Secret Life of an Autistic Stripper
March 31, 2019 1:52 AM   Subscribe

Before working in strip clubs, I struggled to read people’s emotions through cues like facial expressions, postures, and tone of voice in real time. I processed events after the fact with tenuous evaluation, like peeling off layers of old wallpaper. At the time, it was not something I had words to explain, so I turned the blame on myself. Whenever I struggled to understand if someone was angry or bored, I went home and berated myself for being lazy, ditzy, and dumb as I obsessively evaluated the night. I just needed to try harder to be more present, I told myself.“

“The club gave me a controlled space to decipher the crinkle around people’s eyes for eagerness or raised eyebrow for arrogance, as if I was reading a script from a teleprompter. And when I was unsure, I had her original rules to catch me. Are they asking for my real name? Are they relaying problems in their life without buying a dance first? On the floor of the club, I spent hours practicing each weekend, and for the first time in my life, I learned how to cut through layers of language in real time, just like Claire, until it became effortless.”
posted by stoneweaver (24 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
 
Beautiful piece!
posted by Coaticass at 3:00 AM on March 31 [2 favorites]


"Central to autism is a difficulty experiencing life in real time." I now have a good working one-sentence definition ... thank you for posting this.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:39 AM on March 31 [45 favorites]


previously
posted by thatnerd at 6:13 AM on March 31


This was a hard but wonderful read.
posted by Adridne at 6:59 AM on March 31


By the same author: "‘I Thought I Was Lazy’: The Invisible Day-To-Day Struggle For Autistic Women"

I found this a very interesting view into what she struggles with.
posted by bonehead at 7:12 AM on March 31 [8 favorites]


I wonder how many of the guys in those clubs were also socially disabled in some way or other, and also looking for a simplified environment in which they could function.
posted by ckridge at 7:27 AM on March 31 [24 favorites]


That was interesting to read.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:36 AM on March 31


Thanks for this. It sounds like for this author, what worked to learn social skills was being thrown in a sort of controlled deep end -- having a challenge to meet, and little support beyond the structure (and anonymity?) inherent to the task. I wonder whether there are other settings that would work for this.

The article linked by bonehead surprised me in a way. The stereotype she's reacting to, of people with autism as preternaturally tidy, is not one I've ever heard before, so this aspect of the framing feels off. On some level maybe it doesn't matter -- the author is describing real impairment, and maybe the name we give to the source isn't critical, given that our understanding of the etiology of this sort of problem is fairly fuzzy anyway.

The first-person narrative interests me as a parent of someone who is struggling to develop some executive functioning skills. It sounds like the tactics I would intuitively reach for didn't work for this author, and the ideas my kid's teachers have reached for have not worked for my kid. I've also assumed for a long time that in a typically developing person, executive functioning skills will naturally emerge given an environment that's challenging enough to require them. The author's story is making me revisit that assumption. She appears to have needed specific structures to learn how to make chitchat, and found those structures in an unconventional place. It's unclear what she needed/needs to learn the organizational piece. Is there some support she didn't get in childhood that could have helped her avoid this problem? Or did she just need extra time? It's a live question for me, whether the better approach is understanding/accommodation or supplying extra structure (probably some combination, really).

Or is the environment itself the problem? -- sometimes I wonder. All the jokey self-deprecation I hear about "adulting" makes me feel like something in how modern lives are set up is hard for people in a weird way. I mean, not like sixteen hour workdays in a mine were/are easy. But like... is the quantity of executive functioning that modern American life requires actually a reasonable thing to expect from everybody? I'm not sure.
posted by eirias at 7:46 AM on March 31 [15 favorites]


The stereotype she's reacting to, of people with autism as preternaturally tidy, is not one I've ever heard before, so this aspect of the framing feels off.

I suspect that many of the assumptions and stereotypes we all commonly hold about ASD are actually part of the problem.
posted by bonehead at 8:09 AM on March 31 [10 favorites]


As someone who suspects they may be a high-functioning member of the spectrum, this article resonated with me. I too found that the safe-ish, controlled, sorta algorithmic environment of a restaurant was a great place for me to practice the social skills I hadn’t managed to pick up in my youth.

Also @eirias, your comment resonates with me as well, I wonder about that, too. I think it may the latter but I’ve just got anecdata and probably it’s both.
posted by sibboleth at 8:49 AM on March 31 [12 favorites]


is the quantity of executive functioning that modern American life requires actually a reasonable thing to expect from everybody? I'm not sure.

It’s worth noting the level of executive functioning modern American life requires once was essentially a full time job. Like, that’s what being a wife or a mother was. Now the expectations are to do that executive function on top of another job too - it’s no wonder folks have trouble with it.
posted by corb at 9:29 AM on March 31 [46 favorites]


But like... is the quantity of executive functioning that modern American life requires actually a reasonable thing to expect from everybody? I'm not sure.

