27 September, 2009

Like a person

My post yesterday was supposed to be about something else, but I got distracted by the fact that in high school my homosexuality created "special needs" that I had to advocate for. I think it's a funny story and also shows that, while disability is real, many of the worst aspects of having a disability aren't innate to being disabled.

My friend Niyatee said that she interacts with me as though I don't have AS, and she wondered if that was ableist. I don't think it is. At the same time, I like that she thought of it and doesn't buy the idea that people with disabilities, or any difference, should be treated "like everyone else." The "like everyone else" model actually puts a lot of pressure on people who are different to reduce their difference to one very measurable, nonthreatening thing, and be "like everyone else" otherwise. For example, for my teenage self homosexuality couldn't just be as simple as having a girlfriend or wife in the future while a boyfriend or husband was in everyone else's. Because I was attracted to girls, it affected many aspects of how I related to my peers. I ended up feeling like a failure because I couldn't keep my homosexuality "to myself," as I saw it. It was messy. It spilled out into other people's lives.

There probably are lesbian teenagers who have completely asexual friendships with straight girls. Similarly, there are disabled people whose only difference from nondisabled people is that they are in a wheelchair; and while it's hard to find an ASD example of a "like everyone else" disabled person, there is probably someone out there who has developed good social skills and doesn't have trouble with routines and obsessions, but has to use typing to communicate. If you can accept that this person types, you're good; otherwise you can treat them like...well, you know.

One of my favorite books contains the gloriously inarticulate sentence, "Mike needed to treat Randall like an autistic person. But he also needed not to treat him that way." The book is Send in the Idiots by Kamran Nazeer, and Mike and Randall are based on a real couple. Mike was great at advocating for Randall when people tried to bully and manipulate him, but he also patronized Randall, overestimating his guilelessness and dismissing his poetic talent as a savant skill. While Mike was admirably attuned to Randall's impairments, he didn't recognize the parts of Randall that didn't fit a stereotype. To supplement Nazeer's incoherence with my own, the best way to treat other people is always "like a person." Not like everyone else. Not like a gay person or a disabled person or a person of color.

My school treated me like everyone else in a way that was damaging. But on the other hand, what would it have meant for my school to treat me "like a gay person?" I guess, based on my dancing and changing problems, you might institute a system where gay students are classified as the "third sex" we were considered to be in the early twentieth century. It would not be standard practice for gay students to change with the same gender; you would set aside another room. If the atmosphere was especially puritanical (the type of school that doesn't allow boys in girls' residential halls, for example), you would have to set aside more rooms depending on how many gay students there were, with one gay boy and one lesbian changing in each changing room so there was no possibility of misconduct.

I have a feeling that if a school did this, it would be seen as a bad thing by almost everyone. Conservatives would complain that the school was recognizing an "alternative lifestyle," while liberals might protest that it treated gay people like another species. I would have liked it--after all, it's a policy tailored to fit my teenage self--but other gay kids would have been embarrassed that it was made into such a big deal. And of course the policy doesn't mention bisexual or questioning students, who would presumably make up a "fourth sex" not allowed to change with anyone. My school ignored the ways same-sex-attracted students were different, but the third and fourth sex system overestimates it, and assumes that all SSA students are different in the same way.

Actually, putting aside the fact that my school treated me like everyone else in a way that caused special needs, once I actually had those special needs certain teachers did a great job treating me like a person. As I mentioned in the previous post, Mrs. M. either understood, or didn't understand but respected, why I had so much anxiety about dancing with girls. She was also supportive when I dealt with my self-consciousness in idiosyncratic ways, like refusing to workshop my plays until my classmates had signed a contract saying they understood that it was natural for a gay person to write plays about gay people, and that they wouldn't be surprised or judgmental when that plot element appeared. As has probably been obvious, my gay person special needs were completely interconnected with my Asperger's special needs, which my teachers were equally sensitive to even though not all of them knew about my diagnosis. I didn't have to invoke a label for Mrs. G. to believe me and help me when I explained that I couldn't learn a dance by watching other people do it. I almost think it was better without a label, because it meant that Mrs. G. didn't think of a book or movie about autism, but just helped me with the specific problem that I had.

My friend John doesn't believe I have Asperger's. He says that I seem normal and people are overdiagnosed with trendy disorders. But he doesn't make a big show of being amused or baffled by the way I talk, which is something annoying that most people do when they don't know I have AS. This summer, John and I planned to meet in New York City, and based on what he already knew about me, he assumed I would have trouble taking the subway. He offered to take an unnecessary ride so he could find me at the train station and I wouldn't have to take the subway alone. This is a really good example of knowing and thinking about someone's challenges, without making a big deal out of how they are different. And I couldn't care less if John thinks I have Asperger's, because he treats me like a person.

One of the first times I talked to Niyatee, she kept saying how she liked the way I talked because "you just say things straight out." I said that I wished everyone liked it; I actually didn't, because it made it hard to write emails to professors or prospective employers. Then Niyatee said she felt embarrassed because she'd forgotten that I had Asperger's and had assumed I talked the way I did on purpose. This is the only time that she ever needed to consciously think about my AS, and because that was more than a year ago, she thinks it means she might be treating me "like everyone else." But actually, all it means is that when she finds out things about me she just finds them out, and doesn't feel the need to divide them into piles called Amanda and Asperger's, which is good, because those are really difficult piles to make and it also doesn't matter.

26 September, 2009

Special needs

When I was in high school I was one of the only students who was openly gay. I was extremely sensitive to the idea that other girls might see me as a predator, and I felt like the only way to prove that I wasn't was to not be any more attracted to them than they were to each other. But I couldn't turn off my attraction to girls, and the more I put pressure on myself to be asexual, the more uncomfortable I was interacting with girls, even girls I didn't find attractive. This led to me having special needs.

