Letter from the North Fri 11-Aug-2017
Changing the subject
Another week has evaporated, this full-time job lark (been at it for 10 months now) is certainly is keeping me busy!
Rather than an autistic letter, a gender one seems to be appropriate this week. As I said two weeks ago I have been listening to Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, but it is just such hard work (the listening that is), the voice is not interesting, I can’t tell which of the three authors is speaking, and the amount they repeat themselves makes my use of repetition seem almost amateur.
So, against my better judgement I downloaded an audible book recommended to me on Facebook in an Audible advert, yes, I hate myself, I did check it out and it did seem worth bothering with.
Boy was it worth bothering with. Written and more to the point read by Juno Dawson it looks at the whole issue of sexuality and gender in a clear and, I found, entertaining manner. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Juno is transgender on the transition road (or at least was when she wrote the book), I’m not transgender (for the sake of a label) but gender queer/gender fluid/… and not transitioning. But, we are both very much in agreement that gender is MY business (or hers), nobody can tell me what it is or somehow associate my gender with chromosomes or external attachments or society driven labels on my behalf.
I was always a girly bloke and I’m still a girly bloke or possibly a blokey girl. I like beer, cars, perfume, flowers and chocolate.
I refuse to be defined and thank goodness Teresa (my wife) was actually looking for a girly bloke, boy did she get one!
I wear dresses or skirts, it is what I like to wear. I’m not trying to look like a girl, if I was I’d wear T-shirt and jeans – or is that a boy? Hard to tell nowadays as the ‘uniform’ is so androgynous!
Anyway, I always wear a frock of some sort, it’s just who I am. As I may have mentioned before, that is how I dress at work and indeed I am introducing the idea of Floral Friday at work, a day when instead of being relatively drab (in my book, grey, black, navy, …) I am in my most floral of garbs. Folks understand and I doubt there is anyone in the office who doesn’t understand Floral Friday. It’s a slow burn, but folks are gradually getting the idea and some are even starting to enter into the spirit, albeit cautiously. I ‘m a blowsy, floral person by nature and introduced the idea to explain why I was doing what I was going to do anyway – the fact that people are picking up on the idea, and joining in, is a bonus.
Of course FF coincides with Friday at the North so I come here dressed as I am for work, in full floral mode.
Gender is a funny old thing. I have not yet met ‘myself’ when out and about. That is, met or seen someone ambiguous in gender. The only blokes in frocks I see are not blokes in frocks, they are transexuals and they are girls in frocks, sometimes invisible (they “pass”) and sometimes not.
Someone came to the office on Tuesday to fix Blossom (my Landrover). I basically left them to it but checked on them from time to time; after the second or third visit they asked ‘trans or non-binary’, the simple answer is ‘non-binary’ and I said so, they said they were trans and going through transition. Not obvious to me, but I only mention it because that is one of the few people who have ever asked me. Nobody on my counselling course ever did!
I remember, years ago, going into Evans in Truro (when it was still there) to try on some sandals. I was pretty much in full boy mode and this was a very early outing. Teresa was with me and I sat in a changing room (having asked if it was Ok) and the assistant asked ‘are you a cross dresser’, I said yes (it was, and is still, a perfectly valid term) and she said her boyfriend was.
As I sit here in a colourful top (I would have put a photo in here, but I forgot and I’m no good at descriptive language, so you will need to be patient until I can remember a photo of it, sorry), a long coloured skirt and a pair of very strappy sandals, I feel like the same person I was when asked about those sandals (3 years ago?) and indeed the same person I was when I asked my mum to make me a colourful top that was not that different in colour to this one (pink paisley swirls with some other colours which I don’t remember). I supplied the material, she made a shirt, I wore it to school, it was a favourite, I was 16 (almost 50 years ago).
Unlike Juno, I never thought I was a girl, but I also just didn’t get the whole boy thing. I often just did my thing unaware of how the world viewed me. One of the advantages of being an unaware autistic is that other peoples views of you are not that high in your awareness. So I was me, without awareness. Not sure I would have worn a frock, but if it had occurred to me as a possibility I could have.
So, just like Juno who was sure they were a girl always, I was always sure I was non binary, I just didn’t know that was my ‘label’ (tribe?)
Truth is, back then, in the North of England, the idea of anything other than male/female was unheard of, so I couldn’t imagine being non binary because there was no vocabulary for it. At least nowadays, children have the language to express their gender and sexuality in ways that were simply not available when I was at school.
So, here I am, at the North, the middle of August and there is heavy mist. It was there as I reached the turning for the North Road and came over the moor into Pendeen. We are well known for our mists, even in the summer, but I have to agree that August is not really the time. Still, the North is full of tourists, so it’s not stopping them, which is good.
Indeed ‘my’ table has been taken over by a family, but I cannot (and don’t) complain, it is an odd ‘autistic vs social vs support your local pub’ dilemma.
