I met Jake and Max Markowitz in the summer of 2016 a couple weeks after my book had come out. I was walking into a bookstore and was in a terrible mood for no reason in particular, and then I turned and saw what every new writer dreams of: someone holding your book open in the store, reading it with interest, considering purchasing it. It was Max.
Something in me had compelled me to go to that store that day and to walk up to him and shyly say “that’s my book.” I then talked to Max and his twin brother Jake, who are both extreme film and literary buffs and we became instant friends. I also met his father and mother and one of the big delights of having a debut book out was the experience of the Markowitz’s passing Stranger, Father, Beloved around the house, each reading a chapter at a time, then passing it to the next family member, sending me photos of them all reading it. What an unexpected surprise!
Over the course of the past year, I have become close friends with Jake and Max, two extraordinary and brilliant young men. We talk books and film and it is as if I am chatting with two fifty five year old book or film critics—that’s how sophisticated they are. Recently, they each gave speeches at a U.N. event on inclusion, since they are both extremely eloquent, and are LGTBQ as well as on the autism spectrum. They wowed the audience and brought tears to my eyes with their sincerity. I am so proud to know them and know they are going to do great things in this world (they already are!)
We are proud to publish Jake’s and Max’s UN speeches on The Negatives!
OUT WITH EXCLUSION, IN WITH RIGHTS
by Jake Markowitz
I am currently 19 years old and feel that I have made the necessary strides as a person on the autistic spectrum, to get by in life, but this took a lot of time to mature into. Until I was about 16, I liked to be in my own bubble. I did not have the same interests as my peers. I did not enjoy all their mainstream interests like sports or video games or being on teams. I liked to keep to myself because I felt I had understood “me” better than other people did. I never felt anything was wrong with it, yet I was constantly pushed by all the adults in my life to become more involved on a social level so I’d fit in, but my parents did always encourage my brother and me to pursue our own interests.
I think it is fair to say that growing up with high functioning autism means that you sometimes over focus on certain things. For me, I would constantly obsess over not knowing what I would do with my life or if I’d get into trouble for doing something “incorrectly”. These kinds of thoughts became some of my biggest worries for years and I still don’t have all the answers. I’d like to feel secure, but I at least now realize that that is okay because there are no given answers in life. Still, what I’d say to the world about individuals with autism is that while none of us like to worry about things we can’t control, it can be a much more difficult roadblock for autistic people because we don’t feel like ourselves if our environment doesn’t “click.”
Receiving my education through a school only for students with special needs and who were much more low functioning, was sometimes a huge hardship for me despite my academic success. I knew how much harder their lives would be for these kids and how society simply doesn’t offer adequate resources evenly to every autistic person who needs help.
I’d also say that people with autism may have different interests, and they need space for their interests to grow and turn into passions. For me, I find film to be the greatest art form that we have and when I think of my favorite movies, I don’t think about galaxies far, far away or giant explosions. I think of diverse countries, people who are “outsiders” with big mindsets, with a conflict to rise up to. I think of Directors with small budgets to bring it to life, caring only about quality vs. industry. I’ll analyze for hours what I love about a particular film and what I find relatable about it.
I’ve enjoyed books too, as many of my favorite movies were novels first. I find storytelling to be extremely powerful and I would be charmed by these ideas instead of collecting baseball cards. Being on the spectrum, I didn’t know anyone who enjoyed these things as much as I did but I also wasn’t comfortable to share my interests for a long time. As I said, I liked to be in my own bubble and I suppose my interests were part of why I loved it so much. I know now that having friends doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy what I love. I do now have a circle of great friends, one of them is sitting in the audience today, who are equally as passionate of my interests and we have bonded greatly over them, which is such a gift. In conclusion with autism, I’d just say that I feel that if people who are not on the spectrum have patience and spread the message that being different is ok, then autistic people will sustain much better in the world knowing that others in the world have their back.
Now for another aspect of myself. I was nine years old the first time I found out what homosexuality was. It was 2007 and I saw a photo of two grooms posing for a wedding photo in a store. My first thought was “Oh wow, I didn’t know people could do that.” Gay marriage was only legal in Massachusetts. I had never seen people of the same gender expressive of any romantic or emotional feelings regarding each other, Now that I had learned what it was, I didn’t think anything else of it.
