My Letter to Steve Grand


I am sure we all know how it feels  when we finally get the chance to meet a person we idolize. Last night, I had the opportunity to meet Steve Grand at Pittsburgh Pridefest. Our meeting was short, but I was so glad I finally had the chance to give him a hug. I did not have the time to say the things I really wanted to say. So, I figured it would be best to say them in writing. Without further due, here are my words to Steve.

Steve,

You, your music and your talent have made an incredible impact on me. I wish I could personally thank you for everything you have done for me. It all started when I watched “Back to California.” It put me on an emotional rollercoaster and I could not figure out why.  It reminded me of my lonely and painful high school journey without that one friend whom I could rely on. I could not hold the tears back. Several minutes later, I finally gave myself a mental slap. It’s almost like God was telling me to get a hold of myself and think it through.

Like many gay youth, my high school journey wasn’t wonderful. I didn’t have friends. I was an awkward, closeted mess of a kid who had no idea how to interact with people. I was picked on and I allowed them to control me and I acted out in return. I was afraid to take risks and put myself out there.

Please understand that crushes, love and romance are very new feelings for me. Life with Asperger’s Syndrome has always made me a loner. The high school social scene considered me the loner who was a “loser.” I was an awkward, uncoördinated kid with zero confidence who walked around with a scowl on his face. My “phases” changed throughout that time. I refrained from talking to anyone for most of those 4 years, and then I became this kid who could not control himself and acted out just for the sake of acting out. I desperately needed a way to handle my pain and that was the only release I could find.

“In the midst of our lives, we must find the magic that makes our soul soar!” I immediately thought about you when I found this journal. I am at an unknown time in my life right now. My previous path did not turn out to be the one for me. Anxiety is overpowering me. I am debating whether college will truly help me discover myself or if I will have to form my path to success, happiness and love. I know that I cannot just sit here. That will not help me accomplish much of anything. So, I have no choice but to apply for a temporary “job.” I need interaction with people, even though it can be frustrating. There were days when it frustrated me to tears. I try my hardest not to let shallowness, judgmentalism, ignorance and hatred kill my confidence. I know that I cannot let it define who I am.

Speaking of which, I know that my differences cannot prevent me from loving a man with my heart and soul. I truly wish my handsome prince charming could be exactly like you. I’m sure this isn’t the first time a fan of yours has admitted to having a crush on you. Let’s face it, your talent, your looks and your incredibly hot body makes you the perfect package. I know eventually that “someday my prince will come.” (thank you, Walt Disney)

As I maneuver the world at large, there are several things I have to keep in mind. For my well being, I have to be very careful with the men I chose to date. Bitchy, brutally frank and shallow gay men are not my concern. I am concerned about those who really do come off as sweet and respectful. They seem to be able to handle homophobia and all the typical prejudices LGBT people are subjected to, so they think high functioning Autism (Asperger’s Syndrome) is no match for their confidence. He may claim to appreciate my quirkiness, honesty and articulateness. He could very well be that handsome prince I have dreamed about since I first discovered my love for men. However, he will not act shocked or offended when he discovers that my Autism will always be there. Although your struggles may be different, finding that right person who can love you for yourself and not the singer Steve Grand, I feel that you are with me in my journey of finding true love.

I keep trying to remind myself that I am destined for great and wonderful things in this world. Aside from publishing my first memoir, I want to spend an entire month in the state of California and drive the entire coast. I will be sure to think about you when I finally get the opportunity to do it. It’s funny how one song can cause a person to become so emotional. It reminded me of that time in my life when I felt like I would become a dismal failure. I try to stay positive, even though it is very hard at times. I try not to ask for too much from people I don’t know. However, I do ask this. Please do not forget me! Please keep up the fight and continue to write such amazing and touching songs. Finally, I hope that we will get to meet someday. Please keep and use this journal as a token of my gratitude for you. I know that magic is out there somewhere, but I know in my heart I will find it.

With all of my love, affection and support,

Derek

I truly hope you enjoyed reading this special post. Much love and happiness to all of you, too!

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Re: Tolerance vs. Acceptance


I enjoy reading people’s commentary on my writing. I am aware that commentary is necessary for any writer to gain suggestions for future content. I may not answer every single comment, but I do my best to take people’s feedback into consideration. I happen to know that the Autism community is very diverse. The fact that somebody else has an Autistic Spectrum Diagnosis does not necessarily mean that we will become best friends. We all have different beliefs, personalities, strengths, flaws and interests. I cannot answer for every single one of them. With that in mind, I encourage you to go back to my last blog post and read the comment submitted by Mark. I tend to disagree with some of the points he made. To the best of my ability, I want to provide my response to him. I tend to disagree with some of the points he made. I greatly encourage people to provide constructive criticism, however I do have a problem with people who claim that I am shallow because I quoted lyrics from a song. That was something I noticed in the comment below. 

