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Double Rainbow: Erasure and Asexuality

I may be a person with a lot to say (or so I hope) and I certainly enjoy the opportunity to give voice to my thoughts and convictions, but I do not want this blog series to just be a soapbox. I would like this blog to be a space for dialogue and the synthesis of ideas, and so far I have gotten great feedback from what seems to be a diverse array of perspectives and experiences. With the goal of fostering ongoing discussion, my post for the end of this week aims to be simultaneously more introspective and more open.

In my previous post, I remarked that an examination of cultural representations of queer autistic sexuality will inevitably end up as a discussion about lack and absence, because so few representations exist. This is still true of autistic sexuality in general. While some fictional representations of sexually interested and active autists exist—films like Adam and Mozart and the Whale come to mind—prevailing tropes dictate that most autistic characters are desexualized. This reflects and reinforces the presumption that autistic people are too "childlike" or socially stunted to comprehend the idea of sexuality, let alone to actually have sex. The result of prevailing cultural attitudes is that autistic people are perceived as inherently non-sexual. Not as asexual—the mainstream paradigm erases the experiences of asexual autists right along with those of other queer people on the spectrum.

I am not asexual and I know very little about asexual politics. I think that's important to note, and to keep in mind as I write, lest I begin to ventriloquize and presume to speak for a group whose experiences I do not share. Until recently, were I asked to comment on the subject I might have written something like "Popular representations overwhelmingly present autistic people as asexual." And I would have been incorrect. What popular culture tends to do is to deny that autistic people possess the agency and self-awareness to think about and establish sexual identities. Ableism combines with the general erasure of asexuality, and the assumption that a lack of interest in sex equates to naïveté, to produce the idea that asexual-identified autists must be asexual because they are autistic. They are asexual not because they are self-aware individuals who happen to express a particular sexuality, but because somehow their autism renders them too naïve, "innocent," or socially inept for sex. They are not asexual because that's what they happen to be, they are non-sexual because they have no choice.

This assumption robs asexual autists of all romantic dispositions of agency and recognition. The problem of asexual erasure will probably come up again at some point as I continue writing this series, so:

What do you think? What issues regarding asexual politics might I miss and yet ought to address? No one should feel pressured or obligated to reply or out themselves—I know comment threads are not safe spaces. But I welcome your thoughts and input as I move forward with Double Rainbow.

Previously: On Lisbeth Salander, Navigating Autism, Gender, and Sexuality

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Comments

26 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Regarding Autistic Asexuality

You might want to ask Vox Corvegis, she's an autistic asexual trans* woman who has written about this subject before. Her blog can be found here: http://voxcorvegis.wordpress.com/

I'd highly recommend this

I'd highly recommend this piece by Kaz on disability and asexuality, and more generally the 'Spectral Amoebas' blog carnival, which features writing from ace autistic folks.

Autism and Sexuality

http://nhne-pulse.org/carly-fleischmann-autistic-girl-who-used-computer-...

I love how she explains autism, and how she giggles like a normal girl when she asks the reporter if his son is cute. Thought it might spark you further.

"normal"

Thanks for the link Tandy, but please be careful with your use of the word "normal." It's a subjective term, and there's no reason to think that someone on the autism spectrum or someone who identifies as asexual isn't "normal" herself.

Thanks!

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Normal or "Normie"

In the autism spectrum community "normal" or "normie" has a particular connotation. Might be a good topic for a blog post in this series . . .

Fears in show business

I'm so happy for this series! I consider myself a feminist and a person who cares deeply about autism - my brother has it, some other folks in my extended family have it, and I work with two autistic children. So basically I'm surrounded by it. On a side note, I have believed for a long time that I have asperger's but I think that's a topic for another discussion (and something I'd really like to see talked about on more especially among women in the autistic community who often face more difficulty getting a diagnosis as adults). Basically, I'm happy that these 2 things are being talked about in conjunction.

