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From Asperger geek to Aspie chic

by Jessica Peers

5th September 2005

Let's face it: Asperger's syndrome has never been cool. The stereotype portrays a geeky outsider, his irony-free mullet and Star Trek t-shirt winning him few friends, with the prog-rock 45's in his satchel and a top of the range calculator unlikely to impress his fellow students. Whilst they are chugging cider in their up-to-the minute Nike trainers and Diesel jeans, he's more likely to be checking out train routes on the internet.
Click to view the complete full-size version of Jessica's 'geek chic' cartoon in a pop-up window
It's easy to mock the Aspie outsider, but take one look at current bands and icons and you may find his influence everywhere. From Franz Ferdinand and their "geography teacher" dress code to Johnny Depp's awkward portrayal of Willy Wonka (and practically every other character he's played), Asperger influence is rife. Even in the Big Brother house, Eugene ticked several Aspie boxes.

Of course, it would be unfair to say that all Aspies fall into the 'geek' category. There are plenty of them, including myself, who endeavour to fit in and look as 'normal' as possible. It's not always easy to spot an Aspie merely by appearance, as many of us are ruthlessly good at camouflage. However, it is our little habits that can give us away. My own little habit follows me around like a little stalker.

My calendar is scrawled with names, dates and times. My boyfriend thinks this is a little odd as he prefers to be spontaneous. I would love to be spontaneous, but the need for order always wins. Although I was dressing up nicely for a night out, the one thing that ruined my style was the ink scrawl on my hand reminding me of the hour.

As well as Asperger's syndrome, there is another thing that has never been cool - and that is the unpopular culture known as 'Goth'. Even in the 80's, it was never cool. Despite The Cure enjoying something of a renaissance, Goths are still beneath punks, ravers and hippies in the all-time cultural tree of cool.

As a student, I was a Goth. At first, I was merely a semi-Goth, but later learned that no other clique would have me. With my Asperger gift for sentence structure, I could talk pretentious with the best of them. The more obscure the novel peeking out from the rucksack, the more Goth points scored. Blue-black hair was in, but blacker-than-black was even better. Being miserable was expected, but being terminally and utterly depressed with the vacuous world in which we live was highly respected. Smiling, naturally, was banned - which is perfect for an Aspie, a group not known for facial expressions.
Jessica (with a friend) in her Goth days
Together, in the darkest corner of the student bar, we would drink snakebite to the sounds of Placebo and Nine Inch Nails, and hide the fact that we were enjoying ourselves.

Nervous and unsure amongst the thousands of students, the crowded lecture halls and rowdy gangs, I disguised my shyness behind several layers of white foundation and blood-red lipstick. The rest of me was hidden beneath a huge fake fur coat. Nobody was allowed to see the girl underneath, the one branded geeky at college.

Before my Goth phase, I had been the class weirdo. I didn't dare talk to people for fear of being laughed at. My mum had made me get my hair cut into a bob, possibly the most boring haircut ever, and I lived in my baggy, white sweater. The only time I made conversation was to help one of the dumber kids who was stuck with their homework.

At a mainstream school at twelve, I had never been into Bros or Brother Beyond, the big pop groups of the time. Instead, I listened to my dad's favourite records and wore Greenpeace badges on my blazer. Naturally, I was never amongst the 'cool' crowd, but would sit drawing cartoons in my room at night whilst the others hung out.
Looking chic rather than geek: Jessica enjoying a night out
At university, people had been more open-minded. There were still the obvious cliques, but this time there was a clique for everyone. Sometimes the Goths would sit and converse with the 'geek clique'. Well, we did have a shared interest in literature.

Most Aspies who attend university pass their degrees with high marks. I must admit that we are useful friends to have: very useful. Ignore the way we look, our corduroys or our Oxfam shoes, and befriend us! Not only are we good, honest and loyal by nature, but we are small goldmines of information. If you want to pass your exams, an Aspie friend is a godsend.

So why are so many of us sat alone? Why are we still sneered at by chavs and trendies?

Society is very appearance-based, and hanging out with a geekier member of the Aspie species would look 'uncool'. Despite this, there are many open-minded people out there who embrace eccentricities wholeheartedly, and plenty of books and articles explaining, not just the downside, but the plus-side of Asperger's.

Asperger people make great friends, students and workmates. Accept our little quirks and we can be priceless to have around. However, if you see any of us wearing an anorak, please ask us to remove it. There's geek chic, but an anorak has never been and will never be cool.

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