The Consistency Paradigm

Emma Barnes
6 min readNov 20, 2022

A fabric of expectations holds together THE DEAL™ in which we live. We’re expected, for example, to partner with someone of “a different sex” (hetero-normativity). We’re expected to read and respect non-explicit social cues (class-normativity, whiteness & neuro-normativity). And we’re expected to perform genders given to us as children (cis-normativity). Some of these expectations (like heteronormativity) are slowly unravelling socially and legally. Many other such norms we’re yet to chellenge in court. Undoubtedly, there are many we haven’t yet noticed or named. One powerful norm that I’ve not seen named, let alone skewered, seems to underpin a bunch of other norms. It’s kind of a meta-norm. I’m calling it the consistency paradigm. It goes like this:

If you like the taste of cucumbers at lunch time, you’re exepected to like them in the evening too. If you “suddenly” don’t, you’re abberant and you have something to explain: “but you ate them before!” Uniformity is not only demanded at meal times. Sometimes your varying ability to pay attention is disbelieved: “You managed this fine last week. Get on with it.” Or if you feel masculine today and feminine tomorrow and dress accordingly, you’ll get feedback.

Cucumbers and cognitive ability and clothing, though illustrative, don’t tell the deep story of this meta-norm, however. To do that, we must become children again.

Quinn is 3 years old and exhibits delight at uncle Rick’s arrival. Rick is babysitting for a couple of hours and Quinn and Rick typically do some painting and go for a walk. Quinn loves it— smiles and joy. The following day Rick arrives and, unlike yesterday, Quinn is upset about it. Parent and uncle are discomforted. They might say, “but you love uncle Rick! You’re going to paint and go for a walk, just like yesterday.” Quinn hears, “you are supposed to act the same as you did the previous time. Bury your feelings”. Quinn applies a mask.

In fact, minature versions of this sequence of events populate most of our childhoods. “Smile for the nice lady”. “We’re not going anywhere while you’re in this state”. “Where are your manners?”. These hortations stop our feelings in their tracks. They disconnect a child from their feelings and therefore from

Emma Barnes

Autistic, trans, survivor, abolitionist @friedkrill on Twitstagram