The Arson

A few weeks ago, a great tragedy hit our town. Some non-thinking degenerate dropped a firecracker into a book-return chute in our library and well… (photos credited to KPC Media)

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Upwards of over 50,000 items are lost, including the entire film collection as you see above. And yes, I am super devastated because today was the first day photos of the damage were released to the public. This is the one most devastating to me.

Since I have lived in town, this library was one of my favorite places to go. Parents would take me for storytime, then a month-long historical camp for boys (there was a girls one as well), summer and winter reading programs, and so much more. I loved going through the shelves and seeing what kind of adventures lay in wait. But when my interest in film skyrocketed, this was the place for me to go but the story goes a little further back.

Around middle school and high school, Dad would go out to the library and borrow a bunch of films for us to watch on Saturday nights after church and picking up pizza. It was because of him that I saw classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ben-Hur (the Charlton Heston one), Them!, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and others. When I got heavily into film, I referred to the AFI Top 100 lists and did a lot of cross-indexing, updating it whenever the library got the film in their catalog. I saw Taxi Driver, Birth of a Nation, some Hitchcock and Kubrick films, and others. For a while, I’m pretty sure I was the only guy who borrowed David Lynch’s The Straight Story on VHS; at the time, it was the only film by him in the collection and it was one of the underrated ones.

Was it a big collection? Well, not as big as the large library in the next town over but it was enough to keep patrons satisfied. But now they are all gone. Because somebody thought it was worth destroying something so precious. They caught the guy but it’s going to take many months to get the library restored, especially since it’s a historic one.

At this point, they are taking monetary donations but I want to do something more. I do need to trim my personal film collection anyway by either upgrading to a higher format or just letting them have some, especially films that weren’t initially in their collection to begin with. So if anyone from the library sees this, I’m willing to help in any way possible.

The Reveal

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It has been one week since I came out to my folks and it has been a whirlwind of feelings. I needed to process my emotions but it’s led me to realize some things need to still happen if I want to be happy.

Last week was marked by panic and sadness as I tried to fine-tune my coming out letter. My mind obsessed about the unknown as I tried imagining each scenario, the majority of them negative including being tossed out of the house. I tried keeping up with my studies at the same time but realized that I needed to schedule my proctored mid-term exam, which wasn’t going to happen because I realize my limits in terms of how fast a class can go. I’ll probably drop the class and try again in the fall when it’s at a normal pace. Even if I did take that mid-term, I probably would’ve been too distracted by the future to even do remotely well. As of now, it just sits there incomplete.

I let my friends know on Facebook that I was going to do this and needed all of the positive energy that I could. I tried catching a quick nap by falling asleep to Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” but couldn’t because my mind was racing. Mom drove me over not knowing what to expect. Dad drove separately and Nathan made a mad dash to get to the appointment.

Once everybody was inside the office, I pulled out the letter as they sat across from me. I took several breaths before reading the line that laid out the truth: “I am bisexual and Nathan is my boyfriend.” I reached for his hand to help me get through it.

After I read the letter, I waited for their response and it was surprisingly tolerant, more so than I thought it would be. They told me repeatedly that they loved me but I could not bear to make eye contact with them. Like the Philip Selway song says, it will end in tears. I tried to explain as best as I could why this was so difficult for me to do, bringing up their views on religion and how I was afraid to speak out. There was some anger on my end towards my dad (which I expected would happen anyway) but in the end, I walked out of that room a mess despite the fact I did something that’s considered brave.

I went home with Nathan after the appointment a complete wreck. I needed space away from my parents and was not in the mood to do any more dialoguing with them. Oh my, was I a wreck. I was hungry and wanted to do nothing more than collapse on the couch, distracting myself with Rifftrax. I barely got any sleep that night but then passed out on his couch when he left for work.

After that weekend and some considerable time away, I came home to sleep in my own bed. The next day, dad called me into the kitchen in that tone of voice that implied “we need to talk”. It took not even five minutes but I was told that I could not spend the night at his place anymore and that I couldn’t leave home in the middle of the night, even though Nathan told me he would do that if need be.

