For the first twenty years of my life, I felt like I was an alien without the manual for being human. Part of that was because I was the kid of two immigrants who did not want to be in America. Or rather, one of them did not want to be, and he was the king of the castle. We had very little interaction with American culture as my parents spoke Taiwanese at hom (to each other, but not to my brother and me), had only Taiwnaese friends, and did not watch any American TV. We did not go to the movies or listen to the radios. My father demanded Taiwanese food, and my brother and I wanted American food. We preferred pizza, mac and cheese, and the like.
Side note: My favorite part about church was that we went to a fast food restaurant afterwards. Usually McDonald’s or Burger King, but sometimes arby’s or Wendy’s. Then, for one glorious meal, I could eat a delicious Big Mac or a chicken parm (at BK) or a roast beef sandwich without being shamed for it.
Side note II: For decades, I thought my mother liked cole slaw and always gave her mine when we went to Kentucky Fried Chicken. Turns out she did not, but she felt she had to eat it because she did not want it to go to waste.
I did not realize that I was also just…diffreent. I didn’t think of things in the way other people did, but I didn’t know why or how to correct it. For example, other girls liked to play with dolls; I never did. I like stuffed animals because you could cuddle them and they felt squicshy and comforting. I didn’t realize until much later that this was because of my sensory issues, but I always felt better after hugging a plushie.
I also felt as if other kids were talking to each other in a language I could not undrestand. I remember going through the motions and hoping that no one would notice that I did not know what the hell I was doing. I basically shut up and didn’t say anything that would make me a target.
In addition, my father had a weird idea of what was supposed to be kept ‘secret’. The example I always give is when I was a kid, he and my mother were out playing tennis with some friends. Another woman from church called and asked for my father. I said that he was playing tennis with some friends and thought nothing of it.
When they got home, I told my father about his friend calling and mentioned that I had said he was playing tennis with some friends. He lost his mind and yelled at me for telling her where he was. I was befuddled and a bit scared because I had no idea why he was so angry with me. He claimed I should not have told the woman what he was doing because she had lost face because of it. I had no idea what he meant. I figured it out years later that somehow, it was disparaging her not to be invited to a tennis outing with church friends.
Even later, I realized that it went deeper than that. She was probably either an ex-mistress or more likely, a prospective mistress-to-be. In other words, he wanted to keep her dangling on the hook.
This interaction with my father epitomized his mentality–everything is secretive. You don’t tell anything to anyone outside the family–nothing! It didn’t matter how seamingly innocuous it is, you keep it to yourself. Otherwise, you bring shame to the family. That was my father’s overweening mantra–don’t bring shame to the family. Except, only he knew what that meant. He didn’t bother to convey his expectations to my brother and me–but he sure let us know when we did something he deemed wrong.
I remember what I was going to call this! Something about my filters being wrong. The word ‘filters’ was definitely in the title. It completely left my mind and left ‘flaws’ in its place, which might be a Freudian slip. The point is that Ihave filters, but they are broken. Or they are simply wrong for polite society.
For example. I don’t understand why we can’t talk about death honestly. I mean, I know whiy, but it’s not something I truly get. I died twice, and it’s not something I feel I can bring up. I have the attitude that it’s a thing that happened to me and I should be able to talk about it plainly. But I don’t know how to do it without making people uncomfortable–which I don’t want to do.
Another thing is that I have reclaimed the word fat and now deem it neutral. For real. And I wish the rest of society would catch up with me. But, no. It’s a negative word in America, which is irritating to me. In Taiwan, you can comment on someone’s weight, but being fat is considered a moral failing there even more than here.
One big filter I have to keep firmly in place is not showing my incredulity when other people are showing honest emotions about things I saw coming a mile away. I am able to perceive things that other people can’t, and I take it for granted until someone else freaks out over something I see as inevitable. The biggest example is 9-1-1. When other people were crying and saying they couldn’t understand how it happened in America, i could only shake my head. Given how we had treated people in the Middle East and everything else that was happening at the time, I’m only surprised it didn’t happen earlier. I’m not saying it wasn’t a terrible tragedy; it was. But it wasn’t exactly surprising that it happened, at least not to me.
On a more granular level, I can do the same tihng with people. I know what they’re thinking and doing even if they themselves don’t. I rarely tell people about themselves, though, because they really, really don’t like it. My brother is one of the few people I can be blunt with because he doesn’t take offense.
For the most part, I keep my opinions to myself or carefully edit them because I don’t know where the line is drawn and it seems to keep moving. I suspect it’s a dance I’ll have to do for the rest of my life.