Most Annoying Male


I never was a fan of awards assemblies throughout my years in school. I suppose part of that was because my name was rarely called. It was always the same people who won the same awards. Some of the teachers presenting these awards would even say into the microphone that it “is my own fault” if my name was never called. I suppose there is more to life than being deprived of a ribbon or a trophy at my end of school year awards assembly. That being said, some stories often do take me back to my days in school.

The parents of 11-year-old Akalis Castejon were outraged after their son was presented with a trophy that reads “most annoying male.” He has an Autism diagnosis and is non-verbal. One might expect a child to become upset when he doesn’t know how to communicate his wants or needs. I can understand why a teacher may feel frustrated at times. However, that certainly doesn’t explain or excuse why school employees felt the need to humiliate Akalis in such a way.

I certainly don’t feel sorry for the teacher, and I frankly hope all employees involved in this insulting prank are never allowed to teach in a classroom again. There is one aspect of this story that I personally find the most disturbing. It is the fact that he was unable to pick up on the fact that his trophy was indeed a prank. Experiences have shown me that people are bound to take note of that. They are bound to use that as an opportunity to humiliate the child because they know they would never get away with subjecting a neurotypical child to such treatment.

I had my annoying moments back when I was in fifth grade. I went through this phase where I was obsessed with Dory from Finding Nemo. The same thing goes true for my utterances of “Polly want a cracker.” It gave me an audience. I took advantage of that by speaking whale and talking like a parrot at any opportunity I could find. My fifth-grade teacher would even laugh. However, it started to get old pretty quick. It took having to stay in for recess a few times to send the message that there is a time when it is okay to chat and joke around. There is also a time when we must be quiet and listen to the person speaking.

I had excellent teachers growing up. I still keep in touch with some of them today. They all had a strong moral compass. They all set amazing examples both for my classmates and for me. Therefore, I am sure they know the lifelong scars that a prank like the one pulled on Akilas Castejon has the potential to scar a child for life. I am grateful for them. I look back on my memories from junior high and high school. I realize how easy it is to focus on those who were everything but kind. I hope that Akilas and his family remember that, no matter how cruel some adults may be.

Update: Three teachers and a principal have been fired for their involvement in this offensive prank.

https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/448120-indiana-school-district-to-fire-principal-teacher-who-labeled 

 

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It’s Always Going To Be There


I have seen the video on America’s Got Talent that everyone is talking about. Let me start by saying that it is fantastic to see someone with Autism to be allowed an opportunity that so many people with the neurological disorder continue to miss out on. Why do so many people with Autism miss out you may ask? It’s because of our society’s ignorance that is spawned by fear of the unknown. Elyse Wanshel wrote a Huffington Post article which criticized the reactions to such an audition. Comments on her article People Are Celebrating Kodi Lee on ‘America’s Got Talent’ For The Wrong Reasons have further proved the point she was trying to make.

The video of Kodi Lee’s audition was initially titled “Kodi Lee Defeats Autism and Blindness With Music.” Backlash finally convinced staff to revise the title to “Kodi Lee Wow’s You With a Historical Moment.” People can call me “PC” all they want to. However, that doesn’t change my belief that such a title is worthy of criticism. We live in a world that says you must look the part if you want to be successful. This means that exhibiting any of the characteristics associated with Autism is a strict no-no. It will offend people, particularly those who say that people like me are “easily offended” by the title of a video that falsely implies that a person’s Autism Diagnosis can be defeated. Those who use such language in reference to me are not worthy of my friendship.

I wonder one thing about some of those people who say Kodi Lee is an inspiration. Are they the same ones who would act shocked and offended if he were to exhibit behaviors like stimming? I try not to make assumptions about people based on a social media post. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer to such a question were yes. I reject the world’s mindset that any amount of success I can achieve forbids me from exhibiting something that helps me “self regulate” and “self-calm.” I also reject the many who use their experiences with Autism as a means for deciding that they know what is best for me.

I have never met Kodi Lee before. Therefore, I don’t know how Autism effects him. No person with a neurological disorder is under any obligation to answer such a question for the very reason I described above. I am the only person who truly knows the answer to that question in reference to me. Those who see things like stimming as a character flaw are not worthy of my friendship. They don’t know my diagnosis. I do!

 

Keep It In The Bedroom (But I Will Ask Even Though It’s None of My Business)


“Are you gay?” I’ve heard this question from many people throughout the twenty-six years I have been alive. My high school years were especially a time when people felt the need to ask me such a personal question about something that isn’t any of their business. Bullies would ask me this question when they had no other intention than to provoke me. I would also hear it from people who genuinely had the best of intentions. It didn’t matter who asked me that question or what their intentions were. I didn’t appreciate it because I felt people were pressuring me into thinking about something I just wasn’t ready to explore.

