revelatory comedy

On the 18th July 2018 I drove into Melbourne from Alice Springs to do a season of Melbourne Fringe (via Sydney Fringe) and to settle here after an assault in my day job left me depressed and unhappy.  This decision came after being in remote or overseas locations since 2005.  That’s not unusual for my profession.  I am an anthropologist by day.  In my 40’s I pursued what I had been afraid to all my life – being a comedian/writer/performer at every opportunity I can find.

I’m a variety type of human.  Some would say that’s because I am Autistic.  I think that’s accurate, I need novel ideas (and also more structure to pursue them than other humans, which a common contradiction in the Autistic experience).  But also, I am just easily bored.  But living back in Melbourne (last time I was four years old) has been more than transformative – opening up opportunities to be fully authentic on stage that is allowing me to be the same in life.

Art just doesn’t imitate life, it is life.  It makes you feel and do and change.  I am one of those people who still thinks comedy can be an artform.  I do skits, character and musical comedy with storytelling/narrative observation comedy woven in amongst it all.

I don’t perform as often as I would like.  I have some big sensory and social challenges to work around to get on stage, but once up there I love it.  Venue and performance accessibility is and always will be an issue for me, but I have carving my way regardless.

The last 12 months have been personally transformative, or rather, revelatory. I hold comedy 80% responsible for that.

I knew I would have to deal with culture shock.  The shock of coming from the remote Northern Territory to a city was one aspect.  But I had lived in a large Chinese city too, so that wasn’t the most of it.

What I found was that I wasn’t prepared for the changes it would prompt in me – that would allow me to be me.  You may recall a post where I had been diagnosed with depression just before I arrived in Melbourne.

I am happy to say I was not depressed, I was oppressing my true self.  That caused sporadic depression as not being authentic invariably does.  That’s not actually any rocket science really – but something so many people struggle with.

A kind of period of chaotic and complicated personal change took place in the last 12 months. This wasn’t a learning curve.  This was a learning mountain epic filmography, complete with crevices and dodgy theme music.

I knew I had to leave an mask behind when I came here, that Melbourne would have a much more accepting culture.   I had already started to drop the mask when I started doing comedy in 2016.  I fully accepted that the diagnosis of autism I had been grappling with (first mentioned to me in 2006, partial diagnosis for years until recently) and started to get my head around the fact it made me who I am – it didn’t make me less.

In my first ever comedy writing workshop, before my very first performance in Darwin I had a lightbulb moment. I was confronted with an exercise often done in comedy classes.  Two truths and a lie.  I did it well, but mainly because all of my stories about my life are weird.

My answers were:

  • I nearly married a Tunisian olive farmer during the second wave of the Arab spring revolution in 2011
  • I have just come back from living and working in China
  • I’ve been married three times

No one picked that I have only been married once. The other two are true.  My life and it’s funny stories made other people laugh and I love making people laugh.

I refuse to lie on stage.   I choose to embellish stories to get bigger laughs, but not lie.  In the process of finding material it has all come from my experience and research and knowledge combined.  Experiences such as being a late diagnosed autistic person, a late coming out queer (I actually outed myself on Channel 31 BentTV) as an ENBY-femme and gray asexual (I can hear some of you opening a Google tab…).

It’s not catharsis either, as some cynics have said to me.  It’s about me OWNING who I am and poking fun at world that dictates to us who we should be.  Plus I think the performance world is changing.  We are challenging non-disabled actors playing disabled parts.  We want real. That’s a good thing, not something to be cynically given a clinical label to.

There is part education though.  A fellow comedian once said “your comedy is like a TED talk, only funnier”.  I will take that.  That’s fine with me.

haresandhyenasmargotfink
Performing out and proud for “Wear it Purple” event at Hares and Hyenas – Produced by Teddy Darling. Photo by Margot Fink. Image description: Jacci standing on stage, arms raised, mid parody song, dressed in black with pride striped rainbow socks.

But putting my foot on stage for the first time prompted a wave of personal change for the better, but often through tumultuous times, like I never expected.

The mask has broken.  I am me on stage and increasingly more so than ever – off stage.

The comedy journey has been harsh and hilarious and helpful.  Sorry about the alliterations, it’s one of my autie quirks.

