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How a Would-Be Incel Taught Me That People Can Change photo

It was Saturday night, and the bodega had a big row of cold, perfect Starbucks Double Shot Energy Vanillas stocked in the fridge. I tied my black tank top up around my waist and adjusted my burgundy sweatpants as I stood at the counter. It was a brisk night, and my third rave. I chugged my drink next to a group of men smoking, watching the red and purple lights flash by. I stepped inside to a thump.

“You look like you could hula hoop,” he said.

I turned around. He had emo hair and a modest wooden gauge in each ear. He wasn’t tall. But he was confident.

“I’ll show you how to dance,” he said.

I smiled and got ready to be nice. But he could dance!

“Come on,” he said. “I’ll teach you.”

Each foot kicks around the side. I did my best. He pointed at the bar. “Now go get me some water.”

If he’d been a big guy, I would have been mad at myself for going out to fetch. But it felt good to get water for Avery.

He was there with his friend Jeff: a short but built thirtysomething whose face looked dark and brooding. Maybe this man will understand me, I thought. Jeff brought me outside to talk and Avery stepped directly in front of him and pointed his pomegranate blueberry vape at me.

“How old do you think I am?” he asked. He could have passed for early twenties in the dark. He was 28 to my 32. We left his friend outside.


“My dad killed himself,” Avery said. “This is his anniversary.”

I clinked his glass.

“And it doesn’t feel like the anniversary of my dad who died,” he continued. “It’s the anniversary of my bipolar father who killed himself.”

Avery’s apartment was clean, with a ukulele and some posters. He got us two waters, led us to his room, and flipped a switch. The lights formed blue and purple patterns on the wall.

“Check it out,” he said. “I make music too.”

I watched the graphs on the screen dance to Avery’s music. He picked up his pipe.

“So do you always steal your friends’ girls?” I asked.

“I just got out of a relationship,” he said. “I haven’t done this many times.”

“You did a good job.”

Avery beamed.

“I feel bad about Jeff though,” he said. “His wife died of an overdose ten years ago. Now he’s basically incel.”


It felt great to meet a guy who spent as much time online as me.

When he leaned in to kiss me, I started to rant. At the time, I mostly kept to myself. I was diagnosed with autism at thirteen and I’ve always struggled to find my way. I tried to make my story witty, because it’s easier to be vulnerable that way. I told him I’m a sex addict and a human pot leaf. My apartment was disgusting. I was like the female Ignatius J. Reilly, a tidbit Avery could appreciate because he had the book on his shelf, along with The Game.

“Is that who you think you are?” Avery asked.

I nodded. I hoped he’d still like me. I also hoped he’d share some more intimate details about himself.

“Come on,” he said gently, his hands on my sweats. “Let’s get those off.”


The lights were still going. Avery passed the joint.

“You know,” he said, “I could have been incel.”

I’ve been around incels my whole life. My autism group is full of them. Men who never launched. They hang out in dark corners of the Internet where guys with usernames like Grotesque and Subhuman talk about Chads and cucks and looksmaxxing. That’s in contrast with socially awkward women, who have trust issues because we’d used our sexuality to talk to more interesting people than the nerds we made friends with naturally.

I started reading redpill blogs in college because they were the only contemporary literature I could find that explained why every girl in school was in love with the same fifteen douchebags. The blunt, statistic-heavy style of the writing was comforting to me. I grew up in a family that doesn’t mince words. I’d assumed incels and redpillers were natural allies, but an incel on Twitter told me there’s a rift. The redpill is profitable because it leads men to believe they can change. You can’t sell the blackpill. It’s over.

“I was raised on the Internet,” Avery told me. “Most of my social life in high school was online.” He was protective of this. “I don’t think you grew up like that,” he accused. “I think you adopted the Internet.”

He was right. I had magazines, a few boyfriends, my best friend. When I was a kid, I dreamed of being famous. Avery dreamed of being seen. Of being loved.

“My first girlfriend and I weren’t together for long,” he said. He rummaged through his cigar box of psychedelics. He moved a bag of shrooms from one compartment to the other. Then he looked right at me and said that she told everyone he had a small dick.

Men in autism group tell stories like this. They tell of cruel girls who claimed they were dangerous stalkers, while knowing they weren’t. Of adult women whose men abuse them, making things tough for the poor kid who tries to intervene just so the woman can take the abusive man’s side. The boys break down, end up in a psych ward, get diagnosed with something or another and, as adults, they’ve never given themselves a chance.

