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.
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.