Orbital Mechanics

When I was younger, I explained my place in the world through the metaphor of an article in Scientific American.

The moons that we know of, the article said, occupy certain types of orbits– certain shapes, certain distances from their primaries. This is not because other types of orbits are impossible, but because they are less stable. A moon can be created or captured into any one of many unusual orbits, but over time, one of two things happens: it either is pulled into a more normal orbit, or it falls into its primary and is destroyed.

In my mind, this was a metaphor for the experiences of people like me. (At that time, that meant a nebulously-defined group of social outcasts– I had barely even heard the word autism– but in retrospect, what I meant by “people like me” overlaps with “people on the autism spectrum” pretty closely.)

What happens to moons also happened to us, I thought: we either assimilated or we crashed.


The strangest thing about this, in retrospect, is that I thought of myself as assimilated.

I wasn’t really aware of people who “passed” better than I did as people like me– I don’t think I realized how good at passing someone could be, while still being fundamentally like me. In fact, what I had in mind was not so much passing as simply awareness of being different (and therefore bad.) Not passing, but hiding.

I never passed uncomplicatedly as normal, but– to the best of my own self-awareness, which was not all that good in retrospect– I avoided doing anything obviously weird, and I thought I was successful. I had a mental list of things that I might want to do but shouldn’t, because they were weird, and I followed it. I was successful, in that I didn’t usually receive overt negative attention or bullying.

Looking back, I was still incredibly weird. But I watched my even weirder classmates do things I felt were terrifyingly obviously bad, and be mocked and ostracized for their actions, and seem to not notice. They didn’t seem upset. They didn’t stop. I wanted to know how they could do that.

So, I thought, they must be too far away. They must be too different to be nudged by gravity and peer pressure into a normal orbit. They’re going to crash, or else they’ll slingshot away into space, beyond any contact with the realm of normal, and never be seen again.


I want to send my love to everyone who passes ten times better than me, and spends ten times more effort to do it.

And to everyone who caused me secondhand embarrassment. I tried not to show it, and I liked you anyway.


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