I refuse to do the low hanging fruit of comedy.  I aim to “punch up not punch down”, critiquing systems and the language of bigotry and prejudice.  If some think attacking bigotry and prejudice is punching down – then Google “false equivalence”.

So through four years or so of dabbling in comedy and several large-ish productions that I have written, produced and performed in (including the recent Melbourne Fringe opening night variety showcase “Tickets on Myself“).

A couple of thoughts why performance has set me free:

  1. Somewhat paradoxically, the opportunity to lie on stage (which I chose not to take) freed me of expectations to be other than myself.  Yep, you read that right.  Whilst I have never been described as fake, suddenly I was presented with something that I realised I had been doing all my life – and no longer wanted to do.  To stop lying to myself about who I was (we call this masking as a survival technique for Autistic people, but it’s nearly always harmful to us) and be myself.
  2. The influence of some amazing performers I have met along with way who are completely comfortable with who they are.  Some of these people are big names, some are not.  But none of them subscribe to “fake it until you make it”.  They ascribe to developing confidence, self-belief and bravery, which is something quite different, in my humble opinion.

Up until six months ago I was scared.  Recently I have found that holding the stage made me brave. So I went all out and revealed my true self. And it feels fucking marvellous.  

I need to give the incredible Nelly Thomas a huge shout out.  You may remember my post about her new book about neurodiversity, Some Brains. I was very privileged to have her as my Melbourne Fringe Navigate Program mentor.

The weekend before Tickets on Myself, she reminded and encouraged that me I only had one job – to bring joy.

And I did.  I hope I made you proud Nelly.  Thank you – you believing in me still makes me tear up (in a good way).

Finally, I remember being in this massive t-shirt market in Guiyang in China in 2014.  There was a wall covered in hundreds of the one t-shirt slogan, “Be Yourself”.  I remember it made me laugh heartily out loud.

The irony was here were mass produced t-shirt proclamations were telling us something the world least expects of us.

Because if the world did give us permission to fully be ourselves, the t-shirt industry would go broke.

After the world stripped me of the safety to be me, the comedy stage gave me myself back.  There is no going back now and that’s a beautiful thing.

I hope everyone puts down the t-shirt slogan and finds their own personal comedy stage, figuratively and literally, to be who they are, not what the world expects them to be.

A poem about tea

I think it’s become important to me,

To find someone to bring me a cup of tea.

I think I’ve been feeling it seems impossible,

I can be quite particular and somewhat incorrigible.

I don’t mean just any old cup of tea,

I mean tea served because it’s served to me.

I don’t feel like this very often at all,

Except when life’s challenges seem an order tall.

Is it fair to want someone to share the burdens of life?

But honestly I mean good times as well as strife.

Maybe I’ve been alone now for way too long,

And I’m awfully afraid I will get it terribly wrong.

Also, it seems I have issues with the want of time,

I don’t allocate any to the subject of this rhyme!

If tea is a metaphor for love and love for me,

Then I don’t drink tea very often you see,

And maybe I’ll never find the right blend for me.

Medicalised violence and the experience of being Autistic

I wrote this a while back and haven’t posted it until now. Today it’s probably apt to post. I work hard to manage sensory issues as an autistic person.

When several life stressors happen at once I cannot cope as a result. I cannot turn this experience off. It’s constant. I need help, even if you think I can manage something – stressors in succession or together is the exception. I may be able to if I haven’t had much sensory overload, but now I live in a city, that’s rare.

This is the disability some people like to tell me I don’t have because they think if I manage it I either don’t have it or are not disabled. Just because I “manage” it doesn’t mean it’s not a struggle. This is the disabling bit. The worst thing about stigma is people not believing autistic experience.

Sometimes the medical profession is guilty of this.

Some non-autistic people will be able to relate to aspects, but that doesn’t mean “everyone is a little bit autistic” because that’s simply not true (and another post entirely).

I didn’t talk about this for many years – why? Here’s some examples why:

1. Optometrists would recommend more tests. I see sound and I would struggle to describe what I see and how it manifests. Now the best description I use is “ it is like a watercolour brush with not enough colour (almost translucent but like light through a stained glass window) has been waved around people and objects”.

This can be a pleasant or horrible experience and it’s difficult to predict. It’s part of my experience of Synesthesia

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia

2. I have differences taste reactions to some surfaces that I come into contact with (including clothes). A lot of things give me an acrid taste in my mouth like diabetics may experience. I’ve had at least 20 tests for diabetes because I’ve mentioned this. You get a bunch of blood tests and fasting and sugar tests – all unnecessary.

