My response to Eustica Cutler on her Daily Beast Post Autism and Child Pornography: A Toxic Combination
Before I begin, I want to make it absolutely clear that I do NOT support the use of child pornography for ANY reason. Sex crimes, especially those committed against children, are WRONG.
I have spent the better part of my life, post autism diagnosis, speaking about the strengths of autism. When talking about sensitive topics, I spend hours mulling over vocabulary to make my writing as universally friendly as possible – keeping my writing appealing to all no matter their neurological profile, race, gender, or age. On occasion, I have been bold and piercing with my opinions, but I try to reserve that for places where I felt boldness was warranted – i.e. my writing on the Autism Industry. At any rate, I carefully filter myself using techniques I learned in therapy so that common ground of acceptance and awareness is met.
Today, however, I will use no such filters. Today, I will write unfiltered and unbridled on the topic. Why? Why do I take this risk of offending others? I am not coming to you today to purposefully offend, nor am I abandoning my goal of acceptance and awareness. I simply feel that this topic is tiptoed around too much, and so taboo, that being too careful will only muddle the point. I want to be clear, and to be clear I must be uninhibited by rules of social acceptance. Thus, you have been warned.
“Whatever is good to know, is difficult to learn.” – Greek Proverb
On 5 August 2013 Eustacia Cutler, mother of Dr. Temple Grandin, published an opinion piece in The Daily Beast entitled Autism and Child Pornography: A Toxic Combination. My reaction to her conclusion was so intense, that I had to spend 5 hours, collectively, sorting my emotions, typing my reactions, and grounding my nervous system. At first, I made a list of all the terms that spiked mental activity for me, such as “skewed neurology” when referring to autism, “kids want to learn sex from kids,” and “where is the father that should be guiding him.” I could write pages on her article alone, not to mention all the reading it spawned for me to be prepared to write my response today, informed.
Not long after her post, John Elder Robison prepared his reaction in Psychology Today entitled, Autism and Porn: A Problem No One Talks About. John carefully addressed his view of the topic, laying out 5 problems why Eustica may be correct in many ways, though not in all. He made excellent points about law enforcement, but I still felt left in the cold.
If you haven’t read the articles yet, I encourage you to do so before moving onto my reaction. The links are in the footnotes.
After all of the reactions were tweeted, posted on Facebook, or published in online news periodicals, the truth of the matter presented me with a train wreck of ideology, misunderstanding, fear, and ultimately judgment. Squeezed in under the headline of Child Pornography, were three very distinct topics, yet everyone was speaking in generalities and a homogeneous tone.
It is unfair, not just to autistics, but to humanity to use the conviction of a pedophile as a springboard for a public flogging of the sexuality of autistic people. Not to mention, the complete ignorance of the details of the case of the Pedophile who happened to be autistic, which Ms. Cutler failed to provide. People of all different neurological profiles commit crimes, so lets not jump on the assumption bandwagon about the particulars of a case not published.
Out of deep respect for my own right to feel empathy, and engage in meaningful sexual relationships, and to even the playing field, I must address all three of the topics that lurk in the backdrop of Ms Cutler’s article – sex in society, sex in autism, and their ugly stepchild – the use of neurology to subjugate autistics.
The article in question, in my opinion, really had very little to do with child porn. Most of the argument she held had much more to do with sexuality, not pedophilia. There is a very distinct difference between the two.
Sex in Society, We Fear Sex Because We Fear Death
No one wants to talk about sex. We attempt to regulate sex, we throw our morality and our religious beliefs at sex, we even punish those who are open about sex. Sex in our society is unspeakable to so many. In my observation, we live in a society that is more comfortable with violence than with sex, something that continues to baffle me.
Why are we afraid of sex? Austrian Psychoanalyst Otto Rank suggests it is because it reminds us of our mortality. He points out that sex is a physical act used to procreate, mostly, and that is in direct violation of our societal belief that we are spiritual beings. In fact, much research has been done on the tie between fear of death and fear of sex. A very interesting write up on the topic was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1999.
Because of this fear of sex, we in turn fear talking about sex. I was reminded of this concept when Ms. Cutler was addressing sex education. She had gone on for a few paragraphs about how ASD boys were looking to the internet to learn about sex. Ms. Cutler then said, “He may know the physical steps of the act, he may even have learned them by heart, but that won’t help him get to the heart of the matter. In other words, where is the father who should be guiding him?” She added later, “Absentee dads are not likely to be around at the critical moment.” A shocking conclusion from a woman who was once told that refrigerator mothers were to blame for autism.
Since when did we learn about sex from our parents? I think my male friends learned more from the Sears Catalogue, National Geographic, and eventually their father’s Playboys than they did from talking with their parents. According to a poll given to parents by Planned Parenthood, 43% of parents are uncomfortable talking about serious sex topics with their children. Given our nations high teen pregnancy rate, the talks that are going on seldom include details on birth control. And, when sex is addressed, how many parents talk about pleasure in sex? Style? Position? Though I agree there is an absent father problem in autism, this is not what leads autistic kids to porn.
