Tuesday, March 29, 2016

LENS and Life, week of 3/29/16

One site last week.  No sites this week at all, because scheduling is full of special. 

I'm really really not sleeping well, which is bad news because today I need to drive down to Zeeland and check out the used Toyota Sienna I mentioned last Friday.  I'm feeling very awkward about showing up and going "yeah, uh, so I'm taking this thing to the dealership, 'kay?"  By the sound of the place, they won't mind, but it still strikes me as a blatant "I don't trust you guys" measure.  Which I don't, but it's rude to say something like that even if it's true.  The difference between truth, tact, and lies is sometimes kind of frustrating and anxiety-provoking.

I also have to apparently buy the car before I can get the car loan, which is just...great...  Oh, and get insurance for it.  It's a shame I really need the line of credit on my credit rating, because the amount of hoops I'm having to jump through just to pay them /more money in the end/ is completely exasperating.

Also today, apparently someone at the micro-enterprise place tried chainmail and couldn't quite make it work, so the organizer has gotten stuck with a bunch of supplies.  She's handing them off to me.  I'm grateful she's thinking of me, but I'm hoping against hope that the supplies are of the same manufacturer as my existing stock.  If they're not, I'm not sure what I'll do with them.  You would think that colored rings of metal are colored rings of metal, but they can vary by metal type, coloring method, and finishing process... suffice it to say that the rings offered in the craft stores are really not on the same level as the rings I order from my preferred source, The Ring Lord.  So we'll see, I guess.  That's right after I finish with the car business. 

Then I still don't get to lie down and curl into a stressed tired ball, because this evening there's the first "official" adult autistic people meeting.   I think it's just going to be hang out time, so nothing hugely stressful, but I already feel exhausted and I haven't even been up an hour, so y'know, not really a good sign.  I'm bringing pop to the meeting, which is to say I'm bringing sugarless pop to the meeting.  My fridge has never had so much pop in it, in so many flavors.  I have Sprite-knockoff, cream soda, and ginger ale.  There should only be like 5 people, so hopefully they won't be too put out if I don't have a cola knockoff.  I never really got enamored of Coke or Pepsi. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Car Shopping


As I mentioned in last Friday's entry, I am in need of a new car.  And by "new" I mean "new to me" because I somehow don't see myself ponying up $40,000 anytime soon.  I'm going to walk us through the process I'm using to determine what kind of car to shop for, and how I'm going about it.  I'm actually not sure if my process differs from most peoples', but it may be handy to have this somewhere.  I've already determined my old car is not worth repairing, because the cost to repair it is about how much the entire car is worth.

Figuring Out The Basics

The very first thing I consider is what kind of car I'm looking for.  Not brand, but simply car type: SUV, pickup truck, minivan, or standard car.  I'm accustomed to having a minivan, and I enjoy minivans a lot.  That doesn't mean it's the best possible option for me, because minivans are also fuel-inefficient and less reliable than a smaller form factor.  Not sure why, but the ratings- I'll get to those in a bit- bear this out.  

Focusing purely on fuel-efficiency and my environmental concerns, I should try saving up for a Tesla or similar electric or hybrid small car.  Unfortunately I do not have the money for that, and I'm not sure I could or should get a loan of that magnitude.  My fiancee and I already in debt, and while we would both enjoy having a Tesla, it's just not going to happen anytime soon.  

We are, however, planning to move from this apartment to a house sometime in the next couple years.  As such, it would behoove me to have carrying capacity.  In addition, my parents will be coming to live in this state in a couple years, and Mom likes to ride bikes together.  She has her own SUV that will carry them, but it'd be nice to be able to offer to do so.  In addition, I have at least one pair of friends that will likely be moving sometime in the next couple years, based on their general unhappiness with their current residence.  

Between my familiarity with a minivan and the reasons above, I'm intending to shop for a used minivan.

Next: Brands and Ratings

My father taught me about an organization called Consumer Reports from when I was quite young, and he continued referencing their magazine throughout my life.  For those who don't recognize the name, Consumer Reports is basically a group of uncorrupted consumers that get together to test commonly used household items.  Luggage, microwaves, toilet paper, and cell phones are all examples of things they test.  They take no money from companies at all, so they can do their tests fairly and without accusations of bias.  And they test cars.  All kinds of cars, all kinds of brands, and all kinds of tests.

I have a subscription to their online site, which contains most of what the magazines do.  My father, however, has both.  In addition, the group puts out a car buying guide every year, which he received.  So it was now time to ask my dad what minivans looked good.  

I was rather heavily biased towards Honda, because they made my old Odyssey and the poor thing has clocked nearly 240,000 miles.  As things go, that's pretty good.  But my dad informed me that the Odyssey has slipped a bit in reliability.  Apparently my best bet under $10,000 is a 2006 Toyota Sienna.  This is based on its overall reliability over the years it's been out (10 now, geez), any common problems that cropped up for the model, and how well-built it was in the first place. 

