Lost in translation

As of this week, I have to add a new item to the ever-growing list of Things I Simply Cannot Do: playing Dungeons & Dragons with middle-class people. And the resulting mental fallout is (un)surprisingly depressing.

It isn’t purely a class thing. Being of a somewhat writerly disposition, I enjoy the character and narrative development side of role-playing. I like to create characters that feel real and to watch them interact with their settings in ways that are consistent with their personality and abilities. Many other players are in it to win encounters, solve mysteries, and level up. The disconnect is unfortunate, because it makes the game jarring for everyone involved. For me, it means that instead of feeling like I am writing a good story, I feel like I am reading a bad one. That’s suboptimal, but I could probably deal with it.

What I cannot deal with is the alternative reality aspect of the issue, and by that I don’t mean the myths & magic side of things. I can suspend disbelief long enough to accept that my character is purple, has horns and a tail, and can shoot fireballs out of his hands. What I cannot fit in my brain is the possibility that a group of adult humans would apprehend an armed serial killer, lead him off into the night without disarming or binding him, and then be taken by surprise when he turns around and attacks them; yet that’s what my little crew did, not two days ago. Let me reiterate: we suspected that someone was a serial killer; we told him that we suspected him and were bringing him to justice, in a place where justice = death; we walked him out of a public, crowded, easily-secured building into the night, in a town he knew and we were unfamiliar with; we knew that he was armed with at least three easily-accessible daggers, yet we did not disarm him; and when my character suggested at least tying him up before going anywhere, everyone laughed and told me that he was an idiot. Sorry about the ableist slur, but they did; in fact, the precise sentence used was “his village is missing an idiot,” to which the only objection raised was that he was probably not missed.

It gets better: when the miscreant flipped out and got into some weird-ass combat stance and I shot him in the face with a fireball*, the DM queried the realism of my reaction. That wasn’t because fireballs aren’t really a thing; he wanted me to justify why and how I would be able to shoot one without prior warning. Why would I have been able to react so quickly? I mean, when five perfect strangers kidnap an armed murderer under pain of pain, they obvs wouldn’t expect him to react badly. Why would he? Why would anyone?

I just can’t operate like that. It makes my brain hurt. Worse, it makes my soul hurt. It makes me feel lonely, because I just cannot connect to the people around me. Although we are allegedly sharing an experience, our realities are so different that they hardly overlap. The effort required to explain myself and my actions is so extreme that it makes communication difficult and connection virtually impossible. I end up stuck on the outside, desperately trying to translate myself into someone the people around me can understand. And I know that a lot of these thoughts and feelings are the result of my rejection sensitive dysphoria, my early trauma, and my lifelong other-ness playing tricks on me, but that doesn’t stop it being A Thing. I am infinitely more lonely in a room full of people who can’t see my reality than when I am actually alone. When they refuse to accept my reality even when I explain it to them, that’s worse. When they openly mock me for trying, that’s pretty terminal. Thing is, that’s normally how it goes. The instances of someone Actually Getting It straight away are so rare that I can count them on one hand. I can count the instances of said person turning around and helping me present my case to the group at large on one thumb. It all goes to shit so often and so reliably that I should be used to it by now, but I’m not. It hurts every time.

That’s probably why the recent Murderer Kidnapping Incident has kicked out so many of my mental bugs out of their usual crevices. It made me revisit my usual theories on the nature of the relationships neurodivergent people form when masked (I think of them as parasocial, even though I know the term is incorrect. If anyone can come up with a better one, please stick it in the comments). It made me think back to all the instances when I was surrounded by people I couldn’t connect with because we were approaching the same experiences from wildly different angles. It made me think about the whys of it all. It kind of makes sense, what with me being neurodivergent, trans, acespec, queer, foreign, and not built to industry standards, but I still reckon that the biggest hurdle is that my socio-economic status really needs that hyphen. I am educated well beyond the point of usefulness and I have lived most of my life hovering around the breadline; that’s not normal. It’s no non-normal that it makes it almost impossible for me to find a place where I fit, even when I technically belong there. I mean, I spent this morning washing dogs’ arses while listening to a university lecture about the impact of the Viking slave trade on cross-cultural integration in Europe. The people who value me for the former are hardly likely to want to hear about the latter. The people who care about the latter don’t tend to socialise with people in my economic bracket, and not just because they’re snobs. We just don’t hang out in the same places, largely because I can’t afford to go there. I probably wouldn’t go even if I had the money, because I prefer not having to earn money to spending it, but the fact is that I am effectively priced out of their hypothetical friendship. When we happen to interact, we often fail to connect because of everything we don’t have in common – which is often a whole lot, because our life experiences have been so very different.

It’s a thing. It sucks. Being reminded of how much of a thing it is sucks, too. It made me really miss the people with whom I never needed to translate myself, because we have enough of a shared background that they just get me. I haven’t met enough of them and I haven’t been able to hold on to most of them, which is suboptimal. Missing them hurts; but it doesn’t hurt half as much as the feeling of disconnect I experience when I fail to translate myself adequately for normies to even begin to get me. Even when I succeed, when I manage to build a bridge over a lifetime of divergent experiences and expectations, having to put in that effort hurts. And there is no guarantee that the resulting “connection” will make up for that.

*It was actually burning hands, for those in the know. I love me some burning hands.