Welcome to Untethered, a new column by me, a person who has basically never been single in their whole adult life. Herein, I’m publicly committing to, above all else, dating myself and building community around me not based on the relationship escalator — for the indefinite future. I’m curious about what that looks like, genuinely, and hope you’ll explore that with me!
This is a non-exhaustive list of things I’ve lived through recently:
- Falling through a log I was trying to use to get myself down a small cliff, but the log was actually so rotten it crumbled like chocolate cake underneath my boots and absorbed me into its sticky sickly sweet cakey maw. Reader, I yelled.
- Getting the cops called to my house by a truly very annoying straight woman.
- Having to explain to my ex-girlfriend why the cops are at the door.
- Seeing landscaping goats and their protector donkey at the park! We love Goats With Jobs!
- Sleeping on a camping mat on the floor of my office…like I have been for the past two months. Then, subsequently, realizing my back has not felt this good in a while.
- Being forced to consider whether “Western” (a problematic term) style beds are…a conspiracy? Are they (beds with a mattress, a frame, etc.) bad for us (humans)? I’m not being unserious. I feel like this is a legitimate point of inquiry.
- Getting so stressed that I stayed up until 4 a.m. making chocolate chip cookie dough. Then having to reckon with the fact that I was trying to comfort myself by making cookies for everyone I cared about because sometimes showing affection is hard.
- Being touched when everyone received said cookies with grace. Well, except for my one friend who screamed “I NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GONNA SAY TO ME” when I told them I made four batches of cookie dough while stressed and then just handed them cookies as I got in their car.
- Sleeping with an Epi pen next to me because the house was filled with yellowjackets, displaced because city raccoons or city coyotes ate the nest near my front door I’d called exterminators about and now the yellowjackets were unhoused and in my house and throwing themselves with a very loud buzz — and yeah “stingers up” — at the windows but also at anyone (me) who got too close.
- Watching a PowerPoint presentation under a bridge with cigarette smoke wafting around me and a happy new haul of zines crinkling in my backpack.
- Listening to a certain audiobook, describing it to a trusted friend, and having that friend yell in the cutest frustration possible about how right the audiobook is.
- Finally, finally perfecting my vegan sparkling wine aspic recipe, but only under the utmost pressure.
So, yes, let’s dive in there. Will you descend with me into what someone described as disturbing air quotes around the word “gelatin”? (Because it’s agar agar.) I do think this is a much more comfortable descent than the submersion into a rotting log, for what it’s worth. Take my hand?
I arrived with the aspic still stuck in the bundt pan, confident that a party full of cooks and restaurant workers could probably extract it more artfully than I ever could. Together, we worked to get it out with a hot water bath, lots of communal whacking, and a knife. The aspic emerged like Venus out of the sea, glorious and bouncy as one of those really low-quality dildos — all in one piece, too! The group retired to the rooftop, carrying all the dishes and drinks we’d assembled. We gathered around on blankets and ate. Someone reacted with a “perfect!” when the aspic held its shape during slicing. It tasted really good, too, a cold dessert on a hot day. We opened cans of tinned fish, ate mystery dip, and discussed Barbie and being talked over by cis men. I listened to restaurant gossip and connected with a couple really cool people.
One of these cool people served as a stark reminder of my face blindness. Several days after the rooftop potluck, as you might have guessed, I attended Spaghetti Disco and ran into a woman I’d met at said potluck.
This person is delighted to see me and I canNOT place her because — again — context is number one here, and she has appeared so wildly out of context. I mimic her excitement, because obviously I know her, I just temporarily have no idea where the fuck I know her from. She’s wearing a hat that is also, somehow, a disco ball, so I compliment it and do small talk while desperately staring at her face until it clicks — hard — like I’m in a cartoon and someone just dropped a piano on me.
I had talked with this person for like A FUCKING HOUR on the roof. We looked at the moon together and shared tinned clams! I really wish people in real life came with the kinds of labels they do on the internet, or in Slack. Whenever a coworker’s name pops up in our office, I’m never like “oh who is that” because it SAYS WHO IT IS.