My special needs were impairments in doing things that most girls don't find difficult: touching girls, and being in a room with girls who were changing. Every year I was in the winter musical, where one was expected to do both of those things. I had to figure out how to accommodate my special needs. Instead of changing with everyone else, I would change in the bathroom. The dancing scenes posed more problems. Like many high school musicals, ours had a mostly female cast, so most of the dancing couples were female/female. In tenth grade, I actually went along with this, but it was really difficult because I couldn't bring myself to actually plant a hand on my dance partner's waist. Instead, I let my hand hover in the general vicinity. During practice, I would let go of my partner's hand every time we stopped dancing, lest I be suspected of holding on too long. In eleventh grade, I was lucky enough to be paired with one of the few boys. In twelfth grade, I took matters into my own hands and under the question, "Would you mind being cast as someone of the opposite sex?" wrote, "as long as I don't have to dance with a girl."

The dance teacher Mrs. G. was incredibly kind to me in ways I'm still grateful for, but I missed rehearsal one day and the next day I discovered I had been paired with a girl. Maybe I'm being melodramatic in retrospect, but if I remember correctly, it was a girl I had a huge crush on. I knew this could not happen. "NO," I said. "I AM NOT DANCING WITH A GIRL."

Mrs. G. looked puzzled. "But your character is a girl. You're not dancing with a girl as a boy." My character was originally a man, but Mrs. M., the wildly talented drama teacher, always thought up new blocking and line readings so that the girls at my school could play our characters as girls, instead of trying to imitate a standard performance.

And fortunately, Mrs. M. was there right then. Mrs. M. was also my English and playwriting teacher, and she had read all my miserable scenes and journal entries, and she had witnessed my incredible embarrassment when another girl read the part of my husband in an absurdist theater elective. "It's not being a boy. Amanda can't dance with a girl," she said, and that was that. Unfortunately, Mrs. G. split up two friends who were dancing together, and I didn't know how to explain to them why I was so insistent. They weren't mean about it but they seemed confused, and I cried when I was driving myself home, feeling guilty about being a burden.

25 September, 2009

When I was a little kid, I once exclaimed, "This is the third best cake in the world!" because I thought I should allow for the possibility of better cake in other countries.

23 September, 2009

Victi sumus

My first big obstacle has appeared. I'm not really sure how to try to Write a Post about it, because I don't know whether I will succeed in what I want to do or not, and I don't know how to characterize the nature of the obstacle. To me, it seems indicative of the difference between UK and US attitudes towards learning. In some ways, the UK version is better for an Autism Spectrum Disorder person, and in some ways, the US version is better.

One of my two majors is Latin Language and Literature. I started taking Latin when I was in tenth grade, because I liked the idea of it and I wanted to take something I wouldn't have to speak. My teacher in tenth and eleventh grade was an extremely eccentric woman who played favorites to an insane degree. I got in her good graces early on, because my writing ability produced translations that she thought were "extraordinarily sensitive." In twelfth grade, I got a new teacher, and had to deal with the fact that after two years I had almost no knowledge of Latin grammar. But he was really easy to relate to, and willing to give me extra help. Even though I now did worse in Latin, I still liked it and started to consider the idea of being a Latin teacher. It was more interesting than math or science, but more objective than English or history.

In college, I decided to start again at the beginner level because I felt I still had such a bad grasp of grammar. I learned a lot more, but my professor was so good that I decided I could never be a Latin teacher. But I kept taking Latin courses. I liked the classics department at my school--the office, the professors, how small and friendly it was. For these not especially great reasons, I declared a Latin major in my second year. (My other major is Creative Writing and always has been; it's why I chose to go to the college I did.)

The problem is--and this is my big problem with the college I go to, and probably most colleges in the US, except Colorado College, which I wish I'd considered more seriously--learning is interesting. Professors, by and large, inspire respect. And every professor tells you to read a chapter of a really dense book, or read almost all of a really dense book, or translate a certain quantity of Virgil or Horace. And they tell you to do this by the next time class meets, which is usually in about two days.

But how can you do all this reading and translation in two days? Especially when, besides that, one or two or three of your teachers has sometimes charged you to produce a paper, a story, or a passing grade on an exam? Well, the short answer is, you can't. They tell you to do things that you simply can't do. I have never found a solution to this problem, and frequently, in the past two years, I have just ended up putting the measurable first--papers, stories, and studying for tests. I have gotten bits and pieces of reading done, and on lucky occasions I have finished a whole book, but that only happens half the time, or less.

A really unfortunate result of this is that I often end up working less hard in the courses that relate to my majors. Most of the time, last year, I got away with not always doing the Latin translations; I'd translate frantically in class, trying to catch up by the time I was called on to speak. I didn't revise my plays and stories as much as I wanted to, because I was writing papers and studying, and my teacher couldn't exactly fail me for not revising enough.

This makes me really depressed. I like my school, but I feel like I don't get to concentrate on the things I really love. I wish I could take one Latin course and one creative writing course, and have both courses every day.

In the UK, people only take three classes a term, and they only take classes related to their majors. So in my third-year Latin course, everyone else is a lot more advanced than I am, because they've been able to focus on Latin much more. I think I'll be able to keep up, because this is the only third-year course I'm taking. It will take a lot of very intense extra work, but I would really relish the experience of putting Latin first for once.

