Perseverative Attraction

There’s a lot of stereotypes about autistic people, and, indeed, people who are not neurotypical in general. One of those stereotypes is that we are dangerous people that need to be kept away from others, particularly when it comes to sex and relationships. I’ve written about some of this before, such as Temple Grandin’s mother saying we’re more likely to be pedophiles (hint: we’re not). Or that autistic mate-selection should work like many assume neurotypical mate-selection works (through flirting at bars, for instance – which isn’t actually how neurotypical mate-selection works either).

One of the things that concerns me is that as we fight bad information, the tendency is to not want to talk about problems we do have.

Now, I’m not a researcher, and I don’t have any great data. I do have a survey I’ve done, which shows some interesting data. Among the most interesting, it showed (all results rounded to the nearest 5% to not imply precision that doesn’t exist in my survey):

Most people, autistic or not, have been pursued by someone that the person being pursued didn’t want a relationship with:

  • 65% of non-autistic people indicated they had unwanted pursuit (I didn’t break it into men/women due to small sample size)
  • 65% of autistic women indicated they had unwanted pursuit
  • 75% of autistic men indicated they had unwanted pursuit
  • 100% of non-binary autistic people indicated they had unwanted pursuit

When I asked if the pursuit continued without stopping, even after the object of affection indicated they weren’t interested:

  • 65% of non-autistic people said they’ve been pursued by someone that didn’t stop (thus, everyone that had unwanted pursuit also had unwanted pursuit that continued after the pursuer was informed the pursuit wasn’t wanted)
  • 45% of autistic women said they’ve been pursued by someone that didn’t stop
  • 60% of autistic men said they’ve been pursued by someone that didn’t stop
  • 85% of non-binary autistic people said they’ve been pursued by someone who didn’t stop

I found some of this interesting, although I’ll caution that drawing too many conclusions beyond order-of-magnitude-level conclusions – there are a lot of methodological issues and sampling bias in my survey. It’s also important to realize that the first category – someone pursuing you that you aren’t interested in – is not a problem in itself. For instance, if someone saw me, didn’t know I was married and monogamous, and thus indicated they are interested in a romantic relationship, I shouldn’t be angry about this if it’s done in a respectful and appropriate way. I wouldn’t want that relationship, thus it’s unwanted, but it’s not inappropriate pursuit at this point (assuming, again, the pursuit was respectful). Or, if someone is gay and an opposite sex person pursued them, that’s not inappropriate if done respectfully until the person doesn’t stop the pursuit when told it’s unwanted (hopefully most of us are respectful when doing this too). Hopefully one day if a same-sex person pursued a straight person, that too could be seen as acceptable, so long as it was respectful and the person pursuing accepted that not everyone is going to be interested in them. Likewise, you can be pursued by someone in a category you are interested in (such as a straight man being pursued by a woman), but still not be interested in that particular person – I’ve seen some people get this wrong and think, “I’m an attractive man, she is straight and interested in men, she should be interested in me.” But it doesn’t work this way – people can and should be free to choose their romantic partners for whatever reason they want – and that’s not wrong. Likewise, it’s not wrong to pursue up until the point where it becomes either disrespectful or the pursuit signals aren’t returned (it shouldn’t take an explicit “QUIT BUGGING ME! NO!” to get you to stop – simply not having reciprocation should be enough).

The first thing that struck my attention was that non-autistics, autistic men, and autistic women have roughly the same experience with unwanted pursuit. I’m not sure why less autistic women have had people not stop when they’ve asked them to stop, but in general, it looks like autistic experience is remarkably similar to non-autsitic experience. But what did stand out was non-binary people seem to deal with this stuff a lot more than the rest of us. I’m not sure what to make of that, but I do find it potentially interesting.

The other part of this is that it’s interesting is that there is a myth that autistic men are not pursued – clearly they are. Now I recognize that not everyone is, nor is the world fair. So some decent guys don’t have anyone express interest in them romantically. But it’s still not appropriate to respond to that “unfairness” with inappropriate behavior, and certainly not with violence or stalking or disregard for people’s boundaries.