- I want the pub to make money in the summer because I suspect it doesn’t in the winter. Judging by how empty it can be on a Friday night outside of the tourist seasons.
- I need my space, I don’t want to share it and I feel violated when I have to
- They are strangers and I feel ‘people claustrophobic’
- It is just not fair for me on my own to occupy a table that would seat 6. My autistic side can’t see the problem, I was here first and it is MY local. This is MY table, I struggle if I can’t sit here.
- The social me (the one that understands, albeit dimly, the ‘normal’ rules of social behaviour (LINK) can see it is clearly the right thing to do.
Unusually, not only did I have one family join me, they had only been gone for a few minutes when another arrived, however this time it was more stressful.
I have no problem when someone comes over and says ‘do you mind if we share your table?’ I do have a problem when another local seems to be acting like they are the maitre d’ and says ‘do you have a problem if these people share your table?’ For goodness sake, I have NEVER objected, indeed I have made every effort to be sociable and welcoming when people do join me, so why did you ask and then show them to my table?
I didn’t stay long after that, not because the people had joined me, but because I felt very unwelcome in my local ????
It’s the first time I’ve had to say that and, for me, very disturbing. At the time, I was not very aware of my feelings and certainly couldn’t have described them, the full impact only hit me as the following week progressed and that will be discussed in next week’s letter.
For this letter, although this part is being written after Fri 11-Aug-2017, it is a fair reflection of what was happening for me, I just didn’t think it relevant to write at the time.
So, delayed response: this is generally true for autistics, processing delays are common. For me, external events take time before I can internally understand, this process can be seconds or minutes, but also hours, days, weeks, years.
In general, this is a problem because I can appear slow witted or at least as if I’m not paying attention. If you add on sequential processing i.e. I can only process one thing at the time, so if I’m hit by multiple events that I need to process and they are taking time, I can appear to freeze or alternatively melt(down) as the stress becomes too much.
In the case of emotions this is a real problem because by the time I am aware of the emotions, the associated event is long gone and just as in the case of PTSD, my brain as a whole has done a poor job of tagging the event and the associated emotion so I can retrieve both together when trying to recall either. The result is that emotion floats, is not tied to a particular event, and just comes and goes with nothing to explain it. In the past that could result in an explosion of emotion that I have associated with some trivial event because that is the event that was occurring at the time the emotions surfaced. Almost never are the two actually related and not surprisingly those around me (wives especially) feel rather put out that I have exploded at something that they really didn’t do.
So, at the time of this incident, it felt unfair that I was being treated as being unwelcoming and blocking a table.
As I slowly processed how I felt during the following week I started to wonder whether somehow I had completely misunderstood what EVERYONE who frequents The North thought about me and it was only this one person who was expressing what everyone else thought. Now I know I don’t read social clues well (sometimes at all) so I do recognise that it could be me that was in the wrong.
I could spend another 1000 words explaining that comment but we neither of us have the time to explore it beyond me saying
- Yes, I know, intellectually, it is much more subtle and I could easily be making a mountain out of a molehill. I have no idea of the actual motivation of the individual, nor can I ask them because that is usually perceived as a criticism and treated as an attack and that makes things worse ????. Took me a VERY long time to work that particular social rule out!
- It IS a mountain, I cannot emotionally perceive it as anything other than a mountain, no amount of logic or common sense can change the immense surges of adrenalin (fight or flight), distress or panic or suicidal thoughts (what is the point of trying to live in this NT world???)
The conflict between those two things inside me makes the situation worse because I ping-pong between the two never knowing which is right and feeling pathetic because I don’t know and don’t understand and never have and never will.
What is the result? Stress, an internal conflict that overwhelms and I become incapable of processing ANYTHING else until I have sorted out this and, guess what, I can’t process this.
Teresa described OD (other David, her first husband, who in retrospect we are sure was autistic) as sometimes feeling like he was a live hand grenade that could go off at any moment for no apparent reason. At a time like this, I am that grenade; the only difference is that I know I am and can articulate I am, but I still am and it’s still driving me. Awareness helps but also adds pressure as I try to deal with knowing that I am being unreasonable and yet not being able to do anything about it. More stress and more volatility.
Until I can process this, I need space and more than anything I need understanding that what I could normally handle (process) in day-to-day existence is absolutely a barrier right now and so yes, walking on eggshells will be necessary but trust me, I’ll sort this, you can’t, but you need to trust me.
And so, we will come (in next week’s letter I hope) to trust in my relationships
I know I said this would be a gender letter and that was how it started, but as in my general life experience, autism is always there and so it is here. I could avoid the “A word” in these letters but then that would exclude the most important component for me.
These letters are for the ‘me’ who needed them when I was younger and didn’t understand and couldn’t articulate what was happening to me as well (poorly) as I can now.
So, to the Bean (the me of today), from David (the me of yesterday), thank you.
The Bean, The North, Fri 11-Aug-2017