A mother does many things for her son: running trays up to his bedroom for nothing more serious than a stubbed toe, detecting lost bits of sports kit, secretly completing overdue homework…
But should soliciting a prostitute be one of them? “So, how much to initiate my son sexually?” are just not the words a law-abiding, middle-aged mum ever expects to say to a working girl in thigh-high boots and leather hot-pants in the dead of night in a seedy backstreet.
Nope. Kerb-crawling to pick up a prostitute was definitely not on my to-do list after “Buy hummus, sort sock drawer, do Pilates”. But on the eve of my son’s 21st birthday, I seriously considered it.
Yes, I did register the fact that soliciting a prostitute for one’s son rates rather high on the Oprah-ometer. I mean, what kind of mother gives party tips championed by Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi: “Take off pants. Mingle.” Is soliciting a prostitute a seriously abnormal thing to do? Yes, but mothering a child with autism tends to recalibrate one’s view of normal.
So, how did this sick scenario come about? Well, years of endless rejection by girls meant that my son’s self-esteem was limbo-low. Since puberty kicked in, he’d attempted everything to attract girls. Well, everything bar smothering himself in cupcake icing and sauntering through town holding a placard saying, “Free designer shoes!”
But to females his own age, he just proved too exotic. He might as well have been a sherbet-winged flamingo flying down the high street. Girls he met tended to act as though he’d just been beamed down from Planet Weird and had lost his guide book to understanding earthlings.
“I can’t fathom why no girl wants to date me,” became his sad mantra. “Do you know why, Mum?”
Of course I knew why. Because saying you are autistic and socially isolated is like saying that you’re on a diet and hungry.
“Will I ever get to kiss a girl? What can I do?” he pleaded.
What could he do? I’d racked my brains. Mail-order bride? Auction him on eBay? This, too, I seriously considered, and was discouraged only by the fact that it’s illegal to sell live things on the net.
Friends I’ve made in the autistic community are equally anxious about their own “grown-up” children. Some have tried dating websites. But an autistic person’s profile – “Encyclopedic knowledge of Amazonian moths, mathematical equations and black holes” ‒ tends to put girls off.
One exasperated Mum suggested sending our autistic sons to a brothel. But who would take them? When we asked male mates, invisible tumbleweeds blew around the room until one bloke replied, “Great idea. I’ll just run it by my wife, shall I? Does the word DIVORCE mean anything to you?”
Our female friends were furious that we could even consider condoning prostitution. I tried to rationalise it by saying that I thought of a lady of the night more as a “sex care provider who is presenting herself as a commodity allotment within a business doctrine”. But it didn’t convince them.
Then I had a brainwave. As all my 50-something, divorced female friends are chewing holes in the furniture with sexual frustration and all the autistic young men I know are priapic, perhaps I could match-make them on an app called (maybe) Square Pegs for Round Holes? Or Au-tinder? Or Tinder-ism?
But before I had time to write my tech pitch to Mark Zuckerberg, nature took its course: my son found a girlfriend and fell in love. Still, my maternal anxieties got me thinking about sex for the “differently abled”. How does someone with special needs fulfil their inalienable right to the pursuit of life, liberty and human sexual contact?
About that time, I read of a father arrested while kerb-crawling to pick up a prostitute for his autistic son and realised with a jolt that it could have been me. And then I had the beginning of a novel. I also couldn’t find any novels addressing the issue of sex and disability. In fact, you never see “differently abled” people depicted in a strongly sexual context; they’re either pitied or inspirational.
And so I set about writing a comic novel which examines a young autistic man’s experiences of sex, dating, disability and navigating sexual and romantic intimacy – and the bumpy emotional ride endured by his devoted mum. I hope I’ve written it with wit and pith, as well as poignancy. And as the reader will discover, when it comes to sex, we all have special needs.
Kathy Lette’s novel Best Laid Plans (Bantam) is out now.