[Editor’s note: As we near the end of our content series on youth and egaliatarianism, we’ll be presenting the stories of two women at the intersection of two seemingly unrelated topics: egalitarianism and autism. Katia, who lives with autism, and her mother, Jeanette, will share interesting insights into these two topics through their own stories and their analysis of how egalitarians can work towards equality in realms that include people with high-functioning autism. We hope you enjoy the seres.]
It was at a homeschool group pizza party when I was almost 12 that I faced the cold reality: I was different. The other girls in our group fit together. I was the misfit. So was my family. Unlike the other homeschool families in our area, Dad was not as involved as the other fathers, which affected our ability to fit in. In the years that followed, my differences and inability to fit in grew more visible. Among other things, I was extremely sensitive to spicy food, certain clothing textures, sunshine. If a topic interested me, I read everything I could find about it and became an expert on it. Nonverbal cues and social rules were mysteries to me. I began to feel like the way I was created was wrong.
Overall, my childhood was happy. Mom’s choice to homeschool my brothers and I from kindergarten through twelfth grade was one of the best decisions she ever made. Being homeschooled spared me the bullying that many on the autism spectrum face at school, allowed me to learn at my own pace and enabled my mom to utilize my special interests in my schooling. Homeschooling also forced me to overcome some autistic traits that I might not have in a traditional school setting. Homeschooling laid a stable foundation that has been priceless in my HFA journey.
My sole ambition when I grew up was to be a wife and mother. From church and the homeschooling community, I got one message: to be a wife and mother was God’s ultimate calling for a woman. To fit in, to be valued, to have a voice, to be considered an adult in church one had to married with children. For a woman to go to college, to have a career outside the home was sin. Feminism was bad.
I soaked up those teachings like a sponge. The outside world was scary, and I knew that I was clueless about social rules. Being a stay-at-home mom was safe. Besides, I had been greatly blessed by my mom staying at home and wanted to give that blessing to my children. Never was singleness and childlessness presented as an option. Never did I hear the verses in scripture validating singles and the childless taught. Never did I see singles and the childless celebrated, encouraged. Being the relative of several single and childless people, I knew that singles and childless people existed. But I wanted to fit in, and in my world, marriage and parenthood was the only way to fit in.
When I graduated from high school, I learned that it was okay for a woman to go to college and have a career outside the home. But the damage had been done, damage I still deal with today. It was a relief when I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism (HFA) in 2004. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t this horrible person for being the way I was. But I didn’t want my HFA to be a crutch, and was determined to overcome it. As the years passed, I struggled to find a career and with unexpected singleness and childlessness. Making matters worse is that I am naturally unassertive, a character trait the teachings that a woman should be submissive worsened. Finally, several months after I finished my bachelor’s degree and struggling with finding a career, I asked God to either give me a husband soon or make me content to be single.
God gave me contentment to be single and much more. He introduced me to the egalitarian message using J. Lee Grady’s books 10 Lies the Church Tells Women and 25 Tough Questions about Women and the Church, which I found at the library and on several websites. I joyfully embraced the new truths I discovered, but still had questions. Faced with two different views on women, I decided at the beginning of 2011 that as I read through my one year Bible, I would write down every reference to women to see what the Bible really said about women. On July 28, 2011, I read Romans 11:29 “For the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable”. (NKJV). The verse hit me like a rock between the eyes. I had seen how some women had the gift of leadership while some men did not. That verse showed me that God would never give a woman gifts and callings he did not mean her to use.
I felt like a bird set free. As a single, childless woman, I was every bit as equal to God as a woman who was married and had children! I had a voice in the church! I could be a church leader! It was okay to be assertive and independent! Need I say that women’s equality became my number one passion in life? Today my life is a battle. But my passion for women’s equality grows and it is difficult for me to have a conversation without it coming up. Looking over my life, I see how the patriarchal and complementarian doctrines did as much, if not more, damage than HFA. Finding the truth about women’s equality has been a huge blessing in my life, and helped me overcome my HFA.
Yet the best part about finding the truth about women’s equality are the wonderful ways in which it has blessed my school teacher, best friend, spiritual mentor, the daughter of my grandma Ruby, whose value is far beyond the ruby gem:
My mother, Jeannette.