Second Life

20 January 2019
To celebrate several life events and also because I haven't been overseas in literally fifteen years, I'm planning an overseas trip in the middle of the year.

Of course, it's a somewhat daunting prospect. I've never done this by myself before; all my previous trips were organised for me. I have to confess I'm even a little scared. Every morning at 10am I eat a pink lady apple. It doesn't matter if I'm at work or going out to brunch or that right now being summer there's a vast array of much cheaper tropical fruit available. It has to be a pink lady apple and only a pink lady apple. So yeah, how am I going to manage if I can't find them?
I'm picturing myself freshly arrived in Los Angeles after 15 hours in economy and scouring supermarkets in that city famously hostile to walking and public transport, trying to find pink lady apples, getting hot and dusty and semi-delerious, bursting into tears and giving up, or worst, settling for red delicious apples, whose name we all know is a filthy stinking lie.

I'm sure you can understand when I say I've had frequent thoughts of cancelling the trip altogether, and staying here with my geriatric cat and duck down pillow and shower I can get flowing just so by muscle memory and the new 55 inch TV I just bought me and my pink lady apples.

But I know I have to go. For so many years I dreamed of trips I couldn't go on. This, I can do. It doesn't need to be the perfect trip. I'm looking at round the world fares, planning out the stops I could make. But unlike the 20 something backpacker planning out their big overseas adventure before they settle down to career, serious relationships, possible children, I don't have to see everything now. There can be plenty more holidays in the future. For children and marriage aren't in that future. All that is behind me now.

For most people who go down that path, the days of freedom from the mechanics of family life don't come until you're in your fifites or sixties, at which point you call yourself a grey nomad, cash out your super to buy a camper, and spend the rest of your days roaming Australia and the world annoying everyone you cross paths with by doing 95km/hr in the right hand lane on the freeway, delaying busloads of passengers by treating bus drivers as mobile tourist information centres, blocking aisles with your luggage and talking very very loudly in every cafe you darken with your presence. "This is my time! I deserve it!" say you, a member of the generation for whom everything has been yours, and you haven't deserved any of it.

But what do you do when family life and all the hopes and dreams that went with it are take from you not in the natural course of things in your fifties, but suddenly and painfully through divorce and custody losses in your thirties? What do you do with yourself? You mourn, you grieve, you tear your hair out, you bang your head on the carpet. All of that. But eventually, eventually, with psychiatric care and medication and the damned healing properties of time, you start to get to a point where you can live with it, can even enjoy your new life.

For I have been given a strange gift. It has arrived in separate packages I couldn't always appreciate at the time, and I've had to assemble it myself, but here it is nevertheless; I have been given a second life. It has arrived through grief subsiding and a permanent place to live and a good job and learning, from the work of various alumni of RuPaul's Drag Race of all things, to embrace being the most and best me I can be. So I've decided what I'm going to do with this life is no longer suppress all the parts of me that I locked away for so long, because of the rigid standards I was raised with and society's expectations and the little (normal) voices in my own head telling me what is the proper thing to do and being mostly closeted most of my life and living my life in a permanent state of exhaustion masking my autistic behaviour without realising what I was doing and all the goals, hopes, dreams, dignity and joy I sacrificed in futile attempts to make other people happy - I am done with all of it.

I decided that, since my attempts to be normal and pleasing didn't really work out, from now on I am going to live life how I want, never harming other people, but not caring what other people think or what is the right thing to do - especially the dreaded right thing to do at my age.

So far, it's working out quite well. Take my bedroom. It's the bedroom i always wanted growing up but never had, and now I have it, and after waiting all my life I finally got to paint my bedroom purple, and there are butterflies and Victoria Frances prints on the walls, and I don't care if it looks like a moody (but very tidy) teenager's room. There is no one to complain about my Living Dead Dolls in the lounge room, or my morbid posters and postcard wall, no one to pressure me into throwing away my art supplies and books, no one to mess things up. (Mr G comes over on weekends, but he's very sweet about tidying up).

I will wear a Hello Kitty t shirt and glitter eyeshadow to work, and no one minds. Three months in, and I'm already the office eccentric - technically very proficient, excellent industry knowledge, very caring, but a strange soul nevertheless. My Drag Queen Funko Pops are arriving tomorrow, being sent to the office cause, well, we've discussed what my home postal service is like. I explained to my supervisor/friend that I'm happy for people to look, but if anyone touches the dolls, I'll reject them like a deer.

You'll what?!, she said.

You know, I replied, deer. If they smell human on any of their fauns, they reject them. Abandon them and leave them to die.

She said she'd love to get inside my brain and see how it works.

I told her it's a nice place to visit but she wouldn't want to live here.

Sometimes, fully embracing my identity as a queer autistic person in my late 30s - after a lifetime of trying to shove myself into the boxes society set out for me - feels like a giant playground. At other times, it feels like - nah, I'm kidding, it's always cool. The fun and freedom - was this what childhood was supposed to be like? I mean, actually admitting to myself and the world that I want to date women and putting myself out there and doing it hasn't always worked out so well, but the point is I am doing it.

But whilst I might be boring my friends stupid with the bisexual memes as they think "it's a sexuality, not an identity" and flap my hands if I get excited and wear metal t shirts paired with polka dot hair accessories to meetings, the true difference is in my own head, where you can't see it. But it's there. I have given myself permission to be weird, permission to not feel guilty if I do something nice for myself, permission to put myself first, permission to be happy. It's too late for all the opportunities I missed so far in life but it's not too late to do things differently now. I'm free. I have been given that rare thing; a second chance at life.

Of course, the trauma I have survived will always be with me. I can't separate one part of myself from another. Aspies can be quite suggestible. So can emotional abuse survivors. (Is there a word that's not victims or survivors. I am "a victim" but that term is so loaded. I'm nothing as thriving as a survivor. Or maybe I am). There are days when I'm hit with torrents of despair that make me think oh shit, I thought I was over all this. But I know now, that it is normal, that it will pass. I reach out to other survivors online and we assure each other that the brain takes time to recover. You will be all right. 

There's nothing about living as my true self that's problematic. I could say I'm lucky to work for a queer friendly company who make allowances for all my aspie ness, but every company should be like this. (But for now, I'm lucky). Mr G knows that his Mum isn't "normal". Do you want a Mum who wears capri jeans and yells all the time? He's got a Mum who goes on waterslides with as much glee as he does and scoots her booty across the lounge room and dresses him up as a drag wolf warrior. He's happy, and it's what he knows. When he's with me, he comes first. When he's not, all bets are off. This is the beginning of the rest of my life.

I'm working with what I've got. I didn't choose this path, but I'll walk and skip and flap my hands and stare vacantly along it anyway. When life gives you lemons, make lemons your thing. Tell the world you're all about lemons now. Wear lemon hair accessories and post lemon memes and talk incessantly about lemons and put up lemon posters and live a lemon life. Have meaningless flings and finally get around to giving stand up a go and decide that's it, this is the one haircut you're sticking with for the rest of your life and if you want to try something different, you'll wear wigs. After trauma, things will never be the same again. Use what you've learned and make them better. And if you're nervous about spending thousands of dollars travelling alone, just buy a VIP ticket to Drag Con before you've even sorted your passport out oh God what have I done. 


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