Sad Little Autistics Can’t Get Girlfriends and That’s Not a Bad Thing (#ASDay2017)

How many TV shows and movies now feature sad white cishet autistic guys who can’t get dates now? I’ve lost count.

Plenty has been written about tired-ass stereotypes in shows like Atypical and The Good Doctor, and I’m not interested in rehashing it here. Nor, to be honest, am I even particularly interested in revisiting the stuff on gendered expectations of dating and emotional labor that Emma and I did a while back (the first post of which is here if you missed that particular rabbit hole back when).

I am interested, on this year’s Autistics Speaking Day, in speaking about the following points:

1. Yeah, we flirt weird.

When I headcanon fictional characters (or real people) as autistic, it’s usually because I’ve noticed one or more traits:

  • They don’t catch veiled jokes or insults, or if they do, they’re baffled as to why the comment was made.
  • They either don’t catch on when someone else tries to mold their behavior, or they do catch on and still don’t play along, instead regarding the manipulation like a mildly interesting painting or bit of street litter.
  • Find the right topic, and they “bubble.”
  • …And don’t stop bubbling.
  • …Even when the jokes or insults about it are no longer veiled.
  • They flirt by bubbling, combined with increased flailing, and attempts to fix either just make them more hilariously bad.
  • And/or they flirt by recruiting someone to help them with a task because that person is highly competent at the task, inform the other person they recruited them for their competence, and then get confused when this comment is not taken as a compliment. (This form of flirting is often unconscious on the autistic person’s part.)
  • …Point out that either of the above are in fact flirting, and they freeze.

I’m 35 years old, dated for 15 of those years, and have been married for 5 of them. And I still, to this very day, my 12,830th day on this planet, don’t understand how to do non-autistic flirting. Half the time I don’t even recognize it when I see it. Neil Gaiman could invite me to a seduction and I’d still have no idea what was going on.

I flirt weird. I think non-autistic people flirt weird. And I daresay I’m not the only autistic person who feels this way.

2. No, that’s not a problem.

The plethora of books, articles, and blogs out there on how to teach autistic people to date sure make our weird flirting sound like a problem. So do the handful of (well known, but typically unrestrained) borderline stalkers in the autistic community who do things like ask every presenter at an autism conference how he, the speaker, can finally get himself a girlfriend – a thing that happened as recently as, oh, last month.

Which is to say: these “resources” make it sound like our weird flirting is a problem for cishet autistic dudes. While there’s a whole industry out there on helping these hapless individuals find girlfriends, there’s actually nothing at all on how to help cishet autistic women find boyfriends or on how queer autistic people can find anyone at all.

Again, Emma and I beat the reasons for that to death already. My concern here is that all these advice pieces presuppose that our weird methods of flirting are somehow problematic and wrong.

They’re not, and here’s why:

3. The only reason we want to know that you find our weirdness problematic is so we know if we’re wasting our time.

Do you think autistic people flirt weird? Tell us. Are you put off by our weird flirting attempts? Tell us.

And then fuck off.

I often headcanon both fictional characters and real people as autistic based on characteristic patterns of awkward flirting. And I headcanon their romantic/partnery persons of interest as “worth feeling warm towards” or not based on how they respond.

People who love and care about us? Find our weird flirting endearing. They like it. My husband thinks I’m the cutest thing that ever freaking happened to him, and we’ve raised kittens. He thought my bubbling, flailing, and rating of him as highly competent was prime friendship material. And that’s why he gets to keep me.

If you don’t find us endearing, say so. We like to know when we’re wasting our time.

…Oh, and if you do find us endearing, say that too. We might turn into that Breakfast at Tiffany’s “seen” meme for a moment, but that’s temporary. Remember, like writers, we’re notoriously bad at knowing when we’ve been invited to a seduction – and we genuinely appreciate people who can inform us without making it creepy.

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My Very Autistic Novel is Out Now. Here’s How You Can Get a Copy.

frontcoveronly

It’s here!

