Monday, October 27, 2014

yeah so I might write a book (trigger warning)

So, this is a super rough draft of what is probably an introductory type chapter. A good friend recommended that I first write for myself, then decide later if I want to publish. There are a couple fairly recent books that deal with safety for Autistic women, but they're mostly guidebooks--this would be memoir.


It has been my dream, ever since I can remember, to someday write a book. Growing up, books were my world. I really didn’t have friends, and I never quite fit in. Fantasy novels provided me an escape from my lonely reality, a sanctuary from a world I could never even begin to understand.
In my teen and early twenties, memoirs about depression very literally became my lifeline—the works of Elizabeth Wurtzel and Sylvia Path took root in me, validating my struggle, but not glamourizing it.
After my diagnosis, the works of Rudy Simone, Liane Holliday-Wiley and Debi Brown, provided for me a much needed framework to understand myself and my experience of the world, through the lens of Autism. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily uncommon for a high functioning Aspie to be a good writer, but we certainly aren’t a majority. Writing is my gift, and I feel a strong calling to use it for the benefit of my people.
I won’t necessarily claim to speak for them—everyone experiences the world a little differently, Aspie or not—but high functioning females tend to share very similar profiles, and I believe we are particularly vulnerable to people who don’t have our best interests at heart.
For the longest time, I struggled to stick to a particular topic or memory to write about—my diagnosis, my childhood, or my journey post-diagnosis. These are all valid, book-length topics to write about, but they all stem from a singular incident, one that has haunted me since it came to pass. I avoided it for so long because it’s still so raw, so painful. It’s the reason I was diagnosed as Autistic, and it’s the reason why I have had to guard my heart and body so closely, for fear of violation. But the time has come, I think, for me to write about one of the worst things that ever happened to me, and one of the worst things I’ve ever done.

Just thinking about it is nauseating, and it’s triggering all sorts of traumatic feelings and memories.

Being this vulnerable is certainly a risk as an author—I haven’t decided if I want to publish it, or if I want to “out” myself as a victim of sexual manipulation in such a public way—but if I do, I know the audience will not be limited to Aspies or those who love and know Aspies. I know there is a chance my perpetrator will read it, or at the very least know of its existence, and the potential backlash I may experience is almost cause enough to do away with the project altogether. This backlash is not just limited to my own offender—I’m sure the trolls will line right up to slut shame me, to tell me I “asked for it,” that I’m using Autism as “an excuse,” that I’m to blame because I didn’t shout NO!, that I’m a terrible human being for dragging my abuser’s name through the mud (though I will be changing names to protect identities), that I “should have known better” and that I “need to take responsibility for my own actions.”

Obviously, this is not the demographic I am writing for—I’m writing primarily for other Aspergirls, so that they might avoid the mistakes that I made, or so that they might know that they are not alone in experiencing sexual manipulation—especially if, like me, they are uncomfortable with labeling their experience as “rape.” I’m also writing for my own healing; I’ve buried these thoughts and emotions for so long, to the detriment of my emotional and physical health, and I owe it to myself to get well again.

Deep breath.

It happened gradually, then suddenly. My initiation into sex was, in a lot of ways, incredibly unremarkable, given that in our culture, coercion and manipulation are heartbreakingly common sexual experiences. It happened with someone I implicitly trusted—someone I never dreamed would violate my trust in such a way. It was the summer after I graduated from college—a summer of uncertainty, confusion and fervor. I had come dangerously close to not graduating, and had no job, no money, and no prospects.
For the first time in my life, I was without structure; where my path had once been clear (get good grades in high school, go to college, get a good job), it was now rife with uncertainty and insurmountable debt. My friends were getting jobs, apartments, engaged, even having babies; I was staying up until 4 AM eating Hot Pockets in bed, watching 90s X Men cartoon reruns, pantsless. I was lonely and overwhelmed, and desperately craved connection and distraction.

Enter Cameron.