People who've lived in Michigan for awhile will note that both Honda and Toyota are both foreign brands, and perhaps shake angry sticks (pitchforks, torches, jars of tar with feathers) at me.  Michigan, as you probably know, is home to the Big Three American car manufacturers.  Well, my very first car was a Ford.  And it broke down a lot.  My engineer sister-in-law informed me that the acronym for Ford is "Found On Roadside Dead."  I don't have the money to spend on car repairs every 3 months or so.  So it's the most reliable car for me, and if that's a foreign car, that's how it is.


So now it's on to the actual shopping, since I know what I want.  We are now prognosticating into the future, because I haven't had time to do all the things I'll need to here.

The first step will be scouting out cars online, and pestering the Toyota dealership.  While Consumer Reports say I should be able to find one for under $10,000, that may not necessarily be the case.  Depending on what cars are available, and in what condition and mileage, I may have to pay a bit more or less.  Kelly Blue Book is one online resource I'll use.  I'll also check Auto Trader and a few other websites, as they serve to collect information from car dealers in the surrounding area and put it all in one location.  

Trawling those two online resources has located me a silver van for $9k in Zeeland, which is a short hike from here.  I'd prefer blue, but beggers can't be choosers.  The car is registered with the CarFax service, which is basically a tracker for the accidents, mileage, service visits, etc.  The dealer that presently holds the car is listed.  My next step will be to call them and see if that car is still available.  Simply because it's listed online does not mean it's still for sale.  

Assuming they have the car, I will then need to talk to my bank about a loan.  Ideally, since I don't have a lot of credit, they'll loan me about half what I need for the car.  I can afford to put down half the car's cost, but that's about it.  And I need the credit.  

Assuming I can get the loan, I will then need to drive down to check out the car myself, and perhaps see if I can get it inspected by a local dealership.  It looks like there's a Toyota dealership about five minutes away from the place that has the Sienna I'm interested in.  If there are no red flags, I'll buy the car and trade in my old car. 

And that should be that! 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

LENS and Life, week of 3/22/16

No sites yet this week.  The doctor is doing a truncated week, and I got pushed back to Friday.  This makes me a little crabby, and also makes me wish I'd opted to have the same appointment day/time every week.  That was an option, she told me in passing.  I figured it'd probably be easier on her if I was more flexible, plus practice in flexibility is a good thing for people on the spectrum.  So really, this is my own fault, but it's still annoying.

But I'm probably extra annoyable today.  Last night I took the melatonin to help keep me asleep, but as far as I can tell, it did all but nothing.  I woke up at 4am, then 6am, then 8am.  I'd like to be able to consult with the doctor, and I suppose I should email her, but I might just switch back to the 3mg stuff.  That, at least, I know does keep me asleep.  And with how little effect this stuff has, I'm inclined to wonder if it actually has the correct amount of melatonin in it.

In the meantime, I've been experimenting with a magnesium supplement my mother passed on to me.  Apparently magnesium deficiencies are common for people on the spectrum, and a magnesium deficiency can have fun effects like heightened depression and anxiety levels.  The first time I took this particular magnesium, I had low blood pressure in the middle of a shopping trip.  So on the doctor's recommendation, I've been taking them at night, where... well, if I pass out, I'm already passed out on a nice flat soft surface.  I haven't really noticed immediate effects or lasting effects overall, though.  Makes me want to try taking one during the day, perhaps with food, to see if I've developed a tolerance.

Today we will be visited by pest control people.  Apparently, if the ants can't get up to our apartment on the third floor, the roaches will fill the vacancy.  We've found four (brown banded) roaches.  Like the ant situation in the last place, our apartment isn't really suited to be insect-friendly.  We don't leave food out, we use trash cans, store food properly, keep the counters fairly clean, etc.  But I'm guessing the same can't be said of at least one of our neighbors.  So Chris squished two roaches, caught a third, and I washed a fourth down the bathtub drain.  Neither of us have seen one for over a week, but they're roaches... they might survive a nuclear holocaust.  We've cleaned the apartment as directed by a letter, and we have the caught specimen for the exterminators to inspect.  Should be sufficient, I hope.

In happier news, sometime this week Chris and I will be working on writing a meal plan.  I have a cookbook full of recipes that are my-diet-friendly, so hopefully we can get a few of those going for dinner.  I've not dared to look at the book much.  The recipes included in the diet book itself were... perhaps a little overly creative for my tastes.  It couldn't just be burgers, it had to be Italian-spice flavored burgers with tapanade.   Fancy and unusual was about right for the people the book was marketed to: mothers and older women with lots of cooking experience who have tried multiple diets and were unable to lose weight.  But not for me, a (relatively) young autistic woman with minimal cooking experience and a desire for simplicity first, complexity once simplicity has been mastered.  Come on, if I'm going to make burgers, I want them to taste like burgers, not Italian food. 