Here’s how you can get it in the format of your choice:

E-books: On Kindle or in epub format.

In print: On Amazon or from the publisher.

A Note for Most of the World: If you’re not in the U.S. or Canada, Autonomous Press can’t currently ship to you directly. If you can’t order in your current location via Amazon, shoot me an email (verity@verityreynolds.com) and we can talk about getting you a print copy from my SECRET AUTHOR STASH.

Do You Review? Email me! Let’s talk.

Fun With the Search Terms, Part II: More Fun With the Search Terms Than Part I Was

Periodically, I go through this blog’s list of search terms people use to get here, and respond to them as if they are questions searchers asked me personally instead of, y’know, Google.  Here are the newest ones on the list.

gay women with autism

There are a lot of them!  Also a lot of bisexual women with autism!  I am one of them!  But I am also married and monogamous so if this was a dating request I am sorry about that.

gwendolyn kansen cure

Oh no!  Is she sick?

neurodiversity advocates

*waves*

academic list for auisism

I’m not entirely sure what prompted this one.  Does the searcher need a reading list?  A lesson plan for an autistic (excuse me, “auisistic”) kid? A list of autistic professors?

I can probably produce all three, but not on what I’ve got here.

men do not do emotional labor

…Well.  They do some, unless they live alone in a cave (and they might even do some then; Tom Hanks was real kind to that volleyball in Castaway).  Some men do more emotional labor than others.

At the societal/cultural level, however, the bulk of the emotional labor falls to women in most cases, yes.

are there any autism publications that pay for submissions?

You want the “upcoming anthologies” announcements at Autonomous Press.

was lewis carroll autistic

No.  Yes!  Maybe?  IDK, diagnosing people who have been dead for centuries has always been a dicey proposition.  He might have just been really, really addled from all the formaldehyde and calomel in his diet.

Radio Silence: More on the Ethics of Pay and Publication in Disability Writing

A couple times a month, I get unsolicited* correspondence from someone who wants one of two things:

  • for me to guest post on their blog or Web site, or
  • to republish something I’ve already posted here on their blog or Web site.

I have never responded to these requests, but not because I have any policy against responding to cold calls.  Rather, I have never responded to any of them because every single one has left out a vital component: compensation.

Sometimes they fail to mention compensation altogether.  More often, they offer me “exposure” instead.

I’ve written before about the serious ethical problem involved in not paying writers, particularly when those writers are disabled and particularly when the non-paying outlet claims to champion disability-related causes.  At that second link, I specifically addressed problems with The Mighty’s model of soliciting unpaid labor from disabled writers, making money on ad revenues generated from that content and from investors using the site’s presence and reach supported by that content, and offering to donate any writer’s compensation to charity rather than simply paying the writer.

This was enough for me to speak up against The Mighty.  But The Mighty, at least, stops at asking for free labor.  The Mighty does not, as far as I know, go around copying other writers’ work without their knowledge or permission, posting that work to its own site, and making money off it.

Some outlets do.

Late last night, I got a Facebook message from a friend asking whether I had ever given permission to an Australian site called My Disability Matters or its adminstrator, Dale Reardon, to republish any of my work.

The answer is no.  Except for a handful of outlets I personally selected and approached about guest posting or sharing content, including Misandry Angie and The Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Lending Library, I’ve never authorized anyone to republish my work.  When I do reach out to others about republishing my work, I choose them carefully: either these platforms can afford to pay me, or they understand that I’m offering them something of value, and they’re willing to offer their professional assistance in return.

The name of the site, its admin, and the fact that it was based in Australia caught my attention, though.  It did all sound familiar.  So I went looking in my messages.

Turns out Dale Reardon did contact me about publishing on My Disability Matters, by leaving a comment on my March 2016 post on eye contact.  In it, he states that he “was wondering if it might be okay to republish this article and any other relevant ones on our website, with appropriate credit and a link back of course.”  In exchange, I would get the site’s “help [to] spread your work and gain a wider audience for you.”