At this point, I’m seriously considering moving out because I do not agree with these rules. My birthday is a month from now as it edges ever closer to nearly a quarter-century and I am told “no sleepovers”. Nope. Not having it. I need to spread my wings, which is really my next step, but now that’s going to be a whole other conversation that needs to happen with my folks at some point. A one-bedroom apartment opened up in Nathan’s apartment complex and would be an improvement for the two of us but the question is when.

There’s a lot that I’m conflicted about and still trying to work through. It’s going to be a long journey. I have a family reunion this weekend and, now that my parents know, it’s going to be a rough ride.

Autistic Pride Day 2017

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Today is considered to be Autistic Pride Day. Yes, I should be happy because it’s one day out of the year where I’m supposed to be proud of who I am. And yet, I’m not exactly at that point because this year has been a roller coaster. If you were looking for a sugarcoated post for Autistic Pride Day, have some lemons instead.

If you recall, I was told that I wasn’t autistic to begin with. That was difficult to process and I am still trying to deal with it, though the intensity has died down considerably. My emotions for that are now tied with the impending moment of coming out to my folks, which is a bunch of “I don’t know what to expect”. After all, how can I be queer and autistic at the same time? (The results of this will be discussed in a later post)

There are days where I wake up and think “BOY AM I GAY TODAY! LIKE, THE GAYEST GAY EVER! I AM SO FABULOUS!” Then there are those where it’s “Why do I even bother?” It’s not all rainbows on flags and infinity ribbons every single day. Do I have any love for who I am? I can’t tell; I really can’t. I have felt that way for as long as I can remember. I just didn’t think too highly about myself because I let others come before me. I’ve internalized that when living with my family and figured if I wanted things done, I should do it myself. Sure, people have told me I’m brave or I’m being courageous but I’ve brushed those compliments aside because, in my head, it comes across as hollow. I just do things because of logic and common sense, not really for the figurative medals of valor or warm feels. Since I had to pass as someone normal in my formative years, it’s taking a while to undo all of that.

I do carry my stim tools with me. I do flap my hands to music, each a different pattern depending on the beat. I attend my monthly support group meetings, no matter what the attendance is. I keep in contact with my autistic friends that I’ve met over the years. I still want to help future generations of autistic kids as they grow up in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to all minorities. I do my best to show people a new way of discourse when talking to disabled people about how some representation is flawed or toxic (looking at you The Good Doctor). There are opportunities for me on the horizon but it all seems so far away.

It’s 2017 and there’s still a long way to go for pride. Sure, you have the newly canonized Blue Ranger from the mediocre Power Rangers reboot and the puppet form of Julia on Sesame Street. Personally, I headcanon Gregg from the video game Night in the Woods (pictured above) because that means he’s a queer autistic. On the flipside, “autistic” is still being used as an insult in the ugliest parts of the internet and as insinuation for being unfit to lead. Fidget spinners are all the rage but the majority fail to grasp who they’re supposed to help. It’s still difficult to get and remain employed because of numerous hurdles.

Most importantly, the post-Rain Man generation has grown up and are trying to claim their place at the table of humanity. But since we’re constantly told that we aren’t really autistic for any number of garbage reasons, we get criticized for even having a modicum of pride of who we are because “it’s such a burden and should not be taken lightly”. To those who have heard this sentiment time and time again, ignore them. Celebrate you for who you are on this day. Rupaul’s quote, even with the baggage he brings with him, still rings true. “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell can you love somebody else?”

The Q Word

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I’m going to take a moment, since it’s Pride Month, to talk about a small part of my journey of being a queer man. My journey does have its twists and turns but I’m not going to explain all of it in one post; that’d be too long. Instead, I’m going to discuss the first experience of hearing the word “queer” and how it was treated.

I moved to a different school in seventh grade because my first school only went up to sixth grade. It was in the next county over and was the only Catholic school in the area that went up to eighth grade. I didn’t have a choice in the matter but I went anyways. I was still trying to get my bearings on this transition as I sat in a science class.

