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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Why Adults Play Videogames

It’s not very common to come across people who don’t understand why adults play videogames but just in case there are I compiled a list of reasons why adults do and why it’s a good thing.

NOSTALGIA

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons adults game at all is that they grew up playing videogames. I’m certainly still very nostalgic about Sonic the Hedgehog, even if he has changed a lot since the days I used to play those games. I know quite a lot of people who are nostalgic about Super Mario and you can’t say a negative word about those games to them. Gamers are very protective over their favourite IPs, so when someone like Anita Sarkeesian comes around and says their favourite childhood game is sexist they’re not just going to take it. Nostalgia is longing for the days of old and when you can relive that experience it’s like trying to savor a really amazing meal. You don’t want it to end. You’re very passionate about that topic, and any criticism to it is taken as a personal insult.

Games Are More Mature

Gamers have grown up playing video games, even today’s videogame developers played games in childhood and still do, and for the last 10-15 years games have been directed at a mature audience, as in content and storytelling that can rival some of the best Hollywood screenplays. Gaming is not just for kids and teens anymore but is for everyone because the themes in these games are so varied that’s there is something for everyone. Developers even include social commentary and adding LGBTI characters. The characters have layers; they’re like real people and have their own personality, needs and flaws.

FOR COMMUNITY

Like all hobbies we have there is a community for gamers. It can just be a place to find like minds and talk about your favourite games, but when each individual game franchise builds its own community it’s where the bond gets strong. The Destiny community is my family. Like your average family we sometimes fight and I go lengths of time avoiding them, but we also have our good times and help each other out. The Destiny community I’m a part of on Facebook is very supportive, open to differences and the more experienced players are willing to give out a helping hand to those who are still behind.
Sure, there is toxicity in many videogame communities but that’s why I stay with Destiny; you only get to talk to other people in your Fireteam. There still a lot of abuse being sent through messages, but that happens any time you get online. It’s not a good thing but it exists and no one is quite sure about how to stamp it out.
Game developers and the media are also quite open and available to players. They listen to their concerns and do modify their games to suit the needs of the majority of players, so in a way adult gamers can shape the outcome of the very videogames they play. I’ve seen this happen in Destiny and developers have had attempts at changing Call of Duty and have even taken a break from releasing Assassin’s Creed annually.
Gamers have little tolerance of something called Pay to Win, which is where a game will have the option of small purchases (microtransactions) to buy gear or packages that would help someone level up quickly or be more powerful. In PVP (multiplayer) they would be an unstoppable force to players who level up through skill. Developers like to stress that their microtransactions are cosmetic, meaning it won’t put a player at an advantage over other players in PVP.
Children couldn’t influence the development of games in this way because they wouldn’t even think to question it. Adult gamers understand a lot more about how games are developed, what they are capable of, what’s fair and what’s not and they demand a certain level of quality. Perhaps, a bit too much – it’s why I like to experience a game like a child. It’s about the overall experience and having fun rather than nitpicking every little thing. But I’m still an adult so can feel something much deeper from playing a videogame than a child.

TO DE-STRESS

Let’s face it, life is stressful. You’re denying a very important truth to ignore that fact. There really isn’t anything like having a shit day and going home and busting an alien’s head open with a shotgun at close range. You can say that’s encouraging violent behaviour but it’s better that someone does it in a videogame world than in the real world. I’ve played videogames to help me get through periods of depression and anxiety. When the former was so serious I couldn’t do much more than dwell on my troubling thoughts in bed, it was dragging myself to the front of a TV screen and putting on my favourite game that made those thoughts completely disappear. When I’ve had breakdowns I’ve had videogames to get me through it.
As someone with autism, playing Destiny helped me build more social skills and work better with a team and that’s probably the biggest breakthrough I’ve had when it comes to gaining social skills. Videogames have been more therapeutic to me than any psychologist. Also, when I first started to see my nephews a lot I didn’t know what to say to them until I started playing the games they played. I would always be willing to listen to them when they talked about a videogame like Mario, Minecraft or Skylanders but when I started to play those games it really helped me bond with my eldest nephew, Owen.

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Gamers: future and present.

