I recently entered a discussion about differing conceptions of “family stability” which had wandered in such a direction that I felt the need to mention some of my own weird relationship tendencies. My interlocutor nodded sympathetically and asked—Have you ever tried cultivating something else?
I practiced my well-taught self-control and did not lunge forward in the biting position. It is, after all, a perfectly reasonable question (after a fashion).
Sometimes, advocates for neurodiversity, autism acceptance, or acceptance for any other not-currently-widely-accepted condition are so confident in our approach, so firm in the conviction that our differences don’t need fixing, that listeners can very easily assume that we have never tried to fix these things. In some cases, this may be an accurate assumption. But in general, when an attribute, characteristic, or condition is likely to cause a person discomfort, inconvenience, or social stigma, a person will tend to, at some point, try to change that characteristic.
In fiction, it’s something of a cliche, but that doesn’t seem to dissuade anyone from using it in real life. Note that people who ask these questions usually intend no rudeness. They’re sincerely offering a suggestion that they believe might have been overlooked.
What people who ask these questions, “have you tried” and “have you thought about,” may not realize is that when a psychiatrically-labeled person (or other stigmatized social minority) chooses to defy social pressures to pursue normalcy, it’s rarely a hasty choice. Drugs, therapies, self-examinations to discern the the root cause of one’s differences—these things have usually been at least considered, often tried, sometimes at great personal cost, before one settles on the self-acceptance path. Self-acceptance also does not preclude self-doubt or second thoughts. Certainly, I periodically wonder whether my functionality or quality of life would be improved if I pursued a more medical approach to my differences, and, indeed, hardly a day goes by that I don’t wonder whether I’m doing my neurodivergent children a disservice by not doing more to steer them towards normalcy.
The conflict between self-acceptance and self-doubt, between clinging to one’s strengths and being honest about one’s limitations, between identity pride and desire to fit in, is one that I’ve touched on before without, I’m sure, doing justice to the subject. It’s complex and individual, full of nuance and balance and self-contradiction. But whatever it is, it’s not new to any of us. There’s a certain (surely unintentional) condescension in the implication that an option being pushed on us with relentless societal messages is one we may need to be prompted to consider.
I’d like to propose a “Yes, I’ve Thought About That” list, akin to the “Do Not Call” list, for individuals who’d like to add their names to a registry of people who sincerely promise that they have either tried, or given serious and honest consideration to, various commonly-suggested options and have good reason (which we are not obligated to disclose) for not exercising them. Users could check multiple boxes for solutions they’ve either tried or seriously considered, or add their own. In turn, well-meaning friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers would be forbidden from asking whether registry members have ever thought about items they checked.
Is there a demand for this?