Now, in the US, if the professor expressed doubts about me taking the course because I didn't have as much experience as other people, and I told him really sincerely and passionately that I wanted to take the course and would work really hard, then that would be it. I'd get to take it.

In the UK, this is not the case.

In the US, you would never give someone a test without telling them first. You would never, ever tell someone to come to your office to talk to you about whether they were qualified to take a course, and then hand them a placement test and make them take it right then. What if I had ADD and needed extended time? What if (as happens to be the case) I get very anxious when I have to do something I haven't prepared for emotionally? What if I need to follow the schedule in my head telling me "this is what you're going to do today" or I get so overwhelmed that I just guess on a lot of the test answers because I want it to be over?

Well, fuck me, then, I guess.

The professor invoked the difference between the US and UK educational systems to prove that I wasn't as advanced as my classmates, and he was correct. But also, the difference between the US and UK educational systems means that I will have much more time than I am used to, and have much less trouble worrying about which homework to do and which homework to pretend to do. I really think the relief that this will cause will make it possible for me to work really hard to keep up in a class that is very challenging.

Right now, I'm at a loss for what to do. I might delete or edit this post because it isn't very organized and is overemotional. I'm waiting for an email from my Director of Studies, a professor from the US, who will hopefully be able to help me make my case to the professor. I don't know to proceed in the meantime--whether to go to his class, the class he wants me to take where they're reading something I've already read, neither, or both. Why did this have to happen? I did everything I had to do before classes started, because I didn't want to be caught off guard. Now I have this huge, baffling problem.

21 September, 2009

Not knowing how to be good

It's hard for me to tell the difference between being a doormat and being a good person. Obviously, I am not God so I am not going to be entirely successful at being a good person, ever, but as I try I become closer to God. Or I would, if I understood what it actually meant to be a good person.

First of all, like a lot of "special needs" kids, I grew up feeling bad about needing things that other people didn't need. I felt like an inconvenience. Also, when people rejected me, or got mad at me, I equated that (often correctly) with my unusual ways of relating to people and my poor judgment, but I also saw my differences/challenges as bad, in a moral sense. I thought that cutting down on them would somehow be a moral act.

This has led to some really strange habits. For example, I have two really nice, not at all challenging to answer, YouTube messages that people sent me about my AS videos. They would probably appreciate an answer. But I haven't answered them. This is because I had a lot of trouble, when I was younger, with being an obsessive friend. When I really liked someone, I wanted to hang out with them all the time, or talk to them a lot online if that wasn't an option. This sometimes led to the person being annoyed or angry. Even when it didn't lead to that, it did lead to me being hurt when the person waited a long time to respond to my email, didn't make an extra effort to eat lunch with me, etc. As I got older, I didn't just feel hurt, I felt guilty and angry at myself for being hurt, because it wasn't ordinary to feel that way.

Also, I was confused by people who didn't immediately respond to emails. I didn't think it was hard to respond to my emails. I remember being annoyed, and thinking that other people must have really slow brains if it actually took them a lot of time to answer an email.

But at the same time, this was how most people were. So I made myself feel the same way. Even though I used to be a person who sincerely didn't understand how answering an email could be a difficult task, I have now trained myself to feel vaguely anxious when I get an email, and to "save it for later" as if it's some big challenge, and end up putting it off for a long time. (When I say "email," I also mean comments on message boards, and YouTube messages, and Facebook wall posts--you get the idea.)

So now I take a long time to reply to messages, which is a more ordinary thing to do, but also probably a worse thing to do in an absolute sense, because when a friend emails me, they would probably enjoy a reply, and when a person asks me a question about AS, the answer is probably important to them. So I am actually making life a little bit worse for the other person, by making them wait for something that would make them happier.

A habit I have that's even worse is making fun of people, invading their personal space, and interrupting them. I originally approached socialization from a very rule-based perspective, and didn't understand why people who were obviously more successful than I was were actually more thoughtless and hurtful than I was; I thought the rules for socializing with people were trying not to hurt them, and trying to think about their feelings. This didn't seem to work, so I started to imitate the negative as well as the positive behaviors of successful normal people.

I'm not saying that I never jokingly insulted people before, but I now experience this weird compulsion to do rude things like take people's food without asking, make affectionate but unflattering comments about the way they look, or interrupt what they're saying. I don't think I even realized how bad I feel about this until I wrote it out. It is another example of something I think of as a "right" thing to do, which is actually morally wrong, because it makes people feel hurt, unimportant, or unsafe.

This isn't actually what I intended to write about, but I got distracted by something else. I guess I'll have to write about the other thing later. The point I have turned out to be making with this post is: as I have tried to become more normal, and beaten myself up for things I did that weren't normal, I have actually started doing things that I really should be beating myself up for more, if I'm judging myself in terms of being kind and making the world a better place, instead of in terms of being normal.

I'm not saying I haven't changed for the better in other ways, but in some ways, I have definitely changed for the worse because the goal I've been working towards is normalcy instead of goodness, and not all of normalcy is good.

20 September, 2009

Glee: possibly an elaborate satire of tokenism, but probably not

I saw my second person with green hair in the UK (the first was yesterday). It makes me really happy but I get shy and stare at nothing, although I guess that's what I do most of the time.

I'm continuing to watch Glee, despite my reservations. I was pleasantly surprised by the third episode because the Sassy Minority Characters were actually treated like human beings. The heavy black girl complained about not having had a relationship, and the stereotypically gay boy comforted her. Then, through some dumb catalysts, the HBG somehow thought that the SGB was interested in her romantically, then thought that he was in love with the main female character on the show, then broke his car window and sang a song about it in a fantasy sequence. When she apologized, he explained that he is in fact gay. She responded positively, encouraging him to be more open about it to other students, to which he replied, "I'm not that confident."

