CW/TW: a lengthy discussion of internalized ableism and queerphobia; mention of religion (Christianity); mention of suicidal ideation and attempts, mention of ABA
I grew up in a devoutly Christian household. I was taught that Jesus loves the little children and that He can heal the blind, the ill, and the physically disabled. I was also taught that good people go to Heaven and that bad people go to hell. I still believe in God, but now I’m trying to unlearn the ableist, anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric that hardcore fundamentalists preach.
I always knew that I was neurodivergent in preschool and kindergarten because I seemed to be reprimanded and punished by teachers far more than the other children were. I went to an ABA-based special education early childhood center from preschool thru second grade, and although every child there was disabled in some way, I always felt like I was being singled out by teachers and other staff because I had a meltdown almost every day.
When I was 6 and in first grade, my mother told me of my autism diagnosis. I didn’t know what being autistic meant at the time, and I don’t remember exactly what my mom said to me or if I asked her why I acted different from the other kids, but I figured that being autistic was bad because I was being punished at school and at home. First grade was especially difficult for me because I had a very strict teacher.
Throughout elementary school, I tried to “act” neurotypical—I tried to make friends, and I did everything they said just so I wouldn’t lose them. In fourth grade, I tried to dress in more trendy clothes just to win the approval of my peers.
Then when I was 12, I realized that I liked girls (and I didn’t just like their aesthetic appearances, I wanted to date them) and when I came out to my mom, she said that it was just a phase and told me to “give it time”. I tried to act “straight”—I dressed very feminine and talked about every single guy I thought looked “cute” (I like the appearances of some guys, but I don’t want to date them).
In high school, I thought I was bisexual because I liked the appearance of guys and girls. I didn’t know the difference between aesthetic, sexual and romantic attractions. I even dated one guy in my senior year.
After I graduated from high school, who were autistic and proud of it. I was still ashamed of being autistic at the time, and I’m not going to lie, it was very difficult for me to fathom anyone who would be comfortable, let alone be proud of being autistic. I had been beat down so many times for my neurology in my childhood that I had very low self-esteem after high school.
I also met other autistic people who were queer and okay with it. It was hard for me to understand that too. Why would anyone want to be different from the norm in any way, since we were treated worse than those who were “normal”?
I even tried to kill myself twice because I was so ashamed of being autistic and queer. When I got out of the hospital after my second suicide attempt, I suddenly felt a lot less ashamed of being autistic. I even felt a sense of pride in my neurodivergence.
This is going to sound really bad, and it’s not easy for me to say this, but when I read or hear news stories of racism, especially anti-Black racism, it hurts me to my core, because I was taught that you can’t change your race—it’s how you were made. However, I’m not as distraught by stories about anti-LGBTQ+ or disability bigotry and violence, because I still have it ingrained in my mind that being disabled or being LGBTQ+ is something that can be changed. That ableist and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric from my youth still effects me to this day because I didn’t have support for my neurodivergence and my queerness growing up.
I’m a homoromantic asexual, meaning that I’m romantically attracted to women, but not sexually attracted to anyone. Basically, I’m an asexual lesbian (yes, we exist!). And I like to dress kind of femme, so I’m also a femme queer lady. And I’m autistic and multiply-neurodivergent too. So I should be proud of those qualities.
I wish I had been taught that it’s okay to be queer and autistic. I wish I had had been taught that my queer identity is as just a part of me like me being Black or me being a woman. I wish that I had been taught that God had made us unique and that disabled people—whether physically, mentally, emotionally or intellectually—don’t need healing because God doesn’t make mistakes. And we LGBTQ+ people don’t need healing from (a)sexualities or gender identities because those aren’t mistakes either. What we all need healing from is oppressive “change-to-be-accepted” rhetoric that many of us are taught.
I pray every day for deliverance and healing from oppressive mentality.