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Toolkit for Autistic Adults

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Being Autistic and Queer

When the labels don't quite fit 

 

There is no one "type" of autistic person, and you will meet autistic people from all walks of life who identify across a range of different gender and sexual identities.

 

Some participants in SAAIL identified as heterosexual or "straight" and said that the normative gender labels or binaries like "male", "female", man" or "woman" felt right for them. However, more than half of the autistic people we spoke to said that these labels did not fit or fully reflect their own experiences. So if you are autistic and feel like these labels don't sit quite right for you, rest assured you are certainly not alone.

 

The over 65 participants we spoke to used a huge variety of words and labels to describe themselves. Some words people used about their sexual identities were: Queer, Gay, Straight, Heterosexual, Questioning, PomosexualAutisexual, Bisexual, Lesbian, Greyromantic , Biromantic, Asexual, Aromantic, Pansexual polyamorousand Bicurious, Demisexual.  

Many of our participants identified as non-binary, trans, gender-queer, or gender fluid.  

 

Some participants said that they didn't feel strongly about labels at all, while others felt that any kind of label was limiting. 

"I’m queer but labels are hard. Like ‘not straight’ is about as accurate as I’ve got."

Some people knew from a young age that they weren't heterosexual or cisgender. However, for others, realising that they could name or "do" their gender and sexuality differently, in ways that felt more true to themselves, was a realisation that came much later in life - sometimes even after getting married and having children.

 

How you understand, express, and experience your sexuality does not necessarily stay the same throughout your whole life. For some of our participants, realising that they were autistic later in life prompted them to explore and reconsider their sexual orientation and what they wanted and needed from sex and intimate relationships.

“Realising I was autistic allowed me to see lots of parts of myself more positively including the sensory, sensual, sexual, romantic and emotional.” (Zel, 42, gender-questioning)

Are autistic people more likely to question or reject normative labels? 

 

While not all of our participants agreed, some felt that autistic people were more likely to question normative labels and categories, and were thus more likely to identify as queer than those who are not autistic or  neurodiverse. The quote below captures one autistic person's thoughts on the topic:

“I think autistic people are more likely to identify with other sexual identities because we are used to being outside the “typical” and because we see the nuances, detail and meaning behind the terms…I describe myself as heterosexual for ease and because a label doesn’t really make a difference to me, it doesn’t affect who I am, even though from the age of about 8,  I’ve always thought the idea that you would be attracted to a specific gender rather than a  person quite unlikely and bizarre. In practice, I’m probably pansexual.” (Petty_LaBelle, woman, 33, Black Caribbean/White)

Advice and tips: Finding support and community 

 

Many participants said that they found  LGBTQIA+ organisations to be a good place to seek support and resources around gender and sexuality. Even when these organisations do not have autism-specific support, they often work in open, flexible and understanding ways that inherently embrace difference. These organisations are used to supporting people who do not feel that society's normative ways serve them best.

If your local LGBTQIA+ organisation does not have autism-specific support, why not initiate a conversation about how the organisation can expand their skills and services to better support autistic people?  

 

As there are many autistic and neurodiverse people who identify as queer or LGBTQIA+, when you get involved with organisations and groups which are both for and by queer people, it is quite likely that you will meet neurodiverse people.

 

Our participants told us how important it is to build up communities of people who you can relate to and who value you for who you are. Getting involved in queer communities,  groups and spaces may be one way to do this. Some participants also said that they found a connection and community in groups that centred around their sexual identities and interests, such as kink and BDSM communities, groups, or meetups. 

"I knew I was into kink fairly young. I was attending munches from when I was about 20. And for me that’s always been a sense of community that I can learn from, that I can spend time with, without the judgement that I normally find." (Meg, 36, agender, pansexual, white)

 

Being Autistic and Trans 

More information coming soon

Recommended sexual orientation and identity resources

If you are exploring questions around your sexual orientation and sexual identity, we recommend that you start by looking at this excellent resource put together by Proud Trust:

Recommended gender identity resources

 

Proud Trust have also put together a great resource around gender identity:

Labels and identities are not always static, they can shift and change over time.

A change in how you identify can cause anxiety and uncertainty, but you find support to work through this.

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