Let's Talk! Autism, dating, and sexuality.

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Air date: 
Fri, 04/26/2024 - 9:00am to 10:00am
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Carrie and Amanda discuss the intersections of neurodivergent and sexuality.

Let's Talk! Autism, Dating, and Sexuality - KBOO

Transcripts edited by Carrie Cantrell 

Episode Summary

Exploring the interplay of neurodivergence, sexuality, and relationships, this episode delves into the experiences of Carrie Cantrell, interviewed by host Amanda Antell. The conversation covers the impact of autism on social interactions, the nuances of consent and communication in relationships, and the significance of accommodation and understanding in neurodivergent connections. It emphasizes the importance of self-discovery, community acceptance, and respecting boundaries in the context of evolving relationships and diverse identities.

Welcome to Let's Talk: An Introduction

Naia Holte: Thank you for listening to Let's Talk. Let's Talk is a digital space for students at PCC experiencing disabilities to share their perspectives, ideas, and worldviews in an inclusive and accessible environment. The views and opinions expressed in this program are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Portland Community College, PCC Foundation, or KBOO Community Radio. We broadcast biweekly on our home website, pcc.edu/dca, on Spotify, and monthly on KBOO Community Radio, 90.7 FM.

Diving Into Autism and Dating

Amanda Antell: Welcome to Let's Talk: Autism. My name is Amanda, and I'm the host and producer of the series. In today's episode, we are going to be discussing how autism and neurodivergence intersects with dating. I am joined today by Carrie Cantrell who shares her story and experiences of being intersex and neurodivergent, and how these factors influenced her dating life. We discussed the nuances in how autism and neurodivergence influence our approaches to romantic and platonic relationships, along with how these relationships develop. Please note that given the nature of this episode, there will be strong language and sexual content. With that said, please enjoy the conversation. So, thank you for being on today's podcast episode, Carrie. I hope we'll have a great conversation about autism and dating and sexuality. 

Carrie Cantrell: I'm sure we will. This is such a fun topic for me. 

Amanda Antell: Yeah, and I'm excited to see where the conversation goes, because I wrote the questions, but it's I'm not really sure what to expect with this, because you're such an expert on this.

Carrie Cantrell: I am less of an expert than you think. I'm only an expert by experience, and we're all experts in our own experience, is what I like to say. 

Carrie's Journey: Intersex, Neurodivergence, and Self-Discovery

Carrie Cantrell: But yeah, I can actually start out with introductions if you want. 

Amanda Antell: Oh yeah, please give your name, gender slash pronouns, your major slash occupation, and whether or not you have autism, ADHD, or other neurodivergent condition, please.

Carrie Cantrell: Okay. My name is Carrie Cantrell. I prefer no pronouns or proper nouns instead of traditional pronouns, like she, her, he, him, or they, them. So, I like to stick with just noun nouns. So, my name is a proper noun. A person is a proper noun or professional blank is a proper noun, et cetera, et cetera. My professional blank is that I am an Alt format technical trainer. So, I help students with disabilities learn how to use types of software and technology that will give them access to educational content according to what their disability accommodations are. And I'm currently talking to my doctor about autism, but I didn't make it through the whole gauntlet of testing because I was not able to contact my family members and verify like behaviors and whatever from when I was, a kid. So, I just gave up on getting a diagnosis because my end result was just to understand more about how my brain works and to be able to advocate for myself in certain situations. 

Amanda Antell: Autism really isn't a condition you get medication for anyways, and it's like you said, it's just closure and just understanding more about yourself. So, if you don't need a diagnosis for that's cool. 

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah, it's been really helpful and validating for me to just be able to be in community with other neurodivergent people who understand and don't feel the need to put a diagnosis on it. So, like I have autistic friends with both diagnoses and without diagnoses. It's just feels good to be in community and to be talking about something that's been a part of my life for my whole life. 

Amanda Antell: That's awesome. 

Navigating Social Dynamics with Neurodivergence

Amanda Antell: So, speaking of autism and neurodivergence, how would you say that Your condition has impacted or interfered with social interactions. 

Carrie Cantrell: So yeah, neurodivergence I had I would say like pretty extreme shyness when I was a kid and anxious attachments, so I would normally, I think it's pretty normal, pretty common for people on the autism spectrum or with maybe emotional regulation disabilities, let's just call it that, but to have an anxious attachment and where you choose one favorite person. And so that's been my social. Pairing strategy whenever it comes to friend groups or romantic partners as well as choose one person to be like, okay, you're the person that I'm fixated on and everyone else is I'm not really interested in. So, I would say like my special if you if I had a special interest as an autistic person, it would be with people. So, I'm like always curious about people, but I'm not interested in engaging. So, I was always a very observant person and like curious about like why people do things, like how people do things, what's it like for that experience, I, it's like as creepy as it sounds, I always just wish I could climb in someone else's skin and be like, Oh I'm experiencing what they are, what they're experiencing right now. But my communications I think my communication I wouldn't say it's like, Disabilities, but because it was the environment I was in, my communication was not as effective because I was surrounded by neurotypical people, and I was raised in a time where it was very neurotypical dominant society. So, the way I communicated my interests and needs was not always. accepted by my peers. 

Amanda Antell: Thank you and it's interesting you bring up like that one it's an attachment to one specific person because I think I've done that in the past too with like I had a best friend for a while and I think he was neurodivergent as well looking back on it because he had pretty he had a lot of similarities I did in terms of special interests and just hyper fixation like his were horses and rabbits specifically. It's pretty cool because it's like we could talk for hours about animals, and we wouldn't get bored with each other. And it's like I had a favorite, my favorite relative was my grandma on my mom's side. And I just remember just attaching really deeply to her and just wanting to be around her all the time. So, I get what you're saying. Definitely. 

Carrie Cantrell: It's a favorite. It's a, it's having a favorite person, which is something, something that I think what's another neurodivergence that I've heard is common with having favorite people it's another central nervous system processing disorder where there's really big mood swings and also generalized confusion about reality and how to process informational input especially after sundown. It's like, when people start sundowning is when there's, there'd be a lot more symptomatic behavior. So, whatever that trigger is in the brain, but yeah, probably. Yeah. I can't remember exactly which. Neurodivergent, experience I'm describing right now, but I have had this discussion in the past with other people besides who identified as autistic or ADHD or CPTSD.

