Sooo, I discovered I have autism recently…
I took a test online to determine if I possibly have it a couple months ago (the name of test escapes me at the moment. Thanks, ADHD!) and I scored “Very Likely” on it and it doesn’t feel all too inaccurate.
Folks with autism are generally characterized, according to various medical journals, as people who, to put it in simplest terms, think in a different way from most people, namely when it comes to recognizing social cues, interactions, and subtext. Sarcasm that may feel obvious to someone who is neurotypical will more often than not go over the head of someone who is autistic or at the very least will be understood in a different way. I’ve always struggled with this throughout my life and I thought it had to do with being different from most people in a more general sense but it would appear deep down this was always the reason why.
Because the general populace for the most part doesn’t make a ton of accommodations for those who are neurodivergent or even recognize it as a valid way of processing the world around them, this often leads to confusion and misunderstandings for autistic folk that come into conflict with neurotypical people. Neurotypical people don’t tend to be patient with most folks on the spectrum unfortunately and tend to view the extra explanations as a chore and a hassle and thus end up making autistic folk even feel bad about just even being confused about it.
Because these interactions tend to lead to harsh reactions toward those on the spectrum for simply not understanding indirect communication, what a lot of autistic people learn and internalize within themselves is a sense that they are off-putting, weird, or worse a social pariah, that every time they open their mouth they are greeted with either laughter or insults sent back at them.
It becomes almost an unsaid taboo to just be anything like this, let alone autistic.
Thus a lot of autistic people then tend to get categorized as apathetic, aloof, dispassionate, even robotic and icy because they won’t speak much but the truth is many of us on the spectrum are none of these things.
We all have feelings, we all have passions, joy, even love, but because of the way we are responded to when we do open up it feels almost dangerous to do so. The fear is that every time we open our mouth bad things tend to happen and thus being largely silent and reclusive is not so much a character trait of most autistic people but a defense mechanism to protect them from those harsh reactions.
It’s tragic really because deep down everyone wants to interact with other people but if all you learned growing up is that when you reveal yourself people will not only misunderstand you but treat you poorly it causes one to simply isolate to protect themselves from that pain.
But autistic people still desire the comfort of others just like anyone else and thus a vicious cycle begins of never truly feeling comfortable being alone AND with other people.
Now imagine, how much more exponentially difficult and scary this all is when you’re autistic and develop a crush on someone.
This is at the heart of an anime that a year ago I became a huge fan of; “Beastars.” Yes, that furry romantic anime that elicits plenty of cringing from general audiences actually has a lot to say about being in love and austic and it all has to with its lead character Legoshi.
I was wondering why I related so heavily to this character more than almost any other across multiple genres since it’s not like he’s the first anime boy to struggle with romantic thoughts and feelings of inadequacy. When I watched it fully the first time a year ago, I actually did make the observation that this silly, virgin wolf character was indeed autistically coded. Somehow it didn’t occur to me that I was relating to that part the most though and just like a lot of things with autistic people it just went over my head but now I recognize it as the central lever behind all the actions Legoshi takes throughout the story.
The short version of the synopsis of “Beastars” is simply our wolf character, Legoshi, struggles with his feelings for a rabbit character named Haru because he cannot distinguish his genuine romantic thoughts from his more natural predatory feelings. The in-universe dynamic of “Beastars” describes the predatory behavior of its carnivore citizens living within this anthropomorphic animal world as a taboo that has been harshly suppressed within that section of the populace. It is not without good reason as of course eating your fellow citizens is ummm…not good but one thing the series successfully walks the tight rope on is describing it as not necessarily a bad thing either because of what it is supposed to represent in real life; lust or more broadly anything society deems as taboo.
Lust, of course, has a dirty, often bad connotation in pleasant company. When someone is described as having lust for someone it never sounds wholesome as most see it as just simply a desire to have sex. Love on the other hand more often than not has a positive connotation because it can imply a truer feeling toward someone, that you’re transfixed by someone not because they are sexually attractive or just simply easy on the eyes but rather you’re into them for who they are because as a society we have deemed that an acceptable reason to feel strongly about someone.
But lust is also natural, just like the carnivores of “Beastars” desire to eat meat. Our hormones will creep up on us from time to time, especially during puberty, and naturally we want to get laid because of it. Yea, it’s not appropriate to just tell any person all the hyper sexual thoughts on your mind but we can’t help it sometimes if we mentally undress someone in our minds every now and then and this isn’t too different from the many chaotic thoughts that go on inside the minds of those on the spectrum.
The problem is more than anything consent and understanding boundaries and boy, if you’re autistic this is a fucking minefield when you are feeling this way.
Legoshi’s lust…err carnivorous feelings for Haru is how our story begins. On a lonely night Legoshi catches Haru’s scent in the air as she is walking back to her dorm causing his carnivorous instincts to overwhelm and temporarily take control of him.
He lunges at Haru in the cover of mists from behind but luckily snaps out of his trance just enough to not devour her but not without leaving a scar from his claws upon her arm as she runs away without her noticing the face of her assailant.
