We all know this trope, right? And can agree that it’s tired, hopefully.
If you’ve been living under a lovely rock for the last couple of decades, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a girl who basically exists to help make sure that the male main character can continue to develop his character in better ways.
She’s different and quirky. She is somewhat naïve and youthful, while also being deep and thoughtful. She is blissfully in her own world and above all of the tragic makings of standard youthful life. Sound familiar? Yeah, it does, because a whole lot of autistic women also fall into this kind of category.
Sweet! Right? Positive association with autistic women and all? Nah, not really. The problem is that this character is a half-assed character that never actually exists as anything except to make the dude better. She’s a fantasy as much as pretty much any other trope commonly seen in the media is a fantasy.
On top of that, she is completely unrealistic, since, you know, she isn’t a full person and pretty much only exists to act as a counterpart to the male lead.
While this trope is, thankfully, mostly dead, the damage has still been done to autistic women everywhere. So many of our peers saw these films with these dream girls and as a result, so many of our male peers began to see these traits as desirable in partners. Doesn’t sound too bad, overall, until you remember that the dream girl isn’t real. She has all of the fun-loving “quirks” of an autistic woman with none of the reality of an autistic woman.
It put so much of a responsibility on the autistic woman to be the magic key that fixes everything that was wrong with the jaded boy without paying any attention at all to the fact that the Manic Pixie has her own issues, and her own troubles and she can’t really afford to be some dude’s everything that pieces him back together.
Hell, I fit this mold so well in my younger life that even I embraced it, despite how much harm it was doing for me. I helped inspire and be the muse for past lovers, pushing them to better themselves and embrace their dreams, all while I was doing drudging crap like working at a Starbucks (which, no shade, I honestly enjoyed) instead of following my own dreams.
It was what I was supposed to do, right? Help my lovers grow into better people?
The problem is that at the end of the day, after helping change view points or follow their dreams, there was hardly any energy left for me. And that’s typically why so many of those relationships were so short lived.. Just like this trope is portrayed on screen. She flits in to make things better and then peaces out when the man can handle things on his own — just the ideal way to make her something worth missing.
Perhaps, it’s why that one line from Rent came to mean something to me:
Life’s too short, babe, time is flying. I’m looking for baggage that goes with mine
I spent so long being “forced” by my lovers into a role that was impossible to play, that I struggled so hard to play, that I had forgotten to take care of my own shit.
Eventually I learned to put up some boundaries, to remember that it’s not possible to be the Manic Pixie because she’s not real. And that my role in life is not to stand quietly (albeit in my own quirky way) behind a man empowering him, but to empower myself and find a love that will be empowered through my own power.
Temperance Brennan is an interesting character, because, of course, like most characters of her era, she is never actually diagnosed with anything. Fans say she is autistic, the creator says that they chose not to diagnose her because they didn’t want any bad mojo to impact the show because of people’s prejudices, and that she based the character off of someone she knew with Aspergers (supposedly, I’m not real hip on following Hollywood or TV news, honestly, but this was sorta what I gathered during some of my research, feel free to correct me if you know better!).
To back up a wee bit, Bones first aired in 2005, and I first watched Bones in probably 2009 or 2010. I was definitely immediately drawn into the entire show because of Temperance Brennan. Never in any show have I ever related to a character half as well as I relate to this lovely character.
Can she be overwhelmingly annoying at times? Hells to the yes. She definitely puts entirely too much emphasis on IQ being almost an actual measurement of a person’s value, which is just incredibly obtuse. But, I’m known to be a little bit of a know it all and don’t always know when to stop talking and when it is really better to just let the mild differences between what someone said and what I think or know to be true just slide on by without saying something, so who am I to talk?
In the early episodes, Temperance is brusque but damned good at her job (the best in the world, as she’d love to remind you). Her inelegancies are more than made up for by the fact that she is literally unmatched by any other forensic anthropologist in the world. And of course she is a beautiful and somewhat naïve woman, albeit very liberal in her views on romantic dalliances.
Throughout the many seasons of Bones, Temperance makes very few good first impressions on anybody (unless, of course, it is men who want to sleep with her, because you know, it looks good on TV). She puts people in their place, corrects them, often bluntly and somewhat rudely. She has no patience for fools or inaccuracies or well, pretty much anything that is irrelevant and takes her time away from doing things that actually matter (like, you know, her job).