Rumors have been spreading about singer/songwriter Shawn Mendes. His self-titled album has reached number one on US Billboard 200 charts. It also became Apple Music’s second most streamed pop album of 2018, behind Justin Timberlake’s Man Of The Woods. Therefore, I am not entirely surprised people have felt the need to gossip about his personal life. I realize that rumors are not statements of fact. I would be lying if I said I didn’t wonder about his sexuality. However, there are plenty of straight men who exhibit stereotypes that people tend to associate with gay men. 

A few years ago, I wrote a post which addressed a refrain many of us gays have heard time and time again from our heterosexual friends. It was appropriately titled “you should be more discreet.” I don’t just hear that from bigots who have nothing better to do than express hatred about something they will never have the brains or the heart to understand. I also hear it from people who claim to be on board with “the gay thing,” as they call it. It used to really irritate me when I was newly out of the closet. However, I now understand that even those who claim to be accepting need to be educated from time to time. 

If Shawn Mendes were to come out as gay, would the same people who keep gossiping about his personal life turn around and tell him that he should “keep in the bedroom?” I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the answer to this question were yes. It’s one thing for a celebrity to have to experience such a thing. It is another thing for someone like me to experience it. I don’t perform concerts in sold out venues across the world. I have very little money. I don’t know what it is like to be forbidden from going out in public alone in attempts to avoid the crazy paparazzi. 

I do, however, know how it feels to know that people are wondering about something I simply wasn’t ready to explore and reveal about myself. Being on the Autism Spectrum didn’t help in that regard. People will notice when you are different. Often times, they will feel the need to point it out in ways that are clearly intended to make someone feel miserable. That is why I say to anyone who has experienced speculation with regards to things like sexual orientation and gender identity. You are the only person who knows the truth. Therefore, you are the only person who should have permission to reveal it! 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve Grand “Not The End Of Me”


I just listened to the entirety of Steve Grand’s second full-length album Not The End Of Me. Many things have changed in his life and in my life since the first time I saw him perform on Pittsburgh’s Liberty Avenue stage in mid-June of 2014. Steve’s fan base continues to be small. Despite that, it still remains one of the most diverse and loyal groups of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of interacting with on social media.

I was out visiting my sister in New York City when the out singer’s album was initially released. I didn’t listen to it until I returned that Sunday. I was initially nervous about it. I say that because his debut album All American Boy was unique in its own light. It was the number one most funded music project in Kickstarter history. I expected Not The End of Me to live up to the honesty and authenticity of its predecessor. 

I am happy to say that my expectations were met when I finished my first listen. However, I continue to struggle with the ability to come up with the words to describe how I feel about each track on this gem by an unbelievably talented and underrated performer. I felt that when I listened to the catchy and upbeat opener “Walking.” I struggled throughout each track because each one has its own musical style, lyricism and subject matter. 

Pink Champagne makes it clear that Steve previously struggled with alcoholism. Many people in the LGBT community struggle with addiction. I think part of it is used to cover up the pain of dealing with the general hatred and discrimination many of us are subjected to. They can only cope with that stigma by resorting to whatever their addictive behavior may be. This causes the individual to become completely unaware of how dangerous their behavior can indeed be. 

“Disciple” is my favorite song on the record. The religious imagery of mother Mary and Jesus may confuse the listener and wonder what Steve is exactly trying to say. It is no secret that Christianity has a long history of anti-LGBT teachings. (I was raised Lutheran, and my hometown church previously lost membership out of opposition to the ELCA’s stance on ordaining clergy who are in a committed relationship with a person of the same sex.) 

The message of the song changes from verse one to verse two. Verse one portrays a childlike peace with the teachings of Jesus and Christianity. It changes, however, in verse two. Pain associated with the anti-LGBT teachings of the church are angering him and driving him away. The anger associated with these teachings seems to push him farther to the point to where he feels that he says he will “die happy never to hear your (Jesus’s) words again.”

“Don’t Let The Light In” makes it clear that Steve has found the love of his life. (At least throughout the four-minute and eleven-second duration of the song.) Its emotionality reminds me of his debut single “All American Boy.” I have yet to find that person whom I am more than willing to fight for. (We’ll see if and when that actually happens.) However, this song gives me four minutes and eleven seconds of hope that I will someday find that person. who truly makes me feel “Safe and Sound

“Aint It Something” also reminds me of “All American Boy” in the sense that Steve doesn’t truly get the guy in the end. We’ve all met that one person in our life who wins us over by their charm and good looks. We get the opportunity to connect, only, thinking we truly have a shot. Then, the person leaves and is never to be seen again. Fantasy is always better than reality, right? 

“Not The End Of Me” is a song that lives up to its name. It doesn’t matter how bad a break up gets. There becomes a time when we have to stand up and remind ourselves that we are still here. 

