The Intensive Pattern Dance of Meatspace Relationships: Patterns, Sensory Overwhelm, and Solo Polyamory

I feel your patterns with every sense. The ones you’re completely unaware of. All of them. You are drowning me with your patterns and crowding out my own.

Pattern clash.

Pattern suppression.

Pattern overwhelm.

Meatspace relationships of any sort are intensive pattern dances done at the terrifying tempo of synchronous, full-sensory real-time. I need daily doses of solitude and regular hibernation intervals to sustainably withstand any other human being. Only in solitude do I have the space to unfurl my patterns, un-beset by the outside, and recline into their regulated peace.

Like many other people who aren’t neurotypical, I become exhausted and irritable from too much outside stimuli, like having people around me or trying to make conversation with music on. I’m also not great at picking up on social cues or understanding when someone’s being sarcastic - I use facial expressions to sometimes determine jokes and pretend that I understand them. However, being on the spectrum makes me dive into what I love, and for this reason, even though I’m terrible at school, I’m pretty good at writing and communications. This allows me to work around my social anxiety, leading some people to believe I’m an extrovert.

Because I had trouble making friends when I was growing up, I threw myself into learning how relationships work by analyzing and writing about them - and by now I’ve dated my fair share of people and have a number of friends. However, lately I’ve begun to realize that even though I can hide things like exhaustion and irritability by staying out for shorter periods of time, the closer I get to people the more I have to be upfront about what I need. For example, I love my partner and enjoy being around him as much as possible - but as a person with sensory sensitivities, my body says otherwise. If I don’t have enough time to myself without outside stimuli, I start to become burnt out and snap at him. If you’re like me, you’ve tried to avoid getting close to others because you felt it was necessary for you to keep them in your life - but actually, the only way to have fulfilling relationships is to let others in.

It wasn’t until looking into solo polyamory I realized I don’t have to feel guilty for having separate needs from my partner. Solo polyamory is the idea that people are autonomous beings who have different needs and wants, and alongside good communication and mutual respect between all partners, no one puts rules on each other because no one owns one another. There’s this expectation in mainstream society that if you’re a couple you should want to be together most of the time - but with solo polyamory, partners respect how much time you can set aside to see them based on work, hobbies and other people who are important to you. There’s no pressure to converge lives the longer you’re dating because with solo polyamory commitment and time together aren’t seen as mutually exclusive. In a solo polyamory group I recently joined on Facebook, I found a thread where a number of people on the spectrum talked about how finding solo polyamory has helped them work through their sensory sensitivities without feeling like there’s something wrong with them. If they need to leave a date because they’ve had too much stimuli for the day, their partners understand because they’ve had those essential conversations on what each other needs as an individual.

Source: How Polyamory Helped Me Advocate For My Needs As A Disabled Person | Thought Catalog

Pattern discovery.

Pattern sharing.

Pattern meld.

When not taken exclusively or in excess, another’s patterns are satisfying and necessary.

Previously,

Gender Copia and Bricolage

A friend shared “Gender Copia: Feminist Rhetorical Perspectives on an Autistic Concept of Sex/Gender: Women’s Studies in Communication: Vol 35, No 1” in response to my “Autigender and Neuroqueer: Two Words on the Relationship Between Autism and Gender That Fit Me” piece. I really like this graf:

Due both to their ability to denaturalize social norms and to their neurological differences, autistic individuals can offer novel insights into gender as a social process. Examining gender from an autistic perspective highlights some elements as socially constructed that may otherwise seem natural and supports an understanding of gender as fluid and multidimensional.

Confronting and denaturalizing social norms describes the terrain of many autistic lives. We’re social construct canaries.

The article goes on to propose a gender copia that sounds like my kind of bricolage.

The sources considered here imply not a binary model (masculine=feminine) or even a view of gender as a continuum, but something more like a copia, the rhetorical term Erasmus used to describe the practice of selecting ‘‘certain expressions and mak[ing] as many variations of them as possible’’ (17). Copia provides a strategy of invention, a rhetorical term for the process of generating ideas. To be specific, copia involves proliferation, multiplying possibilities so as to locate the range of persuasive options available to a rhetor. I find the concept of invention fitting to describe the kind of rhetoric in which many autistic individuals engage when they discuss sex and gender, a rhetoric we might consider, following Mary Hawkesworth, a feminist rhetoric, insofar as it seeks to ‘‘call worlds into being, inscribe new orders of possibility, validate frames of reference and forms of explanation, and reconstitute histories serviceable for present and future projects’’ (1988).

Individuals who find themselves engaged in this rhetorical search for terms with which to understand themselves can draw on a wide array of terms or representations, such as genderqueer, transgendered, femme, butch, boi, neutrois, androgyne, bi- or tri-gender, third gender, and even geek.

Source: Gender Copia: Feminist Rhetorical Perspectives on an Autistic Concept of Sex/Gender: Women’s Studies in Communication: Vol 35, No 1

Autigender and Neuroqueer: Two Words on the Relationship Between Autism and Gender That Fit Me

These words about two words helped me figure myself out more. Passing them along.

Autigender is not explicitly saying that “My gender is autism” – it’s not about saying you are a boy, girl, enby, autism, whatever. It’s about your relationship with your gender.

