Today, we’re interviewing Jake Maxwell, a neurodivergent DJ active in the kink community, who’s working to make night club and kink spaces friendly for neurodivergent people. Jake co-created LOBO (Lights Out, Barks Out), a monthly event held for the kink community with a focus on welcoming everyone, as a way to encourage people to break free from societal expectations and create a space to be themselves.
In today’s interview, we’re covering:
- what strategies actually work to make busy events accessible for neurodivergent people
- the challenges of ensuring consent in the kink space, especially for neurodivergent individuals
- why we think there’s so much overlap among the autistic community and the kink community
Want to listen? This post is based off of Episode 67 of the Neurodiverging Podcast! Listen on Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Youtube
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Transcript of Episode 67: Neurodiversity in the Kink Community with Jake Maxwell
DANIELLE: Hello everybody, and welcome back to The Neurodiverging Podcast. My name’s Danielle Sullivan, I’m your host. I’m so happy you’ve returned to join us again, today! So I just want to head off today by letting you know that this podcast, the content today, is geared towards adults, or adult-ish people. So, if you are under 18, or if you are a parent who often listens with their kids, as I know some of you do, you may want to just review this podcast and the content before passing it along to younger folks.
Nothing in this is particularly graphic, but we are talking about adult topics such as sex and kink, and sexuality, and, so, depending on your comfort level and the norms in your household, you may just want to screen this ahead of time. That’s it, thanks so much for joining me today. So today on the podcast we are talking to Jake Maxwell, who is an ADHDer and autistic, and a DJ with LOBO Nightclub.
LOBO is a nightclub event that focuses on being sex-positive, kink-positive, body-positive, gender inclusive, and creating a safe space for everybody, including people with various kinds of neurodiversity. A lot of you listeners have asked me to do podcasts about autism and sexuality, autism and dating, autism and kink, autism and sex play, all these kinds of things, and that is something we are actively working on.
But also, Jake is somebody who has his foot very firmly in these two worlds of the kink community and the neurodiversity community, and there are a lot of places where those two communities overlap, interplay, work together in ways that you might not expect. And so, I’m really excited to get into this conversation, today. I found it fascinating, interesting, I think a lot of you will really enjoy it.
Before we do that, I just want to, as always, thank my Patrons over at patreon.com/neurodiverging. Couldn’t do the podcast without you. Becoming a Patron is the best way to support the podcast. We use that budget every month to figure out who we can have on, what we can manage to edit in time, and, you know, to pay our staff. And so, if you like this podcast and you want it to keep going and for us to keep talking, I really encourage you to check out the Patreon. It’s a fun place, we have lots of perks, patreon.com/neurodiverging.
And a last heads up to you in case you somehow missed it right at the beginning, we’re talking about sex today, we’re talking about kink today. If those are topics you’re not comfortable with, no worries, just skip this one and wait out for the next one, we’ll be happy to have you back. Without further ado, here’s Jake.
Welcome to the podcast, Jake! I’m so glad to finally be here with you, today. How are you doing?
JAKE: I am good. You know, it’s funny because we were joking before we got on about how, like, this has literally been an endeavor of epic proportions to make this happen, and that we’ve both just been so excited and committed to making it happen, and yet our neurodivergence has led us to take six months to get here. And I think that that perfectly encapsulates, like, what this entire episode is hopefully going to be about, right? So I think it’s kind of humorous that within the story of making this interview happen is inherently a lot of what I, like, represent.
DANIELLE: Yeah. I think that there’s a lot of — I was talking to someone in a discovery call today about the difference between the cognitive knowing that you have to do the thing, and actually having the resources, whatever they are, to actually do the thing. Like, they’re two totally separate types of energy, like.
DANIELLE: So, yeah, thank you for remaining committed. I have just been — I’ve said this to you off-mic a lot, but I’m just really, really excited to talk to you about this today, and to have you on, and I appreciate your commitment (laughs).
JAKE: Like I said, I’ve been excited. It’s very rare that I get given an opportunity to talk about the things that are most important to me. You know, most of the time people want to talk to me about, you know, X or Y, but, like, I feel like this interview, although we’ve attempt to structure it, could end up in any number of places, so I’m just like super stoked, to be honest.
DANIELLE: Any and all of those places will still be fantastic, so it barely matters. But, to start off though, how about would you tell us a little bit about what you do for a living?
JAKE: Yeah. Hi. So, the running joke is that I press buttons for a living, right? Like quite literally people’s buttons and actual electronic buttons.
JAKE: Like, in essence, I am a professional DJ and event promoter, but also CEO of a nonprofit, and also work in some journalism, and also do a lot of charity work, and so on down the line. But at the end of the day, you know (laughs), at its purest, what I often tell people is I’m just a dumb dog who wears a pup hood and presses buttons at kink events, right? Like, and I do all that very happily. And that’s kind of what I do, right? Like, I make people happy, I get to travel the country and put on these events that if you had asked me when I was a kid if this was what I would be doing for a living, I would look at you having no idea what was coming out of your mouth.
And I think that in its own nutshell, right, like, the way LOBO, Lights Out, Barks Out, which is the event I run with my brother by choice Corey, its journey in a lot of ways mimics my life journey, so I think it’s very humorous that my job is going around and creating these spaces for people to just express themselves, and I love it!
DANIELLE: I am so… Halfway — I don’t know if it’s envy or jealousy —
JAKE: (laughs softly)
DANIELLE: …but the idea — One parallel anyway, as a coach, is that helping neurodivergent people, and any kind of person really, but especially neurodivergent people, many of whom are queer, trans, in the kink community, et cetera, find safety and find authentic ways to express themselves is such a big part of my gig, and I think it’s so interesting that, like, in some ways — We are doing very different things, but in some ways, we’re doing very similar things from completely different angles, and I’m just so grateful, like that we both exist! That there’s both kinds of avenues. Yeah!
