Monday, August 18, 2008

Famous Aces? Temple Grandin

First of all, thanks to Lia for this idea.

Although she's billed as "arguably the world's most successful woman with autism", I'm not sure how famous Temple Grandin really is. Have you heard of her? One of her claims to fame-- an invention to make cattle less panicked as they're slaughtered-- kind of freaks me out, to be honest. She wrote a book called Animals in Translation that is fairly well-known. Grandin also seems to have done a good deal of writing and speaking on various autistic issues. Thanks to an intrepid reader of this blog, I found a 2-page essay that Grandin wrote for the book Asperger's and Girls. The introduction to her essay claims that "...Temple's story should caution us all against automatically conforming to society's relationship standards." It's all about how she finds her career to be more fulfilling than romantic relationships. It's so short that I'm tempted to scan the whole thing. But that might not be legal, so I'll quote some portions:

I was asked to explain in this paper why I was never interested in dating. During my teenage years I never became boy crazy. My good friend Carol swooned over the Beatles and howled with delight when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. I thought they were cute, but I did not have the emotional reaction that the other girls had. They were experiencing something I did not experience. (148)

and among other interesting passages:

I have been reasonably happy even though I am totally celibate...My lifestyle is not for everyone with Asperger's. It was easier for me because the brain circuits that made my friend Carol swoon over the Beatles are just not hooked up in me. (150)

It's not clear whether Grandin is actually asexual (ie, "someone who does not experience sexual attraction"), or just finds a lot of things more interesting than sex. After all, there's only so much time in a day. I do think the passages I quoted are fairly apt descriptions of many peoples' asexual experiences. Although it's certainly possible, I'd have a hard time believing that Grandin has never heard the term "asexual". Maybe she just prefers "celibate". But out of all the current potential famous aces, Grandin, from what she's said, sounds the closest to being one of us. It's probably horribly pushy of me, but I do hope she says the word at some point...

13 comments:

pretzelboy said...

For some reason, I also had the impression that she was asexual based on something or other than I read by her at some point. I probably wouldn't know who she is except that a few years back she spoke at a university I attended at the time and the head of my department sent out an emailing encouraging us to go to her talk. I sort of remembered hearing my mother say something about her before (my mother's best friend is autistic and so something on TV had attracted her attention.) Anyway, I went and for someone from suburban America, the experience was very...aggie. Didn't learn much about autism, but I sure did learn a lot about cows.

Anonymous said...

I've heard of Grandin before, but I'm a veterinarian and it was in vet school that I first heard of her. They showed the class a short video about her. I didn't know about asexuality at the time, but I do remember one part of the video very clearly where she was talking about how everyone around her in high school was all "Oooo!" over boys and that she just didn't get it. I thought, "Right on! I'm not the only one." It wasn't till 2years later that I discovered AVEN.

-Sarah T.

Gatto said...

Well Oliver Sacks wrote about her... the so-called "anthropologist on Mars". I guess she's a bit famous. I've read so many books on autism, of course I'm familiar with her. Yeah, the work with slaughterhouses is kind of creepy... makes me think of "Mr. Death"... I don't know if you're familiar with that movie, but it's an Errol Morris documentary about a man who made his living building and refurbishing execution devices for a huge portion of the states that have capital punishment, from electric chair to lethal injection, gas chamber, gallows... he did it all. That was such a strange movie.

Umm, anyway, here's Temple Grandin on Fresh Air: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4278538

Emma said...

Hi I'm an autistic female too. I think we autistics have some sexual desires but are asexual in terms of the emotional part of sex and relationships. We can be physically asexual too.

I like your phrase 'only so much time in the day' I think most autistics just find a lot things more enjoyable than sex.

Ily said...

Hey Emma, thanks for commenting! You make an interesting statement. It's funny because I feel like for most asexual folks who consider this our orientation, it's the emotional part of relationships that we seek, rather than the sex. And I find that to be true whether we're autistic or not. (Although some people don't want the emotional part at all, autistic or not.) The more I learn about other women on the autistic spectrum, the cooler I think it is that we are such a diverse group of people.

