One On One

Women need to know that the only way to have a relationship with someone is one-on-one.    We stay safe and connected by understanding the people around us, their needs and their fears, their desires and their dreams, their triggers and their terrors.

Certainly that’s what I had to learn very early to have relationships with my parents.  They weren’t like any stereotype I saw on TV or read about in books, not like any standard held up for mommies or daddies.   The characters I saw fit nicely into expected roles, but my Aspergers parents never learned to play those roles, growing up without the theory of mind to understand how others were seeing their performances.

My mother’s disappointment, pain and rage were always just a breath away and my father’s sweet and loving cluelessness meant he couldn’t grasp what you needed in this moment.    Society didn’t offer me any formula for dealing with people like them, so I ended up switching my brain onto full analytical to try and both understand them and control my own choices in a way that kept me as safe as possible.

My father’s lack of understanding kept us moving around the country every few years while my mother’s narcissism kept us inwardly focused and isolated wherever we went.    Opening her home to others was just a path to more pain for her so there was no extended family or social groups in our lives, as much as that was tough for my father who grew up in a small farm town with a loving mother.

I had no way to explain my family to others who only understood stereotypical models.   Like most Aspergers people, learning to pass in social settings was important, so my parents looked normative to those who saw what they expected to see, vision limited to conventional assumptions.   No matter how much I tried to explain, well, what could a kid know?

My relationship with my parents always had to be one-on-one, not falling back on any set of norms, be they ethnic, racial, religious or whatever.   I wasn’t even one of the boys or one of the girls, instead just being me. My parents were clearly and profoundly unique creatures, never having understood the scripts of those around them so they never could have absorbed the social conventions of others.

Of course, this meant that they couldn’t teach their kids about social conventions either, couldn’t help them fit into group patterns.   I was always walking into walls in relationships, never getting what was expected and appropriate for the role I was supposed to play.

Not having been immersed in any comforting and defined social identities meant that I had no conventional habit patterns to let go of when I started to engage my own queerness and the queerness of others.   There was a reason I could shepherd the team taking care of a gay floormate in trauma during freshman year; I knew how to deal with people one-on-one, knew how to observe and analyze,  knew how to modulate my own choices.

It also meant that I couldn’t trust my own emotions, couldn’t make choices of performance and release, couldn’t expect to be understood without hard work, and couldn’t easily fit into social rituals and expectations.   My mind was my defence and it was always, always on guard.

My challenge was to explore who I was behind those mental defences, but finding someone who could engage that space eventually proved beyond my capabilities.   I had to learn to explore by myself, unpacking and reshaping myself alone.

The comfort of group identity, of feeling immersed in “people like us,” following the group think and expected conventions is only understandable to me by seeing how much others hold tightly to their own group patterns.   Instead my stance is more like the one attributed to Groucho, who “wouldn’t join any club that would have someone like me as a member.”

How much do patterns and expectations mean that we can’t engage with other people one-on-one, just as they are?   “The only sensible person is my tailor, for he measures me anew each time we meet,” wrote George Bernard Shaw.   To me, a queer approach to life means seeing others as individuals,  knowing that their beliefs and choices tell you about them, and that you don’t have to see their views as attacks on what you hold dear.

Attacks, though, can often be taken as validation of the need to hold more tightly onto group identity, wrapping yourself more tightly in whatever flags you value and more loudly wailing about the difference between the good us and the terrifying them.   When we hold negative identity forms, knowing more about who we are not as a group than who we are as individuals, finding links to our continuous common humanity is hard, demanding that we transcend our own projected walls.

I am very grateful that I learned to deal with others one-on-one early, even if those lessons did come at the cost of not feeling safe and protected in a welcoming group identity.   Being open to the gifts of others has allowed me to treat others like I want to be treated, seeing, understanding and valuing their unique contributions to the group.

The loneliness that comes with that stance doesn’t erase my humanity, rather it affirms it.   I can see and understand not only others but also who I am and where the deep and profound connections exist.   Shamans walk through walls others think are real, so only by moving beyond even comforting convention can we even try to transcend the limits of our own inculcated vision.