JAKE: I think that’s part of what makes, like, the community that we are in so special, right? Is that, you know, people who look at the world in one way will tell you that it’s black and right, right? That there’s only one correct way to do things. And then you have people who are like, “Look man, it doesn’t matter how you get across the finish line, whether you go left, right, straight, back, jump, whatever you do. As long as you get to the finish line that is what matters.” I fall into that camp, right? I don’t care if you gotta go around in circles 100 times, as long as you get there, you get there.
And I think that’s what’s so cool about our community, right? Is that, like, there are so many people trying to do the best they can to help people from so many different approaches, and not every single approach is for every single person, but having so many options, in theory, should cover everybody, so everybody’s got a part to play, and that’s what I think I love the most.
DANIELLE: Yeah, and you said the ways we get to our finish lines. I also think that we are both in places where we’re trying to help our clients or event-goers, or whoever we’re working with, decide their own finish line.
DANIELLE: Like, that it’s a choice where you’re finishing at, and you’re not stretching towards some societal, neurotypical kind of finish line. You’re going for your own that you’ve chosen.
JAKE: A lot of why I ended up starting LOBO was because I kind of got fed up of trying to meet the standard definition of what everybody else expected of me, right? Like I kind of — you know, just to give a little bit of backstory, I had worked in politics for 12 years and, like, that was great and awesome, and super fun. As someone with high-functioning autism you learn real quick in that field. So that’s partly how I got so good at overcoming some of my neurodivergence I guess you would say. It still is a very large part of my life and I’m very proud of that, but you learn real quick in that field that you gotta figure it out or it’s not gonna work. So I had a trial by fire is what I often say, which helped kind of set the stone.
But after a while, I was like, you know, I’m like 22, I just worked on a presidential election, I had been a deputy campaign manager and I just wasn’t happy, like I wasn’t, like, excited, and I had, you know — Bless my mom, I love her to death, single mother, did the best that she could, right? Like, but we don’t have the best relationship, I don’t have the best relationship with my family, and after a while, I did some introspection, I was like, “You know, I need to stop trying to fit the mold of what everybody else is trying to force me into and just be what I want.” And what I wanted was to create a space where everybody else could not have to go through some of the struggles that I had to go through, and just have a space that welcomed them without having to feel like they had to jump through 17,000 hoops to fit in.
DANIELLE: So, for folks who are just coming to know you through this podcast could you tell us a little about what LOBO is and —
JAKE: Right, yeah, so Lights Out, Barks Out was created, originally, as an event for the pup play/pet play kink community, handlers, and furries. When we launched it, I had no idea that four years later we would be in as many cities as we are, that we would have such a community, or that we it would be a success, right? Like, I walked into the historic DC Eagle that is now no longer in existence in 2019 or whatever it was, I think it was 2019, July, right before the COVID happened, and we launched this event and we thought maybe 10 people and we had 300, and I looked to my friends and I’m like, “Uh-oh.”
DANIELLE: (laughs softly)
JAKE: Like, “We have a problem here,” because we had not prepared that. None of us had been — We’d all worked in nightlife and done DJ stuff, but none of us have ever run a business, let alone a business with a staff. And, there I was suddenly presented, right? With, like, the (stammers) — Like, “Okay, well now I’ve actually gotta make this thing work, ’cause people expect us to be more than a one-off.”
So, it started off very much so as a collection of friends creating an event for people to come and express themselves. Now, to understand how we got there, though, you gotta kind of backtrack a little bit into 2018, which is that, you know, I had been a DJ and over time I got really sick and tired of being told my other promoters or other events that they loved my music, or that they loved, you know, what I was doing, but they didn’t love the way I looked and they didn’t love the way I presented as nonbinary or this, that, or the other, or my medical was an issue, whatever it was. And so finally I looked at my friends and I said, “Fuck this. Let’s just do our own thing.”
Because one of the things that had bugged us was, essentially, that if you’ve ever been to a circuit party, which is basically an LBTQ-like party, very ravey, started underground in the 70s, has a whole history, look it up it’s super awesome, but it is very much so a certain type of crowd that attends them.
JAKE: And we wanted to be the anti-establishment circuit party. Which was the everybody else, where the circuit boys would come in and feel like they were the ones slightly out of place as opposed to the other way around. And we have since grown to encompass everybody, but that was the intention as we started, that was what it started as.
What it is now is a very, very, very different beast. What it represents now is a sense of community, a sense of expressing yourself, so whatever kinks that may be as long as it is legal and not harming anybody, I want to stress that. A place for all genders, all sexualities, all race, everybody, regardless of how they look, how they feel, size, whatever it is, to come and be themselves. And have this sense of community where they can, like, just, be who they are without being judged.
And, you know, it’s been a journey. As I often tell people, we haven’t always gotten it right, like, I’m very forefront about that. Like, we’ve made mistakes along the way and we’re going to continue to, like, we’re not perfect, but we learn from them and we strive to be the best that we can be, which is all anybody can ask for.
And so I think when I tell them that I am neurodivergent and have mitochondrial disease, and have ADHD and start listing off all the other things that come of it, they’re like, “How? What? This is not what we —,” and I’m like, “Yes! I know it’s not what you expect.” That’s partly why we do it, to show that, like, (stammers) I would actually say 80% of our staff and upper management is neurodivergent.
It’s kind of hilarious that this thing runs when you think about it, it’s a miracle in its own right. I mean, you literally have a staff that we work with, and our co-owners and everybody, that is neurodivergent, ADHD, OCD, bipolar, down the line, and yet, somehow, some way, against every odd that would say we should not be able to run this thing in multiple cities, it happens!
