Writing From Factor X

December 6, 2010

Ace On the Spectrum

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?

23 Comments »

  1. Except that I’ve never been diagnosed as autistic and don’t think I am, I would like to join. As it is- I’d definitely like to read the posts and see the discussions.

    [rant] The causation thing bugs me as well. I treally wouldn’t if the opposite question- “What made you straight/sexual/romantic/cis/non-intersex/temporarily able bodied/minded/etc” was ever asked. But they aren’t. The underlying answer to those is “Why would anyone ask WHY I am, I’m NORMAL!”. So when someone comes along saying “What causes someone to be asexual?” it’s infuriating because the never-gets-asked question underlines that what that question really means is “Why aren’t you straight?”. And you can’t say “What made you straight?” because, ya know, straight privilege, heteronormativity, heterosexism, straight supremacy, etc. The question can only be posed in a “help you empathize with underprivileged types who are so hard to understand and this really doesn’t do anything because you get asked it once rather than once a day your entire life”. Anyone seriously asking “why are people straight?” would just get ignored and insulted and painted as evil because, you know, it’s so awful to as why someone is something (as you can tell by the way people keep doing it to us)

    And that’s too bad cuz, know what? I DO want to know why people are straight. Because I want to know what causes ALL orientations- sexual, romantic, platonic, aesthetic, etc. I want to know why people are cis just like I want to know why people aren’t. I want to know what gender is and where it comes from and how it works. And if we could just stop being so bloody supremacist for one generation and discuss things like civilized people who recognize each other as equal and don’t have a whole bunch of unchecked privilege and internalized -phobias we might be able to have an interesting discussion about why people are what they are. But noo…. [/rant]

    Comment by Dreki — December 6, 2010 @ 10:35 pm | Reply

    • Hey, I’m not bothered by commenting or anything, else I’d have to stop listening with great interest to all the gender identity and asexuality discussions that I’ve been seeing. Comment away!

      (I also want to clarify that diagnosis is not actually as important to me here as identity. I was, like I said, extremely lucky to have been diagnosed when I was. There’s a definite gender issue in diagnosis–girls are much less likely to be diagnosed than boys, and autism is thought to present a little differently in girls to begin with, which is something that gets missed a lot. Also, adult diagnosis is pretty hard to get if you are missed as a kid, because you develop coping mechanisms and you learn to pass a lot better. I pass as NT much more than I did when I was a little kid, for example. So because of those issues within the psychiatric community, I don’t want to focus as diagnosis being a criterion necessary to participating in a discussion like this.

      Not saying you were doing that, but I remember being an asshole about diagnosis in the past and I want to make it clear that I am not going to do that now. Being undiagnosed/self-identified on the spectrum can be a pretty horrible place to be.)

      Also, with respect to the “they never ask the OPPOSITE questions, aaaaargh!”–oh yes, I agree with you completely. I really hate the framing of “normal” vs. “non-normal” in so many different angry ways. And when “normal” people, majority/privileged people, get told they can’t get called “normal” any more, we’re actually going to discuss them as X word that doesn’t have that loaded connotation for it, they often pitch a hissy-fit! I have never understood privileged attachments to the unmarked default status.

      I would actually love to study causation if I was not extremely worried about the political ramifications of that. I mean, I am doing Genetics and Psych; the intersection between genetics and behavior/behavioral phenotypes is actually one of the biggest research interests I have. And I have obvious personal interests in the causation of asexuality and of autism; if all things were equal and science was not political, I would totally be going to go satisfy my curiosity in those fields.

      Except… well, I made the decision a long time ago that I wasn’t touching autism causation research with a twenty-foot pole, because I know who funds that research and why they’re doing it, and I won’t be part of that. I’m not self-hating enough to work for people who explicitly wish I had never been born, you know? And that experience with autism obviously influences my thoughts on causation research on other things, so that I become kind of wary of focusing on the etiology of non-heterosexual sexual orientations (like asexuality). I can’t shake the worry that if people knew how these things were caused, they’d immediately start working on a “cure.”

      Comment by Sciatrix — December 7, 2010 @ 9:52 am | Reply

      • I don’t think I know enough about it to comment properly. Trying to comment, I’d probably just end up being the privileged jerk who derails everything with 101 questions or ignorant nonsense.