All of this was to get to another point – people who do the pursuing. I asked a question about whether the person doing the survey pursued someone they knew wasn’t interested in them. In other words, did they do this behavior which may be inappropriate and unwanted:

  • 65% of non-autistic people said they pursued someone who they knew didn’t want to be pursued (FWIW, most of the non-autistic respondents were women, so this wasn’t a man-only thing).  100% of the non-autistic people indicated they’ve asked someone for a relationship (65% also indicate they’ve been turned down).
  • 15% of autistic women said they did this, while 55% of autistic women indicate they’ve asked someone for a relationship (75% of this 55% indicate they’ve been turned down) – so about 25% of autistic women who have asked someone out have also pursued someone they knew wasn’t interested.
  • 25% of autistic men said they did this, while 50% of autistic men indicate they’ve asked someone for a relationship (80% of this 50% indicate they’ve been turned down) – so about 50% of autistic men who have asked someone out have also pursued someone they knew wasn’t interested.
  • 0% of non-binary autistic people said they did this, but 85% of non-binary autistic people said they’ve asked someone for a relationship (100% of this 85% have indicated they’ve been turned down at some point)

I found the non-autistic number remarkable, and would love to investigate to see if that’s accurate or not. If it is, it seems that any given non-autistic person is more likely than any given autistic person to pursue someone they know isn’t interested. This may be the most remarkable thing I found in this survey. I have theories about this, but I think it would be premature to explain them.

I also point out that plenty of autistic women have asked someone out and been turned down – the majority of women who have asked at least one person out have been turned down at least once. Less women have faced rejection, but of course it’s likely they’ve asked less people out and thus had less chance of being rejected at least once.

All that is to say, basically, that autistic people aren’t all pursuing people with no respect for the other person’s feelings, at least not to a greater degree than non-autistic people, and I don’t want that point to be lost.

But some are. Just as some non-autistic people are.

And I want to talk about that in very brief terms. There’s different types of stalking and pursuit of uninterested people. None of it is particularly pleasant to the object of desire – if you’re not interested in someone, you’re not interested in them, and you wish you didn’t have to keep telling them no, for all sorts of reasons – you want to be respected, but you also probably don’t like rejecting someone (it’s not a fun thing to do to another person, if you have any empathy at all). There’s all sorts of extremes – and due to the way I asked the questions, the extremes could show up all sorts of ways in my survey. They guy that thinks shooting the president will get the girl (that link goes to a really chilling letter) likely would show up the same as the guy that asks a girl out once, waits 5 years, and then asks her one more time. John Hinkley Jr. was violent and willing to do great evil in his pursuit – I suspect Jodie Foster is glad that he was locked up. The guy who asks twice in 5 years (and doesn’t hang around someone’s dorm evesdroping on conversations or similarly creepy stuff) is something different, albeit still IMHO disrespectful at the least (no person should have to turn you down more than once – if you’ve been turned down, whether explicitly or through lack of reciprocation, you need to end hope for a relationship). Both guys are in the wrong, but there are difference between them.

There’s a form of autistic unwanted attraction that is somewhat unique, I believe. Now, I’m moving past anything I have anything even as decent as the soft data I described above – I’m going to talk about personal experience and some theories I have. So take this with a grain of salt.

Just as an autistic person might perseverate on trains, an autistic person can perseverate on a person. Of course we can’t always control our attractions, and it’s very possible to feel an attraction for someone who doesn’t reciprocate. It’s common enough to have thousands of movies, plays, literature, and other art (often which gives this idea that if a man sticks through it, they’ll eventually win the girl – which is dangerous if you actually believe life works this way). Having an attraction isn’t a problem. Not accepting a “no” (even in the form of non-reciprocation) is a problem. You can desire whoever you want, but you must call of both the pursuit of the relationship and the hope that you’ll have it when you hear “no” (or non-reciprocation). Seriously, I don’t care that your cousin-in-law or someone kept pestering someone until they got married. You need to stop. And if you can’t be around the person without wanting to make the relationship something more than it is (such as friendship), you’re being dishonest. It’s not ethical to do that to someone, and it causes real harm.

