By Kai R.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is best described as the developmental and neurological difference in the way an individual communicates and interacts with the world surrounding them. Because this is a spectrum, autistic people are varied based on the levels of support needed to adjust in our neurotypical world. The month of April is Autism Acceptance Month, and amongst the Actually Autistic community, there is no better time to make our voices heard and promote self-advocacy on the entire Autism Spectrum—regardless of our support needs. However, it seems that a major part of the community is either censored, wiped away or silenced due to crucial social justice ideals not 100% aligning in lockstep to those who have power over us.
Growing up not only as a little black girl but an autistic little black girl already provided challenges to my family. Eye contact with talking partners was an absolute pain, I had emotional outbursts and meltdowns that would be met with abusive behavior, and making friends was like mining for precious stones and metals—you’ll be lucky to find even a minutia of genuine gold instead of rocks decorated with shimmer paint. With the social and emotional maturity of a child younger than my chronological age, being seen as “too smart” for other kids whilst taking too long to learn social skills that other peers already knew was an automatic recipe for lunchtimes sat next to your teachers and you sadly coloring away your sorrows, wanting what they all had. Everyone always told me to stop being “weird,” as if that would help a confused and lonesome little girl suddenly understand the ways to make friends with real people and not with her imagination.
Then came a thing called early puberty, and at that point all hell broke loose.
Suddenly, from the second half of elementary school years (3rd through 5th grades) onward, I felt tingly and confused about the way girls seemed to look so different than I had usually seen them. Middle school was a blur of sexuality struggles and thinking boys were as cute and interesting as girls to me, and this carried on well into high school—where I adopted the term “pansexual,” expecting fanfare from my peers. If hindsight were 20/20, I would have recognized the peer group that seemingly accepted me without any hesitation as the apex predators and bullies they truly were.
As a lonely autistic 15-year-old girl in 2015, the internet seemingly welcomed me with open arms and a helping hand for my sexuality. Every question I asked pointed me to the direction of TrevorSpace, The Trevor Project’s teen and young adult site for mingling and support of sexualities. Every month I used the website I got the attention I craved; more and more people who liked what I posted followed me and, most importantly, wanted to walk me through the questioning process. It would be seemingly a different sexuality or gender identity that led me farther and farther away from my truth: was I asexual and panromantic? Could I be a non-binary gynesexual? Does the thought of dating trans women and men cross my mind in the positive? Being me, isolated and friendless, I answered yes to everything, earning a spot in the highest regards of the TrevorSpace message boards and even an online “girlfriend.” To keep this reputation, I felt the pressure to keep trying to maintain a faux image of myself and pretend the thought of being something magically not a female exclusively attracted to females was because I wanted to be “normal.” This, ironically, only made my life spiral downward and my next real life relationship suffer to the point that I broke up with an ex over text instead of in person and become as toxic as so many of these teens had been whilst infected with the gendie sweet talks. I had effectively gone from pansexual, to demisexual homoromantic, to a spiteful “gynesexual demigirl” in the span of four months.
Slowly, I started pulling away from those spaces and questioning everything they told me. I asked a simple question to myself: “If being non binary really exists, wouldn’t that just be a variation of gender expression?” That initial feeling of doubt led me to delete the TrevorSpace account, ditch the enby label, and fully start to understand the meaning of my firmly closeted sexuality. What I had thought to be a positive and loving environment of peers who cared about me and my autism ended up being the cesspool of a negativity and attention feedback loop that desperately needed to be broken lest I feed into those horrid feelings any more than I already did. Since December 2017, I truly came out to myself as a lesbian, and all of the past pain I caused people to feel brought me to my lowest point. Ruminations doubling as hyper fixations were the worst feelings I have ever had in my fairly short life because, while my best friends were able to be socially normal and find partners with ease, I looked at myself in the mirror and saw a monster desperately clawing for romance and true friendship.
“Xe who has the talking stick gets all of the power.”
Adulthood autism/LGBTQ+ chats nowadays seem to remind me of the toxic TrevorSpace chats I had all those years ago: there could never be any steps outside of the bubble I was placed in, and aspiring partners within early Gen Z maintained these attitudes as if “queerness” was just another way of being a grown-up Hot Topic scene kid. Social homelessness and isolation grew more and more harsh as I was still expected to know the social rules and conventions of the world. Shrinking now were the numbers of Gen Z lesbians, and the modern-day appeal was for mentally disturbed females identifying as “enbies” pulling in lonesome autistic people (who overwhelmingly embody gender-nonconformity, such as my tomboy self) for their online biddings, even self-diagnosing to adapt our most positively received traits instead of the rest of our symptoms.
“Sorry, but your incongruent sleep cycle, childish love for video games and mini sensory overload in loud grocery stores aren’t TikTok friendly, you’re not #ActuallyAutistic enough.”
My truth is simple: I’m an autistic lesbian. No matter how many modern influencers and virtue-signaling corporations try to convince me that I am a “Queer Womxn, actually,” the poisoning of autistic minds to the vocal minority of the TQ+ online communities has only worsened since 2015. Self diagnosis is easy enough to do, as long as you’re able to find the autistic traits from Mayo Clinic to appropriate them into daily life; and worse, an alarming number of young women who decided to start injecting hormones into their bodies end up just being a misdiagnosed autistic woman and detransitioning—all while feeling that normal disconnect from traditional gender roles like I and many others did. It is absolutely disgusting and disheartening to see the amount of young autistic people being swindled into the predatory arms of acceptance and love, but then grow up and feel cheated out of the majority of their youthful autistic livelihoods by making drastic changes to their bodies and mindsets.
My message to autistic people being sucked away from living their truths as same-sex attracted and gender-nonconforming individuals: You are not alone in this struggle. Never let the hyper polarized peer pressure from the terminally online micro-identity obsessors use your inexperienced social cues to prey on your sensibilities. Live and let live, but fight like hell to maintain your same-sex attraction and gender-nonconformity.
Self advocacy for autistic people is crucial to changing the landscape of autism acceptance, and soon the LGB voices will come together and shift the course of discussion regarding sexuality and gender. We have to point it all out.