“Anyway,” he continued. “I hit her. They kicked me out of school. But they kicked her out, too.”

He was sent to a school for kids with behavioral problems. He got a job. He got a new girlfriend. He worked his way through college and wrote his senior thesis on 4chan. He works in IT. The world told Avery early on that he was a loser, and he refused to accept it.

I was sent to a special school, too. I wouldn’t go to class because the other kids were making fun of me. I realized in high school that I had the power to get weird guys to fall in love with me. It became a huge part of my identity.

I moved to New York in my late twenties to become a fashion designer. Clothes have always been my way to express that I’m cool inside. A professor told me I didn’t have the social skills. I tried to work for one of my favorite companies and they fired me. I couldn’t work quickly enough. I tried to teach at a school for autistic kids and the same thing happened. When I was younger, I used to fantasize that I’d eventually learn enough to make the autism go away. But I had to accept that it’s always going to be a struggle. A few years later I’d devolved into smoking weed all day every day and adopted the Internet. Incels are non-starters. Other neurodivergent people burn out.


Avery came by the next Friday. He was wearing a checkered button down shirt. “Now, I don’t mind going somewhere nice,” he said. We found a hip Southern restaurant. I asked about work. He told me. Then we got to the good stuff.

He started going to raves after his recent breakup with a Suicide Girl named Violet, who’d been raving since she was a teenager. They were at the on-and-off stage of ending things and she was impressed that he was going out now.

“The sex was amazing,” he said. But he felt that her attitude towards the act was “degenerate. Degenerating. Reductive of herself and myself and sexuality as a material process of pleasure maximization.”

Surprisingly for an Internet bro, his disdain towards the Dionysian-inclined extended to other men, too. He’d had a role model, Thomas, who’d hooked up with a lot of women. Thomas studied the blade. After Thomas cheated on his girlfriend, he wasn’t Avery’s hero anymore. “I thought he put it behind him for the sake of family values!” Avery wailed.

I told Avery I’ve had several serious relationships and a few close friendships, but I kept to myself a lot. I don’t connect easily. I’m worried that I’m too weird and people won’t like me if I let them in. But I did enjoy getting to know a new man; hearing what made him tick.

“People tell me I should get out more,” I said.

He pulled two books out of his messenger bag. One was an academic guide to social psychology and the other was what he called an anthropological study of a crackhouse. The book featured a crackhead named Gwen.

“Here,” he said. “These will teach you social skills.”

I couldn’t get through them. But I bought The Gay Science because he recommended it. I was about to go Fatal Attraction on this 140 pound man.

“Sometimes I think I have Asperger’s,” he told me. “But my special interest is people.”

“Normal people still won’t talk to me if I read these books,” I said.

“They don’t talk to me either. So what?”

Back at my apartment, he wrote out a list of things I’m not allowed to talk about. (Autism. Failure. Dying alone.) He snapped “THIS IS THE LIST! THESE ARE THE SPECIFIC ITEMS YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO TALK ABOUT!”

The seductress in my head smiled and said “What else am I not allowed to talk about, Avery?”

But we were just going to be friends.

“You know when I was a fucking disaster in high school, I didn't start to get my shit together until I started dating Bridget,” he said. “We didn’t have to get married for it to work. She just had to care about me enough and I had to trust her enough to actually consider and address the things that were holding me back. I do that for other people now, because sometimes that's all it takes.”

Avery helped me feel less afraid. Since he was patient with me, I realized others would be, too. Independence can be a big issue for autistic people. For about a year, when I went through my obsessive spirals, Avery talked me through them instead of me calling home.


My friend Sonya from autism group loves to rave. She’s an actress. We rolled in with our neurodivergent crew: tie-dyed spandex, light-up flower crowns, and her necklace that said Eat Sleep Rave Repeat. It was a treat to greet the low lights, honest expressions, and scattered souls you’d find on any day, in any era of a club where you’re allowed to be yourself.

A big guy offered us ketamine. I did it. She didn’t. A few minutes later I got up and wandered around taking pictures.

When the lights are low, it’s easier to read people. I read a man’s back. “But as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is to this day, to save many people alive.” He stood still so I could get several shots.