“Anti Hero” is a song about Steve’s aunt and godmother Diane Niehaus, who the entire album was dedicated to. She died from cancer in 2015. The lyrics are deep and full of emotion, which is why I also consider this track to be one of my favorites. I have never experienced the loss of someone close to me. However, I do live with Depression. I know it is a lifelong struggle, no matter how much people try to say I can magically snap out of. I never met Diane. But, I could instantly tell that she and Steve were incredibly close. “I was just a child, her love was like the ocean.” Her death pushed him into a Depression so deep that he resorted to alcohol as a way to cope with the pain he was experiencing. 

“Good To See You” reminds me of who I was during my teenage years. In particular, the second verse is particularly relevant to me. Steve talks about how he built a wall against the people who really cared about him. I was bullied a lot as a teenager, especially during freshman and sophomore year of high school. I also struggled with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome.) Difficulty relating to others put up a wall between me and those who truly wanted the best for me. Some may find it strange that he would say something so sincere towards a man whom he previously engaged in a one night stand with. I guess that is part of his personality! 

“All I Want” reminds us all of that one person whom, as the title suggests, supposedly is “the one.” There could be many reasons which may suggest that is the case. However, this person Steve is singing about just so happens to be a cheater. Deep down, he knows he truly is not worth it. His good looks seem to convince Steve into believing this guy is all he wants. (When will he learn?) I suppose the truth will catch up to him before too long! 

“You Or The Music” also lives up to its title. It is the most up-tempo song on the whole album. (I suppose it has an unintended meaning that Steve will be staying single for a while.) Steve’s busy touring schedule is bound to make it impossibly difficult to maintain a relationship with someone. He makes it abundantly clear that the music will ultimately win. 

It makes sense that “Can’t Go Back” is the closing track of the album. He says he is “running from his mind” and trying to cope with the painful experiences he has gone through. He is accepting the fact that he can’t go back and do it over again. 

These 12 tracks, along with the three demos, make Not The End Of Me hard to believe that it is only Steve Grand’s second full-length record. Steve is a talented, handsome and underrated artist who deserves more recognition than he gets. It gave me more insight into his mind and his songwriting. He was able to turn painful experiences like struggling with alcoholism and the death of his loving aunt/godmother into music. That, combined with his sheer dedication, is a talent few people have. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Are A Liar! (My Thoughts About The “High Functioning” Label)


My double minority life as a gay man with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome) has more than it’s fair share of excruciating challenges. I do not demand people to feel sorry for me when I share even the most painful experiences. Not everyone is going to understand how it feels to live with my condition. Nor do I expect praise from people who are willing to read about my life. It can be easy for me to come off as such a person. However, I know I am far from the type of person who demands metals and trophies just for writing about my life. Demanding praise and adoration is only going to result in the exact opposite. 

I know there is a lot of diversity in the Autism community. People like Dr. Temple Grandin refer to Autism as a continuum, that ranges from nonverbal to traits that are more characteristic of Asperger’s Syndrome. I have never been a fan of functioning labels. I have many reasons for that. This quote below is the one which stood out to me the most. It comes from the Autism wiki and is regarding the high functioning label. 

It minimizes the need for support and may make it harder to ask for help.

http://autism.wikia.com/wiki/Functioning_Labels

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people claim that I am lying about my diagnosis only because I don’t exhibit the characteristics associated with low functioning Autism. I am not running around, screaming, throwing feces and lashing out. I have the ability to communicate verbally. I know that our society doesn’t consider that to be an acceptable way to communicate my frustrations. I cannot think of anything else that leads to such ignorance than the high functioning label. It leads to the assumption that Autism is a contest. The child with the most “severe” traits receives an “A” a grade on their Autism report card. The graders are people who simply base their perception of what constitutes as “legitimate Autism” on the one person whom they happen to know. 

I now know that Autism is a much more complex neurological disorder than our society likes to think it is. Another major problem many have with the high functioning label is that it can cause the individual to believe they are more superior others who have ASD. As indicated on the Autism wiki page, this mindset can cause the child to grow up to behave disrespectfully towards those whose struggles are different or more significant from their own. I am not proud to admit that I was guilty of such a thing back in my teenage years. I internalized the bullying and social stigma my peers subjected me to.

I used my experiences with bullying as an excuse to completely shut out those who also understand how it feels to be different. I like to think those who accuse me of lying about my diagnosis will change their minds after reading my admission of such a statement. However, I can only change the minds of those who are willing to listen to me. They say the steps towards becoming an active listener are pay attention, show that you are listening, provide feedback and respond appropriately. Such a statement should apply to one’s own words and thoughts just as much (if not more) than it does for those of others. I still have trouble doing those things when I experience depression and anxiety over situations which most people wouldn’t experience such feelings. 