And speaking of relationships, one of the most important things to be able to do to find and create a meaningful relationship is to get beyond just finding the “beautiful” woman or man (and based on the perspective you show in your blog, that “beautiful” term could mean you are saying that ugly people need not apply?)

Contrary to your belief, I do not desire to get into a relationship just to get my piece of “eye candy.”  I am in no terms comparable to Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries. This kind of shallowness is one of the many reasons why gay men are so negatively stereotyped. You may be surprised to know that many of “those gay (and straight) men” have gone through experiences of isolation and bullying. This causes a decrease in their confidence and they work endlessly to fix their flaws. While physical exercise is a great thing, I cannot stand those gym rats who think the world revolves around themselves and their hotness. You are right that we all are all allowed to choose who we like. We are also allowed to choose which physical, emotional and intellectual traits we find attractive. You have probably heard the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” A person who is physically attractive but boldly rude to “ugly” people is not “beautiful” in my terms. I am sure most people would agree with me. If people don’t like my future mate for whatever reason, I should not have to care because all that matters is that I am happy with the person I love. 

One can be gay, hetero, autistic, non-autistic, or what have you, and still have the problem of not looking beyond their own needs in trying to find a mate. That issue has to do with self-centeredness, self-absorption, even selfishness. Now, given the defined clinical aspects of autism, an autistic is described as self-oriented and “other averse”. It would seem they, by their own description, have greater difficulties in recognizing and responding to the needs of others. On the one hand, this is called “autism”, is diagnosed, medicated, treated, etc. Based on your blog, it seems that self-absorption and lack of accepting others is unacceptable, which is a mature outlook. However, on the other hand, it seems that a key component of this disorder (unsociability) is also supposed to be excused, overlooked and accepted, if one is diagnosed with Asperger’s. Though you are obviously intelligent and a good writer, what comes through in your writing is an overwhelming and laser focus on every micro-possibility that you are not being treated appropriately, why you are not treated appropriately, what others should do to treat you more appropriately, and how very appropriate you believe you are. Bear with me here, because I’m saying some things I happen to see as very appropriate and helpful that most people today won’t say. Whether it’s autism or just plain selfishness, the result is the same and the “treatment” is the same. 

I am perfectly aware of the fact that Aspies have the difficulty with the thing neurotypicals refer to as “social skills.” I have been through more than my fair share of these “professionals” who listed the symptoms of Autism/Asperger’s and they endlessly drilled me with exercises that are supposedly intended to “fix” me. My former therapist was very little help. He made me feel like socialization was just a dreadful burden instead of a “necessary and beneficial skill.” His tactic mainly consisted of bombarding me with questions, telling me how much I should “open myself up” and comparing me to the one other client he used to work with and how this person became a complete failure in life. This (“opening myself up”) was something that never would have happened during my high school years. Every time he asked me a question, about 5-10 seconds of silence would follow. I obviously needed that time to process an answer to that question and come up with a response to it. Instead, he would become impatient with me and bombard me with even more questions. (I wrote just a few examples below.) 

“What are you thinking about? “

“Why aren’t you looking at me when I am talking to you? My eyes are here not there!” 

“Why aren’t you answering the question? You should already know the answer!” 

A therapist can either be a positive or a negative influence on somebody. It all depends on how compatible the therapists is with the client’s needs and personality. During that time, pushing me to “come out of my shell” simply would have caused more resistance. Nobody would have changed that. There is no point in working with somebody who makes you feel that the only purpose of therapy is to make you feel like it is your fault for being diagnosed with a disorder that causes you to have difficulty interacting with people. Parents and teachers tried to convince me into believing that he wanted to help me, but his “in your face” tactic caused me to loose any trust in him.

We all need to learn to 1) consider others just as much as we consider ourselves, 2) learn to move on if someone isn’t appropriate or maybe just doesn’t like us instead of picking it apart in ongoing critiques (people make mistakes and we are all allowed to choose who we like; are you always appropriate, have you NEVER offended anyone, and do you believe that you like and want to be around everyone? By your blog I see that’s not the case, so why put that standard on others?), and 3) learn to consider, reflect on, get to know, understand, and even get a sense of the needs of others. The inability of autistics to relate and identify with others has reached mythic and even romantic proportions.

