This is the final post in my "Double Rainbow" guest blog series. I've had a great time with this guest blog, and I hope that you have enjoyed reading it. As part of wrapping up the series, I wanted to leave you with something fun. In the spirit of finding autists in popular fiction, I'm going to speculate about a character whom I almost included in my Valentine's Day post, but who I ultimately decided to save until the end.
I'm talking about Elphaba Thropp, as she appears in Gregory Maguire's novel Wicked.
Yep. I think the Wicked Witch is a little bit autistic.
Well, he tells non-autistic people to make lemonade, specifically. Guess who the "lemons" are in this metaphor.
Popular fiction both shapes and reflects cultural attitudes. In a previous post, I picked apart the film Adam and expressed concern over the film's troubling conclusion that people with Asperger syndrome—and by extension all autists, since Asperger's is thought of as a "mild form of autism"—are simultaneously too childlike and too threatening to maintain healthy romantic relationships.
This is a reflection of the attitude that pervades Tony Attwood's A Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, a popular nonfiction book that often serves as an introductory text to Asperger syndrome for lay readers.
Snow Cake is a 2006 independent drama starring Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver. Shortly after Rickman's character picks up a young hitch-hiker, he is in a sudden, brutal accident and the girl is killed. Paralyzed by guilt, he tries to reconcile with the girl's mother, portrayed by Sigourney Weaver, who happens to be autistic.
That is an intriguing premise. Too bad the film is stunngingly, bafflingly awful.
Autism Speaks is an easy, easy target. And a literally huge one—it's the largest and best-funded autism "awareness" and "advocacy" (I kind of want to just call it "autism-themed") organization in the world. Autistic self-advocates rip into Autism Speaks every day because of the organization's silencing and dehumanizing rhetoric, and its focus on "curing" autism rather than dedicating its resources to practical support for autistic people. I thought I'd comb through the resources on their website to see information they might offer regarding sex, gender, and sexuality.
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.
Welcome to my guest blog series, Double Rainbow. I am very excited to be blogging for Bitch and for the opportunity to lend my voice to discussion about representations of autistic sexuality (and lack thereof) in popular media. I chose the title of my blog both as a playful reference to the "Double Rainbow" meme and as a reference to the fact that I am a lesbian on the autism spectrum. The aim of this blog is to explore and interrogate popular representations of autistic sexuality and gender performance from a queer, autistic perspective.
There's an patronising narrative that happens with a lot of disabled characters. They don't act out of free will, but because they are disabled. They aren't allowed independence, because they are disabled and clearly incapable of acting on their own. Other characters do things 'for their own good' and this is depicted in a neutral or even positive way. These 'small details' that barely register with nondisabled viewers make me cringe and make me approach something that other people love from a completely different perspective.
This has real-world impacts on how nondisabled people interact with us. If you are a wheelchair user or you are in a relationship with one, people will ask you 'How do you have sex?' If you are a person with mental illness, you are going to be continually questioned about whether you are choosing relationships out of free will or because you're sick. If you have a cognitive or developmental disability, there will be concern trolling about whether you are able of making independent choices.