Not only does it cause harm (which is the reason you shouldn’t do it), but it also puts you at risk. I know a man, likely autistic, who perseverated on a girl who used him mightily. She did a pretty ugly thing back to him (she also may have been autistic, not that it matters, but I want to show that people of any neurology can take advantage of people of any neurology). The man asked and asked her to have a romantic relationship, and she bluntly, repeatedly, told him no. At the same time, she managed to lead him on just enough to where he thought she was getting interested, so he gave gifts, trips, meals, etc, to this woman over the course of more than a year – at thousands of dollars of expense. From where I could see, both people were violating the others’ boundaries, and both people were trying to manipulate the other (she was succeeding a bit more than him, however). I do not believe that she was innocent, but rather I believe she was intentionally manipulating. I’m not in any way saying this is the normal response of a victim of unwanted pursuit. Any sort of obsessive focus on someone, to the point where you stop respecting their “no” can equally be used against you by a clever manipulator.

But again the main reason to listen to a “no” (or non-reciprocation) isn’t to avoid being a victim – it’s to avoid being an ass, a creep, and a stalker. That should be enough reason.

All this said, I think it is important to recognize that this type of perseveration is something that can be somewhat different than other types of stalking behavior. That’s not a justification or acceptance or excuse for creepy behavior – nor is it a lack of recognition that even the guy that persists in trying to turn friendship into something more isn’t hurting the woman. They are hurting the woman. But the response is different. This is not necessarily a guy which will benefit from jail time (although I’m not saying autistic people can’t commit acts that should put them in jail). It could be a guy that needs a strong role model or mentor to make it clear, in no uncertain terms, that persisting on this path will have severe consequences, and is inappropriate, wrong, and harmful to the victim. People do have to learn to deal with perseveration properly, even when it involves a person.

I’ll also note that I’ve seen and heard about autistic women doing the same thing – this is not just an autistic guy thing, although more guys than women may be doing it.

In some cases a person can change. And when a person can change, they should be expected to do so. We should recognize that this is something that may be a somewhat unique problem in the autistic world. It may be that we’re actually less likely to refuse to call off our pursuit than a non-autistic person is, but we need to recognize some autistic traits can cause us to engage in dangerous, destructive behavior that harms a victim. We need to acknowledge that autistic excessive pursuit may look a bit different than non-autistic excessive pursuit.

And one more thing is certain: People need to learn, both autistic and non-autistic, that “no” and non-reciprocation means to STOP PURSUIT! How can we work in our community – autistic people – to present this message in a way that is best likely to be heard and followed?

Misogynistic Murder

As most people know, a misogynistic racist in California murdered six people and wounded many more.

When I saw the news, there were two thoughts that went through my head. The first was sadness for what the victims and their families must be feeling. Families and friends of some victims will never be able to share another day with their loved one. That’s horribly sad. Others will have a far different life than they should have had, due to the lifelong physical and mental injuries. This is incredibly sad.

The second thought that went through my head was, “the guy is going to be (rightly or wrongly) portrayed as autistic in the media.”

Let me make one thing clear here: Autistic people are not dangerous, are not a threat, and will not hurt you. Seriously. However, autistic people are far more likely than a non-autistic person to be a victim. Sadly, this will be lost on many, and will continue to leave autistic people in the closet, afraid that people will think they are a threat if they disclose their diagnosis (or, worse, will lead to segregation and further community resistance to autistic people living in their neighborhoods).

Now, this said, I can say I’ve seen things expressed from other autistic guys that are a bit too similar to the views expressed by this murderer for my liking. And this murder shows, yet again, why hate towards women and others (he was also quite hateful of non-whites) must not be tolerated in our community. I know plenty of us are decent people. But we can and should call out people who feel entitled to their anti-woman views. Whether you are autistic or not, here’s a few things you should know if you, in any way, understand or justify murder because you aren’t having sex:

First, there is an idea that by a certain age, we should have had sex. No, that’s not how it works. Some people have consensual sex young, while others have it for the first time when they are old, and yet others never have it. That’s okay – and it is possible to live a full life with or without sex.  If you have a hard time believing that, you probably should seek out what is needed to be able to enjoy the here-and-now. For some people, the right therapist can help (the wrong one will be useless – so if the first or second therapist you try doesn’t work, keep looking). For others, other methods might work – but it is important to know that someone obsessed with the emptiness they have without another person (either longing for emotional intimacy or longing for sex) will probably not find intimacy or sex. It’s a bit of a paradox, but it’s hard to find when you’re looking.

