Writing From Factor X

February 1, 2011

Spectral Amoebas: Round-Up Post

So the Spectral Amoebas blog carnival draws to a close! First, I want to thank everyone who submitted posts. The quality was uniformly quite high, and I’ve been so excited at reading the posts that people have linked and discussed over the past month an a half. There have been some awesome things written about very diverse topics, and I was really excited to see all of them.

And now to the posts!

Stephanie Silberstein at Meowing at the Moon wrote about attempting to construct a common language to communicate with her neurotypical, non-asexual best friend in Do Asexuals Speak the Same Language?

Procrastination Embodied talks about constantly being disbelieved in Asexual on the Spectrum.

Norah_Liath discusses the way that people will constantly judge her as a bad person simply for being in a relationship with a neurotypical sexual in I’m a Horrible Person…

Teafeather wonders how to define the concept of “liking” someone in Do You Like?

Quirks the Magpie attempts to come to a conclusion about his sexual orientation in Monochrome logic, greyscale sexuality, and finding my identity.

Anonymous contributed a guest post about trying to gather enough data to a conclusion about their sexuality.

Bethany Lauren writes about having the right words and about communication in Not Alone: Music, Brainweasels, and RENT.

M asks not to be touched in noli me tangere.

Ily considers outing herself about asexuality and NLD in Coming Out (When “the World is a Chaos”).

Kaz addresses the problems inherent with being assumed to be asexual even before coming out in The Lucky One.

And to wrap it all up, I wrote about my problems with being stereotyped as emotionless for being autistic, aromantic, and asexual in On Being Incapable of Love.

Thank you all so much for participating, guys, and I hope you enjoy the collective posts!

January 31, 2011

On Being Incapable of Love

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.

Spectral Amoebas Guest Post

Filed under: Spectral Amoebas — Sciatrix @ 7:05 am
Tags: , , , ,

This is a post submitted for the Spectral Amoebas carnival for which the writer wished to remain anonymous. It is therefore being hosted here according to the writer’s request.

by Anonymous

If I was forced to make a guess about someone’s sexual orientation, knowing nothing more than that they were born the same year and in the same country I was, with the same number of X chromosomes as me, I would guess that that person was heterosexual. Statistically, the rates of heterosexuality are quite high, and with no other information than basic demographic categories I would be most inclined to make such a guess.

Perhaps, given more information about this person’s life, I could make my guess more informed. If I knew that the person in question was in a romantic relationship with someone of the opposite sex, I would at least be relatively confident that they were neither homosexual nor asexual (though I’d be at a loss as to how to determine whether they were strictly heterosexual rather than bisexual). Even if I didn’t have access to that sort of information, I might be able to weed out some possibilities.

On the other hand, knowing that the person in question had not been in a romantic relationship with someone of the opposite sex wouldn’t necessarily help me either. Unfortunately for budding investigators, describing sexual orientation is not simply a question of “the more information, the better”. Plenty of facts about some arbitrary person’s life—the length of their hair, their favorite kind of food, their native language—don’t provide useful information as to their sexual identity.

The ultimate case of inconclusivity is my self-non-identification. I have far more access to my own mental states, desires, and feelings than anyone else does, but I cannot categorize myself as a-, bi-, hetero-, homo-, or any other kind of -sexual. Nor can I rule any of them out; unlike my hypothetical counterpart from paragraph two, I have no history of romantic relationships or sexual activity that make me inclined to eliminate some categories from consideration. (At one point, aged thirteen, I thought I might have had a crush of some sort; this was, in retrospect, a desire to develop a closer relationship with someone of the opposite sex but did not feature any desire for physical contact of any sort. Happily, we did indeed become closer friends later down the line, an arrangement with which I remain quite satisfied.)

Thus, I have no more reason to believe I am hetero- than homo- or bisexual, other than statistical extrapolation. However, I don’t self-identify as asexual either, and I believe that my reluctance to make any claim in this manner is in some sense a function of my Asperger’s Syndrome. In particular, linguistic pedantry, physical epistemology, and a broader pattern of social non-involvement impede the process of labeling myself.

I should disclaim that, for one thing, it’s already risky to attribute these features of my mind to Asperger’s Syndrome; I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and my mind is in some sense a unit, so I can’t really weed out “what’s due to Asperger’s and what isn’t”. Nevertheless, particularly in the latter cases, I get the feeling my experience is sufficiently atypical to assume that Asperger’s is at work.

Let’s start with the first; I am relatively sensitive to specific meanings of words. When asked, say, “Do you need to stop for ice cream?” I usually respond “No”—I don’t need to, and don’t follow it up. (Sometimes, it sounds really good, and I’ll rephrase the answer as “Ice cream sounds good” or “I’d want to pick some up, yeah.”) So while I’m able to function day-to-day, even if I’m inwardly taking things unusually literally, I wouldn’t want to adopt a label for myself unless I was highly confident it really described me. I put a premium on exact correctness. Which brings me to the second problem: how could I know if I was asexual?

I am unusually bad at analyzing the inner workings of my body, unable to recognize things that others take for granted. Like most people, once I eat a lot of food, I feel full; not only does my stomach react in a certain way, characteristic of having eaten a lot of food, but my brain recognizes this reaction and identifies it as “the feeling of fullness”. This identification wasn’t something I was taught to recognize; it simply came “built in,” like it does for most other people.

