I am a nonbinary person with invisible disabilities, including autism and dyspraxia (or Developmental Coordination Disorder). Because of my dyspraxia (which commonly occurs with autism), I am extremely clumsy.
I have been non-consensually touched multiple times, but one that I remember in particular happened a few years ago in high school. I was about 15 at the time. I was stressed from heat sensitivity after school at an outdoor activity, so I was on my way inside when I fell. Falling is very usual for me. I wasn’t concerned about it as I processed the pain from the impact for a second and then started to get up. An older football player saw me and asked if I needed help. I said “no thank you” and proceeded to try to get my leg under me to support my weight, but I toppled over again. I wasn’t injured. I didn’t need help. I would have been able to get up in my own time. Yet, he rushed over and helped me up, hands under my arms, and it was SO UNCOMFORTABLE. The physical contact hurt because I was already overwhelmed with sensory input from the fall and the heat, and I just did not want a man so much bigger and stronger than me touching me anyway. I pushed him off of me as gently as I could and walked inside, but I felt violated.
Another time that I remember, I was on the verge of a meltdown and trying to unlock the door to my college dorm room. My hand was shaking, so I was fumbling with the key. My room is very close to the boys’ side of the hall, so one of the boys saw that I was taking a long time to open the door and came over to help. I didn’t actually notice him approach; he just said “let me do it” and took the key out of my hand. The touch BURNED badly and I reflexively backhanded him in the chest (because I was having a meltdown). I’m not sure how he reacted because my perception of the situation wasn’t clear, but I ended up in my room on my bed with the key sitting on the dresser.
Generally speaking, if I show distress or fall down, a man will try to help me… I’m fine with the offer of help, usually, but you should never touch someone without their consent. Being touched by strange men like this has led me to have nightmares and made me more uncomfortable around men in general.
Criminologist and Co-Director of Centre for Gender Studies at University of Sussex