Explaining ourselves

We got to the villa, large and well-appointed, which we got cheaply because of being slightly before the season. The owner welcomed us, and showed us round. He introduced us to the three big dogs- as we walked through the town later to the café, there was a dogs’ chorus. Be friends with your burglar alarm: he wanted them to get to know our smell. “If you have any questions, please do ask,” he says, but we have no questions for him. Really, we want him to leave.  His parents in law are the next house, overlooking the garden. His English seems excellent, with little foreign accent.

We are shy. We do not want to explain ourselves. “They are shy of you, because they have Asperger’s Syndrome,” I could have said. I am shy, because I am Trans. We can pass as normal if we interact as little as possible. Why on Earth would we want to pass? Because explaining does not necessarily make others friendly- they might be put off by our odd manner, but might be mocking or hostile if they knew what we really are. Or even exploit us! And- I am worthwhile to know, but not trusting. I want you to spot that, imagine I might have good reason for it, and work to gain my trust!

Self-hatred is very useful for being able to pass. I have no right to be as I am, and the hostility of others is only to be expected. Or, you despise them, you put on an act for others. The main cause is fear. We pass because we fear you.

One of us ate something which disagreed with him, and as soon as we got home he was copiously sick in the gutter. There is a hose in the car port, and I hosed it down the drain. Later, the father in law came over. “We wondered if you are all alright? We saw he was sick in the gutter.” This could be friendly concern, and I experienced it as checking up on us. What are they doing wrong? Make them stop. Even, punish us in some way. We just want him to go away. No, no, we’re absolutely fine, there is no problem at all, and we say this not meeting his eyes, looking shifty. I fear, loathing the thought, that I come over as submissive.

I did think, later, of going over and asking for help, taking both at their word, getting to know them a bit, letting down my guard, approaching directly not circumspectly. Are there any tourist attractions for our friend, who has huge difficulty with stairs? I am a human being. Every human being has idiosyncrasies. I should not be judged for mine.

There is a large pile of wood, and a fireplace between the living room and my bedroom, with glass doors to each. I get a fire going easily- just call me the Pyromage! It has a strong draw, but we have more difficulty getting heat out of it rather than going up the chimney.

The kitchen is lovely. Twice we had sausage and mash, and twice we had pizzas. The trouble with passing, of living in fear of and at war with the world, is that you have less energy to explore how the world’s beauties and gifts may delight you, or to make it delight you, for you do not realise you deserve that.

Ability and disability

He can feel overwhelmed in large crowds, and even with four people he is uncomfortable, preferring no more than two others. I was wrong to say that is “almost an advantage” of a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, but I think I was on to something: the diagnosis can help him recognise the difficulty, and accept it, where without a diagnosis a sense of inadequacy and self-hatred might make him deny it and try to fight it, and only get more flummoxed by it. And the diagnosis can help others accept it too. I would rather someone simply accepted it, realising that it is within ordinary patterns of human diversity, noticed it and allowed for it, but if he explains it to someone and that permits them to accept it, that is something I suppose. Not everyone will say, “Oh, go on! Don’t be silly! You’ll love it when you’re there!”

Introverts unite! We’re here, we’re uncomfortable and we want to go home…

This is part of a healthy teenage, to recognise such limitations and enforce boundaries to self-protect around them. If your boundaries are accepted they need not be overly rigid or protected with anger, and you can push them a bit, try things out, and be helped if you find it too much. If you recognise your gifts, and they are accepted, you can use them to help you flourish as a gift to the community. I have not quite finished my teenage yet.

Then again, we wanted to go to the cathedral. Initially we just parked any old place, and found a caff, and planned what to do next. “You’re going home tomorrow,” I said, “so I think you should get to decide what you want most to do”. I am not sure he had thought of it. He suggested the cathedral. The guide book had said this was dull, but we assented. Getting there was difficult.

Because of physical difficulties he could not use the Metro. He could not descend stairs, and anxiety stopped him using escalators. We might have difficulty with buses. I noticed there was car parking about half a mile from the cathedral, and suggested we park up and walk there. They had lunch in a restaurant, I sat outside with an apple, biscuits and Nutella, in the square by the Military Museum because I had spent too much on lunch previously. There was a busker, some trees and statues, lovely architecture, and a bus station.

