To me this exposed the difference between a false self and the necessity sometimes to create an appearance that differs from your internal experience. Linda does sometimes pretend because, like everyone, she is not always interested in other people's stories; she sometimes wants to curl up in a corner with a glass of wine rather than support a friend in need. However, her overview is that the long term is more important than the short term; she does want to support that friend, she'd just rather not do it now when the friend happens to need it. Part of friendship is overriding your own wishes when the needs of your friend are greater than your need. So yes Linda is pretending, but it isn't an overarching pretence, just an awareness that sometimes she needs to override aspects of her complex self to behave in a way that is congruent with her values.
The sort of pretending that many autistic people feel obliged to do in order to "pass" is of another order, it is more like acting - mimicking a whole set of responses that have no connection to their inner world but that they believe are "normal". These pretences are consciously thought out responses that express nothing of the individual. This is quite different to the responses Linda referred to which meant putting forward an aspect of herself that did not at that moment coincide with her preferences.
The need to pretend to be someone else, someone you believe will be perceived as normal, is something experienced by many autistic people, especially before we are diagnosed and know why we feel so different. Almost 20 years ago Lianne Holiday Wiley encapsulated this idea in the title of her book "Pretending to be Normal". More recently autism diagnosticians have explained their failure to diagnose autistic women, thus skewing the prevalence figures and perpetuating the tendency to see autism as male, by suggesting that women "mask" autistic traits. (This could also be explained by the blinkers worn by diagnosticians when exercising their prerogative to gatekeep autism).
As I mentioned in my last blog post there has been a social media campaign inviting people to #TakeOffTheMask. I feel ambivalent about this because, as I describe above, everybody has some level of social mask. This is necessary to get along with others; to compromise and contextualise your own wants and needs in relation to your values and the wants and needs of others in your community.
Unfortunately, most people in the autistic community have come across someone who has been discriminated against as a result of disclosing they are autistic. I even know people who have lost their jobs because of this. While it is beneficial to be authentic and I guess the desire to promote authenticity and acceptance of diversity was behind the #TakeOffTheMask, campaign I think we need to recognise that it is necessary for everyone - autistic or not - to “mask” sometimes. It is not always safe or appropriate for autistic people to remove their mask, especially if they have been wearing it for so long they are not sure what lies underneath. Re-evaluating a life through a new lens, be it an autism lens or conversion to a new religion or ideology requires thoughtful work, and is not something that is usually best achieved by casting aside all that has gone before. I suggest we need to understand and deconstruct our masks rather than hastily remove them.
*As always in my blog posts I use real situations but disguise the identities of the individuals concerned