Saturday, November 8, 2014

In Defense of Jerry Seinfeld

I should start by saying that I have been scripting Seinfeld the TV show for years. If you're talking to me and I bust out with some non sequitur that is only semi-appropriate to the situation, odds are that Jerry Seinfeld said it first.

So I was interested when I first saw news reports about Jerry Seinfeld saying he thinks he might be on the spectrum. And then I felt happy. And then I checked social media and I saw lots of anger at him. And then I felt kinda sad and I couldn't stop thinking about it.

Here's the thing: I don't know Jerry Seinfeld. I don't know his private life. I don't know how he came to the conclusion that he is autistic. And what's probably most important, I don't know his inner life—what goes on inside his own head. None of us do, so I don't think we are qualified to weigh in on whether he is autistic or not.

Here's something else: It is very scary as an adult to come out as autistic. It is very scary as an adult who has "passed" for your whole life to come out as autistic. It is hard to tell people who might not believe you that you are autistic. I am absolutely positive that people have doubted my diagnosis, have said that I'm not autistic or not autistic enough.

I am not willing to do that to another person.

I will follow that up with the comment that I absolutely respect self-diagnosis and assert that there are many, many reasons that adults self-diagnose instead of seeking a professional opinion.

I also think it is hard to learn to own your autism when you come to it as an adult. There is a whole set of stigmas and hardships and abuses and discrimination that people who are diagnosed and out as young people have to deal with that I did not. I don't have that experience. What I have is the very nervewracking experience of growing up different and eventually finding a name for it and finding the courage to take that label for myself.

Still, it is hard to take that label, especially when you have been trying to live as a neurotypical person. So I don't take much offense to Seinfeld's use of "on a drawn-out spectrum." When I first started suspecting I was autistic, my statements were very tempered, "I have autistic traits..." and the like. It is too scary to just come out and say "I am autistic," so it's easier to make these softer statements like, "On a drawn-out spectrum..."

I do know that I identify with some aspects of his personality. I think about his comedy and his observational style of humor and about how so much of it is finding the absurd in the conventions of daily life.

I use humor. It is one of the most important things to me. I find life hilarious. I also use comedy as a shield. I use it as a defense mechanism. I use it to amuse myself when I find the typical world strange. I created an entire persona (hey there, Stimey!) that allows me to get out of the house and interact with the world without falling back into crushing depression or incapacitating anxiety. (Also medication. Meds help too.)

Furthermore, I have been closely observing people all of my life, from the gestures they use and the words they say to figuring out social conventions and how I'm supposed to react to things. I remember watching a scary movie as a young person and checking to see if people screamed words or just sounds so I would know what to do if I was ever attacked (by an alien). I remember watching people when I was in college and deciding that I should make eye contact because that's what other people did, so I started doing it all the time. These are just a couple of examples.

I am not attributing my own feelings and past to Jerry Seinfeld. I'm just saying that when I think about what he said, it makes sense to me. Plus he hangs out with Larry David, and I'm sure those two have to have had conversations about autism, because have you ever listened to Larry David?

I do know that if I had come out as autistic and been attacked the way he has been, it would have broken me. I don't know what is going on in his brain and I'm not going to judge. I hope he will choose to speak more about it and I hope it will help all of us in the autism community. Jerry Seinfeld has a huge public platform. I hope he uses it well.

That said, I also hope he finds identity and knowledge and acceptance just for himself, however he chooses to identify. Because that is what most of us want. Welcome, Jerry. I'm happy to have you in my community.


  1. Sometimes, I show it and sometimes not. When I was a kid, I seemed typical at the playground. I just looked like a happy, perhaps klutzy kid running around playing, since I could talk and smile. And even now, sometimes I don't show it. I feel a little shy sometimes, but that's an exception. Sometimes, I just seem sweet. It shows more when I'm nervous. I had a physical for that bowling league for the disabled I'm in and my doctor saw autism spectrum traits in me. He'd know about my diagnosis as my doctor, probably.

  2. Thank you for writing this. We can't know what's going on in his head or in his life or anyone else's.
    I'm pretty sure half of my everyday vocabulary comes from Seinfeld or Friends. Not that there's anything wrong with that... :)

  3. I had absolutely no idea there was any backlash to what he said. I'm going to go back to burying my head in the sand.

    This was brilliantly written.

  4. I admit it...I cringed when I saw this interview. Not for what he said but more for the reaction that I knew would happen. I'm old and cranky and quite franking don't care anymore. ;) Unless of course you write something...then I will read cuz I like you. <3

  5. Ummm...that should be *FRANKLY* not franking. Pretty sure there is no such word...or maybe there is?!?!? :P

  6. Kathy Chalupa WhitsonNovember 8, 2014 at 7:17 PM

    Wonderful Thankyou

  7. Yes to all of this! Especially the observational stuff, this is something I've always done too to figure out social rules and understand the behaviour of others, as well as to seek out and identify patterns (love me some patterns). These pretzels are making me thirsty.

  8. Thank you, what you wrote is exactly how I feel as I come to terms with my own adult self-diagnosis. Reading things like this gives me much comfort.

