To a lot of allistic (that is, non-autistic) people, autism is a “childhood neurological disorder that needs to be cured”. Autistic adults, especially LGBTQ autistic adults, don’t exist.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that it infantilizes and dehumanizes autistic people, not to mention it invalidates our experiences as growing up autistic. Some of us have been diagnosed as children, others have been diagnosed as adults. Some autistics have never been diagnosed at all, which is completely valid. You don’t need an official diagnosis from a doctor to be autistic. Self-diagnosis is completely legit.
Many LGBTQ autistic people aren’t being taken seriously. When we come out to our family members and caregivers as queer and/or transgender, often times we are told that our sexualities and gender identities are “just a phase” and we’re not validated for who we really are.
Some of us are forced to undergo LGBTQ conversion therapy, which was invented by Ivar Lovaas, the same creator of autistic conversion therapy, better known as ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis). Some of us actually are, or have already gone though autistic conversion therapy.
Some of us are placed under legal guardianship where the guardians have complete control over our lives. They can legally force us into conversion therapy, prevent us from going to LGBTQ or autism Meetups, or prevent us from getting transition-related medical care.
Some of us are completely rejected by our families altogether. Some of us are kicked out of our families’ homes because we’re queer and/or trans and are left to fend for ourselves.
Many of us also come from religious households where we repeatedly hear that our sexualities and gender identities are “sinful”, and we start to internalize it. Some of us already have internalized the ableism we’ve heard from allistic people for being autistic, and so that’s another form of negativity we have to unlearn.
All this is wrong. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning autistics need as much support from family/caregivers, community as possible to not just survive, but thrive in a society that is already unsupportive of us.
Now I’m fortunate enough that I wasn’t kicked out of my mother’s home, placed under legal guardianship or forced into LGBTQ conversion therapy, but I was dismissed because of my sexuality, was told that being gay was a sin, and I was forced to undergo autistic conversion therapy as a child.
I always knew that I liked girls. I always knew that I wanted to date a girl when I got older. I thought boys were cute too, but I didn’t want to date them. I just never felt any romantic attraction to boys, and for me, I have to feel both romantic and physical attraction in order to date someone.
When I was 12, I had a crush on my Reading teacher’s aide. I even acted out in front of her just to get her attention, even if the attention was negative. I also had a big crush on Rachel Stevens from the British pop group S Club 7.
These crushes weren’t just mere admirations of women whom I thought were beautiful. I actually fantasized about dating them. I would pretend that they were my age and we would go out together as girlfriends.
Soon after my revelation I told my mother and my grandmother that I liked girls, although I didn’t explain it in detail. I came out to them because we’ve always been a close-knit family, and I felt that I could tell them anything.
My grandmother seemed to accept it (which was surprising, considering that she was from a generation that wasn’t so affirming), but my mother dismissed it as a phase and that I needed to give it time to sort things out.
So from then on, I actually tried to force myself to “like” guys. I would say to my friends, “Oh, he’s cute!” whenever a guy who looked close to my age walked by, even if he wasn’t cute. I didn’t want to seem different from my friends, who all seemed to be more “experienced” with the whole crushes and dating thing.
My family is very religious, and my mother wanted me to become closer to God, so when I was 15, she bought me a Teen Study Bible published by Zondervan. I read it, but then I came across some very anti-LGBTQ statements by the author. It said that being LGBTQ was sinful and a perversion, and then I started to panic. I thought I was evil and was going to hell for liking girls. I was starting to internalize those hateful statements from that Bible.
I still liked girls throughout high school, but I didn’t go on any dates with them because I was worried about what my friends and family would think. I did date and even go to prom with one guy though. I just wanted to fit in with my friends and not be ostracized by my peers.
I already had internalized ableism that goes way back to elementary school, when I learned that I was autistic. When I was 3, I was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified.), which is basically classified by doctors and psychologists as “high-functioning autism”, although I hate functioning labels. My mom told that me I was autistic when I was 6 (although she used person-first language). I don’t remember what my mom said about being autistic, but the way she said it made it seem like it was a bad thing. Plus, my teachers always reprimanded me for having meltdowns and hardly ever praised me for doing good things, so I figured that I was a bad person because I was autistic. My diagnosis was upgraded to Aspergers when I was 16.
This internalized shame of being autistic and gay had led to me being hospitalized nine times since I was 15 for suicidal ideation, and I even attempted it twice in my 20s because I had very little support to help me thrive in life. I still don’t have a lot of support.
These days I struggle to get rid of my internalized homophobia daily, and even struggle to get rid of internalized ableism. I’m a Christian and still worry if God really loves me because I’m also a lesbian. I don’t have as much shame of being autistic though. I pray every day that God will deliver me from all forms of internalized oppression.
I don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through, and I want allistics to understand that there people who are both LGBTQ and autistic.
To all queer and trans autistics: you are loved, and there are plenty of us out there. We’re everywhere, especially on Tumblr! Just do a search!