendering or calling people the wrong names by accident.

Similar systems are used at some left-wing conferences where pronoun stickers are given out to the guests for free as well as colour coded lanyards to indicate whether somebody is OK with strangers talking to them or not. This is one common way to improve accessibility for disabled people and would be worth transferring into communities outside of disability and left-wing environments as well. This would also help people who find it difficult to remember individual names and pronouns due to anxiety, cognitive disabilities and other reasons.

Another idea that I feel is worth suggesting could be simply just saying “you don’t have to answer if you don’t feel comfortable” in group-based situations. I had this happen when I was talking to individuals and it greatly helped my confidence. I can come out of my shell in my own time and express myself more freely when I felt comfortable. In that context I was known as someone “with no name or pronoun” which was fine by me. This is how it should be in general. In LGBTQ+ spaces this is important and also in neurodiverse spaces too. Not having that contributed to my anxiety in the group environment.

Maybe as time goes on and I integrate into these circles more and build a support network I will make some friends and this initial barrier will lower. The barriers are lower however right now it is a formidable obstacle and I need to do my best to find a way to overcome it. I am still at the start of my journey and I’d wager my view will deepen as I gain more knowledge about LGBTQ+ issues. In the meantime, I’ll likely produce labels and badges myself to take the pressure off me a bit as I can simply direct others to my labels.

LGBTQ+ circles – please think about how establishing names and pronouns could add accessibility barriers for autistic LGBTQ+ people. More autistic people are LGBTQ+ than the general population so you’re missing out on a lot of us if you don’t make your spaces accessible.

Best wishes,

Subtle

(@subtlykawaii)

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An Autistic Perspective on… Being Referred to as a “Best Friend” for the First Time

(Content note: two mentions of fake/toxic friendships)

Hi all,

Today’s post is going to be a little different. The situation I am describing in today’s post happened to me a couple of weeks ago. After originally writing out my thoughts I decided to modify them into a blog post in the hope that this might help somebody whom has been in the position being describe understand a possible cause of somebody’s behaviour. I elaborate on the social situation first with possible interpretations before adding my own.

This is the best way I can work out how to phrase it so please bare with me. You work/study at the same university as this other person that you have been talking to for a while. Somebody whom you’ve found you have lots in common with and that has helped you a few times and vise versa. Someone whom you make some kind of connection with and they feel the same towards you. You also find out that they are on the autistic spectrum and/or infer it from their behaviour. This person is someone who you feel you can depend on. Then you feel that you can tell them that you consider them your best friend, and that you are here for them and you want to help them if they need to – in other words, explicitly showing closeness and/or the desire to foster it with them. You may find that if you do, they may not be sure what to say or be hesitant with what they do say. This is what happened between me and my friend (“You” referring to my friend and the other autistic person refers to me).

There is the possibility that this is the first time that the autistic person has heard somebody say this to them having gone through life with little to no friends or no close friends. They may be happy or cry at the thought of finally feeling that their desires to make friends has been seemingly validated by someone else. They may worry that their response may make you lose interest in being her friend so is anxious about how to respond. This is on top of the usual processing time and other communication difficulties that is part of autism.

Of course, there will likely be subconscious doubts as well going through their mind. “What if they turn out to be a fake friend or worse?” and “Are they just saying this so I can let my guard down?” are just two of many possible thoughts in this situation. With autistic people being generally more vulnerable as well as more experienced with fake/toxic friendships many are naturally on guard, and rightfully so. The “fake/toxic friend” checklists that they have drawn up from their own experiences and/or manually learn from lists come into play here. “Am I really making the right decision investing so much into this person?” is a common though with both NTs and autistic people however it is even more important for the latter. Every friendship is essentially a risk and both NTs and autistic people know this. However, some autistic people have been so badly burned in the past they have given up on friendships altogether (or even hate neurotypicals).

