(Warning before you play the video: it’s got lots of swirly colours and weird camera moves, and the music is quite rowdy, so if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing, don’t click play)
You may be familiar with John Gray’s self-help book for couples, ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.’ It basically outlines the difference in communication styles between men and women: women want to talk things through when there’s a problem, while men go and hide in a metaphorical cave. Women expect men to read between the lines, but they don’t, and they don’t expect women to.
One of my ex boyfriends used to say that I was from Mars and he was from Venus – largely due to the communication thing – and I think the Asperger’s makes some sense of that. There are plenty of theories that Asperger’s is an extreme male brain in men, and a somewhat male brain in women. Female Asperger’s traits include a level of androgyny, and when I found that out, it led me to question some of my experiences.
I identify as a heterosexual female. I’ve never had a lesbian experience, never felt inclined to have one, and my response to an attractive woman is to wish that I looked like that. Nobody’s ever questioned that, but they have questioned whether I’m female. About 20 years ago, I was walking to university when I heard a man’s voice behind me, saying “Is it a girl, is it a man?” He was looking at my hands, and started talking to me, insisting I was a man in drag because of my hands. I have quite large hands in terms of span, and they’re rather bony, but my fingers are slimmer than most women’s. I’m also tall, with a boyish figure, and maybe my gait isn’t particularly feminine. I was on my own, and it was a horrible encounter. Afterwards, I didn’t want to go out. I never wore the dress I had on that day again. My boyfriend at the time was great about it, and very supportive and said all the right things and seemed to mean them, but it left me shaken and upset. A similar thing happened outside a nightclub a few years later; again I was wearing a skirt, but I only overheard people, and tried to pretend they weren’t talking about me.
My interests are probably quite male. Before I started school, my favourite toys were my train set and lego. Near where we lived, there was a model train shop and I loved to visit it and watch their display. I had lots of cars and racing track for them. I had plenty of dolls too, but I ignored them. It was only when I started school that I started to play with dolls, and I think that must have been a peer group thing.
My lifelong obsession is music, and my tastes tend towards the heavier, noisy styles (although I do like a lot of classical, particularly unaccompanied choral polyphony). A few years ago I went to an Interpol gig, and was chatting to a bloke in the queue who said of their music, “It’s not very girly, is it?” as if he expected me to be at a Celine Dion gig. I was certainly outnumbered in the audience, although there are plenty of girls who like what Rentfrow and Gosling (influential researchers in music preference psychology) term ‘Intense and rebellious’ music, rather than the ‘Conventional and upbeat’ category. The research indicates that Intense and rebellious music is more of a bloke thing though, and I’ve found the same patterns in my own PhD research.
But coming back to ‘The girl from Mars’: my communication is distinctly male. I say what I mean. I don’t expect people to read between the lines, and I don’t read between the lines either. A few years back I had a friend and running buddy who was male, and thirty years older than me: he was a bit like an uncle (I sometimes wondered if I could matchmake between him and my aunt). Most of the time we got on really well, and were perfectly matched for our running pace: sometimes I was a little faster, sometimes he was. But we had some fallings out. He was from Venus. The biggest falling out we had was over a bloke at running club, who he accused me of flirting with. I wasn’t: I actually thought he was probably gay (although it turned out he wasn’t). I just liked his attitude – he was one of these really positive, optimistic people whose enthusiasm rubs off on others. The thing was, maybe he was flirting. I’ve never been very good at spotting that (men have to either say or make a very obvious physical move). I couldn’t work out why my running buddy was cross, although eventually I got a lecture on being faithful to my husband. I was just being sociable, I thought. But there was a lot of non-verbal communication going on, and I just couldn’t pick it up.
There are many people in my history, some of whom I’m in touch with (including the running buddy) and others who I could get in touch with, who I almost want to contact and say, “I’ve got an explanation! This is what was going on.” In fact, there are a number of people with whom I’d like to talk about it, but I’m still too worried about it all going wrong. I know my family would be cool with it (and my Dad, who is quite nerdy about learning stuff, would probably find it really interesting). I don’t have a best friend, but I have a couple of friends who I know could be trusted with the information, and who are well-placed to give me advice as they both have conditions that can interfere with employment and other aspects of life. I think I need to talk to these people.