I could probably try to dumb down some of the recipes by simply removing some spices to make simpler flavors and dishes, but that will try my cooking skill.  Sometimes ingredients serve multiple purposes, so you can't just pull out the bits you don't like all willy-nilly.  I'm sure my brother could teach a class in substitutions and things like that, but I can't.  Trial and error time, I guess. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

A Car Owner's Lament, or Driving on the Spectrum

This is my car.  It's a 1999 Honda Odyssey.

I love this car.  I was around 10 when we bought it.  My parents buy cars new, pay for them in as full as possible, take impeccable care of them, and drive them into the ground.  So it was, in fact, the car I learned to drive on.  I failed my first driving test in it, and passed the second easily.  It has, as of this moment, clocked 137,000 miles. 

It is terminally broken.  One of the things my parents told me (probably my dad) was that you can only realistically keep a car so long.  Even if you take impeccable care of a car, there comes a point where it's not worth it, monetarily, to keep repairing it.  This car is worth perhaps $1,000 (generously), and the repairs I'd need to make cost a lot more than that.  Terminally broken.

In short, I am really sad.  In terms of nostalgia, the car is priceless.  If I was rolling in piles of money, I would probably repair it merely because of that.  Since I'm not, I'm going to have to look for a new car.

So that fact, and Chris, got me thinking about the fact that I have a car, have a license, and can drive.

I wasn't to know this until much later, but I became a statistical outlier when I got my license at the age of 17.  As it turns out, people on the autism spectrum often don't get their licenses.  Instead, we take the bus, carpool, walk, and bike.  This is for a number of reasons.

Driving (Safely) is Complicated
First, driving is a dizzying experience, if you don't know what to look for.  Everything you have to look at is moving (except your speedometer).  Some things outside the car are moving independently of you, at variable speeds.  You need to pay attention to those.  You need to pay attention to all the signs (and know where they are, and what they mean at a glance).  You need to pay attention to the road lines so you can stay in them.  All of that, simultaneously.  That's when things are all going right.  Try doing that with sensory issues. 

Now add other people into the equation.  There are set laws for driving, which you can learn.  They don't change.  Unfortunately, like any other environment, there are also unwritten rules.  For example, while the law clearly states you need to come to a complete stop at a stop sign, when was the last time you (or whoever drove you last) trundled up to a stop sign, slowed down until you could feel your car halt completely in place, waited a half second to make sure the intersection was clear, and then went?

Unless you're a very conservative driver or a very new driver, I'm going to bet your answer is, "it's been awhile."  That's because almost no one follows that particular rule, not even the police.  And it's not high on their priority to enforce, so with few exceptions, nobody cares about it.  So instead of coming to a complete stop like the law says, we slow down enough to make sure the intersection is clear, wait our turn if needed, and then roll right through the stop sign. 

I learned about this unwritten rule by watching other drivers, using observation skills I honed trying to learn social skills.  There are many others.  Makes it kind of difficult and frustrating for someone who's trying to adhere to the written rules, when everybody around you is breaking them.

You also need to know where you're going.  If you're going someplace new, you need directions.  I used to print out directions before I went someplace new, because while I can read a map, I can't do so quickly.  All the new roads, highways, and intersections are disorienting.  I presently use an app called Waze on my tablet, which is like those dashboard GPSes but less irritating and with more features.  You can also use Google Maps or Apple Maps or any other driving app.  This takes a lot of anxiety out of my drive, because I no longer really need to know where I'm going.  If I get lost, I will stay lost for exactly the amount of time it takes the app to re-orient itself and plot a new route.  That's usually under 5 seconds.  A great improvement from driving around town, lost, for an hour. 

Getting a License is Tricky
Second on the list for keeping autistic people from having a car and license, the licensing process itself.  Your state many vary, but mine made me have a certain number of hours driving with a passenger.  That meant needing to find an adult willing to sit in a car with me while I drove, for an hour at a time, for lots of hours.  That isn't always feasible for people on the autism spectrum.  They may not have older siblings, or parents with enough free time to manage those hours.  My poor mother thankfully had enough time to polish off some of those hours, and driver's ed did the rest.

At the time, the state didn't require driver's ed, but on the insistence of my parents, I attended it anyway.  I wasn't sorry I did.  My teachers weren't the nicest people, but they absolutely knew what they were teaching, and they cared.  Most of the kids learning there didn't care, and admittedly, many of the videos they showed us were as annoying as they were informative.  But I stuck with it, and tried to keep a better attitude about it than my classmates, and eventually it was over.  They spent a number of hours with me in the car, helping me reach the required hours for the test.

I found the classroom and my peers kind of exhausting.  They were all my age, and the vast majority of them must have been forced there by their parents, because they made a game of ignoring the teacher.  I sat quietly and didn't join in, because while I thought I deserved to drive, I wasn't dumb enough to think I already knew everything.  But I was used to being an outcast, so while they were busy being rude to the teachers, they didn't have any spare effort to spend on being rude to me.

