Roughly a month ago, Star Foster wrote a post on being pagan and having Aspberger’s. I wanted to cry when I read it because it speaks so clearly to my own experience.

I have Aspberger’s. Like Star, I haven’t had a diagnosis from a doctor (for various reasons)*, but I have taken the DSM-IV test for Aspberger’s and scored about as high as you could score, pretty much, for being on the Autism Spectrum.

The reasons I have for not getting a diagnosis are pretty much outlined in Star’s post, but I’ll sum up here regardless: because I’m an adult, non-male person, I present differently from what’s considered the “autism norm” (10-year-old, non-verbal, emotionally unavailable male child). On top of that, autistic people who are assumed to be women are less free to be themselves — people expect men to be non-verbal and emotionally unavailable, but for gods’ sake if you’re a woman (or assumed to be) and not willing to let everyone touch you you’re a frigid man-hating lesbian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that last part. Point being, women and women-presenting people are not free to be what’s called emotionally unavailable, nor are they free to not touch everyone. Quirky little assigned-male children are more acceptable than quirky little assigned female children (to paraphrase Star).

Very early on we develop coping mechanisms.

This coping mechanisms help us to fit in to a society that hates us for our gender, real or assumed, and our neuroatypicality. “Oh, you’re autistic but you don’t fit primetime TV’s approved demographic? You must be faking. Also you’re so normal.”

Gee, thanks. Glad to know my self-inflicted insanity in trying to be ‘normal‘, sending me flipflopping between grave-silent and talking-too-much and touch-me-and-die to too-physically-affectionate, has worked.

My being able to perform adequately in social situations? Coping mechanism. During high school my mom nearly had to drag me outside to meet people after the shows I was in. I hate crowds. I have panic attacks if I have to use unfamiliar transit during rush hour.

I do not understand chit-chat. I do not understand the need for humans to touch each other when they barely know each other.

And, as you may be able to guess, this alienates me from most pagans as much as it alienates me from the rest of society — perhaps more.

Pagans seem to have an obsession with hugging and touchy-feely crap. Which, fine — if you like that sort of stuff to occur so casually.

But to this autistic genderqueer femme, hugging is serious business. It’s something that calms me down. It’s something I do with people I trust and love. I’m not big on hugging those I don’t know very well. Or any other sort of intimacy with people who may as well be strangers.

I went to a Beltaine ritual last year that I’m still trying to recover from, because I got kissed by the HP (because it had to be “male-female-male-female” and I was standing between my boyfriend and a woman friend of mine; can I please just say “Unfuck Wicca’s heteronormativity and insistence on gender binary; unfuck it a lot”) non-consensually. I went to kiss my friend, who, you know, is my friend and has passed the touch barrier with me, and the HP stopped me, said it had to be male-female, and kissed me on the lips.

Perhaps the Wiccans in the group were expecting it. Perhaps the non-autistic people were too, and maybe the cisgendered folk as well.

I wasn’t.

And I felt so violated afterwards, so invaded. I still feel that way.

But according to pagandom, I’m overreacting. That’s what happens at ritual! Touchy-feely crap, you better get used to it.

I can’t get used to it. There is only so far my coping mechanisms will take me.

I have Aspberger’s and I will not hug you unless you are a friend who has passed the touch barrier. I will not kiss you. I will not be a proper pagan unless we are friends and you have passed that barrier with me.

*For those of you who think I need to get a diagnosis from a doctor before I can validly talk about having Aspberger’s, shut up and read Star’s post.

5 replies on “Aspberger’s, boundaries, and alienation from pagandom”

  1. I’m glad you shared this. I am a touchy feely person. It has nothing to do with being pagan, its just one of those things that I am. However, now I know where your boundaries are and I appreciate that. Too many people don’t let people know where the line is and then badness happens. 🙂 If I see you at ritual I will know to let you have your bubble. Its important that people feel safe and comfortable!

    I’m very sorry that you had that bad experience at Beltane. I personally am not so ok with the kissing in circle, and if its going to happen with strangers, I offer my cheek. If I’m the one supposed to offer the kiss, I tend to not do it. I once was at a skyclad rit where they made us group hug. That was… well that went past my boundary. I don’t want naked people pressed up against me unless I want them there.