3. Psychiatric responses to my hearing hyperacuity. I hear everything, all the time. But some sounds are soothing and others physically hurt. It depends on how saturated I’ve been over time and the complexity of noise. Generally though things like trains and traffic are okay – almost soothing. People noise in shopping centres and milling around in the apartment above – not pleasant at all. After a while of complex noise I start to shutdown and it can lead to a meltdown. It’s not a mental health condition that causes this, the sensory stimulus is the cause.

Meltdowns are not panic attacks, but this was the medical response. I’ve been medicated when I didn’t need it and hospitalised when I didn’t need it.

Hospital environments are sensory hell for me.

This is why we mask (or hide it or fake as some cruel people like to say). See this:

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/sep/13/women-better-than-men-at-disguising-autism-symptoms

Because when we talk honestly we are punished for what we experience repeatedly under the guise of “do no harm” of the medical model.

This is something I call “medicalised violence”. I am not saying the medical profession is consciously doing this. Not at all.

But treating people as the sum of their parts and not the whole has failed to detect things like synesthesia (and autism).

There’s bunches of scholars who’ve written about the medicalisation of experience (and I first learned about it at uni during a bioethics course). I won’t go to another doctor (yes, these happened) who says things like “you have anxiety you can’t be autistic” or “do you feel emotion?” or “you don’t look autistic” and recites other myths. I have no reservations about leaving a doctors office and not coming back anymore, because frankly, I’ve had more than enough of my fair share of ignorance.

Microaggressions add up to be little t trauma and spill out into big T trauma over our lifetimes. Make no mistake about it.

So, I won’t be quiet about this anymore. It’s “not playing the disability card”, it’s about accessibility and my right to exist on my terms – not the terms of someone else. Silence is not an option (and for me it literally isn’t – I’ll never really experience it, my brain can not filter noise). Social change is rarely quiet.

*note: I will defend a good doctor to the end of time. But the issues around the doctor/patient power relations are well documented and discussed.

I don’t want to be inspiration porn

I’m writing this tonight because I am absolutely desperately over the struggle to keep myself safely and accessibly housed.

7 years ago I fell apart and had a complete physical and mental breakdown, lost my business (which I sold my home to create with the profit), my savings and all of my super trying to get well.  Because I thought I could push myself beyond my health and disability issues.  Because I thought I was inspiration porn.

This last year was the first year I felt hope again. All my wage went into setting up a house again after moving to Melbourne with my own basic things (really cheaply I add) and I felt proud of myself. My own washing machine, my own couch.

I’m Autistic (level 2 needing significant support). I have pin and plates and staples in both legs that hurt like hell every day. I don’t medicate.  I should use a cane, but I don’t feel quite there yet, I want to carry on without for a bit more (I am okay about canes, but it just feels like another thing to cope with).

I have Hashimoto’s which leaves me aching all over. I have a form of secondary hypertension caused by an old brain injury that causes all manner of problems, particularly when tired and stressed.  I can have a stroke really easily if not careful.

Being in secure housing is important as a result.  I was reassured over and over my tenancy was safe, including as recently as July.  This is my 14th move in ten years, including three interstate and one overseas move. Chasing work, chasing some security again.

I spent $8000 I saved of my wage this year so I could get a service dog (including full Autism assessments that I can’t get on Medicare) and Pepper has literally saved my life this year.  Because it’s also been really hard. I look at her and what she does for me and what I do for her (she’s a rescue) and I want to keep going.

In September I put on a Melbourne Fringe show that cost me the my savings because I wanted to establish a show for featuring difference and pride. I’m exceptionally proud of it, but the cost has been too much.  An integral feature of that was livestreaming, but a bunch of shit went wrong and it was all for nothing.  Not accessible as I had planned.

I focussed on the positive and the rest of the production, but the whole point to me was ACCESSIBILITY for neuro-diverse audiences.  I did have a plan for the cost blow out if it all went wrong.  I had  a plan for the next three months, or so I thought.

And just after that financial blow I got my last loan to pay living costs eaten up by production and some vets bills.

