Closing my eyes when we kiss: a piece about autism and sex work
[CW: references to suicidal ideation and hospitalisation, along with the mistreatment of autistic people.]
My longest regular client is a gentle, large man I will call C. He loves cars, dogs, whiskey and can tell you everything about Doctor Who—legit, the guy is a walking spoiler alert. He is also an expert, gentle lover and knows exactly how to pleasure people. He has done things to me that if hotel walls could talk we’d both be in trouble. C started seeing sex workers some years ago but said he’d been frequenting brothels as opposed to seeking out private escorts, due to having difficulty finding someone to see him. This absolutely floored me at first, due to his obvious bedroom skill. He told me that when he started seeing me, he finally felt comfortable. It’s only been recently I’ve come to understand exactly why. I keep thinking back to that first booking, and the laborious process it took to get him there. He was extremely tense and stood in the room for quite some time without moving. His face was searching for guidance. Autistic people often rely on social ‘scripts’; prescribed ways of doing things to help them navigate social situations, including sex. Picking up on this I sat down, he sat down. I undressed, he undressed. He slowly unfolded once he knew he was safe, me helping him understand his body and him mine.
“I am on the spectrum. I should have told you.”
We were in each other’s arms at the end of the session.
“No, it’s ok. I mean, I already knew,” I replied.
He was genuinely embarrassed that his autistic traits might be somehow obvious.
“Well… me too…”
I was looking somewhere between the wall and the third hair behind his ear.
“Ohhhh, so that’s why you close your eyes when we kiss.”
He was referring to my lack of eye contact. A rehearsed but huge smile spread across his face, and you could feel the breath he’d been holding in slowly released.
He told me he had problems booking people because he didn’t understand social rules and how to approach people he never met. He understood he was perceived as “rude” and “draining” and that he hadn’t been with anyone in an extremely long time as a result. I simply said to him that sex workers deal with multiple shitty enquiries a day and it’s easy to confuse rudeness with a general lack of knowledge, and that at first glance it’s almost impossible to tell the difference. So, before he left, we wrote a script together, word for word how he could approach sex workers he wished to see. He emailed me the next day thanking me and we’ve been seeing each other for almost 18 months since. He’s written the most hilarious but entirely unusable reviews, given me gifts, and absolutely blossomed into a man who I care about deeply and will always have time for.
I had always known my own brain was “different”. I barely spoke (I know, hard to believe now, right). I refused to play with kids my own age. I hated being touched by people I didn’t know and had massive issues with sensory integration. However, because I didn’t fit the script for a person with autism (assigned male at birth, fixed obsessions, severely limited social skills), I got overlooked right up until the latter half of 2016—when the lights got too bright.
One of the main manifestations of my autism is extreme sensory defensiveness. I struggle with sound, light, and texture. My apartment and my workspace are heavily curated to meet my sensory needs. I moved temporarily into an apartment upstairs in my complex when mine was being refurbished and the light in the kitchen was so bright, I couldn’t move from room to room without anxiety. After several months of severe anxiety, I attempted suicide. All I could tell the psychiatrist was “the lights were too bright”. Assuming a psychotic episode I was sectioned and given powerful anti-psychotic medication. After a few days when it became clear I was not psychotic a specialised psychiatrist was brought in to assess me—we knew something else was “wrong”.
It took daily sessions over almost a month, but I was eventually diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. If it were still a part of the DSM I’d fall under the category once called “Asperger’s Syndrome”. She gave me tools to deal with my brain and linked me in to an occupational therapist who has changed my life but we both lamented the knowledge that the diagnostic criteria, research and support available for people who are not young men or boys, is extremely limited.
One of the reasons most people like me go undiagnosed until adulthood is due to the concept of “masking”. We push our autistic traits down—hide them—or simply refuse to enact them so as to make ourselves appear “normal” (my disdain for that word knows no bounds). Societal pressure and, quite frankly, patriarchy itself means young women, girls, and anyone who falls outside the “assigned male at birth” category are more likely to have to mask behaviour and it can have devastating consequences, like suicide or attempted suicide. Knowing this has made me all the more determined to advocate for autistic people—particularly those who aren’t reflected in scientific literature. Knowing this about myself; putting the skills I’ve learned into practice; finding people who accept my weird stims and love my autistic ass unconditionally; you can definitely see I am living my best autistic life right now.
Autism also makes me a great sex worker. Bear with me, but it does. I am an excellent mimic: it’s how I learn most of my social skills, and the techniques that get me through the day. I observe hustling techniques, great intro skills, and when I am not working or capable of speaking, I spend my time researching and reading about BDSM, and sex in general. I have developed scripts for work that do lead to awkwardness when they are broken or deviated from, but my script base is growing by the day, as is my confidence.
Autism also means I am more present and assertive with my boundaries. I have specific areas of no touching which can lead to sensory overload. For instance, my left ear: absolute no go zone. The space where my butt and thighs meet: also, the same. When I am with my clients, I am not only more in tune with their needs but also with mine. I know what I want to avoid and will always encourage clients to do the same. BDSM is a lifeline for autistic sex workers. Repetition, developed personas and skillsets, all help me navigate terrain that can be quite difficult. Finding my power as a dominatrix, learning a variety of special skills, and being able to use my imagination, give me an immense amount of power. It also helps me remain able to work when full service is extremely difficult. Sometimes the non-contact work of mistressing isn’t just important, but necessary.
Sex work also has its challenges. I have been booked by several men in the past who believe they can push my boundaries precisely because I am autistic. One client in particular disregarded my consent because he believed I wouldn’t “feel” something the way a non-autistic person would. I am constantly dealing with inadvertent and sometimes deliberate ableism from peers. The attitude towards autistic men is often dismissive and hurtful, and I politely remind my colleagues on a regular basis that if they had a negative experience with an autistic man it’s most likely *not* the autism that made him a shit client, nor does it make me a shit service provider. One peer specifically stated she simply wouldn’t see autistic men and when challenged she said it was because they were “too much trouble”. I disengaged from that conversation almost immediately, and it’s what lead in no small part to this piece. I often find it difficult to share a workspace, and it’s only in the last few weeks I have learned how to do it properly. Room sharing during brothel work is my idea of hell, to be quite frank. A great deal of the time I struggle with consistency due to needing lengthy breaks from work when I am not coping. Consequently, it takes me a long time to build up regular client bases, which I inevitably lose when I cannot see them.
Ultimately, I am both rewarded with the work I am provided, and I do believe I am a worker with insight and value, even when things are tough. To my clients with beautiful brains, and me with mine: here’s to us and closing our eyes when we kiss.
About the author
Angel Parker is a student, writer, sex worker, advocate for autistic people living on stolen land In Naarm/Melbourne. She enjoys making people think about neurodiversity, sex, and sexuality in ways they have not before.
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