Amanda Antell: It's most likely the pineal gland secreting melatonin at a higher concentration because that just happens at night and melatonin has recently been linked to hormone fluctuations actually in breeding behavior. So, it wouldn't surprise me if melatonin influenced other symptoms. related to bipolar and other dissociative disorders because that just makes, because that would mean that it's also messing with cortisol as well.

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah. Huh. That's so interesting. 

Amanda Antell: Anyways, yeah, sorry about that. That's okay. Yeah, for me, it's to answer this question for myself, I would get bored very easily in conversations, and I would just go space cadet or just wander off somewhere else. Yeah. And it's not that I didn't want to talk to other people, but if I wasn't being engaged in the conversation itself, I would just, again, go space cadet or go somewhere else, and people would be like, oh god, are we excluding you or are we offending you? And I'm like, no, I'm just bored. 

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah.

Amanda Antell: And my mom would get super pissed at me at family events because family events It's like they all the relative older relatives are talking to each other and the cousins were all either younger or older than me So it's actually I was the oldest on my mom's side So it's like the younger cousins would play together and I would just be their babysitter or they would exclude me and I was just Bored out of my mind all the time at those things and I would just but at the same time I was surrounded by constant Stimulation and I would need to go by myself to Reconfigure recharge whatever and my mom would just be like stop being weird stop needing to be alone. You're being weird. 

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah. Yeah. And so same here. I never really picked up on social cues or really played the whole society has etiquette rules. I would be the person that would be not intentionally rude, but I would be like, I know I'm not following etiquette. It's like expectations. But I don't see a reason why I should, so that sort of thing where it's like this, if there's a rule that didn't make sense to me or that I saw was like obviously inequitable or favored males, for example, over women, I would be breaking it on purpose. But that was something that I didn't always feel like I didn't I didn't do it emotionally. It's not like I was coming at it with an agenda of I'm emotionally motivated to have this goal from having a conversation and having confrontational conversation. It just always happened like that. And people. Treated me as like rudely or treated me like I was rude because I wasn't expressing enough interest or polite conversation about what they were saying, but I would very quickly move people through, too. I would like, try and rush through what they were talking about so that we could get back to what I was talking about. What my interest was. And same thing for you, if I didn't have a favorite person or a best friend who understood that I was just peculiar in some ways, my tendency is to just lose interest and like literally in the middle of a conversation, a sentence drift off and check out and disengage would be insulting to a lot of people. My experiences with just semantic memory in general, not remembering people's faces or names after meeting them several times, this was my whole life. And I think that also created a bad impression of me towards people in building relationships. 

Amanda Antell: So for me, it was just that I was so blunt and straightforward that I just got in trouble a lot because I just didn't do the dancing around issue thing that I feel like that's like I feel like that's a specific Northwest thing, like you're from the South, correct me if I'm wrong on this, but would you say that we're like the most passive aggressive state you've ever been in?

Carrie Cantrell: Yes. 100%.

Amanda Antell: I knew it. Knew it. And, 

Carrie Cantrell: and there's still passive aggressiveness in North Carolina but you're right, there's a dance to it, you know what I mean? Yeah, I know. And it's not that complicated of a dance. People here are literally, they don't dance because everybody in Oregon's like an emotional wallflower. they're like, there is no dance, there is no etiquette, you just don't engage, and you hold resentment.

Amanda Antell: Yeah, that drove me nuts. I used to think I was like; I always feel like I'm an alien here because it's I grew up here. But I always love talking to people from the East Coast, the rare chance I got the chance to because, they actually said what they meant, and not a roundabout way of doing it. They actually just told me how it was, and I loved it. 

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah, exactly. A lot of East Coast people are just like that generally. That's what the communication style is like, especially in the Northeast. The Northeast would be a lot friendlier in my opinion as well, because in the Southeast people will still be direct and blunt with you, but you're more likely to encounter Rudeness as a disabled person or a queer person or a woman they would be blunt about that in that sense. because you're in the Bible belt, and they would be like, well, sorry, darling. That's just what we call women around these parts. You can get used to it or get out.

Amanda Antell: Is it bad if I actually prefer that bluntness, even if it's rude to me, over just the crap that people do here? 

Carrie Cantrell: Yes. No, it's not rude at all. 

Amanda Antell: I actually prefer that over what people do here. 

Carrie Cantrell: I prefer it too. At least you know who your friends are, when someone's rude to your face, and doesn't really give a crap that they're, coming across.  They've got their friends, they’re like, why would I care if my friends saw me? See me acting mean to you. So at least in the Southeast, you know who your friends are and who's not with you, but out here, you can waste your energy for years thinking that somebody is going to be on your side. And then later have the rug pulled out from under you. 

Amanda Antell: Yeah. 

Exploring Gender, Sexuality, and Neurodivergence

Amanda Antell: So how would you say your autism or your neurodivergence impacts your sexuality or your sexual identity? 

