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The Challenge of Being Gay and Autistic

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When I was a teen I spent some time in group and foster homes. One of my friends in the group home, who I will just call Jay to protect the not-so-innocent, had a huge crush on me. Our rooms were next to each other, and one night we were talking and he showed me his journal and it had a big rainbow sticker on it. I honestly at the time didn’t understand what he was trying to tell me. He said rather exasperatedly, “If you aren’t gay, nobody is!”

I actually thought at the time he was teasing me. Jay was a masculine, athletic black guy and I was a feminine and nerdy white kid. I didn’t understand that he was flirting with me until years later, when I found out from someone else entirely. I often wonder what would have happened if we had understood each other, but having autism spectrum disorder I have missed a lot of relationship opportunities because of my inability to correctly interpret nonverbal social cues.

This can be a problem for anybody who has autism, but it’s especially tough when it comes to those of us who are gay, bi, lesbian and trans. That’s because when we are young, many of us aren’t yet comfortable openly expressing our feelings, so we often test the waters with people we are interested in through a look or other nonverbal communication. We are usually terrified to make the first move, afraid we might be misinterpreting the other person’s motives and a good friendship could be ruined as a result. Compound this with the stigma being gay has in our culture, and you have a situation where being gay and autistic can feel very lonely — like a compilation of missed opportunities to find a partner.

Jay tried so hard he even mooned me once in front of other guys, but at that time it was hopeless. I didn’t even know autism was the name for what I had, so I didn’t get why I constantly had miscommunication with people on a variety of subjects. So I wanted to write this for all my autistic peers able to date and have relationships, in hopes that you can learn from my experience and try to be aware of those in your life who want to love you as you are. Unconditional love is the most powerful thing in the universe, and I believe we should always seek to capture it when the opportunity is presented.

Possibly the most difficult thing for many of us as autistic people is to be willing to love someone so much we allow our carefully planned rituals and routines to be altered and compromised. The sort of control we lose if we marry someone and allow them to share our space can invoke the worst of our flight or flight instincts, yet family is part of existence. Alex Haley, author of “Roots” and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” said, “In every conceivable manner, the family is a link to our past and a bridge to our future.” No man or woman is an island, not even us as autistic people. So again I urge you to open your eyes and hearts to the possibilities of love. It is worth anything you stand to lose.

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Getty photo by Black Salmon.

Originally published: December 17, 2017
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