I hate asking for help.  Because I do so much in the world and push myself to keep working and not be on a pension, to keep doing what I love that people go silent when I do ask for help.

I can’t bail myself out of the situation I am in now, I am just as exhausted as I was 7 years ago and just as unwell.

I know there are people who know me who know I help others as much as I can.  I’ve been known to give my last $50 bucks and eat noodles for a week.  I’ve done this so far this year too.

Then the landlord decides he needs to move back in and can give me only 60 days notice, literally the day after the Fringe event and I get the letter last Tuesday night a few days later.  No notice.

I now have to go through an adversarial system to even be able to say “I’m disabled, I need longer and I need help to move”.  And that kind of thing is pretty hard on this brain and body.

I start my first permanent job and first real hope for future security I’ve had in ten years on October 2.

But I am going to be scratching to try and stay housed and I hope I can perform without getting so unwell I end up in hospital.

60 days for me is, well, devastating and at the moment, incredibly difficult and although I have survived worse, including a recent sexual assault in 2018, I can’t often feel when I am breaking until I am.

I live alone so I can work.  I can’t live with others and work for longer than a few weeks.  I simply can’t handle a busy household of people and the sensory overload I experience. Not for long anyway.

People tell me how amazing I am.  Except when I need help.  Then it’s just “sorry I can’t help” or silence.

As an autistic person I don’t notice how much I am breaking until I hit the floor. Or end up like I am now, with bruised arms from a self-harming meltdown. I try my best and one strategy has been to ask for help of late.

I’m tired of a world that only sees me as inspiration porn.  I’m more than that.

I’ve been trying to get an advocate.  I am struggling to keep self-harming meltdowns at bay.  Last week I got half way to a suicide attempt and Pepper prevented that.  Pepper and her leaning into me and her gently herding me around – stopped me.

I am more than currently aware I am nothing more than inspiration porn.  That funny person in a vulva suit on stage.  Who gets up there even though it hurts her and even though, from a sensory and anxiety perspective, getting up there is hard to do.

I get up there because I like to make people laugh.  When people laugh at me I feel worthwhile.

It makes me feel alive and for a while I move beyond the pain I feel every second of every day.  That feeling, and Pepper the Greyhound keep me alive.

I am so close to recovering from 2012, but it’s been hard slog with major health issues, largely on my own, no family to share costs with.

But at the moment me, this object of inspiration porn, again needs help. Again? I hear some mutter? Yes, it’s constant this disability thing.

Some people who’ve helped before remind me what they did for me last.  Going on this example, I was thinking that I should go back to that student in the street I bought a pie and coffee for because they were upset and remind them of that.

Some people will always remind me of how they helped and how grateful I should be.  This is how we treat people with invisible disabilities, like they are complaining again.

Others just keep on helping and I am so grateful to them.  The truth is I am grateful and I do my best.  My best in the world is how I can give back. Or I help someone else.  Pay it forward.

But please stop telling me I am amazing.  If you want to help…maybe help me  write an email for me, or offer me a meal or ask to make a phone call for me. Or help me get a advocate.

Maybe just talk to me and remind me of some adventure you went on or ask me about my favourite adventure. Maybe try and make me laugh.

Maybe remind me why I should stay on this earth. I’ve got a fundraiser going and I understand people may not be able to help financially.  But there are other ways.

Don’t send me links to Lifeline or “have you tried <insert services that are so overburdened and underfunded I can’t access them>” (that’s the majority by the way).

I can guarantee I’m trying those avenues as are many trying to access disability and advocacy services in the current political environment.

Trust me, I wish I could step out of this crap meat suit (including the brain that everyone admires) and start again.  My life expectancy is way less than everyone else.  I just want to give my best shot while I can.  Fairer fucking tenancy laws would help.

I am here, but it’s only by a thread at the moment. A shiny fucking inspirational thread.

#Somekidsbooks are life changing

This post is a repeat of a letter I wrote to author Nelly Thomas and illustrator Cat McInnes about the book I received in the mail on the 14th August 2019.  A book called “Some Brains” that it seems I really had been waiting 48 years for…

Dear Nelly and Cat,

The poor postman thought he was being mugged. I heard him open the gate (from some distance away I might add). My service dog Pepper, whose been super chill all morning, leapt to her feet and scooted with me to the door, sensing something big was happening.