This was really nice. I always disliked both characters before because they didn't seem real; they were just in the show for fake diversity and comic relief, as far as I could tell. But in this episode, Mercedes was by turns cynical, realistic, kind, and naive. She seemed like a regular dorky kid, not a Sass Machine, and I found her rather sweet. Despite being assumed to be gay by pretty much everyone, Kurt had trouble saying the words; he looked uncomfortable and almost started to cry. After he rejected Mercedes's suggestion that he publicly come out, Kurt sashayed away, begging the question of whether his "fabulous" persona is a natural expression of his homosexuality, or a front he puts up to distract from what he's really going through.

Some viewers have suggested that Glee is actually going to be this elaborate deconstruction of tokenism, where the minority characters are tropey comic relief in the first few episodes, and then the stereotypes are pulled out from under us. Well, that would be cool, I guess. It seems like giving them too much credit, but I guess we'll see how the next episode goes.

The other two minority characters are Artie, who uses a wheelchair, and Tina, an Asian girl who stutters (and is maybe a lesbian?). Artie and Tina never say ANYTHING. Artie's finest hour involved the main male character, Finn, proving how awesome he is by saving Artie from being bullied. Go Artie! In the first episode he was singing "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat", but the main female character, Rachel, said he shouldn't be singing that because he was already sitting down. By the end of the episode Finn had become the lead male singer in the glee club, and Artie sat on the side playing guitar. I mean, it was more than Tina gets to do, but still. Also, they accidentally cast a really good singer as Artie, and a really average singer as Finn, making this even more awkward than it already was. Being able to walk is apparently a more important qualification for "lead singer" than actually being talented.

This blog points out that Artie almost never pushes his own wheelchair, and is just pushed around by other characters, often for comedic effect as he crashes into other people and walls. I liked the physical comedy at first, because it challenges the idea that including a wheelchair user makes a performance less visually interesting. The wheelchair makes all those scenes more fun to watch, not less. But as the linked blog points out, it gets to a point where Artie is treated like a prop. When Jane Lynch calls Artie half a person, and a bully says it's okay to endanger him because he's already disabled, we're supposed to see that those lines are offensive and the characters saying them are villainous. But it seems like that's what the writers of the show actually think about Artie, given that he has few lines and not much personality.

I've been writing this post for more than an hour, I guess because this show has so much potential to be unique and is doing such a good job squashing it, but I wanted to add that it was really douchey to cast an ambulatory actor as Artie. There are not a lot of parts for disabled actors, especially in musicals. The guy who plays Artie used to be in a boy band and is apparently a really great dancer; he has expressed in interviews how he keeps accidentally moving his legs during musical numbers, and has to tense them up. You know what would be a great way to avoid this kind of problem? Wait, can you guess what I'm going to say? No, you probably can't, because when I criticized Artie's casting on IMDB, I got the following responses:

"Why couldn't they have found a real person with OCD to play Emma? Or a real professional cheer coach to play Sue?" (Carries on in this vein for a while, apparently missing the point that this isn't taking away jobs from OCD people and cheerleading coaches who want to act.) "...And honestly it might have been difficult to find a professional actor who was disabled and had a good singing voice. Not impossible of course, but harder to find than someone else." (Because disabled singer/actors are occupied with all the parts for disabled people in musicals!)

"Honestly, it doesn't makes more sense to have a non-disabled person to play a person in a wheelchair especially since this is a tv show that utilizes 'dream sequences,' if that makes sense. Artie is not completely restricted to a wheelchair now." (Mercedes isn't being played by a thin actor in a fat suit so she can be thin in her dream sequences.) "Also, disabled people often have other health issues that could potentially slow down production of the show." (Yeah. And people with serious health issues would totally audition for a TV show, and wouldn't be weeded out by the fact that they probably wouldn't be good belters.)

This is my favorite:

"The purpose of choosing a cast for a TV series is not to accomplish anyone's idea of social justice. And I'm not too sure a young wheelchair-bound actor would be all that happy to think that the only reason he was considered at all only because he was in a wheelchair."

Because (as has already been hinted at above) wheelchairs users just don't have the talent, health, or energy to be on this show, so if the casting director only considered actors in wheelchairs, then he would by definition be considering people who don't really deserve to be cast, which is actually insulting to disabled people because offering disabled people a job is treating them as objects of pity because they don't really deserve to have a job and treating them equally would mean not giving them a job, something they would probably be really grateful for, and which would give disabled kids the message that disabled people shouldn't be cast in TV shows, because it's ableist.

(Did I mention how much I love Carnivale for by and large casting actors with the conditions their characters were supposed to have? Because I really, really do.)

19 September, 2009

Telling the truth

Opening a bank account was my goal for today, but apparently the RBS just changed their weekend closing time from 5 to 2. I got there and got in line around 1:40, and a woman almost immediately told everyone past a certain point in line to go home and come back tomorrow. At least I know for sure that it's an easy place to open an account, since there were several other students there for the same reason.

When I woke up I went into the kitchen through the dark hall and made myself a mug of tea. Then I sat in bed, drank the tea, looked out the window, and read Erin's wonderful story. Erin's story takes place in a college town that is more Oberlin than Oberlin is. The central character is experiencing a crisis, but the story is told from the perspective of her two best friends, who come off as exhausted and a little bored. It's finals, and they're finishing their papers even as they try to keep their cartoonishly emotional friend from going off the rails. They keep taking naps and zoning out in grocery stores and in the backseats of cars. I think the reason this story appeals to me is the imperfect tense-ness of the tone; it is not so much the plot but the fact that the two best friends are so used to the girl's histrionic behavior, that they are surprised by nothing, that they are mostly traversing a worn groove. It's easy to say they do this; it's hard to say they are doing it, and have been for a very long time.

