In The Club

June 13, 2011

While the outside of a nightclub is clearly terrifying for my crippling low self-esteem and self-loathing, the inside is actually a lot more perilous from an autism perspective. Loud music! Personal Space Issues! Socialization! Here’s my lazy, so-late-it-barely-matters-anymore recap of my night as an autistic club kid.

Loud Music

Although I had to beg my mom to turn the music down when I was a teen, my sensitivity to sound is relatively minor. I’ve never felt overstimulated by music. Loud sounds are only really upsetting when they’re a surprise. I can (and regularly do) attend concerts without any major issues.

I am, however, no good at having a conversation while loud music is playing in the background. I can’t always separate the tone of a person’s voice from the overall sound and, even if I could, I can’t really process the conversation as quickly as I would be able to if there weren’t any outside stimulants. Which is all for the best, because I have problems moderating the tone of my voice at the best of times, so even when I can attempt to be part of a normal club conversation, no one can ever hear me.

I solved this by…

Personal Space Issues

…leaning right into people and yelling into their ears! Because taking an autistic person’s unique concept of personal space and mixing it with alcohol can’t go wrong!

Socialization

For the first hour, I watched everyone else in our party get approached by guys. Then one particularly confident and focused gent strutted up to our bench and sat right down beside me… so that he could talk to the girl who had been sitting on the other side of me. I handled the slight with dignity (or, um, loudly declaring myself a Liz Lemon and high-fiving a million angels) but it’s not exactly the biggest ego boost when you’re the only undesirable in the group.

I have three theories to explain my lack of male attention:

1. I was wearing glasses. And while Dorothy Parker’s line doesn’t necessarily apply to a city soaked in hipsters (who stole my look), it still might be accurate in Niagara Falls.

2. Although I was not hideous enough to be turned away at the door, I’m still only slightly hotter than a middlingly sexy version of Odo from Deep Space 9 at the best of times.

Hello, boys.

3. Boys apparently complained to the bride to be that some of the girls in her party were stuck up and just hanging out with each other and weren’t friendly. This could have been me. I haven’t exactly mastered the art of open body language and my shyness has often been mistaken for aloofness.

At some point, the boys either ran out of other options or I magically appeared less accidentally bitchy and they started to talk to me. Here are some actual conversations that I had with strange men who may have wanted to get into my Starfleet uniform:

Boy: Hello ladies! Where are you from?

Me: Toronto.

Boy: Oh.

and

Boy: Hello! How are you?

Me: I’m married!

Eventually, one sweet, nerdy and impossibly young boy took a fancy to me. I gave him a lovely speech about the possibilities of youth and how he had so many years ahead of him to make stupid mistakes and have bizarre adventures. He asked me why I was talking like I was old. Then a security guard came up to us and said that he looked better in stripes than I did.

I doubt a neurotypical could make any more sense of that than I have.

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Actually, he suggested that I try it out to test my suspicions about the whole scene.

I rarely get invited out to clubs. I think most of my friends, even the ones who don’t officially know that I have autism, just assume that I’m a little awkward and nerdy and not the type of person who would want to go to a club, so they don’t ask. The truth is, though, that my only real problem with clubs – aside from music snobbery –  is that I have always been convinced that I’d be turned away at the door because I’m not attractive enough. I simply wanted to spare myself the humiliation.

I explained this to my therapist and he said that maybe I should actually give it a shot. He seemed to think that I might be surprised by the results. I told him that I’d consider it at some undetermined date in the future and then promptly forgot about it.

My assignment was the last thing on my mind when one of my oldest and best friends invited me to tag along to her friend’s bachelorette in Niagara Falls. I just wanted to hang out with her. And I wanted to be in Niagara Falls, because I love that city in the absurd obsessive way that only an Aspie can. It wasn’t until well into the evening that I realized I had accomplished my goal. “Hey!” I yelled above the Britney remix as I stole a cupcake from a neighbouring VIP booth. “My therapist told me to do this!”

For the record, my therapist did not tell me to steal cupcakes at a club. My second martini told me to do that. But when I told my therapist about it today, he didn’t seem to think that it was a bad idea, either. At least he didn’t admonish me for it. I’m going to take that as an endorsement of sorts.

Anyway, I made it past the door pretty well. My virulently low self-esteem still believes that I was only let in because I was with a group of women who were rather attractive, but, at the very least, the bouncer didn’t think that I looked much like my ID. Given the photos on my health card and passports, I consider that promising. “I like to tell people that I look like Charlize Theron on my ID,” I told the bouncer. “Unfortunately, I look like her when she was in Monster.”