The next day, by chance, he meets Haru again but this time in broad daylight in her gardening club. With his predatory lust at bay, he begins to notice Haru just as she is but more importantly how he’s treating him which is quite unlike how other herbivores treat him.
Earlier in the show Legoshi is shown to be a reclusive weirdo even within the drama club he hangs out in. Because there was a devouring incident involving his close friend, an Alpaca named Tem, he is immediately suspected by some of the herbivore characters with one openly fearing that she will be next accusing Legoshi of “pretending” to be their friend so he could devour each of them.
But then Legoshi shows this character that he was only hovering around her because he had a love letter from Tem to posthumously give to her. After she reads it she feels remorseful for fearing him without trying to give him the benefit of the doubt first but Legoshi says this before she can finish…
Like many autistic people, Legoshi has internalized that people not only see him differently than most but that he is someone to be feared because he is different. He often has to be extra precautious about how he interacts with everyone because he fears that people will only find him more scary and off putting when he does. Thus when he does open up it often becomes messy and out of left field, as most autistic people struggle with that in between zone of being too quiet and too loud/inappropriate as we see here.
But upon meeting Haru officially something funny happens; she treats him as he is without thought to how the world see’s him.
As we see in other scenes in the show, just the sight of Legoshi is intimidating enough, especially to small herbivores, but to Haru he is simply just a boy in a lower grade than hers who’s come to visit her and her club. And that alone begins a crush for her within Legoshi because for the first time someone like her looked at him in a way that he rarely has been seen as before; in a way that he wants people to see him.
He was finally seen if anything as normal but more importantly not someone to be feared.
Legoshi slowly starts to understand that he is developing romantic thoughts for Haru but what he struggles with are again those predatory feelings that still lurk underneath it because of what happened before. He begins to feel shame for it, and fear that it might overwhelm the more pure thoughts he has for Haru. He starts to feel fearful that it isn’t love that draws him to Haru, it’s that lustful need to devour her and it terrifies him, causing him to only spiral further into self loathing.
It scares him because he feels that lust could and should scare Haru too and the thought of her running further away only worries him more. Because he can barely distinguish his romantic thoughts from his carnivorous ones he worries about saying the wrong thing in front of her or revealing even the tiniest bit of that predatory side to her because of what it might mean for their friendship as the two grow closer in season 1.
Autistic folk like myself and Legoshi often have a hard time letting our feelings be known because there tends to not be a healthy medium between the more mundane thoughts we have about everyday life and the far stronger more passionate feelings we have about things and especially other people. Neurotypical people are much better at it because they understand implication and social cues better, whereas autistic folk tend to speak more bluntly and more directly hence why we are sometimes seen as rude. When you can only understand how to say something directly, trying to subtly tell someone how you really feel about them becomes a difficult and even dangerous task.
You end up second guessing everything because you are trying so hard to suppress that “beast” within yourself because of how it is often treated when you do speak plainly and as you can see above, it just results in nothin being said. A recurring heartache for autistic folk like myself, especially when you’re in love.
What can often happen in its place is over-explanation though because we don’t know any other way to condense a complex thought without possibly tripping on a social taboo in between. This is probably best described in this interaction Legoshi has with his school’s most popular student Rouis who has difficulty getting a firm read on Legoshi himself.
What Legoshi doesn’t know about Rouis in this scene is that this deer character also struggles with how people view him and if anything wishes he were more like how he and others perceive Legoshi; a powerful imposing predator to be feared. Rouis misunderstands Legoshi’s softness for trickery meant to hurt herbivores like him, causing him to accuse the wolf as such.
But Legoshi, still not grasping the subtext, still thinks this is about him simply being seen as a scary predator and tries to assure Rouis that he means him no harm. In this way neurotypical folk misunderstand autistic people as much as autistic folk do them because it doesn’t occur to Rouis that Legoshi has no ulterior motives just because he happens to be aloof.
But again, what about Legoshi’s lustful thoughts of devouring Haru? What is the lesson this show is trying to convey here about these dark but nonetheless natural thoughts that creep up within Legoshi?
Well one thing that autistic genuinely prefer in most interactions is direct language or permission if you will to do anything, especially permission to be themselves. We desire this because we often don’t know if we are stepping over an invisible line when we speak. We don’t know if talking plainly, especially about our feelings for someone, is ok and deep down this is what Legoshi seeks from others, especially Haru.
When Haru is captured by the Lion gang known as the Shishigumi to be devoured by their crime boss, Legoshi springs into action to save her because now his desire to see her safe overwhelms his need for self-preservation around his thoughts about who he is.
Alongside the panda character known as Gohin the two storm the compound to rescue Haru from the literal jaws of death and when confronted with a fight with a powerful predator, Legoshi is forced to show his more violent side tied to his carnivorous instincts, even apologizing to Haru before he unleashes the beast within.