Second, there is this idea that sex is this magical, life-transforming thing. I blame TV and media for this. Sure, sex, particularly in an emotionally intimate relationship (hint: if you’re thinking “hot girl” you probably are not yet focusing on an emotionally intimate relationship) can be special, wonderful, and extremely joyful. But so can tons of other things in life. Sex – despite what guys might say to each other – is not the end-all of experiences. It’s good, but there’s lots of good things in life if you look for them. Ironically, finding some of those things makes you more sexually attractive to someone else. Someone who loves life will be attractive to people, regardless of their body type.

Third, I see a lot of people searching out supermodel-type women – and then wondering why they can’t seem to end up in bed with them. I’ll give you a hint: even the people who have the most beautiful bodies (according to social biases, anyhow) are almost certainly looking for someone who wants more than blond hair, perfect boobs, and shapely legs (or whatever else it is you’re looking for). Maybe there’s someone that isn’t looking for someone who cares about those things – but I’ll warn you: it’s hard to be judged by your own standards sometimes. I’ll also say this: if the only person you would be willing to sleep with is someone that could professionally model in a biased society (like our own), you are treating people like shit, which isn’t a good thing. Just as being a sincere racist doesn’t make racism less repugnant, being a sincere shallow asshole doesn’t make that less repugnant – and expecting women to fall all over you is probably not going to happen. Ironically, almost everyone I see on the internet whining about being a virgin at age 20-something is looking for supermodels. Uh, no wonder you’ve never found someone (that said, if you are in your 20s and are a virgin, there is nothing wrong or even unusual about that).

Some people think, “Good guys finish last.” For men, too often this belief is used to justify acting like a testosterone-crazed abusive asshole. That’s not cool, that’s not manly, and it’s not sexy. Plenty of abusive men find victims to have sex with. But that doesn’t make it a valid path to a relationship, and certainly not a formula for success in seducing people. Good guys do find relationships. Maybe they won’t attract a shallow woman looking for a testosterone-crazed monster, but I’m willing to guess that most women are not looking to be treated bad. If you think what I’m saying isn’t true, I’m going to suggest to you that you are probably in an echo chamber looking only at shallow examples of relationships, and not real life. And, related to this, if a woman turns down your advances, it’s not because she thinks you are a good guy. She might not be interested in you for any number of reasons (some are good reasons, others may be shallow and not-so-noble), but it’s not because you weren’t enough of an asshole. This false-victimhood, incidentally, is not sexy or attractive to other women when they see it in you. So deal with rejection gracefully – not in a judgmental way. Just as society lets a men decide who to approach, we (as men) should understand that not every woman will find me to be a someone they want to date (indeed, most won’t – and that’s even true if I’m the star quarterback and neurotypical).

There’s also this idea that other people have it easy. For instance, “Women can have anyone.” The idea is that if a woman is horny and wants sex, all she has to do is go to the bar, loudly announce, “I WANT SEX!” and ten men will be willing to have sex on the spot. But a man that did the same thing would probably be kicked out of the bar, and certainly wouldn’t get any sex. Just as the person whining about not getting sex probably wants only to sleep with certain people (albeit too often a very shallow set of criteria is used to determine the ‘right’ people), few women want to sleep with every man. Maybe the woman is shallow and doesn’t want to sleep with a 350 pound guy. Or maybe she’s not shallow and can see a 350 pound guy as sexy, but wants to know someone first. Maybe she is concerned about safety. Maybe she really likes a guy, but not sexually, and is in the really uncomfortable position of trying to nicely turn down a request for a date with someone she likes – but doesn’t seem to be getting the point that she’s not interested in that type of relationship. I’ll add that plenty of women haven’t found their Prince Charming yet, but desperately want him. Just because things are different doesn’t mean they are easier.

