Recently, Season Two of the Netflix show Love On The Spectrum was released. I want to share some thoughts and a plea from my perspective and lived experience as a cisgender, heterosexual heteromantic male in my early 30s to who struggles with singleness and is quite behind in terms of romantic developmental milestones.
Full disclosure: I did not finish season one of Love On The Spectrum and do not intend to watch season two; my reasons behind this are part of what I want to share. At first, I had high hopes–seeing people on the spectrum go on dates and struggle with romance would, I thought, remind me I am not alone. However, between the musical cues, some of the advice the people involved were receiving, and the reactions of the family members to the autistic people featured on the show deciding to pursue this, I quickly soured. While the show purported to be an honest and open look, responsive and respectful to the participants wishes, it soon struck me as far more spectator-like than I was comfortable with; perhaps even crossing into infantilization in some cases, and fetishization in others. This is nothing new to communities that live with disabilities, but is disappointing nonetheless.
I confess as well that I, personally, found it hard to watch because of what it brought up for me. I have long been a self-identified romantic, and one of my greatest desires in life is to be a lover, husband, and father; yet I face significant barriers in that regard. It is somewhat ironic to me–in principle, I am quite sex-positive–I have no moral or even theological objections to things like sex before marriage, or even polyamory. My principle for others is that as long as it’s between people capable of legal consent than it’s their business. In principle for myself, I am quite open to any level of physical intimacy before marriage; and I don’t even insist on marriage in a church; in fact, the only reason I’d be wanting marriage per se, is the smoothing of various legal processes around care and information sharing–but outside of that I mostly just want a mutually loving long-term romantic relationship with one woman, with at least one child–and that would leave me quite content.
In practice, however, I am far behind both on what I want for myself and what most people in my demographic have reached in terms of romantic relationships. I’ve gone on 2 dates tops (I’m only counting explicitly understood dates here); I’ve only been “in a relationship” with 2 people tops (and that’s defining that somewhat liberally); I’ve never shared a kiss with anyone (which is definitely statistically rare for someone who is now 30 years old) and (perhaps obviously given the previous fact) am still definitely a virgin. This is not even defining sex as intercourse–there is literally nothing I’ve shared with another person that could be considered sex. Self-stimulation/solo sex is really about the extent of my sexual experience–and heck, I’ve even pretty basic in that, avoiding anything that would be considered porn by most folks.
So it is any wonder that I struggle with loneliness intensely, that I wonder more often than I’d like whether I’m even lovable AS a romantic partner? I’ve had plenty of friends over the year who openly respect and admire me, who even said I’d be a good partner to someone one day; yet there’s a noticeable lack of people open to exploring that.
Needless to say, watching others on the spectrum struggle with their own romantic barriers for public consumption did remind me that I’m not alone; but rather than bringing me comfort through that reminder, it brought up anger, despair, grief, frustration, and just plain sadness.
Don’t get me wrong–I don’t think I, or anyone else, is somehow entitled to a romantic relationship; I do think, however, that society doesn’t do neurodiverse people (or really people with any disabilites) any favours in the entering and being open to such relationships. Media representations are sorely lacking and often play into inaccurate and even harmful stereotypes; research into adult populations, and the entire female half of the population is under-represented and under-funded; and government policies are a joke. As an individual with autism spectrum disorder with a low income, I qualify to receive monthly ODSP cheques–but my ODSP entitlement has been greatly reduced by part-time work (less than 20 hours a week); according to the rules of ODSP, I have to report income from a romantic partner if I ever co-habitate for 3 months–this is far less than any other common-law/reporting income requirement in Ontario and Canada; while there are some protections in workplaces they have a massive flaw–so long as employers can argue that the needs of the the employee violate one of the requirements for the business, then they don’t have to hire; or indeed, can even fire. There is additional struggles among neurodiverse people seeking employment, and questions around when to disclose disability status are real problems, echoing the same questions the LGBTQ+ community often has around when to “come out of the closet”. Furthermore, even if employers THINK they are being fair, they often do have unconscious biases or lack the experiential knowledge that leads to them being taken off guard by the needs of neurodiverse employees, or just not hiring them in the first place. I have been fortunate to find a workplace that DOES meet my needs for the most part; but it is not a set of circumstances that is really replicable in my own life or the lives of others on the spectrum.
So, my plea to you is this: reflect on why you are watching Love On The Spectrum; reflect on what the crew and production team are trying to portray, why they are trying to portray it, and what choices they are making in doing so. Most of all, remember that the individuals portrayed ARE real people with real feelings, and from a population that is vulnerable to abuse and marginalization, is overrepresented in intersectional identities and comborbid diagnoses, and is often quite at home in cyber space and WILL likely see what people are posting on and talking about concerning them.