Fixed Fantasy & A Trans Kid In the Closest

Sometimes I think people might think it’s strange for me to choose to call myself Shaun, a Western name, than choosing an Indian name, but there is a story behind this and it goes all the way back to the year 1990.

I was five years old and just starting my first year of school in a new town. I moved up from Old Erowl Bay, an isolated town in the South Coast of NSW, Australia with a population of 800 to Nowra; one of the main South Coast towns with a population of 25,000. Everything was new to me: a house with doors, streets of shops, houses lined up side by side and a massive school for kindergartners up to year two – don’t even get me started on the Primary school down the road, and the high schools seemed like big islands of brick buildings that reached up to the sky. It was all quite overwhelming for a little five year old autistic kid.

Just over a year ago I had been, not quite of a talker but I at least talked. I think I was overwhelmed by my massive school that made me crawl back into myself and not talk for the next ten years. So, I didn’t make any friends. In those days it didn’t really bother me that much. It just wasn’t my thing.

Also a year before I started school I began to experience feelings of being born in the wrong body. It was subtle at first, more of a preference for male things. I absolutely despised being dressed in dresses. As I was only four and a late bloomer I was still unable to dress myself. In those days in the old sea side town close to Aboriginal refuges I used to dress in a t-shirt and shorts and walked around mostly barefooted. I watched a lot of films and I mean a lot of films and fast become a little film buff. Over the years films would become my greatest teacher especially during the period where fear had taken away my voice.

In my first year of kindergarten I found myself roaming laps around the schoolyard alone and completely absorbed in my thoughts. I had a very vivid imagination. I could dream up images that seemed so real I could just touch them. As I grew the need to live as a male grew stronger. Most of my interests were being dominated by subjects in those days that seemed masculine. I was asking my mother personal questions about my only male friend’s body. Derek was my only friend who I had known since I was a few days old. Our mothers had gone to the same church and gave birth to us in the same hospital. We were in the same church and went to the same school, often in the same classes. Friendship was inevitable and he was the only person outside my family I actually talked to.

That was another thing I did: I got along with boys better than girls. It might have been the interests or just that desire to be one of them or a combination of the two. I was one child in a family of three girls and one boy and I looked up to my brother a lot. My mother used to say I worshiped the ground he walked on. And because my interests were similar to his he didn’t mind letting me hang out and play games with him. I think he liked that I seemed more like a brother than sister. I was still closer to my sisters which meant I was picked on more. My brother did pick on me but he even picked on me like I was a boy. I can’t imagine him ever picking me up and throwing me over his shoulders if I was more feminine. That’s how he greeted me one day when I visited his primary school. He and his friends played rough with me but I didn’t mind because I got to hang with the boys.

Some days I was really uncomfortable to be in my body. I hated my long hair which was too much work to take care of. I turned back to my films, the majority of which had a male lead around my age. In the 90s the main character in a children’s film was mostly a lonely boy who was an outsider and that was somebody I could relate to. I never picked up much from the children around me as my social skills were underdeveloped, almost non-existent in those days. The only children I could actually watch and learn from were characters on the screen. It was easier to focus on them because there wasn’t as much going on the screen as in real life. I felt more connected to those children in films more than I did anyone in the real world. I started to copy their sense of dress and mannerisms.
I’m not sure when it happened but one day at school I started to dream up my own male characters in my imagination as I roamed the schoolyard. I made up stories much like the plots of the films I watched. My imagination was now able to conjure up pictures so vivid I could close my eyes and watch a film of my own creation. Over time these films had a setting, a synopsis, well developed characters and themes that related to my own situation. When I was bored I could just think up a story to pass time, pause it when I needed to get back to the responsibility of being a child which was usually avoiding doing homework and spending the whole time drawing or exploring the outdoors or playing with my siblings. Then as soon as I was done and was left alone I could continue the story from where I left it. Sometimes I would zone out while watching TV and start ‘watching’ my own story. During one day when I was off sick from school I was able to play a film in my head from beginning to finish. It lasted an entire school day.

