I, A Gay Autistic Man, Am Sharing 5 Things About My Intersectional Identity
Embracing my intersectionality.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in my lifetime, it’s that my intersectionality makes life a little harder to navigate through. I was born autistic, and, later in life, I woke up and realized I was never going to become a working man with a wife and kids to support. (I’m gay.) Growing up, I suppressed a lot of my identity. Intellectually, I understood being gay and autistic were things outside of my control, and I shouldn’t feel bad about myself because of them. That’s a lot easier said than done. Given our society’s obsession with molding everyone into the same person, it’s hard for me to feel comfortable in my own skin. Being a member of two different minority communities is difficult to embrace. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to accept it and make some observations.
We are treated as invalid
We live in a society so obsessed with labels and identities that we reject those who don’t mark off all the boxes required to be in a specific community. Whether it be cultural or socioeconomic differences, people set the standard and expect others to fall in line. As a white gay man, people believe that I’m the pinnacle of what the gay community is because of my race. While race plays a role in any community and conversations regarding this are vital, there’s more to me than that. My neurodivergence is what separates me.
As an autistic person, any ounce of my disability that presents itself is misinterpreted as “weird” if it’s a tic, or “rude” if I come off too strongly. In order to fix this, I’ve had to embrace the fact that I don’t need to be embraced by one community; I can set my own community. One that doesn’t depend on the outdated social structures.
Masking is draining
Some autistic people, such as myself, pass off as neurotypicals. We do this through “masking,” which means we camouflage into neurotypicals based on social cues we pick up from witnessing behavior. It’s a survival tactic. A coping mechanism that gives us some sort of guidance on how to navigate through this crazy, sensory overload filled world we live in.
This doesn’t make us any less autistic. It makes our autism harder to detect. In a world where parents have put their autistic kids in institutions, we have no choice but to live this way. I apply this same skill as a gay man. I catch myself letting gay culture references and stereotypes inspire me for my interactions with gay men. I’ve shouted my fair share of phrases, like “yes queen” and “you better work” at my colleagues almost instinctively. Majority of the time, this feels insincere with who I am. I enjoy gay culture, but my autism leads me to believe I have to indulge in it in order to fit it.
My goal has never been to reject any part of my identity, but pick aspects that are genuine to me. Sometimes this is interpreted by some as internalized homophobia and ableism when I don’t relate to aspects of being autistic. Life is a spectrum (I wish more people understood that).
Love is a weird thing
The common misconception about autistic people is we don’t feel emotions, which is total bullshit. Many of us, including myself, are probably the most empathetic, non-judgmental people you will ever meet, but that’s another discussion. When it comes to love, autistic people love just as neurotypicals do. The one thing that separates autistics from neurotypicals is many autistic people identify as asexual, which means they experience little to no sexual attraction (also a spectrum of experiences). As a gay man, I do not identify this way. Despite old cliches spouted about autistics and sex, I enjoy sex. It’s a way to express my sexuality with people. I don’t shy away from it.
I would identify myself as aromantic, which is lacking romantic attraction. Growing up on the spectrum, friendships are something that I’ve struggled in maintaining. I’ve gotten better at letting my guard down to let people in, and I’ve had my heart broken, but I’ve also found healing in it. Friendships intrigued me more than a partnership. Love can be described more than just through romance. Also, I’ve always been a career-oriented person, so the thought of being in a relationship seems like a waste of time. I’m up front with guys about my desires. I never try to pressure them into doing things they don’t want to do. I want a guy with whom I could watch American Horror Story, have great sex, go to lunch the next morning, and repeat the cycle (maybe unrealistic in this world).
Friendships are complicated
Speaking of friendships, no matter what your identity is, they are complex. Sincere friendships are hard to come by. As a gay man, I’ve struggled with forming friendships with other gay men because I don’t feel connected with some of the cultural aspects of the gay community. As an autistic man, I don’t feel connected with the societal aspects set up by neurotypicals. It’s a constant trial-and-error experience. I’ve had successes and failures. It’s been rigorous yet rewarding. I was raised to be a generous person, which has resulted in many “friendships” ending after realizing I put other people’s opinions and feelings before my own.
The truth is I have to put myself first. In order to get to a place of self-love, I had to come to the realization that sacrificing my own needs will mean sacrificing my happiness. Complacency is submission, and I refuse to give up my identity for temporary social gain. When I found people with a similar mindset, not only did I thrive, but they did too. It became a real give-and-take friendship (like all good friendships are).
Judgement is exhausting
People are judgemental. If they aren’t judging you for one thing, they’re judging you for another. In my case, people have rejected me for being gay, and others have treated me differently once I open up to them about my autism. It can be exhausting. Many people will never understand living life as an intersectional person. It’s constantly believing the worst in people as a result of a select few experiences. I can’t tell you how many times depression sets in when it feels like no one, not even your own family, will ever understand your unique outlook on the world.
A tool that’s helped me break the stigma within myself is by reaching out to those with similar experiences. Even though social media gets a lot of flack for being toxic, it’s also a place of connection. Following influencers/educational accounts that promote acceptance and validity to your life story can make you feel invincible. It makes tough moments bearable and easy to brush off. Give yourself that gift. You deserve it.
My intersectional identity has taught me a plethora of lessons regarding survival and perseverance. I don’t want to suggest that I live my life as a victim because I don’t. If anything, I want people to learn how despite the challenges presented to you, you can still make it out on the other side, stronger than ever.
Growing confidence as an intersectional person will take time, but, through time, you will strengthen yourself and build off of the people who make you feel seen. You just have to do the work.
If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.