Fifty years ago, a TV series changed TV forever. That series was Star Trek, and one of its most endearing characters was Spock, a Vulcan who served on the Enterprise as its First Officer.
What made Spock stand out from the others was he was alien in both appearance and demeanor. He had pointed ears. He had a telepathic mind he could use to communicate with others to determine their true intentions. He had a superior intellect, but was humble about it. He favored science and reason over emotion, like the rest of his race.
But Spock was also partially human. He had little control when his emotions did give way. In a few episodes, they did. In “The Naked Time”, Spock succumbed to the disease that was plaguing the crew, causing him to lose his inhibitions and revealing his own anxiety and loneliness. He could not endanger others, so he sought solitude in his private quarters and cried until his emotions were finally spent. In “This Side of Paradise”, the plant-induced euphoria caused him to forego his duties as First Officer and he almost wanted to live on the planet, despite the fact that it was going to no longer exist.
To some, Spock appeared aloof and cold. But those who really knew him, Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy, saw through the cold nature to the human underneath. They saw someone intrigued by humanity, who wanted to be friends with them. In a way, Spock is similar to Aspies. Our intellect and inability to properly control our emotions makes it difficult to socialize with others and form friendships. We are like strangers in our own land. We don’t often understand cultural norms, proper methods of behavior, or even gestures. Sarcasm and idioms are difficult to comprehend because some of us see them in their literal context.
For me, Leonard Nimoy was more than a great actor. What I think made Spock such a great character wasn’t just the fact that he was alien, but that he was both a human and an alien. At the end of Star Trek II, when they are sending Spock’s body into space, Kirk says “Of all the souls I’ve met, his was the most human.” Many aspies like myself think of Spock as a kindred spirit, because like us, he is human, but cannot truly fit in with the rest of the crew. Yet, he still gains friendships. Kirk and McCoy are more than friends to Spock. They were like a family. I loved how McCoy would joke with Spock about his Vulcan side and attempt to tease him about the traits associated with it. Kirk would often go to him for advice on what the most logical course of action was. Spock seemed alien, but he was most certainly human. In Star Trek II, he risks his life to contain the radioactive field that could kill everyone on the Enterprise. But he doesn’t care. As he tells us, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” I enjoyed how baffled he was at human culture, both its positives and negatives. He could never truly suppress his humanity, and to be honest, I doubt he even wanted to. And neither do we autistics. We may express our emotions differently from those not on the spectrum, but we are capable of the same emotions as everyone else.
Thank you, Leonard Nimoy, for giving us such a wonderful, truly human character. You truly were the most human.