Sometimes I feel like technology is ruining the life I should have had, when I would have been in a riot grrl band or something, but often I feel like I was born at just the right time. I love YouTube. I don't think anyone could have imagined how wonderful YouTube could be. Specifically, although it's really cool that a few strangers listen to my music, I am mostly excited that I get to talk about Asperger's online.

This is only a condition that people have been diagnosed with for the past ten or fifteen years. And because of that, the textbook portrayals are still very basic: people with Asperger's are teenage boys who are obnoxious, don't have feelings, spout off Wikipedia entries at the slightest provocation, are good with physics/spaceships, and so on. This one-dimensional image has real negative consequences for people who cannot get accommodations or even diagnoses because they don't fit the stereotype. Professionals don't seem to consider the fact that humans change and adapt; that girls who are serious and compulsive get yelled at, guilt-tripped, and punished by parents and teachers; that anyone who is bullied tries to escape it; that people who have been diagnosed with AS may take a systematic approach to eradicating the symptoms in themselves. They also, bafflingly, don't understand that a person who is kept from connecting because of anxiety or social slowness can actually want friends just as much as anyone else.

This leads to lots of people being told that they don't have Asperger's (or another ASD), because they have friends, want friends, don't speak in a monotone, don't monologue, don't publicly stim, are emotional, or worry about what other people think. It also leads AS people, even the diagnosed, to think that they don't have the right to identify as disabled or use their AS as an explanation for things, because they aren't stereotypical anymore. (This was my situation for a while.)

So a lot of ASD people are writing blogs and recording YouTube videos about their lives. And this is a fantastic thing. This summer I started making videos about having and coping with Asperger's. Not a lot of people watch my videos, but some people do, and about once a week for a few months I have gotten a long comment from a person telling me they feel exactly the same way, asking for advice, or wanting to tell me what it's like for them. It's amazing to feel like I can be helpful just by putting together a semi-coherent video where I am honest about my life; that I can be a source of information just by being a thoughtful person with an ASD.

I realized this is what I always imagined riot grrl was like. Not worrying about the fact that you are just a kid and not the best speaker. Just accomplishing something by telling the truth.

18 September, 2009

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

I need to read more, and now that this ordeal of a novel is over, I'm sure I will. I've been reading it since mid-July and it's been hard to get anywhere with it.

John told me he read the first two-thirds and cut his losses. He said, "It's a bad book." I disagree. It's well-composed. It's just that the author's whole intention in writing the book seems to be create something massively disgusting and depressing, and as a result I never wanted to pick it up.

It's probably my fault; I can't remember the last time I read a book without checking ahead to see how it ended. And Geek Love ends horribly. Actually, horrible things are happening from pretty much the first page; if I remember correctly, the book starts with the main character's parents explaining how they intentionally caused their kids to be born with birth defects so they could be sideshows in the family carnival. And this is the most pleasant scene in the novel, since the parents and all their deformed kids are still getting along.

I like carnivals. I like Carnivale. I like Freaks. But the people in Carnivale are regular people, and the people in Freaks are better than regular people. The people in Geek Love all have screwed-up morals, and some of them are downright evil. The most evil character is Arty, who is brilliant and charismatic and has no limbs. He starts a cult based on the idea that having your limbs removed will make you happier. The main character, Oly, is in love with Arty (even though he's evil and her brother). The story is mostly about how Arty destroyed the family, but this is a flashback from the present when Oly is observing the daughter she was forced to give up. Oly's daughter has a tail and Oly will do anything to keep her daughter from getting the tail removed and becoming a "norm," including befriending and murdering the person who's offered to arrange the operation. But it's hard to go undercover when you're an albino hunchback dwarf!

If that sounds like a good book, well, good for you, I guess. Maybe it sounded like a good book to me, at some point--I mean, I like stories about outsiders, the nature of abnormality, and weird love. But I guess I want those stories to have a moral core like Carnivale and Freaks do. Most of the people in Geek Love are the farthest thing from moral, and their motivations are so hard to relate to that it kept me from caring most of the time.

Also, I can't help but be bothered by the way Dunn equates physical disability and difference with evil and repulsiveness. It's all the same to her--luxuriously gross passages about characters' hanging breasts and mildew-infested balls; murder and necrophilia; people who don't have any pigment in their skin or can't walk. Using albinos and people with phocomelia as a metaphor for the darker side of human nature is problematic because disabled people aren't unicorns. It's wrong to write disabled characters for shock value, because real people have to deal with the attitudes you're contributing to.

16 September, 2009

God has a plan

Before I start: I really hate being shy. The worst thing about it is what my body does. The only way it knows to comfort itself is to get all sharp and start pointing out at strange angles. Sometimes I end up just having to hold on to the wall or a piece of furniture. How am I supposed to ever get people to like me when I'm doing all this stuff? It's just impossible. I'm a strange talker, but especially when I'm nervous, I start making all my words as small and dense as possible, like "okay" becomes "key" and I get even harder than usual to understand. I'm considering adopting some kind of fake accent which would maybe take all my energy and keep me from doing the other stuff.

Anyway, what I was going to write about is the idea that God Has a Plan. I mean, God obviously has a plan, but is it realistic to think that we can identify God's plan? I think it probably isn't. We see but a poor reflection in a mirror. We just want to lose 20 pounds or have someone fall in love with us, we want to not be disabled, we don't want the people we love to die. So if someone says that they're in remission from cancer, therefore God has a plan, I find that kind of cheap. What about people who die? Aren't they in the plan? Did He only remember to include you, Remission Lady?

