An Autistic Social Butterfly’s Guide to Making Friends
Interpersonal skills for a proudly disabled life.
For most of my life, I was a very withdrawn and “antisocial”-seeming person. In adolescence I perfected a scowling, sarcastic persona to protect me from seeming too childish and sensitive. I withdrew from other people as a reflex, to hide the fact I didn’t know how to initiate social contact in a neurotypical-approved way.
This was my first conscious attempt at masking my Autism, though I did not know I was Autistic yet. I wouldn’t discover my disability, or learn about the psychological toll of masking it, for almost two decades after that.
My grumpy, aloof mask protected me from rejection for quite a long time. No one could view me as pitiful or socially inept if I never betrayed any desire to connect in the first place. It was easy to extract myself from confusing and overstimulating situations if I was already known as a gloomy loner. I froze people out, but sorrow and longing ate away me, and slowly ruined my life.
All of this slowly began to change in my late 20s, after I learned I was Autistic and began researching masked Autism. I came to understand that I didn’t dislike people as a matter of course, I just couldn’t handle unexpected plans, or erratic noise, and was not adept at following social scripts and rules of politeness that did not make sense to me. All this time, I had been frosty to people in order to hide my vulnerability and my disability, not because I hated people. I started to consider that maybe I wasn’t innately broken and unlovable, I just hadn’t been seen and appreciated for the person I really was.
It was then that I began making a dedicated effort to connect with people as my genuine self. I started visiting a lot of different social groups and clubs, and testing out many new hobbies. I began dressing and moving in a way that felt less restrictive and false, and soon I realized I was transgender as well. The more I expanded my social horizons and loosened the restrictions I had been putting on myself, the easier making new friends became. It took years of work and practice, with many stumbles, but I slowly developed the social skills necessary to form real bonds with people I actually liked, and enough self-respect to…