Then we set off towards the Cathedral. It was not easy. The tiny cobbles on roads and pavements are uneven to walk on, pavements are narrow and roads are steep. Then again much of Portugal has steep hills, and many cathedrals are surrounded by narrow streets on mediaeval street plans. I find it picturesque. Half way, he needed to go to the toilet and spent ages in a caff.

I sympathise with the graffiti artist, and my photographing it like a pleased tourist is a similar gesture back.

lisbon-near-the-cathedralAnd one of us pointed out the orange trees. I am glad to be somewhere so foreign: the architecture, the way of covering facades with ceramic tiles, and the oranges:

lisbon-cathedral-orange-treesAfter, we waited by the cathedral while one of us went for the car. We could not all have walked back.

“They do not consider disabled people”, he said self-righteously. I wanted to say, no, you’re not thinking of others, of “disabled people”, you’re thinking of yourself. I was irritated by his inability, and by the restrictions it placed on us, irrationally feeling he could try harder. I wanted us to do things he could enjoy, and felt with these difficulties he should not have come to such a hilly place and spent some time planning what he could actually do when he got away. My acceptance is limited by how much I am inconvenienced.

He made a loud, wordless noise. “Just processing emotion,” he said, and I thought, how wonderful, to be able to do that and recognise it. I need to process emotion: I said several times how horrible I found Fatima, not because I thought he did not understand but in order to process my emotion. It is not just Aspergers.

He ate something that disagreed with him, and was sick in the car. At one point we were stationary in the fast lane of the motorway, fortunately in a traffic jam, as he was sick on the central reservation. And I noticed how he caught it in his lap, rather than the well of the seat, thinking this very considerate of him. Self-sacrificing, even. Generous. I can forgive a lot of non-standard behaviour for that.

I write of different people on different days.

Allies II

Sometimes Allies- straight people who support LGBT rights- irritate me.

Journalist Tristan Cork covered a vigil for the Pulse nightclub shooting, and stuck a rainbow pin to his backpack, in solidarity. He didn’t bother to remove it, and a few days later was on the bus in the evening, when someone started shouting at him: I won’t repeat what he said, but it was basically a series of statements of abuse each containing a combination of the f-word, the c-word, the b-word, the word ‘gay’, ‘queer’ and ‘homo’. I am not sure what the “b” word is- bugger, possibly, a term I find quaintly old-fashioned, like “bloody”. He had forgotten the rainbow pin, so didn’t realise why the other was shouting at him. Then it clicked.

He’s a big bloke, and the abuser was weedy, but he still felt frightened of the situation escalating. He got off the bus as the other shouted “get off the bus you fxxking queer”.

He is completely right about checking his privilege. I realised then that every single moment of the day and night as I walk around Bristol or travel on its buses, I subconsciously feel I am the one who is supposed to be there – a white English, straight, able-bodied man. Indeed. I have been noticing mine. He makes a fair attempt at explaining that to other white, English, straight, able-bodied men. But then he says,

Whenever anyone mentions privilege there’s a collective groan.

You’re groaning now, I bet.

No. I wasn’t. I was cheering him on. Then I get to this paragraph of only five words which erases me. He assumes all his audience is straight. It’s a slap in the face.

I know he’s trying to explain to straight people who haven’t really thought about it before. I know he is using his journalistic skills to get through to them. I am grateful. And I don’t want to be grateful, because I don’t want to have anything to be grateful for. He’s an ally, and it rubs my nose in the fact that I need allies, because some people are like the abusive man. I knew that already. I have come across them.

There’s also his line about being jokingly called Asberger’s. Asberger’s is a gift: my friend has high intelligence and a retentive memory, sensitive empathy and an inability to work because people have thoughtlessly, cruelly found him not “normal” and therefore less than normal. It is a sickening waste.

