ASD

Autism Spectrum Disorder, as defined
by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,
version V, in five parts

1. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction
across multiple contexts,
as manifested by the following:

Metaphors. I think of the world in metaphors,
the world appears to me as translation;
I try to translate myself

to the world. But more often than not,
the world tries to translate me,
into a language I fail to understand,
and all interaction

is social algebra for me. Someone says, “X”
and I have to solve for “Why”–like,
why did you choose to use this word,
this syntax, or that emoji?
Why is your face set to that expression?

I’m always understanding the world in parts,
so others tell me I’m detail-oriented,
and I wonder if they know how

the most extreme of us
understand the world in fragments,
understand a face as
eye,
nose,
eye,
mouth

if I’m in social algebra,
they’re in existential calculus,
in endless repetition
of integration by parts

2. Restricted,
repetitive
patterns of behavior,
interests,
or activities,

even when I’m not socializing,
I can’t stop myself from thinking
in numbers,

in my econometrics class, we’ve been learning
about multivariate linear regression:

how to predict Y
based on a defined set of explanatory variables,
and I can’t stop myself from working
on the multivariate linear regression

for you.
And whoever says that autistics are incapable
of understanding how to love,
has never seen how statistics stutter out of me,
how a computer translates alphanumeric into poetry,
how, when I’m with you, the user interface doesn’t matter
but the operating system does.

The bad news: no matter how robust
a multivariate linear regression is, it can’t predict
for every variable–which is why there’s a +u at the end of it,
representing the addition of the unknown.

Which is why there’s a plus you
at the end of this, representing your addition
to my unknown

3. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period
but may not become fully manifest
until social demands
exceed limited capacities

when I’m anxious,
I go nonverbal.

I’m more part-time than poet,
but this conversation is an open-source script
that you’re laying to rest,
so I close my mouth
like it’s a rehearsed casket

and the most extreme part of watching
a relationship die into silence,
is how heavy it makes
the thoughts that go
before every memory–
forgetting you

was like name,
voice,
verb,
noun

and these feelings
are just the thoughts I’ve been carrying for so long
that they’ve transcended articulation,

4. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social,
occupational,
or other important areas of current functioning

I always wonder if my statistics speak
louder than my apologies,

wonder if there can ever be a wider space
between the eraser
and the work behind my results,

it’s not that I couldn’t write your equation well enough,
it’s that you learned enough to write me off
it’s like you read me like a Turing Test

like I failed to pass as robot for a human
like I failed

to pass myself off as a version
digestible enough for you,

this is how you translate me,
into the space between my actions and your standards

this is how you translate my identity, my existence,
into a series of apologies converging to prioritize your comfort over my needs

this is what I fail to understand

5. These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability

I am not an idiot for trying to be honest with myself.
I am not a fool for having limits,
I am trying to respect others long enough to be honest with them,
to let them into my world, for once,

I am trying not to make myself into another unknown variable
in this social equation designed to keep autistics silent,

I am trying to change the result.

Because there is only so long we can afford
to carry on this wait.

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The Five Stages of Grindr Grief

Part One: Denial

I don’t have a problem
with intimacy. I just

have a problem
with you, finding me

less than attractive, and the best way
to get over someone

is to get under someone else,
so when you ask me how I’m doing this weekend
I won’t make the time to give you all the answers,
because I’m too busy

planning my entire life out,  
sending out another batch of nudes on Sunday,
deleting three-day-old dick pics on Monday,
working three part-time handjobs on Tuesday,
which leaves me four more days to pretend

I’m not trying to get laid,
that this isn’t the grind,
that this is all easy,
that this is how I get ahead

one
step
at a time

Part Two: Anger

I want you to know that I stopped trying
a long time ago.

Some days, you feel like more of a stranger
than all these faceless boys, and the only difference
is that, when I reach them,

they know how to fucking respond, see
I’m not old-school, I enjoy

the bitter taste of instant gratification,
the sting of self-hatred buried in guilt, see

I’ve been plowed enough times
to know how to dig my own grave,
and if you ever stuck around long enough, you’d learn

that some skeletons
stay closer than just one closet door away–
maybe, you should learn to check your locks
before asking me why I’m trading numbers

faster than we’re trading keys, see
this is just business as usual,

so tell me how many partners
you want us to be having

Part Three: Bargaining

I took stock yesterday:
our exchange is quiet as usual

but my hoeing is down by two percent,
don’t think that this changes anything,

I’m still in love with you,
I’m still doing this because I am in love with you,

there is more than one way

I know how to break myself up,

here, you take my heart–
I’ll let you watch

as they take my body,
as they have their way

with my words,
watch meaning lie
buried in action

you’re missing the action,
and I’m missing you

as I bury myself into the familiar space
beside every bedside stranger

Part Four: Sadness

at how sex has just become another formula,
another game that I’ve beaten senseless,
at how intimacy has become a dead horse,

at how i’m just beating the dead horse

Part Five: Acceptance

You once confessed
that you thought love
had lost its meaning.

