On the challenges of being a Master with Aspergers

puzzle-160515_640Imagine for a moment that you have difficulties running – perhaps from a permanent disabling injury, perhaps from a birth defect — and your job and home life required you to run. Imagine that nobody can “see” your injury or disability, but it does not permit you to run, easily or at all.

Imagine for a moment that you can’t see several colors or hear specific things, and your entire day is filled dealing with the issues of both understanding the items that use those colors/sounds, and yet nobody can really tell that you can’t see those colors, they just know you don’t understand the whole green/yellow/red light thing.
And imagine that to you, this is the way life should be, the way it makes *sense* – you may feel slightly different, but everything feels “normal” to you – why does everyone else look at you like you have two heads or like you’re the most oddest person in the world?
That’s my life. I have Aspergers.
About 6 years ago, I sat in a room listening to Master Bob Rubel speak about himself and protocol and Master/slave relationships. Prior to launching into his discussion, he spoke a bit about himself and the things he deals with, in that he has Aspergers. He’s very public about it and I’m grateful for that. I spent more time trying to write down what he spoke about in those opening minutes than the rest of the discussion. I was thinking of a family member at the time, not about me.
As a result of his words, about 2 years ago, I went through a process with a family member to help diagnose them for Aspergers. In the process, as I was reading up on the disorder, in reading personal histories and in hearing the clinician explain what was going on with this family member, it was like a veil was lifted from my eyes. My childhood made sense, the struggles I’ve had all my life, the way I’ve always felt out of place, out of sync, at odds with the world around me suddenly made sense. When I spoke with the clinician, he agreed that I could pay the price to be diagnosed, but at the end of the day, it wouldn’t matter. I’d already adjusted as much as I can to be able to navigate life with a reasonable degree of success. I might not meet the diagnostic criteria, but he felt confident that I fall on the spectrum. In my observations since that day, I’d have to agree.
What is Aspergers? It’s a disorder that is autistic in nature. It affects a person’s ability to have social interactions and can have some other symptoms that people see in other autistic conditions. Wikipedia has a good high level overview.
From Wikipedia:“The lack of demonstrated empathy is possibly the most dysfunctional aspect of Asperger syndrome.[2] Individuals with AS experience difficulties in basic elements of social interaction, which may include a failure to develop friendships or to seek shared enjoyments or achievements with others (for example, showing others objects of interest), a lack of social or emotional reciprocity, and impaired nonverbal behaviors in areas such as eye contact, facial expression, posture, and gesture.[1] 

People with AS may not be as withdrawn around others as those with other, more debilitating, forms of autism; they approach others, even if awkwardly. For example, a person with AS may engage in a one-sided, long-winded speech about a favorite topic, while misunderstanding or not recognizing the listener’s feelings or reactions, such as a need for privacy or haste to leave.[8] This social awkwardness has been called “active but odd”.[1] This failure to react appropriately to social interaction may appear as disregard for other people’s feelings, and may come across as insensitive.[8] However, not all individuals with AS will approach others. Some of them may even display selective mutism, speaking not at all to most people and excessively to specific people. Some may choose to talk only to people they like.[29]”

Yea. That’s me to a T. I can’t look at a personal or social interaction like someone who doesn’t have AS (I’m going to refer to them as “you”, because it makes it easier for me to say me and you. You might have AS or a similar condition and therefore you might be me. :> ) You see nuances and the flow of social and personal interactions as something you’ve instinctively picked up and developed. I do not. In a very literal sense, I have a flowchart in my head from having learned/observed similar situations. I say “X” to given situation “ABC”. Does that provide the response that I’ve observed is appropriate for this situation? No? Then go do “Z”, otherwise, continue with “Y”. Wait, they are responding in some new and unknown way. “Abort, Retry, Fail”?

You probably don’t see interactions like that, but I have absolutely ZERO idea how you interpret life. Dating for me? A nightmare. Dealing with kids? Heh. That’s a mystery that I’m not good at. Just walking up to strangers in a bar or on the street and having a reasonably “normal” conversation that you might find effortless? I can do it, but each time it works, I have an internal celebration that “I did it!” because it is a major victory to me. More data for me to learn from. 

It might seem odd that someone who is involved in a Master/slave relationship might also struggle with Aspergers, but there’s some basis in how such a relationship could actually work. From what I’ve researched, AS folks like structure, order and defined protocols. That’s because (normally) social and personal interactions are “messy.” In a Master/slave relationship, the protocol is (usually) well defined between the participants. This simplifies a great deal of the interpersonal nuances because they can be put into “safe” structures. Safe is good, because it means these are systems I can trust to work.

That isn’t always the case, especially with the nuances of communication with my slave. What is the #1 thing we struggle with? Not with communicating itself, but the exact words used. The “what” in the words and sentences, not the meaning. For me, the exact words and sentences ARE the meaning, where for you, you know the nuances and empathy of communicating and saying things.

That’s the weird thing about my AS – in S/m, I “see” the energy of the interactions, so apparently for me, strong sexual or strong psycho-sexual interactions I can understand very well. It’s the “normal” stuff – you know, normal conversation, normal interactions, normal relationships that I struggle with. So it’s not a lack of empathy across the entire relationship or interaction spectrum, but more in the interpersonal/interactions that deal with something outside of a sexual nature.

I’m going to close this for now, because I could probably write a whole metric-crap-ton on how AS and M/s work inside of me, but there’s a bigger message I want to say here…

… for those of you who might feel like I do about social interactions, who might struggle with AS and worry about if you can be a part of an M/s relationship – you can do it.

Every time I walk into the LRA, or into Touche, or to an event or to a social setting, there’s a part of me that gibbers in fear and another part of me recording EVERYTHING so I can try to figure out the best way to navigate what are always turbulent, uncharted waters. To many of you, you don’t see it, although you do see me as an odd duck or just “that’s just Michael”. That’s OK. The fact that I’ve learned about 75% of how to interact gets me through most days and the ones that I struggle with (especially with flirting and striking up “those” kinds of conversations)… well.. I just struggle. But I am of 9 years with a wonderful slave who has been patient and kind and able to work with my aspie very well.

You can do it. It’s hard, but then, trying to navigate what the non-aspies go through with seeming effortlessness is always going to be hard. You just have to learn to run when you can’t, or figure out the colors where you can’t see them. Not an easy task, but somewhere, if you’re attracted to the M/s dynamic, you’ll find it.

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Master Michael S

International Master 2014. Member of: Chicago Leather Club, Chicago Leathermen Group, MAsT: Greater Chicago. Longtime leatherman. One of the Four Horsemen.

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