Wednesday, December 1, 2010


This post, and the posts linked within it (from Dreki and Sciatrix), got me thinking about a community-wide discussion I wish we could have: Associations between the asexual and autistic communities. But it would be hard to have this discussion because there's no real place to have it. It requires that people have a decent knowledge of both asexuality and the autistic spectrum. On AVEN, there are too many people who are ignorant about autism, and on autistic forums, there are too many people who are ignorant about asexuality. As others have mentioned, people's ignorance can derail a conversation while we try to educate them and explain things.

The posts I referenced mentioned that ableism sometimes appears on AVEN. (In this respect, AVEN is no different from the rest of the world.) Unlike some other -isms, I find that ableist statements tend to come from a place of fear and ignorance, rather than malice. On AVEN, the disabilities that tend to be the most discussed are mood disorders and autistic spectrum disorders. "Invisible disabilities" such as these have their own unique stigma. I think it speaks well of AVEN that we can mention these experiences there, even though they may not be unanimously welcomed. In meatspace, it can be very difficult to talk about mood disorders or autism, since "sane privilege" and "neurotypical privilege" can be difficult for those who can pass as "normal" to voluntarily give up.

Anyway...back to "the conversation I want to have". It can't be had if people are thinking of autism as a dread disease, or autistic people as impossible to relate to. It can't be had if neurotypicals are under the assumption that they can't--or don't currently-- associate with autistic people. Ableism relates to the idea that people with disabilities "make us look bad". This might be remedied by a critical exploration of how our society marginalizes people with disabilities. However, if people are still unsure what disabled people "have to do with me", then it's hard to get past square one. And of course, these derails, while important, are still derails.

On AVEN, there have been numerous threads about Asperger's Syndrome (AS), which is what I would call a "labeled point" on the autistic spectrum. In those threads, there seems to be this common inference: "Autism is bad/weird/out-there, and I want asexuality to be well-received. Therefore, there is no relation between asexuality and autism." And maybe that's the case for the neurotypical asexual. But it sets up a strange dichotomy for the autistic asexual, of which there are many. Considering this, the inference seems like a denial of many people's reality.

I forget where I read it, but I once read an anecdote about a white man who joined a fraternity with mostly black members. The white man said something about how meaningful it was for black men to call him "brother". Now, I hope this is not too kumbaya for you, but the asexual community is like that fraternity, or at least, it could be. Except instead of it being one white man and a bunch of black men, it's people of all races, nationalities, ages, genders, and abilities. Within the asexual community, I think we have an opportunity to gain new "brothers", as it were. Neurotypical people could, presumably, feel honored to gain autistic "brothers" through the asexual community. They could see the prevalence of autistics in the asexual movement as a unique opportunity to learn about how other people's minds work. I'd like to think that some already do. But this can never happen unless we value knowledge and human connections above image. Yes, it's idealistic, but that's how we should be at the beginning of a movement. There's plenty of time to be jaded later.

Now give me the vegan marshmallows and my ukulele.

(I'll post about NaNo later, if I can think of anything coherent to say...I just wanted to write this post while the posts I linked to were still fairly recent.)


Carolyn said...

I think it's very interesting what you said about some "-isms" being from a place of malice instead of fear and ignorance. Maybe it's just my perspective, or a nicer way to frame it, but every ism I've every had the misfortune to encounter always seems to be due to ignorance and fear.

Every person, whether in a community or not, groups people with pre-judgements and doesn't understand that group as containing the same lovely individuals that they know as neighbors and friends until they encounter something that counters those pre-judgements.

People on Aven are certainly nice people, but I think even if everyone on the forum knows each other well and can respect each other the openness and acceptance qualities of online forums means that eventually more ignorant folks will wander in and you'll have to build the trust and knowledge all over again. Acceptance is a two-sided coin.

miller said...

"Considering this, the inference [that there is no relation between asexuality and autism] seems like a denial of many people's reality."

People are not entitled to their own reality. They're entitled to their own experience and identity. Asexuality and autism may be intertwined identities and experiences for some people, but that does not mean that the two phenomena themselves are related.

You probably didn't mean it that way, but it's important to highlight the distinction.

Sciatrix said...

My problem with the people who keep insisting there's a connection between autism and asexuality--at least in the causation way--is that it has some nasty implications to me about the realness of my sexual orientation. I mean, my orientation is not a module of my autism. Sure, there's a lot of overlapping stereotypes about aromantic asexuality and autism, like that weird thing about not wanting to connect with people, but they aren't the same thing at all. I tend to think that trying to draw that causation line cheapens both autistic people's sexualities and specifically aces on the spectrum by implying that we only have our orientation because we're autistic.

I'd love to listen to a conversation about that particular intersection. I'm not sure I could be part of it--I would seriously like to be, as someone who is both ace and on the spectrum, but I worry that I would react without thinking on certain issues or get hit on certain hot-buttons and get very upset. I'd certainly like seeing better associations between the two communities, since there does seem to be a fair amount of overlap.

