Data, My brother from another mother (and planet)

My wife and I have been rewatching all the Star Trek series on Netflix. We’ve finished the original series and are now on series 4 of The Next Generation (Henceforth referred to as ST:TNG)

Last night’s episode was “In Theory” where the Enterprise crew encounter strange dark matter deformations in space-time causing parts of the ship to phase in and out of regular space, but for me the episode is more about Data and his first “girlfriend” Ensign Jenna D’Sora.

This episode resonates so strongly with myself. Data is a friend to Ensign D’Sora, as honest as Data always is, not that he can be anyway else (in case there’s some people not familiar with the series or the character Data is a highly intelligent and analytical android devoid of emotion but with a Pinocchioesque wish to be a “real human”)

In this episode, Data tries to respond to the romantic attentions of his colleague. He’s slow to pick up on obvious signals and despite his vast knowledge he seems lost and out of his depth trying to please his partner.

I was reminded of my early dating experiences (or lack thereof) I was woefully ill prepared for the experience. One of my long time college friends still waxes lyrical with much mirth about the time we were sitting in the student campus bar and I was talking to him about how girls just didn’t seem to like me. At the same time, this girl kept coming over and interrupting me, asking me the time, asking me for a lighter (I don’t smoke), asking what course I was on , who I was with etc etc until I turned and essentially told her she was being rude and to stop bothering me and my friend and I returned to my previous conversation about how difficult it was to get attention from girls.. .. .. erm. In hindsight I see where I went wrong there.

My friends (and I had some, a precious few) loved how utterly oblivious I could be. I would take things either too literally or opposite to how they were meant to be taken.

Example number 2. After a late party out of town a female friend asked me if I’d like to stay over at her place. As it was a long and expensive taxi fare home and I didn’t fancy sitting in a bus station for 6 hours I agreed. She showed me to her sofa bed, then pointed out the bathroom and where her room was. I thanked her and made sure I didn’t go anywhere near her room, after all why else would she have told me where it was if not to ensure I didn’t actually mistake it for the bathroom?

I was in my late 20’s when I lost my virginity (not that I was ever really that worried about that) it sort of happened and I vaguely remember being told what I was doing. I didn’t really have much say in the matter. I was TOLD I was taking her home, I was pretty much TOLD we’d be sleeping together and when I told her I didn’t really know what to do (I had book learning and knew the principles.. I lacked “practical” experience) she essentially took control while I lay there feeling a little scared and unsure of the whole thing.

Fast forward many many years and I met the woman who would become my current wife. My wife has since informed me that one of my most endearing features was my openness and honesty. The very first words I spoke to her when we first met face to face (we’d chatted online previously) was “That’s the only kiss I’ll be getting” as she handed me a Hershey’s kiss as a joke (I had developed a cold sore from nerves and blurted out that I’d not be doing any kissing in case I passed it on) She laughed this off and told me later she thought it was sweet and also slightly presumptuous. Of course, back then neither her nor I knew I was on the spectrum. With 20/20 hindsight all these amusing little titbits all coalesce into something glaringly obvious.

Data had problems with his emotions, he would often be far too honest or literal. He didn’t always understand humour or slang and often misinterpreted people’s words and actions incorrectly.

In hindsight I realise Data and I have much more in common than I first realised.

 

 

Why I feel people hate me before they’ve ever seen me!

One word. “Atypical”

Netflix’s latest offering is a “Dark comedy” about a young 18-year-old male growing up on the Autism Spectrum and trying to get a girlfriend.

Ok.. sounds familiar (well apart from the elephant in the room that is the fact I wasn’t diagnosed Autistic until I was 46) “perhaps this could be interesting” Thinks Me.

Oh boy.. So much hatred on social media for this show. Calls to boycott it, tweet upon tweet upon tweet about how they didn’t hire an actual autist for the role, about how he’s white, about how he’s straight, about how he’s Cisgender, about how he’s a he! I’ve seen posts about “Toxic Masculinity” dear god an 18-year-old boy imagining having sex? How very dare they.

Ok, look. Sure, they could have hired an actual autist for the role. I’m not a huge fan of The Big Bang theory. People say Sheldon Cooper is “an example of someone on the spectrum” I disagree.. I think he’s an example of someone who’s an a**hole! I associate more with Leonard or Raj than any other character. My wife says I’m like Moss from The I.T. Crowd (the original British version I hurry to state!) Yes I can see that. Naïve, intelligent, awkward, loyal and at times as dim-witted as two short planks stacked together. Sums me up that does! Played perfectly by the talented Richard Ayoade I really see a lot of myself in Moss (except I don’t live with my mum any longer and actually have a social life .. of sorts) When I heard there was a show where the “hero” was autistic, not implied but actually written as autistic, I was glad. I was looking forward to the show. Then I saw the vitriol being targeted towards it.

