Being autistic and Gay

Autism itself is a misunderstood condition in itself, and can make life a challenge. By some twist of fate, I also had another complex issue to deal with - homosexuality. This combination has presented me with an extra set of challenges and insights.

To make matters more complex, both of these issues surfaced within 18 months of each other, so in effect, I had to deal with them together. The first was the discovery that I am gay. This happened in March 1991, when circumstances made this conclusion undeniable. Up until thin, although I had homosexual thoughts, I denied them at all costs. I suspect that my autistic traits played a part in this denial, because such thoughts were buried so deep, that I had lost conscious awareness of them - something that no other gay person I know of has reported. It was only after moving away from home, and the resulting change of environment that I became aware of my true sexuality. Looking back through the previous 10 years of my memories, only confirmed that I was indeed gay all along, and had spent those years trying to fool myself. As luck would have it, I fell in love with a guy a few months later. He is one of those perceptive people, and was quickly able to see that something was different about me to most other people. He offered to help me find out why, and as I knew I had social and other (at the time) unexplainable difficulties with life, I started the long road to finding an answer (and hopefully a solution). Eventually, in August 1992, I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, which was, at the time, a devastating blow, as I had not that long come to terms with my sexuality, and was then dealing with the complexities of a relationship.

Within a few months, a new problem surfaced. I needed support for living with autism, but because a lot of issues were intertwined with my sexuality and relationship, it was difficult to find people who I felt could help. The gay community is well served by counsellors, and I had a growing network of friends in this area, but none of them understood autism and how that affected my life. On the other hand, most people who dealt with autism worked in a family setting, and I didn't get the positive vibes off them to disclose my sexuality. There were a few exceptions, including the psychologist who diagnosed me, but they were largely inaccessible for financial or other reasons. As a result, there was a long period of time when the two of us were the only ones left to try and work these issues out. This put a severe strain on the relationship, to the point that we broke up for a few weeks in 1995, until we realised that the stress of coping with multiple issues and misunderstanding were the cause of the problems.

Over these past 5 years, there have been a few means of support which allowed me to work through these issues. The first was bulletin boards. There are a number of gay and gay supportive systems dotted around the world, and Melbourne is particularly well served. After finding the forums which dealt with issues of coming to terms with one's sexuality, I realised the potential of the technology and started The Bridge, a gay supportive BBS which was less confronting than those that I had seen at the time. The next was a 12 step mental health support group, which were helpful in dealing with issues of self-esteem, and enabling me to develop to the point that I could start talking about the complex issues I had to deal with. This was particularly helpful during the period of our breakup. In 1994, I was at a computer show where someone was offering Internet access without the horrendous up front charges that are common here. I signed up on the spot, and then wondered what to do with my new account. :-) Being a technical type, and active on BBS's, it was natural in a way that I would get on the Net, but I had no idea what I was going to use it for. A friend of mine (who took over the BBS when I ran into financial trouble) showed me Gopher and how to use it. I decided to have a play, and the idea of using it to look for information on autism came to me. This allowed me to subscribe to the various mailing lists, and those lists gave me some of the support that I needed.

Through the lists, I discovered that I was just one of many people trying to find their place in the world. Even more revealing was the insight that issues of acceptance and understanding are so universal to humanity. Many people take it for granted that they're accepted in the general community, as they've had few socially contentious issues to deal with. Autistic people, for the first time, are able to interact in large numbers via the Internet, and the issues of acceptance and understanding have been discussed on many occasions. What struck me was the parallel of these issues with the struggles of the gay rights movement of decades past. With my window into both worlds, I am able to see the commonalities of that struggle and draw on the experience of the gay community to help my autistic friends, both on the Internet and in person. I see the makings of a vibrant online autistic community emerging in the mailing lists, and a desire to have our voice heard in an unforgiving world, again like the gay community banding together, and expressing their individuality and commonality.

Being autistic and gay has been a struggle at times, but like anything, meeting the challenge has its own rewards. It has made me stronger as a person and more outspoken on social issues than I might otherwise have been. Having been the subject of rejection, and walked a social tightrope, I feel for those who are rejected by society because they are different in some way, and feel their pain (aided by my natural ability to feel others' pain), and have got myself into many a flame war on these issues :-) ).

Just for the record, I know of only one other autistic person who is gay. No doubt there are others, but since sexuality is not the most talked about topic in autistic circles, it's difficult to know the real picture. The vast majority of sexually active autistic people I know are heterosexual, and I suspect the percentage of autistic people who are gay is about the same as for the general community. On the figures I've seen, that represents about 1 in 10,000, or less of the total population. Of these, probably half are not sexually active, and a lot in deep denial (as I once was), as they grapple with other pressing personal issues.

If anyone reading this page is dealing with the issues of sexuality and autism, my mailbox is always open. Just click on the mail link below.

Footnote: This was originally written in 1995. As of 2011, hundreds, of not thousands of gay autistics have come out and regularly communicate via Facebook, email and other media.

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