Psychologists call this Fixed Fantasy and it’s viewed as more of a personality disorder usually affecting those with social anxiety. I prefer to see it as more of a gift and something one could even make a career out of.

My characters were kind of like character actors or an actor who played different roles yet were basically the same person. Sometimes I had the same character in name and appearance for five or so years, but over the years I would come up with a different character. Lately, I have come up with a different character every few weeks.

When I was 10 and under there was a sandy haired boy named Matthew. Prior to that I wandered around the half built brick fence of a church and came up with a character called Josh. When I was 13 I was really into gangster films so I started coming up with stories set in the 20s and 30s, usually about a boy my same age. When I was 16 or 17 my gender dysphoria was so bad that I was addicted to my imagination. I was unable to stay in the real world while I was doing classwork. I literally had to stop making up stories for a while so I could finish high school. I started it up a year later. In my early 20s to 30s a 14/18/22 year old boy with a black mop of hair called Alex took up most of my time. I even got some of his stories down on paper when I tried to write my own science fiction. He was based on Dennis Lyxzen, the singer of Refused and a boy I danced with at an emo/punk club called Hot Damn who was actually called Alex, who my friend tried to hook me up with but we were both too shy to talk. Around this time it was seriously common to find an autistic male called Alex, so I began to write my own screenplays about an autistic character. This was at least a decade before the trend of writing in an autistic character made it to mainstream films and TV drama.

Focusing on these stories in my childhood in particular was my safe space. It was the only place where I could explore being a male, where I could live as one without facing ridicule from strangers, family members and even friends. In those days everyone gave me grief for it because transgender just wasn’t a term we heard. I didn’t even know such a thing existed and no one around me knew either. There was no option for me to live as a boy, to live as the real me. It was just too weird. On the bright side there was no hateful transphobia. No one wanted me dead. I would enter a girl’s bathroom and people would think oh, they’re a tomboy. I liked that term for me because it made me feel like people were seeing in me what I felt inside.

When I was living through a stressful time my film stories would give me a quiet alone space to work through them, to see the absolute worst result but also reach a solution, a choice that often was too difficult to make in the real world. When I was half-way through them or almost finished them I had gained a much better understanding about certain issues I was having. All the time it was being played out by a boy, someone in the body I so desired for myself.

At least 98% of these stories were set in America, while others were in England. Only two were set in Australia. It was mainly because of what I grew up watching on the screen: children’s movies mostly out of Hollywood. I was also for a time homeschooled through an American text book. I understood more about American geography, history and culture than I did Australian.

The reason I called myself Shaun was that it sounded similar to my given name of Shanti, which I think is such a great name for a female and I am definitely going to use it again for a character down the road, or maybe even name my own child. I felt it would be easy for people to remember to call me that. Also, one time my history teacher once mistakenly called me Shaunti and I thought it was interesting as it was the only time someone had accidentally called me a kind of male name. But it’s basically because it makes me feel connected to those boys I created in my mind and those boys are an extension of me. They allowed me to express myself fully in a time where doing so would paint a target on my back and result in me being ridiculed by siblings, parents, teachers, mailmen – you name it. I’ve lived in my head with these boys who I have known more intimately than any person – I’m basically their God – and I’ve grown up in a western country, so I feel closer to the culture here than I do Indian, though one day I hope to become better acquainted with Indian culture, and maybe then I’ll be comfortable with an Indian name. I may also wait until hormones change the shape of my face because as a writer I need names to fit the face. Scientific research has found that the name we’re given as babies can influence the shape of the face, but someone who renames themselves in adulthood just won’t go through that.

I had never come up with a character called Shaun though so I made one. These days it has been harder to come up with complete cinematic stories in my head and I think this is because I don’t need them as much because I’m out and proud. One thing I’m still trying to figure out is my homosexuality and dating so I’m currently fixated on a story about a gay autistic on the aro spectrum.

