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So... this is something we don't talk about a lot, but it's not a secret if anyone asks us about it. Basically, we've been involved in fandom pretty much since we got online. Actually it was one of the first things we sought out; the first place we started going to regularly online was a Star Trek chatroom. We used it and other, similar places and messageboards to really start getting the hang of the whole "using words for communication" thing. There was still a lot of echolalia and (somewhat embarassingly, in retrospect) varying amounts of chatspeak dumped into it, if only because we were imitating what we saw others saying, and filters preventing us from saying certain things or in certain ways.

But there was this point at which we started having this feeling we couldn't understand or put into words, this realization that this was what it actually felt like to use words to communicate with other people, and that maybe this was how it actually felt for other people all the time.

Anyway. Cutting this short because there seems to be a limit on how much we can go into detail tonight, basically, for several years, we used fandom to help teach ourselves how to use language for communication with others. (We had expressive language back then that other people thought was communicative and meaningful, but very little of it actually was. Even if it made sense on the surface most of it did not reflect our real thoughts and emotions. This isn't uncommon with autistic people, don't want to/can't go into the details of how it worked, other people have written about it better than we can.)

And overall, it was a hell of a lot more helpful than any kind of ABA program or anything would have been. Instead of being taught to repeat phrases that had little relation to anything in our head, we were trying to use words to build a picture, even if a clumsy one, that looked sort of like what was going on inside our head. Instead of getting "rewards" of M&Ms and stickers, we got... people who liked us and seemed to want to communicate back with us and really be our friends. (We did seem to have some kind of limit that we didn't know how to interpret, where with rare exceptions we couldn't talk to one person for too long without feeling overwhelmed, and since we didn't understand that we had a social overload limit both online and off, we beat up on ourselves mentally because we thought if we got overloaded during an online conversation, we were "being a bad friend." Since we'd been taught all kinds of nasty lies and misinterpretations about what overload was, we thought any feelings of overload during a conversation meant we didn't care and were bad friends, and would beat up on ourselves for it. Suck on that, Simon Baron-Cohen. :p)

It was not all sunshine and roses, obviously. We ran into various bullies, flamers, trolls and manipulators. We figured out that the Internet was not the safe refuge from bullying we'd thought it was. (Although I am still infinitely glad that we discovered it as a teenager sixteen years ago, rather than being a teenager on the modern Internet, since we thought we were undiscoverable online and would go around giving all sorts of details of our life without any sense that we should draw some privacy boundaries somewhere. Back then, it was relatively unlikely that we'd run into any of our offline bullies from school. Nowadays the offline bullies would likely have tracked us down and continued their bullying online, finding more people to pull into it.)

We ran into people who were seething with hate and wanting to hurt others, for reasons we still can't understand. We were pretty naive about who was and was not our friend. When we started to have problems on one Usenet group, it took trolls flaming us literally every time we posted anything, to convince us that we shouldn't stay there. There were a lot of lessons about people we wish we hadn't had to learn in ways like that.

But anyway, so, fandom. We wrote some fanfics, a lot of which we're somewhat embarassed about now, not because we "think our ideas were stupid," as some people have interpreted it, but because in a lot of them we were basically just... bashing around echolalia to come up with this sort of purplish prose. There's something about people seeing our echolalia stripped bare that makes us, nowadays, feel kind of stripped naked and invaded. Like someone had filmed us on the toilet or something. And in some cases that's what echolalia is. It's basically... word poop coming out of you, digested and broken-up parts of language that you took in.

Even after we stopped being public with our fanfic, though, we still continued to read others', on and off. And we still do sometimes. And a lot of it is bad, yeah, and a lot of what's popular is (in our opinion) overrated, but we do find some out there that we like.

If you read a certain amount of fanfic, you get to be familiar with all the cliche plot devices. All the fanon and AUs and various cliche types. And... well, today we were reading something on Tumblr asking why people were interested in exploring old abandoned institutions. Which is something we don't understand either, even as admitted urban explorers when we can do so safely. (Somewhere we have a bunch of pictures from an old boarded-up motel that we found a way into.)

Which kind of tied together with some thoughts about fanfiction in our head tonight, and there's also something we can't figure out, in the "why would anybody want to do this" sense: writing AU fanfiction that puts the characters in mental institutions, if that wasn't part of the original story.

There's a subtype of it that we understand even less. Which we wish we could just... I don't say this about many things, but we wish we could just somehow stop it from being written forever, we hate it that much. Which is mental institution fanfics, or hospital fanfics, where a character "wakes up" and is told that everything they thought was their life was a delusion, or a dream they had while they were in a coma, and that they now have to "face their real life" and accept that what they thought was their life was a delusion/dream/etc.

Seriously, I think I can get closer to understanding why someone would explore abandoned institutions than to understanding why someone would write fic like this. Why? Seriously, why? It's not even just that we don't understand it, it's that even seeing summaries of it can trigger the crap out of us under some conditions. We even deal with "multiple personality killer" fanfics better than we deal with that plot, unless they end in a character being told "you invented this personality because you couldn't cope with your life, you have to accept that they're not real/just a part of you."