Humans in today’s society as a whole learn about sex through trial and error. When we aren’t feeling satisfied, or we just want more pleasure, we look to porn. Why? It’s everywhere and very easy to access, and for the most part, we just like it. Yes, even the most conservative of humans like porn, even if they do not admit it. How do I draw this conclusion? Well, during this session the more conservative states, and even conservative senators, are pushing legislation to regulate abortion, birth control, and close Planned Parenthood clinics. How many pieces of legislations have conservatives pushed this session to close down all pornography? In fact, when porn is attacked, we as a society see it as an attack on freedom!
Therefore, our fear of sex keeps us from addressing a very important aspect of fulfilling human interaction.
Sex in Autism, We Fear Sex in Autism Because We Fear Autism
If our society struggles to talk about sex under normal circumstances, we will not be any better when it comes to sex in autism. What frustrates me most about discussing this topic here is that I must do so in opposition to those who continually reduce the sexuality of an autistic person to animality. I feel as if the Neurotypical world fears that autistic people will succumb to dry humping someone’s leg, like my neighbors Chihuahua, simply because we are too “skewed neurologically” to control ourselves.
When it comes to sex in autism, we are still overburdened by the daily misunderstandings of autism itself, making the application of what society believes they understand about autism act more like a spotlight than a vision of clarity. In other words, the flaws in our conclusions on autism are made obvious when applied to the traits and behaviors that are shared by Autistics and NTs.
For example, let us momentarily adhere to the conclusion that Autistics do not desire human contact and that we lack empathy, as many believe. The act of sex is believed by society as a whole to be an act of love, filled with empathy and the longing for human contact. If someone with autism falls in love and, furthermore, desires a sexual relationship with someone, this act is in direct violation of societal conclusions on both sex and autism. Searching for answers, the sexuality of autistics are analyzed like an episode of wild kingdom.
To take this example further, if a person with autism is caught viewing inappropriate material, such as child pornography, this must be a direct result of the autism’s lack of empathy, and lack of theory of mind forcing the person with autism to not know right from wrong. Even Mr. Robison made this conclusion about Theory of Mind in his article.
But what if we are wrong about autism? Perhaps the man is a Pedophile, who happens to have autism, with one not directly effecting the other. Perhaps the man views the material, not because he is attracted to children, but because he views himself as a child who is attracted to older sexual partners. Both scenarios can exist outside the autistic world.
Society tends to look at autism in adults through two lenses; they either see us as too innocent to know any better, or criminalize our acts. When we learn to pry personality from autism, seeing Autistics as people first, and autistic second, only then will our lenses be changed. However, there is a fear of autism. A fear of autism that stems from the emotional desire of immortality through our children.
Therefore, our fear of autism keeps us from addressing a very important aspect of fulfilling human interaction for those of us with autism.
The Use of Neurology to Subjugate Autistics
Bigotry exists in society in many ways, but very few talk about the micro-inequities that lead to the subjugation of people with autism. The term micro-inequities, coined by Dr. Mary Rowe of MIT, are the tiny pieces of bigotry in the actions and words of society that go by unnoticed, but still obscure the view of the target group. She explained micro-inequities by comparing them to Saturn’s rings. Saturn’s rings are made only of little pieces of ice and sand, but partially obscure the planet. One example of a micro-inequity would be using the word “she” when referring to a bad driver, but you cannot verify seeing the gender of the driver who was driving poorly.
One area where micro-inequities towards autism are visible, is in the discussion of autistic sexual behavior. While people with autism remain mostly excluded from the conversation, society is bombarded by videos, books, and lectures itemizing aspects of our lives for public dissection. Much like what traveling shows did to African Americans, caging them naked to be gawked at by onlookers, I feel autistics are caged by arbitrary definitions and gawked at by an all too eager public looking to free themselves of blame.
In the case of Ms. Cutler’s article, the public perpetuated what should have remained an obscure opinion piece, but because they look to professionals to lead them to answers that agree with their personal outlook, the article was popularized. Just because Ms. Cutler has a successful autistic daughter, and just because she has spoken many truths, does not make her infallible. In fact, I feel her article drove her point by using the micro-inequities against autism that are rampant in society.
We with autism have opinions. We have personalities, desires, needs, wants, and crave love from other humans. To talk about our sexuality, to talk about our desires, while excluding us reinforces the concept that we are less. Reducing us to animals, however, comforts the NT world to some extent, because only then is there justification for continuing to ignore taboo topics that interfere with the social training of autistic people. We with autism must continue to redefine autism, and make it our own.
Social Problems: Understanding Emotions and Developing Talents
Temple Grandin, Ph.D. – http://www.iidc.indiana.edu/?pageId=600
Microinequity – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microinequity
7 Types of Racism – http://www.aboriginalhr.ca/en/programs/RFWS/nl4/2
Why people use porn – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/porn/special/why.html
Autism and Child Pornography: A Toxic Combination – http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/08/05/autism-and-child-pornography-a-toxic-combination.html
Autism and Porn: A Problem No One Talks About – http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/my-life-aspergers/201308/autism-and-porn-problem-no-one-talks-about
Pedophilia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedophilia
Death, Sex, Love, and Neuroticism: Why is Sex Such a Problem – http://www.radford.edu/~jaspelme/_private/gradsoc_articles/terror%20management/terror_management_n_sex.pdf