Specifically, gender is a social construct. The primary deficit of autism includes difficulties interpreting and understanding social constructions. This means that we have a disability that inherently makes understanding gender part of our disability.

Because of this, we can have exceptionally complicated and unique understanding of what gender is, how it affects us, and how we express gender.

Autigender is a word that describes this unique, complicated relationship. So when a person is saying that they are autigender, what they are saying is more or less that their understanding of gender is fundamentally altered by their autism.

Because autigender describes the relationship with gender, an autigender person’s gender can be, well anything. Boy. Girl. Enby. Cis. Trans. Anything. Agender. Gender Nope.

So what about a person who says they are autigender, and that IS their gender? Well, I think this still describes the relationship with their gender – Specifically in this case, their autism affects their understanding to such a degree that they just can’tbe any more descriptive with regards to gender. That leaves the only word they have – autigender.

Source: Candidly Autistic — What exactly is autigender? I’ve seen it used a…

“Autigender” is a term that some autistic people use to describe their relationship with gender. Specifically, it means that they feel that their autism affects the way they perceive and feel about gender.

Unfortunately, a lot of people interpret this as meaning that people think “autism” is their gender, which results in a lot of rage-filled posts on social media about how your gender cannot be a disability. Because, of course, it can’t. Autism is a neurotype, not a gender.

But this is a complete misunderstanding of the term.

No one who calls themselves “autigender” is going to write “autism” next to the word “gender” on a questionnaire.

The fact is that autism is a neurotype that specifically affects our perceptions and understanding of social conventions, norms, etiquette and mores.

Nor does it affect every autistic person the same way. One person may pick up on social norms easily but may struggle with small talk while another remains oblivious to social norms but can banter easily with strangers in line at the checkout.

It’s well documented that there is a significantly higher rate of gay, bi, trans, ace, and gender-queer people in the autistic community compared to the non-autistic community. What researchers haven’t figured out yet though is whether autism is in some way related to gender and sexual orientation or whether autistic people are just less brain-washed by society into following heteronormative stereotypes.

In other words, are there really more gay/trans/queer/ace autistic people, or do they just figure it out/come out of the closet more readily than non-autistic people?

We don’t know yet.

What we do know is that there are some people who feel that their ability to think of themselves as a particular gender is affected by their autism. This feeling is shared by enough autistic people that they have dubbed themselves “autigender.”

I don’t call myself autigender, but I get it. Gender is confusing to me, too.

I don’t feel offended by the idea of autigender. But some people really do. They feel it insults other non-binary and genderqueer people, that it mocks and makes light of their relationship with their gender. Autistic community leaders try to remind people that if you don’t like the term, you don’t have to use it.

But if it gives some people a feeling of belonging and helps them describe what must be a very complicated emotional response, then you should support them and let them call it what they want.

If someone feels their autism is affecting how they perceive their gender, let them call themselves autigender.

Considering how many LGBTQA+ autistic folk there are, I think there’s something in that one way or another.

Source: 7 Cool Aspects of Autistic Culture » NeuroClastic

So what does it mean to neuroqueer, as a verb? What are the various practices that fall within the definition of neuroqueering?

  1. Being neurodivergent and approaching one’s neurodivergence as a form of queerness (e.g., by understanding and approaching neurodivergence in ways that are inspired by, or similar to, the ways in which queerness is understood and approached in Queer Theory, Gender Studies, and/or queer activism).
  2. Being both neurodivergent and queer, with some degree of conscious awareness and/or active exploration around how these two aspects of one’s identity intersect and interact.
  3. Being neurodivergent and actively choosing to embody and express one’s neurodivergence (or refusing to suppress one’s embodiment and expression of neurodivergence) in ways that “queer” one’s performance of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, occupation, and/or other aspects of one’s identity.
  4. Engaging in the “queering” of one’s own neurocognitive processes (and one’s outward embodiment and expression of those processes) by intentionally altering them in ways that create significant and lasting increase in one’s divergence from dominant neurological, cognitive, and behavioral norms.

Source: Neuroqueer: An Introduction

I didn’t have the vocabulary for what I felt back in Southern Baptist Texas in the 1970s and 80s, but I was uncomfortable with and resistant to gender norms as a kid. They felt: silly, arbitrary, oppressive, confining, unnecessary, counter-productive, irrational. They did not make sense. They did not fit.

A small, shareable anecdote of the ways norms went against my grind, from a lifetime collection:

I didn’t openly express myself in dress much—I was deathly afraid of being noticed and totally unsure about what I felt—but I would splash some color in. I opted for a pink tinted coating on a new pair of eyeglasses once. Kids at school gave me grief, but I liked them and came to wear them as a defiant badge and also a sort of shield. My father had the coating removed.

Several burnouts and a retirement later, I have zero capacity for masking, for attenuating myself to the sensibilities of surrounding bigots and bullies. I enjoy my pink and my flower print Thai fisherman pants and wistfully wishing I could dial my gender to my pansexual, polyamorous, genderpunk, genderqueer mood.

Autigender and neuroqueer are the best fits I’ve found after a lifetime of seeking. Perhaps a term that fits even better will emerge. Perhaps it’s already out there for me to discover. I’ll keep reading other queer autistics as we help each other figure ourselves out.

Previously,