When you say you’re an ally, you point up that I need allies, so you may receive my anger. It’s nothing personal. That thing about wearing safety pins to say you would step in if there was a racial attack. Ooh, look, I have a safety pin just in case you can’t see the brightness of my halo. Well, I don’t wear a safety pin, because I am worried about diverting abuse onto me. I have not seen such abuse, but am not sure I would intervene.

Tristan’s article.

Aubrey Beardsley, the dancers reward

The “A” Word

In The α word, people are more than cyphers, and no-one gets murdered. There is hope for British TV drama yet.

Joe’s life revolves around his self-soothing activities. Autistic and five, he blocks his family out with his father’s loud music, repeating what people say to him word for word, and walking off down the Pennine lane. Who can blame him? His mother approaches with a ghastly grin on her face, pretending that some activity she wants him to engage in will be delightful for both of them, rather than perplexity and misery. So he learns to block her: if she asks him anything he will say “Well, let’s see-” but nothing follows.

She wants him to express emotion, and because he does not in ways she can recognise she imagines that he does not feel. Certainly he feels, but as everyone else in the family is more concerned with appearance than reality- what should we be feeling? Let us pretend to feel that, even to ourselves- he would have learned that it is not safe to feel authentically or express feeling anyway.

She wants him to be normal, and enjoy normal things. She spots him briefly in the school playground with two other low-status boys, and invites them over for a sleepover, without any preamble or getting to know the parents. This is a normal activity and it must be undertaken, whatever the discomfort for everyone involved.

She is enraged and terrified, and when something appears to help Joe she is desperate for it to continue. She hangs around outside offices until people agree to see her, then shouts at them.

-You really got through to him!
-It was just a technique, the speech therapist tells her.

At one point, other boys are having a football party, to which Joe has not been invited, and the family choose to have a picnic in the same park. They knew the party was going on, and in the Pennine town there will not be more than one park, so this is ill-judged. The father has a football, which he attempts to kick to Joe, but Joe evinces no interest in kicking it back.

(How wonderful! You don’t want to do it, you don’t see the point, so you just don’t! Yet if we can communicate enthusiasm within a family or group, then we can share it.)

For some reason they wander over to the other boys, rather than fleeing. Joe gets in the middle of the field but does his random thing rather than conforming or following instructions. I find this unbearable. I am weeping in embarrassment.

Andrea Vaccaro, penitent Magdalene

The “extreme male brain”

Is there such a thing? Do trans women have a “female brain”, or people with Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism a “male brain”?

Here’s the Disability Studies Quarterly, giving a good kicking to self-proclaimed experts on Asperger’s, which may also apply to such as Blanchard. Asperger’s is rhetorical, says Jordyn Jack: discourse fills the space that certainty in medicine leaves unoccupied. It’s not making stuff up, exactly; it’s creating a theory from little evidence because you can’t create a better one. Like GID, Asperger’s was messed about by the DSM revision: now it is lumped in with Autism, before, it was separate. The fault comes when Blanchard or Baron-Cohen cling to their theories in the face of contradiction, using them as a framework for their understanding, and excluding other possible understandings.

Another thing we might find useful in this Disability Studies article is the will to find something valuable in a condition. It is not something less than normal to be managed; it is something different, to be celebrated. It contains genuine gifts which the “sickness” model does not recognise: they are not disabled, they are “neurodiverse”. Certain traits of Aspies are responses to extreme stress from not being understood; they arise from how society treats disabled people, not the condition itself.

Baron-Cohen has the idea of a single axis or spectrum- incrementum is the word Jack uses- from female to male. Baron-Cohen’s evidence for this includes the greater weight of the male brain, and greater size of the amygdala, though the differences are small. BC links his idea of a scale from empathising to “systemizing”, ie finding order and structure, associated with engineering, computing and hi-tech, but not with “good people skills”. BC’s “systemizing quotient” test associates stereotypically culturally masculine interests with systemizing. The sex differences are a result of the questions chosen. The cultural understanding of nerdiness is skewed to stereotypically male interests.

In the 1940s, the term “computer” referred to a human working on repetitive calculations, this work was done by women, and the first electronic computer programmers were women. The work became man’s work when it gained status.

