The Space Between My Neurodiversity and My Romantic Orientation

I talk about the "in-between spaces" between my neurodiversity and my romantic orientation and just how interconnected those aspects of my identity are

This post was written for the January 2022 Carnival of Aros, where the theme is “In-Between Spaces.”

I talk a lot about neurodiversity and queer stuff on this blog, but something I haven’t had the opportunity to talk about yet is just how interconnected those aspects of my identity are. For me, being autistic actually has a lot to do with me being aromantic/quoiromantic. This is something I tend to avoid telling non-queer and neurotypical people in order to avoid feeding harmful stereotypes that equate queerness with mental health conditions, but I do feel in my case that there’s a connection.

I talk in my submission for this month’s Carnival of Aces, “Plotting My Queer Identity on the Convergence-Divergence Spectrum”, about how my romantic orientation (as well as how I practice polyamory) largely comes down to me not identifying with the norms and social scripts our society has built around romance and relationships. I generally don’t think of my romantic orientation as “I don’t have the ability to experience romantic attraction” so much as “for me, the conventional distinction between romantic relationships and platonic relationships isn’t really applicable.” And I feel like my neurodivergence plays a significant role in that.

Autistic people often talk about our “superpowers”—things we feel we can do better because of our autism. For some autistic people, that might manifest as incredibly deep knowledge about a particular topic (what we call a special interest). For others, it might be an aptitude for problem-solving and rational decision-making. I consider one of my biggest superpowers to be an ability to look at social norms through an objective lens and to deconstruct and question them rather than taking them for granted.

Most of the social norms of the culture we grow up in we internalize as we develop, so they become obvious and intuitive for us. That never really happened to me. Every day I learn more and more about my own culture—things most of my peers never have to think about. My friends and I sometimes joke that I’m actually an alien sent from outer space to observe and learn about human culture, and it certainly feels that way sometimes. While this particular aspect of being autistic certainly bites me in the ass sometimes—particularly when I commit a faux pas because I don’t know any better—I still consider it a superpower.

Being able to look at social norms through an objective lens means that I’m not bound by them in the way most people are; I’m free to challenge and question social norms in a way many people aren’t, which can be incredibly freeing. I feel like this has a lot to do with my romantic orientation because being autistic means that I’m not bound by the social norms that govern how most people go about relationships. Looking at the courtship rituals and relationship escalators that our society expects us to follow—governing everything from how we’re supposed to feel to how we’re supposed to structure our life—the way most people practice relationships feels incredibly prescriptive to me.

The idea that you’re supposed to strictly categorize all the relationships in your life as either platonic or romantic feels very limiting to me. Most people would consider the way I practice relationships to be radical, but I personally don’t see how else I would go about it. The social scripts our society has built around interpersonal relationships don’t make much sense to me, so I simply don’t subscribe to them. And I feel like my autism makes this much easier for me than it might be if I was allistic.

As a non-binary person, I can’t help but go on a tangent to point out the growing body of evidence1 for a link between autism and gender variance. There are lots of theories as to why this link exists, but the reason why I personally consider my gender identity to be related to my neurodivergence again has to deal with how I don’t internalize social scripts in the way most people do. As I’ve talked about previously, gender is largely influenced by the culture we live in, and being someone who is less susceptible to those kinds of cultural influences, I feel less compelled to identify with the gender binary prescribed by my culture.

I really appreciate this month’s prompts for both the Carnival of Aros and the Carnival of Aces, as I feel like they’ve given me the opportunity to talk about the weird ways in which my identities overlap and intersect. I sometimes feel like acknowledging these overlaps is taboo considering how hard queer people have to fight to dismiss myths about our identities being “mental illnesses,” and I’m happy to have a space where I feel like it’s safe to acknowledge that my neurodivergence and my queerness really are related.

  1. Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 ↩︎