I came out as autistic during the pandemic. Being isolated for so long finally revealed that I had been “masking,” or performing social behaviors that are considered neurotypical, my entire life. And the less I masked, the happier I became.
I have this theory that autistic people know they’re autistic just like gay people know they’re gay. As a bisexual woman, I didn’t have to go to the psychologist to take a test and have an old white man tell me whether or not I’m into women. But for some reason, this is what society requires of autistic people. Without a diagnosis on paper, we’re not recognized ― even though a diagnosis still rarely helps us in society. But for much of my life, I knew I was different, even though I didn’t know why.
After hours of telling my psychologist my life story, doing multiple-choice personality tests and emailing him traits I identified with, I was devastated when he told me he didn’t think I was autistic. I tried to keep eye contact and look calm while I dissociated.
I asked him why he didn’t think I was autistic when I had been so certain. I had stayed up until 3 a.m. watching TikTok videos of other people around the world who made me feel less alone ― and suddenly my whole life made sense. Suddenly I knew why being diagnosed late with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) didn’t feel like the complete answer. I had suspected I was autistic for years ― but now I knew I was.
“Oh, I just don’t think someone who’s autistic would be able to do your job,” he said, like it made perfect sense.
I had told my psychologist that I had been working as an escort for the last few years. Unable to keep a job in my 20s, I went on disability and started escorting to make some extra money. I found it incredible that men would pay hundreds of dollars an hour to spend time with me and that the more I was myself, the more they wanted to see me.
Disabled, chronically ill and mentally ill people could relate to me ― and I loved being able to work my own hours while giving others the affection they desired. I knew how it felt to feel lonely in your own skin.
Instead, the doctor diagnosed me with avoidant personality disorder ― because I’m a 31-year-old woman who doesn’t want “a family.”
I went home and stopped myself from throwing furniture. Sobbing, I paced around my house and yelled, “I don’t have a personality disorder!” I didn’t know how to deal with the psychological pain of a professional telling me that my experience didn’t fit his expertise. Who was I to argue with someone who literally went to school for this?
If it wasn’t for other sex workers, I honestly don’t know what I would have done.
“My psychologist doesn’t believe I’m autistic because I’m a sex worker,” I desperately wrote on Twitter. “If you’re an autistic sex worker can you please get in contact with me?”
I wasn’t sure if anyone would respond. Maybe my psychologist was right. Maybe being an escort was too social of a job for someone who was autistic.
“My psychologist said the same,” commented one woman. “At our next appointment, I showed her Reese Piper’s writing.”
“It’s absolutely absurd to think that autistic people can’t be in jobs where they have to socialize,” another autistic sex worker DMed me. “I have a Masters in Clinical Psychology and nowhere in the DSM does it have exclusionary criteria about a person’s profession.”
Numerous sex workers came out one by one ― either in the comments or in my DMs. Suddenly I had more confidence. I made a TikTok video talking about my experience, and thousands of people replied that they had a similar experience. They had been told they were too smart, too good at socializing, too good at eye contact ― even too pretty.
I realized that psychologists may study autism, but they’ll never truly know what it’s like to be autistic. They clearly weren’t aware of the lengths we went to mask our traits to appear “normal.”
“For me, it’s the perfect job for someone with ADHD and autism because there’s a routine but there’s also variety in my clients and how we spend our time.”
As women or those who are AFAB (assigned female at birth), we learn to mask more than men because we’re socialized to. We learn to smile, to look someone in the eye (even though it’s painful), to nod that we’re listening, to internalize our meltdowns because they’re not socially appropriate. That’s why the world doesn’t see us as autistic ― because we don’t always fit the “Rain Man” stereotype of the emotionless genius.
And while this helps us appear normal, it also works as a disadvantage because we seem normal enough to not be autistic but not enough to be given accommodations when we can’t keep up in school, hold a job or just feed ourselves anything other than a bag of chips. And if you’re like me, that means burning out from trying to fit in with the 9-to-5 and switching to a job that’s less conventional ― like sex work.
All my years of masking made me perfect for providing the Girlfriend Experience. While dating in my civilian life gives me extreme anxiety, when I’m working as Hayley I know exactly what to do and when. I greet clients at the door in lingerie and a robe, take their coat and their cash, excuse myself while I count and put it away ― and then join them on the couch for refreshments I’ve laid out.
We chat, I move closer, put my hand on their thigh and kiss them. From there, we become more intimate, and when our time is up, I ask them what they’re going to do with the rest of their day to signal that it’s time for them to put on their clothes.
For me, it’s the perfect job for someone with ADHD and autism because there’s a routine but there’s also variety in my clients and how we spend our time.
Sometimes it’s just an hour in a hotel room. Other times we go out for sushi or head to a sex club. Because our dates are about me making my client feel good, I don’t have to worry about knowing the right thing to say like I would on a civilian date. My clients already want to be there. They’ve seen my advertisements and know who I am. They read my outgoing Twitter feed.
So I ask them questions about themselves and enjoy listening to them talk about their lives. And if they aren’t talkative, I break the tension by becoming more physical, because, as a semi-verbal autistic, I’m much more comfortable not talking anyway.
I still have social anxiety on every date, but it helps a lot to know that this date is about them ― not me having to navigate social cues, such as whether they want to kiss me. I know they want to kiss me: They’re paying for it.
Since my misdiagnosis, I’ve emailed my psychologist evidence that autistic people can be sex workers. He’s said he’s going to consult with other psychologists who specialize in autism and get back to me. It’s been over a month and I haven’t heard from him.
Though I would love a diagnosis, I’ve accepted that I don’t need one to be fulfilled. I’m currently waiting to receive the COVID-19 vaccine so I can see clients again, and, in the meantime, I’m writing a book about being autistic and hoping to have it published.
After a year of unmasking alone in my house, I’m not sure how I feel about going back to masking as an escort. Part of me wants to completely unmask and brand myself as an autistic sex worker ― in all my awkward glory. And part of me doesn’t know how to do this job without masking.
I suppose as I grow more comfortable coming out as autistic, this confidence will also show in my work. After all, the best part of this job is getting paid to be authentic.