Carrie Cantrell: I would say it is secondary to my sexuality or sexual identity. Maybe not even secondary, but I would say it isn't primary. One of the platforms I Started and spoke on and existed within when I first moved to Portland in 2015 was as a sexual health and body positivity advocate because I had just come out of the closet as an intersex person. And. For those of you listening that don't know, intersex people are people born with a genetic mutation on our sexual reproductive chromosome, which is either going to be SRX or an SRY and as your 46 chromosome. That determines your sexual development. And so intersex people have mutations on that chromosome. And my particular mutation is called partial androgen insensitivity, just in case you're curious, but it basically just means that my reproductive system didn't develop all the way while I was in utero. And that's how my body came out. And so, my family and the doctors at the time decided to go with the decision to completely sterilize my body and to also hide the fact that I was born with this condition and just raised me as a typical female because that's what my outward body was like presenting as. I had just found out in 2015, I was 26 years old, I had just found out that I was an intersex person, and it means I didn't have the chromosomes I thought I had, I had all of this like history that affected how I thought of myself sexually for a long time. I would say that like the number one thing that identifies my sexual identity, and my sexual health is my sense of ownership of my body and my sense of like pleasure and health. I know what's good for my body and my brain and my heart are in pretty good harmony in how I approach sexual romantic situations. And so, I got to that point from extensive intentional work around sexual health and body positivity and sex positivity in this city when I first got here. so that's the number one way that I identify my sexuality is does it feel good when I engage with it? Does it give me a good feeling when I talk about myself in this way etc. That being said, I never separated the two experiences before. I also Embrace the fact that I'm neurodivergent and, there's been a lot of anecdotal conversation about how a huge part of the autistic community, the neurodivergent population, don't identify with gender and sexuality, the same way that other people do, we might have I don't know, a less socially scripted perspective on that whole topic. And for me, I thought that early on in my childhood, I exempted myself from typical sexuality and typical, sexual identification because of my experiences as an intersex person. I would say it's my intersex identity first that I identify my experiences with and autism, how my brain works second. But I have noticed that. pretty much my body and my brain back each other up. One validates the other and everything that my body confirmed my entire life, my brain knew instinctually and vice versa. Everything my brain thought might be true when I was growing up is actually confirmed, by my body and how it actually operates.  And that's not specific. to just intersex people either. I think that for all of the trauma that I experienced as an intersex person, it's a very lucky break that I don't have this entanglement of a binary gender dichotomy in society to even take me down with, I'd say that the autism thing gave me a more pragmatic and logical approach to how I saw my body and how I see my body interacting with society and with myself. It definitely helped me sort things out, my autism brain.

Amanda Antell: That's how I feel about my sexuality. And by the way, thank you for sharing your story of how you found out you were intersex and all that crap your family put you through. I hope they face; I don't know. someone should be able to sue someone for sterilizing you without your express consent, especially considering you were a baby when this happened. And you had no way of saying no. 

Carrie Cantrell: Right? I'm really happy. we're talking about this because that's one of the things that. intersect with the autistic community, especially people with higher level of needs. and that happens within the disabled community a lot as well. So, whether or not you see yourself as disabled or identify as disabled, it happens within the autism community. It happens within the disabled community. It happens everywhere that people's rights and reproductive rights are taken away. it happens to women, and it just looks like different things, 

Amanda Antell: Well, a lot of native populations, were actually sterilized when they were put in religious schools, I believe, I don't know the whole history of this. I just know that was a huge thing in Canada that ended recently in the 90s. so many native women, were sterilized, and I think that happened in the States, too. Correct me if I'm wrong. 

Carrie Cantrell: I'm pretty sure it did happen in the States, and it has happened recently, I think is recently as 2017 or 2018, there was a nurse in one of the detention centers where ICE detainees were being held and women that had come from South America were being given, I don't know what the exact procedure is, but it had something to do with limiting the fertility of their ovaries. It was, yeah, they weren't adequately explained what was happening to them or why and definitely they hadn't consented to it with full information. So, it's 1 of the big things that the intersex community advocates for is full informed consent. It's hard to guarantee that. With a child, and with a child who's understanding a isn't formed, or is still forming of their self and their self-agency and their identity and their sexuality. So, yeah definitely not something that should be happening to, to little Babies.

Amanda Antell: And I've mentioned this to you before when you talked to me about this but it's what is the logic there on the parents part? It's so you're ready to sterilize your kid. And if your kid wants to have a family one day, what is your what are you going to tell them?

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah, so, I mean, they didn't really think too far ahead, huh? 

Amanda Antell: Well, it's that's my question. It's what is your plan here? It's going to come out eventually. That's not very smart.

Carrie Cantrell: I mean, I'll tell you what happened is that I basically don't talk to my family anymore. 

Amanda Antell: Well, and that's, you're right. And it's I really wouldn't encourage you to, no offense to, I don't know, I'm not trying to tell you what to do with your family, but it's I, yeah, that would not be what I'd encourage. I would just stay the hell away from them. 

Carrie Cantrell: I am so lucky the way it happened for me because I found out that I was intersex, on the tidal wave of this big cultural movement that was accepting gender and trans rights and, opening up our consciousness about all different identities and language and health needs and all sorts of stuff. So, I was able to understand what happened to me in a very empowered environment. And yes, there's still struggle, especially in the queer community, especially in the trans community, especially in the female women people with ovaries community, it never ends how and in what ways that the government wants to try and regulate our access to health care and reproductive health care. We all get it. That's what brings our community together is that for some reason, sexual health and reproduction is somebody else's business, but it's not, 

Amanda Antell: so, for me, my autism, so I've never had a lot of attachment to my gender. I've said this in the past about in past podcast episodes, where it's I'm, I don't know, I'm she, her, cis female. I'm comfortable with that, but I've never really thought anything beyond that. And I don't really care what I am. Actually, I feel a lot more strongly about my autism diagnosis and identity versus being female. I just happen to be female is how I see it. Because the way I look at gender is pretty biological, how, I actually really liked your explanation of intersex because I went into the SRY chromosome mutations and everything like that. Where it's I understand exactly what you're saying, because that's basically how I view gender. It's because we just happen to inherit biomarkers that express the secondary sexual characteristics, so that doesn't make gender. That makes, and that, that doesn't even fully make biological sex, honestly, because it's like you said, intersex, it's like there's a lot of in betweenness there. 

Carrie Cantrell: Exactly. 

Amanda Antell: So, in, in terms of the whole binary gender system, I suspect it was established for the sake of paperwork. It was just easier to say. Well, if you think about it, it actually does make sense on an administrative level. Okay, there's so much paperwork, it's 

Carrie Cantrell: all part of the Linnean classification system, man.

Amanda Antell: I'm not saying it's right. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying it's right or it's good for everyone. What I am saying is on an administrative level, I can see why it took over. Yeah, so it's but it does suck because it doesn't because it allows a lot of people to Not get the health care they need and it doesn't address the specific needs of the intersex or other sexual identity communities like trans community, especially. 

Carrie Cantrell: Exactly. 