So, like, that is kind of like the flag that I would plant in the ground to describe it, is we’re just a bunch of dorks who happened to figure it out.
DANIELLE: For me, if it’s a special interest, if I’m really motivated, I will figure out how to make the thing happen! Like, and there’s a way that creating community — It sounds like the way you speak about it, but also how I think of it, creating community when you’ve never had a community of your own, is so highly motivating to me, and so important, that it’s really easy to drive energy in that direction. You know, at the expense of, maybe, things I, quote, unquote, “should” be doing, but I would rather, I would rather.
So, okay! A couple things, directions that we could take, but I would to talk about just to start. So, just a nightclub experience on its own, is really hard for a lot of types of neurodivergent people.
DANIELLE: And I know off recording the other day we were talking about accessibility in those places.
DANIELLE: So, could you just give us some examples of what are some things that you’ve, kind of, specifically set up in these events to make them, make it so that neurodivergent people can come and can feel safe and welcome, and not immediately alienated by all the stimulus and stuff?
JAKE: Yeah. To start with that I think the question that first off I should answer is, “Why did you even become a DJ?” And the answer is —
JAKE: …because I wanted to go clubbing without being around people. Like, straight up, that was it. I wanted to go to the nightclub but didn’t want to be surrounded by a bunch of people in the crowd. I got real tired of people pushing and shoving, and I’m like, “Okay, how can I do this thing that I love without having to be here?” And I’m like, “Got it! I gotta be there.”
JAKE: So I’m like that’s (stammers) what started it. And of course, my dad was a DJ at Studio 54 and so there was pedigree, like, I had done it, and it had been in my family, but nevertheless, the ultimate driving factor was I wanted to go clubbing and didn’t want to be surrounded by people. Now, it is funny, that even though I didn’t want to be surrounded by people I am now consistently surrounded and mobbed by people, so, either way, we ended at the same goal.
But yes, so, the biggest goal that we have experienced is that most nightclubs have this concept where it starts loud and then it’s gotta be louder, and then it’s gotta be so loud that you question if you’re even hearing anymore, right? Like, we don’t really think that’s how it should work. So, the first thing that we try to do is create accessibility for people who have sensory overload issues. We have spaces at all of our events, or with many of them that can accommodate the space, where we have a chill room or a place where if people need just a sensory break they can go and relax, right? ‘Cause we get it, like, going to an event like this, especially for the first time, is overwhelming as hell. I’ve been there, I get it, my friends have told me, “We’ve dragged people and we get it.”
The other thing we make a point is whenever we know someone is coming for the first time, we make sure that we introduce them to all of our staff, and then we assign somebody to introduce them to people in the community who would be good for them to know, so they don’t feel like they’re doing alone, right? ‘Cause that is like a very scary thing.
JAKE: So, that’s one thing we do.
Some of the other stuff we do is we obviously take consent incredibly seriously, right? Like, I know as somebody who is neurodivergent I don’t want to be touched, like, without being asked and giving clear consent, and I know that sometimes when I give clear consent it isn’t necessarily straightforward, or someone thinks I’m giving consent when I am not. So we do this wonderful thing where we give consent bands, and we encourage people to follow that, and we have a zero-tolerance policy for that violation. If you violate it once you’re just gone from our events, period.
I think people have this idea of what accessibility is in their minds, and I don’t think it always has to present itself in this traditional way, right? Like, it is inherently true that some of our events do not have the ability to, like, have wheelchairs, and that’s just kind of the way some of the buildings are and there’s nothing we can do about that. That isn’t to say that we don’t look for buildings that are accessible, that is obviously the first goal in anywhere that we look.
I think that there’s this idea that you can’t be an accessible event unless you’re doing all of these things, right? I think there are steps that everybody can take, it’s just getting creative. So one of the things we’re working towards is creating events that, like, are sensory-friendly some of the time, maybe once a quarter, without super flashy lights, and super heavy haze, and super loud volume. And doing things where, like, we reach out to the community that is actually going to need some of these, you know, things, and ask them what they would like to see instead of just assuming on their behalf.
If anybody’s listening to this and is in that category of people who assume on our behalf please take note: we talk to our community and get the input from them directly to see what we could do to make a better event experience for them. And so I think that that’s, like, what our goal is, right? Because I could sit here and just take random stabs at the dark and think that maybe this’ll work, but it’s much easier for me if I have a directive from someone who would actually use it.
DANIELLE: Absolutely. And I think, you know, a lot of the struggle with any event, right, is that figuring out competing access needs. Like, some people are going to need a quiet room, some people are going to need more stimulation, some people are going to need this, some people are going to need that. So really aiming at who are you, (stammers) who is there already? Who are you bringing in that you want to make sure feels comfortable and safe, and has what they need in that event? So I think that makes a lot of sense, yeah.
JAKE: Yeah. One of the things we’re especially proud of is that, like, look, you know, at the end of the day we realize that our event may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but we know of a lot of other events. And so if you come to our event and you’re like, “Hey, like, this isn’t for me,” we’ll point you in the direction of other things that we think you might enjoy, we want to take care of our community.
And so, some people, like, really like drag shows, and then some people really like clubbing, and then some people don’t want to go out at all. And so it’s more about — Like, we have people who join our Telegram chats who don’t come to our events, but just want to be in the Telegram chats to be a part of the community, to have that, like, chatting aspect.
And so in that regard, I think that’s acknowledging that we aren’t always going to be the space in every city for everyone, and if we were trying to do that the event would never work. We have to do what we can to make it as safe for everyone, but doesn’t mean we can’t keep growing and evolve to continue to get better, which is ultimately the goal.
DANIELLE: Yeah, yeah. Being everything for everyone is not a reasonable goal, is not an achievable goal, and doesn’t really help anyone. Can we talk more, or one thing we were talking about, talking about talking about?
