Posted in Being human

Petting the elephant

Wow, that’s an extremely upscale-looking living room that elephant’s in…

There’s a kind of person in the world.  I’m one of them.  I don’t have a name for us.  I can’t help responding to something I know is there.  This gets me in no end of trouble.  Many social rules are enforced by everyone carefully pretending that something is not there.  Many people are incapable of seeing what is there.  Many people are in denial about what is there.  Many people use glamour to obscure what is there.  Many people are fooled by glamour, their own and others’.

I am more likely than usual to see things that are there that other people don’t, won’t, or refuse to see.  I like Terry  Pratchett’s definition of First Sight:  The ability to see what’s actually there, rather than what your brain tells you ought to be there.  Of course in the real world nobody has perfect First Sight, and everyone is fooled by our own  perceptions or by other things, but I understand the concept very well.

Anyway, my problem is that I respond to what is there.

This is not a voluntary action.

This is not necessarily saying something about what is there, or doing anything at all to consciously react to what it’s there.

It’s just there and I can’t tune it out.

A friend and I who both have this ‘problem’ were once interviewed for television.  They told us to pretend the camera people didn’t exist.  We were totally incapable of not forgetting after two seconds and striking up conversations with the camera and sound crew.  We really frustrated everyone but we couldn’t help it.  They were there, we couldn’t erase them from our brains and act like they weren’t.  I’m not sure anyone totally could, but we couldn’t even pretend well.

I’m sure everyone has heard the analogy of the elephant in the living room that nobody will acknowledge but everyone knows is there.

The best summary of my entire problem here is this:

I see the elephant in the living room, and without even stopping to think, I will do something like go up and try to pet it.

That wrecks people’s whole system.

And it makes it impossible for me to avoid doing things like this, because it’s not just a matter of voluntary actions I control, which can be hard enough.  It’s hard enough to refrain from saying “Hey there’s an elephant in the middle of our living room, why is nobody talking about it?” But even if I can refrain from saying it, my actions will give it away.  I will greet the elephant, or talk to the elephant, or feed the elephant, or try to figure out if theelephant even wants to be in our cramped living room and what to do about it, or clean up the elephant shit in a way nobody can ignore, and these things are just reactions to what is actually happening.  Even if I never explicitly mention elephants, ifI am careful to avert my gaze from the elephant, I will inevitably interact with the elephant in a way few people would, and that will give everything away and piss a lot of people off.

I believe it’s important for people like me to exist in the world.  I think we have valuable roles to play, valuable things we do, and that reminding people what’s really going on is not always a bad thing.

I also think it puts us at a disadvantage, sometimes a dangerous one.  People can get very angry, for example, when you respond directly to exactly what they are doing but have carefully constructed a bunch of words or glamour to make it look like they’re not doing the thing.  And they can use it against you, to make you look crude and unrefined in comparison.  This becomes especially dangerous if there is abuse, manipulation, or neglect involved in their “invisible” actions.

And it’s socially dangerous.

But, I think, absolutely necessary.

But it’s not just a thing I do or a role I play.  I can’t turn it off.  It’s how I interact with the world.  It’s fundamental to how I perceive and respond to things.  And it has been angering people and getting me in trouble or worse, since before I was old enough to understand what I was doing.  And something in my actions always, always gives me away…



Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

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