Amanda Antell: That's honestly how I learned social behavior growing up. I would just watch people and unconsciously pick up patterns, and I just knew what to, I just looked for signs that people were getting angry with me. And I noticed there was a pause or someone, the way someone was talking changed suddenly, or a tone was, either went higher or lower depending on who I was talking to. So, I know what you're saying. I got, because I pick up on those too, and I still use those to this day, and that's, I feel like that makes people question my autism a little bit, because I do well in social situations on a short-term basis because of my ability to read behavior to an extent. Which I know goes against the autism stereotype, but at the same time it's like I don't get everything, and I definitely have stepped on quite a few landmines in my day.

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah, same. 

The Impact of Autism on Romantic Relationships

Amanda Antell: So how would you say that, how would you say that your autism or neurodivergence impacts your romantic relationships?

Carrie Cantrell: Well, until recently, I would say that it negatively impacted my romantic relationships. And this was until recently, as in until I actually started realizing and talking about the fact that I am neurodivergent. I, for the longest time, because of my lack of ability to make emotional connection, I think, in the way that a lot of people expect in neurotypical land, I would have other I would have other emotions, or other ways of connecting and engaging that weren't like, we're not necessarily. perceived or received well. And I also had different needs that looked like not caring and stuff like that. So, I struggled a lot with how I behaved and how I was perceived. And I was always conscious of how I was being perceived. And I would be super careful to try and make myself something desirable. I would mask and present and I would, go through. Go through the things of go through the thing, the list of action items in my head of these are things that I know people in relationships do, and I will try this one and I will try this one. I will try this one. And it wasn't like a click, where it was like, I'm doing the nice things and you're doing the nice things and like, why isn't this enjoyable? And so being confused about who I was and like how my brain worked and how my feelings worked was negative for the longest time. And I attribute that to not understanding my neurodivergence and not understanding autism because I had been diagnosed with CPTSD for a long, long time. And so, I thought all of these aversive, social behaviors and, maybe sometimes like emotional reactions to, to, to things that like they go outside my routine or something like that. I have an adverse reaction to light or smell or something like that. I thought those were all PTSD triggers, for the longest time. And I'm just getting triggered every time I get upset or I have a negative reaction. And so, I always just thought to myself, no wonder you can't keep a relationship. You need more counseling. Like you're getting triggered by the stupidest things like the, the smell of the dish sponge or you know what I mean? Or like the way this person chews their food and I have an audio sensitivity, you know, and a smell sensitivity. So, I didn't realize how strong my aversions were because of my neurodivergence. But. Recently, I'm pleased to announce that I am embarking on a newer relationship, and this person is also neurodivergent and identifies as autistic, and we've done all of the cute neurodivergent things we're doing, we're co working together, and we pebble, we give each other small little gifts, and act cute, and you know, and we unmask in front of each other and it's super silly.

Amanda Antell: That's awesome for you, and I'm really happy for you. So, for me, and I think I've mentioned this before, but my wife and I met in high school, and we just started dating like a year after we met, and we just never broke up because we were too young. Well, we just didn't want to yeah, but it's like it's interesting all the things you mentioned about your current partner being also neurodivergent with you because I think that's part of why Julie and I got each other so well So I didn't know that I was autistic at the time. I didn't even know Julie was autistic at first, I think eventually when I got to know her a little better, I think it was either her or her mom that told me she was autistic, and I didn't even know what autism was, so I just accepted it. And I, and that's just how I've always been with people. It's if they tell me they're this or that, I'm like, oh, okay, whatever. 

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah, exactly. Me too. 

Amanda Antell: But I think that's why we got along so well, because it's there were specific things Julie respected about me that other people just didn't. I've mentioned my strong aversion to bananas to the extreme. My family always assumed I was being overdramatic my, my in laws, they, because Julie was autistic, they respected that about me. I don't think my mother-in-law took me seriously until she realized I would not touch a banana cream pie. And I'm like, Lisa, I told you I'm not going to eat that. You've known me a long time. I have never eaten bananas in front of you. You know this about me. That was not going to end well for you. And I'm not one of the, I'm polite, and I try to be polite and eat food that people bring out to me and everything, but it's if it's bananas, I just can't do it. My, it just is too disgusting. I actually, it like, triggers a gag reflex in me, it's that bad. But it's my family for the longest time did not respect that. My sister, unfortunately, her favorite fruit's bananas, and my mom loved banana bread, so it's we would just have bananas rotting in the kitchen, thinking we would use them for banana bread, and I'm like, oh my god. But Julie was like, the only one who just really respected that. And it's like after I was diagnosed as autistic Julie wasn't surprised in the slightest and it was actually her mother who suggested that I was autistic pretty early on after meeting to her So I would say that my autism it can make things a little hard for us sometimes because we both have communication barriers There's Julie's very tip very passive and I'm very direct so it can cause us to trigger each other. It can also cause us to elevate fights unnecessarily not unnecessarily unintentionally. But we've developed ways to communicate that have improved our relationship and learning to trust each other more. And it's a lifelong process, too. It's not really, it's not something that just new relationships have. It's older relationships, too, and just maintaining that. Because the thing of it is, you do change throughout your life. So, say you're with your current partner for I don't know, three or four years, you're going to be a different person in three or four years. So, the key is, are they going to change and grow with you? So that's what I would say about my autism and my romantic relationship. I think for the most part, it hasn't I think it can cause interference communication wise, but Julie and I respect each other's triggers pretty well. And we know we're autistic, we have a pretty high awareness of each other and respect for each other. So, I wouldn't say it's negative. 

Carrie Cantrell: Good! No, I think that being with an autistic partner has opened up communication in my romantic relationships to a completely new level. Completely new level. So, I'm pretty happy and it's, I mean, I'm, you're, you know the social pressure, too, of just wondering how something's going to sound when it comes out of your brain or wondering if it landed well or whatever and it seems like there's just less of that when you're with another autistic person or when you're with autistic people in general, and you're an autistic person and you've had that your whole life. So, yeah, it feels good being with somebody who's not neurotypical. Yeah, it feels easier. 

