Socially stigmatized people still have to respect boundaries



Here’s something I’ve seen happen among autistic folks. I think it probably happens in other groups too.

  • Someone is subjected to a lot of social violence
  • People don’t want to talk to them because they’re autistic and weird
  • People mock the idea that people like them could ever be a good friend or partner
  • They’re very lonely and isolated as a result of social violence and discrimination

Then, as they’re figuring out that social violence is bad, this leads to an entitlement mentality:

  • They think that, since discrimination is wrong, other people owe it to them to be their friends
  • or to consider dating them
  • Or not to consider things associated with their stigmatized group dealbreaking (eg: if an autistic person who doesn’t understand social cues violates boundaries a lot)
  • And they get angry at people who reject them
  • And act like they’re doing something wrong
  • And then invasively try to explain why the person they want to be friends with is wrong and really should be their friend
  • and then persists, even after the other person has clearly said no

It really doesn’t work that way, though. No one has to be your friend. No one has to date you. No means no, even when it is motivated by bigotry or misunderstanding.

And it’s a lot easier to find good friends and partners if you stop pursuing people against their will.

This^. I am autistic and I’ve been in both roles in the past - when I was a lot younger, I probably did violate some people’s boundaries in trying to get them to be my friends/boyfriends (I was lonely and didn’t really know better, but that’s not an excuse because it still sucked for them). Last year in my freshman year of college, another girl on the spectrum pretty much did the same with trying to be my friend (no offense to her, but we weren’t clicking and I didn’t personally want to hang out with her).

I take responsibility for my own actions, but I also do truly think that social skills lessons for autistic people need to include more discussion of boundaries, both ours and other people’s, including training us to say no and stick to it when we want to. My social skills classes back in grade school contained some “no one has the right to touch you; your body is your own,” but nothing for just saying no in normal social situations. The friendship of allistic people was treated as a reward for being sufficiently social and learning to pass for allistic.

I even wonder if kids who are disabled in general need more training in saying no. I think being disabled in our society means your wishes and boundaries are not taken as seriously, and sometimes that can lead to not taking others’ boundaries very seriously, either (although I want to make it clear that most criminal *boundary violations* are committed by neurotypicals and able-bodied people, not disabled/autistic people; we’re more likely to be victims than aggressors).

Agreed regarding all of this. Including autistic folks being more likely to be victims than aggressors.

That said, I think there are things that are innate to autism that can make it harder for some of us to learn to understand and respect boundaries - both our own and those of other folks.

Like, if you have a language delay, it also makes it harder to learn to say no and make it stick. And if you have trouble reading body language, it’s harder to understand when words people say mean no and when they don’t. And if you have seriously impaired executive functioning, it’s harder to learn how to be considerate of others’ time and keep promises to do things. Etc.

It can be a genuinely hard problem. It’s not *just* because people hate us that a lot of us have trouble with this. 

And then the way a lot of us are taught makes it a lot worse. Among other reasons, because just about every concept we need for this gets distorted beyond belief. (Eg: “respecting boundaries” tends to mean “doing whatever people in power tell you to do” and “being considerate” tends to mean “looking normal”.)

Or if you’re taught that all attention is positive and that people have to be with friends no matter what - it can be hard to realize that deciding you want to be friends with someone does not make them your friend.

Etc Etc

All of this means that there are some specifically autistic (and sometimes broader things that apply to everyone who grew up disabled) ways that boundary fails can happen, either innocently or maliciously. I think this is as important to talk about as any other area of autistic life.

It doesn’t mean we suck or that we need to be cured in order to be good, or anything like that. It means that we need to figure out different ways of doing stuff that work, just like in other areas of life.