The big furry error-corrector treated me to apple and goat cheese flatbread with candied walnuts that we polished off in our petty bourgeois adjustable Serta, a privilege of advancing age and pale skin. It was he who tossed off the idea that we watch a Scorsese classic he’s never ever seen that lives in my heart. He let me watch it vicariously through fresh eyes, an honor I was acutely aware of. I doubt I will ever know this honor again.
As we talked about the inner life of Travis, my partner spoke with a deadpan, penetrating analysis, straight to the bone. Quite the turn-on, men of few words who hit the target. Despite the chart that has made too many rounds, autistic men are capable of joint attention, abstract, higher-order reasoning, and a veneration for the hidden meaning of life. If you’re not seeing this in your dear-heart how can you be certain it’s the disability and not the environment at issue? Why not work with the thing that can be worked with, just in case he’s a real human being and shit.
Had we not started watching movies in an immersive, interactive way I wouldn’t know my partner pays attention to people, never know he can read facial expressions to a degree when on a massive TV screen, or that metaphors are easier to grasp while watching a story play out than when put on the spot in real life. Disagreement about a protagonist’s motivation might get us talking about how the dialogue could be experienced so differently from an autistic person’s perspective. This is what we’re after with our aloof ASD partners isn’t it — substantive conversation that leaves me with more than I began with. That’s when you know you’ve been in good company.
So, on the one hand, we have the online NT activists, who don’t have the guts to tell us the story of their life. They make bossy looking charts to tell us what’s wrong with autistics, how women can avoid them, and why we should. Anyone who does like that, fuck off, you have issues. In the other corner are the equally broad-brush neurobullies bitchslapping NTs about our perplexity, demanding we speak clearly and directly without ambiguity. This anti-intellectualism they pass off as righteous.
I mention these fallen powers to highlight the pressures well-meaning autistic folk are up against in their good faith efforts to connect with neurotypicals, who are themselves on a spectrum. The groovers’ war on NTs adds an anxious element to what are already tough relationships. You might say they bring perplexity where it need not exist.
A scene from The Handmaid’s Tale, in which two people don’t EXACTLY say what they mean.
Unintelligible neurotypicals, this belongs on the cutting room floor! Or, it can be a revelation about missed opportunities when Mr. Ipso facto is too quick to walk away from the sweet mystery of — you tell me, what happened there?
I am not whitewashing anything. I know the Aspie is about doing, not being. The scene above is not something a throbbing heart can expect to get from an ASD partner. I stopped the show and used the moment to acquaint him with what’s happening across the bridge, on my side. He knows I live for human drama and that’s enough to keep the ball in the air. It truly is in the air, because I keep it there. He’s my boyfriend, I chose him. Trust.
These are old skool, traditional men, providers. Give them some guidance before deciding they can’t meet your emotional needs. Presenting the behavior as actionable helps. Emotional labor. “Are you available for peopling?” Yay, it’s peopling time! It’s true, providing love and support might end up on a schedule or app, solid concrete if possible. What’s even truer, nothing outside their own heads remains solid, but that doesn’t stop them from scheduling kisses.
Think of him trying to nail jello to the wall and if you have any heart, you’ll buy the day planner yourself. He may well lose it two days later, fine, let it go, congratulations for doing your part, bought a daybook for someone to keep track of events no one under 80 years old needs to put to paper. That’s fair-minded intentional adaptation to the neuro-disability, I get girlfriend points for that.
And for remembering executive functioning doesn’t just appear at the site of a snappy new personal organizer. Thus the wish to nail the world down. This is the disability. This is what they’re always doing, and this is how I talk about it. I can’t stand the way other people talk about it.
Since ASD involves getting caught up in hapless attempts to establish a predictable environment, it means keeping a lid on the funky, neurotic, needy people in it. There will be chafing. Days where we do little more than trade banal, nitpicking information with military precision. You add up the mission mind, task-orientation and incentive to keep their world tidy and safe, these neurodiverse pairings eventually become roommate relationships. I don’t know why anyone would settle for that, but on facebook now and then you hear an Aspie husband referred to as The Paycheck. I can’t put that together in this day and age but, whatever. I’m not a sociologist.
Where was I? Film, that’s how I find my way back in, the angle to re-connect with my man. Look, you can’t always go at people head on, even those who excel at literal, level-headed interaction. If you want depth, go at people at an angle. I got laughed out of one of them groups after promoting movies as emotional skill-building. I think I’m on to something but they won’t take me seriously, because it’s not about fixing, care-taking, or treating him like a bratty 12-year-old. It was strategic all right, but watching films gives me pleasure too, that’s my real sin, innit.
I go with whatever works and hope we are not unique as a socially awkward couple using film this way, because it works wonders. Sadly, he and I are aesthetically incompatible, a subject I will cover down the road, at length and repeatedly.
We’re part of what used to be called “alternative culture” better known as “insufferable boho snobs.” Our house is full of constant reminders to keep an open mind about the other person’s taste.
I have been to a couple science fiction movies, and that is all I am going to say about that.
But I won’t pretend that his is not the mentality being taken apart in Scorsese’s NY Times op-ed. I long for my partner to be my soulmate, to be like me in all the things. To salute every word of that screed as I read them out loud, nodding along in fierce satisfaction, just recognize and celebrate just this once with me, but it will never happen.
Martin Scorsese is not on the bucket list.
This makes full absorption in the Taxi Driver universe nothing less than heroic. It didn’t stop him that the movie triggers my moody family-of-origin memories. His offering to hold space with me and Jodie Foster for the duration felt like an exercise in two things autistics are said to be incapable of: accepting their partner’s influence and empathy.