Amanda Antell: What, what I would say about that is, I, this is just for social circles and not just Julie, but like just interacting with other neurodivergent people in general, I would say that we understand each other and are respectful of each other on a very base level, but the problem is all of us are very stubborn and we don't want to really bend on our core beliefs, so it's like when there's conflict between us, It can , unintentionally get aggressive, but it can escalate. But, so, I think that's like the one weakness where it's like we, when we get triggered or elevated, we have trouble keeping the respect between us if that makes sense. I feel like you and I have had that before. I feel like Julie, and I have definitely had that. I've had that with other advocates. I don't, and I'm not saying that to say anything bad about anyone. It's just, that just happens. It's, we're human. We fight, we have, we fight sometimes. That's just how it is. 

Carrie Cantrell: I love that. I love that though. And it, that's, that, that feels natural to me. Yeah. And I was like, so that never happens on the West Coast! It's been a long time. 

Amanda Antell: That's what I, and now you know why I feel like I was transplanted from the East coast, right? 

Carrie Cantrell: I thought, yeah. You definitely feel like an East coast transplant to me. 

Amanda Antell: Oh, no. Yeah. I definitely feel like that. I, no, I swear though. I was born and raised here and I. I think I've met, I had a friend, a former friend, I had a friend's mom who was, I want to say she was from Massachusetts or something, and I just felt like, for the first time, I was clearly communicating with someone, because it's yes, this is what real communication is. Oh my god. So, so going off the previous question, would you say your romantic relationships tend to be long or short, and would you, and would you say that your autism or neurodivergence influences this? So, when I came up with this question, I wasn't quite sure how to phrase it, so if it's a bad one or if it's a weird one, you can just skip it if you want.

Exploring Romantic Relationships and Autism

Carrie Cantrell: No, that's okay. I mean, and I don't know, I would say that definitely most of my romantic relationships are shorter term, like less than two months. But that's, I'd say that's like my typical dating style, but like overall, I am a serial monogamist and like and then I'll have like long term relationships, like once a decade or something.

The Impact of Autism on Social and Romantic Dynamics

Amanda Antell: Yeah, and the reason I asked this was just because I thought about how autism influences social relationships where it's like I tend to get into long term relationships, and not just with romantic, but just friendship wise too. And suddenly I'm no longer talking to them all of a sudden. It doesn't even have to be like this big blowout fight. They just are dead one day. I'm not sure how to explain it, which is sad for me. 

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah, 

Amanda Antell: I know. Yeah, it's just yeah, it's sad for me. But 

Carrie Cantrell: I mean, it's easy for me to cut someone off, I guess, if I get the sense that they're no longer interested. I'm no longer interested. 

Embracing Autism in Personal Growth and Relationships

Carrie Cantrell: I mean, sometimes I feel sad, and this was before I started embracing my autism, but I would be like, why can't I make a relationship work or like, what is it? So, it would be typically me blaming myself and my communication patterns, but I think at this point, very much take it, or leave it attitude cause like I, I do have my own interests and I'm in my own lane right now. And so, it's nice to feel like that, but it's also nice to have companionship. 

Maintaining Individuality and Space in Long-Term Relationships

Amanda Antell: So, what I would say about that is, just as someone who's been married and been with the same person for a long time, I would say that, as long as you guys have your own space, it doesn't get overwhelming. Because it's Julie and I, it's both of us need a lot of alone time to cool down and recharge. So, it's she's just in one part of the house, I'm in another, like she's out right now, but it's yeah. So that's just how we do it. It's and we have a lot of our own activities. It's like we spend time together and everything, but it's, I don't know, what I would say about that is there are, it becomes natural, I guess is the best way to put it. But that being said, it's like you, well that being said, it's like I'm not telling you to change your lifestyle or anything like that. It's if the way you're, I don't know, it's if you're happy, it's like I'm not going to tell you to change. 

Carrie Cantrell: Right? Yeah, no, I feel pretty good.

Amanda Antell: Yeah. And yeah, I guess I thought of this question like in just terms of relationships in general, like with friendships again, I, they just tend to be long-term when they do happen, and they just die one day. Whereas like cutting, that being said, it's I don't have any issue cutting people off like my father's side of the family. So going on to the next question. 

Navigating Sexuality and Neurodivergence

Amanda Antell: Would you say that your autism or neurodivergence impacts your sex life or makes it difficult to find sexual partners? Why or why not? 

Carrie Cantrell: You know, my mom told me when I was a kid, I would eat green grapes all the time. And even when they made me sick, I would just keep eating them and eating them because I liked eating them. I liked the sour, I liked something about it, even when I would throw them up and just eat more grapes. I think I've always had fixations, especially on pleasurable things. I think my pleasure-seeking part of the brain is definitely hyper focused, hyper developed, whatever you want to call it. So, I'd say that My autism definitely affects my sex life in that sense but while you're having sex, for example, I have to like, really stay on top of my aversions and like my emotional reactions to squishy, sweaty bodies. It's like nasty there's definitely some physical reactions to sex that can be over stimulating that's definitely a thing. If you're autistic and you have like texture aversions, temperature aversions, anything like that, there's a lot of tastes and textures throughout the process of sex. So, you might encounter a couple of them that you don't like. And then I'd say also It impacts my sex life, in how I communicate sex and consent and how I understand sex and consent. So, like my autism brain will just put patterns of behavior together, and if someone's, follows the sequence of behaviors, then I assume this is intent, I [unintentionally] make a broad categorization based on just a few things. And so, I am personally a big fan of verbalized consent and multiple levels of affirmed consent with eye contact, nodding, smiling, and then also verbalizing it, and that to me is sexy and it creates a very safe environment not just as a neurodivergent person who's like hypersensitive to sudden changes of environment or stimulus and stuff like that, but also as somebody with PTSD and other neurodivergence yeah, it just makes me more comfortable to be in a safe environment and a trusting one than it does to be in a non-communicative one built on assumptions and cisgendered sexual roles and assumptions and s**t like that. I'd say that if I find a good partner, being autistic really enhances that experience of communication because I can, be blunt and I can say the most obvious things, it's like I would like to hold your hand now or something like that. And I get really excited like, oh, we're breaking the touch barrier. But those are things that I really enjoy verbalizing. It makes me feel like I'm on a ride together with, my partner. But then if I'm with a neurotypical person that is not Very communicative or, modern, I guess, and in their sexual relationship approaches. Then, yeah, it generally makes for a more frustrating experience being neurodivergent and having this little bit of a dubious, on guard attitude with my sexual partner trying to guess what they're going to do. So, it sucks to have to mask, when you're having sex, basically.