Ily said...

@Carolyn: I was thinking of people who are homophobic (for example) because they "hate gay people". But I think you're right; that hate also does originate from fear and ignorance. I hope I didn't imply that I'm against educating people. I was just agreeing with what some other folks have written, that it's hard to have a "102-level" discussion of some things when you're constantly educating.

@miller: Okay, "their own experiences of reality", then. Although I do think it can be hard to agree on "one" reality when we all see the world through our own lenses. Sorry if that sounds odd. It might just be a philosophical difference in our definitions of "reality".

@Sciatrix: I was hoping you would comment on this post. I agree that it is troubling for people to say something like, "asexuality is caused by autism", although the reason why it troubles me is slightly different. I feel like when people say "they are related", it's like they're implying, "well, autistic people don't matter, and by extension, their asexuality doesn't matter." I feel like this is mostly said by people who don't know enough about autism, asexuality, or both. It's like if "asexuality is caused by autism", then people should shut up about it. Or at least, that's the impression I get. I'm also on the spectrum, and I'm not trying to say that there's any causal connection. I agree, that would be wrong. But I also feel odd when people say there is NO connection whatsoever, because how could there be no connection between two things that are an integral part of me? I want to be able to talk about that, but I feel like it would be hard for me to make myself really understood. Thank you for mentioning causation explicitly-- I should have been clearer about that.

Sciatrix said...

Ah. Yeah, I think about this a fair amount. I was thinking about how to comment on it for a good several hours after noting the post, as a matter of fact. (This particular intersection is kind of important to me.)

I've seen asexuality dismissed as "Oh, you're just autistic" both to people who are and who aren't on the spectrum. And you're absolutely right about that "which means it doesn't MATTER, because you're all freaks anyway" little frisson of condescension.

It is a hard thing to separate my experiences of being on the spectrum and my experiences of being ace out from one another, because they're both identities which are hugely integral to my being and it's difficult for me to separate either out from my conception of myself, just as it's hard to separate my femaleness out from either of them. It's just that people aren't nearly as invested in telling me that my femaleness must be connected to my autism as they are my asexuality.

But you can't say "they're related" and not start implying things about sexual orientation and how it relates to neurodiversity. I mean, it's more common for people on the spectrum to identify as queer in general, yeah. But how do you separate that out from "I'm already classified as weird, what more can another weirdness hurt?" and "screw societal norms, they make no sense"? I think that a lot of the time in these discussions, different explanations are often discarded in favor of the most "obvious" connections.

I'm actually tempted to write a post about how my experiences growing up Aspie influenced my experience of being a teenage ace, because I suspect my experience would have been extremely different (and possibly more pressured!) if certain things that I attribute to autism hadn't been present. In that sense, my identities and my experience of my identities are connected, because my experiences are tied to who I am as a person and both of those are part of that.

But when "because" comes into play, I get very very wary. "Because" has a lot of potential to marginalize queer identities anyway since the focus gets shifted onto "why are you that way" which is so easy to shift into "can we fix that?" or "how do we prevent more of you?" Which I'm sensitive to particularly because of curebies, sadly enough--knowing that people want to work on the etiology of autism to prevent people like us from being born, well, that makes me worried about people who are ever-so-fascinated about the etiology of other marginalized identities.

Which is a shame, because I love knowing why, I love finding out how we as people are shaped and how brains work and all that, but I'm too wary of the political implications of such questions to be all gung-ho about answering those.

I can see "these two things are part of me, and because they are so integral to me they have influenced my experiences of each other" though. That's an experience common to every intersectional identity though, isn't it? I mean, my femaleness influences my experience of asexuality just as surely as my Asperger's does, but I don't run into nearly as many people claiming that being a girl causes asexuality. (Except when I do, but that's a whole different discussion...)

Ily said...

@Sciatrix: Yes, I think it IS common to every intersectional identity. It seems especially hard to talk about asexuality/autism intersectionality without people getting into "because" (as you put it). And I agree, that's not productive. This post was indeed supposed to be about intersectionality, not causes. I didn't mean to imply I'm searching for a cause because I used the word "relates". I meant it on more of a personal level.

Give in to your temptation! :-) I'd really like to read such a post.

Sciatrix said...

Oh, I figured that's what you were doing. I just wanted to clarify. :)

I might just do that this weekend, then. I was trying to think about what this week's post was going to be about anyway...

Mage said...

I'm always interested to read more about intersections of ability and asexuality, and I'm writing about that a bit in my zine (about depression and social anxiety disorder, though).
It's disturbing to me how common ableism is in general. It seems like it is one of those -isms that is less frequently discussed than the big ones (racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism). But the more we talk about ableism, the more we can do about it.