The bouncer barely grunted in response as he shooed me in.

So the good news is that I am not so shockingly ugly that I can’t get into clubs. And that is good news, indeed, because I clearly can’t rely on my wit to get me past the door.

Someone found my blog today by googling “seduce asperger,” and it inspired me to come up with a list of handy tips to get a little closer to the special Aspie in your life:

 

1. Ask the Aspie about his or her special interest.

2. Listen to the Aspie talk about about the special interest.

3. Listen some more.

4. Keep listening.

5. Flat out tell the Aspie that you’re trying to seduce him or her, because that fact will probably not occur to your Aspie on his/her own.

I don’t watch American Idol, but I was sort of cheering for James Durbin from afar and wished him well when he was voted off, but then this happened:

And as much as I want to support a fellow Aspie, and as good as his appearance and success on the show is for our people, I just can’t abide by this.

I’m all for visibility and good role models, BUT THAT’S MY FUCKING BAND! If any Aspie is going to sing with Judas Priest, it should be ME! My anachronistic obsession with Priest – complete with all sorts of elaborate plans to stage a musical based on their songs – began almost ten years ago,  back when young Durbin was probably still all about dinosaurs or machines or other boyish Aspergian pursuits. In other words, my DORK PASSENGER SAW THEM FIRST!

And that outfit? You’re an Aspie, man! Where’s your attention to detail? I wouldn’t be caught dead on stage with Rob Halford with fewer than five rows of studs on my belt.

Dear Katy Perry,

The Smoking Gun posted your rider yesterday, and it’s got some people all a-twitter. Apparently you have a thing against carnations? And you require two egg chairs backstage at every show? A lot of people on the internets are offended by these demands. I admit, I find them a little much. I love me a good egg chair, but I don’t really think I’d require a pair of them to greet me every night when I’m on the road. It seems excessive, but then, excess is kind of the cornerstone of your whole career, so I guess I can’t fault you for that. The flower issue sounds a little diva-esque, but maybe there’s a legitimate problem there. As an autistic girl, I’m not going to get too worked up about a normal having an extreme aversion to something. I couldn’t wear corduroy for the first half of my life. We all have our things.

Plus, I mildly dabble in the music industry, so I understand that most of the wacky stuff put in riders (like Van Halen’s infamous M&M demands) is simply put in there to make sure that the promoters actually read the contracts. I also happen to have some musician friends who put random stuff on theirs because they didn’t know what the hell to request, but thought that they should ask for something. So maybe those were motivating factors when you decided that everyone in your crew needed a new SIGG bottle for every show. Maybe you were just sitting around, trying to come up with shit, and you looked at your SIGG and thought, “That’s it!” And then you did a stupid Oprah impression and went ‘Water bottles for everyooooooooooneeeee!” and now it’s in your rider. Or maybe you’re just actually that demanding, because your rapid and all-encompassing fame has gone to your head. It happens.

But the thing that’s really getting to people are your specific instructions to your driver, which includes points like “The driver will not start a conversation w/ the client,” “the driver will not talk to the clients guests or fans,” and “DO NOT STAIR AT THE BACKSEAT THRU THE REARVIEUW MIRROW (sic).”

It does sound bitchy, but I kind of get it. As an autistic person, I only have so much social energy to expend each day and, if I were on your tour, I would probably require similar measures. Being “on” all the time is hard, whether being on means being Katy Perry: Superstar or being the most normal version of yourself that you can present to the world. The last thing you need at the end of the day is one more person asking you to be on when you desperately need to recharge because the next day is going to be absolutely filled with interviews and meet and greets and a show and god knows what else. Yes, the polite thing to do would be to simply apologize to the driver in person and say that you’re tired and can’t deal with a conversation, but that’s not really something that any woman is conditioned to do, is it? And it’s a lot harder to really say that in practice than it is in theory.

I’m actually cool with the demand, but I have a suggestion for you: Hire someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. My people would be perfect for you!

We are probably the only type of people in the world who will appreciate an entire page of instructions on how to behave in a certain scenario. We will follow them, because we dig rules, and also because most of us have probably been waiting for a whole page of social instructions for our whole lives. We will be relieved that you don’t want us to start conversations. We’re no good at that, anyway, and it’s too effing stressful. We probably won’t want to talk to your guests and fans, because that would inevitably result in small talk and we’re about as good at that as we are at opening conversational gambits. And as for stairing at the backseat thru the rearvieuw mirrow, well, we hate eye contact, if that’s what you’re getting at? You are going to have to hire a contract writer who can spell better if you want an Aspie on your team, because that language is seriously making me develop a nervous tick as I type this, but that might be a good idea, anyway. Why is the person behind your rider writing like a twelve-year-old on MySpace? Surely that can’t be good for business!

