A few years ago, I saw a call for submissions by Lydia X. Z. Brown, for an anthology they were editing called All The Weight of Our Dreams. They made it clear that this was an anthology featuring BIPOC autistic people. At the time, I had just started writing. I was also confused/exploring in regards to myself and my race. Being half Turkish is a confusing mess in that some regard Turks as POC and some, including colourist and racist Turks, see Turks as white. I’ve definitely had racist comments and actions taken against me based on my maiden name. But I haven’t faced any racism based on my looks or skin colour.
Anyway, in a bit of a haze, I quickly wrote something and emailed it to Lydia. I never once expected them to accept it, let alone publish it in the book. I felt uneasy when I was told it had been accepted, and waived my fee out of guilt. What I should have done was thank them for considering it but withdrawn it. I didn’t. This was wrong of me. I took space and attention away from those who deserved to be in the book. I didn’t do this intentionally, but that doesn’t take away from the harm I caused. I sincerely and unreservedly apologise for this.
When the book actually came out, I felt even worse. It became clear to my that my piece was out of place. I felt like an imposter. I tried to convince myself that if Lydia thought it ok to publish, then it was ok and that I was off the hook. This was also wrong of me. I accept full responsibility for my actions and should not have done what I did.
All The Weight of My Dreams has had a few other issues. Although they never named me publicly, or even communicated to me privately that I was part of these problems, the editors have taken steps to remediate these. They have pulled this edition of the book and will be re-issuing it without the problematic content. Including my piece. I fully agree that this is the right thing to do.
So, again, I wish to apologise to the BIPOC autistic community who were hurt by my actions. I will endeavour to uplift their voices ahead of my own in future.
I’m the interest of full accountability, I will publish below my contribution, which was published in All The Weight Of Our Dreams.
The story goes that when I was born, I was the only blonde, blue eyed baby in the hospital. In a sea of browns, my alabaster skin was shockingly white. Old Turkish women would cry out that my hair had turned prematurely grey. My surname, that of a household shoe polish brand, was solid, Turkish. My appearance was not.
And yet, very soon, the tables were turned. As they often are, in times of conflict and turmoil, when to survive you must move on. We arrived in the West Kerry Gealtacht (Irish-speaking area) in 1980. I could not speak a word of English, never mind the Irish that was more commonly spoken there. And so I did not speak. For a year, I was mute. So, there I was, unspeaking, odd, impossibly tanned amongst the Celtic skinned. Other. The local gossip didn’t help. Where was my father? (Finishing up his contract of work in Turkey) Was that lady his second wife? (No, she came along as a sort of nanny, a hired hand, a helper) They called us “Na Turkeys Bána”, the White Turkeys. Great at puns, the Irish. Not so great at acceptance. Now, my skin faded by the grey skies, I was the right colour but my surname let me down.
We moved to Dublin when I was six. I learnt to fit in, to hide my grief and my depression, to ignore the bullying and crushing loneliness, to spell out my surname automatically before being asked. And I felt guilty when my darker-skinned, Irish-born sister got cursed at to “go back to your own country”. And when we did go back, on holiday, I fell foul of being “Turk-but-not-Turk”, of not picking up on the subtle cultural differences despite being fluent in the language and the “learnt” culture. No shoes indoors was second nature. Not knowing to lie about not being a virgin, was not.
And now I have found there was another layer going on as well. Another way I was “other”. A different culture I was learning to pass as. I used to practice eye-contact by staring in the mirror. I used to wonder why certain lighting in certain shops made me faint and dizzy. Why I was never invited to birthday parties. Why the playground games had forever changing rules that everyone else knew but I couldn’t figure out. The journalist interviewing my mom about her poetry spotted it. He wrote that my brother and I were “Midwich cuckoos”. I asked my mom what that meant. She said it was from a sci-fi movie, that we were like “alien children”. I took it to mean alien in an immigration sense. I figured it had to do with my surname. I blamed the Turk in me. I got married and changed my surname to a solid Irish one. But I was still “other”. I was still “alien”. Little did I know there were other genes, from my mom’s side, the oddly creative side, the poetic, other-worldly side. It had a name I’ve only recently come to recognise. Autistic.
And there’s another word I’ve recently learnt. Passing. Passing-white. Passing-NT. And with that knowledge has come a release. A letting go of the need to pass. I am now free to explore my heritage, both autistic and non-white. I can avoid eye-contact, I can avoid talking, I can listen to Tarkan and sing along loudly, I can use whatever surname I want. My passing phase was but a passing-through to my own, unique me. I will hide no longer.