• David Salazar

A timeline of special interests

Updated: May 22

As an autistic person, my interests are largely cyclical. I can get interested in other things for shorter bursts of time, what I've ended up referring to as hyperfixations, but for what it's worth, my long-term obsessions are special interests, a term used often in the autistic community. What this means for me is that I think about said things constantly, and it plagues my day to day life by making it difficult to focus on other things. My special interests last one to two years on average, with my latest one being the biggest outlier of that pattern, having lasted for over three years and still going strong.

I attempted to do ages or years for these, but my memory is horrible when it comes to dates and time for the first few, so you will have to excuse vagueness. I only have fond and not so fond memories to give you, and not so many numbers.

1. Reading

While I do not remember this, my mom tells me I was obsessed with learning to read when I was a little kid. I looked at the signs and asked what they said, begged my mom to teach me to read. I was only four years old and she was unsure if it would be a good idea, getting so ahead of my classmates in preschool. But after much begging, she started to teach me how to read. I picked up on it quickly and that advantage followed me from preschool to first grade, where I finished all the schoolwork before the teacher finished reading the instructions. My mother tried to make me skip first grade because I already knew what they taught, but I wasn't "emotionally mature enough" according to the teachers at kindergarten—which I think may have just been code for “this kid is clearly neurodivergent”, but I will never know.

With reading, of course, came books: I picked up anything I laid my eyes upon, mostly children's books. I have very fond memories of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which I reread in its original English this January, a trip down memory lane of a novel of which most details had escaped from my memory. Another book I greatly enjoyed as a child was White Fang by Jack London, which I had to reread for school in eighth grade—this trip down memory lane wasn't quite as cheerful as I realized a) how much darker the book was than I remembered and b) how it had racist overtones I never picked up on when I was a kid.

Reading caused me to get into my next special interest, too: I stumbled upon this book called Mi Primer Larousse de los Dinosaurios, a child's encyclopedia that delved into everything about them, from the Larousse printing press. Which leads us to...

2. Dinosaurs (and everything pre-human)

It seems to be a thing for autistic children to have been obsessed with dinosaurs at some point. I don't quite know why, but as soon as I laid my eyes on that book I was completely obsessed. The details of dinosaurs and everything pre-human (or rather, pre-mammal; I was never too into what happened after dinosaurs went extinct) escapes me now after so many years; but I do have the vivid memory of telling my parents a little bit about every single epoch of the world I knew at the time, from the Precambrian to the Cretaceous. I quite liked the Carboniferous after watching a YouTube documentary and seeing massive CGI bugs as they explained that all the extra oxygen made everything much bigger. Those CGI dragonflies also gave me a lifelong terror of the real thing, as small as they are now, but hey, details.

I had several books in regards to dinosaurs, including a pocket-sized book that my near-sighted self had a lot of trouble with and a massive adult-oriented book about everything pre-mammal which I never actually read, just looked at the pictures and the raw data in regards to each species it talked about. That may be a reason why autistic people love dinosaurs so much; there are numbers, pictures, things that are so set in stone it is impossible to be too confused about them.

I briefly wished to be a paleontologist when I was seven, until I realized just how much of my time would be spent with my hands in the dirt, looking for fossils. The idea repelled me and I had to shut this dream of studying dinosaurs down; sensory issues will make or break career choices, at least for me and my knowledge that I hated for my hands to be dirty.

3. Death Note and Code Geass

Quite a non sequitur, but after two years of floundering through short-lived interests (most notably Minecraft, which has been a life-long love that spurts into hyperfixation from time to time), I was in fourth grade when one of my two friends told me to watch Death Note. Looking back at it I feel like that was a mistake on both our parts, to watch such a heavy show when we were so young, but it isn't like I can take it back now.

I watched Death Note through YouTube, subtitled to Spanish—I miss the days where you could find pretty much anything on YouTube, divided into a handful of parts per episode and yet still watchable. I became obsessed with it and talked about it with my friend often and started to mimic one of the detective's, Near, body language, most notably him twirling strands of his own hair with his fingers. I was quite obsessed with the guy, which looking back at it is pretty clearly because he was meant to be read as autistic and I latched onto someone I could relate to.

I hadn't really watched anime before Death Note. Sure, I had seen the childhood anime, Pokémon, some stray episodes of Dragon Ball Z, heard about Saint Seiya and Naruto, but apart from that I truly had no idea there was an entire world of animation beyond the Cartoon Network and Disney XD shows I watched. I perused the Internet, looking for recommendations, and tried out some of the most popular anime; the first episode of Naruto, One Piece, so on and so forth, but nothing quite held my interest.

