Sir Galahad

I wonder how much of my low self-esteem comes from guilt about sex. Religious guilt about thinking about sex, but also feminist guilt about being attracted to women. Did the low self-esteem, guilt and shame start when I hit adolescence? I was shy as a child, but did I have low self-esteem before adolescence? I can’t remember.

Is it hard for any “normal” male (or female? I don’t know) who cares deeply about a traditionalist religion to get through adolescence any more without feeling hugely guilty? Such is the culture clash between highly sexualised, even pornified, Western sexual culture and religious culture. Then there was my first relationship, much of which was spent negotiating what levels of physical contact we were comfortable with (contrary to stereotype, she wanted to be much more physical than I did; she was a lot more experienced than I was too). Whenever I try to think positively about myself, I feel my libido is there to indict me.

It’s weird being thirty-seven and still a virgin, or at least it seems that way from the world around me. Certainly in the Orthodox Jewish world it’s weird and rather pitiable, although no one voices that opinion. In the Western world its weird for for different reasons. I suppose I seem inadequate, or dangerous (the “dangerous misogynistic incel” meme). The first psychiatrist I saw thought I was gay because I was twenty and had never had a girlfriend. I wonder what he would have thought if he could have known I wouldn’t even go on a date until I was twenty-seven.

Maybe it’s different in a religious community that encourages monasticism and religious celibacy. In the Orthodox Jewish community, where early marriage and large families are the norm, I feel this weird pseudo-child, a fact not helped by my autism and mental illness history rendering me childish and helpless more often than I would like. I agree with the Orthodox Jewish prohibition on sex before marriage, but I wonder if I will ever get there — or if, when I do, it will be one more thing that autism renders difficult and uncomfortable for me. Many people on the spectrum struggle with sex for a variety of reasons, usually tied to sensory discomfort or issues around interpersonal relationships. My experiences with my first relationship don’t make this any easier, just adding more guilt and fear.

Now I’m in a relationship, which makes these worries both more and less pertinent: fewer worries of the “No one could ever love me?” type, but more of the “What if she decides I’m too broken?” or “What if I’m just too autistic to do make this work?” type, as well as the specific obstacles our relationship faces.

I’ve mentioned before my asexual childhood fictional heroes (possibly I had already intuited on some level that sex and relationships would be hard for me) have all been sexualised now. Not for the first time, I reflect that the diversity agenda (which I see a lot in librarianship) is, in many ways, not all that diverse.

I feel haunted by the question, “Am I normal?” Haunted both religiously and generally. Also, “Am I good?” I wonder if God thinks I am a good person or a good Jew. These questions are not uniquely related to sex, but they are not absent from it either. I would like to know very much if God thinks I’m a good Jew.

***

I don’t know if it was a cause or a result of these thoughts, or something entirely unrelated, but today I had a bit of a mid-Pesach slump. Actually, in OCD anxiety terms, it was good: some things that would normally have been very triggering were overcome quite easily, but my mood was low. I just felt down and struggled to get involved in anything. I managed about forty minutes of Torah study, which surprised me, as it was difficult to concentrate.

I went for a run, which was good in terms of pace and moved my low mood a bit, but also refocused the low mood as general angst: “What if PIMOJ breaks up with me?” “What if our relationship doesn’t work out for some other reason?” “What if I never progress past my autism to build a career?” “What if I never get published?” (Published more than I have been already, I guess.) It’s telling that I was worried about not getting published and didn’t even think about a librarianship career.

I do think lockdown has made my relationship with PIMOJ hard, particularly the last few weeks when we’ve both also been busy with Pesach preparation and she’s been working compulsory overtime several days a week and speaking on video, let alone in person, has been almost impossible. Hopefully things will get a bit easier from here on.

***

In the evening I had a Zoom call with a couple of university friends. It was good, but also hard in parts, partly because I’m not comfortable on Zoom, partly because I feel our lives are very different. One friend teaches in a law school, the other at a university and I feel a bit inferior. On the other hand, they’re really impressed with my novel, but I don’t like to talk about it for reasons I can’t understand. I was trying to say that someone had read the novel and not liked it without saying it was PIMOJ, because I haven’t told them about PIMOJ and don’t want to at this stage. I didn’t want to talk about my autism assessment either and was vague there when talking about bad Microsoft Teams experiences, which I had at my assessment. I don’t know why I hide so much from people in real life. I’m scared of making myself vulnerable, which is probably an issue I have with PIMOJ too. I’m trying to make myself more vulnerable to her and share more, but it’s not always easy. I’m scared of how she might respond. I also had the issue I had yesterday of wanting to know how long the meeting would last. It was a free meeting and so should have been forty minutes, but went on longer, which made me vaguely anxious. All that said, my mood was better afterwards and I’m glad I managed it.

