First published on the Walk in Our Shoes Flashblog
My relationship with shoes has been complex. As a child, I favoured no shoes and this was fine because back then, most kids didn’t wear shoes. Confusion first hit during adolescence, when the other girls started experimenting with high heels. I felt like high heels were part of the entry permit to mid teens. Which was a problem because they just didn’t make any logical sense to me. Why would you walk around with your foot at that ridiculous angle? I did try though. But it never felt right. To start with, I just couldn’t walk in the things. I would teeter around and despite my older sister’s encouragement that I just needed to practice, practice did not make perfect. So I put them aside.
I tried again many times. Mostly when some kind of formal occasion beckoned and I knew that the required uniform involved fancy shoes. Flats weren’t a thing in the 80s, so it was high heels or stick out. I wore them on occasion, but I still stuck out, because how do people actually walk in these things? No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t pass as a high heel wearing regular late teens/early 20s female member of Team Neurotypical.
So I found a detour that took me away from high heels. I became Inner City Doc Martin Don’t Mess With Me Because I STOMP Womyn. This mostly helped me be invisible as I surrounded myself with members of this same tribe. But my shoe problems weren’t over.
Because passing still mattered to me. Job interviews. Weddings. Occasions where my Docs would not buy me acceptance. Inside I didn’t know why I couldn’t just wear the fancy girl shoes and fit the fuck in. Or why I couldn’t just wear what I wanted and not care about the fact that I didn’t fit in. I didn’t know why I was different. Why pretending to be like the other girls hurt so much.
Somewhere around my early 30s, I had an epiphany. I decided that I would no longer attend any events that required me to wear shoes I didn’t want to wear. So I stopped going to the fancy occasions, threw out the boxes of worn only once high heels and said never again. It was Docs and Converse and that was it.
My wedding was my shoe coming out. I had a pretty dress. I had fancy curls. And I had my vegan docs, complete with pretty laces. I stood solid and grounded and anchored in myself. This was my day. And I made the rules.
Image is of a pair of legs in black Docs with bright blue shoelaces and the bottom of a pretty blue dress
In my early 40s I had a deeper epiphany. I discovered I was autistic. Being autistic doesn’t explain why I don’t like high heels, but it does explain why I always felt different and why trying to pass as a fancy shoe wearer hurt so much. It helped explain why the comfort of shoes on my body matters a lot and why I can’t NOT be aware of my feet if they are uncomfortable or wrapped in something fraudulent.
Walking in my shoes means ignoring the looks people give me, the rude comments they sometimes make, the assumptions about who I am and what I represent. To walk in my shoes is to filter out the neurotypical world enough that it doesn’t chip away at me. And to look for others that walk in their own shoes in their own ways so that I am not alone.
I wish I had known earlier that I was autistic. I like to imagine that I would have walked comfortably in my own shoes a little earlier.