For me personally, I wasn’t really sure how to react to this situation when it happened to me and I’m still not. I haven’t really had anybody I would consider a best friend through my whole life, just “good friends” or blood relatives so adjusting to the thought of adjusting to being called a “best friend” is very difficult. I consider the person that said this to me as a “good friend,” but as he knows about me being autistic I felt comfortable explaining that I didn’t really know how to take it. He worked out that it was because I’m not used to it. It saved me a lot of work and that aspect I’m grateful to him. I think I feel this way about other strong bonds too (like being somebody’s significant other or referring to someone else as a family relative “from another mother”) though I don’t fully understand it. From what I can infer there’s a lot of social signifiance to these references which are normally used for close friendships.

However, there is one major takeaway I’d like everyone reading this to take with them – Autistic people make some of the best friends around whether we are your best friends or not. We are faithful to you and the friendship and resist badmouthing you. We usually have a strong sense of right or wrong and we tell it to you like it is. You will know where you stand with us. Just like you want friendships, most of us want friendships too (contrary to a common believe about autistic people). We may not know what to do or show it in a neurotypical or autistic way, but we do care about you. We may not feel the urge to contact you frequently (a common feature of many NT friendships) possibly due to anxiety or other reasons. There may be certain environments we don’t want to go to with you (ie. pubs, bars, theatres) due to sensory issues or because they need to socially recover from the day ahead or adhere to any routine we have. We may feel the urge to return the favour to you and they likely will someday. After all, you are somebody whom is showing to them what often very few people do – genuine friendship. Of course, there are exceptions to what is stated in the above paragraph.

Autism alone does not indicate whether a friendship is good or not as that comes down to other factors. To give a few starting points – how well does this person treat me? Do we have something in common? How often do we contact each other? Am I comfortable with this person? There are some autistic people that do create fake/toxic friendships too but that is not because of autism rather other factors.

If you see someone you know be a bit uncomfortable with the thought of being referred to as your best friend, consider anything brought up in this post as a possible reason. Feelings cannot be predicted of course so these possible situations are just hypothetical examples that differs from person to person. In that sense the best thing to do may be simply to ask them or at least try to infer meanings from their body language/speech if you feel you are good enough at doing that. It is important to hear about perspectives like this however – these perspectives typically don’t appear in the usual NT information sphere and this has led to countless misunderstandings across the world.

Long live authentic friendships.

Best wishes,

Subtle

(@subtle_writes)

 

No, “Biting the Bullet” Does Not Help With Social Anxiety

(Content warning: descriptions of anxiety attacks and autistic meltdowns)

Hi all,

This is only the second post here on Subtle Writes, but it is going to be a venting post I’m afraid as I need to compile my thoughts based on an event that happened recently that is really stressing me out. It’s themed around social anxiety and the telephone.

Social anxiety is one of those things that many people, especially those on the autistic spectrum, will carry with them during their lives. For me, I’m one of the lucky ones whom has had their confidence/skill blossom throughout the last five years. It still is bad in some aspects, but one area that I still seriously struggle in is using the telephone. I am fine with people I know like my family and the doctors (and even then, that took a LOT of work on the part of my mum helping me get the confidence I needed to phone them) however for total strangers the anxiety can be debilitating. I can stress out, freeze in place, panic and begin to overthink the situation. Badly.

Let’s take a step back to explain some background. I need to acquire an important document and I need to fill in an application form in order to acquire it. I have some enquiries I need to ask to ensure that I am on the right track, as there are a few things I needed to clarify. If I fill in the application wrong, they will reject the forms but not give me a specific reason for the rejection. There are four general reasons as to the rejection given on their website but that is all the information that is available to the general public.

The only options that I am able to contact them with enquiries is over the phone or via fax, but not over email. In fact, even on the website it states in bold red letters that they will not accept enquiries about this certain document over email. Why would any organisation in a developed country not accept enquiries over email? Email is (especially for my generation) the dominant method for formal written communication with pretty much everything else being done over SMS and social media. Fax is simply irrelvant.