***

Perhaps because my mood was better after the call, I decided to send the devar Torah (Torah thought, although this was shorter and less textually-based and possibly less well-reasoned than normal) I wrote earlier in the week after all, after having been on the point of dumping it because I disliked it so much. My belief that Judaism is fundamentally anarchist in outlook (not voiced in so many words) is one I have hinted at before, although I’m wary of stating it explicitly for fear of the response it will get. Obviously it’s a different kind of anarchism to that of modern anarchist thinkers, based on individual responsibility and self-restraint.

***

All day, when my mood was bad, I was saying I would just vegetate in front of the TV. But then I thought I would do some Torah study first and then I would run first and in the end I’ve only watched forty minutes of TV. I wonder if I do more than I give myself credit for, but I haven’t actually done much today, just thought about doing things.

Frum and Autistic

I didn’t have insomnia last night, but I woke late again and felt burnt out and even sugary Pesach (Passover) cereal and coffee didn’t help. Lately I wonder how much of my depression was actually autistic burnout. Some of it was definitely clinical depression, no question, but all of it? I suppose there’s no real way of knowing from this distance.

I had a quiet day again today. I did about half an hour of Torah study, went for a walk and collected my repeat prescription and had therapy on Zoom. We (my parents and I) also went to my sister and brother-in-law’s garden for tea and biscuits after dark now the ban on seeing people outdoors has been lifted. It was pretty warm even before they turned their outdoor heater on. It was good to see them again. I found I was clock watching a bit though. I often do this when I’m with people or at social events. I think not knowing when something will end leads to some kind of anxiety. I suspect this is an autistic thing about wanting control rather than coming from social anxiety or disinterest in socialising because I don’t just do it when “peopling.” Even watching TV I have one eye on the clock to see how much time is left and if I’m streaming something online I will bring up the time left counter even though it’s a distraction from the image on screen.

***

Therapy was good. We spoke more about my autism diagnosis and fitting into the frum (religious Jewish) community, that maybe I can open up to some people about my autism and why it makes communal involvement difficult for me. Potentially I could speak to the rabbi about it, although, as Ashley suggested regarding “coming out” as autistic in the workplace, it probably would be helpful to come with some suggestions of what practical adjustments I would like (if any) rather than just dumping all my difficulties on him. I do have a lot of fear about autism stigma and ignorance in the community and I’m not sure how many of the adjustments I would like are “reasonable.” In British disability discrimination law, employers have to make “reasonable adjustments,” but not adjustments that are considered unreasonable. I would like people not to bang on the tables to accompany Kabbalat Shabbat (part of Friday night prayer services), for example, but given that it’s an accepted part of the service, particularly in the current COVID climate where loud singing is forbidden, I’m not sure it would be reasonable of me to try to change it.

I did talk about the frum community being generally conformist and not necessarily an ideal place for people who are quite individualistic even without autism or mental illness. I have encountered other individualistic frum Jews online, particularly on Hevria.com, but that site seems fairly dead these days as are many of the Orthodox blogs I used to follow; I think discussion has moved to Twitter and Facebook, where I don’t feel comfortable.

My therapist felt that speaking to the rabbi as a first step might also have the benefit that he will know other rabbis and can see if they have dealt with autistic congregants. My therapist felt that there must be other autistic people in the community. I’m sure this is true, but I suspect a disproportionate number of those diagnosed are young, given the trends in autism diagnosis generally. There may not be so many diagnosed autistic adults out there.

***

I had an awkward moment at my sister’s where I misunderstood something in the conversation and said the wrong thing, perhaps as a result of losing the thread of the conversation because of autism. My parents have two friends’ with the same name and I got confused about which one we were talking about and said something that would be completely innocuous regarding the one I thought they were talking about, but hugely tasteless about the other one. Naturally it was the other one they were really talking about. Fortunately, I don’t think anyone heard me.

I feel unheard a lot in social situations and wonder if I mumble. I was often told that I did as a child, although I never sounded quiet to myself. On this occasion it was probably for the best, although it is possible that everyone just politely pretended I hadn’t said anything because it was so tasteless.