Being Forced Out of BDSM Community

Friday, July 08, 2016

Question

Dear Patrick: I am trying to become active in my local BDSM community, but I am having a very hard time relating to the group I tried to join. I keep being rebuked by various group leaders for behavior that they think shows poor social skills. I am told that I ask too many questions, or I try to make friends too quickly, or I don’t respect people’s privacy. But I think I am just trying to learn about BDSM and get to know everybody! Nobody in this group seems to understand that I have autism. I don’t have the ability to intuitively sense things that are not said to me directly. This is something I keep explaining. My autism is like an invisible disability. I keep getting my feelings hurt, and I am beginning to think that maybe people like me have no place in this world. What do you say?

Answer

Dear Being Forced Out: If people have no experience with autism, they are puzzled to the point of incompetence by how to relate to some of its “symptoms.” (I have some ambivalence about the paradigm of autism as an illness or disability because many people who are diagnosed with autism are quite intelligent, charming, happy people who don’t seem to be impaired to me—just fundamentally different in their wiring regarding social skills.) Even people who do know about autism usually think of it as a condition that troubles children. Like Attention Deficit Disorder, learning disabilities, and many other conditions that are first noticed in school, our culture assumes that people just somehow “grow out of” these problems. I wish! Instead, what happens is that if you are an adult and also autistic, or you have academic challenges, or you are hyperactive, etc., you wind up trying to educate people even though you are very challenged when it comes to understanding what their social expectations are. Adults with these issues also usually lose all of the support services that might have helped them get through school. I include learning disabilities in this discussion because we don’t even think about how often we expect other people to be able to read, write, and calculate math problems. People who can’t do these things—or can’t do them quickly—are at a huge disadvantage socially, whether they are children or adults.

I wish I could talk to the people who are running this support group and give them some basic information about autism and about what is going on for you. But they should be able to educate themselves about such a well-known variation on how human beings are wired. It sounds like the main problem here has to do with social skills. People with autism can sometimes appear to be disconnected from others, which is usually not true. They just don’t know how to do things like make eye contact, when to give a hug, how far to stand in relation to another person, what tone of voice to use, how loud or soft to speak, when it’s appropriate to ask a question, how long they should speak before letting somebody else talk, etc. It can take a lot of coaching and very specific teaching to get a person with autism to look “normal,” whatever that means. Often, people with autism or other conditions on that spectrum like Asperger’s’ will wind up studying others intently to see if they can figure out and reproduce desirable social behavior. This can be quite tiring, and it can also have mixed results.

People with autism do best when they are met with unconditional positive regard. A group should understand that it takes a lot of courage for this person to venture out and try to expand their social circle and their knowledge of sexuality and intimate relationships. Often people with severe autism are living with family members and may have been sheltered too much. They may not have the freedom or independence they need to date or socialize freely. So they really need support to become autonomous.

This doesn’t mean that any behavior, without boundaries, is acceptable. People with autism can ask inappropriate questions, hold the stage and talk too long, stand too close to people or speak too loudly, or make other gaffes. They are not doing this to be rude or malicious, however. One possible solution is to find someone who is willing to function as a buddy who goes with that individual to meetings and answers their questions during a break. Presenters can be asked to set aside a specific amount of time to talk to the person who has autism after the program and, if necessary, asked to be patient with that member of the group. It’s okay for the emcee to say, “I don’t think Lady Diamond wants to answer that question. Let’s move on.” But it’s not okay for the facilitator to say, “For heaven’s sake, don’t be such an oaf. Why would you ask such a terrible, personal, messed up question? Cut it out, you idiot! You are always ruining our meetings.”

Let me describe an example. Lady Diamond has given a program about cock-and-ball bondage and “torture” (causing intense sensation in the male sex organs). She mentions that it is easier to do some of these things with men who have really big cocks. A group member with autism then asks her, during the Q&A period, if she enjoys getting fucked by men with really big cocks. There is disgust and upset among the organizers, and Lady Diamond refuses to answer the question. But let me walk you through why this happened. The person with autism honestly doesn’t know why it is okay to ask Lady Diamond a question about, for example, how to tie up a man’s balls, but it is not okay to ask her about whether she prefers to have sex with men who have big cocks or small ones. The topic is the same, in their eyes, so why wouldn’t that be okay? It was Lady Diamond herself who mentioned penis size as a topic! If you try to explain the difference, you can see how quickly it becomes a quicksand trap. Imagine trying to navigate your way through life if such things were a mystery to you. Where is the line drawn? Well, you and I know, but our knowledge is drawn from the ability to sense social cues automatically. We have absorbed this knowledge from years of observation, empathy, feedback, and paradigms that are invisible to a person with autism.

What I see, over and over again, is that disabled people become isolated in groups, even associations that call themselves “support groups.” Somebody needs to have a large enough heart and mind to cross the great divide between the world of the normies and the world of the different, and make friends. When an autistic man or woman—or any disabled person—senses that they are being singled out and set apart, they get nervous. Anybody would. This makes their processing issues worse.

Please feel free to show this column to the group you are trying to join. Let them know that you feel that you are being discriminated against. I hope someone will reach out and become more friendly so you have someone to sit with and talk to after the meetings. Just remember that it takes a long time to get integrated into ANY group, whether it is kinky or vanilla. I recommend that people try to go to any new group six times before they give up on it. All you need is one kindred spirit to be able to laugh at what you see and enjoy it more. If nothing else, the group is a resource to pick up technical knowledge that you can use during play. It is also a source of eye candy—pretty images of fetish costumes and play. Experiment with going to a meeting and not saying anything. See how that feels, and see if people then approach you rather than feeling overwhelmed or put off.

Feel free to write again if you have other questions.

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