Grace Moore

Spectrum Analysis: or Grace Moore and her Amazing Positronic Brain

Non-neurotypical. It sounds like such a sci-fi term. I probably would’ve loved the sound of it as a kid. A fifty-yard stare and ritualistic behavior tends to creep people out on a good day, to say nothing of when it’s coming from a moon-faced six-year-old. For me, being weird was a given from day one.


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The first and main thing I know about Star Trek is that there are aliens. There is also a very serious bald man. His friends must be aliens. He is in the future, after all. The one thing I can do to physically distinguish myself is fold my tongue up over my upper lip up to my nose. There. Instant Alien disguise. Enough to fool any bald man. You aren’t weird if you’re already an alien. I start watching Star Trek properly in high school. Data speaks to me in a way I don’t have words for. Aside from being pale and semetic, he’s surrounded by humans that don’t make sense, just like me. He knows their history, their goals, the nuanced difference between right and wrong. He can learn to emulate but there’s always a mystery, a joke he doesn’t get. Even in outer space he is still the most alien alien. The part of him that high school me envies is that he has no shame over it.


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Data practices sneezing. He struggles with small talk and playful insults. He learns to mix drinks in the ship’s bar even though he can’t drink them. He studies people to be more like them. In Data’s own words, “I’ve been told imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” It’s a learned trick, being able to react. There’s a tightrope you have to walk, listening to someone else talk and showing in your face that you are engaged when you’d really rather be looking at anything but the speaker’s face. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I don’t naturally react. According to my housemates, watching me have an unplanned reaction is borderline hilarious. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t done some serious “monkey-see monkey-do” to socially navigate. On a study abroad program the one student who brought a laptop tells me with total offense that I’m not allowed to borrow it for email anyone because I “just don’t act grateful enough”. A weird thing to say to be sure, but what can you do? People pick up on uncanniness. Another student in this group tells me with the candor of someone doing a great favor that I’m “just really easy to dislike”.



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In Season Two of the Next Generation Data builds another android. Equal parts an experiment in building a positronic brain and a foray into another part of the human experience. He makes a daughter and names her Lal. Her brain is based off of his. She’ll face the same challenges as him. Humans will be just as confusing to her, but she’ll have the benefit of Data’s experience and guidance, same as with any parent. But what she doesn’t have is Data’s experience, his accomplishments in Starfleet, his knowledge that he is part of something bigger. She begins developing emotions of her own, powerful enough to cause her brain to fail. Data can’t save her. He asks her how she feels. She says she loves him. He tells her he’s sorry he can’t feel what she’s feeling. Before dying she tells him she can feel it enough for the both of them.

I’m 21 when I finally get my diagnosis. I tell each of my parents privately. They both tell me they always assumed as much. I want to be angry. I’ve spent most of my life trying to find a name for this thing. This invisible wall that only can only be seen by the people it separates me from. So I ask both of them why. My Mom tells me she was afraid I’d take a diagnosis as sentence, that it’d make me think I had no reason to try and be anything other than an outsider. To address the topic with my Dad is a whole other beast. A musician of the 90's northwest grunge scene, his preferred currency has always been cool. His ability to walk into a room and chat up a stranger like he’s known them for years with the same know-how that he can use to recreate a song’s notes by ear makes him completely inscrutable to me. He seems to feel the same way about my inability to leave the house alone but recite IMDB pages from memory. I don’t expect an actual answer from him. He tells me, not for the first time, about being raised by his college professor parents. About how all of their friends were also professors, some of whom were married with their own kids he was expected to be friends with. How sometimes these kids were an extension of their nervous anal-retentive parents and how sometimes they couldn’t function outside of their highly proceduralized childhoods. How they reminded him of the things he didn’t understand with his parents. How a small deviation of plan could send his mother into hysterics or throw his Dad into a tantrum of rage. He doesn’t seem to know how to fully connect what he’s saying and what he wants me to know. “I didn’t want that for you," he says.


