Tré Wilson is a Black, autistic, and queer filmmaker who found that pandemic shutdowns gave him a needed mental health break from autistic masking—which then made him feel guilty about thriving when so many other people were suffering from COVID and its repercussions. Tré talked with us about Normalcy, the short film he made about this experience; how rare it is for him to feel safe being himself; and how people can support him and his work.
Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism: Your reaction to the shutdowns imposed by the COVID pandemic was relief, which might surprise some people. Why was the shutdown a relief for you, as an autistic person?
Tré Wilson: Like many autistics, since early childhood I have been forced to conform to the neurotypical standards of behaving because my autistic traits were deemed unacceptable in one way or another. For survival I had to hide or “mask” these traits from others in order to survive school, maintain employment, and build relationships. But this masking took a great toll on my mental health leading to severe anxiety and depression, which is the case for many autistic people. When the shutdown happened I no longer had to keep up with these standards after losing my job and being at home. I finally had peace from the fast pace and demands of society.
TPGA: It sounds like the Pandemic gave you accommodations as an autistic person that were otherwise not available to you. Can you talk about why you felt guilty for being able to lead the kind of life that gave you peace of mind?
Tré Wilson: One of the major reasons was that while I was feeling relief, many around the globe were suffering from a deadly virus. I felt like it was wrong of me to feel joy while everyone around me was in distress. Also, since I was unemployed I felt guilty for not wanting to return to work because I didn’t want to be viewed as “lazy” or “unproductive”. But since the pandemic started I have been struggling to recover from burnout due to years of masking and I’m just not able to do it like I used to pre-pandemic.
TPGA: Can you talk about what autistic masking means to you, and why masking gets even more complicated for you as a Black autistic man?
Tré Wilson: As somewhat mentioned earlier, masking for me is having to hide my autistic traits from others in order to socialize and survive. For example, things like my tone of voice, facial expressions, and body movements have to be greatly monitored because the neuronormative culture we live in often takes my natural responses to people and stimuli as unacceptable behavior. As a Black and also queer man this gets even more complicated for so many reasons that it could be an entirely separate article. But in short, I guess there’s not many spaces where I feel safe to be myself without great repercussions. If I’m not dealing with racism, it’s homophobia, and if I’m not dealing with that it’s ableism which is most common. But I am thankful for the few online spaces I have access to where I am able to briefly feel at ease.
TPGA: You made a short film, “Normalcy,” about your experiences during the pandemic. Was the style of your film influenced by any particular filmmakers?
Tré Wilson: The style of the film was heavily influenced by filmmakers from YouTube like Kai Foster and Kat Napiorkowska. I had seen videos from them over the years where they detailed their mental health struggles through sort of monologues and unique visuals around them to express it. Their styles were a perfect jumping off point for me to express what I’ve been wanting to get off my chest for ages while allowing me to experiment with my love of cinematography. I also could make it at home alone without the need of a cast or crew.
TPGA: What would you like your next steps to be, as a filmmaker?
Tré Wilson: Next, I’d love to continue creating films around the autistic experience as a director and cinematographer with the involvement of other autistic filmmakers, especially those that are people of color. I have a concept for a romance film centered around two Black autistic boys who fall in love that I really hope to develop one day.
TPGA: Is there anything else you think people should know about you and your work?
Tré Wilson: If you’d like to watch more work from me or hire me for freelance work as a cinematographer or video colorist please view my website or YouTube. And if you’re an autistic filmmaker just simply looking for community please don’t hesitate to reach out.