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On The Spectrum

4 minute read

What’s it like to be on the spectrum?

It is to be able to do wonderfully complex and abstract things, at the speed of light, yet to be stumped at how to give straightforward directions to others.

To be diagnosed after the age of 30 is to learn quite resolutely: the weirdest feature in my being is not who I am, but what I do not understand. I do not understand what is easily understood by most. But I have done a good job pretending I do.

People expect me to understand because I manage to pass for somebody I am not: well put together. In charge of my mind and body. Able to hold a conversation, fill rooms with hundreds of people. Capable of making inferences and deductions based on fact and feeling. Able to pass for ‘neurotypical’.

In recent conversations like the ones I’ve had to pay a lot of money to have some obvious things pointed out to me, I’ve had to dig into the recesses of my psyche. Things I thought I’d scrubbed out of my brain and consciousness. I did not have to go back very far:

I live in my head, suspended between my thoughts and reality. In my head, I have already raced through the day’s tasks elegantly, solving one interesting problem after another. In reality, I struggle to put on my shoes. Five year old me’s daily problem: no matter how hard I try, I cannot will my fingers to arrange my shoelaces and straps in a manner that makes sense. This still happens to me. In my head, I may have made spreadsheets upon spreadsheets to address every question I have thought of while showering in the morning. In reality, I cannot will an arrangement of words and numbers to show up without brute force. This tires me.

At social events it would be nice, of course, to finally understand how to moderate my speech or behaviour to match what is expected of polite company. But I am interested only in a very tiny set of topics. It helps then to not know what it feels like to pass for social; I have only ever managed to wager a guess. Since I do not know how that feels like, I do not know how to want those things, which is often mistaken for apathy.

It was to have made mathematical calculations of my romantic odds instead of caring for people on an individual level. For that, I am sorry. All of those times people asked me on OkCupid or Tinder what I was looking for and I said ‘an algorithmic match’, I thought it was the only thing to say. And if we actually dated, I was still looking for the algorithms and my mainframe was out of date.

Being on the spectrum means I grapple with simple questions: the one which terrifies me most, even to this day is — how are you? There is a five second delay in which I think, how, am, wait, what does that mean and who am I? Am I good today? Is that the truth? Am I more good than the last time I was asked this weird question? It feels like an infinite loop. Asking me how I am or how I feel, is no different from being asked to reach into the bottom of my soul and finding no difference between one abyss and another. How am I? How do I feel? I don’t know.

In place of feelings, there are patterns.

There is the pattern of ‘everybody is smiling am I more convincing at making eye contact now or am I still failing’. This sometimes looks like I have too many feelings, or that I have none.

There are the patterns of ‘this looks like something which has happened before which leads me to conclude… Something’ and ‘oh shit I got it terribly wrong’. There are few patterns in-between.

I have been lucky to find my feet in a career that skews unfairly towards people on the spectrum, but the parts of it: the speaking at conferences, the socializing and networking, the parties, the world of people talking to and understanding each other, that I shudder at.

To be on the spectrum is to have few tools for anger and other emotional processes. How is someone else feeling? I can only wager a guess. It is to disproportionately over-emphathise (because it seems like that’s what people do), or to do too little of it. For me, it is also to be completely incapacitated in the in-betweens: what is not said. Even then, what is said can also have the same effect when it is said in a different way — that matches another pattern.

It feels like living in a bad torrent. It is a blockbuster movie to everyone else who somehow always finds a way to watch the IMAX version. But yours resembles a pirated movie torrent with an audio track that is 10 seconds out of sync — ahead. It all sounds like gibberish, and there are somehow no subs of the right language and container size and codec. You have to watch it anyway.

I am lucky to have finally found an algorithmic match. My partner of 14 months was the first person to give me all the inputs: these are my parameters, these are yours, this is where we meet, and by the way you should get help for the bad torrent you are living in. Slowly, the other movie is coming into focus.

Maybe I’ll never be able to see all of it in high fidelity, but — I’m told it is up to people like us to find new standards of definition.

Wordpress to Jekyll

less than 1 minute read

If this looks bare to you, it’s supposed to be.

I’ve just finished archiving all of my old posts and giving them some new life as something else they’re not: cool.

By using Jekyll and Github Pages, this setup lets me edit the site in a way I must prefer now: with a text editor and git.

Most things are still here, and I’ll add to it shortly.

But sometimes less is more.

If you’re into that sort of thing, check out my repo!

What 31 Feels Like

less than 1 minute read

Wonderful but sometimes a downer.

Comfortable but invigorating.

Stable but enervating.

Fun but sometimes mild.

Energetic and delicious.

World-changing and domestic, depending on the day.

Upwards trajectory but sometimes down.