Emotional intelligence is increasingly recognised as essential in the workplace- teamwork, communication and interpersonal skills, initiative and adaptability, even in technological jobs. Where empathy is measured by physiological responses, sex differences disappear.

Autism might be understood as an “intense world syndrome”, characterized by a hyper-reactive and hyper-plastic brain that makes the world seem over-stimulating. Autistic individuals, then, may experience an excess of sensory and emotional input—not a lack thereof. Symptoms such as repetitive behaviour and withdrawal—which are not explained by the EMB theory—can be understood according to the “intense world” hypothesis as coping mechanisms individuals use to deal with overstimulated senses.

My Aspie friend agrees with the accepted symptom, that he has a lack of understanding of non-verbal communication, but he is particularly empathetic. His two friends I have met- note the weight of my anecdotal evidence- do not seem abnormally “masculine”.

Caillebotte, detail from view from a balcony

Freedom from common sense

Of course I “think rationally”. “Thinking emotionally” cannot mean not thinking rationally. I love puzzles. I can make legal argument: I analysed two sentences in a benefit regulation, and got my client an extra £20 a week, which is a lot when you are on £50 a week.

I perceive intuitively, rather than thinking, often. I read people. That is what she is thinking, or feeling. This is how we are together. Some of this is subconscious: I note my posture mirroring another’s, my face mirrors her expression, I feel directly what she feels. These tricks can be learned: a friend is a teacher, who had two boys with Asperger’s Syndrome in her class. Those two, with four neurotypical boys, were drafted into the “Social Skills” group, where they consciously and deliberately learned about reading emotions from visual clues such as facial expression or posture. After a year, they had the task of putting up a tent without the instructions. The six co-operated, and the two Aspies read the others as quickly and naturally- unconsciously, even- as other children would.

Thinking emotionally means knowing what I want, and what I don’t. I was brought up with rules, including rules about what was appropriate recreation. Such conventional fun limited me. One ought to enjoy classical music, say, so I decided that popular music was inferior and not for my attention, and missed much which might have spoken to me viscerally. The Emperor Concerto delights, but Gloria Gaynor singing I Will Survive fits my mood perfectly, at particular times. It echoes, reinforces and validates my own feeling. Though it was released ages ago: I seemed trapped in my false rationality, but it penetrated my consciousness anyway.

Who wants to be common? I want to be counter, original, spare, strange- fey- myself, unlike any other person. There are common sense ways of proceeding, and one might cut through them. Rational thought is necessary to work out what short-cuts might work; intuitive perception might discern others’ opposition; but that Einstein quote, something like, insanity is doing the thing that does not work again and again, is far more likely to apply to conventional, rule-based common sense: you imbibe from the culture that this is the way to achieve that, and when it does not, you feel cheated. It ought to. Whereas if you go your own way, you can find your own way of achieving. There are no rules.

What are the reasons anyone should accept me as a woman? Well, I am beautiful and strange, it is enriching to know me. Artificial barriers between people do no-one any good. These are feeling reasons.

This is my 1600th post.

Magritte The Large Family

Coffee, lunch

It was lovely to see Jenny again, after three years. She felt the need to explain that the Dungeons and Dragons manual in her bag was her husband’s, and she was getting rid of it. She had recently rejoined the Socialist Workers Party in order to form a faction and leave en masse, over the sexually abusive conduct of Martin Smith. Like mine, her parents were Tories, but she moved to the Left long before I did. I bemoaned the fact that the left splits- why so many tiny factions? There is room for one party to the Left of Labour, and possibly with Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell, we should get with the programme and support them. Having Tory parents meant she had to think through her politics, rather than merely inherit them.

She was doing the Macmillan job at the CAB: benefit advice, claims  and appeals for cancer sufferers. Well, now there is no public funding a cancer charity is about the best funder we could hope for. She has left it, and is volunteering two days a week doing that job. They had tried recruiting but could not find an appropriate candidate.

We must do this again, we said, and swapped phone numbers.

So I thought, what if I called up the CAB and applied for that job? I did not ask the questions, but- imagining that funding was reasonably secure for a year; that they would accept I could pick the job up reasonably quickly- I have done little advising on ESA and none on PIP, but I would just take a little longer with the initial few interviews looking up the CPAG handbook, might read it a bit at home, and soon get up to speed.

