People love stories. We connect with stories, from books, from the radio, from TV and movies, even from the people around us.
The reason we connect is because stories encapsulate the human experience. They are fundamentally the same, with some changes in essence, the same stuff of human lives with a twist in the flavour. In stories we look for commonalities, look for ways to project ourselves into them, someone to identify with, someone with whom we make an emotional connection.
Stories, though, about people who have challenges making emotional connections with other people, well, those are not stories that stimulate an emotional connection with us.
Those stories, those people lay outside of the archetypes that make stories effective in playing the emotional notes of a human life.
The documentary “Autism In Love,” available on PBS.ORG until April 10, tells three stories about people on the spectrum and their experience in relationship. It’s an odd film because while the narratives are familiar, the emotional content you might expect to be there is not.
All these people feel love, of course, but their experience and expression of that love comes in a different way, one that can feel blank or distanced to someone who isn’t familiar with people on the spectrum.
I have been telling my stories for a long time now, trying to share my experience. Mostly, though, I haven’t been that effective in connecting with others.
There is clearly intellectual content in what I share, and there is also emotional content, both powerful enough to be overwhelming.
The archetypal standards, though, are missing. For most people it is hard to follow the arc of my thinking and my feeling because that arc just doesn’t follow conventional archetypes, the common expectations of how stories play out.
My stories aren’t just like the stories you grew up hearing, just with a cute twist, like my family is Greek. My stories stand on their own, run through their own channels, which can seem very far from the expectations of humans.
It’s not easy for me to explain that I am just like someone else, or a combination of this person and another person, because my life has been lived outside the bounds of standard stories.
That doesn’t mean I and my stories are not human, any more than the stories in “Autism In Love” are not human. It means, though, that the easy expectations, the internalized arcs, the connection points are not where you expect them, that there is work that has to be done to find the threads that go through my story and yours.
“Sex And The City” reviewers often noted that no four women would ever have had that range of experiences in real life. Of course, they wouldn’t; they are archetypal characters who had to play out almost every archetypal dating experience in New York City to connect with their viewers and play out their mission. We know those women, they are “our girls” because they conform to our archetypes.
Writers, especially fiction writers who want to have success as authors, learn to be effective with archetypes. They put their own spin on those stories, assembling components, adding flavour, writing with style, but they learn to tell stories that other people connect with, archetypal stories.
Those archetypes often seem as foreign to me as my archetypes do to others. I watch them bumble and scheme, manipulate and be blind, and I wonder why they can’t see what is in front of them in the way someone on the spectrum might. I had to learn how to live in that context from my earliest days, away from the standard stories of cooing babies.
My failure in connection with other people is about how different the archetypal experiences I hold inside are from their archetypal experiences. My story conventions and expectations are so different from theirs they have trouble making connections.
For transpeople, a huge challenge has always, always been how we tell our story in a way that is effective with other people.
Often, we judge that effectiveness on how our story gets us the response that we want, indulgence and permission, playing on a sense of oppression and denial.
For me, though, that effectiveness of story is on how well people understand my real experience, my truth, which is a much bigger ask. Instead of just being able to play on the archetypes already out in the Zeitgeist, I ask people to enter my stories, my reality, which is a much bigger challenge.
I remember bosses in the 1980s who would get angry when I couldn’t explain technical problems with concepts they already knew. They wanted to understand what I was saying without having to expand their understanding, wanted to get my thinking without having to change their own.
They wanted me to be able to explain the different in the context of archetypes they already knew, which I could not do, no matter how good I am at exposing new archetypes in an effective way. That skill, of course, is the result of a lifetime as a translator between archetypal models, standing between worlds and using my words to work to create a connection, make understandings.
I can do one-on-one because I enter your world, understand your archetypes, express my meaning in the context of conventions that you already understand. That is a hard won skill.
Having other people enter my world, though, understanding the archetypes I carry and use to parse my vision, my feelings and my experience is much more difficult. Who heals the healers?
The heroes journey opens your eyes, demanding you see the shared world in a new way, in a way that connects rather than separates. It forces new understandings, new archetypes on you, away from the conventions of your upbringing.
My experience was different, as a transperson, as the child of spectrum parents, as someone who used my mind to navigate our shared world. I grew up with very different archetypes.
Asking me to express what I know in conventional archetypes is asking me to try and tell my story in a foreign language, one with no concepts that convey my experience. I try to translate, but in the end, the mapping involves work from my audience.
My audience, though, is looking for archetypes that they understand, bits that speak to them in their language, things that express what they know. They don’t find enough of that from me, so I get reduced to noise, to overwhelming, to crackpot.
It has been fun to explore a huge range of archetypes in my life, finding new ways of understanding the stories which carry what humans know and what we share.
It has been frustrating, though, to live inside of archetypes that other people don’t share.
I never walk into a room assuming that people will understand me, that I am entering a space of common understandings. I always make the assumption I will have to find their archetypes and translate what I can into those notions.
So much work, work that I have to do that most other people just don’t need to manage.