While I do believe that it is important to recognize the needs of others, how do you help somebody who refuses to use every single resource that has routinely been provided for them? If one particular resource does not work, then the individual (or their parent/guardian) should certainly assert themselves and expect to be referred elsewhere! My former therapist was just one person who did not connect with me. Just because one resource is ineffective does not mean that one should give up. To answer your question whether or not I “like to be around everyone”, I can come up with a response that most people would agree with. I know that I will encounter people who are not genuinely accepting of me. If they insist upon ” praying for me to change my evil and sinful ways, I will be sure to thank them for their “concern” and push their “prayers” to the back of my mind. However, I will take issue with any person who electronically, verbally or physically attacks me or any of those people who do genuinely love and support me. I will not back down when it comes to standing up for what I believe in. I say that regardless of any criticism people throw at me. I say that despite the fact that I can be shunned, isolated, harassed, beaten or even killed just because I am gay.

The brooding or acting-out autistic who is doing algorithms in his head has been some kind of hero ever since “Rain Man”, but this perspective is ridiculous and not helpful to autistics at all. Autism is of course on a spectrum; we have the non-verbal all the way to the Asperger’s. Everyone, including the Asperger’s folks, marvel at their intelligence-so much is made of it. But this comes at the expense of ignoring the very detrimental lack of social skills, which autistics, who can excel academically, are given a pass on. This only encourages higher functioning autistics to give a pass on it themselves, and encourages others to neglect training those autistics in that area. And yes, social skills are learnable, consideration is learnable.

Let’s go back to my therapist for a minute. We obviously did not see eye to eye! So, why continue working with him? It would have wasted my time and it would have wasted his time. You have probably heard of these things called “social skills” groups. I can tell you now that I can only pick out one or two useful things that still stick to me now. Because I am a man who happens to gay and who happens to be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, I ponder one question that is on the minds of many of those like me. Why do people discriminate against the LGBT community? Children learn this from their parents and teachers. These beliefs were instilled upon the parents during their upbringing. Regardless of who they are, they all contribute to the downright lies people spread about the LGBT community. It is indoctrination, plain and simple! So, what is the motivational force behind this behavior? They could have possibly experienced a conflict with somebody who happened to be gay or lesbian. They base their feelings upon that one negative experience. It is sad, but what else can we do? As you say, we all chose who we like.

There is one thing that I noticed about these “social skills groups.” I am sure there are others who feel the same way about them. It seems to me that many of the therapeutic activities are only intended to keep the group members busy instead of teaching them “useful and beneficial skills.” Honestly, it’s been fourteen years since I went to kindergarten! I cannot stand adults who tell me that I need to “be more mature” but expect me to cut pictures out of a magazine then glue them on a sheet of paper to emphasize personal hygiene or some other social skill that was completely straight forward for me. I can remember observing other group members who either did not care about their profound lack of social skills or they were completely oblivious to it. 

Pretending to be in a social situation (aka “role-playing”) did not work for me either. It was incredibly awkward. All you do is pretend to be in some hypothetical social situation where the message is either obvious or completely foreign to me. I already know that people do not want to experience the smell of bad breath and body odor. It can cause social shunning and even bullying. My parents have already taught me the shear importance of bathing daily and brushing my teeth twice a day. I already know that it is not socially acceptable to whine and complain when I am out with my friends and they want to eat at a different restaurant than the one I want to eat at. I know this kind of behavior will cause my friends to avoid me and think that I am self-centered and immature. I already know that you should never give any of your personal information to strangers. My parents and my teachers reminded me about stranger danger since I was in kindergarten. I already know that it is rude to interrupt somebody when they are talking. I find that real conversations with real people are beneficial to me, as opposed to thinking hypothetically and addressing a skill that people have instilled upon me several times. I know there are people out there who do benefit from this practice, but I must be blunt. Getting to know people is more beneficial than being a conformist who always does what is “acceptable” and “normal” in society.

Let me say this: I have Asperger’s, and I have worked with autistics. Through a series of difficult life circumstances I was forced into the revelation that I had to get along with people if I wanted to survive and have a reasonably happy life. And in working with autistics, I’ve seen that they can learn social skills when those skills are given priority and intense, diligent attention. In Temple Grandin’s book, she stresses the importance of the social skills she was expected to learn from her own mother, and how important those were to her. Asperger’s are too coddled, yes, coddled, and that only strengthens their aversion to appropriate social interactions. 

