Autistic Wedding in the Woods

I got married yesterday on January 13th, 2018.

I can honestly can say it was best day of my entire life. My new husband is an absolutely wonderful man and I love that I get to spend the rest of my life with him. Since weddings are notoriously high stress, I thought that I should make a post about it while it’s still all fresh in my mind.

Reading vows at wedding
A photo taken by my aunt of me reading my vows to my handsome husband

 

Once the actual ceremony started, the stress mostly melted away, but earlier in the day, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit on edge. It wasn’t that I was nervous about getting married – I was just nervous something would go wrong. There were a lot of homemade aspects and little details I did with help from family and friends that I was worried might not work out or would fall apart, plus my hair in the morning took longer than I’d expected, meaning that I had about ten minutes to help set up and look over the reception hall decorations (which we did completely on our own) before I had to go to my parents’ house to get ready.

I realized the best thing to do to help deal with the stress of the day is to have someone with you who is completely chill. When the people around me were panicked, stressing, anxious, or in a rush, then I felt panicked, stressed, anxious, and needing to rush. Not that I didn’t feel stressed and anxious on my own, but having people around me who were helpful and chill about everything, telling me that it was all okay, that helped incredibly.

When I went to get my hair done, I was incredibly nervous. I haven’t had my hair done professionally in about eighteen years. I’ve had people play with it before, which always puts me a bit on edge, but I’ve never sat down as an adult in a hair salon and let anyone do things to my hair. My brother gave me a fidget cube recently, and between that and a very chill and helpful bridesmaid, I got through sitting still for three hours while someone I didn’t know well turned my hair into a beautiful creation.

Another thing that I did to help alleviate stress was doing my own make-up. While not everyone is comfortable doing their own make-up, I’m a million times less comfortable having someone else do my make-up, and I happen to know how to do it from years of performances. I would suggest doing your own or having someone you know and trust do it for you, to avoid strangers touching your face, assuming make-up is something you want. There’s no rule against going make-up less on your wedding day, even if you’re a bride, especially if it’s a sensory thing. You don’t want to be focusing on how heavy your eyelashes feel when you’re marrying someone you love.

Back of hair shot
Picture of my hair from behind

At the actual ceremony, I only vaguely remember there being people around us. I was hyper focused on my immediate area – on my handsome, charming Evan, on our officiant, on our wedding party, and immediate family. We were in a beautiful outdoor clearing in the woods, with a lovely canopy of trees overhead, and perfect weather. Being with my now husband made the stress melt, and I could just focus on us.

Tree Tops Park Clearing
People arriving and getting ready for the ceremony

Some people there were aware I don’t like hugs, and that was fantastic. I could greet people and be happy, without having to get overwhelmed too much by hugging a lot of people, about a quarter I’d only just met. Family, close friends, and children I have no problem hugging – for everyone else who went in for a hug, I gave light, quick hugs. A good excuse to avoid hugs at a wedding is to have your bouquet in front of you – though that only works so well because they then expect you to move it out of the way to wrap your arms around them. A better one is an elaborate hairstyle that might be messed up by hugs, or a very large poofy dress that makes it difficult for people to get close. They’ll still try, and if there’s people you want to hug it makes for an interesting challenge, but it sorta worked. Only problem with a large poofy dress is having to go to the bathroom. I managed by myself, thank goodness, so it is possible, if a little difficult. Make sure there’s a decent sized handicap stall available if you have a large dress like that – mine wouldn’t fit into a normal stall.

If you want to be 100% certain you don’t get unwanted hugs because you know it’ll overwhelm you, I’d say go as far as to have a sign somewhere that says “The Bride/Groom is autistic – please do not hug her/him! Thank you!” You can also have someone nearby informing people as they approach to please not hug you, so that you don’t have to tell everyone every two seconds that you prefer no hugs.

 

Evan walking up to ceremony
Evan, my husband, escorted by his parents into the ceremony space

The food we got to taste in advance, so I knew it would be enjoyable. I had one of my favorite comfort foods – garlic mashed potatoes – in the buffet, which made me feel great instantly. Food makes people feel good. Familiar food that you’ve tasted before to check for texture and taste is even better. Make sure that wherever you get your caterer from for any event, but especially a high stress event like a wedding, lets you have a tasting of all the foods you’ll get. It gives you an extra something to look forward to on the day.

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Getting ready to cut the cake with a sword!

One thing that was kind of annoying was that the music got very loud, louder than was comfortable. It wasn’t the only reason I stepped out a few times (friends were socializing in the cool night air outside, and I wanted to join!), but it was definitely a factor. It hurt my ears at some points. This is partially my bad: I hadn’t talked to the DJ in advance about not liking noises too loud like that. I’m the kind of person who’ll bring ear plugs to movie theaters. Make sure that if you have music of any kind – live band, DJ, chamber music quartet – that you talk to them about your needs and stress the importance. DJs in general seem to have a program that they stick to, and are hesitant to deviate even when asked. Lowering volume is deviating from their programming, and I think it needs to be stressed the importance of sensory issues to ensure that they get it. Not a universal truth of course, but a possibility to be aware of. If they start getting too loud, but you’re socially awkward like me and afraid of asking more than once for them to turn down the volume because you don’t want to come across as pushy, send someone you trust to tell them on your behalf. Another option could be to come prepared with earplugs for yourself, but that would likely be seen as being anti-social, so it’s better to just make the DJ listen to your request by stressing its importance in advance.