        I can definitely see not wanting to put an emphasis on diagnosis- I have enough issues with psychiatry that I can’t really blame anyone who doesn’t want to deal with them enough to get a diagnosis. I don’t like the emphasis we put on diagnosis in general, really makes me uncomfortable.
        But in terms of this I seem to fit enough of the criteria but don’t fit enough of them that I really don’t know. I’m fine wtih people who know they’re autistic without having been diagnosed, but I wouldn’t say I am unless I get diagnosed. And even then I’d have doubts.
        I meet about 5 of the diagnostic criteria (6 required to be diagnosed), but not the “right” ones (It says “2 from A”, I only meet one). I think I’m good with most social cues and understanding how people feel and why, I just lack the social skills to know what to do about it because bullying kind of stunted any hopes of socialization. I’m still really unclear on what qualifies as a “friendship” (which makes the “What’s the difference between a romantic relationship and a friendship?” even more complicated)
        I think I heard someone say that people who are autistic have a harder time telling age, gender, or race- and that I fit, I also can’t tell height, weight, or anything else. Whenever people on TV shows describe a suspect I wonder if tht’s TV drama or if people can really notice that stuff. I cannot. But that might be something completely different.

        It wouldn’t surprise me if I have something, but I don’t think it’s exactly autism. It might not be exactly anything.

        Oy, the hissy-fit. “Cis is offensive!” (generally followed by a string of cissexist garbage), with no suggestion on what to use instead. I think it’ll take time, I’m sure people where just as offended by straight (although, that’s kind of problematic- did the cLGB community come up with that?) and heterosexual but now that’s more or less accepted.
        I understand attachments to privilege- I’m white and was raised with the ideas of “affirmative action is reverse racism”, it’s still damn painful to check my privilege and realize what a jerk I am/have been- but the unmarked default status thing… what the heck? I guess it just highlights their privilege and that there’s a problem with the world so people who haven’t checked it get very uncomfortable and, rather than thinking “maybe I’m uncomfortable because I’ve been unfairly treated better at the expense of other people” they go “YOU ARE SO MEAN!!!!!”. ugh. I wouldn’t really mind “cis is offensive” if they said so while offering a non-offensive alternative (non-offensive to both sides, mind, as in not “biogirl” *shudders*). But they don’t, and I imagine if you asked most would give the “Well, I don’t need a label…” song and dance.
        I really hate the ones who whine that they shouldn’t be called cis because no one is forced to be called trans. yeah, once you transition you’ve got that label for life- even if you pass or go stealth it can still come back up and the “trans” will come right back. Even people who don’t identify as trans get called it if they aren’t cis. Self-identification is great, doesn’t mean that we don’t all get non-consensually labeled. Privileged people just don’t have to deal with it as much.

        Yeah, the political ramifications are the big reason why I don’t do anything. I’d love to see causation, if I didn’t know that if it’s something “fixable” we’ll suddenly have a rash of people doing everything in their power to fix it. We already have drugs that are supposed to help prevent intersex and lesbian children (aka: assigned-females who are “too masculine” in some way, bodily or socially). That’s one thing I don’t like about hte kyriarchy- you can’t just say anything about this. Everything is political. I’d be fine trying to research why people are straight or cis or something like that- but that would never get any funding, would constantly be attacked, and would probably just help people figure out how to “prevent” people being non-straight and non-cis, etc. And we’ve already got a glorious history of trying to prevent people from being non-neurotypical that isonly kind of getting better.

        This is why I’m going into art & languages and not science.

        Comment by Dreki — December 7, 2010 @ 11:12 am | Reply

        • Right, right, and I was not trying to sway your self-identity or anything like that, only trying to set a precedent for the way I wanted to be talking about autistic identities later on in the post (i.e. not about diagnosis). (Also, I can totally empathize with not wanting to be the derailing one–there is a reason I shut up a lot when trans issues come up unless cis perspectives are explicitly asked for or I see someone being obviously failly.)

          I don’t know about “straight,” but I know for a fact that the cLGB community did not come up with “heterosexual” because that’s a medicalization word constructed in opposition to “homosexual” and roughly as old. That one was definitely created by the psychiatric/medical establishment.

          I do get privilege attachment, I just don’t get word attachment unless something is obviously offensive, and I think the “cisgender is offensive!” people don’t actually have a leg to stand on there.