In the end, the experience was a bit of trial.  I passed the written portion of the driving test with above a 90%, which was far above the minimum bar at the time.  My teachers were impressed.  I was crabby because I felt I'd tested poorly.  But I did learn the material, and wouldn't have if I'd simply studied the laws of driving or the poorly-written state literature on the subject.  

Driver's ed costs money, unfortunately, which can be hard to come by for families already shelling out money for medication, counseling, ABA, and other services.  I do think it's a wise investment, especially since some driving schools will now cater to developmental disabilities/differences.

Owning a Car is Expensive
Third and finally, have you seen car insurance prices?  Or how much a not-badly-used car costs?  I read somewhere recently that people, not autistic people, just people in general, aren't putting down 20% on their cars anymore.  They're putting down 15%, or 10%, or whatever they can afford. People, in general, simply can't afford as much as they used to. 

It's already difficult for people on the autism spectrum to get a job, but trying to pay for all of that on minimum wage is impossible.  I was fortunate enough to have a sympathetic grandmother and parents, and so I didn't have to pay scads of money for my cars thus far.  But the car insurance has been all mine, and it has not been cheap.  I haven't gotten into any accidents, and I have a number of discounts due to driving history, seat belt usage, paperless bills, etc.  But it's still a good chunk of change.

I'm now having to look at used cars, and they're also a good chunk of change.  I'm probably looking at $10k or so for a reliable used car.  I'll go into my buying process later (probably next Friday), but it's not going to be a simple affair.  You should never simply buy a car because of how it looks.  But whatever car I end up picking, I'm going to have to take out a loan.  I can't afford to plunk down $10,000 without flinching.

The cost of the car and the insurance aren't even the whole story for car costs.  There's car washes, which are a necessity where I live.  It snows heavily here, and so they salt the roads with really corrosive stuff.  All of which ends up on your car, and proceeds to rust through your car's underbelly unless you get it washed off.

There's basic maintenance: oil changes, windshield wipers, air filters, and other fluids like coolant, power steering fluid, and washer fluid.  My car in specific requires checks on specific areas every 10,000 miles or so, and more thorough checks every 20,000 and 30,000.  And of course, there's gasoline, the ever-fluctuating money-devourer. 

This all adds up rather fast. A lot of families can't afford to hand off a car to their burgeoning young adult on the spectrum, or find a cheap used car to start them with.  The insurance is an added monthly drain that isn't sustainable on a lot of budgets.  The maintenance is expensive, and that's if your car doesn't break at all, and you don't get into an accident.

In the end, it doesn't really surprise me that the vast majority of my peers don't drive, or only drive in a limited capacity. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

LENS and Life, week of 3/8/16

One site this week.

So Blogger, the site I use to write and post these entries, ate my carefully scheduled and pre-written-last-week entry.  I'd always kind of meant to start this blog on Wordpress, but forgot and started it on Blogger instead.  Perhaps this is a sign I should migrate everything sooner rather than later...

I voted.  I opted to beat the crowds and go in at 10am, between morning rush and lunch rush.  Apparently I needn't have bothered, since mine was the 86th ballot tallied at my location.  I'm hopeful lots more folks will show up around 5pm.

I'm still not sleeping super-well.  2mg timed release melatonin didn't have immediate wonderful effects, such that I wonder if it's a high enough dosage.  But I'll keep trying it for another night or two.  I might also consider more magnesium at night, but I'll talk to the doctor about that.

I'm stressing about wedding stuff at present.  Even with a nice polite online checklist to follow, there seems like so much to do and so little time to do it.  Even though the wedding isn't 'til November.

It probably doesn't help that I'm likely to do a lot of the decorations myself.  Not particularly because I'm super-artistic, but because the flower industry is kinda...sketchy.  And not great for South America.  I can fold origami flowers, and there's actually a few that look pretty nice.

Case in point.  Anyway, that's just one, the 8 pointed flower.  From memory, I can fold two other kinds suitable for a wedding (bellflowers and day lilies) and there's another couple online (roses and tulips) I can use.  I'm going to pretend the tulips are a wedding-appropriate flower because I'm half Dutch, in an area that values its 1910s Dutch heritage.  (Read: Tulips for EVERYBODY.)

Beyond that, there's marriage counseling to arrange, special diets to accommodate, the dress to get figured out...  It's a good thing, as I mentioned, that the wedding isn't for a number of months.  Hopefully I can get a lot of the things worked out in advance, so I don't have to stress as hard closer to the date. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Interlude: a Short Primer on Transgender People

This post will not relate to autism specifically, other than that I'm aware of at least two individuals on the spectrum who are also transgender.  Autism is a single facet of a person, and while an important one, not necessarily even their most defining feature.  Especially as they age.  So without further ado...