Anyway, I think portraying disabled people as sexual is a huge fear in the television and movie industry. In one sense you have the constant trope that disabled people are childlike, innocent, and incapable of being sexual. Therefore if you did portray a disabled person as sexual it would either be wrong or perhaps even inappropriate, as it would be like portraying an innocent child as sexual. There's also probably a less talked about fear - that people with disabilities are "creepy." That an autistic person would not be able to control his or her sexuality and that would make people uncomfortable. Of course, like you said, this robs people who are asexual of any romantic or emotional connections (yes the are possible, even for autistic people!).

Of course, this is all conjecture. I obviously know these are unfortunate stereotypes that are used to avoid confronting uncomfortable topics like sexuality, and that are, tragically and far too often, used to take advantage of disabled people. Hollywood has always had a habit of casting certain groups of people aside as the "other" and the portrayal of autistic people, while it is getting better and more inclusive, has historically been no different. Too often, a side character on a television show who is diagnosed autistic is portrayed as robotic and lacking any human emotion or sexual feelings.

I'm really glad you brought

I'm really glad you brought up the point about disabled people being perceived as "creepy" or dangerous. That definitely is something I want to get around to talking about--the idea that we "can't control ourselves" and are therefore threatening.

I get 'creepy' sometimes,

I get 'creepy' sometimes, though not quite as much as 'burden'. However, I have been called creepy and burdensome regarding both autism and asexuality. I often only mention one or the other.

I think you bring up good

I think you bring up good points. It's easier to view people with mentally disabled as childlike and innocent or threating. I think this is due to the fact that many view people on the spectrum as below "normal" adults. They don't see a person with sexual needs or desires because they don't want to. To them, they are too dysfunctional to handle such activities. If they do have these feelings, they will abuse them or go crazy. Desexualizing them is an easy way to include people on the spectrum with a confirmed safety,

Thank you - and yes, that's

Thank you - and yes, that's exactly what I was getting at. Also, people with disabilities - autism in particular - often have a hard time expressing their feelings in a socially acceptable way and finding a middle ground between coming off as overbearing or coming off as rstand-off-ish or uninterested in their behaviors regarding attraction. I personally am faced with that problem quite often. So because so many people with autism have these problems, it's easy for people who meet them, or the media that portrays that, to place them in one of these 2 categories.

And @Carolyn - I really look forward to more from this series!!

Too often, Aspies are portrayed/perceived as ASSpies

...because NT's (neurotypicals) think that autistic people/ASD's are unpleasant to be around (there's even a doctor who has used this term to describe Aspies, and has set up a counselling organization to help them.) I myself don't believe that we are any more creepy than normal people, although one's mileage may vary. I also think that we can be as sexually attractive as normal people, if society would give most of us a chance and look past our behaviour(s) to do so.

(BTW, Aspie means 'a person with Asperberger's').

Thanks!

Thank you for the links. I'll definitely take some time this weekend to read up.

Autistic and Asexual

I saw this and am really glad that you brought it up. I (kind of) feel guilty about the self-promotion here, but I am an asexual autistic, and about a week ago, I wrote a post on my blog about my asexuality and the fact that it is often erased purposefully within the disabled community, much to my frustration (and it added a lot to my confusion when I was growing up). I raise several points in it that you might be interested in in at least reading, if not addressing. It's definitely a topic I feel strongly about, so if you're interested, here's the post: http://thethirdglance.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/on-asexuality/

Question for the author

I found this blog very thought-provoking, and like many good pieces of writing, it immediately brought up a host of other issues and questions regarding disability, sexuality, and sexual identity. More particularly, my inquiry centers around whether the asexuality which the writer perceives as characteristic of the autistic life experience is also common to individuals suffering from other disabilities, whether those are cognitive, psychological, physical, etc. I myself believe that it does. As someone who has suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for most of her life, I often feel that my body has been, not erased, but written over, annotated, and redefined as part of its medicalization. Over the years, my body has become strange to me, a constant performance of symptoms which functions as a placeholder for, let's call it, "the discourse of disease/abnormality/disablity." If we think of the body of the disabled/chronically ill as some thing (not person) that is mute, unable to express itself except sometimes through the untranslatable language of pain (in my case), it is little wonder that disabled persons are perceived as asexual, or incapabile of sexual identity: in medicine, culture, philosophy literature, art, etc. , pain, illness, disability are disembodied concepts (paradoxically) with no gender.

