Monday, March 26, 2012

Asperger's And Gender Roles

Ells (left), a creation of mine, doesn't adhere to gender roles.
Growing up, I was a tomboy. To be honest, I turn 23 in one month and I still am a tomboy. It's generally not such a big deal - it's more socially acceptable for girls these days - but it got me thinking the other day. I was rereading my copy of Rudy Simone's Aspergirls, and there was a chapter in there on gender roles. I read it through...and realized why I have so much trouble with certain things.

The fact of the matter is that I'm not just a tomboy: I don't adhere to gender roles. I don't see a need for gender roles. The only reason humans come in two physical genders is so that they can procreate and make more humans. Sexuality itself is very fluid and isn't tied to gender at all - people can be straight, gay, bi, trans, cis, pansexual, asexual - and yet based on our biology, we're slotted into two distinct groups by society and are raised to fit certain patterns of behavior. When we don't fit those patterns, we're ostracized.

It's one thing for a girl to be a tomboy. More and more girls are shedding the 'girly girl' image these days, and that makes me feel a lot better about myself and others like me who were never seen as particularly 'feminine.' As it becomes more and more socially acceptable, it makes it easier for people like myself. However, here's my snag: not only do I do things more commonly associated with men, but I do them like men. I have somewhat male speech patterns, dress in fashions that are basically men's tailored to a female body, prefer punching people to mind games when it comes to settling disputes, and even picture myself taking a knee and proposing to my future husband.

Things like this make it genuinely surprising to most people when they find out I'm straight. I'm assumed to be a lesbian more often than I would like, and that's not fair to either me or lesbians - lesbians don't fit a strict label, so don't assume they're all butch macho women. I have a friend from high school who's a lesbian, and she's one of the most feminine people I've ever met.

Here are the problems I've struggled with since I don't follow along with society's plan for me:
  • Dating is hard. It's another social construct, and since I'm not the stereotypical girl, I always end up friend-zoned as one of the guys...or not even approached, because, as mentioned above, people think I'm a lesbian due to stereotypes.
  • Growing up, it was really, really hard to find role models. I turned to fiction and still didn't find too many girls like me, save Eowyn from Lord of the Rings (thank God for ladies like Hermione and Katniss lately). In the end, I created many of my own, the most notable being Ells Robbins (see image), who is now the lead character in my webcomic The Historians. Other girls in that comic don't adhere to gender roles in some ways, but Ells basically defies them at every turn (including being a racecar driver on the weekends and making more sex jokes than the average twelve-year-old boy). However, to make myself feel better about my own prospects, I gave Ells a love interest (Clyde, next to her in the image), and plan on eventually getting them together.
  • People don't know what to think of me. I've got great parenting and nurturing instincts, which I've honed my entire life with my cats (and now sheepdogs), yet I don't fit society's description of what a mother should be. I'm a girl who thrives on history, sports, comic books and cars, yet I treat people very gently and tenderly unless they piss me off or are terrible people.
Defying gender roles is, according to Rudy Simone, quite common in girls with Asperger's. It's also visible in boys with Asperger's, which leads to them being teased by their peers mercilessly. Again, these boys might not be gay, either, but simply doing what they enjoy regardless of whether or not it makes them fit in. I was fortunate growing up and my parents supported my interests no matter what they were, but many people are less accepting. To parents reading this - the most important thing you can do is accept your children for who they are and love them no matter what. They may be different, yes, but you need to teach them that there is a place for them in this world by accepting them and loving them first. It will help give them the confidence to be themselves going forward.

And really, society, when did being ourselves become such a crime, anyway? I'm certainly not going to compromise who I am just to make some judgmental people happy, and neither should anybody else.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Managing Anger With Asperger's

People very rarely see me like this.
So I get angry a lot of the time. I hide this very, very well, though. I'm generally really calm in real life and I don't get outwardly stressed out in public anymore. In addition, I tend to laugh off issues, effectively using my sense of humor to cope with problems (and self-deprecate myself).

The truth is that underneath all of that, I have a temper. You'll probably see it if you watch me drive in traffic or watch a baseball game, and even then it's still milder than what it can be when I'm truly pissed off. Very, very few people have seen me enraged, but when I get there, my voice gets really deep and distorted and adrenaline courses through my arms (I usually take that out by throwing a pillow or some other harmless object in the general direction of nobody). The strangest things set me off, too, like not getting a chance to enter into a conversation with somebody. (This happened the other night.)

Keeping yourself calm is one of the most important things Aspergerians need to learn how to do in the adult world, where meltdowns are generally seen as psychiatric issues and scare people. Unless your goal is to convince everyone that you need anger management classes, it's good to know how to control your meltdowns so you can continue with your life happily and other people don't judge you. Even people who know I have Asperger's have told me to ease off when I'm having meltdowns, which made me realize that it's probably for everyone's best interests that I keep myself calm.

Before I explain how I keep myself calm and don't give in to my anger, let me just clarify that I don't mean that we have to conform with people. Neurotypical people need to control their anger, too, and if they let loose they're looked down upon just the same way we are. Anger management itself is a very important skill that all children need to learn, and once they reach adulthood if they haven't quite gotten it down they could run into issues down the road.

My Asperger's Child has a great article featuring 50 ways to calm down your Aspergerian kid when he or she is having an anger meltdown. My personal technique for myself happens to be on that list - I pull out my sketchbook and draw or I pull out a writing notebook and write. I never travel anywhere without at least one of those things, frequently both, and bringing them along allows me to throw my energy into my creative work when I get anxious, angry or upset. By giving myself something productive to do, I don't lash out at anything or anyone, and it ends up being oddly soothing to put my feelings on the page, even if it's through fictional characters. Other people go for a run or exercise to take out their stress. It's even more important if you happen to have an ASD and are subject to raw, powerful emotions that sometimes seemingly come out of nowhere.

My writing and drawing are what keep me sane. They also allow me to run this blog. Once again, I don't know where I'd be without them.