          Comment by Sciatrix — December 7, 2010 @ 5:54 pm | Reply

          • I didn’t think you were. The diagnosed thing was a bad thing to say- I’ve been trying to learn about intersex issues lately, and the intersex community is VERY much a “you need to be diagnosed” community so I got used to that, I should have found out how it was with autism before saying that.

            I think straight could go either way… Or that the situation when people came up with straight was different. I can definitely see in a few decades, if cis becomes well used, cis starting to be associated with positive things while trans is used as a pejorative…

            The cisgender is offensive people don’t have a leg to stand on in general. I could see it IF I ever saw a cis person who had spent a lot of time checking their privilege, knew how to talk about trans people respectfully and without any busted/othering/etc terminology, say that it was offensive- WHILE coming up with a word that isn’t. But that never happens. The people who have done all that take one look at cis and go “hey, that makes a lot of sense”.

            Comment by Dreki — December 7, 2010 @ 8:07 pm | Reply

  2. You know, I actually disagree with you a little about the ’cause’ thing. I completely understand where you’re coming from, in how disrespectful it is to say “you’re not a proper asexual, you’re just autistic” (whether that comes as a blanket attack on the validity of our sexuality, or from inside the community, as erasure of the people we want to hide). And causation is a stupidly difficult subject even when it’s simple. I wouldn’t like to say that autism -> asexuality, especially as that’s clearly not true for the vast majority of people (desexualisation of non-neurotypicals, anyone?). However, from surveys of varying accuracies, the rate of asexuality is 8% in the autistic population and 1% in the general. The same numbers apply for autism in the asexual population. There might not be a simple causation, but there’s certainly a simple correlation, and that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially if we’re discussing catering to non-neurotypicals in the asexual community.

    Comment by SlightlyMetaphysical — December 7, 2010 @ 9:13 am | Reply

    • I may be considerably more sensitive to it than you are because of that aforementioned AVEN history. This is a question I was seeing coming up almost constantly, with absolutely no fine-tuning of what was being asked or nuance involved. Or even any incorporation of results into later posts about the same thing.

      The thing is, I would not be bothered by that question nearly as much if there was any kind of nuance attached to it, or if alternate explanations for that correlation were entertained in discussions thereof. (For instance, lots of autistics on the Internet, because it’s often much easier to communicate on for a variety of reasons. The asexual community is almost entirely Internet-based. Or there’s a lot of queer autistics in general–it might be possible that there might be more out autistic people, because if you’re already never going to fit into societal norms, why bother trying to closet yourself? More on that last one later, possibly.)

      There is definitely a correlation in online communities of asexuals and (possibly) online communities of autistics, although I’ve never been linked to a survey of autistic people about how many asexuals are among them. Most of the online survey results I have seen are polls of asexual communities about whether or not respondents or on the spectrum, and that has some serious sampling issues. For instance: it’s going to attract a hell of lot more people who are on the spectrum than people who are not. If you know of any polls for autistic people on sexual orientation which include an asexuality option, please link me! I’d be interested in seeing that.

      I have actually never seen a single poll that didn’t have serious sampling issues of that kind, to be honest. I think there is probably some correlation–certainly I know a lot of ace people on the spectrum–but I am not terribly thrilled with the numbers I have seen.

      This is coming back to that “wanting to have conversations with people who are familiar with autism or at least ableism in general as well as asexuality” thing. I’m going to be honest, causation and trying to explain the correlation of autistic asexual writers are a very fraught topic for me. I’ve been in some extremely upsetting conversations on AVEN on the subject which have given me a fair amount of baggage.

      Comment by Sciatrix — December 7, 2010 @ 9:37 am | Reply

      • Agreed, there’s loads of other reasons for correlation. Which is why ’cause’ is entirely the wrong word (ideally, the discussion should take place somewhere where people know the basics of correlation as well).

        I’m fortunate in having been away from 101-discussions long enough that I can’t remember how bad they are with relation to autism. Sorry to hear about your experiences. That really sucks.

        Someone on AVEN mentioned and linked to a poll in an autistic community, a very long time ago. But the discussion seems so circular, and so full of crap, that I don’t especially want to go rummaging for it.

