"We Underestimate the Power"
The new sweater vest was soft
and warm, a constant caress that
made Astin feel just a little more
at home in xyr own body.
The underwear helped too,
short-legged briefs and a tank top
that stretched to fit xyr hips and chest.
The fitting at Threads had been ...
different, than what Astin remembered.
It was necessary for some of the garments,
but not as unpleasant as everything
xe had experienced in the past.
That made Astin wonder about
Shuttlecock's friend Palmer
and the massage idea.
Space could be a lonely place.
Why keep living in denial?
Astin enjoyed xyr own company
and loved the challenges of trading.
Xe really wasn't a hugger, but sometimes
xyr skin, too, felt a little lonely.
So Astin went to see Palmer
and explore whether it might be
possible to enjoy skin contact in
a more controlled, more secure,
and more pleasant context.
Palmer was short and plump
and round, with a lively face and
hands that roamed everywhere.
She had three bracelets on each wrist --
scarlet, orange, and black on the right
then lilac, navy, and aqua on the left --
that she kept playing with as they spoke.
"You know, it's fine if you're nervous," she said.
It had never been fine. It had been,
'Don't be so unfriendly, Astin.
People will think you're antisocial.'
"Shuttlecock sent me," Astin said.
"She thought you could -- I have some --
I don't like when people touch me,
but sometimes I still get lonely."
"Oh, I had that, still have it some,"
Palmer said with a nod. "They don't like
people who touch all the time, and they
don't like people who avoid it either.
Picky-picky-picky and never happy.
Want to borrow a fidget toy?"
"A what?" Astin said. She wasn't
crowding xyr, and that felt strange.
"You don't like people touching you,
but you need something to do with
your hands and your skin," she said.
"That's what fidgets are for, so you
can stim without annoying people."
Palmer twirled the bracelets on her wrists.
"I made these from cafeteria supplies,"
she said. "They're food-grade silicone
so they're safe to finger or chew on.
I just expanded the patterns for
napkin rings in the tridee printer."
"I like jewelry, but it's ... iffy," Astin said.
"Some people think that only women
wear jewelry, and I'm not a woman.
I just got my paperwork changed to
Other and I don't want to blur that."
"Hmm," said Palmer, moving to a rack of
necklaces. "These were pie weights until
I drilled them to make beads. The rainbow
is probably too girly for your taste. However,
the infinity loops were meant as chain pulls or
drop weights. As pendants, they're pretty unisex."
"I wonder if those would sell," Astin murmured.
"Oh yeah, people like them," Palmer said.
"I'm a bodyworker, not a shopkeeper, so I
just use them to help people keep calm.
You could probably sell them if you want."
"I'd like to take some samples around
and see what appeals to my customers,"
Astin said. People in the Lacuna were
on the odd side; if Palmer's clients liked
these, they might prove popular elsewhere.
"The other things I have are handheld
rather than wearable, and they're made
from different materials," said Palmer.
She offered xyr a metal basket with
several crocheted balls, and their hands
touched in passing. "These are made
with linsey string that turned out too stiff
for clothes. You can squeeze them
or kick them around for fun."
The balls crinkled and crunched
in Astin's fist. "What's that noise?"
"They're filled with crushed comet
inside food wrappers to keep the bits
from escaping," said Palmer. "The puzzle
isn't something we made, though, it's
salvage and one-of-a-kind. But you
could look for other puzzles."
"So people in the Lacuna like things
they can fiddle with," Astin mused.
"Some do, some don't," said Palmer.
"Moving parts, interesting textures,
those are popular. Other folks want
something to chew on, especially if
it has a flavor or a smell of its own.
Then there are the people who prefer
stuff that clicks or dings or hums."
Astin had to stop and take notes. Even if
xe didn't get a massage, this was worthwhile.
"Thanks," xe said. "You've been very helpful.
Pick out some samples for me to take. I'll
swap you a few things from my ship that
might make good fidgets, one for one."
Palmer found an empty box and filled it
with samples of the silicone toys in
various colors, along with several
of the crocheted comet balls.
Astin found that xe didn't mind
having Palmer nearby as much as
other people not, even close enough
to touch, because she never tried
to grab or demand things from xyr.
"Have you thought about the massage?"
Palmer said. "I'm not pushing or anything,
just noticed that you're rubbing your hand."
Astin looked down and realized that, yes,
xe was rubbing xyr hand where it tended
to cramp up from writing or typing --
a hazard of mercantile work.
"Could you do just my hands, and
maybe my forearms?" Astin wondered.
"Sure, I do hands all the time," Palmer said.
"You wouldn't even need to take off your clothes
for that, although if you want your forearms
done, you'll have to push up your sleeves."
Astin looked at the ivory sleeves of xyr shirt
extending from under the sweater.
"That's probably all right."
"Do you want to call Shuttlecock
to serve as a spotter?" Palmer said.
"She's done that plenty of times.
Then you wouldn't be all alone
with someone you don't know."
"That would help," Astin said,
shoulders relaxing at the thought.