DANIELLE: When were discussing this episode was what you alluded to, the consent piece. That in neurodivergent circles a lot of us have different ways of, different styles of communicating. A lot of us are much more blunt, some of us don’t like eye contact, some of us are nonverbal or nonspeaking. You use the wristband system which I know a lot of places use which is fantastic, but we’re talking about all the ways that consent can be challenging to find or understand because of all these communication differences.
So, what are your thoughts on, kind of, consent in the kink space, especially as a neurodivergent person, and are there practices that you have in place, either in your club or in your, you know, scenes that you’ve observed, to make consent more clear and easy to understand for everybody involved?
JAKE: You know it’s one (laughs), it’s like the golden ticket question, right? Like, as a nightclub event first, we’re busy, there’s a ton of people. And, so, we train our dancers when they’re on the dance blocks to constantly be looking for anything that might look like it’s not the way it’s supposed to be, and then they flag us down if something obviously needs to be addressed. But, ultimately, the bottom line answer is if you feel like you haven’t gotten a clear answer for consent, you don’t have it.
JAKE: It’s really that straightforward.
So, I always encourage people, like, even if someone you think has said yes, double, triple, quadruple check, and if you start doing stuff and you’re sensing like something’s off, stop and reaffirm. Because the thing about consent is while it can be given, it can sure as hell be taken away at any time during a scene, and I think that people often forget that. I think that people assume once consent is given it’s standing. It is not. Consent can be given and taken away and given back at any time. Like, that is the joy of consent, it’s your own choice. When you feel like you’ve gone too far, that should be respected.
So, in the club space, we can only do so much, we try to encourage people, educate people, and make sure that they are aware. We put signs up around the room to let people know what the colors represent. We have security and people consistently walking around. That isn’t to say that we don’t miss things, we do, but, we do the best that we can within the sphere.
I often tell people that one of the biggest things everyone can do is even if they’re not staffed for the event, if they see something that looks off, get a staff member or just, like, check on that person. I know it may seem awkward but, like, that is a thing that really can go a long way. And then, obviously, on the flip side of that if for some reason your consent is violated, let us know, ’cause we can’t fix it if we don’t know about it. And this is one of the biggest struggles as a nightclub event, is we often hear about things months after the fact, and at that point it’s like we can’t, like, remember three months back and we can’t fix it in that moment unless we know about it, right?
It’s the adage of, like, well we’d like to fix this, but if we don’t know it’s happening we can’t alleviate the problem. So that’s how I would explain it from a nightclub aspect. I think in a dungeon-esque, kink aspect, the main thing that people could understand is that people communicate differently, right? Like, I think kink has done a pretty good job of this but could still do better, but I think that people seem to have this idea that everybody communicates the same way —
JAKE: …and that if they don’t they’re wrong, right? And that’s, like, not the way to think about it. I think that, first and foremost, understanding how somebody communicates their own version of consent is key, right? Because what somebody giving consent as in one way may not be the same for somebody else, and I think that’s when we start getting into the grey area of, like, what do we do? And so I think a lot of that comes down to education, rigth? Which is educating the general, the public, that, like, just because one person gives consent X way doesn’t mean everybody does.
Like the general understanding is you ask someone for consent and they say yes, but that’s not necessarily how it is for everybody, ’cause sometimes I feel like really pressured to say yes, and then maybe I don’t want to say yes, and then maybe I’ve said yes and I’m trying to figure out how to get out of it —
JAKE: … and so then you get into that, like, spiral, right? So on our side one of the things we try to do is educate our community on how to give consent and what to do if they feel like their consent has been violated, and ways to end scenes if they feel like they are not being respected.
DANIELLE: Do you have any recommendations for if there are folks listening who are neurodivergent and are interested in joining their local kink scene, where can they start to learn? Obviously, they can go and talk to people, but for those of us who are homebodies and scared of new people, are there websites, YouTubers, books that you could recommend for folks who are trying to learn about this stuff?
JAKE: Yeah! I mean, so I think, you know, it obviously depends where you live.
JAKE: The first thing I recommend to people is, you know, find your community of your LGBTQ, find that local gay, kink, whatever it is, community, reach out to them, find out where they gather. If you’re into pet play, figure out if there’s a paw group, and then slowly, slowly —
DANIELLE: (laughs softly)
JAKE: …ease your way in. Find some friends and have them take them with them to events, so that you do not walk in alone. Because, unfortunately, one of the biggest problems is that even though I love this community, and I do, truly love the kink community, I will not sit here and say it is perfect.
DANIELLE: Absolutely not.
JAKE: And there are people who will happily take advantage of people they can sense are new, and put them in a situation that they don’t know how to handle.
JAKE: And that is where we get into the situations of like, uh-oh, now we’re entering abusive territory and what do we do? And so I think having a group of friends that you trust before you enter into a space is a good situation. Or knowing the event organizer or reaching out or creating this kind of communication so that whoever is there knows that you are a first timer and they will then inherently know as event organizers, “Okay, keep an eye on this person, introduce them to people,” and that’s how it should go.
JAKE: But, I think that, like, Google is a good way to, like, express and learn about kink. There’s a lot of podcasts out there so I would check that out. But also, I think just going in with an open mind, right?
JAKE: And understanding that, as I often say, everybody’s kink isn’t for everyone but we don’t judge. And that is a big part of it I guess, is what the advice I’d give. Is if you’re going to come in and you’re going to check it out, go into it, learn about it, be respectful of the space, be understanding of the space, and then also, you know, take those steps to meet people and create your own little community.
DANIELLE: Yeah. Thanks very much.
Another thing we were talking about the other day was what you alluded to when you were talking about the makeup of your board and everybody who’s involved in LOBO. A lot of neurodivergent folks end up in some piece of the kink community (laughs softly).