Don’t misunderstand me, I understand where they are all coming from.  I see your points and, in part, I agree with them.  But let’s just step back for a second. Take a look as someone who *IS* a white straight cisgender male on the autistic spectrum. (heck worse than that.. I’m middle aged AND middle class) When I see people saying how they’re not interested in seeing “toxic male cisgendered straight guys with all their ill-gotten privileges” I feel like they’re saying “Pete? I don’t like who you are.. I don’t like what you are and I don’t think anyone needs to hear anything you have to say. Please delete your twitter and blog immediately!

Intellectually I KNOW they’re not personally attacking me. But my aspie side find it hard to separate the words from the meaning. When I was 18 I wanted nothing more than a girlfriend. I was “lucky” I had a high school girlfriend. We’d hold hands. I was 18… other boys my age were bragging about their conquests. I didn’t want that. I was happy holding hands. I got a peck on the cheek once; I still remember that nearly 30 years later.  I had my first “proper” girlfriend when I was in my very late 20’s/early 30’s . Which is why I can’t watch the comedy “The 40 year old virgin” .. I wasn’t quite that bad but, really, not far off and it’s not really a fun nor funny experience. I wasn’t preoccupied with sex, I’d rather have someone to cuddle and chat with. (I love cuddles)

Ok, So Atypical isn’t ideal. Surely an autistic hero is better than a NT hero? Even if he is being played by an NT actor? (I grew up in the Sean Connery/Roger Moore Bond era. How’s that for an unrealistic view of toxic masculinity and overly sexed NT heroes?)  I was looking forward to having ONE fictional character I could call my own. One like me. Not identical, not a carbon copy, but someone with SOMETHING in common.

And now I feel that I should be ashamed of who I am, Curse me for being born male, damn me for being born white and a hex on my head for being straight! I cannot help these things, this is who I am. Warts and all. I do my best to acknowledge my privileges and do my best to signal boost, promote and support others of all groups. So why do I feel hated?

This whole Atypical thing is making me very low. I’m sinking into a deep funk. So much so I’ve recently blocked any tweets mentioning it, I’m not going to watch the show, I’m also not going to listen to anyone telling me I’m not entitled to my say.

I’m feeling truly lost.

An Aspie Sidesteps The Multiverse

There is a theory which is popular among science fiction writers that we live in one universe among many other parallel and different universes. In these universes life is similar to the one we live but not exactly the same as here, so I might be a professor teaching mathematics in one instead of the software developer I actually am in this universe. Small events can ripple outwards to make huge changes in the eventual outcome, meaning even a small change at the start of a life can lead to a very different one at the end. It made me wonder. What if?

Hi, I’m Pete and I’m a 47-year-old with autism. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome aged 5. I didn’t really understand what it meant at the time, I just remember being told I had to go to the “special class” when I started school.

I didn’t much like school. The teacher never really listened to me and we kept having to do stuff I found easy, Like working out change from shopping or how to make a sandwich. I always felt really odd in there, surrounded by kids with Angelman’s syndrome, profound deafness or other similar conditions. Perhaps these days the kids would be more integrated and less isolated but this was a small Scottish lowland school in the 70’s we were hidden away in our own class like an embarrassment. I remember Mum and Dad arguing a lot. Dad always wondering about who was going to take care of me. Mum worrying about how I’d cope when they were gone. I tried telling them I was ok and could look after myself but they never listened. Primary school came and passed. I didn’t learn much, at least, not from the teachers at least. I read my own books and learnt from them. When I went to secondary school again I was segregated into our own special little class only difference now was there were more of us from other schools in the area. Teachers tried to give us the basics, but with limited staff and so many people with different abilities and disabilities more often than not we were just told to keep quiet and read.

I got picked on a lot at school. I didn’t really make any friends unfortunately. I’d often just spend time in the library, but even that was frustrating as the librarian always seemed to think the books I wanted to read were “too advanced for me” and gave me other ones. I get angry when I’m not allowed to do what I want and as such I’m always in the headmaster’s office for punishment.

School finishes and I’m told I have to go to the adult learning centre. It’s not what I want to do, I see people on TV using computers and things and I think they look fun, unfortunately my Mum and Dad say they’re for “other” kids and we don’t get one. I’m so bored so I make my own fun. I’m arrested several times for lighting fires. Just piles of rubbish but I loved the flames. I remember mum crying again and dad not speaking to me. Next thing I know I’m in “sheltered accommodation” living with other “disabled” and elderly people in a large town in SW Scotland. I’m given pocket-money every day and I have to report in all the time. I’m really bored. We have a computer in the home. It’s not very fancy but it’s got some games and stuff. I’m not allowed to mess around with it though. I was looking around one day and changed something and the printer stopped working. I was just curious.

I stay in one sheltered home after another. I’m allowed a little more independence now. Seems people are more accepting of the mentally ill. I have a small job working in the local supermarket. I’m not allowed to be on the tills or anything, but I sweep up the store and stock the shelves. It’s nice to be able to get out of the house.

One day a new book shop opened across the street. It was an odd place, sold books but also have a coffee shop and computers you could use! If you paid 50p you could use one of the computers and search for ANYTHING you wanted. It’s amazing.

