Seeing all the #MeToo statuses through my social media feeds, which took off after those revelations about Harvey Weinstein, has me in the midst of a two-fold thought. As a male, and as an individual on the spectrum, what would I know and what actions should I take?
A concern I have for those on the spectrum is the influences and the culture giving us impressions that are not correct, or can be rooted in our own issues with relationships (there are many autistics who haven’t had a girlfriend by my age, and not by choice). Some behaviors are expected to be figured out and not literally explained as proper etiquette, including not encroaching on the space of someone else. However, it is no secret that we struggle with what behaviors should be explained.
A man on the spectrum may get some of their knowledge from sex education classes and discussions with their guardians, but they also get a bulk of knowledge of behavior from the media (television/internet) or peers. The former groups may not be sure how to explain the topic, so then outside sources take over. A man may see a behavior and not know at first that there’s a problem with what he has done.
Here is a theoretical. A man on the spectrum sees a girl he wants to get to know; he probably wants to flirt. he goes up and makes some conversation. She finds him to be friendly, and the two hit it off pretty well. Knowing what he’s seen in the past around acquaintances and media, he pulls the leg touch maneuver. Conversation starts to break down slightly, but he’s unaware as she’s still acting friendly even if she pulled back slightly. She says she has to meet with friends, and will come back. However, his first instinct is that she actually does want to come back, and that he has no idea that he was violating her space and that she’s not actually coming back because he was a creep.
You likely figured out this is the part where that man…was me. It took going into unnecessary detail with another friend many months later to get an explanation. Even then I wasn’t sure I understood until, well, hearing more about behaviors via the internet. Oh, I felt terrible about it, as I always believed myself to be better than a creep, and then realized I had these moments for years. We never pay attention to staring and stalking as we’re trying to get around social awkwardness (especially in high school or college). However, I know I’ve done these, and I know others like me who have as well without understanding that it’s not an innocent behavior.
There are instances where I didn’t help when a friend was trying to do his thing and refrained to stop him from backing off, not considering the context of his actions. Let’s not forget instances of “locker room talk” where all I did was act silent and didn’t speak up to say “dude, that’s too far” to the people around. At some moments, I had no idea how bad it truly was based on what I was told. At other moments, I did know and was a coward.
All of this can be independent of the spectrum, but what if an impressionable Aspie believes this is acceptable behavior and does not see the red flags? Or, that the Aspie does see it as bad but thinks they should stay quiet since unrelated behaviors have been ridiculed? Someone worse off than myself may not catch on and will only be enabled, even if it comes to the point that you have to explicitly ask the yes/no question, and ensuring a partner that you’re okay stopping once they say so to make up for the inability to recognize cues (if she says no, then it’s no…if she even says maybe, then it’s not yes). I’m not trying to extend this analogy to say I would believe someone claiming to be autistic and not knowing gang rape is wrong (I call bull). However, even the more seemingly innocent flirtatious behaviors are actually wrong, and those of us on the high end can still learn with the right influences.
Let’s not forget that it goes the other way as well. People on the autism spectrum are 66% more likely to be victims of sexual assault. I recall speaking with two women I know from the spectrum who alluded to these experiences. Their descriptions of sexual harassment had graphic moments, and thinking back to the conversations now is pretty harrowing even as someone who believed them from the start. Some autistic girls claim the #MeToo hashtag for the same reasons an autistic man may let bad behaviors slide.
I can’t, and shouldn’t, claim the whole “as someone with a niece/sister/daughter” thing, as I grew up around mostly males. My concern is the gap when an impressionable person on the spectrum may be a victim or the perpetrator. When we hear “see something, say something” are we going to know what the “something” is in our literal minds? Will we be able to call our male friends out when in action? I don’t see it much, but I worry about being in my own world and not catching creepers in action, or being said creeper. Unwittingly and not, I have been both. I’m thankful for times I’ve been called out, even if I got overly sensitive at the start. That is something we need, and it’s why I am participating in and creating a few forums within autistic groups to talk about what behaviors are permissible, what mistakes we’ve all made, and how to feel comfortable with our behaviors and to ensure others are comfortable too. We can’t use the spectrum as an excuse for improper behavior, and hopefully the internet can be a positive form of sex education with this movement.
Sexual assault is not an easy topic, but it’s on me to talk with others, to teach, and to learn. Feel free to shoot me a message if there is a desire to talk further. Let’s make sure those of us with autistic peers or children set good examples, and that we on the high functioning end of the spectrum can be better men who put an end to this stuff.