Marriage Equality for Autistic Folk

Today, the US Supreme Court is deciding on whether or not gays have a right to get married. I’m embarrassed that this isn’t self-evident to a country that claims to be based on the idea that there are fundamental freedoms that all people have intrinsically, just for being human. Of course this is hardly the first time that we’ve had problems understanding that.

Of course gays aren’t the only people that have trouble with society and society’s views on marriage.

Autistics are typically viewed by people as uninterested in others (so no need to worry about marriage or dating), non-sexual beings. Heck, there are several sexual orientations in many people’s eyes – straight, gay, bi, disabled. Of course some more progressive people realize physically disabled people (or, rather, some physically disabled people) might be gay, straight, or bi. But mentally disabled people…well, that’s just sick to think of sex.

And of course people can’t think of marriage without thinking of sex.

I have news for people: autistic people like sex! Sure, some of us don’t want to have sex with anyone (just like some non-autistic people don’t want to have sex). But plenty of us do want to have sex. Our sexual desires are no different than any other group. We have people into strange stuff and “normal” stuff and no stuff. Go figure.

I have other news, though: it’s not just sex. I love having intimate physical times with my wife (don’t worry, I’m not going to go TMI) – but that’s a special case for me. I never really desired that with anyone else. You see, the emotional connection I have for my wife brings a level of enjoyment and excitement to the bedroom that nobody else could bring. I suspect plenty of non-autistic people would say the same thing – that there is a component to intimacy that isn’t about physical sex.

Autistic people desire connections with others, too. We don’t want to be lonely (we may want to be alone sometimes, but that’s different from being lonely). Being lonely sucks. Before I met my wife, I still had a need to be with people – I had (and have) deep friendships with people that understand and know me. These friendships aren’t romantic or intimate, like my relationship with my wife, but they are deep and contain a form of love. These relationships give meaning to my life.

Too often, it’s assumed that we don’t want that. We do. We might not want what looks like a typical relationship or friendship, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want a relationship or friendship at all.

This is true not just for those of us adults who can tell you about it. It’s true from the beginning of my memories. I remember before I spoke how I connected and desired the presence of certain people, how I wanted a connection to humanity. That spark isn’t missing from us! Even if we don’t always go the right way about it.

But in addition to being seen as people who aren’t sexual, don’t want/need a relationship, and don’t seek connections with others, there are other problems. We have problems with money and transportation. We have barriers when it comes to group homes and institutions (I’ll note that many of which are run by religious organizations who can legally prohibit same-sex relationships – and nobody, including every single autistic advocacy organization I know of, seems to care). Competency and our own desires are questioned. We have a lot of problems.

Then there is just the practical. How does someone different find someone else in the world? It’s not easy. It’s a wonderful thing when an autistic person finds someone who connects to their soul and heart – but it happens far too infrequently. It’s a huge issue in the lives of many autistic adults, yet very, very few of us had any real education on relationships other than “don’t touch people inappropriately” (or, sadly, “don’t touch people sexually at all”). This one huge area of determining happiness is completely ignored.

It’s funny – social skills are a huge concern to people when they see us and educate us. But what they mean by social skills typically aren’t the same things that we might desire. For instance, what’s the first social skill example used on a sample IEP site? It’s simple “will raise their hand and wait to be called on before talking aloud in group settings 4/5 opportunities to do so.” Sure, this might be important (or not – I don’t know what the last time I raised my hand for permission to speak, but it was quite some time ago), but it is more about meeting other people’s needs than meeting my own.

We need to get past the “don’t touch girls” type of social training. And certainly we need to get past the “don’t make the staff’s job hard” type of training. We need to recognize the desire people have for connections. Yes, I realize everyone is different and that not everyone wants a spouse. That’s fine. But nobody wants to be lonely.

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