Today, New Year’s Eve, was tedious. I did my week’s washing by hand in the morning, dozed after lunch, read watched telly or played on the blog in the afternoon. It is horrible. It is utterly boring, unfulfilling, pointless. I should email people about Area Meeting on the 10th, and have not, yet. Possibly I should not associate with that woman (not Jenny)- I compare myself with her glorious energy and resilience, and am shamed. And she thinks I am a mutilated man, wrong about transition, and that transition is always inauthentic invalid and Patriarchal, which is not good for my sense of self. Yet the thought of working for the CAB again feels worse. Over those 18 years there were good times and I remember it as frustration and failure. I told Jenny of being called “condensating” and her answer was something like, don’t take it so seriously. She told me of an irritating DWP worker and dismissed him. I know that makes sense.

After coffee with Jenny I went for lunch with Richard and his Aspergers chums. I chatted to Melissa about visiting family while the men talked of the failures of the NHS. Of course I knew, like with Trans, there is this one important characteristic but people have different personalities and qualities, but meeting the four together rammed that lesson home. Philip, who I hear is a proficient organist and a Young-Earth Creationist, was continually in humorous mode, high-fiving us all many times, each time one said something moderately clever, and addressing Richard humorously as “Doctor”. Richard has a PhD. It was not varied. It was only mildly irritating: even charming at times, which may be the intent. Melissa had moved South from Wigan because the business opportunities were so much greater. I met slightly odd people who had overcome the difficulty of not being able to read others’ emotions except through conscious learning about body-language.

Turner, Fire at sea


To the play Oppenheimer, at the Swan Theatre, Stratford.

A man was sent from the Manhattan Project to observe the dropping of the bombs, and report back, to check the calculations. People close enough to the blast left nothing but shadows on the ground, or fatty stains. From the length of the shadows, taking the average height of a Japanese person at about 5’6″, they could calculate the altitude at which the bomb exploded. Useful information. In the play, we see the scientist reporting this in a detached, rational way then breaking down at the horror of it.

Richard was moved to tears by this. He feels the horror of those deaths. Why, I wondered, did you want to come to see this play, to feel that horror?

Actually, I feel reassured by it. A man who was willing to take part in this great scientific endeavour was overwhelmed by the horror of the deaths. I see his humanity. This is the human response, and those weapons will never be used.

I may owe my life to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. My father’s Lancaster squadron was about to be posted to the Far East when the Japanese surrendered. Even had he survived- not guaranteed- the posting might have changed my father’s life so he might never have married my mother.

Other people are real. I find difficulty seeing them, instead usually seeing simulacra or shadows, either responding exactly as I painstakingly discover that I do, or responding in the perfect, conventional way which I was indoctrinated with. Over coffee afterwards, I pushed back my chair and looked at my friend. Who is this person, really?

There are other horrors in the play. It starts with a Communist Party fundraiser for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, with Oppie enthusiastically supporting, and by the time Colonel Oppenheimer is ready to explode his bomb he has named some of his former Communist associates to the authorities, and they have been interrogated. One is driven to suicide.

After the Bomb, the cast dances wildly, manically. It makes sense. Such power!

I find the Swan theatre beautiful. We sat right next to the side of the stage, which has the audience on three sides and on three levels above the ground floor. It is an intimate space constructed of wood. The actors, none looking over thirty, playing with our most prestigious company, are founding brilliant careers. They are very beautiful.

Richard’s friend Richard, also Aspie, drove us there. He has a charming manner, with a near constant smile, and is hungry to understand the world through facts. Our conversation covered wide ranges of fact, such as the nature of Listed Building regulations and the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, and he is keen to do an Open University Mathematics degree. He can be crippled with stress in an examination, finding it easy to absorb facts for pleasure but not in study, and everything can vanish from his mind. He seeks to understand his responses, so as to optimise them. I love his thirst for understanding, but pity that it seems driven by terror of failure.

Hiroshima Bomb victim