Cameron and I had been acquaintances for a few years—he was a friend of a friend who eventually dated said friend. Prior to our “relationship” (I use the term loosely, but there’s really no single word to describe what happened between us), I was convinced I was incapable of sexual feelings. Unlike most of the other girls my age, I had never dated a boy—never kissed a boy, been alone with a boy, or had even the slightest interest in pursuing a relationship of any kind with one. I knew on some level that it wasn’t “normal” for me to be this way—I had even considered the possibility that I might be gay, except for the fact that I really did not feel attraction to other people in the same way that everyone else seemed to.
If I’d had the knowledge of sexual identities that I do now, I would probably have identified as asexual. I did have crushes, but they weren’t really sexual in nature—it was more of a desire for emotional closeness, and the guys I liked tended to be a few years older than me, so they were much more mature than my male peers. With every single one of my crushes, I felt safe—a feeling I was altogether unaccustomed to, particularly around males.

Cameron was one of my crushes.

When he and I first met, I didn’t think much of him. He was hyper and high-strung, he dressed in high-end clothing, and he hung out with people who would never give me the time of day. For whatever reason, he persistently attempted to interact with me—it was his interest in me, more than anything, which sparked my attention. I was too shy to do anything about it—and really, I was not even remotely ready for a physical or emotional relationship. After a few months, the crush passed, and we didn’t interact much during my college career, save the occasional holiday get-together or Facebook post. Being alone didn’t bother me much—I’d seen so many people I knew involved in toxic relationships, defining themselves by their significant other, staying with a partner they hated just because they were afraid of being alone. I promised myself that that would never be me.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Struggle is Real

So, poverty is the worst.
The whole idea behind the living stipend and the disallowance of a second income is so that VISTA members “understand what it’s really like” to live in poverty. But the thing is, there are different levels of poverty—or I guess, more accurately, there are different levels or factors that go into one’s class status.
First, there’s the obvious—capital. Of which I am severely lacking.
Then there is your social network—so much of the job market is focused on your network, and 70% of recent college grads get their first job through somebody they know. When you have a social deficiency, such as Asperger’s, this pretty severely affects your job prospects.
Finally, there’s education—technically, I’m privileged in this area, because not only am I intelligent, I also have a degree from a prestigious college (even if it hasn’t gotten me anywhere). But along those lines, I also have a staggering amount of student debt, to the tune of $70,000. I’m having to pretty seriously consider declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

The system is rigged and it’s totally unfair. The wealthy stay wealthy by circulating themselves and their progeny through expensive, exclusive private academies, and they’re always well-connected. If someone from the lower echelons, such as myself, tries to rise above their lower class background, they are inundated with debt, and that’s even WITH extensive financial aid. I come from an armed services, blue-collar, lower middle/working class family, and I grew up in a single-parent, female-headed household. Because I lacked the capital to move to a different city directly after graduation, and because I was not able to intern for free or for peanuts, I had no relevant work experience in an economically depressed town that’s rapidly becoming known as “Little Detroit.” I was living in relative poverty because of my loan payments, despite the fact that I lived at home and did not have to pay for housing. I also was not eligible for any kind of assistance, so I racked up credit card debt by buying luxuries such as groceries and health care services. I worked 50+ hours a week, sometimes seven days a week, at a high-stress, low-paying job that took gross advantage of my naiveté. I saw VISTA as my out from an oppressive, unhealthy environment. Had I been forced to say, I can say with a degree of certainty that I would probably have attempted suicide, or at the very least, seriously contemplated it. I didn’t need therapy—I needed out of an incredibly detrimental situation.

Unsurprisingly, VISTA was and is not a cure-all. In some ways—really, in a lot of ways—I’m actually worse off. I make $800 a month, and have $75,000 in debt. My rent is $550, my car is $150, and my phone is $40. These expenses are my first priority, which leaves me a paltry $60 for every other expense. I get $200 in food stamps a month, which means I eat a lot of cereal and over processed foods. I also have past medical bills, current and future medical bills (being sick and poor is the worst), two cats, and the absolute worst luck with automobiles.

But we wouldn’t want me to have a second income—because however will I understand what it is like to struggle?