Learning about her is a little bit of a love story in and of itself, its a slow burn. You don’t get to know her just by watching one season. You learn that as a teenager she had a special interest in anatomy and would perform dissections in the basement of her high school with road kill and that all of the other kids would bully her for it. She had heaps of family drama and spent some time in foster care (because her dad was on the run.. it’s TV drama y’know).
Over time you get past the prickly exterior and the brusque outer shell and you learn to see the inner workings of a character with an inner wealth of empathy. A woman who has untold depths of empathy for kids who are in foster care and the challenges they face and have to endure. A woman who has to be cold and look at the facts because if she stopped and saw the bones on her table as a person she would never be able to find their killer. A woman who almost never understands her best friend but always stands by and supports her anyway. A woman who comes back multiple times from once in a lifetime anthropological finds to help someone else’s career and who helps save a former intern and friend held hostage in Iraq.
Watching her deal with romance was even more enlightening for me, as it was like holding a mirror to myself. Some things came easily for her, others not so much. Letting down her guard and actually allowing herself to fall in love? That was definitely in the “not-so-easy” camp.
Somewhere in the middle of the seemingly never-ending amount of seasons, Temperance and Booth nearly have their moment for a serious relationship. Booth tells her that he is the gambler and he knows that she is the one and he wants to make this work. Temperance tries to brush it off with a casual, “No, the FBI won’t let us work together” because she doesn’t even know how to process this moment. But Booth won’t let her do that and pushes back and she breaks down and tells him that all of this time he thought she was the one that needed protecting, but the truth is that he is the one that needs protecting — from her.
Special Agent Seeley Booth : Protection from what? Dr. Temperance ‘Bones’ Brennan : From me. I don’t have your kind of open heart.
Bones – “The Parts in the Sum of the Whole” (Season 5 Episode 16)
She’s crying, and I’m crying because I can’t even tell you how much I relate to that line. I remember every single heart I have broken in my time. Each one takes its toll on me, because many of them I didn’t want to break and I don’t know how I did it or any way to prevent it. Breaking them was like breaking a piece of my own heart and each time I would get sick afterward. I started trying to come up with ways to protect people I cared about from myself, because there must be something wrong with me. I had convinced myself for a long time that I must not be worthy of love because it seemed like all I ever wrought was pain.
Over time and throughout the seasons, she slowly opens herself up to the family she created with her friends, the love she wanted but was afraid of, and even to the family she yearned for but felt she didn’t want her (her father and brother). We watch her grow and develop skills that were missing in the early seasons while still keeping her sometimes oafish blunt edge about her.
I’ve basically already written an entire book about Temperance at this point, but there are two more major quotes that I really think that pretty much any autistic person can likely relate to, but I especially do.
After the years of slowly opening herself up to the hurt that other people can (and will) cause her, Temperance realizes that she has grown beyond what she was and how she perceived herself.
For so much of my life my intelligence was all I had. I may not have had a family, but I understood things that nobody else could. My brain, the way I think, is who I am. Who I was.
Temperance Brennan – Bones – “The Final Chapter: The End in the End” (Season 12 Episode 12)
This entire quotation hits me in a way that is hard to explain. For so much of my life if you had asked me what the best thing about myself was or what my strengths were, you would pretty much only get one answer – “I’m smart”. Being smart was pretty much my identity, even though I tried very hard not to rub it in people’s faces (which is hard when you’re a know-it-all-type). And it’s true. I am smart. I have had so many people comment on it, call me smarter than they are, all of that lovely jazz. But it’s not all that I am.
I am extraordinarily compassionate, I am slow to trust and loyal to a fault, I will fight your battles for you when you aren’t sure you are strong enough to fight them anymore. I have a knack for pattern recognition and a fantastic memory, sure, but they aren’t what make me a good mother for my child, they aren’t what make me a good spouse or a good friend.
And, when her father dies, Temperance’s friends are doing kind friend things where they keep trying to check up on her. Lovely people and all.
Angela: How are you? Brennan: Everyone keeps asking me that, I don’t know how to answer that question.
Bones – “The Final Chapter: The Grief and the Girl” (Season 12 Episode 8)
Hearing this quotation, even in the context of the episode honestly made made me laugh because I have pretty much literally answered that exact same thing verbatim in similar types of situations. It’s such a complicated thing to answer in such hard situations but people expect you to be ready with something on the go.
I definitely need time to process everything and I would be much happier if people would just let me do my thing and come back around when I am ready and have processed what I feel (and maybe figured out what I feel) instead of trying to hound me about it.
So there you have it, honestly, probably a bit too in-depth, but it is what it is. I definitely love Temperance Brennan and have spent way too much time thinking about her in the universe she lives in and how I relate to her.