I struggled with the executive function and organization required to be a child in the 80s, but it seems like even the people who could...successfully bring home a piece of paper from school without ripping it, for example, those people still struggle.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 9:48 AM on March 31 [6 favorites]


But like... is the quantity of executive functioning that modern American life requires actually a reasonable thing to expect from everybody? I'm not sure.

I agree with corb, and also, there are Executive Functioning Challenges that exist specifically because the infrastructure of people (in both corporations and government) who can Help You With Stuff is much worse than it was forty years ago.

If your apartment needs repairs that your landlord is unwilling to make; if you have a billing conflict with your health insurance company; if you have a medical problem requiring communication among a few different professionals; if you need to find a new doctor when not many doctors take your insurance; if you need to dispute overdraft charges or interest charges with your credit card company; if you want to cancel your cable service or cell phone service - in a lot of cases it's to the company's benefit to make it so difficult that you just give up unless you're exceptionally tenacious and great at executive function.

I can't even deal with the amount of silent 3-second voicemails in my inbox from scam robocalls.
posted by Jeanne at 9:56 AM on March 31 [45 favorites]


“It sounds like for this author, what worked to learn social skills was being thrown in a sort of controlled deep end -- having a challenge to meet, and little support beyond the structure (and anonymity?) inherent to the task.“

I think this is one of the disconnects between autistic and allistic (nonautistic) people. The deep end she actually describes in the piece os going to a birthday dinner with a friend. The deep end often starts with school - a lot of social interactions with a huge number of unwritten rules.

A club on the othee hand is relatively straightforward. You’re really only dealing with one “kind” of interaction and all its myriad permutations. It’s a structured environment with relatively low outside demands. The house doesn’t really care if you’re great at your job as long as you keep paying your house fee and don’t cause trouble. There are no tests or performance reviews. There’s a number of short, contained interactions where you get to iterate your approach without reproach.

She describes a number of ways it is a good environment for her - e.g. low sensory input in private rooms and her quirkinesses being acceptable. It’s the conforming and masking necessary in everyday life with friends that’s the deep end.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:13 AM on March 31 [26 favorites]


Oh, this was a really good piece. It was fascinating to read and then it started hitting me where it hurts.

I wanted to be an active participant in my life instead of walking around confused all the time, experiencing my days after they’ve happened, passive from the sidelines. I wanted connection.


I've been trying to explain slow processing without knowing what it was to my partner, who also has adhd and autism but kind of the opposite way, where everything goes really fast for him. I'd never thought it would be a common experience for other autistic people for some reason? But yeah, the socializing times when I'm not floundering through and then painstakingly dissecting interactions afterwards are times when I use up all my energy successfully passing as normal (thanks to my experience in my first job as a server!) and then realizing when I leave that I haven't actually made any real connections and don't remember much.

I'm glad she inadvertently found a place that encouraged her to take her mask off. That's hard and I also wonder what other settings would be accommodating for this.
posted by gaybobbie at 10:29 AM on March 31 [9 favorites]


Hi all ... the phrase "high-functioning" with respect to autism, which was used at least once above, can lead to denial and erasure... and to people not seeking assessments (or worse, being assessed incorrectly).

It's better if we don't use the phrase at all (really, wrt any disability).
posted by Sheydem-tants at 10:41 AM on March 31 [32 favorites]


Sorry, I didn’t know. Thanks for reaching out and providing a reading.
posted by sibboleth at 10:46 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


The author's story is making me revisit that assumption. She appears to have needed specific structures to learn how to make chitchat, and found those structures in an unconventional place. It's unclear what she needed/needs to learn the organizational piece. Is there some support she didn't get in childhood that could have helped her avoid this problem?

While nothing is quite as good at teaching how to deal with the world as the real world itself, my personal experience suggests: acting. I had no interest in the acting, but followed a romantic attraction into doing an after-school play in freshman year. Nothing in my life prior gave me as many tools and opportunities to understand people, their motivations, and resulting actions (especially the non-verbal/not explicit interactions.) I wound up doing that for 4 years.
posted by cult_url_bias at 12:40 PM on March 31 [9 favorites]


Agreeing with Shaydem-tants, I detest the “high functioning” language (which is often applied to me). “Invisible Autism” is maybe better, but not quite accurate either. “Iceberg Autism” maybe?

Now dealing with an autistic daughter. It’s surprising how sceptical folks can be, just because she can look you in the eye once and while and crack a good joke.

“She couldn’t possibly be autistic!”