There's a lot of misinformation about what exactly transgender people are.  In my quest to understand and support other minorities, I've encountered everything from disbelief ("you're kidding, right?") to revulsion ("those people get surgery? Disgusting!") to cruelly served ignorance ("yeah, so when I go hunting deer, I'm going to bag an extra buck and tell the park service it wanted to be female.  After all, society buys it for people!").  Having seen a woman start and complete her transition, and having gone to learn a little more about being an ally the this minority, I'd like to present my findings in a nice, readable format so hopefully we can all understand a bit better.  I'm going to do my best to be accurate and helpful, but if I drop the ball anywhere, please let me know in the comments and I'll try to adjust this explanation to be more helpful.

What is "Transgender"?
Let's pull the word apart: trans-gender.  The latter word, gender, specifically refers to whether you feel male or female (or both, or neither- we'll get to that in a bit).  Gender is how our culture views men and women.  For examples from US culture: women are stereotypically dresses, clothes, makeup, jewelry, fashion, emotions, chitchat, sharing, etc.  Men are stereotypically sports, hunting, handymen, tough, muscular, logical, individualistic, less talkative, etc.  (Please note, I am not personally agreeing with or supporting these stereotypes.  I do need to state them so you understand, though.)  Gender is often confused with sex, which is what your biology assigned you.  In 97% of cases, either male or female.  (The remainder fall into a category of people called intersex who actually have traits of both at birth.)

Okay, so first thing: gender is not sex.  You can biologically have man parts, but feel like you're a woman in the wrong body.  That might be hard to visualize for some of you, but please give it your best.  Keep in mind the societal stereotypes I mentioned above, and imagine you grew up always wanting to be part of the other gender's side of things.

An Example of a Trans Person
The woman I watched transition (change from one gender to the other) had exactly that problem.  She was born in a male body and grew up past age 35, knowing since she was 5 or so that she was female but having to pretend she was male.  I don't know her specific case, so I'll make some stuff up for an example.  She was born male.  That means despite loving fashionable dresses, heels, makeup, skirts, blouses, handbags, and other classically feminine things, culture dictated she could not enjoy those things publicly.  People, as it turns out, are not very understanding about a man wanting to be pretty and feminine.  It's just not a thing men do, unless they're gay (another stigma entirely).  Plus women have been considered the weaker sex, so a man wanting to be a woman would be a step down in the public judgement. (Again, please understand I do not even slightly agree with this, but it has to be stated for understanding.)

So she waited long years, and suffered inside.  Imagine if your sex suddenly swapped to the other side, and no one remembered you'd been what you were before.  You'd need a new wardrobe that you wouldn't necessarily like.  You'd be expected to enjoy a bunch of new hobbies that you have no taste for.  There's a whole new set of basic politenesses you have to learn.  If you're now a man, it's urinal behavior, man code, outdoorsy things like fishing and hunting, how to tie a tie, how to fix basic problems with a toilet or a car, and a working knowledge of sports.  If you're now a woman, you need to learn how to apply layers of makeup properly, dress fashionably, walk in heels, deal with periods, etc.  Got an idea of that?  Awesome, now pretend you're stuck like that for the rest of your natural life.  Maybe you're okay with that.  If so, cool, good for you.  But a lot of people aren't.  After years (or decades) or trying to pretend they are what they're not, they suffer.

There's a feeling of wrongness every time you put on and wear clothes that don't match your identity.  Every time someone calls you "he" and you know you're a "she."  Public bathrooms are a trial; do you go to the bathroom that matches your sex, or your gender?  You're going to get looks no matter which one you choose.  If you don't dress in a manner that befits your sex, you're also going to get looks.  Every day.  For the rest of your life.  It's hard on a person. 

If that still doesn't make sense to you, perhaps you've read about gay and lesbian teenagers, and how they suffer trying to decide whether to tell people their sexual orientations ("coming out of the closet").  It's similar.  Trying to pretend you're something different than the truth exacts a toll on people, and the more aware they are of it, the more it hurts them.

Types of Trans People and the Fluidity of Gender
The example person I gave you above is a male-to-female transgender person.  There are female-to-male transgender people, and also a few other types I'll get to shortly.

You see, while sex is (usually) binary, which is to say you're usually born male or female, gender does not have to be.  Some people view it as a spectrum, with feeling feminine/female on one end and feeling masculine/male on the other.
You could be here...                         or here...                  or here!

Such people often plot themselves somewhere along that spectrum, as having both masculine and feminine traits.  This can be termed "genderqueer", "bigender", "pangender", "genderfluid", or a number of other things.  In addition, there's a group of people included under "transgender" that simply don't feel like they're on the gender spectrum at all, or they simply find those labels inadequate or useless ("agender").

Confusing?  A bit.  Definitely not something on the cultural radar until recently.  But very important.  No one should have to live a lie.

