Queer as (Autistic) folk – sexuality, gender and Autism

I returned from a trip to Perth yesterday. It is a four hour flight from Canberra so I decided to see what visual entertainment QANTAS was providing on their little screens. I discovered the ‘documentary’ page and was delighted to find a number of interesting shows. There was the Autistic Gardner which I sadly only discovered as we were landing so didn’t get to see. (Although it’s ok because I fly a lot so I’ll check it out next time).  I watched a great BBC film about Pop Art and its long reach across the globe for the past fifty years. I then saw something called ‘Between a frock and a hard place’. It was marketed as being the back story to one of my favourite movies – Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. I clicked on it and spent an hour feeling all sorts of things. The doco was basically a very engaging investigation of Queer sexuality and gender identity in Australia in recent decades. The whole way through I had to stop myself from pulling out my laptop and writing this blog…so I’m writing it now!

I think I have always been part of the Queer spectrum, from my childhood where I was terrified of having to marry a man and have kids- the future I shared with all the other women in our conservative church. As a teenager I had negative experiences of heterosexuality and decided men were not for me. I identified as Lesbian for decades and had a few female partners before discovering that there is another option which suited me far better – asexuality. I have always been very proud of my divergent sexuality and felt that anyone who has trouble with it is very confused, not to mention rude. Things like homophobia and transphobia are beyond me. I simply can’t understand why anyone else cares what people’s gender identity or sexuality is. If sexual activity is between consenting adults, the only way it would impact me is if I was in the bed with them! And as to gender identity, no transgender person has ever tried to force me to transition to a different gender or do anything else. As one would expect, an individual’s gender identity is their own and while immediate family members can go through some difficulty working out how the dynamics of relationship ect work when a partner or family member identifies as a different gender, it is no reason for hatred and prejudice and even violence but sadly these things do happen. Like many other Autists prejudice around things like sexuality baffles me. I felt terrible watching that documentary on the plane when a family talked about their gay son being murdered in a hate crime which was only investigated twenty years after it happened because at the time the police didn’t care. How is that even possible? A human being is a human being and really doesn’t deserve to be killed just because he does;t conform to the ‘norm. And if someone is killed surely they need to police to spend as much care and diligence bringing the murderer to justice as they would for anyone else.

In my travels throughout the Autism world in the past ten years or so I have met a lot of Autistic people who have a ‘different’ gender identity or sexuality, Apparently there is research which demonstrates Autistic people are more likely to identify as Queer. This would certainly be true of people I know. Of course some horrible reductionist types might have a ‘reason’ for that. I don’t actually care about a reason or cause – supporting people to be who they want to be is more important to me than trying to work out a ’cause’ (and in my experience looking for a ’cause’ to things often comes from a place or wanting to ‘fix’ it. I don’t want Queer people or Autistic people to be ‘fixed’ – we don’t need to be! We are fine just as is.

When talking about Autism and sexuality and gender identity or disability and sexuality more broadly, there are a few things which tend to crop up. Some people think Autistic adults are not sexual beings, that we are somehow like children or innocents. When Autistic people form attachments and relationships, some parents or support people try to discourage or end the relationship. As with anyone trying to come between partners, this is a very slippery slope. Autistic people have as much right to sexual pleasure and relationships as anyone else does. For me I am asexual but this doesn’t make me – or other Asexual Autists – less ‘adult’. In fact Asexuality is not confined to Autistic people – there’s plenty of non-autistic ‘Aces’ out there too. It is important to remember we are adults and as long as a sexual encounter or relationship is consensual and not exploitative then let people go for it!

There is an excellent book which has just been released looking at these sorts of things. It is called The Autism Spectrum Guide to Sexuality and Relationships. I wrote one of the forewords for it. It really is wonderful. The author, Dr Emma Goodall is an Autistic Autism professional. I don’t normally do book plugs but I really love this one. http://www.jkp.com/aus/the-autism-spectrum-guide-to-sexuality-and-relationships-33995.html


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