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Coming Out

I am bisexual.

I’ve wondered for a long time whether this was worth sharing with more than a few of my closest people. After all, I’m happily married to a cis, hetero man, and I can pass. But, for me, it comes down to authenticity. For years I lived in a conservative Christian environment where appearance was everything. Appearing put together, appearing righteous, appearing spiritual, appearing ladylike, appearing good. It was crippling and exhausting. I don’t want to appear as anything anymore, I just want to be.

Realizing my bisexuality was a long, cumbersome journey. I think the first time it truly clicked I was working at Barnes and Noble and started noticing that butch girls would flirt with me when I was working at the checkout counter. And I liked it. I met Tim shortly thereafter though and that relationship took precedence over whatever other attractions I was experiencing or noticing.

Looking back, I should have come to realize my bisexuality much sooner than I did, But I never had the tools. Growing up I was taught that sex was sacred, should only happen between a man and woman, and even then should only happen once you were married. Within this rampant homophobia there was also a huge amount of misogyny. Growing up I only ever heard of of the “sin” of being a gay man, never of being a gay woman. I think it never came up because within the conservative evangelical culture women are secondary and subservient. Our bodies were supposed to be under the stewardship of our fathers until our husbands came along and introduced us, on our wedding night, to sex. Female sexual autonomy was not a possibility, never mind “deviant” sexual autonomy.

My relationship with Tim is one of the first relationships that has been truly accepting and safe for me. He is not threatened by my bisexuality and he has been endlessly supportive, first as I worked through the initial realization and acceptance of my sexuality, then as I worked through the implications of coming out. I’m so much happier owning my sexuality, and it has only strengthened our relationship. He’s pretty great.

I turned 29 recently and my birthday always makes me a little reflective. On the whole, my 20s have been good. I got my first office job and have been promoted twice, I got married, Tim and I bought a house, we adopted, loved, and lost sweet Marcy, as well as adopted 3 other dogs, I was diagnosed with Autism, and have gone through some truly difficult times of depression and therapy. It’s been an eventful decade (almost) and I’ve found out a lot about myself.

For so long I was wrapped up in self doubt and dislike and insecurity but I finally feel like I’m in a season of embracing who I am. A lot of my previous unwillingness to be open about facets of my identity have been based in fear. Fear of what my family would think of me, fear of being too vulnerable, fear of being judged and misunderstood or worse dismissed and invalidated.

I still have a lot of these fears, but I’m back in therapy (seriously, I cannot recommend therapy enough) and I’m learning that I want to be authentically myself regardless of the circumstances.

The older I’ve grown the clearer it is to me that at their core people never change. I’ve grown and discovered and adapted, but I’ve always been me. Part of me is angry that it’s taken this long to know myself but part of me is comforted. I am who I am. If it takes me a while to get it all figured out, that’s ok.

So that’s where I am at now. I’ve got a ways to go yet, but at least I know better who I want to be: myself.

Anne with an “E” Season 2

One of my first blog posts a year ago was on the new Netflix series Anne with an “E”, a new retelling of the classic by one of the Breaking Bad writers. The second season dropped earlier this month and I binged it over the weekend and have been processing it ever since.

I have incredibly conflicted feelings about this season.

The parts that are good are an utter delight, but the parts that are bad, they maybe ruin the whole thing. After the first season’s cliff hanger ending I approached season two with even more skepticism than the first season. The cold open swept all the skepticism from my mind though. The cold open to season two is one of the most magical, one of the most Anne-ish, one of the most truly, unrepentantly joyous scenes I’ve ever seen. It made me tear up. The rest of the episode however, and indeed the next several episodes were deeply, deeply disappointing.

My fear over how the the grifters posing as borders at Green Gables would be handled turned out to be entirely warranted. These grifters end up tricking the entire town of Avonlea into thinking that there is gold on their land and scam hundreds of dollars from the families before kind of just disappearing. The thread didn’t add anything to the overall story or character arcs, and I was left wondering why it was included at all.

Even more off putting than the grifters is Gilbert’s story. He quits school to see that world as a coal shoveler on a steamer. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with a Trinidadian bunk mate and then spends the rest of the season playing the colonizing white savior.

