Letter from the North

Letter from the North 3-Feb-2017

The Diversity Cocktail, both Shaken and Stirred

Let me begin by saying that the ‘North’ in my title has many meanings. It is ‘compass north’, but it’s not the North of England where I hail from – and don’t get me started on whether that is hail, hale or indeed Hayle (a town which, in geographical terms, we are west of). The North is at the top of the North Road, but that road is not The Great North Road (also known as the A1, in England). This particular North Road is in the far west of Cornwall and runs over the moor and down to the coast road between St. Ives and St. Just.

I hope I’m not confusing you? As an autistic, I like to be clear and for me, the above paragraph represents clarity…

The village where Teresa and I live, Pendeen, lies on that coast road and the North Inn is our local.  We have only lived in Pendeen since 2011 (six years ago, at the time of writing) but I cannot imagine living anywhere else.

As for the North Inn, I am usually to be found in there on a Friday evening. Anyone familiar with the autistic need for order, patterns and consistency, will realise that for ‘usually’ you should read ‘always’. For anyone who knows me, I am a tad (that is a bit, no more than a tad) more flexible than that. For example, I don’t expect Teresa to celebrate her birthday at the North, should it fall on a Friday, although that’s how I like to celebrate my birthday – whether it falls on a Friday or not! Nor, at one level, do I understand why this doesn’t work for Teresa; after all, it works for me. What you have here, of course, is the Theory of Mind problem and I’ll add that to my list of letters, more on the nature of the list in another letter, and I must put that on the list of letters too…and so starts an infinite cycle that has only one end. Or does it? Time for another letter :-).

The North is where I do much of my reading, it is also where I like to be when I write.

Why a letter? Because in my younger years I frequently listened to Alistair Cooke’s ‘Letter from America’. I liked, and was inspired, by the way he described the differences between America and England.

So this is my homage to his style, even if the content has no similarity at all. Oliver Sacks, interviewing Temple Grandin uses the phrase “An anthropologist on Mars” in his eponymously titled book. This phrase nicely captures the difference between my world and the world around me. I study that world diligently, but it remains a foreign country. Because of the way I dress, I know I look like a foreigner to those around me. I hope these letters will help move these two worlds closer, as the originals did for me with England and America.

Teresa and I have already explored some of the issues autism brings to an autistic/neurotypical relationship (Life in a Mixed Marriage), but there is so much more to my world than that, so I thought I would share it here in the form of a weekly letter.

Ever since Teresa and I moved to Cornwall I have had to spend most of my time back ‘up country’ (i.e. out of Cornwall) to find work. It was only at the start of October 2016 that I finally managed to secure full time employment, doing what I do well, within commuting distance of home.

That story will reveal itself over the coming weeks and months, but for today I’d like to look at my current world and my immediate surroundings

The North Inn is a very local ‘local’. The folks down here are primarily from a defunct mining and diminishing fishing heritage. It is not a wealthy part of the world, employment is in the service industry, primarily that which serves tourists, the building trade and similar services. There’s not a lot of money about. I am neither a miner nor a fisherman but it is my local, I know the regulars by sight and they know me. I often simply sit here at my table (more about ‘my table’ another day) and read and write, and of course, drink beer – my favourite local tipple is Proper Job and it goes down very well.

So far, so what? Is that what you’re asking? I’m just a bloke down the pub. Well, yes, except this bloke wears a frock and in this most Cornish of Cornish villages, nobody bats an eyelid. He is also autistic, and nobody cares. The locals may think he is a bit odd, but they seem to accept him as he is, sitting here tapping away on his keyboard!

Enough talking in the third person and enough on gender specific pronouns – another topic for another day. But for the sake of clarity, I am fine with he or she, I really don’t care which is used.

The folks at work know I wear frocks. I went to my interview in one because I saw no point in pretending to be someone I’m not. They wanted my brain not my body and, apparently, my brain will do nicely thank you and they couldn’t care less about my body, phew!!! The frock may be pretty, the body rather less so 🙂

The people at work also know I’m autistic, I’m very open, it’s not a problem and indeed it becomes a normal part of everyday discussion.

I work in computer programming. Whether diagnosed or not, there are more of us in this industry than there are non-autistics (neurotypicals) and whether the management of companies that employ people like me know that or not, they frequently accept oddness because they are aware that it comes with a skill-set that is hard to find. ‘Go Autistics,’ I believe this is an American sporting saying; I hate sport …

I know this is a bit of a longwinded letter but I hope you’ll bear with me. I’m trying to set the scene. Nobody is in any doubt about how I dress or my views on gender diversity. Nobody who spends any time with me is unaware of the fact that I am autistic, or that I believe autism to be just another way of being and most certainly NOT an affliction to be treated or pitied. It does cause problems for some but again, that discussion is for another day (that list is already getting rather long…)

So, in common parlance, I am a high functioning Asperger’s (aka autistic) cross dressing, gender diverse, dyslexic, overweight individual. I believe diversity is neither a word, nor a policy, it is something to be cherished and supported and defended and I will vocally defend the right of diverse people to be seen as normal, and non-diverse people to be the exceptions!

As for Beanisons, well Teresa and I needed something like Beanisons a few years ago. We were struggling with our differences but could find nobody we could talk to who understood our situation from the inside. Fortunately, we are a persistent pair and eventually we found a path, but it was, to some extent, down to luck – and that too is another story for another letter, the title of which (On the Stairs to Damascus), though not the message, is inspired by a very different source.

We set up Beanisons because we realised we weren’t alone, that there are many people out there who don’t understand why their life seems so much more difficult than it should be – whether that is because of their gender, sexuality or neurodiversity. It was also obvious that there was almost no help for such people, neither the autistics themselves, nor their partners and family members. For that reason, we want to share our experience and facilitate conversation and understanding in relationships where that is proving to be challenging.

I’m not an easy person, I’m sure Teresa will have her own comment on that (in fact, you might want to read some of her posts in our Life in a Mixed Marriage blog) but I am absolutely committed to making the lives of those labelled as “different” a happier place to be.

Next week: What’s it like walking into an interview or a job when your gender diversity is clear for all to see.

That, at least, is what I plan to write about – I have a list longer than infinity. Yes, I do know what I just said is nonsense, however it’s a good conversation opener for an autistic mathematician. For everyone else, if there’s anything you’d like me talk about, then just let us know.

The Bean,

The North

3-Feb-2017

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