Good mothers know that understanding your children as individuals, having deep one-on-one relationships with them, even when those relationships demand you move out of your comfort zone, beyond your own expectations and desires, feel your assumptions shatter and your heart break, experiencing pain & fear but staying present, is the only way to support them in becoming intensely themselves.

Staying connected to the truths others hold, even the scary or challenging ones, is the only way to stay safe and growing.


One of the things I added to support group meetings, along with beach balls, was applause.

When someone told a story about doing something bold and brave, I started the applause, with the room quickly joining in. It’s a quick and simple way for the group to affirm courage, both in the storyteller and in themselves.

Once a young person was said they were timid about taking a risk.  During the meeting a beach ball was near my feet so I kicked it towards them.  Silently, as other stories were spun in the room, I encouraged them to kick the ball themselves.  They resisted but I persisted giving affirming and imploring looks.

When they finally gave the ball a kick I was surprised when the group burst forth in applause.   While I was quietly focused apparently people had caught on and watched and when my partner broke through the comfort of timidity, everyone was delighted and wanted to show it.  Smiles all around.

My history is centred around finding my own individual way to be in the world — I had no other choice with my family, mind and heart — and supporting others in claiming, owning and celebrating their own proud, queer individuality.   I tried to teach my sister to fight back, my brother how to not play to the crowd, and my parents to see themselves in context.  I delighted in being part of a corporate team, bringing my unique vision to our work and challenging others to be more themselves, more present, more playful, more conscious and more master in their own choices.

For people who want to heal and grow, I offer a great deal.

For people who want to fit in, assimilate and maintain their own comfort level, though, I am a real fucking pain in the ass.   I don’t just play along, I push the boundaries, don’t just stay silent but turn on the lights, don’t just accept smallness but instead celebrate brilliance.

I know that those people see me as a spiny mess, a mass of thorns and quills, sharp edges that cut through easy answers.

That’s bad enough, but even worse, I mirror and revel in their own queer uniqueness.  I push them to go into their own dark spaces, facing fear and sloppy thinking to push into the feelings of isolation, pain and rage to find the jewels they have tried to hide inside their own private hell.

In learning to love my own special relationship with creation I have learned to love the special queerness of other people, how they make art in the world by being more powerfully and unabashedly themselves.   “Be yourself,” Quentin Crisp told us. “Everyone else is already taken.”

We live in a society that likes to sort people into categories, relying on group identity rather than individual differences.   Maybe this is because our culture is so diverse that small differences are not as visible as they would have been in very homogeneous villages, or maybe it is just an attempt to simplify a complex and nuanced world, but it means living without fitting into a nice stereotype can leave you isolated and lonely.

Who are you if you do not fit easily, neatly and quickly into the expectations of others?   How can people know you without a shiny external package to draw the eye and stimulate their pre-programmed assumptions?  How will you be one of the crowd if you stand out as unique?

It’s hard to get applause for revealing your own queer self, hard to feel seen, understood and valued for showing what those junior high bullies used to pick on you about.  We learn to show a façade that becomes hardened enough that taking it down, evaluating what is really us and rebuilding a new presentation feels terrifying and impossible rather than liberating and empowering.   We are trapped in others expectations of us for good reasons.

Transcending our history and even our biology takes trust in something deep within us, in our eternal connection to creation rather than our ephemeral connection to a role we have been cast in.   Who is going to affirm our bold and brave choices, especially when those choices take us to places others still fear and resist inside themselves?   Who is going to say “Yes!” as we take our own leaps, falling sometimes, but learning, growing, releasing and transforming in the process?

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are, so a life without being applauded for the courage of revealing your heart to others but especially to yourself is a life that surrenders your gifts to your fears.

You are not wonderful because you hide your spines.   You are wonderful when you own your own sharp nature, cutting through crap to bring your own special gifts to the world.