One thing I truly appreciate about the series is that they explore race, class, and social prejudices, but Gilbert’s storyline is baffling to me. There is absolutely no justification for it, and the characters of color are never much more than foils for the  “good” white people. Gilbert’s Trinidadian friend, Bash, doesn’t even have a his own story, not really. He’s mostly there so Gilbert can go on rants about how trains in Canada aren’t legally segregated, so Anne can effusively compliment him on his skin color, so Matthew can expand his horizons and try curry for the first time, so Marilla and Rachel can bond over their openness in learning to not assume that people of color are always servants.

It left a bad taste in my mouth. I think my problem with the inclusion of Bash in the series is representative of my issues with the series as a whole. It tries to do too much. It takes on too many issues and does a disservice to them all by not being able to cover any one of them with the thoroughness that it deserves.

Now, just to be clear, I think all of the issues they try to cover are important, and deserve to be explored and highlighted. I don’t think that taking an established story and forcing in a storyline purely for racial commentary is the best way to handle it.

Another entirely out of the blue story line is Cole’s. Cole is a sweet, sensitive artist who turns out to be struggling with his homosexuality. A struggle that was heralded blatantly by some of the most stereotypical cliches out there. He can braid Anne’s hair better than she can, he doesn’t want to to play catch with his school mates, etc. I love a queer coming of age story (and to be honest the new spin on Diana’s aunt Jo being a lesbian is one of my favorite things in the whole Anne with an “E” series) but again, it was so obviously shoe horned in that it felt a little off.

I still loved how they handled Anne’s life prior to adoption by Marilla and Matthew, and how they continued to add layers and depth and dimension to the characters. I loved the bold feminist stance it takes and the importance it places on self expression, individualism, and taking responsibility for your own life and desires.

Ultimately though, I was deeply disappointed. Season two of Anne with an “E” bears little resemblance to any of the original story lines, and fails to even truly capture the spirit of the story. There was only a single incident in Season 2 that even came from the book. Anne’s dismally failed attempt to dye her a hair the glorious raven black of her dreams was faithfully portrayed to perfection by Anne. But other than that everything is pure fabrication, even if it does happen to people whose names were are familiar with.

If there is a third season I will watch it. But I will have to be sure I go into it with the firm understanding that whatever I will see is unlikely to be anything more substantial than an “inspired by” rather than a “based on”.

 

Fictional Aspies in TV

With a couple of major exceptions, which I’ll get into later, I loathe depictions of aspies in TV shows. To start, there are very few depictions of aspies in TV shows, relatively speaking. Even fewer of those are accurate, and even fewer of those are women.

The Big Bang Theory – this sitcom is likely the most well known show with prominent aspie characters. Or at least characters who act like aspies. To the best of my knowledge none of the characters are ever fully acknowledged as on the autistic spectrum, although they clearly are milking the cache aspies currently have in pop culture. Perhaps the most depressing part of this show is that the aspie characteristics are always played for laughs. They’re the odd, ridiculous punchlines to weak, inauthentic “jokes”.

Sherlock Holmes- There are so many iterations of Sherlock that by default are depictions of aspies since Sherlock Holmes was based on a person who was clearly on the autism spectrum. I have a deep soft spot for Sherlock Holmes retellings, even the ones that aren’t faithful to the book. However, as far as a depiction of autism goes, Sherlock Holmes falls far short. The biggest issue is that Sherlock Holmes is a savant. And a raging asshole. I have nothing against raging assholes as a rule, but the savant bit doesn’t sit well with me. I feel like most media, if they show aspies at all, shows them as savants. Savants do genuinely occur, and they are wonderful and interesting and unique. The vast majority of the time though, autism doesn’t make someone a savant. It usually just impairs someone’s life and closes them behind strange walls no one, least of all themselves, understand.

Recently there have been some shows that openly portray their main characters as on the spectrum. Two that spring to mind are The Good Doctor, and Atypical. The trailers I saw for The Good Doctor left me so furious I determined never to even try watching it. I may be wrong, but it drips with self congratulation as its own open mindedness and serious. It looks unbearable. Atypical I had higher hopes for, I did some research on the show and the creator supposedly had a close relationship with someone on the spectrum and used that to inform the show. Even so, I was only able to make it through one episode before losing all interest in it. I can’t quite put my finger on why I couldn’t continue watching it, it just didn’t feel authentic.

There are two aspies on (or rather were on) TV that I love. The first is Dr. Temperance Brennan from Bones. It’s never explicitly said that she is on the spectrum but it’s pretty obvious. Brennan’s more on the savant end of things, but not in a grating, unbelievable way. Her literalism, her struggle to feel and express “normal” emotions and her social awkwardness are all very relatable. She also has a series long arc of personal growth. Throughout the shows’s duration Brennan remains true to the basic parameters of autism, but through slow, hard word she expands her emotional capacity, her social graces, and her acceptance of the illogical facets rampant in relationships of all sorts.

