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FANGIRL (and commentary)

cw: troubled teen institutions, anti-autistic ableism, non-detailed sexual references


( the title/first line of a poem I wrote in late 2014, soon after arriving at a TTI. I’d already been in therapy for years, so I was already primed to see myself as broken and deserving whatever happened to me. Still… the TTI was a shock to my system. And one way I coped in those early days was by writing this poem.)

she calls herself,

(This was years before I transitioned, and yet I still instinctively knew how to hurt my own feelings by referring to myself as “she” and “her” over and over and over again.)

wraps herself in it like a blanket,

traps herself in it like a picture frame.

(I’d always liked wordplay but I’d never been much for poetry. So there’s probably a word for when you put a rhyme at the start of a line like this, but I don’t know it. I’d never written a serious poem before, just doggerel verse. I haven’t written once since. I guess there was just something inside me that needed to be a poem, and no matter how much I now disagree with everything I said; I still like the way it sounds.)

So much in her mind and it’s always the same,

(I was diagnosed as autistic about a month before I arrived at the TTI. It was part of why my parents decided to send me there– the ed consultant they’d hired told them that a busy, active, highly social environment would be great for me. So I knew, when I wrote this, that autism was why I was there. But I didn’t know what it meant to be autistic at all– nobody even bothered to explain the basic DSM bullshit to me. I didn’t know the words “perseveration” or “circumscribed interests”. I knew that I thought about the same damn things all the time and that was bad, but I hadn’t attached it to being autistic.)

the same broken record of familiar fictions brokenly recorded, changed and reordered, arranged in her strange little game of

kiss and tell,

(Yeah, so my biggest special interest back then was the Avengers. Specifically, all the fanfictions where the hottest Avengers fuck. The kind of thing you can’t really talk to most people about. My memory of that time isn’t so great, but I think I tried anyway, and everyone thought I was weird, and so before very long I started to agree.)

making her sick and keeping her well through the thick and thin of her solitary life.

(The most constant TTI message about what I was doing wrong was that I wasn’t trying hard enough to be social. Maybe if everyone didn’t suck so much, I would have wanted to. But I wasn’t allowed to think those kinds of thoughts back then.)

Sitting alone, she longs for connection,

(I was lonely. That’s a truth I can’t deny, and at the TTI they were very good at entangling their lies with your truths. I wrote this very early on, before I had anyone there who genuinely made me feel any less lonely. So this kind of bitter irony grows out of the belief that I was the problem in any social situation.)

pulls out her collection of other people’s dreams,

(I think that line is because I thought fanfic was inherently less worthy than original art? Like if I was going to be weird and artsy it should at least be in a way that’s palatable to people who believe in copyright and only watch movies once.)

pours her pain into pretty stories so no one can hear her screams,


(I love the way that sounds, even now. If you’re not reading the bolded parts out loud, you should start doing that. The “P” words sound like punches and the “S” words like the snip of scissors. I genuinely had fun writing this whole thing– so much fun with the language that I didn’t realize how hard I was punching myself in the face.)


dreams of love and lust and trust, wanting and

needing and getting, letting someone take you

over, make you shiver and she wants it bad,

(Yeah, I very nearly got in trouble for that section when I shared it with other people. I don’t know why I didn’t, honestly– they were pretty strict about sex.)

but it’s boys kissing boys and no girls to be had and

she’d rather put on men’s shoes than look for heels

because no one like her can be perfect.

(Lots of people asked me, “Isn’t that kind of sexist to imply that women have to wear heels?” and yeah, it totally is. Sometimes when you’re a young trans man who doesn’t think he has a choice about whether to be a girl, it comes out in weird ways. Like eagerly reading a million versions of two hot guys having sex, but never being able to imagine yourself as someone sexual. Or like trying to explain that inner experience in the most clunky metaphor possible.)

Not this scruffy little girl, bluffing her way through a tough world, no hero, not perfect, not great.

(That’s the thing with all of this. I thought this whole poem was a necessary callout on my bullshit, the things I needed to stop. How did I not see that it was just me hating on myself for– in most cases– things that weren’t really so bad?)

The great perfect heroes are all in her mind, leaving her blind to the broken down humans who would stand by her side.

(I don’t like calling people broken anymore. Not even the ones who abused me. If I call other people broken, that opens a door to the idea that people can be broken. And after all this time, I still feel like if anyone’s broken, it’s probably me.)

She prefers the pretend, her friends are her stories and she’s

scared to reach the end,

(I totally still rewatch or reread things until I’m sick of them, because trying new things is hard. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not a coward for wanting to stay. But I thought that then, because I knew I was bad. They made sure I knew that, and they didn’t bother to tell me why, because they knew I’d figure out why on my own.)

scared to leave,

(I’m not a coward.)

scared to grieve and let go and proceed.

(I’m not a coward! I’m just autistic!)

She can’t breathe without her obsession, her

darkest confession and her greatest pride is

the stifling fire she carries inside.

(It hurt because they were hurting me for being “obsessive” and “one track minded”. Not just the TTI staff but the other youth as well. I wasn’t “participating in social life” and they made sure I knew that’s what was wrong with me.)

And she’ll wait and she’ll want and she’ll hope ‘til she dies

(But I’m still alive. Granted, I haven’t stopped “fixating” or “perseverating” or whatever, and I probably won’t for the rest of my life. I’ve just stopped feeling like that’s such a tragedy.)

and she calls herself,

(Here it is again, that one-two punch of “you’re a girl” and “you’re a pathetic obsessive autistic loser”...)


JAY EDELSON is a writer and cartoonist living in Colorado. He has previously been published in the Pikes Peak Zine Fest anthology.

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