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After a boss mentions having a daughter on the spectrum, I tell her my status. Her behavior changes towards me immediately. She speaks to me loudly and slowly and goes out of her way to force eye contact. All lights must be on at full capacity in our workspace. She insists that I hug other people regularly and without negotiation. I opt to quit rather than explain why I’m always afraid near her. I never met her daughter. It would have probably answered questions I didn’t want to ask.

Data is put on trial to determine whether he is an individual or Starfleet property. His friend Commander Riker has been recruited for the opposition. In passing he’s previously shown Riker the hidden off switch at the back of his neck. Mid-trial Riker grabs for it. Data shuts down and falls down like a stack of bricks. My blood runs cold.


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Dr. Pulaski is easily one of the most hated women in Star Trek. How much of it is deserved is a bigger debate, considering a TV audience is taught to hate opinionated women of a certain age as early as cartoons. Take that conversation away and there’s still a negative constant: She’s a real dick to Data. The writers intent with the Stoic Data and the stubborn Doctor is to recreate the a similar antagonistic dynamic as Spock and Doctor McCoy in the original series. Spock is also stoic, and McCoy gives him a hard time for withholding outward emotions as a Vulcan. Verbal jabbing ensues. The Pulaski problem is that Data isn’t withholding anything, that’s just how he’s built. Meaning their interactions aren’t so much jabbing as Pulaski just giving him shit for being different. In one of their first scenes she refers to him as Data pronounced "Dah-ta”. When he corrects her she asks what the difference is. He tells her one is his name. That’s not reason enough for her, but it’s definitely reason enough for the audience not to like her. Anyone who’s known someone with a non-anglo first name knows not to like her.

I don’t casually talk about my mental status. if you say Asperger’s suddenly everyone is gunning for their psychotherapy scout badge. Generally speaking, if you get any association with a non-neurotypical status people want your mental resume. Which in their minds is totally justified. They want to know you’re not going to snap and go on a rampage if you smell oranges or whatever it is normies think we do. They also want to know if you have any neat Rain Man party tricks they can check out. People treat you different. And there’s nothing as weird as telling someone and them saying that they wished they’d known so they could have treated you different from day one. I had a coworker post a heartfelt article about his struggles with his sleeping disorder. This was instantly followed by a barrage of our other coworkers commenting about how they wished they’d known. To establish, these guys were publicly saying they wished they’d been given an excuse to be less judgmental of the guy who visibly had trouble staying awake at any given time. I’ve been tempted on rough days to bring up the whole “actual medical condition” to people to spite them with said actual medical condition. There’s no slap in the face quite like forcing someone to acknowledge they’ve been giving shit to a mentally ill person in front of their colleagues, but that’s what’s known in many circles as being a total shit. Still, If I need a doctor’s note for you to treat me with your most basic respect, I don’t fucking want it.


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Finding out Brent Spiner was a supporter of the anti-vax movement really stings. To say the least. I’m as likely as anyone to roll their eyes when the “separate the art from the artist” card is played (that’s a whole other discussion). People on the spectrum have historically had little representation in the media, which makes for an extra slap in the face that the person who brought a figure that myself and many other fans had as their only representation for a time really doesn’t think too highly of you. Many parents of autistic children have gravitated towards the anti-vaxxers based on the idea that their child wasn’t born different. Nonono, their child was born fine. Somebody damaged their child. By extension that’s how the movement defines people on the Autism spectrum: damaged. Knowing that you’re an organization’s worst case scenario versus, ya know, polio or the plague can really put a damper on the ol self-esteem-arino. To say nothing about the fact that the main Autism-based organization (Autism Speaks) is based around the idea of Autism needing a cure (conceptually categorizing it as a malfunction rather than a difference of function).



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Being on the Autism spectrum can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Being on the spectrum means varying flavors and degrees. Which goes for just straight up being different, too. But if there’s one thing years of afterschool specials and well meaning guidance counselors drilled into my brain, it’s that your differences are exactly as tolerable as you are useful. This is never the case with Data. His being considered a member of the Enterprise crew is never contingent on him meeting a usefulness quota. He’s different, and he is helpful. But the people around him aren’t tolerating him because he’s helpful. It simplifies an idea to think of it as a crossable bridge. A straightforward challenge of point A to point B. Maybe Trek is a better word.