Amanda Antell: What I would say about that is, you're probably protecting yourself from a potential serial killer or rapist. I wouldn't feel too bad about that. If you don't know your sexual partner that well, that makes total sense to me. You want, I don't, no, that makes total sense to me. So, I'm just saying it's like it's not like something you need to be ashamed of or feel bad about. I think you're protecting yourself and that's smart. 

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah, probably the odds of sleeping with a serial killer or a rapist in Portland are a little bit higher than other cities. 

Amanda Antell: I'm not saying that will happen. I hope that really does not. I really hope that does not. It just Again, it's and as a cis woman, I just say that as just, I'm raised to be aware of stuff like that, like just looking for patterns of behavior that could be malicious or dangerous. 

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah, exactly. 

Amanda Antell: And so, I'm just, so it's not that Julie has ever done anything like that, obviously, but it's if I wasn't with Julie, it's I'd be, I don't even know if I, how often I would have sex, honestly, just because I don't trust people very easily, let alone let them into my personal space. Like for me, there's just a lot of trust issues I have. 

Carrie Cantrell: Mhm. 

Amanda Antell: And it's Beyond whether they might kill or hurt me, it’s they going to rob my house? Are they going to hurt my animals? do I want to give this total stranger access to my house? I think not.

Carrie Cantrell: Right. Right. 

The Evolution of a Relationship Post-Transition

Amanda Antell: So, but with me and Julie, it's kind of interesting looking back on our sex life, because before she came out as trans, I wouldn't say our sex life was terrible, you know, it was average. We did it fairly often and it's like we kept to a routine. We'd do what we liked and what we didn't like. But after Julie came out as trans, we got so much more open with our sex life. We enjoyed each other much more because she was more open with her body. She wasn't as guarded, and I feel bad looking back on it because I didn't realize just how uncomfortable she was during sex because she just wasn't herself. She didn't feel comfortable in her own body. And I feel really bad about that, and I've apologized to her on numerous occasions because she, I'm not saying it's her fault, but I feel like I should have definitely asked more questions. I definitely feel like I should have been more aware of that because she is my partner.

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah. 

Amanda Antell: So, it's been a lot better since then, though, and she's a lot more open with me and she's much more honest with me about what she is comfortable with and what she's not. Good. So, I don't know, I just, that is a lot of guilt I carry, though. 

Carrie Cantrell: Well, I think that Maybe I think it's probably unnecessary because it's something that you guys went through as a partnership, and I bet Julie honestly feels probably the exact same for not being able to communicate like their true identity and like their, the trueness of their words, like it's nobody's fault. It's just part of y'all's evolution as a couple. 

Amanda Antell: And it's not like I'm, and I don't want to tell Julie's story for her, but what I will say about that is she'd carry a lot of guilt about not telling me until after we got married. The thing of it was, is it ended up, and I think I've mentioned this to you before, but I, it turns out I actually prefer women mostly over men anyways, and the whole reason I was attracted to her initially was because of her feminine features. Okay. So, it's like when she came out, it's oh hey, this actually works really well. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, nice. And I love, and it's I love Julie's body at transit, like post transition I'm really hoping her breasts don't get bigger, because I really don't like that big of breasts. I'm not sure if that's too graphic to say here, but it's like 

Carrie Cantrell: We'll bleep you out.

Amanda Antell: Well, for me, they're just, I don't know, I'm not saying they're ugly, but I don't know. For me, it's okay, they're lumps of, I don't know, for me, it's like they're lumps of fat. There's really not much else to say about them. I'm sorry. 

Carrie Cantrell: But yeah, I mean, you have boobs, I have boobs. We can talk about boobs and breasts all we want. We can compare. I mean, I've never seen your wife's breasts before, and I'm not going to make any comment about breasts. But I will say you should support your wife in whatever decision they want, how their breasts look. 

Amanda Antell: Look, no, no, she laughs now. I've been very open with that. And she's aware of my preferences.

She laughs at me actually, every time I say that. And she's like, that's not how it works, Amanda. You can't just them to stay small. Thankfully, she's very thin and her mother does have a small chest too. Thank God. So, she's not going to get any bigger. At least I'm hoping. 

Carrie Cantrell: Okay, okay, 

Amanda Antell: yeah, I guess so. It's just kind of funny. It worked out that way because it's like she had no idea. I preferred women. I think she probably had some inkling because back in college, I did say someone was doing a survey about something. I forgot for what course it was, but. One of the questions I remember was if you were to have a three way, would it be with two men, with another man or another woman, and I said another woman without hesitation. So, I think there, it's like there were inklings back then where it's like I definitely did prefer women or at least liked women, but I never really realized it consciously, and Julie never realized it consciously because it's like I never talked to her really about it. 

Carrie Cantrell: How long have you guys been married?

Amanda Antell: Let's see, we got married, I want to say, what, 05, I think? Yeah, we got married in 05. No, not 05, sorry no, 2015, I'm sorry, no. I was going to say, wow! We were 25 when we got married. 2015. Yeah, that's a little young, yeah. 

Carrie Cantrell: How long after did she get the transition?

Amanda Antell: I think it's been like three years since she came out, I might be wrong about that, I should ask her, but it's been a few years. 

Carrie Cantrell: Hell yeah. Good. 

Amanda Antell: She's been on hormones for a while and she got those testicles removed and so it's yeah, she's pretty happy with her body and I'm really happy with her body and that she's happier and that we're more open and comfortable with each other and we've just, again, we've been enjoying the bedroom a lot more.

Carrie Cantrell: Good. Oh, hell yeah. That's awesome. 

Amanda Antell: Because it really does make a huge difference in just if you're comfortable with your body or not. It does. It really does. 

Preferences and Comfort in Sexual Relationships

Amanda Antell: So, the way I see sexuality and sexual preferences is genitalia makes honestly no difference to me. It's like you're going, it's like you're trying to achieve orgasm either way, so it's like what different, to me, it's like the parts you have, like the parts that you have to get there that makes no difference to me.

