Being Gay (Bisexual) and Autistic
As a member of more than one oppressed
group, I’ve found many interesting connections as well as differences between
my various communities and identities. I
have been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome since about age 8. So because of early
intervention, meds, and my own sheer determination, I'm now a very
"high-functioning" Aspie. Many people can't believe I have it. Others do
notice I am "different" in some subtle ways.
My disability is invisible, and generally I pass as "normal". As a teen I felt that I was viewed as asexual and desexualized and "un-dateable" but this was because I am perceived as a "nerd/geek". I believe that de-sexualization is a form of sexual objectification. If we hyper-sexualize or exaggerate the sexuality of some people, we must desexualize and deny the sexuality of others. Both have the effect of alienating people especially women from their bodies and sexuality. Sometimes the same person or group can be hyper-sexualized in some contexts while desexualized in others.
In a sense, the sexuality of autistic people and people with disabilities in general is “queer” in of itself. People with disabilities are often seen as perpetual children, rather than sexually mature adults. Sometimes non-disabled partners of people with disabilities are suspected of having some strange fetish or of exploiting a vulnerable person.
Often when sexuality is discussed in the context of autism the issue of abuse is the main focus. Autistics are either vulnerable children or adults who must be protected or socially maladjusted sexual predators. While these are both important concerns, the focus on these issues may lead autistic individuals and their parents to see autistic sexuality only in a negative light. It’s a bit like an autistic version of the virgin/whore complex. Because many autistic teens and adults are more dependent on their parents, they have less privacy about their romantic and sexual lives. People with disabilities who live in group homes or use personal care assistants face these same concerns. It is essential that we make GLBT and sexuality friendly group homes, PCAs and other services available.
There are also many parallels between being autistic and gay. Both are described as being spectra; a continuum between autism that blurs into neurotypicality* (“normality”) and the Kinsey scale which goes from exclusively homosexual to exclusively heterosexual. Asperger’s and bisexuality are both on the border between what is considered normal and “other”. Just as bisexual can more easily pass as a heterosexual, a mildly autistic person can more easily pass as a neurotypical.
Both mildly autistic people and bisexuals are also sometimes seen as not being legitimate spokespersons or members of their respective categories/communities because they are not deemed autistic or queer enough. Both are invisible minorities. People can chose to “come out” but if not their identity is supposed to be protected. One’s diagnosis of autism is hidden away in medical files. While that is necessary, it has the effect of promoting the concept that autism and similar conditions are the shameful medical “problems” of isolated individuals.
Doctors once blamed autism on the mothers being cold and unfeeling, whereas psychologists once blamed the cause of homosexuality on overbearing mothers. The people who try to cure autism remind me strongly of those who want to cure homosexuality. There is even talk of researching a “gay gene” which if found I fear will be used to genetically eliminate gay people, just as finding the genes that cause autism would lead to people screening out those genes. Both queer people and autistic people are often cast out or mistreated by their families and bullied in school.
On the other hand, there are many ways in which the two human rights movements are different. The autism “community” is run mostly by parents and professionals rather than autistic people themselves. Many of these leaders seek to “cure” autism and often do not include autistic people in their organizations (Dawson).
Unlike the gay community, autistic people don’t have their own parades, night clubs, trendy neighborhoods or celebrity spokespersons. Name one popular autistic TV character! Sure, many of us have characters we identify with like Spock on Star Trek or Lisa on the Simpsons, but generally the only autistic characters are hackneyed stereotypes. And then there’s our hate crime victims- what? Oh, guess you’ve never heard of them.
Yes, the autism community does indeed have its own fair share of Matthew Shepherds. There have been many cases of parents or caretakers abusing, neglecting or even intentionally murdering autistics. In many cases the parents were let off easy because the victim was seen as being less than human, had a life that was not worth living or the parents or society were burdened with taking care of the victim (Murder of Autistics).
In some ways I do think being autistic helped me accept my bisexuality. I previously had accepted being autistic, though I had earlier had denied it, and became proud of being autistic, seeing it as part of my identity. Discovering an attraction to women was a lot like that, and I also figured since I was already "weird" anyways, being a little weirder wouldn't matter much.
Neurotypical- this term has been coined by the autistic community to mean a so-called “normal” person. It implies that such a person is neurologically typical or average, rather than superior. Neurotypicality is the state of being neurotypical and NT is an abbreviation.
Autistic/Autistic person- I use this as a noun, rather than the PC “People-First” usage of “person with autism” because autism is not just a condition that someone “has”- it is pervasive and integral to their being.
Dawson, Michelle No Autistics Allowed site
This essay developed out of posts I made and conversations on the
Queer Disability Yahoo Group
Murder of Autistics website
For more information on Asperger’s Syndrome, check out the excellent article on Wikipedia. www.en.wikipedia.org