So here’s my advice: are you a horny guy that wants sex? I’m going to be a bit blunt in the next sentence:

You probably have a hand (if not, you can probably find a way). Deal with it. I don’t know why society has decided that somehow solo-sex isn’t wonderful, but that’s B.S. You can have a mind-blowing orgasm by yourself. And that’s okay, and should not have shame attached. If you feel dirty or like you’re missing something because you masturbate, that’s a problem. Most humans do this, including most people who say they are having sex with others. You shouldn’t feel shame for something that the very people projecting that shame upon you do themselves.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to want someone else in your life (although if you just want them for feelings you can give yourself, I’d say to save yourself – and the other person – a lot of hurt and difficulty, and deal with it yourself).

What you are not entitled to do is try to pity someone else into sleeping with you. If you feel that you are entitled to sex, I’ll give you a really big hint: you probably won’t get much sex.

Now, again, I don’t think this is a problem confined to autistics, anymore than racism is an autistic-only problem. It’s a society problem. But I do hope that we call out this type of behavior when we see it. And I hope that if some of the above applies to someone reading this, that they’ll reflect upon what kind of person they are being – and if that’s really the kind of person they want to be.

My AACC Presentation – And Some Survey Results

I’m not going to go into great detail about the survey I asked for help with (although if you’re willing to participate still – and you don’t have to be autistic – please do!), but I will give some general findings so far:

  • Most of us (autistics) have been abused. This aligns with research, and, as expected.
  • About half of us (autistics) who have had an intimate relationship have been abused by someone in an intimate relationship. I’m not yet aware of research on this.
  • Non-autistics also have seen a lot of abuse, although it’s not as common – their numbers are about half of that of the autistic population.  This aligns with research.
  • A substantial portion of us identify as having a non-binary gender identity. This aligns with research.
  • A substantial portion of women identify as bi, asexual, or other non-heterosexual.  Substantial enough that heterosexual is a minority among autistic women. This is a somewhat surprising finding, although it was expected that non-straight people were more common among autistics, particularly autistic women.  It’s a bit inconclusive for the men so far. There’s some research on this, but it’s also inconclusive (for both men and women).

I’ll put some more results out in a while – I’m still hoping for more responses to the survey.  I really appreciate people taking the time to take the survey and leave comments on it – the comments in particular have been helpful as I prepare the talk. The more people that comment, the more interesting the results will be for the entire community!

At AACC 2014, I’m going to be presenting, “Dont touch me there: Intimacy for Autistic Abuse Survivors.” This will talk about both sexual and non-sexual intimate relationships (obviously for people who want an intimate relationship – not everyone needs to want this), with a focus on techniques, tips, and ways of managing intimacy for people who have faced abuse that may make intimacy difficult. We’ll also talk about our rights in relationships – what things can we expect to have in a relationship with a non-abusive partner. I’m also going to talk about some partner issues for people with abuse – such as the common fear in partners that they’ll do something that reminds the survivor of past abuse, which is certainly not what any loving partner wants to do. I’m also going to include topics on autistic differences, as for autistic abuse survivors, both autism and abuse impact what makes an intimate relationship enjoyable to us. I hope to be respectful of differences people have in religious background, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

I’m really looking forward to this because I feel this is a topic that’s critical for us. We have a lot of hurt people who want to have intimacy (sexual or non-sexual) with other people, but find it difficult because of what has been done to them in the past.

I also recognize that this is only one piece of the puzzle – finding someone for a relationship is another key piece of the puzzle, but I’m not going to spend much time on that, since I don’t have many tips of things you can do (other than being yourself and finding completeness in yourself).

So, if you end up at AACC 2014, I’d love to see you at this presentation. And I certainly would love to know what types of things you’ve found helpful in intimate relationships if you’ve been abused (or even if you just have autism). What techniques or tips or advice do you have for others who might have difficulty in a relationship because of abuse or autism?

Can You Help Out? A Survey.

At the Association for Autistic Community Conference 2014, I will be giving a presentation on intimacy (in the general sense of relationships, not just the sexual sense) and autistic people, with a particular focus on how abuse survivors can honor themselves and enjoy sharing intimacy with someone else.