At almost every rave, I saw a man named Neptune. He was always alone. He dressed to the nines. He kissed my cheek and we took a picture together. One time he slipped a tasteful bracelet that said Balance onto my wrist. That night, he wore flowing rainbow wings that swept through the room. He was resplendent at Electric Daisy: lights and goggles and homemade beaded characters: Pokémon and Mario and Sonic flashing stories through the dark. The girls were all over him. But he walked Sonya and I home.

There were fewer people downstairs. Most of them looked present in the moment. Some young guys danced together in the front. Others danced alone. I read somewhere that the goal of a nightclub is collective effervescence. Bushwick clubs come close sometimes. A former promoter I met doing TV extra work came out with us and was pleasantly surprised. He said that in Manhattan clubs, they’re there to be seen.

“In these clubs,” he said, “they’re happy.”

I stared at a man under the red lights who I thought was an old flame of mine at first.

“You were really looking at me,” he said. “He must have been special to you.”

He’d been my bad boy. We took acid on the beach. When I saw it wouldn’t work, I said goodbye. I would have taken a picture of the man, but I wanted to remember Dimitrious as he was.

Back upstairs, Sonya was dancing. She always played the vamp. She was magnificent, every limb in tune. She had a more intense look on her face than anyone. Sonya was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder a few years ago. She says her dancing personality is different. She remembers the switch, but it’s different. I always inferred that Sasha was her favorite; a vibrant, fully actualized self free of the fog and trepidation of autism. People formed a circle around her. They pulled out their cameras. She starred in five movies that night.

My eyes drifted to a big beaded slinky in the corner. It was fashioned into a bracelet. I hadn’t seen anything like that before. There were two stuffed anime character keychains attached. I picked it up. A young girl with short black hair came up to me.

“You like it?” she asked.

“It’s gorgeous,” I said, handing it back.

“Take it.”

I must have made a face.

“I’m not making fun of you,” she said. “Take it. I want you to have it.”

I ran my fingers along my new kandi as we left. My friends and I lingered before getting on the train.

“Hey look, it rained!”

“Feels good.”

“How was your night?”

“It was great.”

“What did you see?”

The k was wearing off, but I felt warm.


One night I went out by myself and met up with this bisexual kid I liked to dance with. We went to the afterparty. I was trashed, so I insisted he let me sleep on the couch. He argued a bit, but then he dipped out with “your responsibility.”

When I woke up, there were a dozen men lined up around the room; the couch & the chairs. They smoked. They drank. They snorted. Music was playing. There was a game of darts. The guy next to me chatted me up. His name was Steve.

“Where’s the bathroom?” I muttered.

Steve pointed to the kitchen. I crawled off the couch and the sun shone through the big windows. It was a nice yard, but they needed to trim the shrubbery. I rubbed toothpaste in my mouth and regrouped. When I came out, people were standing around the stove. A girl Avery hooked up with was there.

“My husband used to hit me,” she said.

“I knew something was up,” said a thin man with a hat, his arm around her shoulders.

“You gotta work?”

“I’m at the school, man.”

“We should go to 7-11.”

“You call Sunshine?”

On the way to 7-11, we met up with a short woman. She might have been in her late forties. I walked along, half-listening to the conversation. “I see you guys all the time!” Sunshine said. “But you’re not my friends!” She looked around. “DOESN’T ANYBODY WANT TO BE MY FRIEND!”

She must have been somebody’s friend, once. Someone’s daughter.

Back at the house, I chatted with the guys. I chatted with Steve. The head guy brought us to his bedroom.

“You see,” he explained, gesturing to Steve. “You’re here, and I’m here.”

We looked at him.

“You’re here, and you bring her here, and this is my house.”

Downstairs was a similar vibe. The party was just getting started. I thought about it. Then I went outside to greet the day.

It was 10:30 AM when I got home. I got iced coffee and went for a run.


Avery and I still talk sometimes. He was happy to share his story. He has a girlfriend, too. He introduced her to raving. She’s a good girl, I think. He says he’s thinking about going back to school to be a therapist. I said I think he’d be good at it.

I’ve been making it a point to meet more people. I stopped smoking weed. I went to a Burning Man festival in Miami with a big-hearted PR girl. I’ve found that many people are willing to forgive a little awkwardness if you can forgive it in yourself. I’m proud to say I’m out there, still doing and learning.

And Avery is still dancing.