I know my high functioning label never will be absolute. It changes from day to day and situation to situation. I cannot seem to come up with any other way to explain that, other than to say that it depends on the person I am dealing with and the environment that I am in on that particular day and during that particular situation. That is one of the things neurotypical I wish neurotypical people understood. Despite such ignorance, I know that to be true. I know that I will only need to prove that fact to myself. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Bought A Journal


You may tell by the title that I haven’t been writing as much as I would like to be. I have found that sitting in front of the computer, trying to come up with something that people will want to read is only going to cause my cursor to blink and blink in front of a blank document. Thus, I ordered a journal and have begun writing inside of it each day. I have found that I am much too formal when I am sitting here in front of the computer. Things like content and formatting prevent me from making progress by actually writing something. Add that with worrying about whether people will actually want to read what I have to say.

Yes, we need to know the importance of sharing our writing with other people for the sake of getting honest feedback. I realize that is what professional writers do. However, I think we all need at least one place where nobody else but I will read the things I place inside of it. That is precisely why I bought a journal. I need at least one place where I don’t have to think about any of the formalities associated with submitting my writing to someone who is going to evaluate it.  Sitting in front of my computer certainly is not going to help me achieve that.

I simply take five to ten minutes each day and write whatever comes to my mind. I do it simply to achieve the task of getting my thoughts on paper. I often do think of good ideas for content when I am laying down in bed, or, on the ground playing with my dog. There is one problem with that. I tend to forget about it a few minutes later. I fall back into that rut when I sit at my computer and try to come up with something that people will actually want to read. This is why I think this journal will help me in the long run. I can refer back to it and use my entries as ideas for content.

 

 

 

 

 

I Think I Can Be That Train


I’ve grown accustomed to hearing the sound of those mighty machines when I walk through many of the towns here in Western Pennsylvania. For that reason, I don’t typically pay attention to them when I hear their rumble. I am still, however, reminded of the prominent symbolism that many cultures throughout the world share with those of us here in the United States of America. One of my favorite songs on country music singer Chely Wright’s 2013 album Lifted off the Ground is a song called “That Train.” The lyrics are simply musings about the fact that she wants to be a mighty machine “made of rivets, made of steel, and built for speed.”

I wonder what inspired Wright to pen a song where she personifies herself as a piece of machinery that has become an everyday sight for people in towns across the world. Was it the numerous movies and works of literature which symbolize trains as symbols of determination to fulfill a mission? Did she feel inspired by characters reuniting after a summer apart in the Harry Potter movies and the sense of adventure in the Polar Express are just a few examples. Or, did she see one in her dreams? It suggests the person will stop at nothing to get to that destination. No matter if it is as specific as Chicago’s Union Station or abstract as achieving success in one’s terms.

I wanna be that train
I wanna be that free
Hang onto that track is all they’ll ever ask of me
Smooth heavy wheels to roll me away
I wanna be that train

Some people might suggest that a railroad resembles restrictions of ones freedom in life. Wright makes that clear in the first line where she expresses that she could never physically do what a train is intended to do. I agree with that to a certain extent. The only way a train can travel to its destination is if it stays on the track which humans previously constructed for it to do so. Making a note of the preceding statement is one reason why I have difficulty personifying myself as a mighty locomotive. We are all bound to go through experiences where the only way we can get through it is to “hang onto the track.” I can picture how I would handle being the engineer of a train in a dark tunnel. I would move as slowly and as cautiously as possible out of fear that the “light at the end of the tunnel” would be a fiery trap disguised to look like the world outside.

I feel I must clarify the points I made in the previous paragraph. I can remember one time in my life where “hanging onto the track” was the only way I could get through it. High school was an example of such an experience. Being different and in high school can be unbearable at times. I have written about my experiences with bullying at great length in the past. I no longer desire to do so now. I merely say that because I am here now. I can do more than learn from my own experiences; I can listen to people who have experienced dark tunnels of their own. 

I’d get to see the mountains and the planes from coast to coast
Many might adore me but they wouldn’t get too close
I’d never be that lonely ’cause my engine and caboose,
Wouldn’t leave me, we’d be bound
Yeah, we’d be breakin’ loose

It may be difficult for me to picture myself as a mighty piece of machinery, made of rivets, steel and built for speed. But, there becomes a time when we all must embrace our inner train. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper (Arnold Munk) immediately came to my mind when I wrote that sentence. It doesn’t matter if the ultimate reward is getting to see mountains and the planes from coast to coast, or, bringing toys and good food for children to eat. We all need to know how fulfilling it can be to hang onto that track. I say that even when dark tunnels compel us to stop dead in our tracks out of fear that our mission will not be successful.

Some may question why I felt the need to write about a simple song by underrated country music singer Chely Wright. Nevertheless, it is a song I can learn from as one year ends and another begins. I hope you can learn from it too.