Masking – a point of view

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”

I was 21 when I first heard this Lester Bangs quote, spoken by actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie Almost Famous. I loved the movie, and more than anything I absolutely loved this quote.  I didn’t know why at the time, other than I knew I was the uncool guy trying to be cool. It’s stuck with me ever since and here I am almost 23 years later still thinking about it.  I’m now in my early (approaching mid) 40s and I just found out this year I’m autistic.  This revelation shed a whole new light on this quote and why it meant so much to me; why it grabbed me and didn’t let go.

I grew up in small town rural Alberta and didn’t exactly fit the mold – while everyone else in junior high was in cowboy hats and Garth Brooks cowboy shirts, I had long hair and a Megadeth shirt.  Safe to say, I was very uncool.  I had some friends and was never totally outcast; even then I was starting to really develop a mask.  By the time high school rolled around I decided I wanted to fit in a little better… I cut my hair and traded the Megadeth shirt for “No Fear”.  I stopped doodling metal lyrics and skulls and tombstones on my binders. I stopped playing Dungeons and Dragons and started drinking.  I learned how to interact with the popular crowd. I didn’t know it at the time but I was creating my mask. Even still, I never totally fit in.  I had several cool guy friends and went to most of the parties, but girls avoided me like the plague and I also hung out with the “undesirable” crowd at times.

I always felt a little like a sellout, like I was suppressing my true self to be liked… and that’s exactly what I was doing.  I was masking.  I wasn’t cool and I knew it, but I was pretending to be cool and somewhat succeeding.  This has continued for the vast majority of my life, in all aspects personally and professionally.  Now, after all this time I found out that I’m autistic and started realizing what I’ve been doing.  I’m now able to recognize and accept that yes, I have been hiding my true self.  And I’ve been doing it so long I’m having to discover who I am; as a person, as a partner, as a son, as an employee. I’m having to consider who I’ve been totally masked with and who I’ve let the mask slip around – and who will accept the real me as I begin to unmask.  Who is MY friend and not the mask’s friend.  Can I drop the mask and make myself vulnerable?  Truly revealed to the world for the first time in my life?  What is the cost to me if I don’t unmask and is it worth it?

Through it all, I have to believe it IS worth it.  I’m the coolest uncool guy around, and I think those most important to me know this as well.  They’ve seen glimpses of me in all my autistic glory and haven’t run yet.  And if they DO run, it’s their loss (as cliché as that is).  To push myself to burnout to stay permanently masked, to avoid true friendships, to avoid meeting the real me… this isn’t something I’m willing to do.  It might just be my overdeveloped sense of justice talking, but there’s no way I  can be anybody but me any longer.  After all…

The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re unmasked.

– Mark Thompson