“Too many people,” you said,
“say ‘I love you,’ too casually,”
so I didn’t say anything

because I thought
you were listening.

Sometimes I wonder if you didn’t get my message.
And then I wonder, if you understood me
too soon, too well.

And then I clear away the messages
from my screen:
pretend I’m finished
with this clean slate
and this new bed,

how this projection is a lie to myself.

How I’ll still be trying
to smash the reflection in this fun house mirror,
trying to convince myself
that its avatar
no longer exists.

Drowning

And then my brother asks me,
“Does he look like you?

“I mean, is he…does he look normal
or is he
that kind of man?”

emphasis on “that,”
and less on “man,”

less on the way that
me and my partner’s
bodies seem to open
up this discussion

first, less on the way
he pretends to listen
to the lessons we’ve
learned to reteach,

I don’t tell him
how my partner and I learned
in loving each other. I don’t tell him how

how we started joking about being
the same person, how happy we were

to find another body bent into a bridge
between two worlds,

to bisect each other’s binaries
and just receive “boy,” instead,

I show my brother his picture,
point at my partner’s silver-blue hair
rising like sea crests to the sun,
I ask my brother if he knows

that masculinity is an ocean–
how it has always swallowed those
who claim to understand the way it flows,
and he tells me,

“You weren’t born into this violence,
you’ve never spent your lifetime
drowning in salt just to taste your tears,
I ask him why does it matter

when a boy’s body gets to drowning,
in the end, the silence all sounds the same,
he screams

that I’m not listening
he screams

that his silence is louder

and I feel my throat chop
my voice into breaking waves,
feel my tongue crash
against my mouth like

a beached whale,
just another body

that nobody knows what to do with,
just another body

that nobody wants to deal with, maybe
I’m the one who has to be taught a lesson,
maybe he’s just trying to say I should

pick up my trash,
put myself somewhere nobody can see,
see, this ocean
is big enough for both of us,
as long as you promise

to stay an entire continent away
but I can’t just leave

you here.
I can’t just cleave this space in two,
so I’ll have to settle for you
instead. And you’ll have to settle

for me.

After Jackson Burgess’ Salton Sea

It wasn’t

dead.
You weren’t there

to see it hold the city’s lights
like its own children,
to see the stars
caress its shoreline

like a crown, you didn’t see
how the night made quiet
subjects of us all. How the desert

stripped us clean of pride, reminding us
of what our bones become after our flesh
is stripped away, and how the moonlight

cast our shadows aside like fallen
pieces on a chessboard,
you could only call it a grave

if you didn’t see yourself
as another revival,

as stardust
remembering every position
you took in the sky

as constellation
retracing the map with
all your invisible lines

as the road
meeting river

bearing reflections
entering sea, entering

home.

Warriors

I remember the first time I saw him,
cloaked under that black hood,
casting his crimson light across sand:
the dark warrior, the assassin
to end all assassins,

the Sith lord Darth Maul
is my favorite character
in the entire Star Wars franchise.
Everything about him screams “badass,”

from the double-bladed lightsaber,
to his red skin and tattoos,
but what I love most about him

is how he is universally feared and respected
despite his alien race.

Maul is a Zabrak, and Zabrak believe
that no challenge is great enough to stand in their way.
They’re self-assured,
but not arrogant–
independent,
but not rebellious–
I guess you could call them

the “model minority.”
And as the sole representative of his race
as Sith in the films, Maul perfectly embodies
the peak aesthetics of Asian culture:

he’s got horns, just like a dragon,
and a face as red as Guan Yu’s,
he’s silent, exotic, and mysterious
he only has two lines when he comes on screen,


I could see myself in his shadow
when I was growing up.
Like Maul, we know what it’s like

to carry something that cuts us on both ends:
to be epitomized as the elite aliens of America

while also cast to the sidelines because we aren’t enough,
society praises us for our hardworking character,
but only puts us on screen as caricatures,

they call us Lords yet deny us dominion.
Said that our race brought too much competition,
razed our enclaves and raised an Exclusion Act,
crushed our homeworlds and built us internment camps–
like Maul’s Masters would have said,

it’s a privilege to be in the Empire.
Where else would we have learned
to channel their hatred
into our power,

we refused to rock the boat,
because we were saving our strength
to shake up the ocean,

to unearth our ancestors
buried under chink and coolie,
to Force-lift every backbone
that was beaten until it bowed,

and like Maul, we know
that they’ll try to cut us down.
Like Maul, we know that our killers
will call themselves heroes–
defenders of an ideal Republic,
who strike us down in our rage
and tell us to find peace,

but we know this peace is a lie,
and that there is only passion
for the fight over the fate of this planet.