When I turned twelve, I was alone in my bedroom just reading some movie reviews (obviously something I did all the time). I had just entered middle school and I was thinking about somebody in my class who I thought was handsome. I had always noticed if I found somebody attractive whether they were male or female, so I never questioned my sexual orientation, but at that moment I didn’t need to. My body had responded naturally to its preferred preference of the male gender and after it had that first awakening, the first time I’d ever been aroused by anything, I imagined what it would be like if I were to be married to a “husband” instead of a wife and if I felt romantic and emotional attraction as well, which I realized I did. It took about only two weeks after that for me to try feeling through imagination all of that with a woman. To this day, it has not worked and I realize for me that will never change because that just isn’t how I feel and also, it isn’t what I want.
To be totally honest, it’s hard to think that there’s ever been a time where I wasn’t out to my parents. I’d never worried that they would have an issue with it because I knew that the topic was one they approved of, but I still remained closeted until I turned 17 (my goodness, only two years). When I came out to everyone I cared about, I received nothing but support and started to surround myself with more LGBT people, most of whom I still have contact with today. However, I do remember during those years where I wasn’t out and how it was that time where I researched my own history from pink triangles, Stonewall, the AIDS epidemic, discrimination and to what is most hurtful of all to me, the disapproving attitude of gay and transgender people that still lay in the opinions of others.
Just knowing some people feel that way threatens me, to think that they can get up everyday and live their lives against a condition inside me that is so dear and feels so wonderful, I wouldn’t dream of apologizing for it. I felt so sensitive to stereotypes not only towards homosexuals, but homophobia as well based on research. I had believed for a time that all Christians and all Republicans had opposition, so I just generalized like that for many years. I know that this is not the truth, and it is important to not make assumptions to or to be biased.
In the 2012 election, I couldn’t vote because I was not 18; I would look at Mitt Romney’s face on the TV, put my hand on the screen and ask, “Why? Why does it have to be such a problem for you?” Fortunately, he lost that election and under Barack Obama’s progress, he fulfilled his promise to make marriage equality the law of the land on June 26, 2015. My mom texted me while I was in Barnes and Noble, my other favorite place besides the movie theater, and I turned to see if anyone was looking and when I saw they weren’t, I danced very happily.
However, homophobia didn’t go underneath the rug as I had thought. I experienced my first face-to-face homophobia with a teacher whom I was stupid enough to trust only for him to tell me I had made a “lifestyle choice” and will be punished for it. One day, Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to my door told me that it was my choice to be gay and they warned me that I should change my ways to “avoid the consequences”. There have been so many acts of homophobia, discrimination and violence towards those in the LGBT community, from Kim Davis to the Pulse Nightclub shooting and to the biggest upset in political history. with the Trump/Pence agenda, I know that negative attitudes will never go away, but that doesn’t stop amazing organizations like HRC or the UN to fight in our favor for LGBT civil rights. It doesn’t stop real artists from telling LGBT stories, and it doesn’t stop people giving their voices to call out homophobia where it is most dangerous, like Russia or Uganda.
I know for a fact what the biggest roadblock for an LGBT person is: To face disapproval of something that cannot and should not change. I don’t care how you were raised or if you have beliefs that “prohibit” you from condoning homosexuality or being transgender. Earth is the only planet with human beings on it and it is sustainable as long as we’re all one race in it together. You want to make a difference, then get this through your head: LGBT people exist and we’re not going away.
I’m grateful to the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation and the United Nations for allowing me to share my story of what the world has been like for me as an autistic and gay person. I’d say that the world has been awesome, but we can do better for others who don’t it so. I’m confident we can break every glass ceiling that exists out there if we continue to work. Thank you.
OUT WITH EXCLUSION, IN WITH RIGHTS
by Max Markowitz
Growing up I would hear from other people like my parents and therapists that I was autistic, but I did not concern myself with it. I don’t think of myself as a autistic. I think of myself as me so if myself means “autistic” I definitely embrace it. I did not really care what other kids thought of me growing up in school. I am at point in my life where if someone bothers me, it is easy to walk away from it, but when I was growing up in the public school system this was difficult because I did not feel independent enough to do so. I would inform teachers how I was feeling but I would never rely on myself to fix a problem, which I realize now I was always capable of doing.
