Strange Person, Strange Place, Strange Flames

Once So Innocent

Let me tell you the story of a young person of undefined gender and their first experiences with the internet. This story is my story, and I think many aspects of it may be other people’s stories, too.

Try to imagine not knowing what the internet is. That was you at the beginning of your childhood. You first started using the internet in elementary school in the computer lab classes the school had, once in a while you used google for research or played educational games online. Besides that, you didn’t give much thought to it.

Then there was Neopets, something talked about among friends where plans were made to collect paintbrushes and get as many free items as you could by taking advantage of dailies. There were also games based on the Saturday morning cartoons you watched. Soon you discovered all the games you could play and download just using the power of the internet. You would spend time watching Hillary Duff and Avril Lavigne music videos. This was when you had dial-up internet and Windows XP or lower.

Then things got more social. More people were on Myspace but you liked Xanga better, a site you knew of because your sister and all her friends used it.

Then your interest in games, your love of the manga you checked out from the library, and your recent social media experience combined to give you Gaia Online. When it came to you, you had no idea what to do with it. All you knew was that you wanted an amazing avatar with all the best items, and items cost gold, and gold could be made by using the forums. This is when you had your first, true experience with being flamed on the internet.

Wide Eyed in the Strangeness

You are a young, strange, autistic person. (You wear your strangeness proudly, because you are young and that’s what young people do, and that is one of the reason you get flamed so much.) You don’t know that you are autistic, but you will one day about 10 years later. (Sorry it took you so long to find out.)

You browse the forums, not sure what to do with your strange self. Actually, the forums seem quite strange themselves. Sometimes you get this feeling that you have no idea what people are talking about. You are used to it.

Sometimes you wonder why people find it so important to yell at each other over things that seem to be not that important in the scheme of things. Yeah, it might be because they are neurotypical and you don’t understand their ways or interests, it might also be that it’s the internet or that it’s Gaia Online.

There are nice people, people strange and friendly like you are. (You try to be.) You seek them out, open-heartedly you begin to post and comment in the forums.

What comes next you could not have anticipated, though it’s actually the same thing you’ve experienced a lot of your life. Watch as most comments you make bring criticism, once again you are saying something “the wrong way” and saying the “wrong thing.” Watch yourself curl into your already existing ball of shyness more and more.

Watch as you question every word you type, every breath you breathe, every click you make. Watch. Watch. Watch.

Watch and remember it’s not okay to be strange on the internet, at least not your kind of strangeness.

What’s the Most Strange?

You aren’t always sure what your relationship with the internet is. There’s a lot of cool stuff on it like funny cat videos and webcomics. You don’t get into YouTube until much later than most, and find that YouTube comments can be worse then Gaia Online. There are nice corners of the internet and great YouTube comments and friendly Gaia Online forums. The nice corners are really, really nice, sometimes life-changingly nice. At one point you decide to regularly participate in a feminist forum on Gaia Online. Bring on the flames!

On Facebook you find pages and groups by and for autistic people, spending time is those helped confirm your suspicion that you are autistic and find acceptance for yourself. Facebook also helped in confirming your queerness and gender strangeness. Facebook was also a place of pain when you lost a lot people in your life who once supported you, but it was also the reason you discovered Minecraft which helped you get through hard times.

I’m not going to say that I’m not strange. I don’t think accepting myself means to believe that I am normal. Rather, I think it’s recognizing that normal and strange are the same thing sometimes. What one person thinks is normal, another thinks is strange. When I was young most things seemed strange.

If the internet is strange, it is also normal. The internet’s still like an experiment and we are stumbling a lot a long the way. I’m not saying hate that is spewed on the internet is okay. I still don’t get why people so often are looking for targets for all their pain, but maybe it is because it is their pain that I don’t know. For some reason though, I am hopeful. I can honestly say the internet has caused me more good then harm. Sometimes it makes me feel isolated, not to unlike how I can feel “irl” or “in real life.” It has also pulled me out of isolation, helping me find community with people who would otherwise hard to find (like queer autistics.)

I think the lesson, or simply the takeaway, is that everything is strange. It’s pretty much a guarantee in life. There’s always something unknown, something confusing and puzzling. Sometimes we’ll respond in fear, sometimes in hate, sometimes with an open heart and sometimes we will step back in self-protection.

How will you respond to the young, strange, autistic person of undefined gender?

Is unfamiliar strangeness too much for you? Will you pretend it isn’t there and attack it when it comes around, or will you keep an open heart?