By A.M.I'm Autistic. The A-word. Capital' A' Autistic. No, I'm not good at science, and I won't even begin with how poor I am at maths. I can't predict how a game of Blackjack is going to turn out: if I could, I wouldn't be stuck with nearly this much in student loans. I'm also Queer, in many senses of the word: my sexual and gender identity seem insistent on fighting back against norms as though I wasn't already doing enough of that as an Autistic person. There is an intrinsic link between my disability and my sexual/gender identity. Nothing about me enjoys being forced into the strict binaries that we impose on each other as though they are the first laws, the fundamental commandments, of our existence and our creation. I refuse to be a neat specimen to be examined under a heteronormative microscope, but that doesn't mean people have stopped trying to make me fit in their Petri dishes. People still have preconceived ideas of what Autism and Queerness look like, and these are in every sense stereotypes.
There are no physical indicators that I am autistic, my autism does not manifest as a physical disability. If you look really closely, you might spot my noise-cancelling headphones, fidget and stimming devices, but I could use those for any variety of reasons. You can't know that I have been wearing the same outfit all week because any other material makes me want to rip my skin off. You won't know that I haven't remembered to drink or eat because I grew hyper fixated on my deadlines. You'll never guess that I need to bring my friends with me to the supermarket because the lights are so loud that I can't walk in and out without fear of a sensory overload. Neither are there physical indicators that I'm Queer. So, the only way you could possibly know I am either is if, like I'm doing right now, I tell you.
In a video game, when one interacts with another character, dialogue options pop up that one can choose from. In my experience, the dialogue options in response to me sharing my identity are as such: "Oh, but you don't look [autistic] [queer]"; "Only boys/men can be [autistic]"; "You can't be [queer] you're dating a man"; "Do you know my [insert distant family relative whose name I've never heard here] they're also [autistic] [queer]?" When such wisdom is dispensed to me, and often with no consideration as to whether I want to hear it or not, I find myself amazed by the entrenched ignorance in which each question, word, and syllable is dripping in. And yet, for so long, I truly genuinely cared about such questions, about the beliefs of such people, about matching their expectations of me to fit in. I now respond to such comments with a pointed and extended middle finger.
In an effort to avoid the confrontations with stereotypes surrounding my identities, I have spent a large part of my life engaging in the exhausting process of masking. Masking is, largely, a coping mechanism utilised by Autistics, but the fundamental philosophy can be extended to Queerness also. It is the act of pretending, of entering the stage and putting in all one's efforts to hide what it is that may out you as Autistic. Acts of scripting, mimicking, hiding, pushing through, disguising, imitating… The list goes on, and it doesn't get any healthier. My life is like I'm stuck on a movie set where everyone else knows the script, which for some reason is in an obscure, perhaps even dead language, and I'm just expected to know exactly what to do. And if I don't get it right, I'm outed. Living in constant fear of being outed, and utilising all one's energy to hide it, leaves its marks on one's mental and physical health. As much as I am finding myself extending a middle finger towards stereotypes, I do still mask. I can say that there is nothing about me that needs solving or fixing in relation to my Autism and my Queerness, I can share the absurd surrealism through which life presents itself to me in stories such as this.
But reclaiming these terms, and ultimately reclaiming myself, from the stereotypes associated with them is going to be a long journey.
There are real consequences to being outed, there is a reason I mask that is more than just avoiding general ignorance. As I write this piece, a court judgement has been issued in America overturning the ban on the use of graduated electronic decelerators (GEDs)—skin shock devices—on people with disabilities. The Judge Rotenburg Educational Centre, and associates, who brought the case, can continue to legally utilise electro-shock treatment as 'corrections' on 300+ students with a variety of disabilities, including Autism. The United Nations has repeatedly intervened, accusing the school of torture. In the United Kingdom, the UK Government issued Do Not Resuscitate Orders on Covid patients with intellectual learning disabilities. In respect of the LGBTQ+ community, both countries are experiencing a violent wave of anti-Trans and Gender Non Conforming sentiments. Discrimination towards both LGBTQ+ and disabled communities is global.
As an Autistic and Queer person, I know the world is improving in its treatment of these identities. I also know as a white person that I am immensely privileged in many respects, and that Autistic and Queer people of colour are severely more likely to face social, cultural, economic and political attacks on their identity. Accepting and reclaiming my identity is one part of a long journey. Indeed self-pride and self-love and self-acceptance are important. But there is also work to be done amongst those of you who are not members of these communities. Acknowledge your privilege, listen to Queer and Autistic voices, ask us how you can help, educate yourself, and stand up alongside us as we continue to fight against ignorance and fear and hatred. My existence, my proud and out existence, is an act of resistance. I am no longer in hiding, I am no longer alone: I am Queerly Autistic and Autistically Queer, and I will no longer live in fear.