    I get that in covens and close groups the touchy feely thing can be good in circle. But that is a trusted group. There is a level of security and okness. In public rit I don’t think it really has a place.

    And on the other side, the problem with being a touchy feely person is everyone thinks I’m easy. I may flirt and grope and hug and tease my people (because they are my people and trusted) but many pagan males seem to think this means I am fresh meat. I’ve had to very firmly announce that I was not avail and on occasion hide behind big male friends to avoid bothersome people.

    I think that there are just always going to be those people who don’t have a clue and will invade your space. Sigh.

    1. Thank you. 🙂

      Yeah, I’ve tried to make my boundaries clear before, but it never seems to work…people still think they can touch me and it’s no problem. Of course, that’s a problem with our culture at large, especially for women/people who present as women. “Ah, you female! You property! Nevermind what you say to contrary, I know you available to give me sex, because I am entitled to it!” To paraphrase, at any rate.

      I agree that touchy-feely stuff doesn’t have a place in public ritual. I think that’s what bugs me so much about it. The assumption that because you’re at public ritual you’re giving consent to be groped.

      And I do understand the ‘people thinking you’re easy’ part. Partly because of my constant battle to be ‘normal’ and partly because I hang out with friends [who have passed the touch barrier] in public places, people have gotten the idea that I’m touchy-feely — and therefore ‘easy’ — as well.

      Again, though, I think that’s also a larger problem with our culture. We’re expected to be touchy-feely and easy, so any indication that it could possibly, remotely be the case is taken as a green light.

      *rages against the machine*

  2. Hello! I just found this blog through PBP and enjoy reading your posts I’ve seen so far. I also have Asperger’s, and so much of this particular post rings true to me. When I started a new school a little over three years ago and everyone was used to hugging each other, I had a really difficult time the first two weeks before I learned to preempt it and tell other people right off that I do not do physical contact. They understood and we got used to each other. But I can’t even imagine being in a situation like the ritual you describe, I’m pretty sure I would have hit him. I do not understand how anyone could see that as ok and tell you you’re overreacting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences on this, I hope as more people share and others start to see that there is more to the world than their understanding, things will get better and more inclusive.

  3. I’m not autistic but I’m still a physically VERY distanced person, so I hear you loud and clear on that point. Let it be known that not wanting to hug or kiss (or be hugged, kissed, or otherwise touched) as much as other people do is not an illness (although it may come with a syndrome like autism)!

    I hug my close friends for hellos and goodbyes, but I rarely touch them otherwise. I hate hugging people at work (e.g. for someone’s birthday) although I sometimes still do it, either because I don’t want to make a fuss or because it seems okay that day with that person. However, I usually wear enough layers of clothing to still keep up a certain distance. One thing I really, really hate is when someone’s smell sticks with me after the hug, even when it’s a neutral/pleasant smell – it’s still not MINE and I don’t want it. I sometimes have to go and wash my face (or hands after a handshake) to feel comfortable in my skin again. I’m usually very uncomfortable when I’m supposed to give someone I don’t know well a massage (we sometimes exchange short, clothed backrubs in my bellydance class). It’s not so bad that I can’t do it, but my heart isn’t in it. I’m also pretty picky about the kind of touch I enjoy, so there’s another tricky area to navigate. I’m especially hesitant about hugging someone before we’ve interacted extensively – but when the conversation was intimate in some way, I’m much more likely to enjoy a hug afterwards.

    The one exception to this rule are the people with whom I’m also having sex. With them, I much enjoy hugs and casual body contact (e.g. when sitting next to each other), and specifically seek them out. But even with these most intimate friends I’m still pretty specific about the kinds of touch I prefer, so even they may get a spontaneous evasive reaction from me at first.

    I’d definitely not participate in a ritual that required me to kiss people, especially not when they had to be of a particular gender (another queer femme here!). Yuck, on so many levels!

    Thanks for bringing up this topic! It has given me the opportunity to think about my own preferences in terms of physical contact with (more or less) strangers. And thanks again for speaking up for those of us who just don’t want all sorts of people so close in our personal space!

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