Sometimes it's hard not to say, yes, I can see God's plan, which is probably stupid, and maybe when I say that it just means that I'm marveling at the narrative, how sadness turns into advantage. If I didn't have all this stuff wrong with me I would not know God at all. If everything had been easy, I would be a harder person. I was thinking about my friend, who could confide in me because I was one of his only friends who wasn't close with all the people he was upset about. He knew I couldn't tell on him because I barely saw those people. Previously, I had been really depressed when I stopped being close to these people; I had felt really lost. I'd especially been sad about losing him. But then we became good friends again, and the fact that I had lost those other people made me almost the only person he could vent to when things were going wrong.

In high school, I knew a girl named Clara who had a secret blog. We were secret friends. In the week before she started at my school, Clara went to training camp with the soccer team and it was hell. Because she spent the whole time watching this other girl be teased and whispered about for supposedly being in a lesbian relationship, so from almost the first moment Clara knew that the school was a bad place if people thought you were gay. Clara had learned that she was gay and was only beginning to feel calm about it, and this was after being at a school that felt safe. She was scared and overwhelmed.

But she also met the girl who would be her best friend for the rest of high school, and wouldn't stop being friends with her after figuring out Clara was gay. Clara wrote about this on her secret blog, I still remember, and she had it up as some kind of parallel. It seemed meaningful to her that in the middle of all this fear, she also found something undoubtedly perfect and durable.

When I think about history, my own and other people's, everything looks in my head like colors on a page. Things stand out. It gives me chills to see which things come out of other things, the sudden transubstantiation, the emergence. I know it's silly to say what I want to say, which is kind of what Clara said in her post; that this is God's plan. Because if we can see it, it isn't God's plan. But, for me at least, when I see how beautiful and strange everything is I almost see God.

I need help

I don't like myself very much sometimes. I need to take stimming breaks and that's not an awful thing, but I feel like since I got here I've taken such huge ones, hours and hours watching movies while I play Solitaire. It is hard to go outside and walk around and use the different money, but I don't have time to always recuperate.

My bedding pack never came. It's a blanket, sheets, and pillows. I brought my own sheets for sensory reasons, and I have a quilt, so I've been doing pretty well just stuffing my pillowcase with the coats I don't yet need. Today, for some reason, I decided I would go to the site office, the place I picked up my keys, to ask for advice. I got lost, though. It's so weird because it's the first place I went when I got to the UK, and after a lot of work I eventually found it yesterday. But I couldn't find it and I walked around the city for almost an hour.

Finally I went to buy a sandwich and ended up accidentally eating it in the sandwich shop instead of taking it home. I mean, I wanted to eat it in the shop, but I didn't want to get it on a nice plate and sit at the table and wait to pay until I was finished eating. Paying still stresses me out and it wasn't a lot of fun to eat when I knew that was coming. I did fine, though, and now I know that "sit-in" means the opposite of "take-away" or "carry-out" which means takeout. I just felt sort of uncomfortable after the whole going-to-the-site-office-and-getting-lunch endeavor took such a massive amount of time.

Some of my flatmates asked if I wanted to go to the societies fair with them and I said that I couldn't because I had to go see about the bedding pack. I have been feeling anxious about that too because I know it wasn't a good decision, but it's hard for me to do things with people I don't know very well. We are all eating together tonight, so that's something.

I still haven't bought groceries and made decisions about what I'm going to eat. I guess I'll do that now, although I don't know when we're eating dinner, so I shouldn't take more than an hour or two.

15 September, 2009

The Problem of Shoe-sin

I spend all my time with Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura lyrics stuck in my head. It just keeps happening when I run into some completely ordinary fact of life (if I was Scottish)--Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, a bus that says NHS on it. Yesterday, before I got all sad, I had planned on making a post about how I went on a long walk to Marks and Spencer to buy dishes, a mug, and silverware. It was wonderful. I love how cold it is here.

In some ways I'm very spoiled, but my parents are usually willing to buy me any expensive thing I ask for because of my tendency to wear incredibly old, sweaty, worn-out shoes and clothes. So I ended up asking my mom for the most beautiful fancy shoes ever:

It took me a while to be willing to put them on. For the past four years I've pretty much only worn Saucony Jazz sneakers, down to the bone over and over again, because they're exactly perfectly comfortable and I'm just used to seeing them when I look down. But the thing, when my mom forces me to start wearing a new pair, is just that it's sensory insanity for a day or two when the texture of them is crowding in on my feet and making me upset. I was afraid that it would be even worse with the Beautiful Shoes.

It wasn't, though. In fact my only problem with them is the opposite--they're kind of like not wearing shoes at all, after a while. I feel like I can feel the cracks in the sidewalk through the soles. I should probably not wear them when I am going on long walks like to Marks and Spencer, but they make me so happy when I look down. And they have flowers inside them. I love clothes, just not in a typical girl way. I love clothes because they're beautiful and colorful and soft. My interest in dresses or high heels is pretty much nil; they make you feel worse, not better, in my opinion.

This blog is not exactly my first attempt at Serious Blogging. Not that this is extremely serious, but I just want to actually work on composing entries that say something interesting. This entry is just a mess of things I wanted to say yesterday and want to say today.

I finally met my flatmates. Now I feel a lot better, even though it's not like I have talked to them a lot or anything. It was kind of perverse that I wasn't talking to them at all.

