September 30th, 2022
Welcome to The Odd Piece.
Before we get onto today’s topic, I have some exciting news about my book which I would like to share with you. Since publishing my first blog post, the typesetting and cover design have been finished thanks to the help of Honeybee Books. A couple of days ago I received a sample copy of the paperback which I am really pleased with. This means the book will soon be available to purchase either from myself or through online retailers. As soon as I have more information I will let you know.
Introducing the Cloak of Conformity and the Corset of Expectation
The Cloak of Conformity and the Corset of Expectation is a bespoke, handmade virtual costume designed and tailored by myself. It is a costume which I have worn on and off for the whole of my life.
At this point you might be wondering what on earth I am talking about but stay with me as all will be revealed. Quite simply, the costume disguises my autism, allowing me to blend into whichever environment I might find myself in.
The corset of expectation moulds me into the shape I think I need to be at the time, enabling the cloak to display a version of me to the world which says, “Look, I fit in.” Like a chameleon, the cloak and the corset camouflage themselves in order to blend into their surroundings, the fabric and style changing according to the situation I find myself in. The costume is created by paying close attention to the people around me and imitating their behaviour, their gestures, their facial expressions, their body language, their vocabulary and even their tone of voice.
When did this costume appear?
When I gave my most recent presentation on the Cloak of Conformity and the Corset of Expectation, a member of the audience asked me if I knew how long I had been wearing the costume. At the time, I was aware that I could only give them a vague answer to their question and this got me thinking.
Although I am conscious of the fact that I have worn various versions of the cloak and the corset for most of my life, I also realise that I don’t have a clear idea as to when the costume first appeared. After all, it wasn’t as if I woke up one morning and thought, ‘right, today I am going to disguise my identity and become someone else.’ So, that begs the question, was the costume something created by my subconscious?
Many autistic people don’t instinctively know how to react in social situations but maybe, for some of us on the autism spectrum, our instinctive behaviour manifests itself in our natural ability to copy other people’s behaviour. All I know is that, as a teenager, I was very much the “don’t worry about her because she’s odd” sort of girl who always seemed to be on the edge looking in. I didn’t want to stand out but, at the same time, I was completely baffled by how the girls at school behaved and, unlike them, I had no idea how to navigate the social world. It wasn’t fair. Somehow they had the recipe but nobody had given it to me.
Maybe at that point my subconscious mind realised that what I needed to do was to pretend to be like them, and more importantly than that, disguise the real me. Was it a survival instinct to escape being picked on by bullies, or was it the need to adapt to other people’s expectations of how I should behave in order to fulfil a natural desire to belong?
An ideal solution?
On the face of it, the cloak of conformity and the corset of expectation sound like an ideal solution to my social ineptness, a disguise I can put on whenever I need to blend in and behave like the people around me. Wearing this disguise, however, requires a great deal of concentration and if I’m not careful there is a risk that I will lose that concentration, trip up and reveal myself as a fake. This then communicates mixed and confusing signals. It also knocks a serious dent in my self-confidence.
Maintaining such a high level of concentration means that the cloak and the corset become very heavy and exhausting to wear and at some point I have no choice but to take them off and hang them up in my virtual wardrobe. This in turn causes a lot of anxiety followed by the need to hide away from the world.
I have also discovered over the years that copying other people’s behaviour can backfire. One particular incident which sticks in my mind is the day I was escorted to the headmaster’s office. I had recently joined a small group of kids at school who, it turned out liked to swear. The kids seemed very willing to accept me as part of their group and, in an attempt to ensure that I continued to belong, I naturally copied their behaviour. The problem was that, unlike the kids I was mimicking, I didn’t have a filter or a safety switch. They knew it wasn’t a good idea to swear when a teacher was about but I didn’t. So, I got into trouble and they didn’t.
This should have served as a valuable lesson but unfortunately it was just one of a number of situations where trying to belong backfired.
Then, there is the issue of creating a false identity which is so credible that other people find it hard to believe that you are autistic when the time comes for you to reveal your true identity. Having been given a diagnosis of autism as an adult, I worried that over time my disguise had become so authentic that everybody would think I was lying about the diagnosis and I would be stuck with the artificial identity forever. Had I become a victim of my own success?
I can definitely say that the Cloak of Conformity and the Corset of Expectation have played a pivotal role in enabling me to fit into my environment but at what cost? I have spent a great deal of time and effort creating a heavy and cumbersome disguise which, at the end of the day, has only served to portray a false and confusing version of my real identity. I therefore have to ask myself if it was the right thing to do and whether or not it has been worth it.
This question opens up a whole new discussion on the relevance and importance of the cloak and the corset, a question which I feel merits its own blog post. So, next month I plan to continue with the idea of the Cloak of Conformity and the Corset of Expectation. In particular, I want to explore my current relationship with them and look at any effects which my autism diagnosis may have had on this relationship.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If you would like to share any of your own thoughts, then please feel free to leave a comment.

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