(content warning: child abuse, incest, filicide, ableism, anti-LGBTQ discrimination)
I am almost thirty-five years old, and I am deathly terrified of my own mother.
It’s especially painful at springtime, when Autism Parents™ are praised for their sacrifices and devotion to their difficult “children with autism.” The deification of Autism Parents doesn’t just annoy me; it horrifies me. Not every parent of an autistic child is a saint—some are downright monstrous. The most obvious examples are the filicidal parents who think that it’s better to have a dead child than an autistic child.
But in many cases, we’re put in situations in which we’re still alive and wish we weren’t. That was me. My parents were not good parents—ARE not good parents. We have been estranged for almost fifteen years. I severed contact with my parents in 2006 because of their psychological abuse and knee-jerk anti-LGBTQ ideology. Growing up was often chaotic and miserable, but I dissociated it all away. I was screamed at, humiliated, degraded, alienated, ridiculed, belittled, and objectified. People who spoke to my parents told me that they talked about me as though I were an object, a piece of furniture, not a sentient human being. I was convinced that my parents were kind, loving, and thoughtful, and I was just a difficult child. After all, I was—am—autistic. It didn’t help that my parents, especially my mother, ran hot and cold, so I never knew where I stood; the ground under me was always shifting.
Recently, I figured out that the abuse I experienced went beyond the psychological. I’m scared to mention this, as though I’ll be hauled into my parents’ bedroom for questioning as I was when I lived with them.
I didn’t know that it went that far because I thought what happened was normal. In my household, children were effectively property. We were extensions of the couple, not people with rights, feelings, or opinions of our own.
So I thought showering with my mother starting at the age of nine, even when I’d showered by myself for several years, was normal.
I thought it was normal for mothers to make constant sexual jokes with their adolescent children.
I thought it was normal for mothers to comment about the smell of their teenage children’s crotches.
I thought it was normal for mothers to tell me to keep it down, or others would hear and think they were hurting me.
Mom’s M.O. was sanctimony on Sunday morning and sleaze on Sunday night.
I knew about child sexual abuse, but everything I read was about internet predators, strangers in creepy vans, and depraved coaches and uncles. I’d even heard about female perpetrators, but they were all teachers who’d assaulted their students—not mothers, and especially not long-suffering Autism Moms who had to deal with the excruciating burden of raising difficult children like me. Mothers and their children were supposed to have inviolable bonds with one another. People told me that my mother was the best friend I’d ever have.
I remember a conversation from when I was about nineteen, when Mom was worried I’d tell my friends online about my parents. She said that she was worried someone would come and kill them. My parents didn’t think words could have any lasting effect, so what was she afraid of? My mother would brag about me to her friends, but would be sure to badmouth me—in my presence, even, as though I weren’t there—to therapists and teachers. I suspect that she wanted to discredit me to any mandated reporter I might speak to. That bespeaks a guilty conscience, at least to me. If she thought she was doing everything right, there would be nothing to fear.
Even as I write this, I worry that I made it up, imagined it, just want to make excuses or something, that I somehow deserved it, that it was normal. But if I knew that this was happening to someone else, I’d get in touch with the relevant authorities. That’s how I know it’s wrong.
There was so much pressure for me to act as though my family were normal, even though I know I would have been horrified, even back then, to hear that someone else was treated the way I was. It seems obvious now—her creepy slasher-film smile, the crude jokes, the showers, the paranoia, her cold eyes—but it wasn’t back then. The abuse I went through was woven into my everyday life. I thought that all families were like this, or that I was uniquely deserving of such treatment.
This was not normal. This was not all right; this was not OK.
And most chillingly, I think she knew it; otherwise, she wouldn’t be so afraid. If she thought she was such a good parent, any accusations would just roll off. She must have known at some level that what she did was wrong.
This is part of why I am livid every time I see people glorifying Autism Parents™ without acknowledging that some don’t deserve the glory. There are a lot of good parents, but some of them are downright rotten—murderers, emotional abusers, child molesters, child batterers.
Mom, your reign of terror is over. I’ve been gone for almost fifteen years, and I haven’t regretted leaving for an instant. I’ve been homeless. I’ve been poor, isolated, unsure where the next meal is coming from or whether I’d be protected from the elements. I’m comfortable now, but even if I weren’t, I wouldn’t regret leaving, because I am no longer with you.