Once I recognize her, my shoulders sink down and I can ask her how her week’s been. She goes to dance, and I slink out to the patio with the smokers for a while to contemplate why my brain is the way it is.
This is the book my friend said hit too hard, too close, with too much realness. They’re right. This is a difficult read. Are you prepared to face patterns in your childhood, your family life, your friendships and romantic relationships, your relationships to school and work, your everything in a way that is maybe just as, if not more, cutting than your relationship to your sexual orientation and gender? How many mind fucks is one person supposed to take?
So, I’m at the autism assessment, at the ADHD assessment, at the combination autism and ADHD assessment, and these questions are scathing. I’m super comfortable with the assessor, though, despite the questions. He appears to be a queer man who tells me he’s autistic and has ADHD himself. When he asks about things that might be special interests, I rattle a few things off and then make myself admit to the one that makes him laugh.
“The history of ceramic heating devices,” I mutter, and he is like, “We can move onto the next question.”
He asks something about how I do the dishes, and I am like “of course I do the dishes. You have to do the dishes.” And he asks me how easy it is. Then I have to tell him that I wash one to two dishes, walk away, look at something else, and then make myself go back to the sink where I repeat the process. More scribbling on his end. He pulls up my pre-assessment paperwork, nods his head, and says “nonbinary.” To which I am like, yes, that’s what I put down.
Mr. Assessor then cheerfully informs me that research he’s aware of estimates that 25% of trans and nonbinary people are autistic / have ADHD and that he feels the percentage is likely larger than that due to the manner in which autism and ADHD are undiagnosed in many (non-cis/het/AMAB/white) demographics. I knew there was a correlation. After all, I work here. I work with y’all. I’m also on Tumblr. (LOL) But, listen, this diagnostician read me for filth. It was comment after comment like this.
This man even told me that apparently going dancing all the time is, in part, a common way for people to access a societally appropriate form of stimming, and I’m mad at him forever for saying that. Don’t call me out like that, bro!
On top of it all, one of the most difficult things about the diagnosis has been the reflection. Mostly, I’ve been looking back at the times — many of them very recent — where I’ve been treated like a cold-hearted bitch for not interacting with people in a way they expected. Frankly, in a way they expected that I suspect is rooted in an expectation that I adhere to some kind of traditionally feminine, emotionally giving (and sacrificing) role.
I think this is as much tied up in my sometimes femme-ness as it is in my all-the-time autistic-ness. If I put on lipstick, if my face is shaped the way it is, if my voice is high-ish pitched and I really lack the skill (your dude also can’t sing) or the time to alter it, there’s a certain amount of tenderness or enthusiasm or bubbliness expected — but I’m not necessarily going to deliver on that in the ways people might expect. Throughout my work and school life, this has always meant being docked for my inability to provide the kind of emotional labor that cis men, especially, expect of me. It’s not even necessarily a deliberate protest (though, sometimes it is). It’s more often an oversight. Like, “Oh, I didn’t see that heterosexual expectation there. Sorry I tripped over it. Y’all should really clean that up or put one of those orange cones out or something because this is both unnecessary and slippery.”
I will never forget seeing my ex-boss from a past non-Autostraddle job break into tears when I pushed back on feedback her cishet white male colleague gave me in a performance review insisting I was too brash and harsh and cold. (He’s also an asshole, and so I’m not sure why he was surprised about this treatment.) I said I’d gotten that feedback since I was five years old and that I honestly didn’t know what to do about it but that also I didn’t think it’d be as much of an issue if I was a man. She started crying, and I could see her processing the information. He looked admonished. I followed it up with my performance stats, which were impeccable. Like, I’d gotten them — a small to midsize theater — a literal million dollars in grant money in the year I’d worked for them — couldn’t we lead with that? My ex-boss is still my friend — she’s the one who you might in fact remember being the one who hooked me up with the D&D group — so you know she’s ride or die.
It’s always been with me. That could be its own essay, its own book. But I will say that looking back at a five-year relationship, an engagement that was called off, through the lens of the neurodivergence that affected it — it’s a heady experience.
It’s a lot, buds — Redwallers, Romans, friends.