I want you to imagine with me. Imagine that all of your life something about you has been different. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you were born of an alien species. Your alien parents surreptitiously placed you in a human home and you were raised there. You appeared human. You achieved human milestones. You passed as human. Still, there was something off. Something not quite right. Something that made you Other Than.
This Other Than manifested itself quite frequently in your youth. You didn’t know what marked you as Other Than/wrong/different on those occasions, just that you were. You could see it in the mouths suddenly agape, in the severed relationships, in the increasing loneliness. Was it something you said or something you did? Both? There was no way to know, no one to ask. Eventually, you figured most of it out. As an adult, the Other Than occurrences happen less and less. Of course, that could be due to the fact that you spend far less time with the humans because you got tired of fucking up without knowing how or why. Staying home in the space you’ve perfectly adapted to your alien perceptions is far easier than trying to pass as human.
You’ve met people who understand that you’re alien. They profess to accept it. They are very few. Even those few have their limits. It’s difficult to suppress the Other Than. It is exhausting, sometimes crippling. With these few you don’t. You hear the sighs of exasperation as you fully expose your alien self for too long and it’s too much for them. It wears them out. You wonder how long it will be before they, too, have had enough. What thing will you fuck up and in what context? Will you even be able to figure out what it was? What will be their last straw? And there will be one. Make no mistake about it. History has proven that quite handily.
You try to explain what you feel, how you experience the world, but the human vocabulary is inadequate. These precious few will sympathize and say they understand and they do, in their human way. This is not empathy. It is not the same. It cannot be the same because they don’t know.
Can you imagine this? The feeling of isolation. The feeling that no one on the planet will ever truly empathize. Think about it. Close your eyes and really think about it. How this thing marks you as different from everyone, everywhere. You are different and you can’t fix it. Most of the time you aren’t even sure exactly what it is that others see that makes you different. Even if you figure out how you are different, the best you can do is try to hide it. Because you don’t fully understand, hiding it is an imperfect approximation of mimicry.
This is how it is for me. I am that alien. I have autism. I don’t know where I fall on the spectrum. I suspect I would be diagnosed as Asperger’s. I’m old. Old enough for Autism not to have been a diagnosable condition when I was growing up. Therefore, I was just an easy target, misfit who was harassed incessantly for not fitting in.
I’m talking about all of this because I went to the movies tonight. I went with a friend who is also on the spectrum. I had gone to the movies once with him before and experienced the same phenomenon. It was just as weird this time. I believe strongly that those of us on the spectrum experience feelings far more intensely than neurotypicals. I’m not saying it’s a good thing. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I’m certainly not saying I should be pitied. I’m not saying I’m a special little snowflake and I must be protected. I’m just saying it’s a different thing. An alien thing.
Watching a movie with this person is … yeah … I keep coming back to that word “weird”. When I go to the movies, I forget to pass. My human suit slips off. There, in the dark, I am my full self. I belly laugh. I ugly cry. I hold my breath. My heart quickens. I experience all of everything right along with the characters on screen. I grip the armrest as if it were a shield that will protect me from the feelings bombarding me. A neurotypical companion will invariably ask if I’m okay – when what they really mean is “Jesus christ, woman. It’s just a movie! What the fuck is wrong with you?” – roughly, callously, shoving me back into my human suit, which is all the more confining for having been out of it for a time.
Seeing a film with this friend … We experienced the movie in the same way. The story swallowed both of us whole. We held our breath in the same places. The dialogue elicited chuckles from both of us while the rest of the theater remained silent. We made noises of concern simultaneously. No one shook my human suit in my face and demanded that I put it back on. We were aliens together. The two of us sitting there in a human world.
I had forgotten. I had forgotten there are others like me.