"What characterizes a member of a minority group is that he is forced to see himself as both exceptional and insignificant, marvelous and awful, good and evil." --Norman Mailer
When I first read this quote, I lost my breath for a bit, because the truth of this knocked it out of me. This is profoundly, profoundly accurate.
Members of minority groups constantly receive opposing messages, and as we try to create our concept of self, we have to sort through them and figure out what to believe and what to discard. The danger here is that when a person hears that they're bad over and over and over again, more often than not, those messages are louder than the ones saying that they're good.
Of course, the LGBTQ community constantly hears and reads things about how "awful" and "evil" they are. There's Westboro Baptist Church telling us that even God hates us and that we'll burn in hell. We're victims of hate crimes and bullied to death. We're told that our voices are insignificant and that we don't deserve the same rights as everyone else. We're forced into positions of second class citizenship.
On the other hand, we as a community (along with our allies) work to combat these messages of our insignificance, awfulness, and evilness. One main way we do this is through Pride events. We celebrate our existence, because there are still so many who don't. We know we are worthy of equal treatment and worthy of respect. On our good days, we know that we are marvelous and exceptional people, and we try to remind each other of that. And we hope that somehow our voices are loud enough to drown out the others.
The same goes for being Autistic. At worst, we hear that we are awful and evil, and capable of committing mass murder because we're lacking in empathy, and that we should be exterminated. And sometimes the best we hear is that we're mediocre and insignificant, that we need to be cured and changed and made into something normal and significant. We hear that no, we're not evil per se, but we still should not be here. We need to be fixed.
The voices of Autistic self-advocates and our allies try to dispel these lies. We know that we are exceptional, and we are capable of doing great things. We know that we offer a unique perspective and that we are valuable. We know that at our core, we are good and guileless, and that we are caring and sympathetic towards others. We are marvelous, and we are beautiful, and we make the world a better place. We say these things, and we remind each other of these things. And again, we hope that our voices will be loud enough to drown out the others.
This is the experience of the minority. This is what I deal with, on two fronts. I know that I have the right to exist and be accepted, but those competing messages, the bad ones, they still eat away at my psyche. On good days, I'm strong and confident despite these negative messages. But on weak days, I question myself, and I waffle, and I feel deflated and defeated.
I hope that I live to see the day in which I don't have to try and make sense of these two competing messages. I don't want to fight for the right to be viewed as good. I want to live to see the day when everyone, regardless of their minority status, is taught to see themselves as exceptional, marvelous, and good.