Emma said...

You don't have to answer if this a bit personal but I was wondering with asexuality:

do you have limited ability to understand sexual desires and human emotions in relationships or is it just a disinterest in sex?

Also I'm curious why is there a blogring called 'asexual lesbians'? Do you still indentify with a sexual orientation? I thought asexuality was an identity or is it just limited interest?

Sorry about these questions Ily, as a recently diagnosed autistic I'm still trying to work out what my presence or lack of sexuality may be.

Ily said...

Hey Emma, no worries. Those are good questions. The answers will probably vary for everyone, but I can answer in terms of myself. I do understand human emotions, because I think I experience the full range myself. But I don't experience sexual desire (aside from one time in my life) or romantic love for people. I have had crushes on people, but I don't think that's the same thing. So while I can understand those things on a theoretical level, or compare them to other things in my life (like my passion for music), I can't claim to understand them on an experiential level. Hopefully that makes sense.

As far as asexual lesbians go, some people identify romantic orientations as well as sexual orientations. So if you're asexual, but still have a romantic attraction to the same sex, you'd be a homoromantic asexual. Most people actually have these two orientations, but in most cases they match up (for example, a heteroromantic heterosexual). But, I think we all know people who are aromantic sexuals-- people who are interested in sex but not romantic relationships. I just consider myself asexual though-- one orientation is enough for me! Asexuality is indeed an orientation. The degree to which you choose to identify with it is up to the individual. Hopefully this helps. Have you checked out AVEN? There's a lot of good info there.

Emma said...

Thank you Ily those definitions were interesting, as an autistic female I would indentify aromantic bisexual but even then I have romantic desires but they're very simple as an autistic mainly an interest in a source of security in love not complex feelings.

Thanks for this blog, I think asexuals (such as Asperger's like me and other asexuals) should come out because there's nothing wrong with avoiding sex. With regard to Dr Grandin, I think she is asexual I just don't get why she doesn't use the term. Even with your argument that 'some things are just more interesting than sex' still indicates asexuality if you use it to refer to limited sexual interest.

Emma said...

Just found a link on Yahoo answers to clarify on Temple Grandin:

I never heard of someone being asexual until I heard Temple Grandin speak at a conference one time. Temple ha autism and has described herself as asexual.
Recently I googled this and apparently it is more common than thought. There are many articles on this and it shows to not just affect people with autism or Aspergers syndrome.

Ily said...

You're very welcome. I agree, coming out is important.

Southpaw said...

Yes I've heard of her!! Honestly, despite not having Asperger's myself, I have a rather Aspie-like obsession with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. I've read her book "Thinking in Pictures," which I also got signed by her at an Autism conference (she's a wonderful public speaker!). I really get the "vibe" from her writings that she's asexual, but I guess we'll never know unless she admits it.

Ily said...

Heyy Southpaw! Thanks for the comment. I wish more people not on the autistic spectrum would take an interest in it. (Of course, being on the spectrum myself-- my diagnosis is NLD-- I'm a little biased.) I find a lot of people *think* they know what Asperger's is, because it's been in the media a lot, but most people actually don't know the reality of it. That said, I understand it can be extremely hard to explain to another person how it is to think in a different way from them.

Anonymous said...

I am an aspie male who has never had sex at 41 years of age. In truth I feel very strange about the issue, especially when I see my peers and their teenage children, and I wonder why I had no interest in my teens and twenties, up to age 28, when I began to tie the emotional to the sexual aspects of relationships. At that time I decided to pursue my education and fell so far out of the dating habit that I am, as I say, 41 years old, and oddly enough, still technically a virgin. What's also so very odd in my case is that I desire the act, but just feel it impossible to change my routine, and horribly socially inept. Even odder, is that normally, under my usual routine and interests I block out what seems to be a basic instinct, one eminating from deep within the limbic system of the human brain. This I have somehow dominated with my mind.