Yes

I think you're totally right that, culturally, any body that is considered somehow "deviant" or "broken" becomes treated as an undesirable object, and disabled people are thereby alienated from our own bodies.

Psych Disorders and Asexuality

I was 15 when I first declared myself asexual and I didn't decide that that wasn't actually fitting until very recently. (I am now 21.) I was diagnosed as Bipolar 1 at 14 and have suffered with depression ever since I can remember. I purposely wear my hair short, wear not so stylish clothes and absolutely no makeup with the intention of NOT being seen as sexy because I find that obscene. I am not flattered when someone tells me I look hot, instead it makes me want to cry because I failed myself by being noticed for my looks rather than my personality or intelligence.

I think that a large part of the reason I was never sexually attracted to anyone until very recently is that I had never met anyone who understood what it was like to sometimes be at war with your own mind. I think I subconsciously knew that it would be easier for me to simply not look at what the dating world really had to offer because I knew that most people simply wouldn't understand or be able to "deal with me" when I went off the deep end.

I know that this isn't fully what you were referencing since I have since decided that I am a queer straight woman, not asexual, but I do feel that part of the reason I couldn't refer to myself as straight was because of my bipolar disorder and so I feel that it does apply to your post, even if only in part. I was already so uncomfortable with being outside of what everyone else experienced, that I felt I wasn't allowed to have a sex life. It wasn't hetero-normative that I was dealing with but rather what I felt was being outside of the sexual-normative if you will.

reply to psych disorders and asexuality

I was sixteen when first dignosed with bipolar. I knew nothing about it. My parents didn't handle it well. I was unmedicated from age 17 through 27 and also with same and only partner from age 18-28. His only complaint was that he wished I was more into it, meaning sex.
I identify very much with what you said in the first paragraph of your reply. I've felt that way most my life. Especially until very recently. I think it had to due w/ the severe sexual trauma I suffered as a teenager. Not to mention my self consciousness about my illness. There is, of course, the added factor of wanting to be seen attractive but as a woman being judged and punished either way you behave. Whether you dress somewhat attractively and run the risk of being only viewed as a sex object or go the other way and by completely covering yourself in loose fitting clothes and layers to ensure that you do not aroused anyone. I've always had an aversion to anything I found ultra feminine and overly sexy. Not sure why. I've just chalked it up to taste. I do know that I feel alienated from most of the young women I see.

bipolar asexuality

Elle--So much of what you & Juanita said resonates. Also diagnosed bipolar as a teen, self-declared asexual for years & then started dating but I still find sex & sexuality extremely uncomfortable & avoid. Always hear the hyper-sexuality description as a symptom of bipolar people, nice to know i'm not alone in my experience.

Sciatrix from Writing from

Sciatrix from Writing from Factor X is an autistic asexual woman who has written about intersections of her identity before. I recommend the autism tag at her blog, and this is the round-up post of the Spectral Amoebas blog carnival that was referenced in an earlier comment. She's also written on ableism and sexualnormativity with some discussion of autism.

Asexuality

As a woman discovering her asexuality, I'm not sure I can accurately discuss asexual issues. Asexuals are generally perceived as lacking all passion and since they don't enjoy or desire sex, that they can not have proper relationships with sexual adults. In itself, that is infantilizing. Autistic individuals, also, is as you say, are seen as free of sexuality. While people, by default, are thought to be sexual and desirous of relations, I'm sure it is frustrating to have those desires and not have them recognized. In both cases, asexuality and autism, there is some adjustment to be made for the partner who is not asexual or autistic, that is, if you should find yourself lucky to be in a relationship with an understanding partner. If you're looking for asexual views, try the AVEN.

Asexuality - the most misunderstood group

Society as it currently stands makes it very difficult to define asexuality.

Is it someone who does not want to have sex, ever?

