Ily recently posted a call for discussion between the autistic and asexual communities. I am all in favor of this–actually, I can’t express how much in favor of this I am. I wonder if doing a blog carnival on the topic might be feasible, even a very small blog carnival. There are a lot of us who are both out there. And if anyone wants to write about it but doesn’t have a blog, I would love to host guest posts on this subject.
I am on the spectrum. Specifically, I am diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome; I was diagnosed when I was twelve, and I consider that one of the most unbelievably lucky things that ever happened to me. (One day I will write about what finding out about the spectrum was like. In many ways, it was far more important, more worldshattering an event to me than discovering the word “asexual” ever was.)
My experience being on the spectrum in the ace community is, to be honest, tainted with the constant and innocently asked question “Is there a connection between being autistic and being asexual?”
No. And yes.
The way the question is usually meant implies something about causation, that autism might cause asexuality in some way, that my asexuality might be attributable to the fact that I am autistic. And that question fills me with rage and frustration. Of course, the way AVEN–for years the most active asexuality community I was part of–is set up, the relatively high rate of turnover means that that question gets asked a lot. It took me a while to understand why it bothered me so much.
See, what that innocent question implies is that without my autism I’d be some shape of sexual. It implies that my orientation might be less real because it derives from autism, so I find it offensive from the perspective of an asexual person. (No one ever asks straight autistics if they’re straight because they’re autistic.) And I find it offensive from the point of being on the spectrum, because the question also implies that my sexual orientation has an inherently different cause from that of neurotypical people. (No one ever questions whether neurotypical people have their orientations because they’re neurotypical.) So I find that question deeply offensive and unpleasant, because in my experience being in asexual communities it is always tainted with causation.
However, there’s a dimension of “yes” to the question, too. My experiences being autistic have certainly shaped my experience of being asexual, just as they have shaped everything else about me. It is well-nigh impossible for me to separate out either aspect of myself because both are integral to me; a neurotypical or nonasexual version of myself would not be me.
For instance: I don’t get flirting very well. It flies over my head when it happens to and around me, and I really don’t understand what constitutes flirting and what constitutes being friendly. If I hadn’t had the concept explained to me and it wasn’t such a cultural touchstone, I would never have come up with the idea on my own.
Does that stem from being autistic and not getting implied social cues, or from being asexual and not understanding flirting because I don’t catch sexual/romantic overtones unless I’m paying attention? Or from both?
It’s impossible to tell, because both autism and asexuality are part of me. They aren’t discrete modules of identity that can be separated from my experience of being myself. I’ve never not been autistic, and arguably I’ve never not been asexual. (Or aromantic.) I have no experience of being otherwise to contrast myself with.
Being autistic has impacted my experience of being asexual. For instance, my gender presentation shapes others’ perceptions of my sexual orientation. Part of that presentation is down to sensory issues. Having short hair means that I don’t have to shower immediately when I wake up because the feeling of greasy hair on the back of my neck is impossible to tolerate. I also have short hair because I like short hair. But being able to laze about in the morning without showering a little longer before sensory issues kick in is nice, and it plays a factor.
As for being asexual–well, aromantic asexual, because I can no more separate my experience of my romantic orientation from my sexual orientation than I can separate out my gender–has impacted my experience of being autistic. For one thing, it’s sensitized me to heteronormativity in autistic spaces and in works discussing autism. In particular, the cheerful “but your children can grow up to have a normal life and maybe even get married!” sentiment present in a lot of the books about autism sets my teeth on edge.
So yes, in that sense my neuro-atypicality and my asexuality are connected through me, just as every other pervasive aspect of myself connect to one another. It would be nice to discuss that intersection without my hackles rising at the constant causation question.
Who else wants to join the conversation?