HOW AUTISM CAN SEE TORCHES SHONE IN THE WRONG PLACES.
I remember my third day at high school when a guy in my year came and sat beside me at lunchtime. He introduced himself as Talal and said he was from the United Arab Emirates. He sensed I didn't have any friends and seemingly, nor did he. We became friends, but the sad thing was we attracted bullies and after these bullies saw us in the principal's office, suddenly, and without any kind of warning, he left the school. I was to learn, some fifteen years later, that he died when he was eighteen. Why I never saw him after that day is something I'll never know.
That year was also the year that I started learning Japanese. I remembered the year before, there was a Chinese guy in my year (he wanted to be more Australian, though) and I saw a Chinese girl in the schoolyard.
A conversation I wished I'd been able to have with my grandfather (my grandfather was not anti-Japanese, granted he had a touch of gallows humour, whereby if you asked him if he was anti-Japanese, his standard reply was, "One dropped a bomb that exploded 50 feet from where I was standing, so I didn't like that one. But if I saw him, today, I'd tell him be wasn't a good shot as I'm still alive," but he felt sorry for some kids who were mixed race who were shunned by the respective communities. A classic example, I suppose, would be the Kure kids or the kids who were cared for by Sister Dominique Sasaki at a Hiroshima orphanage, who were the progeny of black and white American GIs and Japanese prostitutes, who were unwanted and unloved) was that he saw the world one way, and hoped I wouldn't marry outside my culture, but he didn't see the horror on the faces of girls, in PE and sport, if they had me as a dance partner. He didn't see the blonde haired, blue-eyed girl in Year Seven who used to kick me under the kneecaps under the desk and say I had no friends, or, when in the midst of adolescent acne, say, "Eww! You've even got zits on your neck!"
Having had years of this, I felt I didn't belong in the culture I was raised in, and after meeting Talal, I thought I belonged in different cultures. I remember my mother, one Saturday night, four weeks before school finished, saying to me, "Don't forget that you are an Australian," to which I wanted to reply, "Why would I want to remember that I'm an Australian when my fellow Australians have so comprehensively rejected me?" What I didn't realise then, and what has brought me into conflict with conservatives, is that there are approximately 25 million Australians and there are 25 million ways of expressing what it means to be Australian. I can remember standing on assembly in Year Four, when we had to sing God Save The Queen, and then take a ridiculous pledge, hand on heart of, "I am an Australian, I love my country, I obey her laws, I salute her flag," and thinking, "Not this shit, again."
In the same year I alluded to above, I can remember talking about how the inspiration for the fictional Redmond Mountford liked my brother but not me. My mother replied that I could have a superior way about me, to which I asked if she meant arrogant. She said no, but that I expected the same level of correctness from others that I applied to myself. A memorable instance was when I was in Year Seven and we had Redmond and Petula and their youngest son, who attacked my sensitivities over, and we had a game of Trivial Pursuit. My brother had gone to bed and I stayed up and we split into teams, with my father, Redmond and Redmond's son on one team, and Petula, my mother and I in the other. The answer to a question I asked them was The Soviet Union, and they answered Russia. I said no. My mother told me that it wasn't smart, and some years later, I learnt that I was right to say no, because the media used the two terms interchangeably, but the reality was Russia was a part of the Soviet Union but they were not one and the same. It was a bit like answering the USA when the answer is North America.
I remembered my mother saying to me, "In four weeks, you'll have finished school, so and what will you have then? You won't be studying over the holidays?" I said that I wanted to go to university. She then said, "When was the last time you sat down and watched a programme?" I said that I watched ITN World News of a morning. She scoffed at that. She said, "But you don't watch any sport or anything." My reply was, "I get what I want to know from the news."
For me, study was a way out of my predicament. I enjoyed the academic side of school, but not the kids, so I thought, "Okay, if I study hard, I can then go on to bigger and better things."
My first year of university was to be a hard one in that a lot was going on. It was a matter of finding ones feet and learning in an unstructured environment. Having been so comprehensively rejected by my fellow Australians, I sought out the company of Asian students. That did not go as well as it did for me at high school, however. I wanted to be like Gavan McCormack, an Australian Japanologist, who had a Japanese wife, spoke the language and was an expert on all things Japanese. Some of the Asian students were to reject me.
I changed universities and found a few nice students, but one who befriended me, she'd often ask to sit beside me, threw a curveball one day. She said that she found some people to be stuck up, yet, wait for it, she didn't like going to the lectures and thought she could study by herself. She couldn't. She had a smart mouth and while I thought I liked her, once I'd gotten away a bit, I started to think, "What the hell did I see in her? She wasn't even a nice person!" She smartly told a girl she was friendly with, "What do you think you use a mobile phone for?" (this was before the days of texting and apps) and told someone else, who thought she was Eurasian (she did look that way, she had fair skin and dark brown hair), "No, I'm pure Chinese," a statement that I thought, later on, smacked of racial arrogance. If she'd been humble, she'd have said, "No, just Chinese."
I started to think I didn't belong anywhere. For a while Japan ceased to be my special interest, after a nasty Japanese person, but it came back and was stronger than ever. I have found that you can say, "I want to buy Japanese cars and have Japanese products, but just like not every person in your own culture will be nice, not every Japanese person you meet will be nice. And, if you want to have KYB Shocks on any car you own, you can." Now, I say that I have to have Japanese spectacle frames and a Japanese watch and a Japanese car, I can have a minimum of two Chinese garments on me at all times, have a Chinese doctor (there again, most Chinese doctors I've seen have been good, but two have been bad) and know a few other Chinese people and like them, but not every person you'll meet you'll like. Just like with my defence of Muslim people, the vast majority of Muslims whom I've wished Ramadan Mubarak, have replied, "Thank you," but a few have not been nice. One Muslim said, "Well, I know you're a good person, but some, because of the climate at the moment, have their defences up straightaway and don't know that you mean to be kind. Some, if they know someone you know, and see you talking to them, will be okay."
This is why I believe it is important for the autism community to be able to form and have pride in itself and develop our own culture. As Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge (later Makoto Takakura) said, "When a person says he's an hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor) they understand." When someone says they're Australian, you start to think, "Okay, will they paint their face yellow and green and wave a flag at the cricket in summer?" Well, some Australians don't like cricket, I know I don't, but my brother does and upon learning we're part West Indian, he replied, "That's probably why he likes cricket and Jamaican Rum." And not all Australians are the same. If an Australian and a Japanese person say they're autistic, they may not speak the same language, but they may have the same sensitivities and the same approach to their special interests. After all, if it weren't for autism in Japan, people wouldn't have heard of Pokemon. And let's not forget I'm not the only autistic person who feels comfortable in Japan, for the no-touching culture and the fact that it's an ordered society.