Carrie Cantrell: Yes, Amanda! 

Amanda Antell: Like it's the same goal, it doesn't matter. My only thing is I do have, like I obviously do have preferences, like in terms of, I'm not going to lie, I do have a preference for Asian men and women and my wife is half Chinese, I won't hide from that. I hate that, and part of the why is because I hate I hate a lot of body hair. Chest hair grosses me out so much. I'm not going to lie to you. 

Carrie Cantrell: I love body hair. I love body hair. 

Amanda Antell: Okay, I hate that. It's it grosses me out. It's like hugging a rug. It's just gross. 

Carrie Cantrell: Exactly! It's not a rug.

Amanda Antell: I hate it. 

Carrie Cantrell: It's a bear. 

Amanda Antell: And I hate facial hair too, so I like, I'm so grateful that she's half Chinese because it's like, they have so little hair, body hair and facial hair.

Carrie Cantrell: I am Scandinavian and Eastern from Eastern Europe, that's where my family's from. We dig the hair. 

Amanda Antell: I don't, oh my god, I freaking hate body hair. 

Carrie Cantrell: We are hairy people.

Amanda Antell: I hate my mother-in-law is gorgeous, but it's one thing I absolutely hate about her is when she brags about how she never had to shave her legs.

Carrie Cantrell: I know! I'm so, I used to be so jealous. Now I'm super grateful that my hair is really blonde. 

Amanda Antell: Yeah, you have naturally, do you have natural blonde hair or not? I forgot. 

Carrie Cantrell: So, my hair is strawberry blonde. It fluctuates, but like, all of my vellum, like my, the hair growing off my skin is super, super fair blonde, so.

Amanda Antell: The reason why I ask is, yeah, the reason, yeah, the reason I ask that is because you don't even have to shave because it blends in with your skin. Basically. I hate that. 

Carrie Cantrell: On camera. On camera, it blends in with my skin. Yeah, I think up close and then if you catch me on a certain light, I'm like one of those vampires from the Twilight Zone.

The Twilight area or whatever. The Twilight series. They're sparkly. 

Amanda Antell: I don't know. At least they're sparkly. It's I have ugly black crap on my legs that I have to shave off every day. 

Carrie Cantrell: You should have glitter on your skin instead of hair. 

Amanda Antell: Glitter's too messy. Actually, for me it's glitter. I've never considered body glitter because I'm too afraid my cats are going to eat it and get a blockage. 

Carrie Cantrell: And it's terrible for the ocean. You shouldn't use, you shouldn't use glitter. 

Amanda Antell: That wouldn't surprise me because glitter I don't think is biodegradable. 

Carrie Cantrell: It's basically microplastics. It's microplastics in a bottle. Oh my god literally. Let me just dump some plastic into this fish food over here. 

Amanda Antell: Basically. 

Carrie Cantrell: Sorry. I know people love glitter around here, but I got some things to say about it. 

Amanda Antell: Glitter to me is too much work. You're not going to find me b***hing at you about glitter. 

Carrie Cantrell: Good. I'm going to outlaw glitter. I'm going to be that b***h. 

Amanda Antell: It's too messy and it's too much work. I don't really care about it, so I ain't going to argue with you about that. 

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. 

Societal Norms and Finding Romantic Partners

Amanda Antell: So, do societal norms make it hard for you to find a sexual partner or a romantic partner? Why or why not? 

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah, societal norms definitely make it hard for me to find a romantic partner. Sometimes they work for you. Sometimes they work against you. I think on one level courtship, especially as an adult, attracting a romantic partner, I think on one end, one of the best parts about having a partner is that you create a better version of yourself to share with somebody, to share with the world, and that's one of the growth patterns that happens from having a partner over a long period of time. You develop certain aspects of yourself and whatever your motivation is, intrinsic or extrinsic, you start putting your best foot forward. I think one of the reasons it's hard is because like on one end, like I'm trying, so I'm like a round peg trying to fit myself into a square hole or the other way around, a square peg into a round hole. And so, because Like I said earlier in our conversation, a lot of times it's easy and convenient for me to use a default behavior, use a default like sort of template when it comes to communicating to people, especially people of the opposite sex or, interested romantic parties, et cetera. There's a lot of information that can be covered very quickly and I'm all about efficiency. And so, on one end I try and use societal norms to my advantage sometimes and it doesn't always work out great. I don't know if you've ever heard of the term technical deficit but basically, it's a programming term, coder's term if you start out at the very beginning of a process coding or programming something and you use like a cheap workaround or you don't actually solve the problem but, the big error might not show up until much later down the chain. What happens when I try and use societal norms to my advantage is that there's technical deficit and later on something will be revealed. this really was not compatible. This was a bad idea. So that is what happens in some situations. And then I'd say on the more obvious end of things, I'd say that like when I am being more out there with my freak flag flying and just being myself without any filter, it's hard to find a partner that I'm actually interested in It's hard for me in that sense that if I put myself out there and I'm like 100 percent out as an intersex person. I'm 100 percent out as a neurodivergent person 100 percent out as a queer woman then. All of a sudden societal norms are working against me, and people have expectations that I don't want to meet. I I've met people who, think of their long-term partner as somebody who can only give them a biological child. I've met people who, think of a sexual partner as somebody who has XX chromosomes, specifically, and you start encountering phobias, basically, when you are yourself and societal norms dictate other people's expectations of you that like, you're never going to meet just based off of like who you are. Everything works out for the best because you don't want to be with anybody who expects a fake version of yourself, essentially.

Amanda Antell: Yeah, I totally agree with that. So again, it's interesting with me and Julie, because we kind of have We have a unique story, I will say, and it's like, she started off as male and then transitioned into female. So, we didn't really have any societal norms against us, and we were very privileged in that way. She even, and to me, her getting married, I know she wishes she came out before, but it's it did allow us to get married without complications, or hesitancy about same sex marriage being illegal in Oregon. 

Carrie Cantrell: There's benefits there, yeah, exactly. Exactly. 