I really do not remember how, exactly, I stumbled upon Code Geass. I am sure it was via someone comparing it to Death Note, as it has always been compared, but I immediately got into it and watched both seasons of it. I really loved it and I still think about rewatching it now that I am no longer a kid that has no critical thoughts in his little brain. I'm sure it would be fun.

Death Note and Code Geass were also my first contact with fandom culture. I was ten and already poisoned by the Internet, so soon I was reading badly translated doujinshi, reading fanfiction and writing some as well. My first fanfic was in a horrid Spanish-speaking yaoi site and was L/Light, a fact that will probably haunt me to my grave.

I watched a lot of AMVs on YouTube of Death Note and Code Geass, as well, a time-honored tradition for any kids who watch anime. That was how I stumbled upon a Code Geass one that was set to "City" by Hollywood Undead. Which led me to number 5; we will get to after a detour into Harry Potter land.

4. Harry Potter

I am pretty sure I read Harry Potter because everyone was talking about Harry Potter. It was summer of 2014, I think, and I read all of the books in the span of two months or so. Fun fact that may or may not say a lot about me as a person: I read The Hunger Games before I read Harry Potter. I had always been a bookworm as a kid, but this was what really hit the sweet spot for me, as it did for a lot of children everywhere.

While I had already been involved in fandom tenuously, Harry Potter was really what kicked me into it full force. I started using fanfiction.net, participating in forums and pretending to be thirteen to scrape by in terms of legality. It was there where I came in contact with an Internet family of sorts, which had its own forum on the site. I commented asking if I could join; while they usually approached the people they wanted, they saw no problem with it, and I soon became a part of the family, from someone who also claimed to be thirteen to a forty year old woman. They had a "family tree" chockful of incest and fandom crossovers. The story of what happened is for another essay, just know that I now hate fanfiction.net with a passion and cannot handle looking at its interface for too long.

Despite the bad times while in the fandom, I learned a lot of things through Harry Potter. I started to learn English tenuously and became more involved with shipping men, trying to translate a ship manifesto for Remus Lupin and Sirius Black despite my very limited knowledge of English before giving up.

Nowadays, I do not care much for Harry Potter. My interest in the saga deals mostly with mocking some of JKR's choices in the books and with the “extra content” she has been pumping out. Sometimes I still speak about Lupin and Sirius with a friend or two, but I do not give it my time of day. After all that has happened, and all the years that have gone by, I can admit it's not that good nor that special.

5. Hollywood Undead

As I said beforehand, what got me into Hollywood Undead was a Code Geass AMV set to one of their songs; I watched it and the song haunted me on my way to school the day afterward, writing down the lyrics of the intro as I caught it with my tenuous grasp of English.

For anyone that might not know, Hollywood Undead is a rap-rock band with a gimmick of all the members having masks designed for them that they wear for the first fifteen to twenty minutes of concerts. I got into them in November or so of 2014, if I had to put a date to it—I binge-watched a lyric channel's videos to understand the lyrics, needing it due to a mix of auditory processing issues and not having a firm grasp on English.

There was a problem, though; approximately no one who spoke only Spanish knew who the fuck they were. I rambled on about them on my Twitter account back then, probably annoying my "Internet family", but I was desperate to talk about it with someone, or at least to my Twitter feed. I tried to look for fanpages, anything that was Spanish-speaking and came up empty, long since abandoned Facebook pages and blog posts. I had used Tumblr a little bit before, mostly to look at the Harry Potter fandom, but I had never participated. That was when I made a new Tumblr with the goal of searching for other people who liked this semi-obscure rap band, and it turned out there was a small but active fandom there.

I made a new Tumblr in January 2015 and I started to interact with the fandom slowly, like a frightened deer. I used translation websites religiously to get what I meant out to the world; I remember a certain feeling of shame when people asked me what my mother language was, having internalized xenophobia and racism when I was only eleven solely from USAmerican media. When I started to actively participate, I heard about trans and nonbinary people for the first time in my life, and it felt like everything suddenly clicked. I cycled through identities, but the first label I applied to myself was genderfluid, before going for agender, which lasted a while until I found myself in the edges of transmasculinity as puberty kicked in full force.