My favorite aspie of all time though, is Abed Nadir from Community. He is the most perfectly relatable, adorable, endearing, and wonderful aspie on TV in my opinion. Undoubtedly part of my love is that Abed and I are very close on the autism spectrum. He’s awkward and has severe tunnel vision, is prone to taking his inner thought life too far in reality, spins alternate, imaginary worlds where it’s easier to live, and has distinct, sometimes illogical patterns, routines, and practices. All I can say is, watch Community (be sure to skip Season 4 though).

Of course, there are many shows that feature aspies that I haven’t seen, or haven’t seen enough of to have a firm opinion on. Parenthood comes to mind. Overall, my opinion of aspies on TV is pretty low. I feel like any minority in media aspies are often exploited, and even if more or less portrayed correctly it’s to make viewers feel righteous for being so inclusive and open minded in what they choose to watch for entertainment.

Fictional Aspies in Books

There are some lovely books about aspies. Usually, written aspies are more well rounded than tv aspies, less savant and more true to life. As lovely as they are, fictional aspies are few and far between. They are becoming more common as aspie culture is now more chic than ever before, but true depictions are still rare.

One of the more well known books with a prominent aspie is The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime. A sad, thoughtful look at an aspie whose life is turned upside down. But for all the cultural cache, The Curious Case does not make my list of recommended aspie books.

My three favorite aspie books are as follows:

The Eagle Tree: a well researched and sweet story about a young, severely autistic boy during a time of emotional turmoil. His obsession with an historic tree about to be demolished brings about unexpected connections and growth. Temple Grandin herself blurbed this book, with the most adorable, aspiest recommendation ever. It amounted to “This is a good book that clearly shows what one person’s autistic experience was like”.

An Unkindness of Ghosts: she’s flexible on the spectrum of sexuality, she’s stridently atypical, and she’s a person of color. This books has been one of my favorite things (not just books, but all things in general) this year, and maybe ever. It’s emotional and political but not in a suffocating way, and ultimately a beautiful tribute to intelligence, difference, and perseverance. I said it before and I’ll say it again, read this book.

And finally The Lady Sherlock series: there are two currently out and a third due in October. These books are a sheer delight. They’re a gendered swapped Sherlock Holmes that manages to be feminist and unique while holding true to the spirit of the iconic detective. Now, the next post will have a vicious attack on the interpretation of Sherlock Holmes in tv. The original books were written before autism was a well known thing, but the character Sherlock Holmes was based on a real person and this person was obsessive, detailed, had a huge array of eccentric but hardly practical knowledge, and a deep disdain/ignorance for information that held no interest for him, despite how universally prized this information might be. The first chapter of A Study in Scarlet is mostly an unwitting but accurate description of autism. Lady Sherlock is more approachable than the original, and less of an asshole. Not that I particularly mind assholes, but the asshole male aspie is a tired trope and I’m glad there’s fiction that’s moving away from it.

Keep an eye out for my next post which will tackle aspies in tv. Be forewarned it will not be the kindest thing I ever write.

Fictional Aspies

I read, oftentimes obsessively. When I become intrigued by something I usually go overboard buying books on the subject. Once I was officially diagnosed with autism I bought every reasonably well regarded book on the subject I could get my hands on. As I went through the more text book/scholarly books I was increasingly depressed at the lack of information about autistic women. One of the more ubiquitous works on Autism, Tony Atwood’s “The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome” has only a single throwaway paragraph about female aspies.

This disappointment sent me on a tangent of buying Temple Grandin books and googling all the possible combinations of “female”, “autism”, “book”, and “author”. I found some wonderful books. “Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate” felt like it might have been based on pieces of my own life. But, autistic women is still a fairly slight percentage of autistic works and Temple Grandin takes up most of that space.

After tackling the nonfiction side, I inevitably turned to the fictional. Everyone wants stories that they can see themselves in. Turns out, there is not a lot fiction with positive depictions of autistic people. And again, that list becomes even shorter when you try to find female centric stories. Never mind queer aspies. The single book I have found (so far) about an atypical, queer woman is “An Unkindness of Ghosts” by Rivers Solomon. Even if you have no interest in queerness or aspies, I recommend you read this book. It is stunning.

