So Dani posted a link and tagged me, saying that she found us a new chew-toy. And therefore, we are pleased to introduce you to the next installment in our “Autism and Gender (Fuckery)” post series. The text of the chew-toy list-post is provided in bolded italics, with our commentary provided below each item in the list (Dani took odd-numbered items, I took evens, and I’ve added our initials before our comments for clarity). Please also enjoy Dani’s parody post on Field Notes On Allistics here.
SO IT BEGINS…
Married To An Aspie: 25 Tips For Spouses
If you are about to embark on a marriage to someone who has Aspergers (high functioning autism), there are a few things that you may need to know (some good, and some not-so-good, perhaps):
D: Wait. Sometimes, parts of a marriage are NOT SO GOOD? Why didn’t someone TELL ME THIS before I got married?!?!?
1. Although Aspies (i.e., people with Aspergers) do feel affection towards others, relationships are not a priority for them in the same way that it is for neurotypicals or NTs (i.e., individuals without Aspergers).
D: Technically true. As measured by the amount of time we spend talking about them and gathering advice from one another, relationships of all kinds are actually a much larger priority for us than they are for NTs. And I mean all kinds: our relationships with our own thoughts, our projects, our pets, and our environments are important in a way it’s tough to even explain. Either you get it or you don’t.
2. A relationship with an Aspergers partner may take on more of the characteristics of a business partnership or arrangement.
E: Putting aside the fact that marriage as a social contract arose as, quite literally, a kind of kinship-based subsistence arrangement, I would like to inaugurate a new cliche: Blaming Things On Autism That Are Actually Because Of Capitalism and/or Because Someone Is Being A Jackass. This, to be clear, would qualify as an “AND” example. In that this is blaming something on autism that is in fact because of capitalism AND because someone is being a jackass.
3. Although he genuinely loves his spouse, the Aspie does not know how to show this in a practical way sometimes.
D: Non-Aspies, on the other hand, are eminently practical in their demonstrations of affection. Cut flowers: practical. Candy: very practical (especially for dentists who want to stay in business). Cramming a note into your locker that reads “do u like me yes no sircle one”: practical and alluring. Standing under your bedroom window with a boombox: USEFUL AF.
4. An Aspie is often attracted to someone who shares his interests or passions, and this can form a good basis for their relationship.
E: Unlike neurotypicals, who only experience attraction based on phenotypical markers indicating that a prospective mate will make a tasty meal after they successfully engage in coitus. Like spiders.
5. An Aspie needs time alone. Often the best thing the NT partner can do is give her Aspie the freedom of a few hours alone while she visits friends or goes shopping.
D: All “Aspies” are introverts.
All women are extroverts.
No women are Aspies.
*disappears in a puff of nonsense*
6. An Aspie often has a particular interest or hobby. While this may border on obsessive, the NT partner would do well to show interest in it. It may even become something they can do together.
E: Neurotypical People: The Original Robots. Interests are for babies. Hobbies are for freaks. Tolerate them at your own risk. Perhaps over time, your subroutines will adapt to the presence of inefficient, yet focused, behaviors. At that time, the Marriage Unit may fully engage with their Marriage Partner Unit’s Random Bullshit Actions (™) at their discretion.
7. An NT partner needs to understand her Aspie’s background in order to work with him on their marriage. She will need patience and perseverance as well as understanding that he functions on a different emotional level to her.
D: Every time I think you non-autistic tragedy cases are starting to make sense, you bork the system again. There are emotional levels now? Where? How many? How much XP do I need in order to level up? Can I trade some Pokemon for a level or two? Did you ever stop to consider that perhaps you started the game a few “levels” up not because you’re actually better at it or you played it in utero, but because the system is rigged to privilege your emotional priorities and expressions over those of neurodivergent people?
Still looking forward to “embarking” on that marriage? Or would you prefer a nice non-autistic partner, whose “background” you can blithely ignore and who will never require you to practice patience or perseverance?
8. Aspies do marry, and while NT partners can be frustrated by their lack of emotion and physical contact, their Aspergers spouses do bring strengths into the relationship. If there is open communication, the NT partner can help her Aspie to improve in areas of weakness and encourage him in the things he is naturally good at.
E: So the historicist in me literally cannot–CANNOT–get over how much of this stuff reads like something straight out of a fin-de-siecle eugenics handbook for young ladies. “Deviants do occasionally enter into legal unions when they are capable, but we cannot recommend procreating with a deviant as it will likely continue the defective strain.” Oh, and in case anyone wasn’t clear, “open communication” is code for both 1. “The NT tells the autistic person how they are a failure,” and 2. “The woman does all the active emotional labor.” Depending on context, of course.