Amanda Antell: And it's even as a lesbian couple, it's I don't feel like I don't feel like we really face a lot of opposition. I, to me, we don't, at least. I'm not sure if that's privilege. I'm not sure if it's, I think it's just the area we live in, to be honest, when I do, and as much as Portland annoys me, Portland culture annoys me sometimes, I will say that I do feel very lucky to live here just cause I can live with my wife very comfortably and it's like we can hold hands, we can kiss in public without any issue, so I do feel grateful to Portland culture and just the liberal atmosphere here in that regard, but where it's like now, it's interesting to think about say we go to the deep south somewhere I've been curious of New Orleans just because of the food there, and we know a couple people who are from New Orleans, but it's now it's okay, if we go there, is it going to be safe for us?

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah, what I would say about that is that in the South, it's all about communities. The rainbow flag means something in the South. Here in Portland. It's everywhere. It's like rainbow. Everything's rainbow washed. Everything's queer friendly. In the South, if you see rainbow flags and stickers, you know you're in a safe space. You see people wearing rainbow stuff. It means they're you're people because like you very much are the minority in the deep south. I didn't express any sexuality until I was well out of my small mountain town because of all of the queer phobia and queer hatery that happened on a regular basis I witnessed. It didn't matter that I wasn't sexually active in high school, I still got called, like, all the nasty names. But anyway, it’s scary in the South sometimes and so if you do want to go to New Orleans, I would find queer friendly venues and places to go visit places where they're going to have drag shows and, meetups and stuff like that. I've never been to New Orleans myself. It's probably a different city, but I'd say it's pretty much like that across the South in the Southeast, the queer communities are that much more insulated, you know? 

Amanda Antell: Yeah. 

Carrie Cantrell: They're like their own little separate amoeba. 

Amanda Antell: Yeah, and I just brought up the Deep South because that's like an in the States where it's we can't even go to specific countries anymore because it's just not safe for a lesbian couple, it's not safe for Julie as a trans person especially. Even if we're in countries where we can't really display open affection anyways, where it just looks like a couple of friends walking by, we would still be questioning someone would come up to us and confront us. 

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah. I think what happens in religiously conservative countries it's a detainment, 

Amanda Antell: And it's if something happens, you're on your own is also another thing to note about when you're traveling internationally as a queer person. It's you really need to be aware of queer friendly countries. 

Carrie Cantrell: You do. 

Final Thoughts on Neurodivergence, Sexuality, and Consent

Amanda Antell: So, what do you want the audience to know about dating and sexuality or your neurodivergence and your sexual identity? 

Carrie Cantrell: Hmm. Neurodivergence sexual identity. What do I want the audience to know? I would say--

Amanda Antell: I guess a better -- sorry -- I guess a better way to ask this is what do you want the audience to know as both an autistic or neurodivergent person and as an intersex person, I guess would've been a better way to say that?

Carrie Cantrell: Sure. I want people, here's the biggest thing I want the audience to know, is that your gender and sexual expression are yours. They're absolutely your own. And I'd say your gender and your sexual expression are inherently your own actions and your own calls to action, your own inspiration. Your body is one of the most sacred temples, places you can ever find yourself at home at. So, listen to your body as often as you can to determine and discern decisions in your sexual and gender journey. And three, there's three sounds that people make in all languages, in all cultures across the entire globe. And it's something that infants make as well, even before we start learning words. And the one sound is uh huh. And the second sound is uh uh. And the third sound is hmmm. And even without putting judgmental words on this, like a yes, no, or maybe, or good, bad, or I'll think about it, these are three preverbal concepts that we can all understand from our body. And if a person or an idea or a situation, gives you one of these three things, it will give you one of these three sensations. This is a good situation. This is a yes. This is a consenting situation, or this is a not for me situation. This is a I'd rather not situation.

Or this is, I'd like to think about this situation. The thing I would like to leave the audience with is to always listen to your bodies and your intuition and to maintain complete ownership of your expressions and your body and, fight for that. It's freedom.

Amanda Antell: I would say just repeating what you said that people's body is their own and whatever is going on in the situation if they're not okay with it they really it's okay to say no it doesn't matter who's doing what to you what their relationship is to you it doesn't even matter if you've said yes initially to the situation if you change your mind and suddenly become uncomfortable with the situation there's no shame in saying no 

Carrie Cantrell: Yeah. 

Amanda Antell: In fact, it's your right to say no. So, they just want the audience to be aware of that it's in their power to say yes or no and consent to a situation. 

Carrie Cantrell: I also want to remind people it's in your power as well to express yourself and that's how I really want to say that with gender and gender expression, it really is your community and the people you're around who will respect your decision and respect who you are. Just name it, just be out there and be yourself and the right community will surround you. 

Amanda Antell: Yeah, I agree with that. 

Carrie Cantrell: Thank you so much for having me on your episode and allowing me to share some of my story.

Amanda Antell: Yeah. Thank you for being here and thank you so much for sharing with us. And I hope that we have another episode together. Carrie, it was awesome talking to you. 

Carrie Cantrell: You too, Amanda, definitely. 

Amanda Antell: Thank you for listening to today's episode. I hope you gained insight in how neurodivergence can influence how we choose partners along with giving us the confidence we need to be happy in our own skin. Carrie's story offered a personal insight into the struggles of the intersex community and the clarity given to her by neurodivergence. As Carrie mentioned, there is a growing correlation between neurodivergence and the queer community, which is not surprising given that we have to adapt to a neurotypical world and survive. With that said, it's only natural to reject items like traditional ideas of gender if they don't work for us. With that said, dating as a neurodivergent person has its challenges, but it ultimately is rewarding once we either find the right partner or become comfortable in the types of relationships we want. Thank you for listening, and I hope you tune in for the next episode.

Naia Holte: Thank you for listening to Let's Talk, Portland Community College's broadcast about disability culture. Find more information and resources concerning this episode and others at pcc.edu/dca. This episode was produced by the Let's Talk! Podcast Collective as a collaborative effort between students, the Accessible Education and Disability Resources Department, and the PCC Multimedia Department. We air new episodes bi-weekly on our home website, our Spotify channel, and monthly on KBOO community radio.

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