        Comment by SlightlyMetaphysical — December 7, 2010 @ 9:55 am | Reply

  3. So hi, I just found your blog! And am really, really interested in having this conversation, like, if no one else volunteers to do it I am willing to try and organise an asexuality and autism/AS blog carnival (although really I SUCK at organisation executive dysfunction ahoy and I’ve never done one before so it’s probably not a good idea.)

    It’s interesting, because I think my experiences may be quite different due to late diagnosis. I grew up thinking that I was weird and strange and abnormal and then found a symptom checklist for AS online when I was eighteen, figured out I must be on the spectrum (I had the world-shattering “this changes everything” experience reading the symptoms, so I very much understand what you mean there), but only started looking into diagnosis at twenty-two and got diagnosed about ten months later. Which is to say that I’ve had five years of being online as a self-diagnosed Aspie and only one year of having been officially diagnosed under my belt and the differences between the two are immense.

    So for instance, when I was still posting on AVEN (which would have been 2007 or thereabouts? maybe?) I was extremely cautious in bringing up the AS because I wasn’t diagnosed. If I *did* bring it up, my main worry would be whether people attacked me for it or not rather than whether people tried to tie it into asexuality. Which is probably why I didn’t feel the constant “but did it cause it?” at the time, and am feeling the bite more now than I used to (when people asking me whether my AS caused my asexuality would probably have led to me being happy they were accepting me as an Aspie. *sighs*).

    Another thing is that growing up, I felt really alienated from society. Like, I’d never heard of AS, my mental image of autism was that of a nonverbal boy banging his head somewhere, but I knew there was something *wrong* with me I just didn’t know what. (Note: *now* I don’t believe that AS = something wrong with you, but at the time that was how I thought of it.) I knew I was different and weird and that somehow it was like all of humanity had got a rulebook at birth and I hadn’t and was trying to pretend I knew what was going on. And on the one hand it was pretty easy for me to slot asexuality in there as part of “oh, NORMAL people do the sex and relationships thing, but I’m not normal so this is just another way in which I’m weird and different.” (although I still ended up assuming I must be sexual when I got a fluke of a crush on a male friend of mine, which didn’t end well) On the other, I think as a result asexuality got tainted with the negativity I felt about myself in general and that it was easy for me to assume it was just me because I was weird like that. In that sense, finding the asexual community was pretty amazing, not because it led to great epiphanies about my own sexuality (I’d come up with the word on my own after the aforementioned crush that ended very very badly) but because it was the first time I’d realised other people, even NT people, might feel that way too. And that’s really tied in with autism for me.

    And there is stuff about gender presentation although different from yours and I REALLY AGREE about not getting flirting and not knowing “which” of asexuality and autism is the culprit there but I should probably stop here before this comment gets too long.

    Comment by Kaz — December 7, 2010 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

    • I am actually totally willing to organize one (although I’ve never done it before, either), and I will suddenly come into a fair amount of free time about a week from now, after I finish my finals, so if Ily does not want to do one I will do it. (Or if someone else does not come up with a better idea.) Seriously, you are not the only person who wants to see a big discussion of this going round!

      My experiences are sort of mirrored through a totally opposite lens–I was diagnosed at twelve without ever having even heard of autism or Asperger’s and found the ace community at fourteen, so I constructed my identity around those as I went through adolescence instead of going through quite that level of dissonance. Obviously I went through some for autism, since I did have a moment of sheer “ohhhh–this is why my life makes no sense!” but I had considerably less of it than I would have if I’d gotten to adulthood without ever figuring out what was up. And most of that was explaining to me why I was constantly setting off my parents without knowing why. (A lot of the importance of my diagnosis then was explaining to them that no, I was not intentionally being disrespectful, I genuinely had no idea what they were talking about.)

      Also, because I found out about asexuality right as my orientation was starting to matter to people I had essentially no world-aligning moment about asexuality at all. Which means that I was again, absurdly lucky, but also that I have the weirdest experience of coming to terms with being asexual ever. I actually moved away shortly after that and then isolated myself from social things semi-intentionally throughout the high school–long story, it seemed like a totally logical move at the time but was one of the most boneheaded things I’ve ever done–but the upside of that was that no one ever asked me out or much seemed to care who I was or was not interested in except for people occasionally trying to figure out whether I was gay. So I got absolutely no pressure from anyone right up until the point where I was ready to come out to meatspace people.