I have written about Temple Grandin in the past. I do admire her and the many things she has accomplished in life. She has raised a lot of insight about Autism and her writings have helped encourage people to achieve their dreams. However, I think something else must be made clear. Not every single Autistic person dreams of pursuing a career in the livestock industry. Not every single Autistic person “thinks in pictures.” Not every single Autistic person is fortunate enough to have dedicated, caring, nurturing and helpful parents. There are parents out there who lack the ability to cope with the many difficulties their child will experience in life. This makes it more difficult to teach “social skills” because the parents are unwilling to coöperate with professionals who genuinely care. On top of all this, they have to deal with the intolerance and hatred that comes from thoughtless people. Some of these parents are even abusive. They feel that hurting their child is the only way to eliminate “inappropriate social behavior.” These children do not know how to seek the help they need to remove themselves from these horrible situations. I honestly feel like I am the only person who has brought up issues like this. This problem is grossly unrecognized in the Autism community. The big question is how can we educate others about this problem? 

When do we teach autistics to look for POSITIVES in others instead of negatives? Derek, can you make a list of all the times people were kind, accepting, supportive, helpful, nice or friendly to you? Sharing that would give a lot of hope to others struggling socially. If you can’t, or if it is very short, how subjective is your experience? It is also said that autistics have trouble seeing when they are at fault or lacking. Shouldn’t the focus then be on developing more self-awareness and self-development, as opposed to self-absorption? If those with Asperger’s claim this is not possible, that it is part of their diagnoses that this cannot happen, then it would make sense then that they should refrain from the common Asperger habit of being so comfortable in negatively judging others.

I do know several people who have truly made me feel welcomed and accepted. I can guarantee you that my experience is not “subjective.” I would be glad to share my experiences with these certain individuals in a future blog post. However, it seems to me that you don’t understand how it feels to encounter people who are not “accepting”, “supportive”, “nice” or “friendly” to me. I can tell you right now that my experience is not “subjective.” I have encountered several people who have attempted to manipulate me into thinking they were genuinely being nice. I feel that I don’t need to go into detail about these experiences because I have done that before. Harassment of any nature should never be attributed to the individual being “at fault” or “lacking.” I knew right from the start that these people were trying to make me feel bad about myself because of the fact that I did not have friends. They were trying to provoke me into reacting in a way that would get me into trouble. This is what caused me to lose trust in just about everyone at my high school. I didn’t want to talk to anybody if people did not genuinely treat me with respect.

If meaningful relationships is the goal, Asperger’s need to be held to some standards (which shows respect for their ability to learn), and need to accept help for developing those other-oriented skills that are necessary for caring interactions. This is not just an autistic issue at all; we’ve been bombarded by a selfish construct of relationship for the last 75 years. No one should be given a pass on this, not even Asperger’s. The better we all get along, the more fulfilling place this world will be for everyone. I must say also that no one has any exclusivity on dealing with bigotry, rejection, unacceptance and repugnance. I’m not the only one who can’t dredge up more sympathy for another well-off celebrity whining about “coming out” when babies are being abused and sex-trafficking is alive and well even here in the US. None of us should be so quick to complain when we consider how much others have suffered, which is another good trait-considering the pain of others-that Asperger’s, and this society in general, needs to develop. Aspies, their “handlers” (who are making millions), and gays need to give it a rest. If any of us are looking for a perfect world, then we’d each have to leave it. I wish you well.

I am already aware that being LGBT, Autistic or “different” in any way does not automatically grant me “permission” to complain. Have you ever thought that the abused babies you talked about could end up being disowned just because they are gay or lesbian? I also happen to know homosexuals were subjected to the most brutal treatment during Hitler’s 1940’s regime in Nazi, Germany. I read about the tragic story of the fourteen year old African American boy named Emmett Till. He was brutally murdered in Mississippi just because he flirted with a white woman. You should know that I write blogs about issues that are important to me. Let me be as blunt as possible. Martin Luther King Junior did not “give it a rest” when he wrote the letter from the Birmingham jail. I can tell you that I will not “give it a rest” when there are many people who are LGBT and/or Autistic. They desperately need people who can help them understand they are not alone. I can guarantee that you will find tons of information about abused babies and sex trafficking on the Internet. I think you need to picture yourself as the teenage boy who is holding a gun to his head because his parents refuse to accept the fact that that are different. I can guarantee that nobody would tell you to “give it a rest” if you went through the same experience. 

As you can see, I do like to read commentary from others. It is okay if people do not like my writing because I never promised to answer for everyone. Being gay is still a very new thing for me, and I am doing whatever I can to help figure out the place I have in the world. I hope you enjoyed my writing and I should be posting again in the near future!

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