I hated school! I loved my teachers because they were very kind to me and took the time to get to know me. School was a place I went to because I had too, it was an insufferable position to be in but something that had to be tolerated. I dreaded going to school because it was a noisy environment, it was very crowded in the hallways and the classroom. I did not share the same interests as the other kids; I hated sports because I did not like the fast and physical contact. I did not want to be on a team. The days always felt so long and the schoolwork was so hard for me.
Schoolwork was hard for me because I am someone who likes to learn at my own pace. I am a visual learner and if I didn’t understand something I asked about it, but the answers I got felt rushed because there were so many other students in the room and there was not enough time to focus.
In 8th grade my parents were able to move my brother and me into a new school within the public school system for kids with special needs. The work was much easier because it was taught at a very reasonable pace. Also a lot of what I was being taught we could review until it made sense to me. At my other school you were expected to get it at all at once; there was not time to revisit. I was told you should know that already. At my new school, the teachers could adjust the assignments and work load for me. Not every student was on the same level so our assignments were not the same; this made me feel I was able to focus on what I needed to focus on without worrying about slowing down or rushing the rest of the class. I did not have to feel like I was a burden to the other students.
By being free of all my academic challenges, I was able to explore new interests. My brother and I have always been very passionate about film. We usually would talk about it at home. We have photographic memories and we can act out any scene from any movie we have seen even after seeing it only one time. Finally we were able to talk about our interests in school. We could talk about great performances with our teachers and even some of the other kids, it was rare but when we did we appreciated that they could understand where we were coming from. I feel that movies portray harsh reality very accurately and that made me feel good because I was able to relate to the characters. My world grew bigger with every new film and great performance; it was a new window into the world.
Outside of school, I took a real interest in theater. I was in several plays. I was fortunate to find a Director who believed in me and she created a safe space for me to act. She created an environment where all the cast members respected each other for who we were and what we had to offer. There were no stars in her cast.
I am not as open about being gay as my brother is. It is not because I am ashamed; it is because it is just who I am. For a long time, I did not want to talk openly about it because I was afraid that someone I loved would say something homophobic, and I did not want to feel differently about that person I cared about. I did not want to know they could think badly of me. I did not want to be disappointed in them for being disappointed in me. In time I realized that I do have a family that supports me 100%. I know this is not the same for so many and it often makes me feel sad when kids in my support group talk about how horrible they have been treated not just by strangers, but their classmates and even their family members.
I can say that being in a smaller school with understanding teachers made it easier to be a young gay person. Quite honestly many of the other students functioned on a lower level of the autistic spectrum so I did not talk about personal issues with them. In some ways that was the trade off in going to a school for special needs. I was able to get a great education but I did not have the opportunity to develop many friendships. I did make some friends, and I had my brother and many of my teachers I consider to be my friends but it was not a typical school. By senior year, I was so ready for a new experience. I was so grateful for the opportunity I was given but it was challenging at times to be in a restricted environment where many students would have loud melt downs that was distracting and upsetting.
I feel my parents really helped me by getting me involved in various LGBTQ support programs and even helped me find volunteer opportunities in my community with the Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective. I have developed such wonderful friendships with many of the people there and it is a place where I feel like I belong. It also feels nice to actually want to be around people, where I feel accepted, heard and feel that my voice counts.
In the fall I will be attending a transition program. It is a gap year program where I will be with a small group of students like myself that I have already met and like very much. I will be gaining life skill experiences such as cooking and learning to manage my own finances and I will be working at various jobs during the week to help me explore vocational opportunities.
Massage therapy is what I want to do with my life because I find the environment of a spa very quiet and tranquil. I find massage therapy to be a very beautiful form in which the connection of touch is very comfortable which is good and important for someone like me who has autism. I plan on attending the Connecticut Center of Massage Therapy after my gap year. I am currently volunteering at the Milano Day Spa in Bloomfield CT where my passion for massage therapy is deeply appreciated by the staff. I am so happy to share that I have developed both personal and professional rewarding relationships with them. They have welcomed me with open arms from day one and have taught me so much and they have helped to increase my enthusiasm for my chosen career.
In conclusion, growing up as someone who has autism and who is gay was not always easy, but due to the wonderful and important people in my life I was able to get through many hardships. I feel that I will be able to get through many more difficult times by having their support and having them by my side. My journey is just beginning.
I appreciate the opportunity to talk with all of you today and that you were interested in hearing a bit about my story. Thank you!