      I generally count myself absurdly lucky that I got the words for both so early and assume I would have been in for some pretty horrible confusion and self-doubt and second-guessing myself if I didn’t have the words. There are some downsides–for example, my mother basically taught me to hate being autistic and also to be ashamed of having a label in the first place, and also the fact that I was diagnosed as a preteen means that people often seem to feel totally free to tell me things like “you’re not autistic anymore, you’ve come so FAR!” which… you know. Hurtful and rage-inducing and prone to making myself do the questioning myself thing all over again, even with the shiny professional opinion.

      Also, oh my gosh, on normality–I often think that I usually get good responses when I out myself because people file it as “just another weird thing about Sciatrix.” Like I’m already so odd that the asexuality is nothing big, of course she’d be asexual as well,” so it must be an individual thing which is unique to me. I’ve had some ragey moments about people not realizing that, you know, this is an orientation I have and not a personal idiosyncrasy.

      Comment by Sciatrix — December 7, 2010 @ 5:35 pm | Reply

      • I’m wondering if we could do a sort of co-organising thing now, since several people seem interested – I’d definitely be up for helping (although I am probably going to be away from the internet for a bit before Christmas) just don’t think I can manage on my own.

        It’s interesting how the same identity can be experienced in a totally different way just because of timing! I’m… honestly not sure about whether I wish I’d known earlier, for autism. It’s, maybe knowing would have helped? but I worry about things like how my family would’ve reacted, how my school would’ve reacted, how *I* would’ve dealt with it when I was younger. I definitely wish I’d got diagnosed a few years earlier – say nineteen or twenty – but earlier than that I’m not entirely sure it would’ve been good for me. But then I don’t know how much of *that* is because I’ve been taught to view myself as lazy and clinging to excuses so I automatically jump to thinking I would’ve used the AS as an excuse. *sighs* But I also worry about whether some of the negative things you mention would have happened to me.

        Knowing about asexuality earlier would’ve been nice, though. I actually had a relatively uncomplicated and angst-free asexual development (in some sense I feel as if I’ve always known, to be honest), with the one giant glaring exception of what I’m starting to think of as sexual assault when I was eighteen. (Would not be assault under any law, I’m sure, but it was really traumatic and although I didn’t say “no” I didn’t say “yes” either and long unpleasant story.) Would have been nice to avoid that. However, all in all, it’s sort of… whatever happened, I’m here now and I’m pretty happy with where I am in life now, and I don’t know what messing with things earlier would have done.

        Also, oh my gosh, on normality–I often think that I usually get good responses when I out myself because people file it as “just another weird thing about Sciatrix.” Like I’m already so odd that the asexuality is nothing big, of course she’d be asexual as well,” so it must be an individual thing which is unique to me. I’ve had some ragey moments about people not realizing that, you know, this is an orientation I have and not a personal idiosyncrasy.

        I’m sort of staring at the screen here because I think you’ve REALLY hit onto something – I’m actually not really out due to not finding a way to bring it up in conversation (l-lol) but I often feel as if people are actually assuming I’m asexual but they’re doing so for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way. That because I’m Kaz, and Kaz is weird, it’s not particularly surprising I wouldn’t have any interest in sex and/or romance (although I am greyromantic so they actually have that bit sort of wrong), NOT because I happen to be asexual and this is unrelated to my other weirdness.

        Comment by Kaz — December 8, 2010 @ 10:51 am | Reply

        • I think Ily does want to at least talk out getting something started, and the idea sort of came up on the comments to the post that got me making this one, so… um, go comment on her Kumbaya post! There is discussion on setting something up beginning to happen!

          I actually became a giant asshole about not using autism as a crutch and putting in the work to seem as neurotypical as possible for quite some time. So, you know, it’s possible you would have done the opposite thing entirely, especially if you believed yourself to be lazy. (My family does the “no excuses!” thing too, and I internalized a lot of it.)

          I am not actually sure I would have come to an identity-crisis free conception of my asexuality, because I have continued having crises off and on and didn’t actually stop second-guessing myself on basis of age until about eighteen months ago, so… I think having the words was particularly important to me. I think also that knowing I was ace, or at least that ace was an option, was rather protective in hindsight. There’s a lot about the damaging experiences that I’ve seen some teenage girls go through, and that I’ve talked about with others’ memories, that I totally missed out on because I was a) oblivious and b) not as vulnerable to other people in terms of negotiating my sexuality.

