One of the odder things you’ll find in the American South are streets named after Pope Pius IX or “Pio Nono.” I know for sure that Macon, GA has a Pio Nono Avenue, and there must be others in smaller towns and cities. At the time these Pio Nono streets were going up, the United States was enduring a pretty severe culture war regarding the Catholic church, namely whether it was possible for Catholics to be “good Americans” and whether the church’s teachings were compatible with liberal democracy. Yet, despite these controversies, many parts of the otherwise anti-Catholic South decided to name things after Pius IX. If I may be permitted to use the vernacular, what’s up with that?
If you haven’t been able to read between the lines thus far, I’m just going to explicitly state right now that I have Asperger’s Syndrome. Some skeptics seem to think that Asperger’s is a “trendy diagnosis,” especially when you have so many people doing the self-diagnosis thing. However, having Asperger’s Syndrome is only “trendy” if you’re someone like Bill Gates, who is already rich and famous, so any “quirks” can be immediately translated into a sign of genius. Girls and women with Asperger’s Syndrome or who are elsewhere on the autistic spectrum are practically invisible in our discourse. Many people have some clue as to what can be done about a geeky autistic boy who liked computers and math, whereas a geeky autistic girl who can name every post-War of the Roses British monarch and likes to learn Latin (like me) is always going to be an oddity.
Every since I can remember, I’ve felt different for a variety of reasons. When I was a child, I desperately wanted the kinds of friends who lived next door, with whom I could spend hours immersed in play and imagination. Suffice to say, that never happened, one of the main reasons being that I lived about thirty minutes away from all of my schoolmates. In those days, there was a program called “Minority to Majority” in my city that enabled black children to attend public schools in other districts. When my brother and I entered middle school, we both switched to private schools, both of which were also 30-45 minutes away from our home. This allowed my brother and I to take advantage of the best schools imaginable, but we were effectively cut off from the black community. Even today, when black people in Atlanta want to suss you out, they ask you your church and what high school you attended. When I say, “I don’t go to church” combined with the name of the obscure white private school I went to, I might as well be announcing that I was raised by Martians. While my brother was popular and well-liked by people of all races, the opposite was true for me, and I ended up going further and further inside myself. Bereft of real, human interactions, I spend most of my time reading obsessively and daydreaming obsessively. The key word in all of this is “obsessive.”
After I left St F, I drifted for a while. I would go to this parish or that parish, but my indoctrination about “liturgical abuses” and the dangers of going to “heterodox” parishes, filled me with anxiety as I tried to de-transition to “normal churches.” I finally just tried to break free with the whole Catholic thing by going to a Mennonite church for awhile. I don’t have anything negative to say about my time with the Mennonites, because they were honestly the nicest people I had (or have) ever met. The problem was me, because I was still obsessed with theology, liturgy, and all of the other things that led to a nasty case of religious OCD. Like most forms of OCD, I just couldn’t win; when I was at a church that seemed to fulfill all the aspects of my “spiritual checklist” like St. F, I felt inadequate and sinful for not doing this, that, or the other, or because I could never get behind the “women shouldn’t wear pants” thing or the MLK hate, but when I went to a more spiritually “normal” church, I felt like I was still failing at something or possibly everything.