AUTISM AND FEAR OF INTIMACY.

The year before last, I can remember freaking out, because I received a phone call from my rheumatologist's office asking me to confirm my appointment with her the following Monday and being reminded that I needed a new referral from my GP (or primary care physician, if you're in the USA). At the time, I was at a group practice, and my GP only worked certain days, the call came on a Wednesday and my GP wouldn't be back until the following Monday. I rang the GP's office and made an appointment for that Monday. It was not the call from the rheumatologist that freaked me out, but something else. The practice where I went would send SMS and email reminders and I received both of those, but they had me in with the wrong doctor. What made it worse, was that it was a male doctor, and I will only see female doctors, because I was sexually abused in my childhood and youth and was subjected to a non-consensual intimate exam by a male doctor when I was 28. The effect of both was long-lasting, and I could never trust male doctors again.

I can remember having to find my voice when I was 39 and waiting to have an echocardiogram for my cardiologist, who is female, and a male sonographer was preparing to do the test. The thought of a male holding an arm across my bare chest is quite triggering, and I was left feeling very anxious. While the sonographer may not have had predatory intentions, it was the situation, not the person. I knew I had to be polite, and I knew I had to avoid a meltdown, so, marshalling my thoughts, I said to him, "Okay, it's not you, personally, but the situation. I am a sex abuse survivor, and am autistic, so I would prefer you didn't do it." Fortunately, he understood, and he arranged for a female sonographer to replace him. Fortunately, also, I received an apology from my cardiologist's receptionist and a note was placed on my file to ensure a female was available.

Today, I was reading an article by a fellow autistic about fears and what are rational and those that need to be respected and those that need to be reduced but not eliminated. Well, I believe I have rational issues that need to be understood and respected. It doesn't mean to say that any man who sees me in the street has to run a mile, or that I won't shake someone's hand, what it means is that I'm not comfortable with intimacy from males. (I'm not the kind of guy, who, if I had any sporting ability, would feel comfortable with any contact with a teammate or an opposition player, other than a handshake)

My fears were confirmed when I was at a different group practice, and there was a male doctor who always made me feel uncomfortable, who would talk to everybody, and I did hear of some female (and indeed, some male) patients who weren't comfortable with him, either. I was trying to get the receptionist to take him aside and say, "Look, he doesn't feel comfortable, if you see him, don't talk to him," but it didn't eventuate. Also, when I went to my dentist (also female) there was an older male dentist there, who, when I was waiting at the reception to make an appointment, put his hands on my hips to move me out of the way so he could get past. Yes, I concede that the area was cramped, BUT, it still made me uncomfortable and he shouldn't have done it. Fortunately, for me, the practice manager saw it and apologised and said that she would have a word to him about it.

Some people may say, "Oh, but you have to overcome this fear," and what further served to freak me out was a former housemate (yes, the one who always wanted lifts everywhere) telling me that I should, "think of it as being like a little robot working on me." Okay, I know that if I were involved in a car accident (touch wood it won't happen) and had to dial 000 (911, in the USA, 999, in the UK) I wouldn't be able, if critically wounded, to specify the gender of paramedic I wanted (there are female paramedics these days, though) but thinking of it as being a robot touching me freaks me out more as I can't control it.

Some may say I'm weird, but I say this, too, there are women who have been raped who can end up getting married (even if they are reticent to engage in intimacy) and there are others who don't ever engage in intimacy again. If women can specify their preferred gender of therapist, men can, too, and fortunately, a few of my specialists have said, "It's okay, you're not the first man I've had to see who doesn't trust male doctors for the same reasons you don't." Also, if you choose to go for psychological therapy, one must be aware that conventional therapy for autistic patients, who can carry a great deal of trauma, is about as helpful as fuelling a diesel engine up with petrol.

Nobody, be they autistic or neurotypical, should be forced to lose any autonomy over their bodies. Just like, when I was 12, and my mother forced me to see a doctor she knew I didn't like, I felt violated because I had to be subjected to intimacy that I did not want and give someone I didn't trust knowledge I didn't want to.

It's the same as another housemate who groped me when he was drunk. His motives may or may not have been sexual, but it further eroded my trust.

Fears may be rational or irrational, but the only person who can decide whether their fear is warranted and whether or not they wish to hold it in place or water it down is them. You can't make somebody else trust you and they can't make you trust them. The most important message is, your bodily autonomy is yours and regardless of neurology, you have the right to have it respected.

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