DANIELLE: And that’s something that I think you’ve seen as well, right? A lot of my clients, a lot of my friends, you know? What do you think is so welcoming about — I know this is a broad question, but what ideas do you have about what makes kink and the kink community so welcoming to people who think like us, act like us, behave like — who have brains like ours?
JAKE: I think what’s appealing about it is that its on its own, at the get-go, before anything else, counterculture.
JAKE: Which is inherently what, like, neurodivergent is looked at. It is — Kink has always been viewed as the anti-establishment, right? Whatever it is, right? It’s always been like the, “Oh, no, these people aren’t normal,” sort of thing, and I think that that, inherently, to us who are neurodivergent — Like, I know I wear the, “Oh, you’re not normal,” thing like a badge of honor. Like, “You’re damn right I’m not normal and I’m damn proud of it,” because I am allowed — I can see things that other people can’t and that makes me super excited.
So I think that that is the first major appeal, that already that community is going to be like, “Yeah, fucking come on. Come on in,” like, you know? I think that’s the first thing. And then within that community, there are so many subsets of things for people to explore, that almost everybody can find something, right?
JAKE: And even if you can’t, your thing may just be that, like, you’re vanilla, and that’s okay, but even then we’ll say, “Come on in and hang out,” right?
DANIELLE: Yeah, yeah!
JAKE: Like, that’s okay! And so I think, ultimately, what’s appealing about it is that everybody there is already of the mindset of, “Yeah, we know what’s going on,” and isn’t going to look at you like you have three heads. So, I think that’s part of it.
And then, the second thing I think people learn about it as they explore is that it’s hella freeing, right? Like, it allows you to finally kind of go from thinking about how you’re basically raised, if you’re neurodivergent, to think that you’re different and you need to fit everybody else’s norms, to going to a community where like, no, no, no no, you create whatever you want it to be, and that is your norm and everybody else has to accept that.
And so it’s very freeing and starts to kind of change the mindset, and that’s one one of the things that I think just draws people to it is that, like, it is starting from a place where most of us are already, so we’re like, “Yeah,” you know? It’s not a very big adjustment. Same thing with link punk or all these other countercultures, I think that it’s very appealing.
DANIELLE: Mhm, makes a lot of sense. So how about we pivot a little bit and we talk more about sex and being neurodivergent and as much as you want kink to be apart of that, right?
I think that a lot of folks who are not in the scene think that kink needs to be inherently about sexual gratification.
DANIELLE: And I think that’s, like, a huge piece of it for a lot of folks. But also, there’s a lot in kink that’s about, as you said, the community building, the communication styles, the validation of being able to be yourself in a room full of other people like you.
But I know a lot of neurodivergent folks that I work with also report challenges with, like, dating and relationships and sex, because the neurotypical norms for those things don’t always support us. So, I’d love to talk to you a little bit about kind of your experience of how neurodivergent sex and sexuality can differ from neurotypical. And I know that’s a hugely broad question, I’m not trying to encompass all neurodivergent people in that.
JAKE: No, of course not.
DANIELLE: But just to say there are some themes, I guess, that I see pretty often.
JAKE: I am engaged to the love of my life —
JAKE: …who I met through LOBO, by the way. Yes, thank you. I proposed to him at LOBO, I met him at LOBO, like, so it’s very much this is a part of our life. We had to do the proposal twice because my mom got upset that she wasn’t at the first one so we had to do a second one —
DANIELLE: That’s really cute!
JAKE: Yep, so she got real moody, so she flew in from San Diego and I proposed to him a second time at a second LOBO, so, we’ve been doing it, right? Like, we’re doing the thing. However, however, we are both hella neurodivergent, right?
JAKE: And they both manifest in a very different way. And that is a struggle, but also we make it work, right? And that’s where the baseline is. I think that every single person who is neurodivergent has their own, unique thing when it comes to like cuddling, or sex, or this or that, and not any one of them reacts the same.
Like, my fiance for example, super romantic, wants to be cuddled and touched and all that stuff. Me? The thought of cuddling somebody makes me want to jump out a window. Like, I do not like to be touched, unless it is inherently leading to a sexual activity. Then cuddle me, as long as it ends with, like, some sort of sexual activity. However, there is a middle ground, so we work to try to meet both needs. Whereas I am very, like, hypersexual, my partner is not as, so it kind of manifests in different ways.
But, it all comes down to communication, right? And talking to each other and figuring out, like, in a relationship, for example, what works and what doesn’t. My generation especially is not of the mind that monogamy is the only way to do things. I think my generation looked at that and said, “Nah.” Like, “We’re not,” (stammers), “we’re not doing that.” Like, there are some people that love monogamy, and awesome, cool for them, but I also think a lot more people are looking at open relationships and polyamory in a more normal light, and being like, look, not everybody can deliver everybody’s needs in one person, you know? As long as everyone’s communicating, it’s okay.
But that all relies, inherently, on communication. And then the follow-up question is always, “Well, neurodivergence and communication aren’t always the strongest suits, are they?” So, there have been many, and I do mean many articles about what it’s like dating someone who’s neurodivergent as someone who isn’t neurodivergent, and what you can try to do. But, ultimately, it’s all about working within your confines of your relationship, right?
But the bigger inherent conversation is that our society has been raised that sex and talking about sex is taboo. Like, it is inappropriate and we just shouldn’t talk about it. I think to hell with that, right? Like, I think be open, express, talk about yourself. Like, know your space, like, don’t necessarily talk about your sexual escapades, like, at a fancy five-star restaurant unless, like, that’s the thing, but, like, also? You don’t have to be shy about it. Like, I think sex happens. It is a part of life, and so, I think we need to talk more openly about it.