What Does This Mean, and How Do People Deal With It?
Mainly it means you should be a human being to anyone who doesn't seem quite "normal."  If there's an otherwise normal-looking lady with 5 o'clock shadow (beard stubble) on her face, you should treat her like a person.  Don't stare.  If there's a man with an oddy feminine-looking face and body, same thing.  There are people out there that kind of throw your sense of what's masculine and what's feminine.  When in doubt, treat them like a person.  Please understand, that's a normal part of life, and there's nothing wrong with it.

People deal with being transgender in a lot of different ways.  When someone comes to the realization that their gender doesn't match their body, they may change things about themselves in order to make things match.  This is called "transitioning."  The most news-visible way to transition is to get surgery or hormone therapy, where you go under the knife multiple times or use hormones to get your body to match your mind.  This is what most people think of when they think of trans people.  STOP.  While this is a legitimate thing that trans people do, they often don't.  Some trans people can't afford the surgery, or prefer not to undergo it.  Some people simply need their loved ones to acknowledge they aren't their body parts.  Some people change their wardrobe a little, as extensively as wearing only the other gender's clothing or a simply as wearing boxers or panties under their clothes.  It just depends on the person.

By the way, the incidence rate (as far as we know) of trans people is anywhere from .3% to 10% of the population.  So you may already know someone who is transgender, or you may not know you already know someone who is transgender.  It's hard to get accurate data because people don't necessarily advertise they're trans. 

Gender is not Sexual Orientation
If this wasn't confusing enough, we have another spectrum to add to the one above: who you're interested in, sexually and/or romantically.  Transgender people are often lumped in with gay and lesbian people.  And sometimes that's appropriate, but sometimes it's not, so I'm going to explain this very briefly.  (It gets complicated at length, unfortunately.)   

So we know from the fact that gay and lesbian people exist, that your sex does not decide who you find attractive.  Gay men are attracted to other men.  Lesbian ladies are attracted to other ladies.  Heterosexual people like myself are attracted to the other sex and/or gender.

So trans people run the gamut of these categories, with the added bonus that they can cross those categories in their lifetimes.  I was personally born female, and am attracted to men.  But if I happened to be transgender man, I might consider myself gay.  My body parts might be female, but my mind would be male, and my sexual orientation is towards men.  So that would make me a gay man in a female body.  (This is not the case, but it makes a fine example.)

So just to summarize: your gender does not affect your sexual orientation, or vice versa.

How Do I Treat Transpeople?
First off, like human beings.  Always treat them like human beings.  Because they are.  For all their differences, they have thoughts and feelings and lives just like you.

That said, other than really little kids, people don't go to the effort of being another gender because it's fun.  It's about the opposite of fun, so if someone tells you they're trans, please actually believe them.

1.  Use their preferred pronouns.  Usually you refer to a person by their physical sex pronouns.  For me, "she" and "her."  For Chris, my fiancee, "he" and "him."  For trans people, if it's not obvious, ask, and then make an effort to remember their preference.  Usually it's just as simple as using "he" or "she" or sometimes "they."  This is a small but important courtesy you can give the person, acknowledging them as who they are.

2.  Don't make assumptions about their sexual orientation.  I covered this above, but a person's gender has nothing to do with their sexual preferences.

3.  If the person is clearly a sex that's not their gender, but identifies with a name that matches their gender, don't ask their previous name.  So if we have a very tall, muscular person with 5 o'clock shadow and lipstick, who identifies herself as Nicole, do not ask what her name used to be, or if she used to be called "Cole" as a man.  It's rude.

4.  Do not ask about a transgender person's genitals, surgical status, sex life, etc.  Those are inappropriate questions to ask anyone.  Just because this person is different than you does not make it okay to be rude.

5.  Don't give backhanded compliments or "helpful" tips.  Saying things like, "You look just like a real woman" or, "You'd pass so much better if you wore less/more makeup, had a better wig, etc," are not only unhelpful, they're insulting and hurtful.  Just don't. 

My Bias / Point of View
I do have a bit of an ulterior motive in this educational entry, as it happens.  Having watched my acquaintance transition from male to female, and gone to a seminar on how to be an ally, and tried to educate myself, I also learned something about myself.

As it turns out, I am trans.  Specifically, I'm agender.  I personally think the whole gender thing is annoying and wish it would leave me alone.   This is perhaps more obvious to some people than others.  I was born female.  But I do not wear dresses (except when I have to).  I do not enjoy makeup, or pretty clothes, or fashion, or any of that.  I simply do not care.  I respect people who enjoy culturally feminine things, regardless of which sex they were born as.  But when it comes to me, I would just as soon people take their cultural expectations of me and toss them out the nearest window.

I thought about it pretty hard, and I don't believe I'm a guy either.  I enjoy things that are typically male, like video games.  And my clothing is more stereotypically male than it is female.  But I don't have any particular sense that I should have a male body.  (Well, except around period time, when I just hate existing because my guts hurt.  That doesn't count.)