Is someone who has sex with a partner because it's part of the give and take in a relationship, but has no real interest, asexual?

Is someone who has only been sexually attracted to one or two people a decade, but not actually had sex with them, and not thought about sex outside of those situations, asexual?

When you bring autism into the equation, it's even more difficult. Many autists would like a partner but are celibate because they cannot handle the sensory issues, or cannot find a partner considerate enough to give them the space they need. The intricacies of sharing space can be a huge hurdle.

The issues with body language interpretation can make relationships very scary, and many autists are simply too bruised to keep trying.

Most of us are pretty clued up about sex; we're not innocent children who still believe in santa. To actually be portrayed as adults with agency would be a huge leap forwards.

Anyhow, I believe

Anyhow, I believe representing handicapped individuals because sex has become a fright within the tv as well as film sector. In a single feeling you might have the trope which handicapped individuals are childlike, harmless, as well as not capable of becoming sex. In case one do depict the handicapped individual because sex it will possibly become incorrect or perhaps unacceptable, since it will be such as representing a good harmless kid because sex. There are also most likely the much less discussed fright -- that individuals along with afflictions are generally "creepy. inch That the autistic individual examine have the ability to manage her or his libido which will make individuals unpleasant. Naturally , just like you stated, this particular robs those who are asexuado associated with any kind of affectionate or even psychological cable connections, indeed the actual are generally probable, actually with regard to autistic individuals!. nail fungus treatment

I believe that the big

I believe that the big section of the factor I got never intimately interested in anybody till extremely lately is the fact I had not satisfied anybody who else comprehended actually had been prefer to occasionally end up being at battle with your own personal brain. I believe We unconsciously realized it could be simpler will not really take a look at the particular adult dating globe actually made known due to the fact That i knew of that many individuals just would not comprehend or perhaps have the ability to "deal by using me" once i go from the heavy finish.

I would just like to point

I would just like to point out that our ability to enter relationships society deems "adult" - that is, romantic and sexual relationships - is purposely downplayed by parent-dominated groups like Autism Speaks, who want to keep the discussion centered around (their) children. It's really not accidental that the "autistic people are childlike" trope is so pervasive.

Comment

Such a refreshing change to find good content for once, I was getting sick of the retarded drivel I find daily, thank you.

autism and asexuality

I do think my asexuality is related to my autism, but not in the way you describe - I'm certainly mature enough to have a sexuality (actually, I think even some profoundly cognitively impaired people can have sexualities, though they rarely get to express it) and I'm mature enough to examine my sexuality. (And figure out that I don't really have one.)

But asexuality does seem to be more common in autistics, so my guess is that one of the possible mechanisms contributing to autism also impacts on sexuality. Simon Baron-Cohen thinks autistic female asexuality is due to a masculinized brain, but that doesn't explain autistic male asexuality, or autistic male LGTB in general. (Who are also more common than expected, as far as I can tell.)

I've also encountered prejudice from people who think being asexual is a bad thing - even some LGTB people. I ended up leaving the EmptyClosets forum because one of the moderators was harassing me, trying to tell me I wasn't allowed to give an honest answer when someone asked 'do you think I'm asexual?' in the 'questioning' subforum. He kept claiming asexuality wasn't a scientifically supported sexual orientation, even when I posted links to research studies. (And the idea that scientific research is needed for people to use a sexuality label is ridiculous anyway.)

Other people have said they pity me for missing out on the joys of sex - well, I pity sexual people sometimes for all the stresses associated with trying to get sex. One guy claimed I couldn't love, as if sexual attraction = romantic love and romantic love = the only kind of love possible. I'm probably aromantic, if romantic love even exists, but I love my family, my friends and my cats, and those kinds of love are just as valuable as romantic love.

I just wish people would see being asexual as being like not liking sports. It's just an activity I don't enjoy. It doesn't mean my life is empty of enjoyment or something like that. I don't tell people their life is empty because they don't like researching scientific topics, even though my life would feel empty without the delight of discovering new information. I just respect that they're built differently and don't have the same need for cognition as I do.