JAKE: When we talk about how it manifests and how to handle it, my biggest advice to people is just know your boundaries, right? Understand that it’s okay to push them a little bit, but know where your hard lines are, and once you’ve established them if you’re going to pursue a relationship or even just a casual encounter, make sure that you make it crystal clear to people what they are. You know, I have a nine-page spreadsheet with all of my kinks. What I like, even ones I don’t like, every single kink that you can think of it’s on that spreadsheet and it’s listed on that spreadsheet how I feel about it. Is it a soft limit? Is it a hard limit? Is it something I really enjoy on a one-to-five scale?
And I give that spreadsheet to anybody I’m gonna do kink play with, and make sure they understand where I feel on all of those. And the reason is I want it crystal clear what I’m okay trying to push boundary-wise, what is a hard limit for me, and what, if you do to me, I will melt. And, like, that is how I feel I need to express it.
Now, obviously, I’m not saying everybody should go and make a nine-page spreadsheet on what they sexually like —
DANIELLE: Maybe they should! (laughs softly)
JAKE: I mean, it helps! But, like, seriously, writing stuff down and having it so that — It gets really freaking tiring anytime I meet somebody being like, “Okay, here’s this medical condition, I’m neurodivergent, here’s what I like, here’s what I don’t like,” because every time I meet somebody on any app or anything the question is, “What are you into?” And it’s like, you know what? To hell with that, here’s a list, read it, if you’re into it great, if not, see ya later. Right?
Like, and I just (stammers), I streamlined it, ‘cause I got real tired of having to go through all this stuff. So, writing it down sure as hell helped me figure it out. The other thing to keep in mind is that as you grow and evolve and do more stuff, things that you thought might have been hard limits or soft limits may become things you enjoy.
JAKE: And having an open mind is great. Getting to the place where I am now has been a journey, because disability inherently, even outside of neurodivergent and kink, is viewed as something that shouldn’t happen or is too much work, or like a lot of people don’t want to put effort into, and I just disagree. I think that anybody can do anything, sometimes you just gotta do a little extra work to make it safe or make it accommodable, so that’s kind of where I fall.
DANIELLE: Yeah. And I think a lot of the stereotype is that disabled people just shouldn’t be sexual at all, or aren’t sexual, or don’t have sexual urges, which is a whole —
DANIELLE: …lot more (stammers), a whole different layer of difficulty. But I think what I really appreciate in your discussion of, like, those boundary pieces is that it’s important for a partner to hear your boundaries and respect them, but you need to be able to communicate them. And if you don’t know where you are with that, and you haven’t done the work of either making your — I love the spreadsheet idea. If potential partners could just hand me a spreadsheet that would save so much energy (laughs). That would be amazing.
JAKE: So, I actually have a neurodivergent friend who is a kink therapist who specializes in therapist for the kink community, who has made an actual nine-page document for people to fill out that is even more in-depth than my spreadsheet, that is a really great way for people to start.
DANIELLE: A lot of us who are disabled in one way or the other are so used to having to disclose to everyone, like you were saying, “Here’s this thing, and this thing, and this thing, and this thing,” but we’re still, sometimes, trained to be afraid to talk about sex with our intimate partners! If the spreadsheet, if the list, if journaling about it, if whatever, if watching porn together and talking about it —
JAKE: (laughs) Right!
DANIELLE: …is going to help you figure out what you like and what you don’t like as a starter, then you can communicate about it! But if you are scared to even think about it, then how is your partner supposed to respect your consent if you can’t even — So I think there’s a balance there, that’s just what I wanted to tease out, and you said all this, I’m just repeating you. But, I just really appreciated that that balance between it is your partner’s job to make sure they have your consent, but it’s your job to make sure that you are, as best you can, aware of all the things you need to do, and able to be able to consent fully —
DANIELLE: …you know, to a —
JAKE: And I think one of the things is that — You’re right, it’s a two-way street, right? Like, it takes two or three, or however many to tango in this case, but, like, the thing is everybody’s gotta work at it as a unit, right?
JAKE: It’s not just one-sided. If I am screaming into the void and it’s not being received, then I’m just screaming into the void, right?
JAKE: But if I’m screaming into the void and that person is, quote, unquote,” screaming back,” at me, okay! Now at least we have a baseline, but what is important is that, yes, you have to communicate as best as you can, and then your partner has to understand you as best as they can, and Iike either of you feel like during a scene or whatever it is there was a miscommunication or a line was crossed, you talk about it.
DANIELLE: You debrief, yeah.
JAKE: But, but, and this is the key, you do not talk about it immediately afterwards. You take some time, you take a day, you let the scene sit, and then you talk about it. And the reason I say that is because, afterwards, aftercare, all that, everybody is of heightened emotion —
DANIELLE: Oh, yeah!
JAKE: …and the time to talk about it is not immediately afterwards. You take some time, you write down your thoughts, whatever it was, and then you talk about it if you felt like something wasn’t acknowledged, or followed, or a line was crossed, and that is the best way and advice I can give.
DANIELLE: Yeah. No, I think that makes a lot of sense, and completely agree. I also, you know, you were talking about being touch-averse in certain contexts, and I think a lot of — A lot of us like touch a lot, a lot of us like deep pressure, a lot of us are touch-averse.
When I had my kiddos and I was nursing, I nursed for six years. I was so over touched. I did not want any sex, I did not want anyone to come near me, I did not want anyone to hug me, I did not want the cats to sit on me. I was just, like, in this space of my life where I was — I started identifying as demisexual, grey ace, I just did not want anything related to sex or touch. And, it was really hard to figure out how to communicate that to partners who had known me to be different before, and then I had this big shift in paradigm.
