A short rant on bodily autonomy
(I promise there’s a point to this.)
As infants, we come into this world intensely aware of our needs and wants and are thoroughly unashamed of expressing them to the world. In fact, we have to be trained not to express our needs and wants, to be ashamed of having them, to numb them, ignore them, delay them, etc.
School (just to name one example) is a thorough training ground in not responding to our own needs. No you can’t go pee right now. Lunch isn’t for half an hour, stop complaining. We’re out of time for you to be interested in that, we’re moving on to this, get with the program. Don’t respond to your body’s signals that you need to move, just sit still and look at teacher. Would you please sit still. Just sit still already. Stop fidgeting, for crying out loud!
We’re trained to ask for permission to take care of our most basic bodily functions. To explain and justify being a human with human functions, often in front of the entire group of kids and adults. For example, when you’re late you have to explain what happened, or ask for permission to leave 15 minutes early—and the reason better be good enough—or to wait until you’re nearly wetting yourself before they will let you go to the bathroom.
They have so thoroughly trained many of us that even as adults, even unprompted, some of us provide these explanations, unasked for, as a matter of course.
I hesitate to explain why this rant is coming on now, because I don’t want anyone to feel singled out or to trigger shame. Nevertheless, I think some context would be useful.
I recently gave another online workshop, Recovering from Autistic Burnout. As usual, about 10% of people offered explanations for why they had to leave early, why they arrived late, or emailed or tweeted me after to apologize or explain why they couldn’t attend or accidentally missed it. Others DMd requests to pee or eat during the live event. THIS SHOULD NOT BE NORMAL.
We’ve been trained for our entire lives that we are not an appropriate judge of our own circumstances, that we have to justify choosing to do something else or that something came up that we had to deal with; we’ve been taught that we can’t let people down, or have needs, or want something else than what’s being offered. We’ve been taught that not giving away control over our lives will upset or hurt people, or be unsafe for us.
To be clear: if you emailed, messaged me, or explained in the chat, I am NOT annoyed or upset by YOU.
Also, I am NOT saying that explaining your situation is bad, or that I don’t care about YOU.
I AM angry at a system which has so heavily trained us to externalize our bodily autonomy that even as adults, in largely anonymous spaces, we still feel a compulsion to explain or justify our lives to mostly strangers in temporary positions of semi-authority/expertise.
If you need to go pee, please, go pee.
You do not need to ask my permission to eat in a webinar that you’re watching in your own home.
You do not need to tell me why you couldn’t make it, that your schedule changed, or that something prevented you.
I am not in charge of you.
You do not need my permission, recognition, or awareness to make decisions about your own life, schedule, preferences, or bodily functions, that benefit you.
Please take care of yourself.
End of rant.