I have a lot of positive things I could say about my time in the small community for Hollywood Undead on Tumblr and also a lot of negative ones, the main cons being the exposure to 2015 Tumblr culture in terms of how it dealt with mental health and the meeting some people who were incredibly toxic toward me. The pros, though, are fruitful—I met some Internet friends there, the first English-speaking ones; I'm still in semi-regular contact with Irish, a Canadian person who once sent me a little bracelet and two Hollywood Undead CDs through the mail.

Tumblr, of course, had its specific interests back then, in the good old days of that website, which I tried to get into with mostly unsuccessful results. Except for Fall Out Boy and general bandom shenanigans; “emo trinity”, whatever the Hell you want to call it. Their sixth album, American Beauty/American Psycho, had just come out, and I watched the audio video of one of the songs after it got linked in a post on Tumblr.

Thus my next obsession began.

6. Fall Out Boy

I ate through Fall Out Boy's discography and quickly got involved in the fandom, a place much bigger and therefore much worse than the one for Hollywood Undead. While my experiences weren't as deepset because I didn't get close to too many people, I still saw and involved myself in things I shouldn't have when I was only around twelve.

Through what has been dubbed 'bandom' I met my first long-term boyfriend, a guy who at the time went by the name Finley—I don't know what has become of him, all contact long gone, but I did somehow manage to have a relationship that nearly lasted a year and a half when I was only thirteen. Our breakup pretended to be amicable before it broke down into pieces.

My specific interactions with the fandom are a pool in my memory from being thirteen and having the worst time of my life mental health wise. I do remember leaning into their music through depressive bouts, spinning their lyrics into things that would comfort me; buying a CD of their fourth album, Folie a Deux, and listening to it in the car with my dad. The most vivid memory, though, is for when they announced their seventh studio album, MANIA, I was in the bus for a school trip—I got the notification from their Twitter and checked it, before promptly starting to happy cry when they said the album would come out September 15, 2017, the day of my fourteenth birthday. Months later I got hit with thick disappointment when they announced the album would be pushed back to January 2018. It was still an amazing album, though, and I have the bragging rights of it having been almost on my birthday, so I can't quite complain.

I still listen to Fall Out Boy and they have marked me in a way I can't quite put into words. Their songs fill me with nostalgia for a time of my life that was downright horrible and I sometimes consider getting a tattoo of a lyric or two. I do not think I will ever truly let go of them; although their obsessive grip over my life has faded, they are always in the background, sometimes coming up in my Spotify library and making me smile wide.

7. Hamilton

Look. Either you're like yes! Hamilton! Love that show! or like Hamilton? Really? and both options are completely valid. I was fourteen, had no concept of nuance, and had been avoiding the hyped up musical for nearly half a year, having started to hear about it in my social circles in late 2016. I gave it a listen in May 2017 and immediately fell in love with the storytelling prowess and the music. Shortly afterward my boyfriend at the time broke up with me, after our strained relationship finally sank to the bottom of the ocean.

I could say many things about my involvement in the fanbase for Hamilton, but none of it is really worth hearing. What matters is this: I met many of my current friends through it. This blog I followed posted a link to their Discord server, I joined while knowing absolutely no one there in November 2017, and the rest in history. I formed friendships that I hope are lifelong—even as our interests diverge and meet again, we are there for each other. Some of the people I would like to mention are Milo, a Swedish artist and one of the three white people in the server; Moonz, the server owner who is incredible at DMing Dungeons & Dragons; and Mar, my brother in arms in religious struggles and Latinidad.

While most of my appreciation for Hamilton has gone away with time as I thought more of its contents and its meaning, I still have a few songs in my Spotify library for nostalgia purposes, and because they are still really good from a songwriting perspective.

Most of my special interests are jumps I can't quite explain, but I can't say the same about how I went from Hamilton to House MD. One of my friends, Jay, talked to us about how Lin-Manuel Miranda guest starred in a couple episodes of House MD and we watched about half of one of those episodes together in June 2018 on Rabb.it, a defunct watch-together site I miss dearly.

And well, I was kind of a goner.

8. House MD

The first episode of House MD I ever watched was season 1 episode 19, Kids, which I watched when I was twelve or so. I had a friend who was obsessed with it back then, but I didn't quite think about it too much. It was only through Jay that I reconnected with the series and fell in love with it: the first episode I properly watched was season 6 episode 1 Broken, when House gets put in a psych ward to detox and in which Lin-Manuel Miranda guest stars as his roommate, manic Alvie.