And so I remember a couple of times people trying to cuddle and it was like I used to like cuddles but I can’t handle it, now. And it was really hard for them to get that, and I think probably it was partly my fault because I didn’t really have a good framing for what was happening at that time for various reasons. And so I probably didn’t — So it was again the two-way. I wish they had respected my lack of consent a little more, but I also don’t know that I stated the boundary as clearly as I could’ve.
And also there’s this kind of guilt sometimes when you don’t “perform” quote, unquote the way people expect you to, especially if you’re going through a change in your understanding of your sexuality or your sexual interests.
(stammers) I just sort of want to just say that I think it’s really common for people to sort of shift over the course of their life, and that you do have to re-check in. Like you fill out your spreadsheet but then you come back next year and you look at it and you zhuz it, and then you come back the next year, you know?
JAKE: So my spreadsheet has been revised like a bajillion times, it’s kind of hilarious. But also, my sexuality and how I identify has changed multiple times throughout my life.
DANIELLE: Same, yep!
JAKE: Like, when I first came out to my parents the first time, when I was 15 — notice that I said, “The first time,” so buckle up. I told my mom very vehemently as a 15-year-old, I was full-chested and loud, like, “Mom, I am bisexual!” And she was like, “No, you’re not!” And I’m like, “Okay, I’m not, you’re right, I’m joking,” and I went upstairs and did not discuss it again with her until I was 18.
However, told my grandmother who was my best friend and my person I loved, and basically the person who raised me, and like my best — Like, literally she is everything and was everything to me and I adore her more than life itself, and I know that she is wherever looking down, like, super proud of the person I’ve become —
JAKE: …but, neither here nor there. When I told my grandmother, I was 13 when I told her that I was bisexual and then she encouraged me to tell my mom, and then I told my mom and she’s like, “No, you’re not.” I’m like, “You’re right, sure not!” And then right back into not telling her, but that kind of created that sphere. So I started as bisexual and very much a cisgender he/him person, and then I realized that I wanted to switch to pansexual. And the biggest question I often get is, “What is the difference between pan and bi?” And ultimately it’s semantics at the end of the day.
JAKE: Both really represent the same thing, depending on who you ask it might mean something different to them. To me, at least, it’s just in the definition of the word. Bi means two, pan means all. So, like I feel more comfortable as someone who is now nonbinary saying, “I am pansexual,” and making it clear that I am fine with whatever you identify as, versus bisexual which sometimes people will consider just cis male or cis female.
JAKE: Now, I do not believe that is what bisexual represents, but people come up with their own definitions and that’s fine. So, yeah, pan, bi, to me same concept. The biggest shift was when I started identifying as nonbinary, and I did tell my mother that, and that was a whole conversation over dinner, and it was very much so like, “Why can’t you just be a male or a female? I don’t care which one, but why not —” Like why both or none?
And I’m like because I feel like it’s fluid and it’s kind of like just feels like I’m in a mood, and of all things it was Drag Race that got her across the finish line to understanding, so I guess in that regard, “Yay!” But, you know —
DANIELLE: We need representation in the media (laughs).
DANIELLE: That’s why.
JAKE: Yeah, so she gets it now, but, like, that in its own encapsulates, right? Like, the fact that even over the 29 years that I’ve been alive it has gone from I thought I was straight, turns out I wasn’t straight. Thought I was bi, turns out I wasn’t bi. Now I’m nonbinary and pan, and this that, and demi and aromantic, and so on down the line, and all of it comes to say that nobody is ever just X, right? Like, I think all of us are constantly evolving and that’s cool to me.
DANIELLE: Yeah. I think it’s really tempting to want to just be able to identify as the one thing, “I am this kind of person.” But realistically, all of us have piles of identifiers, and maybe autistic people more than many? ‘Cause your story is similar to, I guess, mine in that I didn’t have the autism diagnosis until after I had sort of done all my gender, sexuality stuff. And then it was like, “Oh,” (laughs), “That’s why I view all this stuff different.”
But, I’ve been poly since I started dating. I never really — I think people should be in whatever kind of relationship they want to be in, you know best, but I never really understood monogamy on an intrinsic level and I never really got why it was so important to so many people. And then I knew I was pansexual for a long time, and then — but, didn’t really feel like a woman, but never really felt trans or even nonbinary, and now sometimes I use the nonbinary label because people are starting to know what it is, but really I’ve sort of settled on the label of agender.
But nobody knows what agender is so I just say nonbinary. And so you end up, I think, over time as you learn more about yourself and who you are and what you like, and what you don’t like and what feels right, because it is this very amorphous, kind of, intuitive process of, like, “Which, I’ll try this group. Oh no, they’re not me. Let’s try this group.”
DANIELLE: “Oh no, they’re not me. I’ll try this group,” and you just end up with these piles. And I think that it’s really important to sort of give each identifier its due, right? But it’s also you’re not any one of those things, you’re all of you, you know? And they intersect in such unique ways that you end up with, again, that spectrum, right? That people like to talk about with neurodivergence, but also there’s a spectrum of gender, a spectrum of sexuality, like, and we’re all these radio dials dialed in different directions. So, yeah, I think it’s really nice to highlight that for folks and to highlight that change is a normal part of the human growth cycle, and that a lot of us move between labels as we encounter new things and try new things and, yeah, figure it all out.
JAKE: That’s it, right? Like, inherently all those experiences lead to what makes you you, and that is what is super cool about the life experience, right? And I think that not just as you learn about yourself, but as we as a world and a community start to learn more about this, because for the longest time, people were just even afraid to entertain that there could be such things, and now, you know, I think people are more open-minded to the fact that we don’t all have to fit in one freaking box, and, like, that is inherently fantastic, right?
DANIELLE: Yeah! And that diversity is needed! Like, if everybody were the same, even in terms of just sexuality, like —
JAKE: It’d be hella boring.