  9. this blog is written about it too:
    (language warning, there is swear words)

  10. Franking is a banking/cheque term.
    Autistic much?!? :P

  11. Thank you for posting this.As a child I was identified as having something "off" about me, but my family didn't want me to get labeled or be medicated. I had negative labels assigned to me by teachers instead. I think a lot of symptoms fit me but even other people on the spectrum who were diagnosed have not believed me and have called me a liar and called me crazy.

  12. so well-written, thank you! I had the same thoughts about JS - but you said it perfectly!

  13. Say no to disability discrimination! (previously Anon)November 9, 2014 at 4:46 PM

    I finally caught up and before 2014 ended too! I am going into a 5km (3.1 miles roughly) fun-run, You inspired me so thank you, I also got inspired to start up clarinet again (Thank you Sam!). Quin is right Reece's Peanut Butter Cups are the greatest!

  14. Say no to disability discrimination! (previously Anon)November 9, 2014 at 10:50 PM

    Also how is Sam's Oboe playing going?

    Super Mario Theme on oboe-

  15. He's doing bassoon now in addition to flute. It was tough going because he was basically teaching himself. And bassoon seems to be hard to learn. He just started lessons last weekend though, and I think it is going to help a lot.

  16. Congrats on both of these things!!! Both are super awesome!

  17. This is so beautifully written and true. Thank you for writing it. I've reread it a few times now, and it hits home.

    I have a serious and chronic mental illness that first manifested in my late teens--possibly earlier, in hindsight--but went undiagnosed until it demanded my attention, in a spectacularly destructive fashion, in my early 20s.

    I was in very bad shape for some time. But I also was, and am, very fortunate. I had a loving family who ensured that I had the best care available and who supported me emotionally and financially during my recovery. I responded better than anyone hoped to medication and therapy. My condition is chronic and will always be a part of who I am. It has profoundly affected my thoughts, my outlook, my ambitions, and my social interactions in deep and abiding ways. It flits constantly on the periphery of consciousness as I go about the business of daily life. And yet most people who know me would never suspect that I was anything but an ordinary, "normal" (albeit somewhat quirky) person. To the extent that I'm able to present as neurotypical, I credit 20 years of teaching myself to adapt my brain to my environment, and vice versa.

    Much like autism, people with BP fall on a spectrum. There are many people like me, who nurture families and careers and who are, with varying degrees of aptitude, out and interacting with the world. There are many others who cannot. I am not "better" than they are, and they are not lesser people, because I can. But, like you, I think that if I had experienced the kind of vitriol I've seen surrounding Seinfeld's disclosure--the suggestion that I'm somehow diminishing the suffering of others just by being someone with BP who doesn't look or act the way someone with BP "ought" to look and act--I think I'd probably crawl in a hole and never come out again.

    I now have a daughter on the autism spectrum. She is bright, beautiful, funny, and very verbal. She has also made me aware that many aspects of my own behavior, mindset, and personality--most of which my doctors simply categorized as symptoms of BP and therefore aberrant and in need of correction--are actually characteristic of autism. I am not mentally or emotionally ready to self- (or formally) diagnose myself, although I could see that happening sometime in the future. The gift given to me by my daughter--and by the dozens of adult autistic bloggers out there, especially Stimey--is that I now see these aspects of my personality as strengths rather than as symptoms. I am starting, after 20 years, to see that BP is as much an "alternate mindset" as it is an illness. These writers have given me and my daughter a better understanding of what neurodiversity looks like, and I am so grateful for it. I want her to know that there are people like her who are successful and happy scientists, artists, teachers, writers, and comedians. I never want her to be bound by someone else's perception of how someone like her "ought" to act or look or live. I know I would have given anything to have had those role models for myself when I started my own journey, because the prospects given to me then were grim indeed.

    So, to Stimey and all the other people out there who came to their autism diagnosis as adults, please keep on being awesome. Your voices and your existence matter. Your identity diminishes no one and strengthens us all. Keep writing, keep talking, keep signing, and keep being unapologetically yourselves.

  18. Thanks for sharing this. I think there is just one huge mistake here: he says he thinks he is autistic, and no that is no self diagnosis. A self diagnosis would be saying you are autistic but actually have never been diagnosed. You are spot on with saying that you don't mind he said it in the news. Autists communicate differently, that is our trait and our weakness.

  19. Say no to disability discrimination! (previously Anon)November 10, 2014 at 2:17 PM

    Oops brain fail I meant bassoon, completely different to oboe and I do know that. Sorry

  20. Say no to disability discrimination! (previously Anon)November 10, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    this is the correct link: Super Mario Theme Quartet.

    I think I was playing both oboe and bassoon to see the octave differences and my brain got confused lol

  21. Say no to disability discrimination! (previously Anon)November 10, 2014 at 8:01 PM

    Couldn't resist.

  22. I recall reading many years ago that Dan Akroyd said he had Aspergers and that he took acting lessons to learn how to mimic people and emotions, which helped him be a great sketch comedian on Saturday Night Live.


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