          I… mostly have given up trying to make it sound on-topic. Because my history includes quite a few people inquiring ever-so-politely (and not-so-politely) on my possible gayness, I generally want people to at least know the basics, so I out myself a lot. I usually haul the conversation over to asexuality by jumping over from anything else that might be even remotely tangential. My problems are more talking about what asexuality means to me or anything not totally basic and 101 with people who are not themselves steeped in asexual culture. Partly that’s minority “majority will think I can talk about nothing else and will whine and complain if I start bringing this up” worry, and partly it’s the fact that I have been told over and over not to ever talk about special interests unless I know outright that someone else is very interested, because I will invariably talk until they’re bored or, if I am lucky, merely bemused by the fact that I am information dumping. So I feel rather guilty and anxious about sharing anything I’m extremely interested in with anyone I don’t specifically know already shares that interest, and that includes asexuality.

          I have gotten a lot of reactions like “oh, yeah, that totally makes sense!” and “yeah, I couldn’t see you as anything else” (which came from someone who had known me a week at the time). Or people seeming surprised if I make a joke about cake or amoebas or the Kinsey scale on one of the rare occasions I talk about asexuality as an orientation–you know, implying that there might actually be a community out there. And it ties into gender identity for me, too. I have gotten a lot of… hm, comments that imply that people I know don’t think of me as specifically female after I’ve come out to them, but not before that. As if they’re assuming that because I’m not sexually attracted to anyone, I don’t have a gender identity, which is worlds of NO away from reality.

          Comment by Sciatrix — December 8, 2010 @ 6:25 pm | Reply

  4. I’m pretty neurotypical, but I can relate on a meta-level to having experiences that are unrelated to asexuality, and yet inseparable.

    The big example is aromanticism. I identified as asexual not because I had no sexual feelings, but because I had no romantic feelings. And I didn’t see the point of sexuality without partnership. That’s what asexuality was to me. So when I decided I wasn’t completely aromantic, it seemed obvious that I wasn’t completely asexual. Also interrelated was my complete lack of aesthetic attraction. My complete lack of crushes.

    And more distantly related are certain aspects of my personality. I hardly have a temper, and can’t hold grudges. I don’t “get” spirituality or awe or inspiration. I don’t like excitement or enthusiasm. I hate when people try to make me do “fun” and “adventurous” things, because I rarely enjoy the experience like they predict. None of these things are asexual, but they all seem part of a single coherent thing, that thing being who I am.

    But I appreciate that none of these characteristics are essential to asexuality. In fact, some of them seem quite uncommon. Lots of asexuals are excitable. Lots have very intense aesthetic attraction.

    Some of my earliest interactions on AVEN were dissatisfying to me for this reason. While people related to my asexuality, large numbers did not relate to other aspects of my experience, aspects which were as core to me as asexuality. But I eventually got over myself, because my expectations were unrealistic.

    I think this might be an issue that many new members come in with. As an illustrative example, I recall one time there were two threads on AVEN simultaneously (though in different forums). One was about Peter Pan Syndrome, the other was about being an “old soul”. In both threads, a few people suggested that it might be caused by asexuality. Well, no. Based on these two threads, I think it was pretty clear that there was no correlation, much less causation. But each quality, though mutually exclusive with the other, was interconnected with people’s experience of asexuality.

    Comment by Siggy — December 7, 2010 @ 6:08 pm | Reply

    • I’m seriously uncomfortable with the equation of autism and personality traits, even on a meta level. (Or aromanticity, but more on that in a moment.) These are not the same things at all, and I think my experience with my autism intersection and my asexuality seems to be pretty different from the inseparable qualities you’re mentioning here.

      My biggest problems with AVEN with respect to autism were not that I was expecting the site to be full of other autistic people or other people who share my exact experience. Far from it–I usually figure a lot of these are specific to me and possibly to other autistic aces. I was frankly just glad not to see Assburger’s jokes or people talking about how autism was the latest whiny-kid trend, to tell you the truth. (And there’s a difference, too–have you seen some of the shit people talk about autism on the Internet? Let alone some of the shit I’ve heard from meatspace people if the subject comes up.) I’m used to not being able to totally relate to people, you see.

