OK. I’m not neurotypical.
Of course, that’s why the documentary is called Neurotypical, because the one thing everyone in it can agree on is that they are not neurotypical. What they are, though, well, that is something they can debate endlessly.
It’s the same with transgender. All the umbrella term means is that we know we are not normatively gendered, know that gender roles chafe on us the way they don’t on the “cisgendered.” (Yes, that’s not a term I use.)
We know what we are not from a very early age. Knowing what we are, well, that takes a lot of work, and a big part of that is because society just doesn’t have names and a taxonomy for people like us. We don’t grow up finding people like us and knowing what they call themselves. We don’t have people who have being like us down to a skill and can pass on the tricks.
In fact, there are many transpeople who know they aren’t the gender assigned at birth, so they run as fast as they can to the other gender box, often including genital reconstruction, and then they find that doesn’t fit them either. The next step is to back track, finding a middle ground in which they can be comfortable.
I went to the local Adult Asperger’s Peer Support Group tonight. There were about 20 people there. Tonight was game night; Scrabble and pizza.
There was one other new person there tonight. Bill is a recent retiree, he was of Ukrainian descent, wore khaki cargo pants and a twill shirt with button-down pockets. He had silver glasses, his grey hair was gone on top but flowing in the back, and his beard was a bit scraggly.
In other words, from facial features to dress, he looked just like my father. Oy. He had the name of my father’s oldest brother, though.
Most of the attendees were young and boisterous. They liked to talk, a lot, but not so much to listen, and they weren’t going to pick up social cues in conversation. You know, just like my father and mother.
I talked with Bill for about an hour. Well, that’s not really true; I listened to Bill for about an hour. His retirement a year ago has thrown him for a loop, as all his old work habits and the boss who would set his priorities are gone now. He worked twelve hours a day, which made work all the structure he needed, but on his own, his mind jumps, hyperfocusing then getting distracted.
He knew he isn’t neurotypical, but he is trying to work out just what he is and what strategies can work. His psychiatrist has him on a new-fangled drug for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and his behavioural psychologist is trying to create some goals, but is having trouble pinning down one area of focus.
ADD is something I have chased down in myself. The name is a misnomer of course; it’s not a disorder, just the way some brains work, and those with ADD are just as likely to hyper-focus than to be unfocused. Teachers, though, find people who get bored with routine assignments, instead getting lost in their own thoughts, their own engagement with specific stimuli as someone who needs to be fixed.
My best years in school were the ones where teacher allowed me to help other students; that could engage me. My worst years were the ones where I was given assignments that bored me and my parents, lost in their own world, had no idea how to teach me to focus.
Bill really appreciated that I understood his experience. He and I both find that for most men an ideal topic of conversation is one that everyone is equally ignorant about, for that allows people to contribute without being challenged, as no one knows what they are really talking about. We both tend to offer information to conversations, which is rarely appreciated in a world of small-talk.
Everything goes through Bill’s mind, which worked when he was younger, but now, as his excess mental capacity is diminishing with age, that strategy isn’t working so well. He needs to think about every detail, not relying on autonomic subroutines, and that is becoming more and more wearing to him, more and more draining.
I was able to offer clear suggestions to Bill. For example, maybe a phone that chimes on the half-hour would be useful, so when he hears it he can deliberately think about what he should be doing in the next half hour. And I suggested that mental discipline, mental gymnastics can never hurt. I learned this the hard way, writing until my fingers bleed.
Bill didn’t jump at these suggestions. He needs to think about them. That’s good. I have found that anyone who agrees with me right away probably has no idea what I am talking about, and is likely to just agree with the opposite viewpoint tomorrow.
But what did I learn tonight?
Well, I was reminded that my experience of my brain is definitely not typical. I know how to live in my brain, have experienced the drain & isolation of being compulsively pensive, am prone to hyper-focus and cerebral tremor, leading with my brain, and have spent years learning techniques for mental discipline.
Then again, I’m trans, and have known that in some way since I was five, the same as I knew I could speak in tongues like Jonathan Winters. Those certainly aren’t signs of a typical brain either.
But what are they signs of? It’s easy to know what you are not, hard to know what you are. After all, there aren’t many words for the exceptional, other than maybe freak.
Do I have the emotional distance of Aspergers? No, I don’t think that I do. My sister, who misread the phone call I made to her after the event, seeming to mix up my being freaked out with my being invigorated, well, another story.
Tonight, though, was spooky. My father’s younger doppelganger showed up and I took care of him. Did I have a sense he could engage my story, was curious about me? No, I did not.
This is one of the oldest lessons I know. People love it when I prove I know how to enter their world and take care of them where they are, but someone who has the capability and desire to enter my world and take care of me where I am, well, that’s a thin possibility, and getting thinner by the day.
Do I need to be around people who I can help but who can’t help me?
I don’t think that I do.
Even if they look just like my dead father.