9 December 2021
Word Count: 1020
Othering and Acceptance in Romkema’s “Perspectives” and Mukhopadhyay”s “Misfit”
Autistic people face many hardships in the way they are treated in society. Because of differences in behaviors and speech, many are othered by people in society, including peers and family. “Othering” happens when someone treats another person or group as inherently different, and usually inferior, to their own group. The poems “Perspectives” by Craig Romkema, and “Misfit” by Tito Mukhopadhyay both describe a person’s experiences being an Autistic person in society and include themes of othering and being seen as different contrasted to feelings of acceptance and freedom.
In the poem “Misfit” by Tito Mukhopadhyay, the speaker is othered and excluded from society for behaviors society sees as different and unnatural, but he feels accepted and free to be himself in nature where these behaviors and movements are entirely natural. He describes the ways his movements mimic some of the motions in nature. He turns in the same way as the earth does, and he flaps his arms in the same way the birds do. He shares, “My hands, as usual, were flapping” before stating, “the birds knew I was Autistic;/they found no wrong with anything” (Mukhopadhyay, 7-9). The birds know he is Austic, but do not see an issue because they do not see him as abnormal or different. The word “flapping” intentionally connects the speaker to the birds he sees. The way he flaps his arms is the same way these birds flap their wings. These movements are natural in this world. The speaker is connected to this natural world through the movements they share.
While nature accepts him for who he is, society does not. He explains, “Men and women stared at my nodding;/ they labeled me a misfit” (Mukhopadhyay, 10-11). People from society don’t relate these movements to what they expect to see in society. Instead of accepting him, they stare and other him by labeling him as an outsider. They see his nodding as different, leading to him being labeled a “misfit”. In this stanza, he describes the way these people see him, “(A Misfit turning and turning)” (Mukhopadhyay, 12). From the perspective of the men and women in society, he is just turning in a way most people do not, despite this movement relating to the movement of the earth when looked at from a larger perspective. He ends his poem asking “why stop turning and turning/ when right can be found with everything?” (Mukhopadhyay, 18-19). The speaker does not see his movements as wrong or different. He has decided not to change himself to fit in with the society that labels him an other. The natural world accepts him and does not see him as wrong. Instead of letting society make him feel bad for being different, he chooses to continue to be himself.
“Perspectives” by Craig Romkema describes the way the speaker was othered and labeled as different because of his autism, but ultimately found freedom and acceptance with his ability to communicate using computers. The second stanza sets up these feelings of being othered. He describes his “differentness” and how he was studied by many different people to try to understand why he was different (Romkema, 10). He shares that, despite all these tests, people did not understand him. He describes, “some were stiff and cold/others blessedly kind/ others not acknowledging I understood every word”(Romkema, 16-18). This line explains how some people assumed he did not know what they were saying because he did not communicate in the same way they did, or the way they expected him to. He even states he was “labeled” “retarded/ or some other variant” (Romkema, 20-21). Because of his differences, people assumed he could not understand them, so they labeled him as something different from them. He was othered by society, not accepted by them. He describes how his parents believed in him and said they knew he “was there/Inside” as if he was trapped inside his body and would need something to set him free.
He describes the many questions he is still asked about his behaviors and other aspects in his life. With his new ability to communicate his thoughts through technology, he is expected to give these insights about his behaviors. Instead of being treated only as something to be studied, he is now acknowledged as being able to participate in the conversation. He explains that, although he is treated differently, he is “not startlingly different in appearance of habits/ from that little boy so willingly labeled”(Romkema, 44-45). This line shows the ways he feels he is still that same kid. He is not labeled in the same way now as people did when he was younger. He explains that the only thing that has changed is his ability to share what he is thinking by typing. His ideas and feelings are not different. He was always able to understand what people said, he is simply able to communicate his understanding in ways he didn’t have the opportunity to before. Now he is able to participate in “discussions on Shakespear and/ Algebra/ vote, give opinions on government actions” (Romkema, 48-50). These are all things he could understand before, but he just did not have a way to communicate his abilities to others. He shares “now my mind is free” (Romkema, 51). His ability to participate in discussions and share in thoughts has allowed him more freedom and acceptance into society.
Craig Romkema’s poem “Perspectives” and Tito Mukhopadhyay’s poem “Misfit” both use themes of othering and being seen as different contrasted with feelings of acceptance and freedom in their works about being an Autistic person in society. In “Misfit”, Mukhopadhyay describes the way he is othered by people in society, but accepted by nature. This allows him to feel more accepting of himself. In “Perspectives”, Romkema describes the way he was othered by individuals in his life, labeled as different, until he gained the ability to type his thoughts to communicate. He shares that, although he has not changed on the inside, he is accepted more by society because his thoughts are free to leave his mind.
Mukhopadhyay , Tito. “Misfit.” dis/lit fall 2021. Accessed 2021.
Romkema, Craig. “Perspectives.” 2010. Disability Studies Quarterly, https://dsq-sds.org/article/view/1192/1256. Accessed 2021.
I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work. – Emily Malone