9. Aspies often has a specific area of weakness in marriage. They often do not feel the need to express love, and the NT partner can help them understand that this is important. Discussions about how to display affection, holding hands in public and buying small gifts can be beneficial, but don’t be surprised if the results are amusing.
D: “Aw, look at that Aspie trying to play marrieds! That’s so cute! It thinks it’s husbands!”
Seriously: Tip 8 above encourages “open communication,” but Tip 9 here seems to think that communication should only ever go one way. PROTIP: your autistic partner is probably expressing love just fine (and if not, consider that we live in a society that pressures men, in particular, not to express anything that isn’t gun-toting rage) – just in a just-fine autistic way. Rather than condescendingly “teaching” romantic gestures that appear in every cliched rom-com ever written, try noticing how you’re already loved sufficiently that you agreed to marry this person.
10. Aspies typically mature later than NTs. As young adults, they are often emotionally immature and have poor social skills. As time passes, however, they can develop to a point where they are able to enter into a relationship with the opposite sex.
E: This is a humdinger. Really. So many layers to unpack here.
Part of the historical conflation of queerness and developmental delay arises specifically from the conflation of femininity (deviant AFAB femininity, or AMAB “effeminacy”) as cognitive and emotional immaturity. And another part of it comes, I think, from the way in which contemporary society ramps up the punishments/negative consequences for social deviance as you grow up? Maybe you didn’t date dudes during high school–you were just focused on school! Maybe you didn’t date dudes during college (we won’t talk about the ladies you dated during college)–it was a phase, you were young and carefree and rebellious! But then, the older you get, the more your options for social and economic support get narrowed down, until a fundamental message becomes entirely clear: People who are really serious about not entering into traditional het relationships are not the kind of people that society feels invested in supporting. Whatsoever.
As time passes, however, those of us who truly believe that we cannot emotionally or socially conform to society’s expectations for intimate or familial relationships realize that we’re being forced to choose between entering into a relationship with the opposite sex and being cut off from the majority of all social and economic supports necessary to sustain life.
11. Because Aspies tend to talk and act differently to NTs, they commonly attract a specific type of partner. Their spouses are often caring and nurturing and have strong protective instincts. In many ways, they become a link between their Aspie and society.
D: This is not a tip. I think it’s some kind of horoscope.
Also, watch out for men named Chad. That’s not a horoscope. Just…watch out for them.
12. Because the Aspie does not have the same relational needs as the NT partner, he may be unable to recognize instinctively or to meet the emotional needs of his partner. Marriages can thus form some dysfunctional relationship patterns.
E: Marriages can be dysfunctional, and when they are, it’s because of THE AUTISM.
13. For NTs who had normal expectations of the mutuality of marriage, there may be a sense of betrayal and a feeling of being used and trapped while in a relationship with an Aspie.
D: This is really not a tip. It’s some kind of anti-tip.
It’s also particularly indicative of the trap this list has embedded itself in, which is assuming that the only relationships worth discussing here are cishet ones in which the man has the autism and the woman does not. In a cishet relationship, any woman runs the risk of feeling “betrayed,” “used,” and “trapped.” “Normal expectations” of marriage are in no way “mutual” – they typically involve the woman doing the vast majority of the emotional labor and the man doing most or all of the breadwinning labor. The relationship may be complementary but it is not mutual. And “my partner doesn’t do his fair share of the emotional labor” is not an Aspie-NT problem – it’s a heteropatriarchal one.
14. In marriage, the Aspie often displays great devotion to his partner and is reliable, honest and faithful.
E: Do you know what cracks me up? In the midst of all the negative traits that people seem comfortable assigning to “Aspie men,” from “excessive rationality” to “lack of displays of affection,” I struggle to find a single fucking thing that in any way seems related or correlated with “great devotion…reliable, honest and faithful” behavior. This is one magical myth that we’ve been fed throughout the decades: that men who ignore the basic emotional needs of their female partners are, somehow, showing fidelity and honesty via this effortful ignorance.
15. In the privacy of their relationship, the NT partner may become physically and emotionally drained, working overtime to keep life on track for both of them.
D: Again: you’re doing all the emotional labor. Stop. This is not an autistic problem; this is a heteropatriarchal one. Go read this monster Ask Metafilter thread on emotional labor. Then read this post on doing emotional labor at Brute Reason. Repeat to yourself: “This is not an Aspie thing. This is a “society has wildly different expectations for women and men that have nothing to do with their innate abilities” thing. We can change this together.” Ask your partner to read the above links. Make a joint commitment to balancing the emotional labor in your relationship.