      My problem was that I kept seeing a lot of people trying to say “are we sure autism doesn’t cause asexuality?” and as I pointed out above, I have big problems with the causation thing. I find it deeply upsetting at this point, particularly since I tried twice to have discussions on why I found these questions frustrating and uncomfortable and unsafe in asexual spaces and it ended badly both times. For me, a lot of this post was trying to declaw the question and present the ways in which my intersection works for me. And that’s what it is: it’s an intersection, and I want to talk about it as an intersection. That means that I want to talk about how two identities I have blend together and relate to one another. I want to talk about the experiences I have had being both in communities that are set up only for one or the other. I want to talk about not feeling necessarily wanted in either space because of one identity or the other.

      Aromanticity is seriously different from that in terms of hanging out in the asexual community, also. That’s because romantic orientation and asexual community are largely interconnected concepts; I don’t know what your experiences are on that front, but I have never had a discussion about romantic orientation outside of either the asexual community or people who have been heavily influenced by the asexual community. It’s an intersection on its own, but it’s also related to my asexual orientation in a way that asexual people intuitively understand. If I go into the ace community, I can usually be certain that I am not going to be hurt on basis of my romantic orientation. (Not always, granted; I’ve seen some pretty nasty aromantic/romantic tension. But usually, and I can definitely be certain that the bulk of the community will be on my side if I go “not cool,” and most people will get where I’m coming from. I do not have that luxury with autism.)

      I think you’re trying to explain where people asking that question are coming from, and you know, I get that. I think they’re also usually suffering from serious holes in their logic, too (as with the Peter Pan/”old soul” thing) and my experience is that they fail a lot about the difference between correlation and causation. But… please, please think about what you’re saying before making that kind of comparison, okay?

      Comment by Sciatrix — December 8, 2010 @ 7:30 pm | Reply

      • For the record, I was trying to compare autism/asexual intersectionality with other kinds of intersectionalities. I was not trying to compare autism with aromanticism or any personality traits per se. I chose to talk about aromanticism and non-excitability because those are things I personally have experience with, not because I think they resemble autism in some way.

        I’m trying to say this in a way that does not sound like a “gotcha!”, but didn’t you compare asexual/autism intersectionality with asexual/aromantic intersectionality yourself? Did I misunderstand that part?

        But you’re right that autism/asexual intersectionality is very different. For one thing, autism is an identity that extends far beyond the asexual community. For another, the issue is not just a matter of finding others to relate to, but an issue of people actually invalidating identities, and failing to create a safe space.

        Comment by Siggy — December 9, 2010 @ 3:01 am | Reply

        • Okay, that makes considerably more sense. And I do have less problems with comparing aromanticism. From there, though, it seemed to me as though your post veered strongly into personality traits, and I have put up with enough things like “oh, it’s just a fancy name for nerds” that I am rather sensitive to that particular comparison.

          Within the text of my post, what I was meaning to do was point out that my experience would be different if I had a romantic orientation which I could make any sense of, and also that the teeth-grating from “your children will grow up to have a normal happy relationship” would probably be a touch less obnoxious if I fit into the paradigm of normal romantic relationships at all. That was perhaps a bad example of the way asexuality influences my experience of being autistic, since it refers to a specific intersection within an intersection.

          Comment by Sciatrix — December 9, 2010 @ 11:37 am | Reply

          • I have put up with enough things like “oh, it’s just a fancy name for nerds”

            I once had someone tell me that I shouldn’t call myself autistic/AS (not sure which one I was using at the time) because that was the same thing as saying that introversion was a disorder.

            Comment by Kaz — December 9, 2010 @ 4:07 pm | Reply

            • When will people stop finding new levels of ignorant?!

              Comment by Dreki — December 10, 2010 @ 1:16 am | Reply

          • Okay, now that we’ve spotted the misunderstanding, now I see why I was stepping in it. I wasn’t really thinking about autism stereotypes, and of course I should have been thinking about them.

            I don’t pretend to know much about autism, but I recall reading a little about it to see if it described me (because I was nerdy and socially awkward). It immediately became apparent to me that it did not.