There are definitely more of these to come, as I have a couple of these “probably autistic” characters that have always been super close to my heart.
With (very late) respect to Autism Awareness month, and also with a lens cast on my own personal history, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on a sentence that I read on reddit quite recently.
“I learned to take people at their intent rather than their words”
The context was heartbreaking in and of itself, but the sentence itself hit me like a freight train. I have learned to live my life by an entirely different motto.
Perception matters more than intent
I spent nearly every waking moment of my life thinking about all of the ways that my words or actions might be perceived differently than I intended them to, and that it matters much more than my intent did. I have basically gaslit myself into believing that the neurotypical world is right and I have to adjust.
So hearing someone say something that basically just shows that people actually can sit there and show the leniency to understand each other?
The context, by the way? Her daughter died. So she had to deal with people saying ignorant things like “I know how you feel, I lost my dog” and the like. So instead of being angry she chose to understand that they likely knew that they couldn’t truly relate to her immense grief, but the closest they could come to it was losing a pet. So they were trying to relate to her. They were showing a kindness in a pretty ignorant and rude way, but still a kindness.
I still, in a lot of ways, agree with my life motto. If I hurt your feelings, it really doesn’t matter what my intentions were, your feelings are hurt and no amount of me doubling down on my intentions is going to make this situation better. The best solution is a heartfelt apology, deep communication, and finding ourselves a new common ground.
But I didn’t learn to live by this phrase because of having difficult arguments with loved ones, or needing to remind myself to put myself in others shoes (I’m overly empathetic and compassionate — but don’t worry, I still show the very stereotypical autistic lack of skills at showing the empathy and compassion the way the “normal” humans expect). I taught myself to live by this motto because of the number of times I had people react to my statements of fact as though I were being bitchy and rude.
Because of the number of times I’ve had people tell me that I’m “sassy” and “feisty” and “don’t care what other people think about you”. Which was just not even close to the truth. I said what I thought or felt as I thought it or felt it. It usually ran through my filters, I tried to imagine a way to make it neutral. And I still came out like a bitch to so very many people.
Even recently, my husband revealed mine (and my child’s) diagnosis to his sister – a teacher. She had a lightbulb go off and said “Oh, that makes sense. She is super smart but not very friendly”. We’ll sidestep the stereotypes there just for the sentiment of the statement.
I am now a fairly well-oiled machine. I have been living this motto for nearly a decade. I have practice and years of phone and chat customer support under my belt to give me the practice of at least sounding friendly and approachable in short bursts as needed. I can quickly run through options of phrases and think about all the potential ways that my statement could be misinterpreted.
But… Imagine if I hadn’t had to spend so much time and energy learning how to fit into a world that wasn’t meant for me? If there were social ramps for those of us sitting in a social wheel chair who really can’t take the stairs.
One of the most common questions I have seen come up with autistic folks is how to handle job interviews. It’s pretty obvious that it’s one that we’d struggle with, we know that first impressions aren’t always things that we excel at. And sometimes we aren’t the best at answering the questions that people are actually asking instead of the question that they asked.
Yeah, I’ve totally bombed some interviews myself. I’ve stimmed so hard in spinning chairs that I’m pretty sure that the interviewer thought I was on drugs. Or showed up massively under dressed because I didn’t realize that the slacks and a polo shirt was absurdly casual for a mall department store women’s clothing section. Despite the fact that my mother used to work in one, I’d somehow never really picked up on the fact that those ladies are usually dressed up pretty damned nice?
Once I found “my” field, I’ve typically done much better. I fit in pretty well in the tech world and I definitely answer questions about my knowledge well enough to make up for the fact that I am always fidgety and questionable in a lot of the skills that everyone is told not to do in interviews because it makes you look awkward and everything else. I also gave up on a lot of the advice giving to neurotypical individuals for job interviews because I can never fake it well enough to make it work for me. I can mask pretty damned well, but I can’t do it super well in a highly anxiety inducing environment, and I’m willing to bet many other autistic individuals also struggle with this as well.
Make jokes when you can
Ask questions to be sure you understand their questions
To expand that a little bit further and clarify. I deal with stress by trying to make myself laugh, which translates to I usually crack some kind of joke during an interview, which will usually make my interviewer laugh. Everybody likes to laugh, so it kinda warms them up to me. If this isn’t your nature, don’t try to force it, but if it is, this can definitely work in your favor. Don’t try to stifle it just because you think it might not work for you. I’ve definitely made some jokes that your traditional career help office probably wouldn’t recommend in interviews that I’ve landed jobs from (self-deprecating jokes, Big Brother jokes, etc) but it generally works for me. General standard caveats of nothing off color.