My class and teacher got on a tangent about some subject that I can’t recall. At one point, the “edgy” kid in our class (a Polish kid who we assumed was anorexic and did some shady stuff but was taller than any of us) said the word “queer” and everybody laughed. The teacher, after wiping away a few tears, commended him on the comment but reminded him that he could really only get away with saying that once. I muttered that word to myself a few times, using that conversation as echolalia and then the teacher told me I can’t say the word. That moment conditioned me to wince every time I heard it because it was “bad”.

(Unrelated note: the following year, the same teacher used “Brokeback” as a euphemism for “gay” in class as Brokeback Mountain made a splash in Hollywood during that time and also said that the ACLU stood for “Anti-Christ League of Underminers”)

Nobody really told me what that word meant in terms of sexuality. The definitions I looked up just meant “strange” or “different”. But that I couldn’t use that word at all? That seemed odd.

A few years later, I finally got around to watching The Nightmare Before Christmas in a high school class. One of the lyrics in the song “What’s This” uses the word and at the time, I would just whisper the word when I would sing along as I thought back to that moment. If there was a book we had to read for class that used “queer” in the original sense of being different, I tried to glide past it.

Late in college, right when I started to come to terms with the fact I wasn’t straight, I picked up the original Broadway recording of Avenue Q. I popped it into my player and then the song “If You Were Gay” came on. I’m laughing all the way and then the second verse kicks off with “If you were queer/I’d still be here…” Again, I mutter the words but it was foolish since I was the only one in the car. It took a while but I conditioned myself to let that word flow from my mouth without pain because, after all, I was queer.

Nowadays, I use that word as a second label because, while I still call myself a bisexual, I find that my orientation is more fluid and I can’t quite find a label that best fits. I’d like to experiment with my expression but can’t do that while I’m still under my parent’s roof. I hope that by the time my town’s Pride event rolls around next month, I can attend my first Pride how I want with my boyfriend by my side. It would be amazing but for the moment, I just have to bide my time and bite my tongue.

The Awakening

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I am slowly discovering that I have not been a healthy individual when it comes to emotions. I’m not talking about me being abusive or anything like that. It’s more about bottling up those emotions and letting them simmer for far too long.

I learned on the playground that guys don’t cry. Unfortunately for me, I got upset whenever something happened to me and the tears just rolled down. I was called a crier in my class and had to try my best to swallow those instincts to just let it out. The downside is, this caused me to stonewall that part of my emotional core to the point where it is very difficult for me to cry at the appropriate time or in tear-jerking parts of movies. I’m trying so desperately to break that down but I get the nasty feeling inside that I’m being just selfish because I need to tend to my emotions. I’m usually the shoulder people cry on, not the other way around so when it’s my turn, it just feels awkward and scary.

Anger is the one emotion I had to bottle up the most. I was not really allowed to be angry at home or anywhere else because my anger displays were “not like everyone else’s”. I couldn’t openly swear within earshot of my parents, yet dad was allowed to get away with it for some reason. Sure, I’d drop a bomb or two in an argument but I would be talked down in an effort to regain control of me, something I’m learning is rather toxic. Instead, I’d medicate myself with some Nine Inch Nails, Rammstein, the harder side of Dream Theater, and now an eventual wading into punk culture. After all, if nobody in the house is willing to hear me out, I can just drown myself in hardcore riffs and industrial blip bloops.

I tell people that I’m usually a nice guy and I’ll get along with you over the course of time but just don’t try to piss me off. That side of me is scary and as much as I don’t want to admit it, it’s a side that I need to acknowledge. I am trying my best to gain some semblance of independence but am limited by being at home in a place where I can’t be too extreme with my expressions. I’ve been looking into punk ideologies and am learning about how there is a purpose behind it, depending on the faction. I’m working on trying to change my outward physical appearance in terms of clothing and accessories. I’m trying to be more open about my ideas among my family but it’s not easy as I consider myself to be the black sheep of the family.

It’s a slow process but I figure that if I really want to grow my wings, I need to wake up and let myself be open about my emotions.

The Bombshell

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In January, I went in for some testing to see what exactly was wrong with me. Two weeks ago, I finally got the report and a whole lot more than what I bargained for. I’ve been trying to process all of it and I’m finally ready to talk about it.

