It wasn’t until recently that I came to understand that Autistic Pride Day wasn’t an individual day for LGBTQI+ autistic people to celebrate. That it was a day for ALL autistic people.
I had just assumed that because it was in the middle of Pride Month, that it was about gender and sexual diversity.
I’ve since discovered that whilst Pride Month helped shape the meaning of it, that they’re two completely different events. That do, for very good reasons, overlap.
So. This blog is about June 18th, Autistic Pride Day, AND June, Pride Month.
Autistic Pride Day was created by Aspies For Freedom, an advocacy group, to give autistic people a day in which they can celebrate their neurodiversity and differences.
Former Autistic Self Advocacy Network (US) President Ari Ne’eman, wrote in 2015 that it “means solidarity with those parts of our community that have not yet had the opportunity to be proud.” That autistic space, community, and culture should be available to all autistic people, no matter their differences. You can read more of Ari’s letter from 2015 here.
June 18th, 2019 marks the 15th Autistic Pride Day. Now this is where Pride Month is linked in. It wasn’t that long ago that all autistic people were afraid of ‘coming out as autistic’. That the whole world saw autism as a really bad thing, just like the world used to treat the LGBTQI+ community. Yes, I know. Not everyone accepts autistic people. There’s some situations where I’m still too afraid to identify myself as autistic. Just like there’s so many situations in which I’m too afraid to discuss my gender and sexuality differences. I’ll get back to that in a little bit. The world is getting better though, even if it feels it’s happening really slowly.
As I’m writing these thoughts, I’ve got the ABCNews channel on in the background. There’s an interview with psychologist Steve Biddulph, talking about being diagnosed with Aspergers in his 50’s. Host Jane Hutcheon asks Steve how he can on stage and talk to 1000 people, and asks what it’s like to sit down just with her. Steve replies
“I’d be more comfortable with the audience…I’m shy and nervous on the stage, but within about 30 seconds this wave of happiness goes through the audience, and it stays there for the whole 90 minutes. We have a wonderful time”.
Steve is me! Well, he has an Aspergers diagnosis, and prefers being on stage in front of thousands of people rather than one on one interviews. I know I’m stronger when I have the attention of a large room vs a smaller event. I get distracted and bored easily if I can’t feel that connection between an audience and myself.
That reminds me. I need to stop being distracted and answer the question.
Honestly? Life can be really hard, and I’m currently trying to drag myself out of a rough patch. However, being autistic, and being me, has enabled me to do some amazing advocacy work over the years. I’ve just passed one year working for Amaze, and I’m going to spend Autistic Pride Day reflecting on the work I’ve done over the past year. The lives I’ve impacted – autistic people, allies, parents, professionals….anyone that’s read something I’ve written, listened to my podcast, attended a workshop I’ve spoken or facilitated training at, and has in some way been impacted by my presence. The projects I’ve been involved in – from reviewing Amaze policy documents, to sharing my ideas and thoughts on campaigns. Outside of Amaze, the mentoring work I’ve done. The friendships I’ve maintained with other autistic people. How far I’ve grown myself in understanding more about my capacity, and learning that it’s okay to say no to things that are too complex/hard, or if I’m just too tired to do.
I’m proud of being me. Autism is a part of who I am, it can’t be separated. So yes, I’m also proud of being autistic. Not all the time, but I don’t know what life would be like if I wasn’t, so I’ve learnt to navigate the world the best I can.
You can read the history of how June came to be Pride Month here
Intersectional theory asserts that people are often disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression: race, nationality, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity markers. Today, intersectionality is crucial to the work Amaze does, even if hardly any of my colleagues know what it means! We’re being asked to, and more importantly undertaking, conversations and projects to include the differences in experiences amongst autistic people with the different overlapping identities.
Whilst there hasn’t been much research on this, we know that autistic people are more likely to identify as being LGBTQI+ diverse. Amaze’s recent information sheet for parents of transgender/gender diverse children mentions that the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne has data that shows that around 15% of young people attending their Gender Service Clinic have an autism diagnosis, considerably higher than the research which shows that 1% of neurotypical people identify as transgender or gender diverse.
LGBTQI+ autistic people then tend to find themselves having to work extra hard to be accepted and understood by society. Instead of sitting in one of the intersectional oppression categories, they end up in two or three.
I’m still trying to figure my gender and sexual identities out. If you asked me a year ago, I would have identified as asexual. A lot changes in a year, though. For the past six months or so I’ve been on hormone therapy treatment, because I had really low testosterone levels. Without going into any details, hormone therapy really does change the way the brain thinks. I now identify as pansexual. It took me a long time to understand that I do have sexual attraction, however I don’t think about gender or sexuality – if I click with a person it’s because of their individuality and uniqueness, not their genitals.
At some ridiculous hour (something like 2am) a few days ago, I actually came out on Twitter as being nonbinary. Reflecting on this revelation, I’m not sure if it’s the…right label. I’m still thinking whether I’m gender-fluid. Recently, having lost a lot of weight in the past year, I’ve started to really feel the cold that winter brings. Sensory wise, but also because I like to be unique, I’m choosing to wear leggings with shorts, rather jeans or tracksuit pants. The other day I was buying socks, and I had the sudden urge to get the bright fluro pink ones – however some “that’s a bit odd” remarks made me too anxious, and I ended up pinking the more “male” green and blue ones. So I’m still figuring out my gender identity.
Labelling gender and sexuality won’t change who I am though. Like how I continue to learn the way autism intersects with my life, I’ll continue to learn about my gender and sexuality. I’ll learn to accept myself for who I am, and try not let other people who may disapprove bring me down.
I’ll continue to be Joel, I’m unique, different and diverse…. just like you are.
ASEXUAL Or “ace.” Someone who experiences little to no sexual attraction. They are not to be confused with “aromantic people,” who experience little or no romantic attraction. Asexual people do not always identify as aromantic; aromantic people do not always identify as asexual.
PANSEXUAL Someone who is attracted to people of all gender identities. Or someone who is attracted to a person’s qualities regardless of their gender identity. (The prefix “pan” means “all,” rejecting the gender binary that some argue is implied by “bisexual.”)
NONBINARY A person who identifies as neither male nor female and sees themselves outside the gender binary. This is sometimes shortened to N.B. or enby.
GENDER FLUID A term used by people whose identity shifts or fluctuates. Sometimes these individuals may identify or express themselves as more masculine on some days, and more feminine on others.
LGBTQIA+ definitions: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/21/style/lgbtq-gender-language.html