In other words, exposure.  In other words, nothing.**

Not only did I not respond to this comment, I never let it out of the moderation queue.  I view all requests for my unpaid labor as demands for unpaid emotional labor, so I treat them exactly the same way I treat all other demands for emotional labor I deem unreasonable: I ignore them.

I never said yes or anything that could have been reasonably understood to be a yes.  To put it in contract-law terms, Mr. Reardon made an offer; I did not accept; there was no meeting of the minds, and thus no deal to put my work on My Disability Matters.

Usually, when I don’t respond to unsolicited demands for my unpaid labor, that’s the end of it.  Most people understand that radio silence is a “no,” not a “yes.”

So imagine my surprise when, after my friend’s query, I searched the My Disability Matters site to find that well over half of my piece on identity-first versus person-first language had been excerpted there [pdf], either the same day or the day after I had posted it here.

My Disability Matters makes money off the work it publishes, as is explained on its About page.  The About page does mention a long-term goal of employing disabled people (other than the site’s founder, one presumes) and of reinvesting some of the profits back into the disability community.

It does not, however, mention paying writers.

In other words, the site was using work I had not given permission to be used, and keeping the money it generated, without ever mentioning to me either that my work was being used or that the site intended to keep the money my work generated.

Oh, and it got the name of this blog wrong.

My search for “autistic academic” on the My Disability Matters site turned up two entries.  One was for the aforementioned post.  The other was for a listing on the site map.

The site map, as it turned out, lists every “source” of the site’s articles, including several dozen I recognized – and several that are written by people whom I know share my (dim) view of exploiting writers in general and disabled writers in particular.  When I asked the ones I know personally about their involvement in or knowledge of My Disability Matters, they were as baffled as I was when my friend first asked me last night.

In other words, it’s not just me.  My Disability Matters is exploiting several of us.

I’ve written before, in my comments on The Mighty***, how traditional excuses like “but startup costs!” or “but business model!” don’t fly as reasons not to pay writers.  I’ve been a freelance writer for nearly a decade now.  I’m currently the Legal Coordinator at Autonomous Press and the editor of the forthcoming anthology Spoon Knife 2: Test Chamber from NeuroQueer Books – an anthology series that pays its writers.

I understand the costs of the writing and publishing professions.  I face those costs every time I try to publish my own work, every time I negotiate with my clients to be paid what my own work is worth, and every time I negotiate with potential AutPress writers to ensure we pay them what their work is worth.  I started blogging for pay back when Merriam-Webster was still debating whether “blog” should be added to their dictionary.  I’m a partner in a company that has compensated every one of its writers to date (with cash, copies of anthologies, or both).  “But startup!” is never an excuse for not compensating writers – at the very least, with a share of the ad revenue generated by their work.

And even if it was, it’s no excuse to copy-paste substantial portions of their writing onto your own site without their knowledge or permission in order to generate that ad revenue.

This is exploitation of disabled writers, and it needs to stop.  We get exploited enough by the rest of the world.  Don’t do it to one another.


*by definition, because I don’t solicit them

 

**The rule of thumb for measuring the value of “exposure” is this:  Any site with a sufficently high profile to offer you worthwhile exposure can afford to pay you.  That kind of high profile is worth money.  If The Huffington Post were to go up for sale tomorrow, its price tag would be in the millions, and a substantial chunk of that price would be based on its name recognition alone.

If the site claims they can’t afford to pay you?  They’re not big enough to give you worthwhile exposure.  You can get the same exposure by hustling your own brand.

That is, if you care about exposure at all.  What every one of these unsolicted requests for my unpaid labor has failed to understand is that I don’t.  I’m a professional writer.  Have been for years.  I’m exposed.  Offering me “exposure” instead of pay just tells me you haven’t bothered to learn who you’re talking to.