Anyway, Katy, and any other celebrity who might have similar issues (because you’re obviously all reading the blog of a miniscule time writer from Toronto), please do consider including at least one Aspie in your entourage. Even if you go with a normal driver (because only 60% of us drive- I did forget that issue when I was composing this argument), we’d make great assistants as well. Tell us exactly what to do and we’ll follow your specific instructions to the letter! No eye contact or small talk required! And just think of the good press you’ll get! For no real effort on your part! The public will think you’re so wonderful for hiring the disabled and giving them a real chance at life, blissfully unaware of the fact that you’re actually just getting what you really wanted out of an unfamous, little people assistant all along! The only downside is that you really do have to tell us exactly what you want, because if you start expecting us to read your minds and interpret your moods, then we’re all in for a world of hurt.

love,

Sarah

President Of The As-Of-Yet Unnamed Charity To Get My People Hired By Famous People (And Make Me Enough Money That I No Longer Need A Day Job)

Take the tone of this Jezebel post, for example. I’m sure that the author meant no harm, but the language here is pretty careless. Do you know what it feels like to be someone who actually has the horrible affliction in question? I wish I could make some sort of flippant joke about it, but the truth is that it’s hurtful.

Asperger’s comes with a goodie bag filled with frustrating and annoying struggles, and it’s certainly not a 24/7 party, but the only serious issues I’ve personally had with my autism have been, at their roots, problems of misunderstandings, miscommunication and intolerance.

Poor parents who are going to freak out that their child might have that awful Asperger’s disease on account of the original article and journalists who get righteously indignant that parents might freak out about that awful Asperger’s disease are certainly a greater threat to my general well-being than my ongoing feuds with the analog clock and uncomfortable crotch nubs on jeans.

Anonymous Internet Posters of the World,

I know it can be fun to discuss other people and throw around the occasional pop psych diagnosis. In theory, it can be a fairly harmless exercise, and I’m as guilty as anyone of some good old Asperger’s speculation (Brick from The Middle! Kanye West! The entire city of Toronto!). But if you’re going to start throwing around my syndrome willy-nilly, maybe you should actually know something about it first.

I understand that it can be confusing, because both Asperger’s and asshole start with the same syllable, but they are not, in fact, synonymous. If you were to look up Asperger’s in the DSM-IV (which I know is a favourite of the creepy and bizarre hivemind that inhibits the TelevisionWithoutPity boards), you would realize that “being a weirdo and/or an asshole” isn’t even on the list of diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s.

Some people with Asperger’s might come across as assholes because of their social impairments. They might be working their buns off to appear differently, but unfortunately falling short because sometimes it’s hard to figure out what makes you an asshole in the outside world. Some people with Asperger’s are just assholes. Some neurotypicals might come across as assholes because awkwardness and cluelessness are not the sole domain of my people. They might be really trying and failing as well, because the greater social world isn’t easy to navigate for everyone. Some neurotypicals are just assholes.

So when you see a story like this, please don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that the moron in question must have Asperger’s. The idea never even occurred to me when I was reading the story. Upon further reflection, I can almost see where someone would get the idea. I do recall going through a short, unfortunate phase where I wouldn’t shut up about my potential genius status. I was nineteen, struggling to find my place in the world and desperate to be taken seriously and doing a pretty terrible job of it on account of my terrible social skills. So I started clumsily telling people that I was a genius, because my smarts were all I really had going for me, and I couldn’t think of another way to prove that I wasn’t a total fuck-up. So I can see how someone might suspect that some of Scott Adams’s stupid behaviour sprung from a little dash of autism. But he goes way above and beyond your usual, run-of-the-mill Aspie weirdness.

And “deluded Asperger’s suffering narcissist?” Or “He’s either an awe-inspiringly good example of narcissistic personality disorder (I don’t care what the psychs say, it’s its own thing and should stay in the DSM) or an Aspie?”

You’re just pulling that out of your asses, Anonymous Internet Posters of the World. He could just as easily be your average nutjob compensating for the fact that he wrote a shitty comic strip that’s only brush with what is commonly known as “funny” was when Matthew became obsessed with it on NewsRadio.

Sometimes a douchebag is just a douchebag.