I have found, in general, that books tend to deal with fictional aspies better than tv or movies. In fact, they are so different that they each deserve their own posts. Just as a heads up, the post about books will be more along the lines of love letter, and the post about tv/movies will be a vitriolic rant with a few shining spots of redemption. Stay tuned.

Ps: if you have any recommendations for thoughtfully portrayed fictional aspies please let me know. (:

Seasonal Productivity

So, it has been a while. I wish I could say that I haven’t written anything for months because I’ve been super busy, creative, and productive. However, I’ve spent the winter months under piles of blanket with boxes and boxes and boxes of red wine. I do not do well in winter. The cold sears into my very soul, sapping my will to live, not metaphorically.

Winter sends me spiraling into depression. I’ve never done well in the winter, but my inability to cope with it has become significantly more pronounced the older I’ve gotten. I think my tolerance for winter has decreased directly in proportion to the amount of responsibility I’ve acquired as an adult. Looking back, I think I just slept through most of the winters. It was easy enough to do when I was single, working closing shifts at the book store, and didn’t have two dogs or a house to take care of. As a teenager there would be days at a time where I never set foot outside the house. Now I’m outside the house every day, even if it’s just in the back yard to let the dogs out.

I wish I could say I had the intention of finding at least one enjoyable thing about the Minnesota winters, but I doubt it. Learning to embrace things I wholeheartedly despise seems like a waste of effort when there are so many other taxing things in life. I think I’ll have to settle for budgeting my year more intentionally. If I can make the most of the spring and summer months, when there’s light and warmth, spending the winters on naps and wine won’t feel so wasteful. So here’s to trading in my blankets and red wine for some sunshine and sparkling rose, Because really, all times of the year there should be boxes and boxes and boxes of wine.

 

Showering: An Existential Crisis

I hate water. I hate drinking it, swimming in it, washing with it, being in the rain, sweating; I hate anything water or water adjacent. I don’t think that water would ever have been a favorite element of mine, but being an aspie has definitely intensified my hatred of it. All aspies have sensory processing disorder, to one degree or another. Sensory processing disorder is when you don’t react proportionally to physical stimuli. You can either be hypersensitive or hyposensitive.  “Hyper” means you over-react, “hypo” means you under-react.  Someone who is hyposensitive to cold could go out in freezing weather with shorts and a t-shirt and not feel cold. Being hyposensitive can be quite dangerous, because you often overextend your body without even realizing.

I am not hyposensitive to anything. But I am hypersensitive to a lot. An annoying amount of things. For instance, I cannot wear any shirts that touch my neck, every standard t-shirt I own has a self cut neckline. I can’t get into a car in the summer without waiting for a majority of the heat to escape. I need to have my ears and wrists covered when I go to sleep. I could go on indefinitely.

Being hypersensitive to something isn’t just annoying, it can be debilitating.  If I wear a shirt that touches my neck, it’s not just irritating, I am in a state of high anxiety until I take it off. If I get into too hot or too humid of a car, I will end up in tears.

There are two things I am the most hypersensitive to though: cold and water. This makes showering a struggle, this makes winter a struggle. Showering in winter is a f***ing nightmare. I have never been able to shower daily, or even every other day.  I realize that this is unusual, and may be seen as gross. I take comfort in two things. One, that I am a profoundly sedentary person. The most I exert myself in an ordinary day is to take dog on a thirty minute amble through the neighborhood. Two, for years and years bathing was a once yearly activity. I conveniently ignore the fact that this was hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

Every time I shower, and especially in the winter, I have to convince myself that it’s worth it. I have to remember that I work in a professional office, that this is basic hygiene, that I sleep next to someone every night and they deserve not having to smell me. Most of the time I manage to convince that these are sufficient reasons for showering  sometimes I don’t.

On the times that I can’t convince myself to shower my thoughts run like this, “Why should I even bother? I’ll just have to shower again in a few days and then a few days after that and a few days after that until the day I die. It’s a useless social construct, based on the shallow judgements of appearances. In the end we’re all going to die and who is going to care if I showered every day or twice a week?” By this point in my inner monologue I’ve usually topped off my glass of wine and burrowed under a pile of blankets so huge the only parts of me showing are my face from eyes to mouth and the hand that’s holding the wine glass.

I’ll never understand people who shower every day like it’s not a crisis ridden, panic ridden, discomfort ridden endeavor. All I can do is be thankful for face wash and dry shampoo.