I’ve come close to getting these stories down on paper. I’ve self-taught myself how to write novels and screenplays and I’m taking this opportunity to create awareness about what it’s really like living with autism, ADHD, pathological demand avoidance syndrome, bipolar and other mental illnesses, and have been thinking about creating my own LGBQTIA+ stories. I’ve always felt writing your own novels and films are good way to educate others and maybe even change some preconceived notions about how people see the world.

 

 

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Talkin’ Home School

I’m writing this post mainly for my follower Kathryn who home schools her son. Children who are home schooled might get the idea that because they are home schooled they are different from other children and therefore find it embarrassing to admit it. But given my usual obliviousness in childhood about what people thought about me and all those strange things I did and a natural ability to become a pint sized egomaniac about my differences rather than feeling ashamed, when the topic of ‘what school do you go to?’ with other kids came up I would unabashedly say I was home schooled. Other children might have laughed but I didn’t notice them, instead I kept going on about how cool it was. I could get out of bed when I liked and do my schoolwork in my pajamas.

The first time the suggestion to try home school was announced I was very confused and did think something may have been wrong with me. My other siblings were not home schooled and I really thought I had nailed year 5. My last day of school was even a joyous one and maybe weeks later the question of home school came up. My mum made it seem like I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the demands of high school.

The truth was I had been making poor grades ever since I started school. I was withdrawn and quiet, virtually mute until I reached primary school when I started to say a few words to other children. I struggled to focus in a classroom and hardly understood what any lesson was about at all, unless I actually had an interest in it. It still puzzles me to this day how I could sometimes overcome attention and processing issues to do work that excited me and actually stirred me emotionally enough to want to do.

I think it was my sister who put the idea in my head that children who are home schooled are freakishly weird and freakishly bright. I focused on the latter. I started to think all kids who were home schooled were geniuses without trying to come up with a reason why. There was one such day where I had to do speed math and my sister was watching and I felt too nervous to do it in front of her, but I had to do my test so I wrote down the answers as quickly as someone could write down the alphabet. She was impressed. The notion that all home schooled kids were geniuses stayed with me.

When my home schooling started I was disappointed to be doing year 5 work again. The whole idea of the curriculum we were working from was to go at your own pace. At first I was getting through the work slowly and making a ton of mistakes and taking each one personally, but overtime I advanced to higher levels and got 100% in almost every subject, including math which I’ve always had a weakness in.

My favourite subjects were English, Science told from a religious perspective, and History. If there was art I flew through it. If I really enjoyed the subject I would overcommit to the work. I began to realise I had an exceptional ability of memorising facts so I would try to memorise all the scientific and historic facts I could, and then later on recite them line by line to whoever would listen.

We had ‘social days’ too where we’d meet up with other home school kids who I’d ignore and move further away from on my skateboard. I don’t have a lot of good memories of those kids. I think they made a few comments which I ignored. I never could say anything to them or felt like I wanted to. I think my mum had fun though chatting to the other parents.

During these years I was seriously under diagnosed, under medicated and having my ADHD symptoms go unrecognised. I had focus and memory problems and even though I was in less chaotic environment where I could work at my own pace it wasn’t enough for my wandering and easily bored mind. ADHD children beat themselves up a lot too. If a teacher or parent shows they are frustrated at their behaviour they begin to have that frustration themselves. I can’t exactly recall the subject I was struggling to understand but my mum must have begun to have that frustration with me when I kept failing to understand the work better through her explanations. She made it sound like it was an obvious thing to get and I felt stupid and I burst into tears.

I started to feel like I couldn’t do the work anymore. I was bored, distracted and wanting to have longer breaks.

