I watched a film called Neurotypical, from the PBS POV Series. It’s narratives from people on “the spectrum,” the range of brain types that are called autistic, from autism to Aspergers.
There are many bits in my family that are echoed in the film. My sister used to pull her arms up in front of her when she was getting hugged, like the woman in the film who found the definition of High Functioning Autism, crossed out that term and gave it to her husband.
“How much is this like me?” she asked, wanting a percentage. “28%? 56%?”
“100%,” he answered her.
I was moved by the young gal in the who didn’t like that the character with Aspergers in Grays Anatomy was the only one on the whole show who wasn’t going to have sexual relationships
“People with Aspergers can have relationships,” she cried. “Just because Temple Grandin doesn’t, that doesn’t mean none of us can!”
But the most resonant note was from the fellow who explained that the way his mind worked, he always did emotions with the rational part of his brain. He knows what they call him, but what do they call people who do rationality with the emotional part of their brain? His wife laughs at this; she knows he means her.
I don’t know where I fall on the spectrum. But I do know that there are very few places to discuss the challenges of growing up as the child of “Aspie’s” as some call themselves.
It became my job to be the translator between the world and my family, and when they didn’t like what the world was saying, well, that was my fault. Kill the messenger, eh?
But up until the end, I was called upon to be the bridge between my parents and the medical people who were caring for them. And those medical professionals were really happy to have me there, be they doctors who took care of my parents for years before I intervened or speech therapists who just met them.
I know that having to live in a spectrum world taught me a different way to approach the wider world. I used my rationality to parse my emotions, because that was the only way I was taught to handle them by my parents, who just didn’t get my feelings. Spectrum people, well, empathy isn’t what they are good at.
Is my mind different because I am genetically disposed to being somewhere on the spectrum, or is it different because I had to learn how to live and work with, had to learn to care for spectrum people from an early age? Maybe both, who knows.
But I do know it affected me. And I still see it affecting my siblings. It makes me sad, which makes me uncomfortable for them to be around. My emotions are hard for them to process; they’d rather have nice rational discussions.
My transgender nature, though, that’s not really rational at all.
I heard a bit of a podcast by some gals selling a “Feminine Power” programme to women. One of their selling points was that goals and vision boards and such are all very analytical masculine tools, trying to impose a structure on things. Their program goes with the intuition and opening, getting you in harmony with your inner knowledge, and opening pathways.
I know that I tried to do trans as a Lego set, constructing gender with blocks, but that just didn’t work for me. Sure, it let me write nice, powerful, thoughtful essays that people who thought like men could understand, but it didn’t let me flow and wiggle. I needed to get to narrative and personal experience of the world to start opening my own pathways.
A doctor friend of TBB’s once told me that unless my parents had dementia, they could understand transgender if I insisted. I knew that not to be true; they were spectrum people. My sister does understand trans rationally, having been around me for decades, but she has trouble with the emotional part, so to me it feels like she dumps ice water on me when I need to trust emotion. She just feels very unsafe.
It’s the emotional part, though, that I need to trust if I want to break free of the constraining mind habits that I learned to deal with spectrum people.
And watching this film, Neurotypical, I realized again just what I am up against. My years of training, my family’s understanding, all mean I just don’t have the skills to just trust my emotions without having them filtered through my brain. That may mean that I can write about what most people just feel, but it also means trusting my instincts is hard and tiring for me.
I know that being on the spectrum isn’t an illness, it’s just the way some brains are wired. And I know that whatever I am, I’m not typical anything. As the people in the film say, and as all the frustrated parents of spectrum kids will tell you, it’s hard for typical people to understand people whose brains are different, because when you are centred in emotion understanding the rational is hard.
But that is my history and my reality, both coming from a spectrum world and knowing I have to engage the emotional to move beyond my current limits.