31 is about being happy in my own skin: that it’s really okay to have greasy hair and over-sized T-shirts, when you have your dog and your partner by your side.

Thank you for the most wonderful year, to everyone who has played a role in it. I am lucky and grateful to have all of you by my side.

Panic at the Disco

4 minute read

Gay clubs were for flowers. 

Update: I wrote this piece before we learned more about what happened. I’m sorry about misgendering or mis-identifying the victims.

I’m 31 in a few months. Not old, but old enough to remember how coming out was not on Tumblr, it was at Taboo. 

I would go with my best friends, all of us so drawn to each other (boys and girls) because we saw a spark of — what was it? We thought it was weirdness at the time — in each other. It was a badge nobody gave us, but we saw on ourselves anyway. 

If only someone could have told us: this badge, it is a badge of queerness. Use it well, do not sleep with worthless people, and you’ll be okay. One day. 

Why did the Orlando shootings reverberate across the world as I knew it — on the walls, timelines, of every queer person I know, and their allies?

The idea of safe spaces, and sanctity, kept coming up. Weird, perhaps to consider something like a sweaty, sweltering gay club sacred. But it was. And will always be. 

Even if I never felt like I was of “the scene” (there was literally nothing for me there), being a woman, outnumbered with my persuasions out-persuaded, it was, in so many ways, where I found myself. 

I’m a terrible dancer, but some alcohol with the encouragement of men who don’t care about sleeping with me, made gay clubs the only place I felt safe. I didn’t have to worry about men, even if I went alone. And most times, I did. In Singapore, in Bangkok, in Helsinki, in every place I have called home or visited for longer than a day. A gay club had always found itself on my itinerary. It was my window into the pulse of the rebels, the misfits, the mostly straight but didn’t want to be fag hags I could sometimes persuade.

Most of all, the complete sense of belonging and the unadulterated self. There, I could be myself, long before I could be that person at school, at home, in my places of worship. 

When Omar Mateen went into a gay club halfway across the world, spraying bullets and quite literally hunting down gay people, my memories merged into one, as it did for many queer people everywhere. He didn’t kill 50 gays in one club, he reached into, placed himself in, and ripped up the safe space we have all found. 

But how to explain a safe space to people who have never needed one?

18, venturing out timidly with my best friends. Seeing educators; kissing each other (of the opposite gender) to pretend, badly, that we were all straight. 

20, between life milestones, trembling and swooning every time an older women “picked me” (hahaha, I was very young and very hot; they should have been swooning instead).

More recently in life, being protected and cared for by wonderful gay men in cities all over the world. From Istanbul to Helsinki and San Francisco. 

It was not just 50 gay men that Omar Mateen killed. 

It was all of us on the dance floor. The veteran gays who go to see friends and dance with them. The young man peeking out from his closet, having to hide his queer clothes in his bag. His career as a hot young stud, vanished. The fag hags who love the gay men they cannot have. The old couples who go because they want to believe they still got it. The amazing dancers. The not so good ones. The long lines for the men’s toilets; the lack of one, of the lack of a toilet, for women. The bad vodka. The cheap rum. The smell of leather and sweat. The promise of darkness and kink — but is it really that dark or kinky if you were the one getting it? The camaraderie. The cliquey lesbians who think anyone talking to their girlfriends is infidelity, even when gay men do it. The stolen kisses once outside. The sobering effect of a greasy meal early in the morning when you didn’t meet someone interesting or you made the right choices in life. Kebabs and Chinese food. Drunk friends you send home vowing to never let them drink again. The sullen faces that sometimes harbour disgust the moment you walk out of the door knowing you will not be accepted outside. 

That’s where Omar Mateen took us all. He sprayed his evil bullets into our sanctuary, hiding his last minutes in the toilet of a gay club. Let that sink in for a minute. Possibly the worst homophobe the world has seen since the Holocaust. And he hides out in a gay club toilet before he dies?

All across the world violent acts are performed on minorities every day. Queer people are persecuted. Women are beaten. Trans people are murdered. Immigrants are hunted. Other ethnic and religious groups including atheists are tortured, hated, cussed at. What you think is casual racism, homophobia, transphobia, funny jokes that won’t hurt anyone, magnifies with a weapon in its hands. 

So if you’ve ever stopped to say, _why are you people demanding your rights? It’s a playbook from Western activists wanting to erode our culture! What next, marriage? Yes. _We are demanding to not be massacred. To not be spat on and beaten in Albania. To be not pistol-whipped and left to die on a fence in Wyoming. To be not raped — correctively and incorrectly — in South Africa. To not be kidnapped by your parents and sent to “pray the gay away” camps, all over the world where evangelical Christians have found money and warped theology. 

We are here and we are queer. Do not kill us like deer.