Your mention of gaining new "brothers" reminded me of something that pops into my head every now and then. Sometimes I feel like when people join AVEN, someone more established in the community should give them a list of resources and "mentor" them for a while, in a penpal-ish sort of way. Of course, this is totally idealistic and I wouldn't know how to begin organizing that...but I know that sometimes it feels like there's all this information one needs to have to engage with the community without getting repetitive, and that knowledge is hard to access by yourself. Personally it has taken me many, many hours of personal research and gentle steering from others to have the level of knowledge about asexuality that I do now (which in my mind is STILL not enough at times). Sorry I just got kinda ranty there.

Ily said...

@Mage: Your idea is definitely doable, especially because not every new person would want a mentor. There's a similar thing that happens on the NaNoWriMo forums. There's a thread where people say they want mentors, and a thread where more experienced people volunteer themselves. There would just need to be some guidelines, like maybe a time limit in case people get busy and can't correspond with their "mentees" as much.

I tried to write a piece for your zine, but I didn't like the way it turned out. Looking forward to reading it, though. Maybe I can do something for issue 3?

Mage said...

Ily, you could definitely write something for the next issue, whenever you're ready. I'll be announcing it when I'm ready to start distributing #2, and consequently collecting for #3.

I like the thread idea. I'm going to start thinking about guidelines now and maybe this could really happen.

Dreki said...

I'd like to see that discussion as well. Is there any way to set up a forum/community for autistic asexuals to try and facilitate those kinds of discussions?

@Sciatrix: "I don't run into nearly as many people claiming that being a girl causes asexuality." maybe not stating it outright- and I think it's getting better- but there's been a long history of people assuming women aren't sexual and it carries on now, to a degree. They're certainly seen as less sexual.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for posting this. I have a sensory processing disorder (SPD) that mimics autism and I also identify as ace. That is to say, I know a little bit of where you are coming from.

Last year, I underwent some intensive testing - an entire year of it, in fact. The doctors wanted to find out what was causing my "condition" and frankly, I was in so much physical and psychological pain that I thought it might be worth the effort. The testing is not the important part, though. What is important is that never once during that year did I mention asexuality to any of these medical professionals. I knew in a heartbeat they would link asexuality with SPD without understanding the whole picture. No, thanks.

So I'm not exactly sure what my point is here, other than to raise my hand and say that there is one more person out here who has an inkling as to what you are talking about.


Ily said...

@Dreki: I'm glad you would be interested! As for setting up a forum, I'm not sure how that would work. There may not be enough people to populate an entire forum. A thread might be a start, although I'm not sure where it would be...

@Carsonspire: I appreciate the affirmation, because I was kind of nervous about how this post would be received. I'm glad you could relate to it :-)

Sciatrix said...

We could do a blog carnival, maybe? Or I mean, we could start a thread on an existing smaller forum and link it elsewhere.

Also, Dreki: Yeaaaaah... I thought of that about when I posted gender as my comparison. I do tend to see "you're asexual because you're female!" outside the ace community and "you're asexual because you're autistic!" within it, but gender perhaps isn't the best comparison to make there.

Ily said...

@Dreki & Sciatrix:

What's a blog carnival? Derp... :-P

I want to write a post that goes into the intersectionality more in-depth, but I'm not quite sure what I would actually say yet. I like the idea of having a thread. Being coherent wouldn't matter as much. Yay :-)

As far as gender, it's true that women are seen as less some extent. But asexual women can also be seen as "repressed" because women are "supposed" to be just as sexual as men now.

Sciatrix said...

A blog carnival is basically a bunch of people all writing posts on the same general topic at once. If you can get guest posts for it, so much the better. At the end of the carnival or as the pieces or posted, whoever is hosting the carnival permanently links them all together on one page so that people who want to read them have easy access.

I happen to think they're fun, but I suspect it would be a very small carnival. And the results would be rather different than the results of a single thread's worth of discussion.

Dreki said...

@Ily- a blog carnival is something where a lot of bloggers write up a post about a certain topic and whoever's running it puts all the links together so everyone can find them (and, hopefully, everyone who contributed to it link to that so everyone can find all the posts).

Have you seen Blogging Against Disablism Day? That's sort of a blog carnival.

It could work, and it'd allow for discussion on each place. Whoever runs it could also put up their email or something so anyone without a blog who wants to contribute but doesn't have a blog can have their post up as a guest post or something.

Ily said...

Thanks-- I think I know the concept, but I didn't know the name. If there's interest in a blog carnival, is there a better venue where we can talk about it, maybe e-mail? I'm at sanfranciscoemily [at] gmail [dot] com. I can also be PM'd on AVEN, but I'm not sure if you guys are on there.

Sciatrix said...

Yeah, I'm definitely not on AVEN right now. My account is still up, if I'm PMed on it the message will get to my main email, but I haven't logged in since I made the decision to quit posting there. And that was about a month ago.

There's also been some interest over at the comments on my blog on an autistic/asexual carnival, actually.

I do have a gmail account which is under my full legal name, so I would rather not post that here on your blog. I suppose I could make up for the purposes of discussing this through an email list? Or there's Skype. I have the same Skype username that I use everywhere else.