The gist of the report says that what I was experiencing was adjustment disorder that stemmed from my youngest brother leaving for college on top of dealing with the bottled stress from my job. I’m not happy that I had to quit my job because I couldn’t handle him going away. I feel fine now but I just feel upset at myself for letting it happen this way.

The biggest bombshell that was detailed in the report was that I don’t meet the criteria to have been diagnosed with autism. Apparently my executive functioning skills are just too good to meet that criteria when I know for a fact that’s not the case. The report stated that I never had a language evaluation as a kid to back this up.  Curious, I asked my parents after that initial meeting about my diagnosis. They told me that when they took my younger brother in for testing so that he could get some services from school, the doctor interacted with me briefly and asked my parents some questions. My parents did some research after that and decided I was autistic (Asperger’s back then but still). There was nothing on paper, no professional evaluations. All of it was based on a guess.

You see the narrative of how someone who goes undiagnosed for so long and then when they learn about autism, everything clicks. I can’t find one that goes in reverse. I am floating inbetween zones because I’ve now hit another identity crisis. How can I be at terms with something I may have never had in the first place? Peers have tried comforting me of the fact that this isn’t a bad thing (as if it was to begin with) but it doesn’t help. And then to have my parents come clean about my quasi-diagnosis after all these years makes it worse.

Am I mad as hell? You bet. After all, autism is a serious topic, especially as my generation enters a world that is ill-equipped to accommodate us because the focus was all on the kids. Would it put my mind at rest if I sought out a professional diagnosis, just to say it’s on paper and it’s for real? Probably but is it really worth the effort? Do I self-diagnose, knowing full well of the baggage that it carries? Or do I do neither and just float about in a twilight zone of neurological confusion? This journey has gotten a lot harder, especially as I look at my feed the House passed the dangerous “health care” bill. If I do get the diagnosis, I’ll get charged for a pre-existing condition that was out of my control. If I don’t, I’ll save some money but at the cost of mental health issues.

I’ve tried to distract myself with Beat poetry and finding my muse in Burroughs and Ginsberg, drowning my ears with the sounds of Jocelyn Pook and The Orb. I’ve taken naps out of sheer boredom because it’s a cheap way to detach yourself from the world with little side effects. I’ve sought comfort with my boyfriend and he’s been very supportive of me and what I’m going through. But where do I go from here? This fox has no clue.

The Boyfriend

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A lot has happened in the past month, especially with the past week. I am officially off the market and am dating my first male partner ever (he’s an NT). Let me tell you, it’s very exciting.

I first met him (for the sake of the blog, I’ll call him “Mark”) at a small Super Bowl party at my support group leader’s house. Mark was friends with the leader because they briefly worked at one of the local Meijer’s. About a week later, we saw La La Land together for the first time. He hinted that he wasn’t straight during dinner before the movie which resulted in adding him to my list of potential partners. Thanks to my poor circulation in my hands, they got cold and he held them to warm them up. I think this was the first sign of flirting but I didn’t really catch on until later during a viewing of Sausage Party where we played footsie in bed. At that point in my life, that was the gayest thing I’d ever done.

Cut to a few weeks ago when we got together as a group for an afternoon IMAX screening of Kong: Skull Island (it was serviceable as a popcorn film). I noticed he was subtly holding onto my arm for half of the film. In the car, we both just said “YASS GURL” and other stereotypical gay mannerisms like the limp wrist, all with an ironic sensibility. The next day, the group gathered at an IHOP for movie night and he placed his hand on my leg. We sat next to each other on the couch for a screening of The Edge of Seventeen (underrated and humorous). Our hands touched and throughout the course of the film, they moved upwards toward the arms and eventually embracing.

Last Sunday, we met up again for a game night with the support group which, unfortunately, was a bust as the only people in attendance were the core group. We met up early to watch some movies and laid next to each other on the bed. The leader had left to go pick up some more people and left us alone. We embraced each other strongly and he kissed me on the forehead. I reciprocated and then kissed him on the lips. This led to more of the same and repositioning to get better cuddles. After thirty minutes or so, we made it official that we’re dating.

