This is the first post of what Dani Alexis and I are hoping will be a fun, and constructive series of angry rants. See, we’ve been talking for ages about how much we want to write giant “sex/gender bullshit and autism” super-posts, because we have so much to say on those topics. So when I was considering doing this post (I’d collected the images of E-books a few months ago, I think) for reals, I asked Dani if she’d wanna do a back-and-forth kind of post conversation on the topic, and she was down. I know that I benefit from having some kind of dialogue with another person while thinking, and I tend to get stressed about whether or not I’m “including everything” when writing, so this should be fun and also helpful for me. Plus I mean angry ranting is always a bonus for me. Always.
Caption: An E-book with a white cover and grey/black lettering, titled “Decoding Dating: A Guide to the Unwritten Social Rules of Dating for Men with Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder).”
Caption: An E-book with a blue and yellow cover, with white lettering, titled “22 Things a Woman with Asperger’s Syndrome Wants Her Partner to Know.”
Caption: An E-book with a purple and orange cover, titled “Safety Skills for Asperger Women: How to Save a Perfectly Good Female Life.”
Caption: An E-book with a green cover and yellow lettering, titled “The Aspie Girl’s Guide to Being Safe with Men: The Unwritten Safety Rules No-one is Telling You.”
These are all par-for-the-course books on “autism and dating” (because autism goes on dates, apparently?).
What we learn from this shit:
- Men need help and advice about how to get their (implicitly female) dates to like them, while women need help and advice on how to not do stupid things that are going to get them raped.
- Autistic men must be accommodated by their female significant others, and if their significant other does not accommodate them, it’s because they don’t love them.
- Autistic women don’t have needs, only wishes, and their partners have no idea what any of them are yet.
I wish there was a way for me to express the absolutely minuscule amount of fucks I give about the dating needs of Aspie men without sounding like a really mean person. But I’ve decided that I don’t feel like trying, so I’ll just leave it at this: I really could not give fewer fucks. Ignoring the direct, unambiguous messages that women give them, and acting entitled to their bodies and affection, are not things that an autistic man would do because he is autistic, they are things he would do because that is how our society socializes men to treat women. And I want to ask, now: is it just me, or is the “White Male With Aspergers” stereotype seem constantly defined by his inability to “get girls”? He has a job, usually, and a place to live, maybe even some nerdy friends, but we are supposed to sympathize with his difficulties solely because he “can’t get a date.”
While Dani and I have been talking about this stuff, it’s seemed clear to both of us that the narratives of “normalization” and “development” that we encounter so often in autism discourse are also narratives of gender and sex, often in the most absurdly stereotypical ways. We see how these books present dating as something autistic men must go through as a natural step in life–a guy has to go on dates in order to find a woman who will marry him. The question is not “is there a woman that wants to marry him,” but instead, it is “how does he get through the dating stage in the process without scaring away the women who eventually, will totally want to marry him.” We should note, also, that there are apparently only two states an autistic woman can exist in: she is living every day alone, trying to “keep safe” despite the world around her, or she is already in a relationship with a partner who doesn’t really know her. Guides on how to date, or how to “not get raped,” or how to be the perfect partner, are implicitly (and explicitly, at least in these cases) guides on how to act more neurotypical, just like they are also guides on how to act straight, on how to act middle-class, and on how to act white. We have a model of what it means to be an adult, what it means to have adult relationships, what it means to live a fulfilling life, and these models of how life should (must) progress are supremely destructive.
So most of us don’t even get a chance to be included in the narratives of success and maturity that our white, male peers are expected to live out–but somehow that does not prevent us from being made to think that our safety and value is determined by how closely we can make ourselves resemble said narratives. We just play different parts, is all. In a story where a man needs a wife, and married life is the only acceptable way for a woman to live as an adult, an autistic woman learns to enter into relationships with men because men need wives, and the only way she will be able to live “as an adult” is if she marries a man. Her autisticness is cited as the reason she cannot afford to live on her own, or with anyone besides her parents or spouse, and simultaneously provides ample justifications for the abuse and emotional manipulation that her caregivers or spouse may exert. She is told that nobody would have to yell at her if she could just make dinner like she was supposed to, that nobody would have to hurt her if she wasn’t so bad at having sex, or that nobody else would tolerate someone as messy and useless as her.
When you teach boys and young men (autistic or otherwise) that anyone who fails to accommodate their needs is a bad person, and then turn around and teach girls and women (autistic or otherwise) that they aren’t allowed to have needs, you are helping make sure that we will continue to live in a world where women are constantly blamed for their own sexual assault, and where men are trained to be so worried about their masculinity that they are unable to admit that they have hurt others, or that others hurt them. And autistic people are supremely vulnerable to this kind of manipulation and socialization, in part because these kinds of stories and lessons about “adulthood” and “independence” fill our lives, and are not in any way limited to the sphere of relationships and dating.
When you have lived, for so many years, according to lists of behaviors, rules, and skills that you’ve been told you must do in order to deserve safety, sustenance, love, and self-determination, it sometimes is easier to feel safe (for a moment, for a day, maybe). But these lists of “rules” are always coupled with the–conscious or subconscious–knowledge that the only reason people had to tell you these rules in the first place is because you suck at following them. This is how your pain and your punishment are justified: there were rules, and you did not follow them, and the only way to teach you to follow the rules is to punish you when you break them.
You are not allowed to need help cooking food for yourself.
You are not allowed to not like sex.
You are not allowed to dress in “unflattering,” “unprofessional” clothes.
You are not allowed to hate being touched.
You are not allowed to not like men, especially not men who say they like you.
I just wanted to say to people like me, maybe even the kinds of people who’d end up reading books with subtitles like “The Unwritten Safety Rules Nobody is Telling You”: There are no unwritten safety rules that nobody is telling you. There is no special set of rules that you can follow that will keep people with power from hurting you. This is the scariest part, sometimes. To discover that no matter how “good” you are, no matter how well you follow the rules, your compliance will not always protect you. But this also means that there is no justification for the way you have been hurt and manipulated. You did not do things to deserve it.
And I wanted to say to everyone else: Stop teaching us (women, autistic women, autistic people, autistic queers, and so on) that we only have “wishes,” while people with authority have “needs.” Stop teaching us that if we don’t respect everyone else’s needs above and beyond our own, it’s because we don’t really “love” them.
Wait with bated breath for Dani’s reply! And then my reply to Dani’s reply! We have way more thoughts about this, like seriously, this is something we talk about without end. We want to talk about queerness, trans-ness and autisticness; we wanna talk more about developmental narratives, and we really, really want to talk about the incredible amount of overlap between “Dudes with Aspergers” and “Dudes with Serious Cases of ‘Nice Guy’ Syndrome.” We have lots of stories, our own and other people’s, to tell. So stay tuned!