BUILDING CAREERS

I hope that one day Owen can make something productive out of his love of gaming. He loves math so I think he’s most likely to become a programmer. But for those who don’t think that’s a suitable career path there are many others areas to pursue than programming. You can be a concept artist or storywriter, a game tester, or audio engineer. Then you have to whole social networking side of it; journalism and even live streaming. If you’re really good at games you get into E-Sports and win some competitions and lots of money. There’s far more to gaming than just having fun these days. Children who grow up playing games can one day work in the very industry that makes the games they loved so much, or they can give back by contributing to the gaming press.

IT’S OK TO BE A KID

There’s nothing wrong with being child-like. An adult who doesn’t have an inner child is going to take life too seriously and not know how to relax. Childhood was a time of innocence and freedom. Everyday you got up with maximum energy and just wanted to play and pursue your hobbies. It was ok to be massively obsessed with something. As an adult that’s kind of frowned down on; they either call you a geek or a nerd.
In my childhood I was into film and I watched a lot of children’s films which today as a writer is why I like writing stories about children. Not so much about innocence – my young protagonists is always aware of what is going on – but more about freedom. As adults we have a lot of responsibilities and sometimes it’s just good for us to unwind and act childish.  Playing games with our friends is just another way to unwind and have fun. For many of us we don’t even think about it, it’s just what we do.

We Know Kids Aren’t Slaves to the Screen

My nephew Owen is a future hardcore gamer. I both long and worry for the day he joins the adult game community. We can either be cold hearted bastards or the most supportive and fun people to be around. So, when one of his uncles treats his love of gaming like an addiction so much he discourages it in his own children, I was hurt. He’s a gamer and you can’t take that away from him. He watches a junior version of Good Game, which is where I get the bulk of my gaming news in Australia. I treat the hosts like old friends and I usually trust their judgement to help me decide what games to buy.
Owen’s mum has put limits on his gaming and I support that. It’s her choice. He can only play on weekends and holidays and isn’t allowed to play first person shooters yet, and definitely no mature games. There will be a day where he joins us and I can’t wait. As an auntie, I’m going to have to protect him from all the bad stuff in the community and discourage him from turning into one of the most toxic people in our community.

Kids play on consoles or iPads or phones because it’s fun. It’s no different than me, my brother and sisters hooking up a SEGA and spending hours in front of it when we were little. It’s up to parents to decide how much time they should get. Kids like Owen have so much energy that once they put a game down they run around like a headless chicken. Not all children who play on screen will become gamers, but many will. Taking that away from them is taking away a piece of themselves.

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Introducing Cooper and Owen to Sonic CD.

It’s a Different Kind of Imagination

Some people with autism (like me) struggled to have an average childhood imagination. I know I was a very literal imaginator. Playing doctor or house to me, was, well it was just stupid. I’ve always been highly visual and would need props to play if I would play at all. Sometimes I’d offer myself as a prop to other children. But imaginative play without the use of props or toys just looked pretty weird to me. So, when I hear people talk about ‘what happened to imagination?’ I’m led back to those days long before the first mobile phone was ever released, when I barely had an imagination.
In a typical developing child there will always be imagination even when they have a lot of screen time and the graphics in video games become lifelike. It just produces a different kind of imagination. It creates story tellers and creative artists from children wanting to create their own mythological beings or aliens after playing or fighting one in a game. It turns pretending you’re in a Western with friends into Halo Wars or acting out scenes with Skylander figures. In fact, Activision like to share photos of children using Skylanders in every day life, from using them as chess pieces to create stories with them through imaginative play.
Since the introduction of social media people have gone more toward visual communication over verbal and you can’t escape pop culture references in everyday conversations. A child’s imagination is going to follow this path. Gone are the days of pretending couch cushions covered in a blanket is a terrible swamp creature, instead, children can design the terrible swamp creature and parents can send the drawing to someone online who can turn that into a plush toy. Technology has advanced so much that the way we imagine things is likely to change too. We’re no longer painting on caves anymore, we’re creating breathtaking art using a pen with no ink and an iPad. Of course, if you wanted to paint on a cave you could still do that. If you wanted your children to imagine something from scratch you can encourage that too. The majority of children just won’t though, and that’s perfectly fine.

In summary, next time you hear about adult gamers know that they are part of a wider community, many of whom might not have any community if they didn’t play videogames, and that it’s not just a simple hobby, but a way of life. And like it or not children are going to come into this world and parents should not discourage this. It’s a loving place of enthusiastic people who want to have fun gaming and talk to people just like them. Gaming has changed a lot in the last 20-30 years. It’s no longer just a for kids, or for adults. It’s for everyone.

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I think BT agrees with me.