I’ll spare you some of the saucier details but what I can tell you is that we’ve had nightly video chats and just being all lovey-dovey for each other. Last time I saw him, he gave me his sweater so that I can sleep in it. To put this in perspective, I’m closer to a twink in terms of frame and he’s a bear, so I’m drowning in it. We’ve already held hands in public as we walked to Meijer’s to get ingredients for dinner and introduced me as his boyfriend to some of his friends. We’ve done some slow dancing (he led), something I haven’t done since my prom in high school. Hopefully this week, we can watch Moana together and then attend an art gala at my old college where he’ll get to see my connections. Months from now, he’ll take me to the local pride festival.

Now, we’re hoping this will last for as long as it can. We both have the same parental complications, so we’re trying to make it work as best as we can. Thankfully, we both value open and honest communication which makes things a lot easier. Half of our messages are either “I miss you”, “I love you”, or kiss emojis. We’ve told our own groups of friends who are receptive to these kind of relationships and they’re proud of us.

I’m late to the dating game myself. I only had one dating relationship back in college but we mutually split after a month. Most of my peers are married or have kids already and I’m just off to the side waiting for that special someone and he finally appeared. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

The Support Group

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I meant to blog about this last month but time got away from me. But, yes, I found a support group for autistic adults (technically Asperger’s but with the change in the DSM-5, I just call it my autistic adult support group).

I had known about this group for a while now but I couldn’t attend the meetings because I was working when they were held. I couldn’t just tell my supervisor “Yo, I’m going to take a half day today because I want to get some support from people like me.” Besides, I’d have to drive like I’m at the Indy 500 just to get there as it was an hour away from work if I went on the interstate. But, since I quit my job and haven’t had the social life that I used to have before my illness, I was eager to do anything to get out of the house.

I really had no idea what to expect but I was eager to check out the scene since I have a need to connect with others like me. I wandered into a room on the lower level of the hospital and sat down. Soon, a few others walked in and the meeting started, albeit twenty minutes later. We went around the room and introduced ourselves. Attendance was, I guess, lower than usual so it didn’t take long. Most of them were either in their early twenties like me or in their thirties. This gave me a chance to see what kind of progress can be made in my life. There was a neurotypical person who worked for the local Easter Seals chapter there who, I guess, helped formed the group years ago and just oversees what we do.

There was no set topic for the meeting. Everyone went around giving an update on what kind of projects they were working on or how they were doing living independently. One talked about eventually trying to get into Easter Seals for a job. Somehow it wandered into being able to drive and what kind of driving academies would be beneficial to people like us (I went through the mainstream method but that’s another story for another time). Then it fell into griping about reboots of Taken and McGuyver.

After the meeting, the head and his close friends approached me and invited me into their social circle. I was definitely pleased because I’m always looking to expand my social circle. A few weeks later, the head invited me to watch the Super Bowl with him which was a roller-coaster from start to finish. Later, I introduced him to his first silent film, Safety Last!, and we then saw La La Land. Just last night, a few of us from the group saw The Lego Batman Movie and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I’m very glad that I can add this support group to my life and I can’t wait to see where it goes from there.

The Evaluation

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Monday was a mentally exhausting day for me. I was scheduled for a neuro-psych evaluation that would last for four hours. I wasn’t that stressed about it because the testing would be things I could do easily and would be stimulating.

I was called back by a nice gentleman around 1:15, trying to weave my way around a very disruptive child having a bad session. The room was small and windowless. It was also quite warm but I grew acclimated to it. He explained that there’d be three tests: the WAIS-IV (IQ), the MMPI (psychopathology) and a third one that was on the computer. I was allowed to have drinks and snacks during my break because I couldn’t sit there for four straight hours.

First, there was some block arrangement. Match the pattern in the book as fast as possible. Simple enough, up until the last problem where I ended up taking a bit longer than I’d like.

Next was some short-term memory recall. I struggled with some of the number sequences once they became longer. I tried to mimic the BBC Sherlock and visualize the numbers as they appeared but I wasn’t successful. Then I had to do the same thing backwards. As the sequences got longer, I noticed my ADHD kicking in despite taking my medication earlier that morning.