But what makes it cathartic for the audience, especially an autistic person like myself, is what follows after he defeats the Lion boss. He turns to Haru after this moment and gives her the choice to leave the compound with him or run away for fear of what he really is, this ugly side that society largley fears and despises. He laments for a moment that she may choose the latter because that’s how he has been taught it should go, that this lust, this beast, this on the spectrum side of him is to be feared.
But in the end she chooses to embrace him.
The side of Legoshi that he has deemed most ugly because of how society and virtually everyone see it, is finally validated in this moment and he begins to finally let his guard down with her.
As silly as it sounds, Legoshi also wants Haru to understand that there is a part of him that is just lustful and hungry for her and to finally be allowed to think that without feeling like a monster gives him the catharsis he desires.
What neurodivergent people like Legoshi and myself want more than anything is a sense that we have permission to truly be ourselves in front of others; warts and all. It’s exhausting for a lot of autistic people to walk this tightrope between social taboos and cues because we fear being misunderstood and more than anything feared like there is something inherently wrong with us.
Legoshi has internalized throughout his life that his natural predatory thoughts and even figure are something that needs to not only be suppressed but are unworthy of affection and love. That to let that part of himself out at all would only lead to tragedy and push those he cares about further away from him.
So when Haru chooses to try to understand him and embraces him after seeing him in his most ugly state it’s a tremendous relief for him because he finally feels like this monstrous side of him is maybe not so monstrous afterall.
That predatory side of him, the lustful side if you will is not inherently evil or dangerous. It is natural and a part of who he is and all he wants is to have all parts of him seen. He wants to be seen as more than just the predator within himself and the understanding that that part of him is worthy of love too, or at least respected.
Love is a natural feeling and so is lust and the latter isn’t always a bad thing. We want at the very least the permission to feel it or even say it out loud without fear of being labeled a pariah.
Of course, our story does not end there. As Haru tries to get close to Legoshi, and the truth of their first encounter becomes understood between them, they both still fear that their relationship is bound to end badly because of the herbivore/carnivore dynamic between them. They both fear that Legoshi’s “lustful” side will eventually take full control but one thing Haru does do in this moment is still give him permission to be himself even if if it might endanger her.
It’s all because she also feels validated by him as well.
You see Haru is also a bit of a social pariah herself, but for more conventional reasons. She is seen as a slut at their school because she happens to be promiscuous when it comes to sex and she has internalized it as her own way to survive, in the same way Legoshi internalized the need to be submissive in order to not be shunned himself.
Because Legoshi see’s her as more than just the label she’s been given by others, Haru embraces him too for seeing her for who she is and it’s no doubt because he too understands what that feels like. In this way Legoshi ALSO gave her permission to be herself without fear of being seen in an ugly way.
Autistic people often get characterized as being cold and emotionless but really many of us are empathetic because of this understanding that being misunderstood, being labeled so narrowly is an awful feeling.
The story of these characters hasn’t concluded quite yet (at least in the anime, don’t spoil it for me, manga readers!). In season 2 the characters spend a lot of time still misunderstanding each other because of Legoshi’s inability to read more neurotypical behavior but the important thing between the two is still that they see each other as more than what society has labeled them as and it’s why even when they fight a bit in the second season they still remain close and affectionate.
Being autistic in a society that largely misunderstands you, at best, is difficult to put it mildly. Because the system was designed by neurotypical folk and thus caters to neurotypical ways of thinking it’s hard for a lot of us to keep up and get people on the same page with us. When simply asking for accommodations for our needs is often met with laughter or, worse, derision, it just becomes a battle everyday for most people on the spectrum just to figure out what people want from them.
And when it’s about love and lust it becomes exponentially more difficult.
But as “Beastars” shows there is hope for those on the spectrum who worry that no one will ever understand them. The anime shows being understood by others is not impossible no matter where you fall on the spectrum and so is being validated for the person you truly are and not what society deems ugly within you.
The right people will see you for that. The right people will make the effort to meet you halfway on something. The right people will listen to your unusual needs and even help you with them. And the right people will even love you for it.
At the end of the day, none of us are perfect beasts to begin with; we are all ugly in one way or another to someone whether you are on the spectrum or not. But to be loved not in spite of it but rather as an understanding of it being a part of who you are is truly divine and cathartic. A lot of autistic people struggle with feelings of inadequacy because our neurodivergent behavior is seen as largely as disruptive at the best of times, so when someone tells us it’s ok to be authentically weird, off-putting, cringe or even lustful it’s a relief.
We just want to be seen for who we really are, not just the side that is deemed pleasant to the rest of society. We can’t always hide that beast within us, so to finally have permission to let it out, as ugly as it may appear, is the validation we all seek.
To tweak an old adage, there are two wolves inside you; a socially acceptable wolf that gets to coexist in society and angry one that lays dormant within. The wolf that is angry is not angry because he is evil though but because he has to be hidden. Maybe if we start accepting our “ugly” selves just a bit more often maybe he won’t be so angry anymore.
Maybe he will even be loved.