“You couldn’t possibly have less of a clue.”
posted by Construction Concern at 12:59 PM on March 31 [22 favorites]


It sounds like for this author, what worked to learn social skills was being thrown in a sort of controlled deep end -- having a challenge to meet, and little support beyond the structure (and anonymity?) inherent to the task

I suspect that the transactional nature of the environment is helpful.

Is there some support she didn't get in childhood that could have helped her avoid this problem?

Yes: assessment and diagnosis. ASD presents very differently in most girls and women than it does in most boys and men and we are only beginning to recognise, diagnose and support women with ASD.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:07 PM on March 31 [21 favorites]


Ooooh yess
I'm not autistic by any means but struggled with socializing for a long time until I spent a year or so as a full time lyft driver - the regular practice allowed me to work out a whole 'socializing' tool-box.
posted by mit5urugi at 3:44 PM on March 31 [3 favorites]


I think Claire (the woman who gave the important advice) is the keystone of the story. The writer needed to have enough sense to look for advice from someone competent and then follow it, but Claire was unusual in giving clear simple useful advice. I'm half convinced she's on the spectrum herself.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 5:17 AM on April 1


God this made me cry.

I'm autistic, and little capsule situations i can play like a game are basically how i got decent at... the other stuff. I heavily concur with the comments above that things like the dinner party are the hard part, not this. Not to say this kind of thing doesn't wear on you, but... ugh.

There's a lot of funny parallels in my life. I'm autistic and i'm a trans woman. There's masking and then there's masking on masking. So many people in my life remarked that i just seemed so quickly and effortlessly feminine within a few months and i had to stop myself from saying, to all but my close friends, well what if it was just all a fucking performance in the first place?

When i finally decided to come out in every aspect of my life, i had to quit my job because i realized attempting to sort that out there would be worse than hell. I immediately leased a car from the work bathroom a few days before, and became a full time uber driver. Now i got to practice being a woman(and not steamrolling conversations! or being annoying!) all day every day, with people i wouldn't ever have to see again.

Although i learned a lot from it and i'm much better at random small talk and conversations now in a way i wasn't before, the entire thing got extremely uncomfortable and disturbing when i started to pass not just as someone who was less awkward to talk to, but also as well, female. Then it turned dark, and everyone started propositioning me and the entire thing got really stressful and scary.

I have a lot of trouble explaining how exhausting masking is and how it works/what it means, and how it exhausts me. I have more luck with other trans people than anyone who basically go "oh jesus, twice?"

Before i came out, i beat the shit out of myself in this way by continuously playing live PA sets and DJing at clubs for years. Because when everyones drunk, people don't notice how annoying you are right? I got pretty quickly subsumed into alcoholism, honestly. But... i could make conversation with people, and made some good friends(who are also weird as goddamn hell)

The end result is people see me as a super social person who can easily handle going out and doing things in complex environments when... i'm not, and i can't. The frustrating thing is i'm not an introvert! I love people! i'll hang out with a friend or two every day if i can! It's just much, much easier for me if it's like, one or two people at a time and preferably somewhere quiet where people will leave us alone.

It was just my birthday, and i ended up getting so upset i cried because people kept pressuring me to change my plans/do things and then tried to hug me and comfort me until i was yelling at them. Then i felt bad for snapping. And then i sat down to have a drink outside my friends gallery, and was immediately hit on by obnoxious men where i was too exhausted to even notice that's what they were doing.

Sometimes i miss my one person per half hour capsule experience job even though it was draining in its own way. I mean i love my new job, but if i have to do social interaction it's at least nice to feel like i can be a real person to people who aren't my immediate friends and family one at a time.

And god, was i REALLY not ready for "ok, i have to be present enough to realize if this guy is actually a godawul predator" a lot of times when i'm out. I never, ever go out and go to shows/bars/confusing chaotic public social things alone. I just don't. I'm way too paranoid about just zoning out and ending up in a dangerous situation because i have, and i will.

So yea, this made me cry. Being autistic is exhausting. Being autistic while also a woman is exhausting in a way a lot of people are incapable of even really understanding. I don't really feel like i was ever a "boy"(and all the beatings and bullying i got as a child and young adult for not boying right really send that home), but i do sometimes wish this had all just ended in some way before i came out because... god
posted by emptythought at 10:20 AM on April 1 [26 favorites]


This so spoke to me, and after several attempts I cannot write out a description of the recent event that showed me just how much my particular "learning how to interact with people in a controlled environment" experiences (in my case square dancing) have given me the tools to deal with because it's like "no, 'normal' people just do this, I can't express why this was such a big freakin' deal for me to do something 'normal' people just do."
posted by straw at 11:47 AM on April 5 [1 favorite]


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