16. It’s important to look at the Aspie’s motives rather than his actual behavior.
E: New joke/catchphrase:
A lot of the stuff they say is “autistic stuff” is actually “dude stuff.”
And a lot of “dude stuff” is actually bullshit.
17. Lowering expectations will make the marriage more predictable and manageable, if not easier.
D: Ah, the soft bigotry of low expectations. PS: “lowering your expectations” of dudes falls under the general heading “Bullshit, Stuff That Is.”
18. NT partners may begin to feel that they are entirely defined by the role they fill for their Aspie partner. There can be a sense that there is little mutuality, equality and justice.
E: This is like, the fucked-up, ableist, hetero articulation of an actual fundamental issue within disability politics, gender politics, and a shit ton of other politics: the relationship between care work as a feminized, devalued, and currently often economically exploitative job, and the importance of care work and care workers within the lives of disabled people of all kinds. There is no reason why caring for another person, or even just taking into consideration that person’s access needs, must be a “full time job,” or a life-defining activity. Care work is demeaned not because care work is demeaning, but because we demean feminized labor, and by demeaning it, justify our society’s exploitation of the majority of care workers (women of color, especially immigrant women of color). And taking into consideration someone’s access needs is not a life-, or role-defining activity. It can only become life- and role-defining in an ableist society which is not structured to support or adapt to different people’s access needs, and in a sexist society which continues to restrict the social and intellectual spheres of many women to those activities considered “domestic” or to low-wage, “service”-related jobs with extremely long hours.
19. NT partners may feel that they are daily sacrificing their own sense of self to help fulfill the priorities of the Aspie partner.
D: THIS IS NOT A TIP. For a list that promised us tips, we sure aren’t getting very many tips. Worse, this “tip” appears in a list that nominally promised to be for NT people thinking about marrying an Aspie, which basically means it’s just poisoning the well.
Don’t tell people their marriages are going to fail. That’s a shitty thing to do. And especially don’t tell them their marriages are going to fail, then refuse to give them a single idea as to how to avoid that trainwreck.
I don’t care what your neurotype is: if you feel like you’re sacrificing yourself in a relationship, that relationship needs fixed. Don’t blame autism for it; work on it. (Or leave, if that’s what you need.)
20. NT partners may resent the reality of living on terms dictated by the needs and priorities of the Aspie partner.
E: Numbers 20 through 24 are literally just different fucked up hetero rephrasings of 18. So I’m going to keep referring back to my response to 18 over and over and over again because I’m not re-responding to this bullshit.
21. Positive traits such as faithfulness and reliability are bonuses, and the NT partner can encourage her Aspie by praising him for these.
D: Wait. Is this tip saying that Aspies tend to have an abundance of faithfulness and reliability, or that Aspies have a dearth of them and that’s why they need ABA in order to practice them? Either way, don’t “encourage” your “Aspie” with the praise and gummy bears schtick. We’ve been through it before, and it’s gross. This is your life partner, not a trained seal.
22. Sometimes a relationship with an Aspergers partner ends up being more one of practicality and convenience for the Aspie than for the loving and meeting of emotional needs of the NT partner.
E: Just literally shut the fuck up. Please see my response to 18. Oh, and my response to 8.
23. The Aspie can sometimes be emotionally and physically detached and become focused on a special interest to the exclusion of his partner.
D: Your NT husband, on the other hand, will never get so wrapped up in watching football, doing yard work, or tinkering with his vintage car that he ignores your needs or the time you spend together.
I mean, seriously? This is a sitcom stereotype dressed up as a non-tip.
24. The NT partner may unwittingly fill the role of “personal assistant” rather than being an “intimate-romantic partner.”
E: SEE MY RESPONSES TO 18 AND 8. I AM SO DONE Y’ALL. SOOOOO DONEEEE.
25. Your Aspie partner may seem to be more focused on a particular interest, project or task than on the people around them.
D: O hai, Tip 23. You’re back.
A typical marriage guide for young ladi- er, I mean “list of tips for spouses” – will also add that this is a Problem that a young lady of good deportment and fine breeding can take well in hand by guiding her husband gently back to the topic of conversation, and by not wearing her corsets too tight. Or by wearing them tighter? Whichever one makes him think “boobs” instead of “not boobs.”
In other words, boobs cure autism.
NEUROTYPICAL SPIDER MATING.
BULLSHIT DUDE STUFF.