Sasha is “obsessed with everything having to do with Russia and communism,” and even asked for a Soviet flag for their sixteenth birthday. Sasha likes to talk, and according to their friends, is “very outspoken about things,” but only “once you get to know them.” Otherwise, Sasha is reserved and “shy.” Their hair is soft brown and long, and when they smile, it shines in their eyes, which are hidden behind “round owlish” glasses. Sasha rarely looks people in the eye and has “Asperger’s, a form of autism,” which makes them “awkward socially.”
Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder that is frequently defined by social awkwardness and an unusual use of language, both of which apply to Sasha, but more importantly, it exists on the autism spectrum. Several variations of autism exist, ranging in the type and severity of symptoms, and Sasha falls somewhere on that spectrum. This is much like Sasha’s view of gender—gender also exists on a spectrum, ranging from male to female, and Sasha falls somewhere near the middle of that spectrum.
Sasha is a senior in high school, and they are “passionate” about “buses, cartoons, and the color purple.” According to Healy, one of Sasha’s best friends, Sasha is also passionate about “live-action role-playing” and Homestruck, a web-based comic. They love “Sarchasm,” a local “ska-pop-punk band,” and they are completely dedicated to veganism, although they don’t like how “other vegans on the Internet make such a huge deal about it.”
Sasha’s love for live-action role-playing is, like their made-up language and imaginary society, a form of an alternate reality. Sasha’s nonbinary identity doesn’t fit into America’s gendered society. Because of this, they are passionate about creating new realities that acknowledge and respect their gender identity.
Sasha’s closest friend is Michael, and they have been that way since the ninth grade. Sasha and Michael’s tight circle of friends includes Healy, another kid named Ian, and Michael’s girlfriend, Teah. Within this circle, Sasha is known as “the brilliant one.” For Sasha, school is easy, and they breeze through all their advanced courses. The others are smart as well, as are most of the students at Maybeck, a private high school in Berkeley with only one hundred students. Maybeck is a “refuge for bullied kids,” and while they are accepting of everyone, there are still cliques of “artsy kids, stoners, and bros.”
Different forms of autism are often associated with high levels of intelligence, and this is certainly the case with Sasha; however, the fact that most of Maybeck’s students do well in school also reflects their privilege. Slater has already mentioned that the test scores are lower at nearby Oakland High where Richard goes to school, and this is directly related to the hardships they face as a poor community. It is much easier for the Maybeck students to focus on academics when they aren’t distracted by part-time jobs or crime.
“We are the nerdy kids,” says Ian. Their group is “funny, sort of crazy,” and into games, anime, and manga. In their free time, the group plays a game called “1001 Blank White Cards,” or “Index Cards,” in which a growing stack of previously blank note cards expands with jokes, silly commands, and random thoughts. If a player draws a blank card, they assign it a “point value and effect.”
Anime, or Japanese computer animation, and manga, a type of graphic novel, are popular “nerdy” stereotypes, and are frequently associated with socially awkward teens. Both anime and manga offer an alternative reality and are an escape from a society that marginalizes those who are different.
1001 Blank White Cards has no real objective and it can’t really be won, unless the card that reads “Game over, Ian wins!” is drawn. Over the last four years, the game has grown to a stack of cards measuring two feet and must be carried in a “special bag.” Now, most of the cards have been assigned a value, but when they began playing back when Sasha was called “Luke,” most of the cards were blank.
The game 1001 Blank White Cards is yet another alternative reality—one that is completely constructed by Sasha and their friends. In this new reality created by the cards, each of them is who they want to be, not who society has decided they are, including Sasha’s nonbinary gender.