I didn't grow up with a sense of being in the wrong body, or incorrectness when addressed as "she."  My body parts gave me a cultural identity I didn't appreciate, but since I was already autistic and too different to fit in, it didn't matter so much that I didn't fit into my gender either.  I was fortunate that my parents didn't give me much crap about it, but rather simply accepted that I was an unusual person and let me be myself.  Also, as I was growing up, it was becoming societally okay for women to cross-dress.  I wear blue jeans and a T-shirt, and no one gives me crap about it even though those are stereotypically men's clothes.  As such, this wasn't really an issue on my radar until my acquaintance transitioned. 

So there you have it.  If you didn't already know a transgender person prior to reading this, now you do.  The most correct pronouns for me are "they" and "their," but I don't actually care that much, so if you forget or get confused, it doesn't bother me if you use "she" and "her." 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

LENS and Life, week of 3/1/16

One site again this week.  Don't rock the boat, I guess?

An update on the whole "sleeping like a normal person" thing.  It's still not happening.  I'd stopped using the timed/sustained release melatonin because it'd stopped helping.  I started it again because I was thrashing around a lot at night and waking myself up. I'd originally tried having it 2 out of 3 days, but that third day I really wasn't sleeping well.  So the doctor told me to try it every night for two weeks.

I only made it one week before I started having unpleasant dreams.  My brain actually went out of its way to invent an entire horror movie from start to just before everyone dies.  Which is impressive, because I don't watch horror movies as a rule.  Apparently weird dreams are a sign that your melatonin dosage is too high (as is feeling drugged in the morning, and a lot of other things).  This is actually a good thing: it means my body said, "Oh, right, /I'm/ supposed to be producing that chemical."  So I'm cutting my tablets in half for now, and ordering a lower dosage today.

Thankfully this has stopped any further full length horror films from occurring.  Also thankfully, these bottles are about the price of a drink and a sandwich at Starbucks. (They're also at least twice as good for you, because sleep is hugely important.)

Chris was sick last week.  Probably a cold.  I got minorly sick, but nothing impressive partially due to my immune system and partially due to these little lozenge things my doctor recommended.  They're elderberry and zinc, and they're basically a pick-me-up for your immune system.  You take them every 3 hours as soon as you start feeling symptoms, and they're been shown to reduce the amount of time you're sick, and the severity of your symptoms.  So far I'm reasonably impressed.

Also, after several nice, warm, 50-60 degree days in December and January, Michigan has finally remembered it's a far northern state.  So now it's snowing and grey again.  There's been two snow days (one of which was severe enough to close Grand Rapids Public Schools, the local "your education is more important than your lives" faction).

I've had exactly one day that was almost my second-favorite weather.  (I like a warm sunny spring day with lots of flowers best, but my second favorite is more incongruous.)  Specifically, I like 60 degree with with huge piles of stubborn snow on the ground, and a light breeze.  Normally this isn't weather you'd find ever, but Michigan likes to pile on the snow, which means you absolutely can have a foot or two of snow on the ground, slowly sublimating away, whilst it's sunny, warm, and lightly breezy.  It's like winter's last impotent wheeze.  Anyway, the snow on the ground and the walking around in shorts and a light jacket together amuse me very much, so that weather gets second-favorite.  (For anyone interested, third favorite is torrential warm summer downpours, when you can walk around outside all alone but not get chilled.  Fourth is autumn, because while all the poets praise the US Northeast's fall colors, they clearly hadn't seen Michigan's flaming maple trees and the variety of colors here.)  

Friday, March 4, 2016

Article: SAP and Autistic Adult Employment-


I've mentioned in the past how difficult it is for adults on the spectrum to get and keep jobs.  Apparently SAP is interested in personally changing that. 

This article lists a bit about their Autism At Work program, in which they aimed to hire and keep 650 autistic employees, or 1% of their workforce.  I'm unfamiliar with SAP, but doing the math tells me this is not a small company in the slightest.  So it's a good thing, then, that they're taking measures to make the experience easier for their candidates. 

The first thing is the interview.  I... have very few nice things to say about standard interviews.  They're a charade, to my mind.  An evil made necessary by modern society.  They're horrid.  You have to dress in clothes you don't normally wear, which may be uncomfortable.  You have to come prepared for what basically is an amateur psychological evaluation, armed with a copy of your resume, a go-get-'em attitude, and as many crossed fingers as you can hide from the interviewer.  You have to try extra hard to be "normal" because unfortunately, interviewers are usually looking to hire people like themselves.  If you have a good sense for acting "normal", the right wardrobe, boatloads of recommendations, and a near-infinite reservoir of patience... you still probably won't get hired, because that's hiring practices these days.  I've had my best luck getting hired through connections... which is another thing autistic people tend to lack.  Go figure. 

