Learning to Soar

Learning to Soar

This autobiographical soundtrack takes the listener on a tour through the head of a gay man with autism. It offers insight into the multiple identity developments that have led me to be who I am today, and attempts to explain the stuggles I face as a result of converging identities. As I was creating the playlist, I realized that themes in my life came about in chronological order; every few years, I transitioned into a new phase of discovering myself. To that end, I have organized the album by theme as follows:

I Am: A Boy With Autism

I Am: A Different Teenager

I Am: A High School Graduate

I Am: A Gay Man

I Am: A Man Capable of Feeling

I Am: A Gay Man With Autism

The themes build on each other, with each offering greater insight into understanding the previous, and building the foundation for the next. When examined from start to the current finish, they highlight how far I have come since my life began. They show that I have learned to fly, but why stop at the sky when I could land on the moon? I am poised to soar, and this soundtrack provides the musical backdrop to a life preparing itself for greater and greater heights. 

Track Listing

1. Hate On Me- Jill Scott

2. Help Somebody- Maxwell

3. Everybody Knows- John Legend

3. Bad Religion- Frank Ocean

5. If I Were A Boy- Beyonce

6. Pretty Girl Rock- Keri Hilson

7. God Loves Ugly- Jordin Sparks

8. Gold Digger- Kanye West

9. Beautiful- India.Arie

10. Satellites- Beyonce

11. I Am What I Am- Gloria Gaynor

12. I Go Blind- Hootie and the Blowfish

13. Bust Your Windows- Jazmine Sullivan

14. I Will Be- Leona Lewis

15. If We Ever Meet Again- Timbaland

16. Marilyn Monroe- Nicki Minaj

17. Girl On Fire- Alicia Keys

18. The World Should Revolve Around Me- Little Jackie

I Am: A Boy With Autism
Many people see a different man when I pass them in the street than the man I see when I pass the mirror. I still see, more often than not, a five-year-old kid with full-on autism. You know, the kind when you just got diagnosed and the world ends. Those quirks, those social pitfalls, those obstacles...they still exist. The first set of tracks on this album showcase how I feel when I see that boy in the mirror.
Track 1: "Hate On Me" - Jill Scott
Track 2: "Help Somebody" - Maxwell
Track 3: "Everybody Knows" - John Legend

Track 1

Jill Scott “Hate On Me”

While I generally employ this song to silence those who make no effort to understand me as a person, it is an applicable anthem to every aspect of my life. I may be a bit crazy (and as a child, I was borderline psycho), but I am worth more than society’s bullshit towards autism and homosexuality alike. In my mind, it doesn’t matter the way in which I am being discussed or viewed. If I am being talked about, I am worthy of conversation. I am making a statement. People are being impacted by my presence. I have had, and will continue to gain, people who find me distasteful. Pardon me for not fitting into your boxes when I clearly operate inside of spheres. If you can’t deal with me, that is not my issue. I am not here to please anyone other than myself. 

Track 2

Maxwell “Help Somebody”

This one is dedicated to my parents. 

When I was diagnosed with autism, dealing with me was not my parents’ only challenge. They also were faced with the extraordinary task of explaining me to the rest of my family, to my schools, and to the world. They were charged with what seemed an undoable chore; not only did they succeed and creating safe spaces in which I could thrive, but they helped others do the same. Other families were able to learn from mine, creating an overwhelming network of support. My parents not only helped somebody. They, ultimately, helped everyone they encountered. 

Track 3

John Legend “Everybody Knows” 

As I began my transition through upper elementary school, I became increasingly aware of my condition. Autism was not consuming my thoughts, as I had yet to discover the intricacies of how my mind functioned, but I knew something was up. The physical therapy, the occupational therapy, the trips to Duke and UNC, the excessive absences from school to visit local doctors…I wasn’t physically sick, so what could possible be wrong? Turns out, society saw much deeper into my being than I did at this age. They knew something I couldn’t quite grasp. While this set the stage for unexplainable premature depression, it also made the drive to prove everyone wrong that much stronger. 

I Am: A Different Teenager
This set is the musical embodiment, in 4 short songs, of my time at a conservative Christian school. I spent the last six years of grade school there, and knew all along that I was...well, that I was going to hell. After all, gay is synonymous with damned, isn't it? These selections represent the internal struggle I faced as I began to realize that logic, emotion, and (that version of) faith didn't match.
Track 4: "Bad Religion" - Frank Ocean
Track 5: "If I Were A Boy" - Beyonce
Track 6: "Pretty Girl Rock" - Keri Hilson
Track 7: "God Loves Ugly"- Jordin Sparks

Track 4

Frank Ocean “Bad Religion”

Religion presented a very clever disguise as I navigated through middle school. The structure of a conservative religious academy worked wonders for managing my autism and helping me get a feel for social norms. 

At least, what I thought were social norms. 

While I was simultaneously growing as a teenager, I was developing as a sexual being. I found no logical evidence in my mind to support what I was being taught, but I had to forego my own senses to stay in a school whose environment was crucial to my being. I began to see the problems with the structure I hinge upon for survival; whoever creates the structure creates its functions, and heterosexuality was the only pubescent function permitted in this particular institution. For the first time, I saw religion rear its not-so-peaceful head, the one that would both save and ruin my life over the next half-decade. 

Track 5

Beyonce “If I Were A Boy”

Don’t act too surprised. I’m gay. Of COURSE I love me some BeyBey. 

I Am…Sasha Fierce was released well into my high school career, and it came at a brilliant time. I would argue this album saved me from myself. It prevented me from diving so deep into the closet that I might never escape its clutches. I have always identified as male, but this song paved the way for my realization that all males aren’t created equal. It ignited a spark, perhaps, of self-appreciation, that I was but one of many masculinities, and I yearned to know what “true” (for lack of a better term) masculinity was like. Now, of course, I understand how these things develop. Back then, though, all I had was Beyonce.