I've been talking to my friend Erin a lot online. Erin is this girl I met at the end of school last year who is incredibly fantastic. I don't have a lot of friends who are gay, for good reason I think. This is a huge generalization and I know it, but the gay people at my school are so busy being nonconformists that they seem to have no time to actually be unique or even smart. This gay guy at my school who used to be a funny, interesting person has been totally absorbed by the liberal arts college machine and now writes a blog called DeQueeRycum which is just a bunch of terrible prose poems accompanied by pictures of him wearing sparkly glitter nail polish and growling. This is a guy who used to be butch, and I'm not saying that butch is better than girly, but just that he seems to act less like himself, and more like his idea of what's radical. Which makes him a lot more of a stereotype than a human.

Anyway, Erin is so delightful because she is very gay but for her it's all about being introspective and intellectual. She likes dead gay writers. Last night we had a big face-off where we linked Google Images back and forth, arguing about who was cuter--Carson McCullers, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Virginia Woolf. I think Virginia Woolf is overrated in the looks department, but Erin is obsessed with the ancient study of noses and I guess Virginia Woolf has the kind of nose that is supposed to indicate a noble person. Erin is just so smart! I wish we had a crush on each other, because I could talk to her forever and never get bored.

Yesterday I gave money to a homeless man because he had a dog. My whole life I've believed that I shouldn't give people money because they will only buy drugs, but the more I think about this the less sense it makes. How could you possibly get enough money to buy drugs just by begging? Drugs are expensive. The social interaction factor makes me uncomfortable--I don't like doing something like this so visibly, like I'm expecting to be thanked, I wish I could just drop it in their cup when they're not looking. I give money to buskers more because they're absorbed in what they're doing. But this is so stupid, buskers probably need money less. Anyway, tomorrow I promise to write an entry with a beginning, middle, and end, about something profound.

14 September, 2009

Would you condescend to help me, I am stupid and blind

CS Lewis said, "What do people mean when they say 'I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?' Have they never even been to a dentist?" Lewis thought maybe God killed his wife because they had such a good relationship that they weren't being challenged. Or because there wasn't any more for her to learn.

My friend's dad died when he was a kid and my friend never really talks like God is not there. It seems like God has to be there, in his mind, because his dad has to be somewhere, he can't not. My friend is a noble person and sometimes things are hard for him because of that. He has a disproportionate number of unstable friends because he is prone to sticking around through everything, wearing himself out. It is exhausting for him and it exhausts me too when I try to do it, sometimes with the same people. We sort of vent to each other about these people, our nasty little side complaints twitching out of the corners of our mouths when we're alone; it's like an affair between people who are staying together for the kids. These mild explosions of resentment are hardly admirable, but we want to be there for the people we know who need help, but at the same time they ask for so much. "Am I a horrible person for saying this," my friend starts, sometimes, and there's no stopping him. He is not.

In pictures my friend is a little boy with round glasses and his dad is very old. My friend and I hold hands and we hold each other, sometimes we sleep in the same bed. He says all these things to me, like, "give me your little hand," and he kisses me on the top of the head. Like a lot of ASD people, I used to hurt myself, and my friend said we can't be best friends if I start again, because I will just be like the other people then and not someone he can count on. Even if I wasn't committed to being better, it's an easy trade. This boy is precious. He's very smart, but also, he's really young for his age, and he reacts to joy by spazzing out, flipping around and shaking his arms and legs. He can be a sad, still person, but when he's happy there is no one like him.

Anyway, apparently he has a girlfriend. I don't really understand why I didn't know this, but he can be a lazy friend and he hasn't contacted me in probably a week. For one thing, he probably hasn't worked out that he can't call me using my US number. I don't really know how to talk about my friend having a girlfriend; there's not a lot of room for how I feel. Being friends with someone is not supposed to be like having a relationship. If you're a lesbian, especially, boys are supposed to be nonentities that you maybe even hate. This is not the case for me. I've never had a serious relationship; my friends are everything to me. I am very, very close to this boy and in some ways he feels like mine, whatever that means.

He's pretty much terminally alone too, so I guess I've latched onto him more fervently than with any of my other friends. We would joke about getting married, a little. He would say why couldn't I be straight. None of this is to say that I really wanted to marry him, because believe me, I don't. It's not just that I want to get married to a girl, but it really, truly is that I know he wants a real girlfriend as much as I do. And I know with prayer and all that I will feel okay about this. But I just have this constant feeling of being always alone--with boys, I get these little flickers of affection and love, but I'm gay, so it never goes the whole way. And with girls, I just feel tremendously unlucky and impaired, and I'm paralyzed; I'm too closed off to feel much for them even when it's safe. My friend has never been like this, he gets his heart broken again and again, and finally his strength has paid off.

The truth is I should be happy for him, and I will be. It just takes time. I like CSL because he saw the world as painful and beautiful. God will work through me and fix me and I won't feel bitter about these things.

13 September, 2009

What To Do If Your Child Has Asperger's Syndrome

This is not about Scotland, but not everything has to be. I sometimes make YouTube videos about having AS, and a woman messaged me describing her 5-year-old son, saying she just wants him to be happy but isn't sure what to do. At school, everyone thinks he's a troublemaker because he talks strangely and gets overwhelmed by things.

It is weird to be an old person. My mom sent me an issue of a newsletter for parents with AS kids, and they arrange social events and meetings. When I was little, I went to a therapist who thought I acted like I'd been abused, but she also said to my mom: "It's almost like autism, but children with autism can't talk."