            Comment by Siggy — December 9, 2010 @ 9:11 pm | Reply

  5. Yay! I’m glad you decided to write about this, and that people are interested in a blog carnival. I’m excited! It might be easiest if we talk about it in some central location, like an e-mail thread. Sciatrix, I have the address you gave me, and I also have Kaz’s. Maybe we could decide on the parameters, and then reach out to other people who might be interested. I have a few ideas.

    (It’s funny because even though I said “I’m excited”, I can relate to Siggy’s not liking excitement. I don’t mind moderate excitement, but extreme excitement, to me, just feels too much like nervousness. I don’t like when people say stuff like, “Isn’t this exciting?!” because I rarely think that it is.)

    Comment by Ily — December 8, 2010 @ 10:02 pm | Reply

  6. I was formally diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2007…at age 42. During my formative years the diagnosis was unknown, so I can only envy you the early help you got. Strangely, however, I’ve had gregarious periods and am quite gregarious right now. I’ve also always been ace.

    I don’t know whether autism and asexuality are related and don’t concern myself with such questions. IMO you are politicizing things too much. Over the last 30 years, marginalized communities have fallen into a pattern of seeking insults in every question or statement by majority populations in order to increase our political power, and I find that approach wrong. When someone asks you whether asexuality and autism are related, I find it knee-jerk politicization to jump to the conclusion that they are denigrating you. Sure, it gives you power over them to think that way, but they may simply be uninformed and seeking information without any prejudice–or, worse yet, may be politically unsophisticated and unaware that majority culture members who ask that question tend to get “mau maued.” So how about we give people the benefit of the doubt and feel insulted only if they actually insult us? There are enough real bigots out there that we don’t need to manufacture any.

    Comment by Michael Smoker — December 10, 2010 @ 1:29 pm | Reply

    • Uh-huh. Because it totally gives me power over people to say “this bothers me and I think it’s offensive” on my personal blog. Exactly what power do you think I have, precisely? What are the consequences of my choosing to exercise this so-called power? Because from where I’m standing, the only power I have lies in the use of my words. I have no ability to do anything but speak: I cannot make people listen, I cannot prevent them from speaking in return, and I certainly cannot force them to do as I say.

      If you have the luxury of not concerning yourself with such questions, that’s awesome. Speaking for myself, I don’t have that luxury. My experience is that people will ask these questions over and over again, and I can either be made uncomfortable by them or I can talk about why I find them insulting. I choose to talk about it because I tend to want to address problems in the communities I am part of in an effort to see if they can be changed.

      I’m particularly amused by your contention that my problem with causation questions is “knee-jerk,” implying that I have only recently noticed questions of this nature. I have in fact been talking about why this particular question bothers me for almost a year, and was analyzing why long before that. You are walking into my space and implying that I have not considered the reality of the situation in full. Do you understand why that is condescending?

      (Your contention that “majority culture members who ask that question tend to get ‘mau maued’ is especially hilarious, because my experience is that bringing up the negative implications of that question or in any way requesting people to not constantly ask it results in being wailed at about my attempts to censor ‘free speech.’)

      I approved your comment, but I am not going to tolerate disrespect in my own space. This is a social justice space–that means, among other things, that I do not actually care about intent. I care about action, and in particular I care about whether actions reinforce existing forms of social oppression. I do not care about coddling the feelings of new people who are actively involved in reinforcing those existing forms. In particular, I do not think that an insult needs to be intentional to qualify as such.

      This is also not a 101 space, which means that I expect people to have at least a basic familiarity with asexual issues on my blog, and furthermore means that this blog is not geared towards basic education on social justice issues. I expect commenters to be aware of the issues they’re posting about here. I also expect them to know how to educate themselves. I am not going to bend over backwards to do that here.

      As I said, I have approved your first comment. Do not condescend to me a second time.

      Comment by Sciatrix — December 10, 2010 @ 2:53 pm | Reply

  7. […] asperger's, autism, autism spectrum, blog carnival, identity, intersections So there has been some discussion lately about asexuality and the autism spectrum in the blogosphere. And I think this is a fantastic […]

    Pingback by Call For Participation: Spectral Amoebas – A Blog Carnival about Asexuality and the Autism Spectrum « Writing From Factor X — December 13, 2010 @ 8:45 pm | Reply


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