And like Maul,
we know that our stories
will be the ones to survive

in that Great Wall of text
known as history,

marking the entire script
with our bloodlines

until the galaxy
recasts our stars

in red.

Circulation

Sometimes I wonder if he could’ve been me.

Sometimes I look at the mess in his hair,

the foreign in his face, and I wonder
how your lips
would have looked
pressed against mine,

how you would’ve ground desperation
to dust in my bed,
they tell us to “rest in peace”

for a reason. Just like how
he calls orgasms
la petit mort, meaning
“the little death,”  I wonder

how many girls
he has helped to pass on
in his bed, how many times

he called this violence “love,”
just because he couldn’t
pull his tongue away fast enough,
what if I told you

there was a responsible way
to break a heart?

What if I told you about the way
broken glass sticks to blood like
rain kissing water,
like two lovers

come to make each other whole, see

we aren’t as fragile as we make ourselves out to be.
Even when we know we’re broken, we still
search for ways to stitch ourselves

together, these scars
are from the times we transmuted
self-love in the face of violence,
when we chose to turn the lead
in our guns into
gold, did you ever notice
how he accused you of loving

the finer things in life:
like how gilded chains shine
the brightest under sunlight, how you said
you could never shine bright enough

for him.

And when I gave you a mirror
and told you it reflected all the light
you ever needed, you asked me what
you were supposed to see,

sometimes
I wonder if you could’ve been me.

Sometimes I look at the tears
kissing your cheeks goodnight,
and I wonder if I could see myself
reflected in them,

brushing away my own missing half,
only to find that the memory still sticks,
and I wonder about the splinters
collecting dust under your bed–

they called them monsters when we were children.

That’s how we grew
to hate the pulse running
through our veins, the reminder

that every step we try to take
away from ourselves,
only brings us back
to where we started,

and I know you’re still learning
not to make his body your final destination,
learning how to bandage bloodstreams
without mummifying yourself in parts.

I’m only afraid
that your heart won’t follow
fast enough.

Shark Week

According to the Discovery Channel, sharks
can smell blood up to one mile away
in a pool of water. I remember

how the blue tiles in my high school bathroom
always reminded me of a swimming pool,
how I always sounded louder

than I wanted to
on the inside,
and like most predators, sharks

have an excellent sense of hearing–
maybe
it was the echoes of my footsteps,

maybe
it was the shuffling of wrappers
in my pocket, I’ve often heard

that sharks
can get attracted to “unusual noises,”
like the sound of a menstrual pad

breaking out
from its plastic cocoon, like the silence
in a stall, after the occupant

forgets to flush–fact:
shark attacks tend to spike
during new moons

just like people’s periods,

so when the kids at my school
started whispering rumors about a girl
going into the boy’s bathroom, I knew

it was no coincidence

and the day after people started whispering
about my body like an accident,
I learned what it meant

to become a survivor, never feeling
safe behind a stall, without checking the lock
more than twice, never changing red cloth

for white pads, unless the sound
was swallowed up by a waterfall
of running sinks and churning toilets–

each shark week, I pray not to become
prey to another predator, pray not to become
another sensationalized episode, aired

like the underwear I have
to wash monthly bloodstains out of,
and hung

out to dry–sometimes,
I wonder if they think I’m losing
more than just my uterine lining,

if they think I’m spilling my gender
down the drain, as if there was only
one way to draw blood

and still call yourself a man–fact:
on average, sharks only kill one person
every two years, while humans

only need a month and a half
to kill seven of their own kind
just for being transgender–fact:

of these two kind of murderers
only one is considered a threat;
sometimes, I wonder

if making my body
into an excuse for a bloodbath,
is their way of welcoming me

into their brotherhood–fact:

some sharks eat their siblings in the womb
because they don’t know how else to survive,
and some people

drown others to keep their waters clear
because they don’t know how else to thrive,
but if our identities are born from this sacrifice

is it really the miracle of life
that we’re celebrating?

Or are we celebrating the way we cast ourselves
out like fishing lines, thinking we split the ocean

every time we split skin–but our bodies
carry more than any net can catch,
and our blood

has crossed too many passages
to settle down between the tips
of some shark’s teeth,

and I wish “blood” didn’t have to come
before “brother,” and I wish bathroom stalls
could carry more than just the bodies

they’re supposed to help with hiding,
I wish there was no hiding–sometimes,

I wonder how many more seas I need to cross

before the sharks stop following,

until I realize
the ocean never ends.