I fell in love with the show on sight. Everything about it called to me in that episode—the honest show of mental health and hospitalization (although I do have my nitpicks), House's characterization, not to mention Alvie's character. For a good month afterward I was only interested in the little world I had created of House and Alvie, while my friend (now boyfriend of nearly three years) Jacques started to watch the show proper. For Christmas I got a boxset of the entire show at what felt like a steal, and promptly started watching it from the beginning.

I formed a lot of new friendships through House as well. Despite having finished in 2012, there is still an active fandom of mostly LGBT teenagers who read subtext in the titular character's friendship with James Wilson, a Watson expy to House's Holmes knockoff. I wrote a lot of fanfiction and obsessed over the show, and I still haven't finished it on behalf of the seventh season being horrid and season eight being too much for me to handle. I may finish the show one day, but for the time being I am pretending the show ended with the first half of the season six finale.

This is still an ongoing interest, although it has melded into the background as I become interested in other TV shows, most notably Hannibal and Breaking Bad. I still can dump information at will about House and Wilson's gay subtext to any friend even remotely interested in hearing about it, or what I would have changed if I was in charge of the show. I don't keep quiet about it; I'm quite happy to have it as an ongoing interest of mine and to think about those two idiots that were definitely meant to be together, even if the execs didn't quite want it to be like that.

9. Judaism

This is one of those on-and-off loves of mine, those things that go so deep into my psyche I think about them every day. I could go on about my relationship with Judaism and my desire to convert, but I already wrote something about it and I do not plan to take half of this timeline with those details. The point is—I desperately want to be Jewish, and I love learning new things about it. From reading books to watching videos to listening to my Jewish friends talk about their experiences to going to services online, it's all glorious.

While I cannot do anything about my desire to convert just yet, I do still immerse myself in the culture. I have been reading books, going to services. The people are all so kind—I joined a group study on Saturday mornings briefly before I had to leave because of time zone differences, and everyone was the sweetest. They took me seriously, didn't ask, let me talk about being trans when the occasion made it something worth mentioning. I have talked with my friend's rabbi a little bit, when he's live on TikTok, and he is one of the kindest men I've ever seen. For Lag B'Omer this year I went to a Shabbaton of various Reconstructionist synagogues; danced when they told us to dance, listened to the music, rocked back and forth, stimming happily to Lecha Dodi.

There is something so comforting about the concept of community, after years of alienation and a dissatisfying relationship with Christianity. I can only hope one day I can join them in song properly, my body submerged into the waters of the mikveh, marking me as Jewish for the rest of my days. For the time being, I will write and read out my longing.

Talking about reading out, and of wanting to be part of the "people of the book"...

10. Reading

Yes, we've come full circle!

I love reading, always have and always will, but I had really abandoned the habit until September 2020. I read some books beforehand, sure, gifts from my boyfriend and mandatory reading at school, but I didn't do it too often until COVID hit deep into me. Being involved in a Jewish space made me pick up a few books, most notably Anita Diamant's with Choosing a Jewish Life and Living a Jewish Life, both considered handbooks for conversion, and that's what got me right back into the habit.

I read eight books in 2020, all of which were in its last quarter. I have tried to be diligent with the habit now in 2021, having read 12 books out of my ever changing goal of 24 or 30 or 36, and I have sunk my teeth into some quite good titles. Most of them have been through my phone and an e-reader app, but the glare has hurt my head badly, so I've been looking onto buying an actual e-Reader, one on the bigger side of things. Why are they all so small? I want it to be book-sized, for Christ's sake. It's a mystery to me.

With reading came other interests, short-lived hyperfixations. I reread the first book of The Hunger Games trilogy, what got me into more mainstream fiction when I was only eleven because I saw the second half of the first movie (my mother always told me that if I hadn't stumbled upon the movie she would not have let me read it, which I think is understandable); it was a joyous experience. I've also started to connect with some of my friends in the area of reading, a bunch of bookworms around my friend circles.

And that's it. That's what I can give you. I am floundering between main special interests right at the moment of writing this. Reading has been put into the background as I've been watching Breaking Bad, which may or may not develop into more than a passing hyperfixation. It seems I do have a thing for shows that ended ages ago.

I love being autistic; I love the passion I have for the things that interest me, the fervor that consumes my body as I type out a long-winded message about House MD's homoeroticism, as I speak to my parents about dinosaurs or as I ramble on and on about Fall Out Boy to my psychiatrist right before getting diagnosed as being on the spectrum. Experiences with special interests are varied things—from lifelong loves that are there since you can recall to hopping from one interest to another, trying to get a taste. I just hope you saw one example among many with this timeline.