This post was originally written for the Spectral Amoebas blog carnival.
I found out about autism when I was twelve years old–young enough to be impressionable, old enough for my life to change. Old enough to go out and do my own research. I promptly started reading everything about autism and more specifically Asperger’s Syndrome that I could. Not that there was much, particularly much that dealt with teenagers instead of children or autistic girls of any age, but I went through everything I could find anyway. In retrospect, that was a recipe for disaster.
See, I kept running into NT stereotypes that claimed that autistic people had a hard time loving others, or caring about them, or expressing love if it was there at all. I even ran into a bunch of people who appeared to be conflating autism with sociopathy and who variously claimed autistic people couldn’t connect to otthers, or didn’t want to, or simply didn’t have “higher emotions” to begin with.
This struck me as a bit strange, because I am not a person who has any difficulty feeling strong emotion. On the contrary: I sometimes have difficulty because of my strength of feeling. I can’t bear to see someone embarrassed or two people arguing. I used to have to flee the room because I couldn’t handle the fear or anxiety I was getting off the characters on a movie screen, and I was supposed to be incapable of strong emotions? Does not compute.
And of course I kept seeing the comparisons to robots, to hyper-logical characters, the stereotypes of being really good at analysis but incapable of feeling anything emotional. Guys, I’m good at analysis and I’m not necessarily great at emotional processing, I usually need either help or a ton of time to analyze emotions when they confuse me–but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
But to continue the story, I kept reading. I started interacting with specifically autistic communities. I got an account at WrongPlanet and started posting on the forums. And I began to absorb the idea that to be autistic, I had to be hyperrational and low on feeling. Besides, I liked the idea that I could be cold and rational all the time. I was getting bullied in some pretty unpleasant ways at the time, and it felt pretty good to pretend that the insults I was getting didn’t bug me, that I couldn’t feel hurt at all.
I turned fourteen. Somewhere in there, I found out about asexuality and about being aromantic, and started sort-of identifying myself as both. Not that I, you know, told anyone about it or spent much time in asexual spaces–I basically ignored that aspect of my identity for a long time, unless someone asked me directly about it. I was focusing on other things, and it didn’t seem important then; after all, I was fourteen and none of my friends were dating anyway.
When I was fifteen I moved. I took some time away from WrongPlanet and I spent most of the rest of high school focusing on other things. I was pretty isolated throughout high school, so I spent a lot of time online or reading books. And all the introspection started making me question the “triumph” of logic over emotion. I certainly started questioning the idea that I was necessarily all that logical. It’s hard to think of yourself as a hyperrational data junkie when you’re freaking out because your routine got destroyed, for instance. With that came disbelief in the “emotionless” paradigm. I was isolated, as I said; well, as I got older I started realizing that not having any close meatspace friends really sucks for me. I need people to care about.
I developed a violent distaste for being told I was cold, robotic, emotionless, or any combination of those things. I started getting particularly upset about the idea that I didn’t care about people, because I do. I care strongly about people, as a matter of fact. And I started getting angry about seeing all those stereotypes applied to me. I’m not a goddamn robot.
Then I went to college and started interacting with people again. I got reminded of why I had an identity to begin with, because I was surrounded by people who weren’t like me at all, and interacting with them made me feel isolated again. Suddenly being on the spectrum mattered, but asexuality really mattered now. I was so different from my friends that I started craving the company of other asexuals just to remind myself that I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t a freak, I wasn’t the only one out there. (I was one of the unbelievably lucky ones; I knew there was a community and I even knew where to find it.) So I came back to AVEN and started talking about being asexual again. And I started talking about being aromantic.
Imagine my frustration when I started hitting stereotypes on AVEN about aromantics being–you guessed it!–emotionless, cold, and devoid of strong emotions for others. I remember threads where posters asked shamelessly whether or not aromantics loved others, whether aromantics were heartless. Aromantic sexuals, where they came up, were almost always discussed as completely feelingless people who knowingly used and manipulated people for sex.
I started to get angry.
I looked at the media and noted that where portrayals of aromantic asexuals existed, they tended to be coded inhuman, alien, and most of all emotionless. Where portrayals of asexuals who cared about other people popped up, they tended invariably to be romantics. I won’t even begin to discuss autistic media portrayals here; they tended if anything to be worse.
I got angrier. And I am still angry.
I am not emotionless. I am not cold. I am not robotic. I am human, I feel things, I care about people. And I am so, so tired of other people trying to take that away from me.