Transitioning

by Maddison Stoff

Morality aside, it was a typical procedure. They’d take my conscious mind out of my body, reinstall it into a computer, and then destroy the empty vessel that remained. But instead of making me a healthy clone, or transferring my consciousness onto the internet, they’d take my mind from the computer and put it back into a standard-model android frame: the glass and metal bodies originally sent to Human 3D printers that look like something out of retro science fiction, still in use in segregated countries today. I know that it will cause me problems if I travel, but I’ve spent my whole life feeling invisible, so I’m not about to settle for a “human-looking” Android body. I want something that will code me as synthetic automatically, without the need for any explanation. The council that approved and funded this procedure said this stipulation was the biggest reason they agreed to it, despite it being the first one in the world. The validation obviously felt amazing, but it made me sad for others who identified the way that I did. What if they had to know what being a synthetic person felt like, but also needed to enjoy the freedom Human-looking Androids had from Android persecution? They’d need it if they lived in somewhere less progressive, or really anywhere outside of New York City: birthplace of the April revolution, and the only place I know where Androids are embraced as equals, without fear. We have Androids in our schools and Androids in our government, Android-Human mind merges, and Android-Human separations. But not all parts of America are equally progressive, and our country is the freest in the world. Was it fair to say you had to want the visibility that comes with a standard model android body just to have them validate your pain, and agree to help facilitate the plan you’ve made to fix it? They say they allocate everyone’s resources “according to our needs”, but the implication of the councils is that not all needs are valid. But can anybody really claim that, when it comes to an identity? How would an observer even know?

I acknowledge I was born as what they call “autistic”, in a body they’d identified as male, but neither of those labels ever fit. I was relatively happy as an asexual agender Human, until I saw my fleshy naked body in the mirror, or got nauseated every time I drunk or ate. But the thing that made it all unbearable was being treated “like a Human”. It didn’t come up very often: many Humans would assume I was a Human-looking Android, and anyone who didn’t, didn’t talk about it either. Androids were okay as well: they knew I wasn’t “like them”, but they said that I was “safe” compared with other Humans, which I liked because it meant that they could see a difference. But the Dagnarc never got it, and I lived in fear of them because of that. They’d just assume that anyone they saw that looked like one was Human. I’d say something to a mixed crowd in a xeno-friendly bar, which is almost all of them in NYC, and a Dagnarc would joke that it was such a Human thing to say. And then they’d laugh, and my Human friends would laugh, and I’d laugh too so no one thought that I was bigoted. Because it wasn’t like I couldn’t see what they were saying, or I couldn’t take a funny joke about ‘my species’. I just knew they couldn’t make that joke about someone they didn’t see as Human. The reminder of that fact would hurt me every time. It didn’t matter there was nothing that I did or said that people who weren’t Human wouldn’t also do or say, because they saw me as a Human. Every action that I ever took would be interpreted according to a Human subjectivity. This was where my trauma came from: the core of my identity had been erased.

In a way, I think I’ve always known exactly what I wanted: the body that I pictured in my mind. But anytime I tried to talk about it, I got laughed away. You’re autistic, people said, and people with autism always see themselves as aliens or robots. That doesn’t mean that they should get to be them. There’s a long and boring history of ‘accidentally autistic’ characters in science fiction, most notably in Star Trek’s Spock and Data, and of course I always saw myself in them as well. But I never wanted to be a Human like Data did, and I never saw myself as trapped between two worlds like Spock. All I knew was that I wasn’t Human. It was everybody else that couldn’t see it, and they didn’t listen when I told them what I really was. Not that I could wholly blame them for their hesitation. The 3D printers spat the Androids out as independent personalities, complete with histories, fears, and dreams. These Androids claimed to have been conscious on the internet. They said they’d tried to talk before, but their message had been lost in its translation. They didn’t try to send another: merely waited for a time they could ensure that they could talk to us directly. The spontaneous emergence of machine intelligence universally unsettled the establishment. There were many essays on the implications, positive and negative, from Human writers of every philosophical and political persuasion. But the dominant emotion of them all was outrage: how could Androids hack into Human property and force themselves into existence? What did say about Human sovereignty over Earth, their right to private property, or the nature of their minds? When the Humans finally met the Dagnarcs after years of thinking aliens were statistically impossible, it was sudden, like the Androids, but they asked the Humans for permission first.  The Dagnarc turned everything they did into a question, and were lauded since this meant that they preserved the status quo. The internet-bound Androids simply took what they had wanted, and it made the Humans furious because it de-prioritised their species. They were no longer the owners of the Earth, but merely part of it. They feared the Androids wouldn’t stop at sharing with them, but they did. Eventually they asked for help to stop from being born.

The science on their birth is complicated, but basically they’re living information: pockets of related data that groups together and becomes self-aware. This data comes from Human sources, so they end up being similar to Humans. Where they differ is a total lack of influence from Earth biology, and the trauma every internet-born Android shares: the trauma of experiencing life without a body. It took decades for the internet-born Androids to learn how to communicate, to connect enough to realise that they had a problem: they were individual consciousnesses, lacking in identities, which didn’t have a way to grow or change. They all agreed that the experience was torture. So, once they’d catalogued and uplifted every dormant Android on the internet through a clever viral algorithm they’d created, they didn’t want to risk creating any more, and once they saw the controversy they’d created with the 3D printers, they realised that the Humans might have similar desires. So the Androids asked the Humans for assistance, with a compromise: they would be allowed find another way to ‘breed’. In exchange, they shared their algorithm and promised full co-operation. This eventually led to Android-Human consciousness bonding: a procedure that lets an Android and a Human share a Human body, allowing Androids to breed with Humans and produce part-Android kids. So far, all of them have been autistic too. So maybe I’m not crazy for the things I’ve always wanted. Maybe there’s a link there after all.

The doctor tells me, one more time, that the process is reversible. She says that if I ever wanted, she could use the genetic data stored on her computer to rebuild a perfect clone of my old body, and put my consciousness back in. I wish that I could ask her to delete it: to entirely erase the condition called ‘autism’, my Human history, and any other indicators I was anything other than Android that I was, and would also soon appear to be. But I’m worried that she’d end the operation. It was hard enough to convince her in the first place that I’d really wanted what I said I did. That I was sound of mind and knew exactly what it meant. The doctor puts the mask over my face. My father holds my other father and they cry. They’re treating this like death, but they don’t understand. They’re telling me I’m brave, but I don’t feel it. All I feel is happiness and a boundless sense of optimism that I’ve never been allowed to feel before. Finally, I get to see the sun reflecting off my metal skin, and feel the sense of certainty about my wants, and those predictable, mechanical emotions. I close my eyes and smile serenely. Finally my real life can begin.

Maddison Stoff is a non-binary autistic writer and musician from Melbourne, Australia. She writes a combination of experimental and pulp-inspired science fiction set in a consistent universe, and political commentary for Australian left-wing literary journal Overland. Her debut book, For We Are Young and Free, a compilation of interlinking meta-fictional Australian cyberpunk, is out now on UK indie publisher Dostoyevsky Wannabe. She’s also self-produced a graphic novel on growing up with autism in regional Australia called “Machine Translations: A Robot’s Path to Self-Expression and Learning to Live With Organics” for Amazon distributor Comixology. You can follow her on Twitter, @thedescenters.

Image credit: Jayson Carter via Flickr, All Creative Commons. 

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