Anyway, I don't really blame my parents for anything they did, because there just wasn't as much information about this kind of thing. AS wasn't added to the DSM until I was five; there were definitely not romantic comedies about it, even bad ones. I didn't really know what to tell this woman except that she should try to get him a diagnosis, which she's already doing. I also said that she should tell him about his diagnosis as soon as she can.

Thinking of yourself as disabled is not a bad thing; that's an ableist thing to think. Label or not, your kid is probably not going to fit in very well for a while. He might as well understand why, get some kind of services, feel like he is just a different kind of person and needs to work harder and approach things in different ways. The idea that not telling him will keep him innocent, or confident, falls apart. Things will be hard for him; he won't be innocent, he'll just be confused.

I think understanding what your challenges are is something powerful. I don't think that knowing you have challenges keeps you from overcoming them; rather, I think that when you think you have no impairment, that you're just a normal person who somehow is finding it impossible to do these normal things, you can be paralyzed by embarrassment and guilt.

I think it's wonderful that this woman seems so affectionate toward her son, not at all resentful or even especially unhappy, just worried. That's probably one of the most important things, and not something anyone but his parent can do for him.

I finally went outside

I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans and, to my delight, I was a little cold. I love cold weather more than anything; I can't wait to see what it's like here in a few months!

After briefly reviewing some of the myriad papers in my room, I've concluded that I am probably not forgetting anything I'm supposed to be doing. Tomorrow I'm going to the visiting students office to ask advice about various things, and on Tuesday there's a mandatory international students meeting.

I got some very disappointing sweet and sour chicken. I've basically eaten one small meal a day for the past two days, so I should at least lose a lot of weight here. I guess I sound depressed again. I think I'm going to be okay, though. It was so nice walking to get the chicken.

I might try to go to the Edinburgh and Lothians Asperger Society meeting tomorrow night. I emailed them and the guy said it was okay even though I don't really live in Scotland, and said he would help me figure out how to get there if I was having trouble. I think I can walk there pretty easily in an hour. I'm sort of shy to meet other AS people, but I guess those are the only people I don't have to be shy about.

I feel nervous

I talked to a few people a little bit yesterday, but I skipped the "welcome meeting." Actually, I went there and then walked out. Then I went to my room, watched the pilot episode of Glee (it sucks), went to sleep for fourteen hours, woke up, and read stuff on the Internet for three hours. It's just like being at home.

I am enjoying this in a perverse way, but soon I should start doing responsible things. Some things I need to buy are:

A mirror
Hand soap

My only accomplishments are conquering jetlag (I slept from nine to 11:30, which is a lot of sleep but at a normal time) and probably losing weight because I'm afraid to go outside. I haven't looked at the list of things to do. Some things I can think of are opening a bank account and signing up to talk to the head of classics about my courses.

My shower is broken, which makes it hard to want to do anything. The building I live in is sort of unpleasant and impersonal, but not in a sterile way, at least. For example there's carpeting on the floor. Anyway, when I go outside there's a whole city out there! Which is amazing. So I should go outside.

I decided that I am going to plan to not have any friends. This might not happen, and that would be nice (I mean, I thought I wasn't going to have any friends in the first few days at Oberlin), but if you don't talk to anyone it's good for writing.

Now I'm going to get dressed and unpack, not necessarily in that order.

I feel very close to God. I only know this for sure when I have no one to talk to because it becomes apparent that I don't feel alone.

11 September, 2009

On the plane

I just drank illegally for the last time in my life. Which is to say, soon I will be in a country where I am legally old enough to drink, and when I get back in four months, I will be old enough to drink anywhere. It was just to make myself tired anyway. It pretty much worked.

I guess I figured I should make a blog about studying abroad and I thought I would call it Further Up and Further In, which is actually from a quote about going to heaven or something, but is also about how I am just growing up in different ways at a pretty slow pace. For example, this summer I learned a lot about how to take a subway and navigate a city by yourself. I am 20 and I've lived near a city my whole life. When I was about 16, being young for my age started to really weigh on me and I spent a lot of time making lists of the things I should have accomplished. But because the older you get, the fewer things you are doing for the first time, I'll actually probably catch up in the next five years, if not sooner, and that is exciting to think about.

A funny story about illegal drinking is that the first time I got drunk I was 18, and I basically asked a friend who drank a lot to get me drunk, because I thought it was one of the things I should have accomplished. I try not to think about my life that way anymore. When I was high school, I would try to comfort myself by remembering that I had my own things that other people didn't do, which maybe made up for having the life skills and experience of a 12-year-old, and being mistaken for one.

By the way, I don't actually like drinking that much. And the kind I did today hardly counts (i.e. my mom getting a margarita and letting me drink all of it, because of my dubious hypothesis about how it would make me fall asleep). I get confused so easily and have such intense emotional reactions to things that substance abuse seems like overkill.

This computer is brand new because my old computer stopped working last week. It wasn't actually old, which is why they gave me a new one. I bought it in May and it cost all my money because it's a Mac. The problem is that in theory I know it is so much worse than a PC, etc. etc. and you can't even right-click, and look how it completely shat out on me in such a brief period of time after Macs have been sanctimonously held up by everyone in the vicinity, and John Hodgman is cuter than the Jeepers Creepers kid anyway...but there's just some girly part of me that is completely charmed by this machine. It's white. It's like a big tooth! I can take low-quality pictures of what my face looks like bathed in the light of the display. And everyone at school has one, you guys!

In my defense, I need it for music, and I still respect people more when I find out they have a PC. I mean, I grew up using PCs and my mom and dad met because they both worked for IBM. I'm kind of like a straight person with gay parents.

In seven hours I'll be in another country, and after a week or so, I guess, I will live there, and it won't seem like such a big deal.