Similarly, I assume that if I go a long time without eating, my stomach reacts in a characteristic way, similar to the behavior of other people’s stomachs. Other people’s brains recognize this situation and identify it as “the feeling of hunger” which came “built in” to theirbrains. Mine, however, does not. I eat meals at relatively consistent times each day and stay relatively healthy as a result, so once again there’s no significant impact on my life, but I don’t have the mental information to recognize hunger. Likewise, I’ve always been able to recognize the pain I feel from stubbing my toe, but only recently developed the ability to identify a “sore throat.”

Thus, by comparing my experience to neurotypicals’, I know there are some types of signals from my body I’m good at recognizing and some that I’m bad at, and there’s no clear-cut way to determine which type of signals are which. In particular, I cannot decide whether a lack of perceived sexual and romantic desire is,

a) like my perceived lack of hunger, a faulty perception due to processing atypicality caused by Asperger’s Syndrome (I might well be hetero-/homo-/bisexual and have experienced sexual desire, but didn’t know it)
b) a true lack of desire, due to asexuality
or c) a true lack of desire, due to not having met the right people to spark such desire

nor, bar the right people coming along to stimulate such desire, do I expect to ever have the information to make such a decision. Someone more willing to cut corners might say “Look, once you’ve reached the age of X or so, you’ll have probably met N people along the way, and if none of them have stimulated such desire, C really can’t be the case.” But this comes back to the pedantry issue, because this sort of argument is unsatisfying to me. I’m quite a “stickler”, preferring arguments as rigorous as possible to such generalizations. In the end, although asexuality seems as if not more plausible than any other sexual identity for me, I don’t have a compelling reason to use such terminology when describing myself.

I don’t know how many other people on the autism spectrum have similar experiences, because autism can take so many forms. What I do know, however, is that many people on the autism spectrum are relatively strong in some areas and weak in others. Our strengths might be different—I’m a good mathematician but another autistic person might far outshine me in mental arithmetic, a third might be a fantastic visual artist (I am not). When there’s a subject we know a lot about, many of us can spout off fact after fact, reflecting rather consuming passions rather than lower degrees of interest—for someone it’s train schedules, for someone else it’s dinosaurs, for another sports statistics, for a fourth, astronomy.

But our weaknesses are relatively similar—most of us have difficulty interacting in social situations, are unsure how to behave alongside others, and tend not to develop the same kinds of relationships as others in the same ways they do. Like any other person, those of us on the autism spectrum have our own patterns of strengths and weaknesses—but there are some broader commonalities for autistic individuals.

In August 2008, the asexy beast blog defined “mountainsexual” as “people who may or may not actually be asexual, but they have an interest that is so all-consuming that sex becomes irrelevant.” From my place on the autism spectrum, I know all about having all-consuming interests and not placing much relevance in common social interactions. In my case, however, it’s not a function of the first crowding the second, but both springing from my underlying neurology, and I’d be willing to bet that there are many other people on the autism spectrum in the same boat. In particular, if my lack of interest in pursing a sexual or romantic relationship to date is in fact unusual, I’d rather attribute it to Asperger’s Syndrome than to some particular sexual identity. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think it’s possible that there are plenty of people on the autism spectrum who don’t know—or particularly care—whether they’re asexual or not.

December 11, 2010

Call For Participation: Spectral Amoebas – A Blog Carnival about Asexuality and the Autism Spectrum

So there has been some discussion lately about asexuality and the autism spectrum in the blogosphere. And I think this is a fantastic development, and clearly I am not alone in this.

To that end, Kaz, Ily and I are organizing a blog carnival about asexuality and the autism spectrum.

A blog carnival is an event where various people write posts around a single topic and link them together at the end. The topic of this carnival is the intersection of asexuality and the autism spectrum.  The scope of this project is general. Any topic that deals with the intersection of asexuality and autism fits within the aegis of the carnival. If you’re not sure, submit it anyway and we’ll figure it out.

We are asexual bloggers on the autistic spectrum who want to explore the intersection between autistic and asexual identities.  The basis of this project is to have a conversation about our unique experiences being autistic and asexual without looking for a “cause”.  We want to create a safe, non-judgmental space to talk about the issues that affect us.  If you identify as asexual (or demisexual, or gray-a) and as on the autistic spectrum (diagnosed or not, AS, autism, PDD-NOS, NLD), you are invited to write a blog post for this project. If you are not asexual and autistic you are welcome to contribute provided you focus on the issues experienced by this particular intersection. The scope of the project is general, and open to any experiences of being autistic and asexual.

However, please keep in mind that asexuality here is to be discussed as a sexual orientation in its own right, not as discussion of the desexualization imposed on autistic people by mainstream culture.

If you want to write a post but don’t have a blog, please contact Ily at sanfranciscoemily@gmail.com or me at sciatrix@gmail.com about doing a guest post.  Please have your post written by 31st January and comment on this post or send an e-mail to me or Ily about your post by then. Note that the hosts reserve the right to reject posts by anyone if they feel they do not follow the guidelines of or are not in the spirit of the carnival. The posts will be compiled on Writing From Factor X for posterity. A post with the compilation will go up here in the beginning of February.  Be a part of this exciting project!
–Sciatrix, Kaz, and Ily

An edit: Possible topics include but are not restricted to coming out experiences (both asexual and autistic), relationships, gender expression, young adult experiences, treatment by medical professionals, integrating identities, or dealing with stereotypes. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list, only general ideas.

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?

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