Autistic People Party, Too

Jesse Meadows
8 min readMar 31, 2021

The first time I went to a nightclub in Miami, I was fascinated.

Socialites on South Beach, 2009

Here was this entire underworld of debauchery set to heavy bass, the kind that gets up in your rib cage and rattles all your insides. The songs all flowed into each other, pulling along a room roiling with bodies, all beholden to the beat. The DJ conducted an entire crowd full of strangers in the dark by turning a few nobs and pressing the right buttons.

People were meeting, and flirting, and touching, and it looked like chaos but upon closer observation, there was a sort of hierarchy, and a litany of unwritten social customs to learn.

Don’t show up til midnight. When you do, make sure you’re drunk already. Smile confidently at the bouncer when he looks at your obviously fake ID. Make friends with the host, if she likes you then she can get you on any VIP list. Squeal when you see someone you only know from other parties, put on a show as if you had absolutely no idea you would see them there (even though you both go to this party every week). Hug them as if they are your long lost lover back from war.

Don’t forget to do your laps around the club every half hour to say hello to all the rest of the regulars, you wouldn’t want to become irrelevant.

It was not a world I could really navigate myself, to be honest. I leaned heavily on three helpers: my charismatic boyfriend, my camera, and alcohol. The boyfriend handled all the schmoozing, the mingling, and the social ladder climbing. The alcohol handled my nerves, and the camera gave me a purpose — something to do, someone to be.

I very quickly fell into the role of party photographer, which was perfect, because I wanted to observe without necessarily participating, and I wanted to document everything I was seeing and study it later. Without her, I think I would have been bored, but with my special interest in hand and free rein to indulge in it, I was in my element.

Self-portrait in the bathroom at the club, 2013

Every socialite loves a party photographer. My camera got me access, respect, and inclusion. Suddenly I was front row, center, I was on stage, I was being dragged into back rooms where…

Jesse Meadows

writer + digital artist doing critical adhd studies + re-politicizing mental health | they/them