Honesty definitely needs a clarification. During a job search, pretty much everyone and their mother’s dog will tell you that you need to embellish your resume and skills in order to land a job. I don’t and I won’t. Embellishment is a waste of mine and everyone else’s time. I do list skills on my resume that I am working on, usually in a section clearly stating that I am learning/in classes for and during interviews, when asked about these skills or what I have done with these skills, I always answer with “I have limited experience in a working environment, however, in my personal lab/in this project at school/etc I did XYZ”.
The worst thing about misunderstanding a question is that you may not even realize that you answered a totally different question and didn’t even answer what was asked and have a grey cloud hovering around you now. I can’t even tell you how many times I have had an HR/initial phone screen wherein I was asked a yes or no question which I answered in the affirmative and had nothing else said and they moved on to the next question and I’d then be black holed and I’d never hear anything again.
I was entirely confused until I saw an internal documentation at a company for a posting that we had with a similar question for the recruiters to ask potential candidates and what to look for and it was looking for examples. A yes or no question. And they were supposed to provide examples. Why ask a yes or no question and then expect a full answer with examples?
It seems obvious in retrospect, but it still kind of blows my mind because a yes or no question has a short answer of yes or no, not “Yes, examples a, b, c” especially in a short screening. So never worry about asking for clarification to be sure that you are actually answering the question that the interviewer is expecting you to answer. No need to sell yourself short because you answered the wrong question.
This is a super personal question, there is honestly no right or wrong answer to it. If you’re here, then you probably have been through a lot of reading and basically come to the conclusion that you feel like Autism is probably the right answer for you.
You’ve likely seen the statistics on how girls who aren’t don’t need more support go under diagnosed by the system. The research was done primarily with boys, and all of the data was biased toward boys and how they present. It’s not exactly hard to make it to teens or adulthood as a lady without a diagnosis.
For many, the self diagnosis is really enough, it answers the questions they always had about themselves. They read the stories, they feel like they finally found their soul sisters and they suddenly had this massive weight they didn’t even know they were carrying pulled off of their shoulders. The relief is enough because they finally know that they aren’t alone and that other people feel the way they feel and see the world the way that they see the world.
There’s also likely some anxiety that they will be dismissed, experts will see them make some eye contact and just go “well, eye contact happened, not autistic, have a nice day” (and honestly, that might happen). It doesn’t mean that your journey is over. Get a second opinion, or a third. Research for better specialists, ask your general practitioner for better specialists.
For others, the official paper that says “yes, I do have this thing” is important. For me, it is important. It was important for me to get it for my daughter. I wanted to have the “yes, it’s true, I really can’t handle this unless I have X to help me out” or “no, my daughter can’t do this situation the same way as the rest of her class, but if you let her take breaks in a quiet room she’ll be able to handle it”. For my daughter, I really wanted her to know throughout her life that she isn’t broken, she is just different.
When I approached my daughter’s pediatrician about getting my daughter assessed for autism, we had the general conversation about why I believed she is autistic and then I told him that I know that girls have a very hard time getting an accurate diagnosis and I wanted him to recommend to me not just any specialist but I wanted him to recommend to me specialists that he knows have previously worked with girls who were on the “higher end” of the spectrum. Specialists who had worked with girls who present similarly to my daughter. I specifically told him that I was not interested in approaching this through the school district because I wanted to reduce the likelihood of getting the older school of thought of autism only presents this way because of research in boys.
Her pediatrician printed out the normal list and he went through each of the referrals that the office can make and he circled three or four, but when he got to a specific name on that list, he said “this one, she recently did a fantastic write up for another one of my patients who is very similar in behavior to your daughter”. And she was fantastic. Utilize your resources as much as you can and be clear that you know there is a struggle in diagnosis for girls and women and that you want to try and limit the search for specialists that understand that there is a struggle for girls and women. Leverage your doctors and psychologists if they are on your side to help you in this search as much as you can.
In my opinion, there is no harm that can come from a diagnosis, only benefits that can come. But there is no need to disclose your diagnosis to anyone unless you want to after you get it.
Of course, all of this is assuming that you have ready access to decent healthcare and professionals who are caught up with the times and won’t need to hop through multiple professionals and/or travel extremely far in order to find an adult autism specialist.