(And by the way, this is not some sort of official call for everyone to go and add mental institution fic to some official list of things that need to be trigger-warned for, or to dogpile on anyone for writing it, no matter how we react to the fic itself. In fact, we'd feel really uncomfortable if anyone did try to do that on the basis of this post. Like the author of that Tumblr post, we have some heavily considered reasons for not using trigger warnings most of the time, that do not have anything to do with wanting an excuse to be an asshole or thinking everyone needs to suck it up and deal or that they're "too politically correct" or anything like that. We may warn people that something has content that a lot of people tend to find upsetting, or that we personally find upsetting, but we don't keep some official list of them lying around.)

But... seriously. Why do people write this type of fic? I remember the first time we found a fic with that plot, we couldn't finish it and started crying, against our will-- not because we found it "touching," but because it was making us freak out. Because of years of having our reality fucked with by people who told us we were coping mechanisms, parts of an original, better person. Because of therapists who did things like encourage us to develop the "safe places inside us" in great detail and let us start to think we were free to interact in them with their approval, only to turn around and pull it out from under us and basically say "okay, your nice coping mechanism has served its purpose, you don't need it any more, now it's time to rejoin the rest of the world and put all your pieces together to become the original you again." When many of the most important aspects of our life were all taking place in that space.

Because of having our head fucked with in various ways from the time we could communicate at all, being told that things we were experiencing and perceiving weren't real, that we weren't in pain when we were, that we weren't feeling various emotions when we were. Because of abusive people, both in and out of our family, who would gaslight us and tell us that things we'd always had continual recollection of never happened, that we were making them up. Because of running into manipulative bullies who would turn friends against us by telling distorted lies about what we had supposedly done in the past. And all of this covered over with the idea, set in place in childhood, that there was something Not Right about us psychologically, that we should always take others' versions of reality in place of our own when the two conflicted.

Because there were times in our life when all of this stuff brought us to a point where we had such a precarious grasp on our own reality, that at one point, when someone on Usenet thought that we were the sockpuppet of another poster, and a person made a joke post as "us" made to look like it was coming from our email, we actually freaked out and ran around for a while in genuine fear that we might not actually exist. That our entire life really had been another person's fantasy and that we were going to fade away and vanish. And couldn't convince ourselves that this wasn't so until we could get a person we knew offline to post to the newsgroup confirming that we were an actual person (well, we were trying to be a singlet at the time) and not a sockpuppet.

The idea of all of that being... preyed on by someone who thinks it would make a "cool story idea" makes us literally physically nauseous.

So, yeah. I know we can't tell people what to write. I would feel much worse telling people not to write it than just saying it makes us ill. I just... don't understand it. There's something in it that just seems like such a horrible degradation of the character, like the author feels they have to "pull them down" to one of the most horrible states a person can be in, psychologically speaking. Especially if the fic is from a canon where things like magic and stuff do exist, and they're being told they were never part of that world at all, that the world itself was a delusion. Just... no. Do not go there. Do not want to see stories go there, rather.

Even setting it up to subvert it can be incredibly disturbing. There was one Star Trek TNG episode which used this as a plot device, where one character woke up in an institution being told his life had been a lie, but it turned out to be a simulation that he was being trapped in. I remember someone mentioning that episode once as one that you should be really cautious about watching if you've had bad experiences in the psych system. Just seeing those power dynamics, someone having absolute power to dictate your reality, even if they're subverted in the end and the character's "delusion" really is their real life.

So... yeah. We don't understand it. But wanted to rant about it somewhere, so here it is.

-S. and Riel

Possibly Triggery

Date: 2012-04-04 06:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ixaphid.livejournal.com
Hey, I hope this comment doesn't trigger you, but since you posted about that sort of story I wanted to also talk about it some.

Of course most stories involve a character having bad things happen to them. Stories often try to show how a character deals with adversity--usually also how they manage to escape from that situation and defeat it--to show something about who they are on a primal level. More specifically, this kind of story that you talk about tries to show how a character thinks of themself and their identity when their circumstances and beliefs about their life are stripped away. I guess they want to explore "what creates a person's identity?" or "how fragile are identities?" It is definitely a disturbing plot.

There is a tv show I saw once that had one of these plots. I don't want to give any spoilers in case someone actually wants to watch this show, so I'll try to keep it vague. The main character gets put through one of these scenarios that tries to convince them that their life has been a delusion. In the end it turns out the scenario was all a test, to see if they could hold on to the wisdom and confidence that their life had taught them, even if they had no reason to believe that their life had been real.

They were put through this horrible situation by someone they trusted! Someone who supposedly wanted the best for them! And although they were angry when it was all over and their remembered life was restored to them, they eventually accepted it as a necessary test.

I guess the writers of that show had no concept of how abusive such a thing would really be.

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