Tuesday, May 13, 2014

New York City- An Aspie's Paradise

If anybody were to ask me about the perfect place for a person with Asperger's Syndrome to live, my answer would be very simple: New York City. 

Why New York City?, you ask. Isn't it too crowded and overwhelming for people with sensory issues? Yes, but not everybody with Asperger's Syndrome has those issues. In fact, a good portion of them-- including me-- don't. And just to clarify, for many of us (me, at any rate) our discomfort with crowds is not about simply being around large numbers of people, but expecting to interact with them, all at the same time. For as long as I can remember, people have told me that I'm great in one-on-one or small group situations, but not so great in large group situations, such as parties. In fact, at parties, I usually befriend one or two people and go off in a corner with them to talk. Or if I need some break time, I just sit in the corner and draw. Asking someone with Asperger's Syndrome to enjoy large social groups is like asking a Catholic nun to be John F. Kennedy. 

But enough of that tangent, on with my endorsement of New York City as an Aspie's paradise. I lived in New York City for 13 1/2 years and for me it was incredibly easy to to forget that I had a condition that many regard as a disability (someone I met online who moved there from Maine for about a year made the same comment). Why? The answer is simple, I think. New York City is as diverse a city as you can get. There are all kinds of people who live there. I don't mean people of different ethnic backgrounds or even people from different religious affiliations (though there are those too). There are people with such a wide variety of temperaments and personalities, much more than I've seen anywhere else. I live in Boston now (long story), and while it's diverse enough that I feel comfortable, it's not quite the same as New York. Hell, a ride on the subways in each city will give you the idea of what I'm talking about.

You go to the F line in Brooklyn, for example. You wait in a small line to get through the turn style during rush hour. Someone can't find their Metrocard, and the person behind them butts in front of them. Typical New York impatience, but that's okay Everyone is used to it. You get on the train, heading for Manhattan. Five minutes in, someone gets on and starts screaming about Jesus and end times. A few minutes later, someone else begs for money. At the first stop in Manhattan, a group of guys gets on and does a wild performance for money, complete with back flips. Later, a man comes in dressed as a clown and does the nail-in-the-nose bit, also for money. As all these colorful people continue to board the train, you look around at everyone riding the subway. Some are trying to read and can't concentrate with all the noise. They roll their eyes. Others have a good laugh. Others still are ambivalent. In terms of the panhandler, many feel sorry for him and give him money. Trips on the New York City subway are never dull. And did I mention that the people who are riding the subway also have a variety of temperaments? Of course! Otherwise there wouldn't be such a wide variety of reactions!

We all know the stereotype, too, of there being a ton of crazy people in New York City. That said, I think it's also easier for the average person there to put things into perspective. Whereas a quirky behavior by someone with Asperger's might be viewed as "weird" or "scary" elsewhere, it might simply be viewed as "quirky" or even just part of the patchwork of personalities in New York City. With so many people acting unusual, it's just a lot easier to see the difference between "quirky" and "crazy". Plus, there are a lot of organizations that make it easier to find and make friends. There is the GLBTQIA center on 23rd Street, for example. How about the Asperger's support groups? Or groups for atheists? New York is also a place where I met a lot of polyamorous people (I'm not inclined that way, but my point is that New York is just very accepting of that kind of openness). And New York Public Library even hosts what's called an Anti-Prom, a prom for GLBTQIA teens. I suspect that New York might be the only major American city whose library would host such an event (except for San Francisco and, possibly, Chicago). You know all the stories about libraries being blackmailed by the religious right.

As for Boston? Well, there aren't lines for the subways, and in the six months that I've been here I saw a total of one solicitor and one "crazy person" on the trains. There's just not the daily exposure to oddness that there is in New York. Again, I think Boston is pretty accepting but I don't think in the same way that New York is. I don't know if, for example, the library would host an openly GLBTQIA prom. It just isn't nearly as diverse and I think Boston has somewhat more of a religious hold. But again, let's put this in perspective. Last year I lived in a small rural town in Maine for about five months. I hated it. It was homogenous-- lots of white, Christian people. Very, very few Jews, let alone those with any other religious background. And as for atheists? I'm sure they were in the closet along with the gays who live there. In fact, to meet interesting people I had to drive to Portland-- 75 miles each way. Everybody who was my age in the town in which I lived was married and had 2.5 kids. At one point, I posted on my Facebook status, "I miss NYC so much it hurts." It did hurt. I did not feel welcome, and I felt like many people thought there was something wrong with me. I did not feel that way in New York at all. As I said, in Boston I feel welcome, but let's just say that it's slightly easier for me to remember that I have Asperger's Syndrome, something many people regard as a disability.

So fellow Aspies, go to New York. It truly is an amazing city.

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