"I'll ask her," said Palmer. "Meanwhile,
start loosening up your muscles with
one of the comet balls. They really help
untangle cramps in hands or arms."
Astin kneaded a ball, first in one hand
and then in the other, while waiting for
Shuttlecock to arrive. Its crunchy texture
and colorful string made an interesting toy,
the hand cramps slowly relaxing
under the gentle pressure.
Shuttlecock soon appeared,
happy that Astin was willing
to give Palmer a chance.
"You have found the best ever
socially acceptable way of stimming,"
Shuttlecock said. "I'll spot for Astin,
and would you mind doing me next?
I love sewing but it's knotting up
my shoulder muscles again."
"Speaking of socially appropriate stims,"
Palmer said, "I love the things you make.
Astin's wearing one of your sweater vests,
right? Everyone needs a good stim."
"Everyone?" Astin said as Palmer
settled xyr into a padded chair.
"Everyone does it," Palmer said firmly.
"It's just the normal people like to pretend
that they don't, or theirs is different. Sure,
some people need to stim a lot more,
but that doesn't make a bad thing.
Took me a while to realize that,
but it's true, and it's important."
She held out her hands, waited for Astin to offer
xyr own. That was much better than being grabbed.
Astin peeled off the Do Not Touch Me patch
and set it aside for later retrieval.
The massage, when it happened, was luxurious.
Palmer smoothed lotion over Astin's hands,
something that wasn't scented or sticky,
and made her fingers glide over xyr skin.
The pressure was perfect too,
broad smooth strokes that didn't
tickle, not too light and not too firm.
Fingertips traced between the bones
and kneaded the pad of muscle that
connected thumb to palm, working
the knots out one at a time.
Astin still didn't feel like taking off
xyr clothes, but the skin contact was
far more appealing than usual, especially
with Shuttlecock there as a spotter.
Palmer moved up Astin's forearms,
careful not to trespass beyond the line
drawn by the pushed-up sleeves.
It was easier to relax than Astin had
expected, and by the time Palmer finished
the massage, xyr body felt -- if not welcoming
quite yet, at least somewhat less alien.
Astin also did not feel like moving.
Palmer just chuckled and shifted over
behind Shuttlecock's chair to start
working the kinks out of her shoulders.
"We underestimate the power of touch,"
Palmer said softly. "All of us need it, just
in different ways or amounts -- a smile, a kiss,
a cuddle, a backrub, a hand to hold when we're
hurting. It is the little acts of kindness and caring
that can turn a life around, make it worth living."
It was strange to realize how much people
denied themselves, when they didn't have to.
Astin, whose body had been a foreign country
and was only beginning to yield to exploration,
silently agreed with that sentiment.
* * *
"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."
-- Leo Buscaglia
Finding unisex clothes can pose a challenge. Playout is a type of gender-neutral underwear. This is Astin's vest. Here is a white unisex t-shirt and an ivory turtleneck. Ideally, one wants to build up a basic wardrobe. This one is for women but almost neutral, and here's a checklist. This is a similar list for men. So far I have not found a unisex version, but it would logically consist of simple garments in neutral tones, augmented by accent pieces in your personal style.
Jewelry can be designed to provide sensory stimulation. Palmer is wearing asymmetrical bangle bracelets, faceted ones, and square ones. There are chunky bead necklaces and infinity pendants.
People in the Lacuna are making things out of available materials. Silicone pie weights may be drilled to make beads. Crochet stress balls are easily made from string and filling. Some people prefer rigid hedgehog balls or rubbery balls. The tile puzzle was found, rather than made in the Lacuna, and can be "solved" in multiple ways.
Neurodiversity entails respect for people with autism and other mental differences. This includes traits like tactile sensitivity and how people feel about it, with pictures. People may find most touch icky and may wear a Do Not Touch Me warning.
Typically, primates need touch, but some people have touch aversion. One way to help balance these aspects is trust building. There are also exercises for touch-sensitive children.
Body boundaries are important, even in nonsexual contexts and even with children. It is important to get consent before touching. However, asking before every touch can get irritating and tedious, so societies and people in relationships often set standards of expected touch. When those don't match, it causes friction. Understand how to set boundaries, respect boundaries, and deal with people who violate your boundaries.
Massage has many benefits. It can help with body image, queer identity, and neurovariant challenges. Learn how to enjoy a massage.
Hand cramps have various causes, including repetitive motion. There are various remedies for this. You can relieve cramps with hand and finger stretches. Massage also helps, for yourself or for someone else. Watch a video of hand massage.
Stimming is valuable to many people, despite the stigma currently attached to it. Until quite recently, everyone's hands were busy working most of the time -- if not engaged in whole-body effort like farming, then sit-down tasks such as peeling, carding, spinning, sewing, polishing, etc. Suddenly humans decided to ditch thousands of years of adaptation and make everyone be still. 0_o It's not working out so well. Thus people are looking for socially acceptable stims such as notetaking, knitting, rocking chairs, puzzles, and more. Think about how to choose a stim that works for you. That's going to become a major piece of advice in the Lacuna when people move in and feel anxious: Do you have a stim? If not, try some until you find one that helps.