My siblings would have their friends around after school and I felt like I was missing out so I told my mum I wanted to go back to school. She decided to send me to a smaller Christian high school. The first few weeks there I realised it wasn’t home school that held me back from making friends but I was never good at it. I didn’t even try because I didn’t know how to try. Teachers these days would see that as a red flag of autism but back then they just worried and showed that they were concerned about me by calling me a ‘loner’ which confused me because I didn’t think I was. I was hanging out with the trouble makers, the ones who were in remedial class with me, the class clowns and the ones who seemed to hate school as much as me. I always equated ‘hates school’ with ‘makes poor grades’ but that wasn’t always the case with them. So I saw them as fakes – they had no reason to hate school as much as me. They were just like those goody goody nerdy kids.

Yeah. I didn’t think I was a nerd back then. I didn’t feel smart enough. All it took was a couple of diagnosis’, some self-awareness and a stimulant prescription.

My behaviour started to get defiant, not violent or challenging but avoiding situations and not respecting the teachers. It wasn’t just at school but at home as well. I went to a Christian school and a Christian church and I didn’t care for either. I did try to become a Christian the year before but I started to slip. It seemed my mum and sister were closer because of church and my sister was friends with the entire youth group, meanwhile I was hanging out with trouble-maker 10 year olds on Sundays and trouble-maker 12 year olds on weekdays. I really wanted to be in years 8 and 9 because I knew those students from church and got along with them better and I felt like I should have been in year 8.

The teachers soon began doing what they usually do with problem kids – blaming them for something they didn’t do. I liked drawing the band Korn’s logo on my pencil case and some kid did this on the back of a classroom chair and I got the blame. Teachers would give me a hard time about how I wore my uniform. There was a strict dress code. We couldn’t even untuck it after school when we were at the shopping center.

I did get in some very fierce verbal disputes with other students too. I had a couple kids who pegged me for bullying but because I was the oldest person in my year I treated them like they were nothing. The bullying never impacted me.

Towards the end of the school year teachers really started to put pressure on me to change and insinuated that they would be harder on me, and me being the master of getting my own way, ignored them, shrugged it off when the other students said so an so teacher ‘is going to kill you’ – which is what we said in place of ‘will get mad with you’ when someone knows what the end result would be if a teacher found out, whatever you had done. It might have been as innocuous as not doing classwork or handing an assignment in late. Those babies worried too much.

‘Yeah?,’ I said, smirking. ‘Well, I don’t have to stay at this stupid school if I don’t want to.’ I was like that. I didn’t have to give in to anybody. I could just find an easy way out.

So, the next year I started being home schooled again. It didn’t last long. It wasn’t just attention issues but around this time I felt like every adult who had attempted to teach me had given up on me. My youth pastor had even implied he was struggling to get a group of from changing our ways. It was all exaggerated by my depression, my failed year at school and homeschool, my inability to make friends and my inability to get along with my mum and my sister the way they got along with each other. At 14 years old, I had given up on my future.

I began to wander the streets, sometimes skateboarding for a full day or just walking around town. I usually walked through the bush land of the south coast until I kept finding people in there and not wanting to talk to them I hid and made a quick exit. My days turned into watching hours and hours of TV and exploring my neighbourhood.

Then, my mum came up with an idea to send me to TAFE to finish my high school certificate. I felt like I wasn’t in charge of my own destiny anymore and felt the similar feelings of defiance boil up inside of me, but to be honest if I had made my own choice it would be to do nothing. It still didn’t hit me that after you complete school you find work and start to live independently.

I still appreciate those few years I was home schooled. I felt like for the first time I could learn something. I just needed more focus and motivation and to be told that the work I was doing then would matter someday. There were are lot of issues in my childhood holding me back from succeeding that wasn’t anyone’s fault, but was down to a lack of awareness. We have that awareness today and it’s unlikely a child like me will fall through the cracks again. It’s now up to the parents to decide if they want to listen when they are told ‘your child may be autistic or have ADHD.’ They can choose to ignore it and struggle to raise another unteachable stubborn child who decides to give up before they even turn 15, or they can get help as soon as possible so they can give that child every chance to succeed.