This is a huge issue in the autism community, and something I feel pretty passionate about – that we can have great relationships as autistic people, even as autistic survivors of abuse. Abuse is a huge issue for our community – if I meet an autistic person, the sad reality is that they’ve probably faced abuse.

If you’re willing and able to answer a survey about (in fairly general terms) your views towards and general experience with intimacy, I’d love you to help me out by answering the survey. You don’t need to be autistic to answer the survey (in fact, I’m hoping plenty of non-autistic people answer so I can compare experiences during my presentation).  Note that I do ask if you’ve faced abuse (but not the specifics), so please don’t go here if it’s going to be too much for you. The survey is anonymous and the results will be used as part of my presentation.  You can get to the survey by clicking here.

Thanks for your help!

1 in 34? Uh, no shit. Uh, actually more shit.

On the Autism Speaks blog, there’s a post about parents having a 1 in 34 chance of autistic kids. No, not true.

It scares me that an organization so focused on research as they claim to be can’t manage basic math. But they can’t. Sadly I wasn’t surprised.

They use this logic: A new estimate for autism is 1 in 68. I admit I haven’t dug into this estimate much because, frankly, it doesn’t matter. If you’re autistic, that matters. If you’re not, it doesn’t. Sure, schools and politicians need to consider this number, it’s source, and it’s reliability. But the problem I have is that this Autism Speaks blog entry talks about how, for parents, it’s 1 in 34. Because there are two parents of a child.  So a parent has a 1 in 34 chance of being affected by autism.  Two parents, twice the chance.  Apparently.

Maybe this was tongue in cheek, but it didn’t look that way to me.

That said, even it if is, let me explain.  Let’s say I give every family, whether single parent family or multiple parent family a 6 sided die. I ask them to roll it.  What’s the chance of it turning up a 6? Oh, one in six. One sixth of the families will get a 6. Does it matter how many people watched the die roll? Of course not. If we take the 1 in 68 estimate as true, then a child has a 1 in 68 chance.

Ah, you say, what about a 2 child family?  Wouldn’t that be 1 in 34? Perhaps, if autism is evenly distributed among the population. However, we know it isn’t. We know there is a genetic component. There’s also tons of speculation that there is an environmental component. Regardless of whether or not environment plays a role, some families are more likely to have the genetics and the possible environmental factor than others. So, autism will tend to cluster in some families and avoid others. So, no, it’s not 1 in 34 for a two-child family.

This estimation of family impact also ignores the adults in these families – who also may be autistic. Yes, autistic people can marry, have sex, and produce children. And they do. Someone might not be able to envision their 3 year old having sex or marrying, but to be frank I can’t envision most 3 year olds doing that. If you want to accept the high prevalence of autism as a fact, you can’t then cherry pick and decide that real autism only involves people who won’t get married or have sex or have kids. You’re taking all of us, at least if I have anything to say about it, if you’re going to use us to raise money for your salary (check out Autism Speaks expenditures on salary and fund raising expense).

I’ll leave it to others to comment on the tone of the article – yet another, “Look at how much this affects people who aren’t autistic” article about “awareness.” It continues to focus on what the writer sees as the “lowest functioning” autistics (a label I reject being applied to people because there are not only two types of autistics, and much of the limitations “low functioning” autistics experience has little to do with their abilities but more to do with expectations and support). It talks about shit smearing (these types of people, focusing on how horrible things are for them, really do have an unnatural fascination with shit). I never smeared shit. Nor have most of the autistics I know! And, no, I don’t ignore people other than “highly successful” autistics. I know what your prejudice brings: most of my autistic friends can’t work, not because they lack abilities, but because we’ve built a culture that assumes disability is inability. I could explain more, but lack the time right now – but it’s in part due to the shit articles like this spread. Who wants to hire someone who will smear shit everywhere? It’s a lot of bullshit.

I’m sick of April. I wish the month would disappear. Autism Speaks has made it a month of awareness. A month where I will hear how horrible people like me are. Thank you, Autism Speaks!