This one time, I found this story about a guy the same age as me, funnily enough also called Pete. Only he’s married and living in London with his wife and works as a senior software developer for a large multinational company. Gosh.. what a wonderful life that would be but it’s not likely.. it’s just pure science fiction if you ask me!

Afterword.

Obviously none of this happened to me. But it’s not all fictional. My school did have quite pronounced segregation for special needs students. Even the deaf students who were bright and intelligent were schooled with the more acutely disabled students. I did actually (and erroneously) end up in that class for one afternoon. I didn’t enjoy it one bit. My life as a troublemaker, arsonist and shop worker didn’t happen to me either. There was one boy in our school who this happened to. I never really knew what happened to him, I recall him being sent to a borstal school because of his arsonist tendencies.

My mum and dad were supportive all my life and encouraged my curiosity and wild ideas. Not many kids in early secondary school had two full sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica! (Admittedly 2 very old moth-eaten second-hand sets – but still !) I got my first computer aged 10.

And yes, I knew of people consigned to the care system. Living in sheltered homes and the such. My mother used to work as a carer in one such establishment and I got to know some of the residents who lived there. In this “what if” scenario I just put myself in their shoes.

I was never diagnosed at school. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 46 by which point I was working in London and married. Perhaps my life wouldn’t have changed so drastically and dramatically. But I know my parents would have worried about my future and I also know I wouldn’t have got the level of education I needed. The rest is pure fiction and conjecture.

Known by many, loved by few.

That’s a twist on a regular diagnosis of ADHD sufferers (something, thankfully, I don’t suffer from) the typical way of describing someone with ADHD is ““known by all but liked by none” which is actually quite cruel if you consider it for a moment.

I read that and considered my own interaction with friends. I’ve only known about my Aspergers for about a year now but as a child I didn’t make friends easily. If there was a pecking order for bullies then I was at the very bottom of the pile. I was bullied mercilessly by everyone including some of the female students.  I had a terrible speech defect (to some extent I still have it, although 47 years of practice means I hide it very well) and kids (being the cruel little monsters they are) picked up on it and all through primary and secondary school my nickname was “Stutter”

Not everyone was a monster or a bully though. There was one girl, Kaye – sigh – I honestly thought we’d marry back then. Ah the innocence of childhood eh! Of course, to marry it is USUALLY preferable for affection to work BOTH ways XD Not being very good at reading emotions I didn’t actually pick up on that. I always got the impression she “liked me” but probably much in the same way as a child likes a dumb dog or cute idiotic little hamster hehe.

Anyway, we grew up. One cannot prevent that no matter how one tries. Primary School gave way to High School, High School gave way to University, and University gave way to the endless trudge of working for a living.

For 47 years I’ve found making (and more importantly keeping) friends very difficult. I’m what can only be described as “odd” or “peculiar”. I’m prone to emotional outbursts and don’t like letting people into my internal “fortress of solitude”. I’m standoffish and shy, bordering on rude at times.

I don’t like social events, I don’t like lots of people milling around or chatting (see my previous post for a recent example) so naturally I don’t tend to socialise much.

The fact that I somehow met a woman who loved me enough to see past my hang-ups to actually marry me is amazing. But she’s a social butterfly. She dances, she goes to the WI (Woman’s Institute) , she has MANY MANY friend who she contacts and visits regularly. Me?  I have her.

Well, ok I DO have other friends. People from University I feel comfortable around. They were my best man and ushers at my wedding. I never contact them, never see them, occasionally I’ll post something on my Facebook page that mentions them but I know they’re there. They’re not expecting me to chat or call. (When I do occasionally telephone I’m always at a loss for things to say anyway XD)

Then there’s my circle of VF’s (Virtual Friends.. a term my wife coined for me) These are people I chat with on Twitter. They have names, they ALL have names, but we don’t use them. It’s all MightyMycroft this and Diceman3000 that or BizarroMan10 the other (Those names are made up btw) there’s a level of detachment about them. Doesn’t mean they’re not important to me. They are. But they’re not “REAL” in the tactile sense. I’ve never met any of them, I have no intention to ever meet any of them, I care about them and their problems. Even going as far as helping them out when problems strike, but they don’t REALLY know me. They know a VERSION of me. Edited and spell checked (mostly) , Puns carefully thought out and delivered with rapier sharp (but controlled, planned and restrained) intellect . They get the cardboard cut-out of me complete with sound bites and bad jokes. They get the image I project onto Twitter. It’s no more me that the image on a movie screen is the actual actor whose movie you’re watching. It’s two dimensional and ever so slightly fake.

I have my wife but am I lonely? Perhaps? Yes AND No. I know that’s a contradiction but I like my solitude. I like going to the movies by myself, I like going to Cosplay conventions on my own. But part of me aches for the connection. I see friends playing online together, or meeting up at games conventions and the likes. I want to be able to share in that warmth but I can’t I’m too isolated. It’s a barrier I can’t get over. I have my soul mate in my wife; I should be content with that.

Sadly part of me is still that 8 year old boy standing on the edge of the playground watching other kids have fun playing chase and wishing I could join in.