 

***published three months before Dale Reardon first contacted me, so it’s not like he didn’t have an opportunity to understand my position

Autistics Speaking Day 2016: Love’s Austere and Lonely Offices

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

– “Those Winter Sundays,” Robert Hayden
I woke up at 4:45 a.m. to the sound of my cat having what is either an epileptic seizure or a transient ischemic attack, and ever since then, I have had no intention of writing for Autistics Speaking Day today.  My day seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with the annual festival of Autistic people speaking for ourselves, a festival founded in direct response to the theories and rhetoric that insist that to be unable to speak for oneself is autism.

But then.  I’m autistic; this is my day; why not speak?  Sufficient unto each day is the relevance thereof, and all that.

Speaking isn’t the only thing Autistic people are accused of being incapable of doing.  Love is another. In her 2015 speech to the Vatican, Autism Speaks founder Suzanne Wright continued to play on this stereotype, claiming that “expressions of love…can be so difficult” for autistic people.  At Diary of a Mom, Jess Wilson has written extensively about how clinicians told her that her autistic daughter Brooke would never display love, make friends, or form affectionate attachments.

It’s not merely that it’s a stereotype, and a harmful one at that – it’s that people think it has an actual basis in reality to the point that there’s an actual syndrome NT people supposedly get based on this “truth.”  Not only do we fail to love, the claim goes, we fail at it so hard that we actually cause traumatic stress disorders in “normal” people.

We don’t love other humans, the story goes.  Sometimes, maybe, we love objects or animals – usually cats.  But if we do, our love becomes a source of curiosity or spectacle, as when this autistic man remodeled the interior of his house for the comfort and joy of his cats.

Loving a cat over the past week has made me spend a great deal of time thinking about what, exactly, love is.

Love is repeating “it’s okay, shh, it’s okay, it’s okay” at 4:45 a.m. as she convulses uncontrollably, her pupils dilated and her fur soaked with urine, terrified of what her own body is doing against her will or desire.

Love is sitting up with her even though you’ve only slept four hours yourself, so that she isn’t in the dark alone.

Love is listening to an emergency veterinarian tell you that she has severe immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, that it’s amazing she did not go into shock and die in the car on the way to the hospital.  Love is holding back your tears until you’re in the car, lest she see you cry.

Love is cleaning up pee for the third time today.  Love is running two extra loads of laundry just to clean the blankets.  Love is having an intense sensory aversion to stickiness, damp fur, and cat pee smell, and pushing it away because she needs to be picked up and moved somewhere safe right now.  Love is postponing your fourth change of clothes for the day long enough to take the vet’s phone call.

Love is learning to count platelets.

Love is running to the vet’s office twice and the pharmacy three times so that she can take all her meds as conveniently as possible.

Love is opening five different cans of cat food just to find the one flavor she’ll eat today.  Love is scooping poop out of her box like it’s buried treasure.

Love is carrying your other cat around in your arms as you try to make your breakfast and answer an urgent email, because he doesn’t know what is wrong in the house, he only knows something is, and he’s scared.

Love is composing professional emails to people who feel the best way to get you on their side in a business dispute is to question your basic competency as an adult as you sit in the vet’s office waiting to hear whether the blood tests say it is time to let her go.

Love is prying open her jaw despite her growling, because she needs her meds more than you need her to like you.

Love is buying a new blanket for your bed because the old one is officially Hers now.

Love is every attack maybe being the last one.

Love is everything you do so that if you do wake up tomorrow to find her gone, you will have to grieve but you won’t have to do it with the regret that you could have loved her harder and you didn’t.  Love is knowing you’ll feel that regret no matter what you do today.

Love is a verb.  It’s a thing we do, fiercely, and without reservation, when it is the hardest thing in the world, because the loving is worth it.  Yet it is a thing autistic people are told we cannot do, that we do not do, that we are harming the rest of you by not doing.

Right now, I can’t find that bloviating relevant.

Right now, I have someone who needs my love.