What made it worse is that I had judgemental people around me saying things like “[Subtle], you need to bite the bullet and just do it.” and “If you don’t do this, you can’t go.” With regards to this – I thank you from the bottom of my heart for stating the obvious. It was if I needed some kind of reminder as to how important obtaining this document is, as without it I literally cannot do what I need this document for.  You don’t seem to understand how I feel or appreciate how hard it is for me to do something that for you is likely so simple, maybe even second nature. Telling me to just “bite the bullet” or “feel the fear and do it anyway” – those metaphors are illogical nonsense that do not serve to make me feel any better or act as any motivator for me to do what I know I need to do any faster.

Furthermore, there is the question “how are you going to cope with this in the future?” Why thank you for worrying me unnecessarily, this is exactly what I need! If you are going to state the elephant in the room at least try to offer some kind of solution that is more than just “bite the bullet.” A solution to help with the anxiety (aka the actual problem) would help give me something to think about at least even if it was backhandedly conveyed alongside unhelpful nonsense. Failing that, don’t say anything at all.

social-anxiety

Making a phone call like this requires preparation for me – usually a whole day. I can feel happy, confident and optimistic at the start of the day but then when I am getting myself in the position to make the call I am frozen while panicking inside. It serious threatens to undo my hard work mentally preparing myself to make the call in the first place. I become more sensitive to sensory input, volatile and grumpy. The perfect concoction for a meltdown. If you talk to me, I might flip. I may be rude. I’ll need to be left alone, maybe even power nap like I did that day. The last thing I need is ignorant unsupportive drivel that doesn’t add anything meaningful to the discussion.

There is also the alternative route of getting somebody else to ask the questions for me. It eases the anxiety, but that also hinges on them knowing what I need to know and getting this information adequately. I asked the person that said “If you don’t do this, you can’t go” for help and I got brushed away before they said that. I had everything written down so it was a case of asking them and making notes. I haven’t asked the person who would ask me to “feel the fear and do it anyway” yet, but I have a feeling I may have to and they would likely do it for me. Not everyone whom is saying these things are ignorant but alas it goes to show the lack of understanding in this world.

As for other alternatives, I could go down to their office in person myself and asking my questions, but is it really worth a day trip to London just for that? I’d have to come back again to hand the application form in and possibly a third time to pick up the document (unless they mail it to me, I don’t know). That will cost hundreds of pounds in train tickets, so I will not be doing that especially as I have money to save.

In the end, I am just going to go the faxing route. Turns out you only need a PC, a phone cable and a fax modem to send faxes over a PC without the need for a fax machine if you can’t find one in person. in fact, acquiring a fax modem is fairly easy so that is what I will do. If anything, if I can pull this off I will be proud of myself for learning how to fax which may even help me land a job when I graduate. Ideally, I would prefer to use email but I’m doubtful they would make (what would be) a rare exception for somebody like me which in itself shows how society is disablist to the point where I am thinking that I wouldn’t get granted an exception to the protocol. I hope this changes in the future.

I also have to give one of the employees there some credit. I reached out to their inquiry  over email and he offered to call me. They weren’t able to keep to the time we originally planned (which I think is typical of big businesses, even though that causes a lot of stress on my end) however he replied later saying that I was welcome to phone him directly, rather than go through the route of being directed around to people via reception. Thank you for trying to help me – though sadly it was not enough for me to overcome my anxiety. Not yet. But in the future, I will overcome this. Eventually I will be able to use the phone and carry out conversations like these without any problems. I will need some more help and support, and hopefully some other practical solutions will come to fruition.

Either way, that is me done for today. I hope this lengthy post has somehow helped you understand a bit better how social anxiety can debilitate people in some ways. There are other ways in which anxiety can show and this varies from person to person (and autism to other different neurotypes as well) so it’s worth reading other viewpoints as well to get a broader understanding.

Best wishes,

-Subtle (@subtle_writes)