November 15, 2020

Cargo pants make me feel strong.

I feel more balanced and grounded – less likely to fall over – when the clothing from my waist to my ankles is baggy. I feel more prepared, and ready for surprises, when I can access supplies in my pockets. Most importantly, I feel more courageous when I can imagine myself as an action hero like Kim Possible.

I stopped wearing baggy cargo pants for many years, because I began to believe they were unflattering, unprofessional, and not age-appropriate.

At the start of the pandemic, when every trip to the grocery store felt like a fight for safety, my cargo pants suddenly felt appropriate again. People were posting photos of their current outfits (usually pajamas) vs. what they thought they’d be wearing in an apocalypse (usually cyberpunk costumes), but for me the two were identical.

The precautions I’m taking have begun to feel more familiar than dystopian. Still, I haven’t stopped wearing cargo pants, and I don’t intend to.

Today, at a grocery store, a man laughed at me when I stepped aside to give him more space. This has happened enough times that I now recognize a pattern: Someone who scoffs at safety rules in general will also ignore any requests I make for my personal safety, so it’s best to avoid them entirely.

I immediately turned my cart around and went to a different aisle. “Run awaaay!” he teased, like a villain delighting in a hero’s flight.

But we were playing different games. He was fighting for social dominance, and I was fighting for safety. To win at my game, I had to ignore his.

This kind of tradeoff happens in games with lower stakes, too. I lose at eye contact, to win at listening. I lose at appearing calm, to win at moving in ways that help me feel calm.

And sometimes I lose at looking like a fashionable 32-year-old, to win at feeling like my childhood hero.

P.S. I write from my personal experience as an autistic. What I share is not a substitute for advice from an autistic medical professional. Also, some of my opinions have changed since I first wrote them.