Expressing a sexual inclination, different orientation, or identifying yourself as a person with autism and LGBT at the same time can be difficult for anyone.
Although progress in recent years regarding the rights of the LGBT community is evident, members still suffer discrimination, stigma, and political challenges. The challenge increases when it comes to people with autism because it is a permanent condition that affects the way a person perceives the world, as well as his/her behavior, communication and social interaction with others.
The causes are still unknown, not to mention the informational vacuum that exists about the biological characteristics of sexuality and the approach to gender identity. There are people who accept who they are and feel satisfied with it, but there are others who constantly seek to understand their identity.
Undoubtedly, having autism, and being part of the LGBT community can bring about social complexities, presenting a variety of challenges.
Fight for adaptation
For people with autism, everyday life can be overwhelming and involves a constant struggle to adapt to today’s world. According to the National Autism Society, “they see, hear and feel the world differently from neurotypical people.”
Generally, individuals within the spectrum have difficulties in communicating, expressing feelings, understanding social signs and interacting with others. For them to conform to social rules takes time and effort. This allows them to develop a unique identity.
A reality that seeks social claim and visibility
Sexual diversity and gender identity are part of a reality that seeks social claim and visibility, extending to people with autism.
On June 28, 2017, thousands of people gathered for a week in Madrid, Spain, to celebrate International LGBTI Pride Day (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transexuals, among others) and develop activities to discuss and show diversity.
This global event focused its attention on people with disabilities through the Spanish Committee of Representatives of People with Disabilities (CERMI) and the Cermi Women Foundation (FCM), among other institutions, under the slogan “sexual diversity, human diversity,” promoted for the disability movement.
The representatives of CERMI, an organization of which Autismo Spain is a part, met in 2016 to form a Technical Commission to provide support and attention to persons with disabilities in matters of sexual orientation and gender identity.
United Nations (2016) considers that:
“The guarantee of equality and non-discrimination offered by international human rights standards applies to all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation and their gender identity or other condition.”
However, despite rights achievements, when other variables such as sexuality and non-normative gender identity are added to a disability, the problem becomes more complex because exclusion and discrimination come into play.
Autism and exercising rights for sexual diversity and gender identity
Autismo Spain has prioritized the promotion and effective exercise of the rights of people with autism, with the aim of improving their quality of life and granting them equal opportunities. To achieve this, it is important to include the different realities in the field of sexual orientation in a transversal way.
Sexual diversity and gender identity is a pulsating reality that demands a change of vision
about sexuality in the world. Fortunately, in recent years it has been more vindicated, observing a greater visibility from the social point of view, which also has an impact on the group of people with autism.
Expressing sexuality and gender
The difficulty in developing in the social environment and interacting with others complicate relationships with people with ASD.
There are manifestations such as repeating phrases and words, repetitive movements, talking about their own interests, inability to understand emotions, isolation, little eye contact and rejection of physical contact are determining behaviors at the time of consolidating a friendship or romantic relationship.
The above does not mean that a person with autism cannot live a normal life, but it requires greater tolerance and compassion on the part of family members, partners, and friends.
Jack Whitfield, a member of the Ambitious About Autism Youth Council and a Plymouth poet, says: “it can be difficult to express two different identities.”
“Many more of us are adopting different sexualities and gender fluency independently and with relative confidence,” says Jack.
By having contact with like-minded people, Jack says he “has been able to better understand his autism and sexuality.”
“The Last Pride Festival in Plymouth was fantastic in meeting many other autistic people being very open with both, which helps me as I learn more about my possible biromantic or asexual traits.”
“The two movements [autism and LGBT] always seemed to work well together, challenging the convention but with a view to equity and integration, rather than attacking those who are not autistic or LGBTQ,” he said.
“I am grateful because the awkward social encounters that I had previously attributed to my autism are becoming more complex to analyze, by contemplating and questioning my sexuality within it.”
He goes on to say: “As I see my autistic colleagues as brothers and sisters, regardless of where they are on the spectrum, the parallel values of patience and welcome that I see in the Pride movement reassure me of being able to talk about how to navigate this new terrain for me.”
Not always visible
There are different types of autism and levels, and sometimes it is not easy to identify so many call it “silent disability.”
Jonathan Andrews, 24, who has expressed being LGBT and is on the spectrum, says that “both his sexuality and his disability are not immediately visible to people.”
“I don’t announce it when I meet people for the first time, unless it’s something natural in a conversation or if the other person realizes on their own.”
“With sexuality, people often assume that you must be” secretly gay “or similar. With autism, people assume that you are not really autistic, saying: ‘you don’t look autistic’, ‘you look good’ or variants, or assuming that because I’m smart, nothing else matters, or set a lower bar for you, often called “soft fanaticism of low expectations,” he says.
“That said, I would not say that my experience has been mostly negative: in general, I have worked and I am friends with people who accept me for who I am and recognize the advantage of diversity.”
The most important thing to keep in mind is that each individual with autism is different.
Testimony of a beneficiary of the Autism Federation of Andalusia who tells us his personal experience.
To know this reality a little better, we wanted to show the testimony of a person who receives the support of the Autonomous Federation of Andalusia and who wanted to tell us about his personal experience.
Tell us a little about yourself, how would you describe yourself beyond labels?
Personally, the labels cause me a certain rejection, beyond “person with ASD” or “LGBT person,” I am simply a person. In my opinion, the fact of putting so many labels excludes us more than it includes us. We would have to do more to see the person as a human being and not classify them according to their disability, sexuality, religion or color.
Have you ever felt discriminated against or invisible? Can you explain to us?
Everyone feels that way sometimes. I have been discriminated against, tried and rejected for being gay and for having Asperger’s until I discovered that no one has the power to insult you if you don’t give it. With Asperger’s, I felt invisible and displaced almost daily.
What has helped you overcome possible difficulties in this regard?
The power is within each and every one of us. To access it, we have to eliminate fears, complexes, and insecurities. You have to fight and not let yourself fall; never respond with anger (anger feeds anger) and bring out the good that we have inside so that others can appreciate it.
What is required of the society in general or the political class so that diversity ceases to be a barrier to total inclusion?
I don’t expect anything. I fear nothing. I am free.
How do you see yourself in the future?
Shining and giving light to those around me. That is my goal in life.
Never think less of yourself because you are a person with autism and also part of the LGBT community.
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