Libby up in Chair
My mother-in-law being lifted in a chair for the Hora

The same should be said of a playlist. If you are particular about what sort of music you listen to, you need to be firm about it. I had a playlist, of which I heard a few songs from it during the first half of the event. It wasn’t until my parents went up to the DJ and told him to actually play the songs we requested and specially downloaded that they started playing some of the songs I really wanted to hear. There were still a lot we didn’t get to hear, including family favorites and a few that were supposed to be pleasant surprises for special people. I wanted songs by the Beatles, the Monkees, David Cassidy, the Carpenters, Ofra Haza, P!nk, Mystery Skulls, and several others, and I heard zero from any of those performers. Maybe one or two played while I stepped out, but I had a significantly long song list that was neglected.

From this experience, I think the best advice I have for those who are picky about music is to make a playlist and enthusiastically and dramatically forbid anything not on the playlist from being played. This is a bit difficult because you need to make sure to have enough to fill the entire amount of time of the reception, but it might be worth it. If it’s not stressed strenuously, the DJ will likely slip into their usual programming.

I think I’m unusual in enjoying larger parties, like bar/bat-mitzvahs and weddings. I’m the sort of autistic who wants to be social, but is terrified of it. I love dancing, and with the right people there to make the space feel safe for me, I can get really into it and have a fantastic time, which I did! But for those out there for whom the idea of a large dance party sends you into a cold sweat, I have a suggestion. Go small, quiet. Invite a handful of close people – I’m talking six to twelve, more or less depending on your comfort level – and get married at someplace you’re comfortable like a family living room. Get someone you know, trust, and are comfortable with to get a quick license to marry from the state, and either have a nice home-cooked meal if someone’s willing to make it, get take-out from your favorite restaurant, or maybe go out to your favorite restaurant afterwards. It’s your day. You don’t have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable. Be with people who make you happy. Have food you enjoy. Have the atmosphere that makes you feel good. You do what you and your fiancé enjoy, and make your wedding something you’ll look back fondly on.

For me, I’ll never forget how happy I was hearing Evan read me his vows, and how glad I was I wore water-proof mascara while reading mine to him. He’s everything I could ask for in a husband, and our wedding day was a dream come true.

 

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Evan waiting for me before the ceremony, looking very sexy in his tux

Tomorrow we pack for our honeymoon, and we leave on Tuesday to go to France. We’ll be back at the end of January, and I’m sure I’ll have notes about the autistic experience of traveling in a foreign country. Until then!

 

If you like what you’ve read, like, share, comment, and/or follow to show support! You can also find me on facebook as Some Girl with a Braid, or on Twitter @AmalenaCaldwell.

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Sex, Sexuality, and Being Autistic

Recently, I was asked by a woman named Violet Fenn if I could answer a few questions about sex and sexuality for an article she was writing about the subject and how autistic people relate to it. I think this is brilliant, and you can see the article here:

No, autistic people are not sexless – our sex lives are as varied as anyone’s

The reason I say this is brilliant is because so many people out there assume that anyone who’s got any sort of disability is asexual. While there are certainly asexuals out there, it’s ridiculous to think we all are. Just because I struggle socially doesn’t mean I don’t have biological urges the same as neurotypicals. And since I’m a pretty open-minded person when it comes to this stuff, I thought I’d share with you the entire article I wrote on the subject, of which there was only room for a few paragraphs in Violet Fenn’s wonderful piece. Mom and Dad, maybe stop reading here? Warning – I don’t get too explicit, but I am very blunt, and the topic is sex. Read ahead at your own peril.

So, here is a discussion on sex and sexuality from the perspective of an autistic.

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I started out being really shy and awkward about people and particularly about touching. If a stranger touches me, I still flinch. But sex itself has never been a real difficulty for me. It’s the getting to that point of having sex that is. I’m pretty sexual in nature, so I love that side of me, but I don’t know how to flirt with someone new I’ve met. I have literally sent this text message to someone before: “I didn’t know you were bi… I am too, and I think you’re really pretty. Want to do something maybe?” Apparently this took her totally by surprise and is not considered legitimate flirting, though I thought it was. Ended up working out, funny enough, and we dated for a while. That was only real relationship I’ve had with someone I didn’t meet online, but in person. My other long term in-person relationship I met online, something that is much easier for me. We bonded over books, went on a few dates, and now we’re getting married on January 13, 2018, which is fantastic and I couldn’t be happier – post upcoming on wedding stress and honeymooning in a foreign country eventually!