I was asked how two items were similar. This was to demonstrate the ability to think abstractly or something like that. He then showed me a list of words and asked me to define them. I got all but the final one; my etymology skills failed me in that moment.

After that, he asked me what kind of problems I was having. I gave him a CliffNotes version of the past four months, saying I had no clue what or why it was happening to me. He assured me that the doctors would eventually find an answer to what’s going on (apparently it’s not conversion disorder like I thought).

Next came some mental math questions. All those times in school I thought mental math would get me nowhere came back to bite me as I slipped up on an embarrassingly simple subtraction problem but then worked my way through the rest. It stung a bit because I couldn’t change my answer even though I usually come across as an intelligent man.

I was then asked some general knowledge questions. As he worked his way through the list, he paused and chuckled at one question: who was Martin Luther King Jr.? We both laughed because it was a coincidence that this would be asked on MLK Jr. Day. A few questions later, he asked what the importance of the freedom of speech was in a democracy and why it’s important to maintain good relations with other countries. We both smirked because we both knew why but some higher-ups clearly didn’t.

Then came some more recall, this time with stories. In grade school, my reading comprehension was terrible. I dreaded taking the computerized tests that asked for specific details that I didn’t think were important. I listened to the story and had to repeat as many details as I could remember. Some more tests came later and then he asked some long-term recall questions from those stories.

Towards the end, I was given survey after survey asking about my mood and desires. The MMPI in particular was exhausting because it was over 550 questions that asked me things ranging from whether or not I had a compulsion to steal, if I drink to feel better about myself (never had a drop), multiple questions on suicide that were phrased the same way, if I ever wished I were the opposite sex (clearly written with a gender binary in mind), and others.

After I finished all of that, he took me out of the office and told me it’d be another five to seven weeks before I heard back. At this point, I’m used to waiting. I left with a substantial hunger in my belly as I needed dinner. The testing gave me a glimpse into the future in terms of a career in psychology. With the cursory understanding of the abnormal, I was able to pick out what the questions were specifically asking. I knew I could mentally eliminate some diagnoses because I had no inclination towards them (alcoholism, kleptomania, pyromania). The rest, I’m not sure.

All I can do is wait.

And a Flappy New Year

I’m not the first one to say it but 2016 was awful. Between the numerous high-profile celebrity deaths, the turmoil from one of the ugliest elections in history, and having a freak illness take me away from work for a few months, I’m glad to see it go away. But what good came from it?
I’ve had a few good things but they’re rather small in scope. I saw some friends welcome their firstborn children. I saw a friend publish his autobiography that I helped edit. I was a guest on a podcast three times, tackling subjects like the state of Christian films to how well Rain Man holds up. I saw Zootopia with my best friend several times. I saw my youngest brother graduate high school and start college. I voted in my second election. I have two long-term projects I’m working on that I started this year. Finally, I found a purpose.
I’d be remiss without recounting some of the disappointing things. I had a friend move away. I attended the funeral for my high school principal at the start of the year. I internally panicked when I got pulled over for the first time. I’ve had to constantly train new people for my job because they kept quitting or were transferred elsewhere. A mix of bad medicine and the conversion disorder sidelined me. I tried applying for jobs and was turned down. I saw a nation become incredibly divided and revealed its ugliness.

I want 2017 to be a better year but “better” is a relative term. Each new year is unpredictable in its own way but this time it’s different. I’m going to enter a period that has only been described between the pages of history books and hardback fiction. I don’t know how the future will play out but I’m going to do my best to make it better.

For the longest time, I imagined myself as being in the movie business. Maybe I’d make it big and use my influence to bring positive representation of autism to the screens. Or be an independent filmmaker, having more control over my projects to make what I want and say what I want to say without compromising. I do have some projects on the side but I’m concentrating on going back to school.

I only have a vague idea of the path before me. I’ll be going well outside of my comfort zone. Hoping that I’ll make something of myself, I look toward the future despite its grim appearance.

Flappy New Year everyone.