“There is an obvious possible correlation from my experience and it is one that simply comes down to: as an Autistic person, I am myself.
This may sound oblique, but when one considers the social hoops and niceties we are all expected to learn, my world has been filled with stark contradictions that clearly make sense to many neurotypical friends and family members. For example, we are told from a young age to tell the truth, oh but not that truth as it’s rude. Add a thousand more of those and it’s no surprise that my internal truth, my sexuality, was just simple and was mine; was me.
My identity, initially as a young woman who was attracted to men and women, but more so women, was just who I was. I tried to put on that different skin that might make me more palatable to others but it just never worked. Instead, I held on to an internal acceptance within a world that was full of such nonsensical – to me – hate and bigotry. This presented a double bind in that not only was I clearly quite different to my peers, but I was also deemed a deviant by many, who made their mind up because of who I loved rather than who I was.
Add to this that I was called ‘aggressive’, because I spoke the truth or because I stood up to any injustice no matter what the consequences, you get a cocktail of truly feeling like you have been born on the wrong planet. Whilst it may be a generalisation, girls tend to internalise such things. It is not that the world is wrong for being so judgemental and appearing to have no ability to rationalise in the way you can, it is because you are wrong inherently. And herein can lie the beginning of a life of self-hate.
It can also form something that is so easy to feel is your safety net, even if it means you are far more open to bullying and others’ hate or lack of understanding. It could also be that it feels like it is a ‘more acceptable’ way of being different. I appreciate that this seems to contradict what I’ve just said, but there are young people who can stick their stake in the ground in relation to their LGBTQIA+ identity more than being autistic, dependent on how they feel they may be received or indeed how comfortable they are internally with either. Whether this is or isn’t the case, is almost irrelevant, the issue is that there is even an issue.
Honest and Open Communication
We need to therefore support honest and open communication (or not, as some young people may not wish to directly engage) when it’s sought and not induce any form of shame. Have honest conversations with yourself about why certain things matter to you and actually – do they really matter? Try to not use cliches such as ‘I just worry about how others will treat you,’ or ‘are you sure, we all go through phases.’ Just have a think, do you really think that anyone would place themselves in such a vulnerable position (at least in the current climate) on a whim? And are you worried about how others will treat them or is it because you are uncomfortable or embarrassed? Do people go through phases? Of course, every single person does but you don’t tell someone to not ever be in a relationship because they’re likely to get hurt as how would any of us ever learn?
Support, genuine support and an ability to shift your own perspective and understanding if necessary, is key. Your relationships with these young people will be all the better for it in the long run, but more importantly you will be actively telling them that who they are, fundamentally, is just who they should be; themselves. Both autistic and LGBTQIA+ pupils are at proven increased risk of bullying in schools, so that’s something senior leadership teams should carefully monitor. Social relationships may already be difficult to navigate for autistic young people, and starting a new romantic relationship is always tricky – adding an additional layer of intersectionality makes it all harder to navigate without understanding support. “
Claire Farmer, Co-Chair of Trustees at Autistic Girls Network, local government SEND advisor and former Headteacher.