DANIELLE: It would be really boring! And also, I think we would be missing really important facets of the human experience, and —
JAKE: Yeah, like, just imagine, like, if every single person that you knew on the — Just not even you knew, if every single person in the world was just straight, you really think that we would have such great parties and theater and, like, drag? I mean, no! We’d miss out on that entire thing, and that doesn’t even go into all the crazy cool things that other communities have given us, so I don’t even want to envision a world where everybody is just the same, because that is how we end up with what World War II was about, and I’m not about that.
JAKE: And so, like, it really boils down to what makes us different is what makes us great.
JAKE: And I think that is something to celebrate instead of run away from.
DANIELLE: I think we touched on this a little bit, but one thing, maybe one of the last couple of things I’d love to get your perspective on is just like neurodivergence is stigmatized and gender is — certain kinds of genders are stigmatized and all these other things, kink is highly stigmatized by a portion of society. And I think that a lot of folks when they start to explore, get curious, think more about through their sexuality and through the kinds of things that bring them enjoyment and pleasure, a lot of folks are afraid to sort of wander into kink.
And I think that there’s a wider availability of access, at least on the internet nowadays, where you can kind of check stuff out before having to show up in a roomful of people and jump into a scene. But, do you have any sort of, I guess, advice, or information, or ideas for people who were — A lot of us were brought up with this idea, as you said, that sex is shameful and especially kinky sex, is shameful. How do you start to push away from that and really find the things that are good for you, that bring you joy and pleasure? Like what’s the avenue for that?
JAKE: I think the first step everyone has to take, all of us, like, as a world, even, has to take is understanding that the reason a lot of us were brought up this way was to keep us in a certain box.
JAKE: Right? Like, the reason people are brought up viewing kink as shameful or talking about sex as shameful or this, that, and the other is that it’s very liberating. And the thing that scares people the most is people liberating themselves and freeing themselves and starting to think differently and realizing that, ultimately, the system that they have been told to follow isn’t good. And so, in a meta construct, I think the biggest thing that we all have to do is understand that the reason we are being told this is inherently based off of a system that is meant to keep us within the constructs of what people want us to be.
Once you get past that and understand why, and realize that it can only help you grow as a person to explore these avenues, even if you end up not in the community, learning about it is inherently good, because it will encourage you to talk about it and encourage your friends to learn about it. Once you get past the concept that this is shameful, this is bad, the only reason I’ve been led to believe this is because people have been trying to keep us in a box, then the world kind of opens up, right?
And so, my biggest advice is to really stop as a person, before you even jump into it, and ask yourself, “Why have I always been told that this is shameful? Why is it always portrayed a certain way on television? Why is it always talked about a certain way?” And kink, for me, has led me to be my best self in so many other areas.
My biggest advice for people at the get-go is to not go into this with the mindset of, “Oh, I’m gonna see a bunch of weird things —”
DANIELLE: It’ll be fun! It’ll be fun weird stuff! (speech overlaps)
JAKE: Right! Go into it with the mindset that you are creating your own path, and kink allows you to do that.
DANIELLE: I think that the switch from allowing society’s prejudices to disempower you, to you being empowered to make your own choices and find your own self-authenticity in the world, is a huge piece for a lot of folks. And I think it’s always like you said valuable to think, “Who benefits by my believing this?”
DANIELLE: You know, is this belief gonna help me, or is it helping all these structures that are in place to, you know, keep the rich white people up there and everyone else down?
JAKE: Yeah. I mean that is —
DANIELLE: I think that’s a really important piece.
JAKE: That is what it is. It takes people in the system to break the system.
DANIELLE: Would you be able to tell folks where they can find information about your events, about LOBO, but also about your nonprofit?
JAKE: Yeah! So, you know, jakemaxwellproductions.com is a great place to start for the event. Lots of videos and stuff out there, all of our Telegram is on there, theloboinitiative.com is a great place to check out the nonprofit, it’s finally up and going. But also we’re on Twitter @lightsoutdc, @theloboinitiative. I am always available if anybody ever wants to reach out to me too, I’m happy to, like, talk to people. One of the things that I get the most joy from is hearing people reach out and explain their own stories, because it motivates me to keep going, right? It knows that we’re doing the right things.
But also, I’m just happy to hear from people and, like, what I can do to help them. I think if anybody takes one thing away from this podcast it would be that, yes, LOBO is great, and, yes, The LOBO Initiative is great, and I’m super proud of that and our team is super proud of that, and I’ve been very lucky to do what I’ve done, and all of that is super phenomenal and I would love nothing more than you to check that out, but if you’re only going to check out one thing, at the end of listening to this, I just want to quickly talk about Alterra Productions.
They are a awesome, awesome, awesome, like, space in Philadelphia. They are one of the spaces we are going to be working with. They’re a multipurpose space, they have circus classes, and cabarets, and events, they have open training. They are run by an incredibly diverse group of women and talented, talented people, all of whom are neurodivergent and disabled and all these wonderful things, and they are just amazing humans. I would encourage you to check them out.
DANIELLE: Thanks so much for listening to The Neurodiverging Podcast, today. I hope that was informative, I hope it gave you something to think about, I hope it was of interest. If you ever have ideas for topics we should cover on The Neurodiverging Podcast, I hope you will send us off an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear what you’re interested in having us cover!
And, just before you go today, one last plug for the Patreon. Patreon is where everything happens. It’s where all of our educational content is, it’s where all of our group coaching is, it’s where all of the ad-free podcasts are if you are interested in listening without ads. You can subscribe to the Patreon for a couple of bucks a month and get all of those perks, and support a podcast that you think is valuable to you. That’s at patreon.com/neurodiverging. Thank you so much to the Patrons who make this possible, and, as always, please remember, we are all in this together. Bye!