Some+Brains+Cover_smallI chatted to the postman and opened it in front of him, and out popped the colourful cover of Some Brains. Pepper decided to comfort the postman, cause he seemed surprised at the excitement over a book. I was working from home today, so I went and sat in the quiet of my bedroom and poured over the pages.

Pepper knows that if I cry, she is to comfort me. But today she recognised the tears streaming down my face were tears not in need of comfort. They were tears of absolute relief.

Relief that FINALLY a depiction of neurodiverse kids is so clear and so positive.
My childhood was not filled with such messages. It was filled with trying to make me fit societal structures that didn’t fit me and the resulting psychological and physical pain and discomfort. I’ve struggled to be myself until my mid 40’s. But now my voice is louder than ever and the neurodiversity movement is responsible for helping me to find that voice.

This book will fundamentally change lives. It has just fundamentally changed mine for the better and it’s only been in my possession less than an hour.

Thank you!
With enormous respect and love,
Jacci

*folks – check out SOME KIDS BOOKS for how to get a copy of “Some Brains
#neurodiversity
#actuallyautistic

Costuming for Change

I have a new costume project that I am very excited about; creating another vulva costume, this time for Khadija Gbla, speaker, advocate, cross-cultural facilitator and consultant.

Her Ted talk (see link below) is change-making at its greatest, shifting from humour to powerful narrative about the realities of female genital mutilation (FGM).  Upon just looking at the title of this talk, the audience awaits a journey they were not expecting to make. Khadija makes the conversation accessible to many who wouldn’t normally be brave enough to listen. I strongly recommend you take a deep breath and watch it before you read on.

We were lucky enough to meet at a work function recently and a colleague brought us together and mentioned I wear a costume I call the “four-foot velvet vulva” on stage. Khadija and I chatted and she asked me to make a version of it for her to physically demonstrate the types of FGM.

I feel very honoured to be able to create this costume. I found myself seated in the comfort of my home the night of that conversation, shedding quiet tears.

I do social justice comedy. I mock systems of oppression. To be asked to make this for Khadija will forever remain a highlight of my life.

The new costume will be more anatomically accurate with some “cartoon” aspects – bright colours to represent the fact that vulvas comes in a huge range of colours, shapes and sizes and all could be subjected to FGM.

Most representations of vulva’s and vaginas typically restrict the viewer’s choices for thought beyond clinical or sexualised ideas. Most representations enforce arbitrary social ideas about what is desirable, acceptable or appropriate for the female body.  Female bodies are the objects and targets of oppression of which FGM is an example. *Please, before anyone yells sexism, I am aware of the issues around topics like circumcision for men, but this post is not about that. I am sure there are great posts about that, so please, “what about” somewhere else. Or even better, write me a strong post about it and I will re-share it on social media.

I want to take a moment to explain how I came to wear my costume and what my interactions with the awesome Khadija mean to me.

I wear my costume because it starts conversations about bodies and how old-world ideas about bodies hurt people (to all of us, regardless of our background). For me, the vulva is no more offensive than an ear lobe.

Centuries of old ideas about female bodies have taught us to apply layers of “controversy” upon representations of reproductive anatomy. You can cause outrage by casually featuring a vulva costume as just another body part; because by doing so you feature how morally and ethically obscure that old controversy is.

When I wear the vulva costume, I am talking about gendered double standards, not sex. I am talking about the ridiculous and non-sensical ideas applied to those of us who have vulva’s through time and how we can work to change those ideas.

I made my first vulva costume in 2016 after a student I had once taught at university sent me a topic idea for an essay they wanted my comment on. It contained references to what was becoming the world’s fastest growing plastic surgery.

Labiaplasty. Sometimes called “the designer vagina” (despite the inaccuracies of the label). Regarding my reference to ear lobes as neutral, we do modify ear lobes, but that’s more like decoration and a visible expression of self and not as gendered or forced in application.  *Another disclaimer about necessary nuance: There’s an argument that this is for the psychological well-being and medical surgical interventions can be an exception. I also support trans women’s right to access reassignment surgical outcomes.  But there are also arguments about trans people feeling forced, coerced or denied reassignment surgery with associated threats about not being considered “real” women that cause harm.  That is another example of gendered oppression. The issue I’m discussing here is not one of genuine surgical choice or need, it’s to what extent the definition of FGM is considered a choice for some and not for others and how this benefits oppression, not change.