With sex itself, it’s like it’s in its own box. Normally, I absolutely hate hugs from most people, with exceptions for most family, some friends, children, and significant others. But once I’ve decided I’m comfortable with hugging someone, kissing them, letting them be close to me, and we’ve decided “okay, let’s have sex”, it’s in a box of ‘it’s okay to be physically close to someone right now, and this is the person I’m going to be with for this,’ so there’s a comfort level in making that decision, then acting on it. I’ve never been with someone new spontaneously though, every time I’ve talked with them through texting or instant messenger before we did anything, so it was planned and I knew what was going to happen. Open communication is super helpful. Once I got past a sort of ‘you’re not supposed to like sex because you’re a girl!’ mentality and learned terminology for things, I got pretty forward with everything. I know how to put into words what I like, don’t like, want to do, don’t want to do, and that clarity is very helpful. With most of my partners – at least, the good ones – I’ve had conversations about the sex afterwards. So, questions would be like, “What did you like the most? Was there anything you didn’t like? What do you want more of?” and things like that back and forth. It can be a bit sexy to talk like that, so it’s not super clinical, almost like reminiscing and then getting excited for the next time. Most of the time – we talk via messenger or text, which is just easier for me in any situation. It lets me get my words right.

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With sensory issues, sometimes I get easily distracted. Like, we have a metal bedframe and if it starts squeaking it can just ruin everything. Sometimes my mind wanders a bit, though I haven’t really told my fiancé about that because I don’t want him knowing that I might be thinking about a sewing project while we’re having sex. Sometimes I get too hyper focused on sex itself and tense about it, and then I can’t orgasm because I wear myself out and just don’t have the energy to try anymore. This is really frustrating, and sometimes leads to me crying and apologizing for having a malfunctioning body because I get worried I’m disappointing him in bed. My fiancé has been really supportive about it though. Whenever I get upset over it, he just tells me its fine, we cuddle a bit, and then he might suggest we watch some Netflix or something to relax together, which helps.

A sensory issue I definitely have is with the fan or air conditioning when we’re naked. I don’t like feeling cold air blowing anywhere down there, and that’s where the apparently stuck vent points. So most of the time I just try to make sure he’s between me and the vent, or we have the covers on over us. I use the heavy comforter like a weighted blanket, and having it draped over us makes me very comfortable so I can focus on what we’re doing.

gender symbols

I like some eye contact during sex too, since it’s all very intimate. But there’s different positions so if I’m not in the mood to focus on eye contact, there’s a bunch of alternatives. Even if it is missionary, I can just close my eyes sometimes, which helps focus on what I’m feeling rather than things around the room. My fiancé thinks it looks sexy, so win-win.

Something that I think helped me get comfortable with the concept of having sex, before I had an in-person boyfriend, was writing about it a lot. I guess you could call it erotica. I’d write what I thought it would be like, that it would be enjoyable, things I thought I’d like or wanted to try one day. So I had it at least a little mapped out in my brain as to what the concept was, making it less foreign.

I used to be really shy and awkward about anything sexual at all (my nickname in high school was ‘virgin ears’ because I’d blush and clap my hands over my ears when people started talking about anything too intense for me), and I wasn’t always capable of saying words related to sex, like there was a block in my brain. Once I was more familiar with it, I think I’ve become pretty sex positive and much more open to talking about things than most people are – which I have to remember to reign in sometimes so I don’t make others uncomfortable. I think being autistic means that I don’t see the strict lines that the rest of society puts in place. I don’t want to be completely open about everything, since it is a private matter between my partners and me, and I don’t want to discuss that without permission, but I’ve seen a lot of “society says this is how you perform sex and relationships if you’re a girl” and I just sometimes throw that out the window and go with what feels good.

bisexual flag

 

For example, realizing I was bisexual was strange. I’d always liked guys and had crushes on them, like society’s narrative says I should, but I only ever had one real crush on a girl before I figured myself out, and I hadn’t been completely sure what it was I was feeling. I brushed it aside and didn’t think about it for years, deciding to just focus on boys because it was a lot easier. Then someone pointed out to me that they saw me looking at girls and I realized, oh, they were right. I didn’t have to just like guys or girls like the boxes society likes people to fit into. I could like whoever was attractive. Guys, girls, trans, and anyone else who happened to catch my eye.

 

Same with sex itself – it something was fun, there was no reason to feel a taboo over it once I got used to it (though that’s all the details I’m giving about that!). I guess, I just don’t understand society very well, and that gives me freedom because I realized my hang-ups didn’t make any logical sense. While being autistic makes it difficult for me to find someone to have sex with, I think it ultimately gives me more enjoyment and freedom with the sex I do have.

 

If you like what you’ve read, like, share, comment, and/or follow to show support! You can also find me on facebook as Some Girl with a Braid, or on Twitter @AmalenaCaldwell.