SAP, on the other hand, is apparently turning the interview process into a month-long getting-to-know-you party.  Without actually undertaking the process myself, I can't be sure I'd prefer that.  It's a lot of time spent on applying for a single job.  But I guess if SAP is pretty content to spend the time finding where you best fit, then perhaps it'd be worth it.  The cynical side of my brain notes that SAP is probably one of the few companies that can afford to take that much time to hire someone.  Large profits can be spent in a lot of different ways, including ones that are beneficial to the community.  Perhaps, if they're feeling extra-generous, they could package and release their interview process to the world at large.  Other companies could follow suit, without having to hire an expert or five to figure out how to give autistic adults a fighting chance. 

I don't have much to say about the sensitivity training for autism in the workplace.  Those things can be kinda hit or miss, and every person on the spectrum is different, and affected differently.  I do have to say I'm pleased to see they're partnering with Specialisterne.  Those folks are basically dedicated to helping people with disabilities get and keep jobs- often IT jobs.  I'm really hoping they'll come to Michigan soon.  I'm not sure how much they could help with the whole speaking-writing thing I'm trying to do, but a few of my friends are tech-savvy and could definitely use the opportunity to be treated like a person rather than just another resume. 

The other noteworthy thing about that section is the mentoring.  This is a fantastic concept.  A new workplace can be dizzyingly complex.  There are the written rules, which you're having to learn in formal training and often come with binders and posters on the wall.  A mentor can help with those, but they're not usually that bad for people on the spectrum.  The real killer is the unwritten rules.  Because sure, there might be a sign on the wall that says, "If you have a problem, talk to your boss."  But the unwritten rules of the place might well be: "Your boss doesn't like you or can't help you, talk to the guy above him, or your coworker that's been here a long time if you have a problem."

There's also more mundane things, like where the break room is, who knows about what subject, what sports teams are favored, etc.  A mentor can help with all of that.  Also, pairing an autistic person with someone gives them a square one.  Can't remember someone's name?  Ask square one.  Don't know where a conference room is?  Ask square one.  Need to sit quietly somewhere to calm down but have no idea where's safe?  Ask square one.  Simple but excellent.  Ideally the person will branch out their acquaintances so that they're not always running to their mentor for every last detail, but that takes longer for some people than others. 

Finally, HP and Microsoft are piloting similar programs to SAP's.  Both large companies, which can afford it, again.  But definitely progress. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

LENS and Life, week of 2/23/16

One site this week. 

I survived both interviews, somehow.  I got the Community Reviewer position, which is to say, I answered the same questions I'd already answered on paper over the phone, and apparently my fluency and word choice was adequate.  I got a bit more information about the position in the process, since the interviewer was a very polite, thoughtful person.  It turns out this will be a very temporary sort of job.  3-5 years max, with a call maybe once a year.  I'm a little disappointed about that; I'd rather hoped I could help shape research in the long term.  But even a bit is better than none, and it'll add to my resume.  Perhaps I can prod some of the scientists I meet into looking into LENS.  If there's a technique out there that needs more research and attention, it's that.  In my opinion, anyway. 

I won't hear back on the board of directors position for another week or two.  It sounds like they're not really sure what the board will do.  But it's an initiative to get people with disabilities into directing their own futures and organizations.  They had a lot of applicants across the entire state, though, so I may or may not be selected.  Either way, it was an interesting experience.  I got a better sense for what neurotypical people might feel like when faced with a differently-abled person who doesn't quite "know the script" of social interaction.  I think I'll make that Friday's entry, which means you'll actually see it as last Friday's entry. 

Chris and I have gotten started on cooking and making meals that are healthy.  We've made stroganoff, soup, pesto, freezer burritos, and a couple variations on stir-fry.  So far nothing's gone into the "meals for later" except the soup and burritos, but you have to start somewhere, right?

I'm recovering from being sore today.  Autism Support of Kent County rented out a roller rink for a couple hours last Sunday night.  So I broke out my skates.  I don't think this has come up in the blog yet, but I have actual roller skates.  I had lessons... maybe a decade and a half ago?  For several months.  And my teacher was pretty good, such that his daughters actually competed for dance skating.  I have nothing on them, naturally, but I did learn a few tricks.  Not the least of which is how to propel myself at impressive speeds for the amount of wind resistance my body provides.  So I had some fun.  Chris came with, but unfortunately his hip started hurting early on, so he didn't skate quite as much.  Still, it was a good outing.  I pushed my muscles pretty hard, doing the stuff I'd learned. 

I actually wasn't sore the day after that, but I did my usual Monday evening exercise with Chris, and then I pushed my muscles again- unwisely.  So now I'm pretty sore.  It's probably the intense exercise on top of the intense exercise, but it could also be that my muscles were doing the "we're going to pretend everything's okay today and then the next day we're going to make you regret living" thing.  As a child, I used to never get sore.  In my late teen years, I might get sore the next day if I really overdid it.  As an adult, if I'm not sore the day after, it's either because I didn't overdo it, or because my muscles are trying to lure me into a false sense of security so they can punish me thoroughly on the next day.