Vulva’s and vaginas are racialized in most FGM arguments.

While white liberal feminism has jumped up and down about FGM in women of colour, when white women buy (literally a billion-dollar industry) into designer vaginas – there’s virtual silence. In an intersectional feminist view, we are not jumping up and down as much as we should be, because some of us like to think that white culture wouldn’t be capable of FGM, but I beg to differ.

In the white western cultural context, when you discover females as young as nine are concerned their vulvas are ugly and wanting labiaplasty, that’s not anything resembling choice. White culture has gone from being afraid to look between a female bodies legs to not looking unless it’s “pretty” to look at, but it’s misogynistic pendulum either way.

It’s almost ignored that FGM has a similar white cultural history across the globe (take Victorian England for example) and still occurs in some white fundamentalist Christian families.  Add to this long traditions of post-childbirth “Daddy stitching” practices and brutal “cures” for women’s health issues. But still racialized arguments about modification vs. mutilation prevail.

My mother had a vaginal prolapse repaired in the 1980’s by a surgeon who made comments about tightening her vagina for her husband’s pleasure (but definitely not hers, he made it clear sex would be painful as a “side effect”).  By the way, the all too common side effects of labiaplasty are very similar to FGM including painful sex and scarring.

Body modification for the west, mutilation for the rest? There’s a whole new level of bizarre privilege right there in the thinking that FGM is just an issue for women of colour. FGM is an issue across the globe.  Plastic surgery can be more like mutilation for conforming to gendered sexual and social pressures, co-opting body modification empowerment language to make it more acceptable.

The double, and racially vilifying, standards are all too present. White folk, we are not more civilised, we’ve simply hidden it or made an industry out of FGM.

Who benefits? Not women, that’s for sure. But it sure seems to be promoted and supported largely by white male (and wealthy) plastic surgeons. Do a google search.

The idea that because you paid a lot for it, that it is then a choice, is utterly terrifying and, simultaneously a twisted privileged concept. In the designer vagina example, “empowering” woman under the age of 16 to seek plastic surgery, because a plastic surgeon says there are psychological and social benefits, is no better.

I will bring this back to Khadija discussing her mother’s generation and the idea an empowered woman was made through the forced mutilation of Khadija’s body.

Some like to argue a degrees of choice argument or the old patriarchal bargain spin.  But whether forced when very young or convinced by plastic surgeons; when something is done to you because of an expectation that you can’t be socially and/or sexually acceptable without it, that is not choice.  Pretending that it is choice, because you paid for it, is neither choice nor empowered and certainly isn’t a bargain either.

Learning to be okay with however your body is and proud of it, even when things are done to it by others without our consent – can be an act of resistance and empowering. Sometimes carrying our scars as testimonies to our survival is the one choice, the one choice we may be able to make.

If you come from a position of privilege where you may still choose to modify your body,  choices from that position are fundamentally different and can be acts of expression of self (like a tattoo or ear lobe stretching).   They will be your choice, not someone else’s choice inflicted upon you to reduce you to only a sexually acceptable object.

That is why I am so honoured to be able to make this costume for Khadija. These conversations need to be public, honest, forthright.

Keep watching for posts – I’ll update here as the costume progresses.

Gossip has different forms. Can you tell the difference?

I actually have a formula for measuring gossip.  Yep.  You read that right.

Despite what you might have heard, gossip is not always bad (ha! see what I did there?). Gossip has been a way to bond for humanity and it’s what we do to connect.  It’s might be good to know you both admire Nicole Kidman’s movies but dislike her choices in men (or underwear or whatever).  If you don’t gossip it can be socially isolating and trust me this I know because I went through a period where I refused to engage because I didn’t get it.  But just as there is positive gossip, or what I call bonding gossip, there is negative gossip, something I will call malicious gossip.  These are my labels that I use to help myself deal with gossip.

As an Autistic person (this is the language for myself I prefer) I am very prone to getting “sucked in” to peoples conversations and getting stuck there. It’s no secret that that spectrum folk may engage in a conversation armed with their handy bag of small talk scripts they’ve learned or been taught as part of the mask used to fit in. But masking is not healthy for us, can cause us physical and psychological harm. The effort spent trying to see an endgame of small talk can be damaging to our different communication style that is hard wired to our unique operating system. Gossip is an example of small talk spectrum folk may struggle with, but apparently so do a lot of the rest of the population.

