The Imitation Game

After class on Monday, Teacher explained that the key to improving in kuduro was to never miss a class, “It’s like math class in university, you know? Miss one class, and you show up at the next one, and you’ve completely lost, with no fucking clue what’s going on.” Everyone agreed, missing math class was the worst. I stayed quiet: I knew that saying “yeah no, I actually have no idea what you’re talking about” wouldn’t go over well, perceived as being attention-seeking, or showing off.

But it’s true, tho. I actually have no idea.

All through Cégep and University, for all non-calculus math classes and all accounting classes that did not have “participation” marks or group projects, I didn’t bother attending class unless I found the teacher inspiring. For the most part, I found my teachers insipid and incompetent, my classmates annoying and frighteningly stupid and the whole experience a waste of my time and a trial to my patience. So I’d buy the textbooks, skip class, and teach myself the content of the syllabus, sometimes more if the topic was interesting. I’d attend the review class before each midterm/final and write the exams. Twice that I can remember, I was approached by teachers, so offended by my behavior that they promised me they would personally see to it that I failed. I’d laugh at them, “You can try. You won’t succeed, sir.” I graduated University with a 4.13 GPA (between A=4.0 and A+ = 4.3). I never got below an A- in my undergrad, and I challenged myself to never finish out of the top 3 in any acco class, and top 5 in any business class. I won an award at graduation for the best GPA in accounting.

I always knew my transcript was a thing of beauty. But it is only this week, after Teacher’s comment, that I realized just how unusual my story was. Sad, too.

When I was very young, my parents had me tested for autism, because I had some odd quirks. Refusing to speak when spoken too, easily overwhelmed, bigger meltdowns than typical toddler tantrums. Ultimately, I was deemed to not be autistic. The doctor concluded I refused to speak when spoken to whenever I felt the person speaking to me was not saying anything worth responding to. Ask me what sound a cow made? Silence. Ask me if I was hungry? I’d answer. This was back before the notion of the spectrum or Asperger’s was a thing.

I had difficulty integrating in social settings (e.g. kindergarten woes). In Grade 5 I transferred from a French immersion elementary school to a local French school next to my house. Despite excellent marks at the previous school, I could barely string together a sentence in French. My new school had a very homogeneous population, all Québécois families, except for 2 anglophone families (including mine). Because of my mother’s intense tutoring, I immediately started scoring the top marks in all the tests and homework. The kids resented me – the anglo new kid that couldn’t speak French to save her life, being the top student. A rumor started: I must be cheating. The rumor spread like wildfire, such that the younger siblings of the kids in my class would point at me in the schoolyard during recess, “tiens, c’est la tricheuse” (“hey, there goes the cheat”). Coupled with the fact that I busted my knee and was in and out of the hospital for all of Grade 5-6 and STILL getting top marks… the rumors persisted. I didn’t have enough command of the French language to defend myself, nor did I understand how bullying worked. It was so unfair. I was busting my ASS at home to get those grades, under Sergeant Mama, and these punks were claiming I was trying to get something for nothing, just because I was different and didn’t fit in?!

As I grew older, my mother set out to train me, explain me the rules, so I could mimic socially acceptable behavior: someone smiling without showing teeth = polite not genuine smile, probably pissed off. Don’t ask personal questions, it’s perceived as invasive not friendly. Touching people is not affectionate, it is considered a lack of boundaries. Interrupting is not a sign of interest, it is considered rude. Speaking too rapidly or in too loud a voice is not seen as being animated or interested, it is deemed aggressive. Smile when you say thank you or people will think you are insincere – it doesn’t matter if you don’t mean it, they expect you to smile, so smile. All the lessons and rules I needed to learn to not ruffle feathers, my mother drilled into me. I became rather good at pretending to be normal, so much so I had to convince a doctor that I really do have moderate ADD and a perpetual shadow. It’s not flawless, I often make small slip-ups and frequently get the feedback that I am phony/aloof and my favorite: a “bit of a bitch”.

Pretending to be normal, however, comes at a cost. It implies that parts of me deserve to be hidden, are shameful. Fertile ground for my shadow. After my 2014 depression, I reorganized my life such that I didn’t have to pretend so much. As a consultant, my success had depended on my clients liking me. By moving into industry, all I need is for my coworkers to tolerate me and deliver on my projects. I can be more myself, quirks and all. Still, my inability to sit in a room of people that cannot keep up with my brain – I find it physically painful, my blood pressure rises from the strain of holding my tongue and not lashing out in frustration at their uncomprehending questions, off-topic reasoning, I just want them to understand for all our sakes – is starting to limit my career growth, just like it has limited my social life, and my ability to make friends at school. I might not actually be arrogant, but I definitely come across as displaying, an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions”. I know this, I can see people withdraw and judge me with contempt, but I don’t know anymore how to address this. I’ve reached the limit of my social (un)savviness.

Here’s the thing. I’m mad. I am so fucking mad at all the people who judge me for being different. For being quirky. For being arrogant. I am DONE with having to hide who I am, change who I am, so I don’t ruffle feathers. Heaven forbid who I am generates a sense of insecurity or takes people aback. I’ve spent 34 years accepting people that cannot keep up with my brain through no fault of their own AND trying to mold myself according to arbitrary social norms. I am not normal. I am close to normal, but I am not. I am smart and I am poor at matching my outputs to social inputs, through no fault of my own. WHY IS THAT SO HARD FOR PEOPLE TO ACCEPT.

Just like in university, I’ve decided to pay the price by isolating myself, to spare myself from the masses of judgmental assholes. If that means taking a hit in my career or socially, so be it. It’s either that or a hit to my mental health.

I’m done. I’m tired. The cost of appearing normal is not worth the benefit.

I am nowhere near as smart or awkward as Alan Turing. But boy oh boy can I relate to this sequence. Thank goodness for the few people in the world that can see past quirks and differences to a person’s real merit.

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6 comments

  1. One thing I always like about your blog is how you explain things well enough that I can relate on all kinds of things, but also discover a completely different experience on other aspects.

    I envy you the time your mother invested in helping you figure out social codes. My parents tried in some respects, but somehow I’ve found myself figuring some things out in my 30s that some people knew instinctively when they were 10, which has lead to some personal and professional failures, being liked often trumps being talented or hardworking or knowledgeable. Even worse, not getting those “first-order” opportunities can close off long-term opportunities, and if in 5 years another equivalent opportunity comes along, I just won’t be ready for it, not because of lack of talent/qualities, but because of a lack of opportunity to develop it, because it’s just “easier” to work with/date someone who fits expectations.

    At times like these, even as a white guy I can understand (a bit) what it must be like to suffer sexual discrimination or racial discrimination – it’s simply not being given a chance. (I actually thought you’d also be relating to the woman in the clip, making herself fit in as a woman in a man’s world)

    Liked by 1 person

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