Pagans Behaving Badly: An Autistic View
(I wrote this several months ago, after Paganicon, and it seems to tie in well with my other post for today)
At Paganicon, I had the pleasure of meeting Oberon Zell Ravenheart. He’s a friendly jolly fellow who had many interesting anecdotes to share in the keynote about the early days of Neo-Paganism back the in 1960’s, along with Deborah Lipp. Later I caught up with a friend who is Wiccan, (and by Pagan standards a relatively conventional person) and another companion of hers asked her what she thought of how Oberon presented himself in public- dressed in a wizard robe, with a long beard. If I recall correctly, she said that it wasn’t really to her taste, but it didn’t bother her now as much as it might’ve in her younger, more activist-y days. I said that it didn’t bother me at all. Oberon has done a lot of great things for the community, if he’s a little eccentric, so what? Dressing up like a wizard is pretty harmless. (And besides, I’m a Druid, and she’s a Witch- is there that much of a difference?)
I’m autistic, as I’ve mentioned before- social skills do not come as naturally to me, I learn them much as I do a second language. In many places, I feel very awkward and unsure of myself. But for me, the Pagan community is a break from a very judgmental and constricting society. And usually no matter how odd I am, there is someone else who makes me look downright boring by comparison! Unfortunately one thing I’ve come to realize is that we often have trouble drawing the line between harmless eccentricity and behavior that is deviant in a dangerous or destructive way.
I believe with my unique perspective on social skills that I’ve had to learn intentionally, I can help other Pagans understand where that line is. There are of course, many Pagans with unidentified or un-addressed mental health, addiction problems and learning disabilities like ADHD and autism/Asperger’s. That is one reason I’m trying to become more public about being autistic, so I am available to people who want to understand themselves or others. Actually having a label is not an excuse either I might add. I was once fired from a job for a panic attack, which while it was related to my autism, it was still my fault because I had not found a way to effectively deal with my anxiety and do my job. There is also plenty of bad behavior by people who are neurotypical- in fact that is probably the majority of bad behavior that goes on in society. (Neurotypical is a term we autistics use to refer to people that are considered neurologically “normal”, it is not meant to be derogatory) Since social communication is the “native tongue” of neurotypicals, sometimes you folks get a little lazy and let your social skills slide, just as a native speaker of English might get a little sloppy with grammar. Whereas self-aware autistic people are often, much like immigrants trying to prove their English skills, very conscientious about being socially appropriate.