We may end up stuck in repeat conversations that make us uncomfortable and take too long to see malicious gossip, desperately trying to take the conversation somewhere else.  What can happen is that the person with malicious intent then sees me as an ally and I can end up with a sort of communication Stockholm syndrome.  Now in my late 40’s, I’ve ended ten year friendships in my late thirties that I reflect upon with utter shock that I stayed that long.  I don’t get the need for small talk or gossip intended to deceive in conversation to impress or for status, those of us on the spectrum prefer honesty and our conversations are content or topic driven, not connection driven.  We take a long time to connect and can get trapped with people around us we don’t really need nor want in our lives.

This is part of the reason why we might find ourselves hurt by false friendships, particularly as young people (“the hate and mate syndrome” – manipulated and hurt by friends), which is perceived as “running with the wrong crowd” while we really are being abused and manipulated. I’m not going into the how’s and why’s of this right now. For the moment, you’ll have to trust me (or click the links and do that emotional labour and educate yourself). And if you have that myth about no empathy and autism on the tip of your tongue…here…that link just there explains it nicely! We have bucket-loads of affective and compassionate empathy and yep…see that above again…

The key thing is that while neurotypical (NT) people might brush it off, we will process it differently and it will impact us more (leading to issues like shut down and burn out).  I often take until the sixth uncomfortable conversation to realise this person is going to keep malicious gossip up…and that they are not just needing support to deal with a difficult situation.  I don’t actually see the point of gossip and don’t enjoy it all, but I now recognise people use it to bond or divide and conquer, and perhaps a little in between.

I personally prefer interesting world history discussions, but there you have it.

I frequently use counselling to gain new conversation scripts as I get older and recently found that my counsellor benefitted from how I had come to understand gossip and encouraged me to write this post.  So here goes!

But first some geometry (of sorts!)…

Gossip is a form of triangulation.  Which canKarpman-Drama-Triangle-How-to-STOP-the-Drama1 be either bad or good.  A goes to talk to C to discuss B about an issue.

In conflict resolution triangulation is seen as a major cause of conflict when the A, B, C become the roles of persecutor, victim and rescuer and a cycle of drama ensues.

Yet the cycle can be broken by changing the dynamic of the triangle.  The Karpman drama triangle models present ways to do that.

I need to point out that the person A may genuinely need help to advocate for themselves – but the important thing is to break the cycle with any advocacy.   The Karpman model is something I constantly refer to in regard to malicious gossip.

A formula for measuring gossip

So at some point in my life I realised listening to the drama of malicious gossip too long was hurting me and I took actions to change the circle of people around me.  I knew that I often don’t read the intent of lies and manipulation until further into an interaction and I need a non-emotional logical way of measuring “gossip” that people might present me with.  I can boldly say I don’t have people who use malicious gossip around me now and life has never been better.

I use a formula to measure malicious intent.

Proximity (P) + negative content (N) = Malicious Gossip Rating (MGR).

Each is measured out of a possible score of ten and the total out of twenty is the GR.  The higher the gossip rating the more I avoid it or invoke the Karpman Drama Triangle.

Generally a score of over ten out of twenty invokes the Karpman interventions!  Or I just stop associating with the gossiper.

High scores in proximity means the person the gossip targets is close at hand, like a colleague or friend that both of you know well and this may be the time you question why they haven’t raised what they are with you – with the person themselves.  Similarly the more negative the content the higher the scores.

Higher scores mean…use questions about why and maybe use the Karpman drama techniques.  Or run the hell away if you can.

The score decreases as the distance between people increases and as the content is more like fluffy bunnies or helpful conversations or general chit chat.  Because let’s face it, a conversation about Drew Barrymore’s shoe choices from someone in Australia is not going to hurt anyone.  Well I hope not. I suppose it could if you were committed to copying her shoe choices…but I digress…

And lower negative content scores with high proximity might have touches of issues and choices and ways to care for one another that can’t be had with the person in someone seeking support.

Here’s a handy chart as to what it looks like.  It probably best tells the story!  All of these is obvious for some people, but not me. And over the years this was my Dr Spock logic for it. It helps me stick around positive, kind people and stay away from nasty drama.

MGR formula