Sunday, September 4, 2016

Cosplay and the Art of Empowerment

So I won't lie, I'm a huge nerd. Those of you who've followed this blog since the beginning should know this well by now, but basically when I'm not spending my time blogging about Aspergers, Autism and Neurodiversity, I spend it thoroughly immersing myself in nerd culture. This past weekend in particular was amazing for that: I got to spend the entire day on Saturday at FanExpo Canada in Toronto, Ontario! I got to meet some great people, take some great pictures and attend some amazing Q and A sessions (with John Barrowman and Kate Mulgrew respectively – each of them incredible and talented performers!). It wasn't until I was tackling the long, four hour drive home alone in my car that I got to thinking about just how much of a positive impact being a part of the nerd subculture has had on me. Specifically, I'm talking about cosplay.  

For those not in the know, cosplay is a hobby where nerds dress up in costumes dedicated to any one of the many fandoms we all tend to have. It's why geek conventions are filled with aliens, assassins, superheroes, soldiers and lots of other funky and cool characters, and why you can often see just what happens when a stormtrooper takes on a Star Trek redshirt (provided you can get two willing cosplayers to go along with it – remember, cosplay is not consent!). While the rest of the world sees a bunch of nerds flaunting their weirdness and dressing up, however, they're missing just how empowering and life-changing this hobby can be. I guarantee if you were to ask any given cosplayer at a convention about it, they'd all tell you how getting into the hobby has made them happier people. 

When I was a kid going through middle school, I got bullied relentlessly for being a nerd and having nerdy interests. In particular, the other students in my class thought it was hilarious that I was in to Star Trek and other science fiction properties since it apparently made me weird. After all of the teasing I endured because of being a Trekkie, I entered my first year of high school deathly terrified that anyone should ever learn that I enjoyed Gene Roddenberry's universe. People would ask me if I liked Star Trek and I would cringe in fear...possibly even deny that I did. If someone had told me back then that, in about 13 years, I'd be getting on public transit in Toronto dressed in a Starfleet uniform heading to a convention filled with fellow nerds and embracing all aspects of nerd culture? I might have laughed in disbelief. And yet, that's exactly what I did this past weekend. It felt amazing! 

For someone like myself, who is both an Aspie with difficulty in social situations and a lifelong nerd who's been ostracized for it, something like FanExpo can be extremely liberating. Dressing up in a far out costume and going to a place where I'm embraced by my fellow nerds and really allowed to express that side of myself has been empowering to me ever since I first started cosplaying and attending conventions years ago. It's allowed me to ramble passionately about my geek interests with others who are just as obsessive as I am on the subject, and to proudly and defiantly embrace a core part of who I am. More than anything, dressing up in cosplay and going to FanExpo (or any convention really) feels like going home and being with my own people. More so, it has allowed me to develop my confidence to the point that I can now walk down the streets of a big city like Toronto dressed in costume and not feel self-conscious. I can't begin to tell you how that has helped my self esteem and self worth. 

Beyond all the panels, Q and As, and memorabilia, this, to me, is the heart of fan conventions and of cosplay. It's a chance for a group of people who have usually been bullied or experienced hardship due to their interests to defiantly strut their stuff and embrace themselves. Because of conventions and cosplay, people like myself who had for the longest time lived in fear of being teased for their differences can stand strong and walk proudly on to a city bus dressed as Commander Riker.  Learning to be true to ourselves and stand proud is a difficult lesson to learn for anyone, but thanks to cosplay and nerd conventions, this has been made a little bit least if you're a nerd. 

Have your own stories of empowerment through cosplay or the nerd subculture as a whole? Let me know in the comments! 

As always, yours in diversity! 

Adam Michael 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

"Don't Judge Me On How I Talk": The Curse of Verbal Clumsiness

I had something happen to me the other day at work that I just knew had to be made into a blog post. I was in the washroom of all places, finishing up my business when I started making small talk with another gentleman who was washing his hands. After the usual "you're working late" and "another day, another dollar," cliches had been exchanged, I found myself suddenly feeling awkward and struggling to string together a logical sentence. It was as though my brain knew it wanted to be smooth and casual, but my words wouldn't co-operate. I rambled slightly, grinned awkwardly, washed my own hands and promptly escaped from the scene and back to my desk. 

From talking to some fellow Aspies and reading testimonials online, I know I'm not the only spectrum-dweller who experiences this. It's as though my thought processes move too fast for my speech to adequately explain them. When I try, I fumble, struggle or have to calm myself down and try again. My friend Nancy has taken to calling her ability to understand me in these situations "speaking Adam fluently," but as giggle-worthy as that is, it highlights a problem many of us Aspies and Autistics face. The fact is, verbal communication is often too sluggish and limited for the thoughts that go through our brains. 

I've often had the experience that I write far better than I speak. My old manager at Blockbuster Video (remember that place?) used to say that I was slightly awkward, and I certainly felt that way when speaking face to face with someone. When given either a pen and paper or a computer with a word processor, however, I've often amazed others with the eloquence of my communicative ability. I've built worlds, created entire species, argued for political change and expressed the deepest, darkest parts of myself through the written word in ways that I could only dream of doing with my mouth and verbal communication. In short, writing sets my mind free from the constraints of my physical body and its limited communication abilities. After all, words, gestures and the unconscious interpretation of pheromones and facial features (in non-autistics at least) are so limited compared to the soaring imagination of a mind freed from these things and allowed to explore. 

For this reason, I think it's silly that many psychological professionals judge the intelligence of Neurodiverse individuals on their ability to speak and their speaking patterns. There are, after all, countless tales of savants who can't speak a word but who are capable of great works of music, culture, art, and even philosophical insight. Speech is not the only means of communication available to humans, and on the flip side, to quote Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, "the ability to speak does not make one intelligent." We need to move beyond thinking of verbal speech as the only way people can talk to each other and express themselves when it simply isn't. Only a more open-minded approach to human communication will allow all those of us who are neurodiverse to participate fully in our society and truly share our gifts with the world. 

As always, yours in diversity. 

Adam Michael.