Pride in YourselfJune 2, 2021
Hi, my name is Brigid and I’m an autistic, queer fire-breathing mermaid.
There is a lot of overlap between being on the autism spectrum and being a member of the LGBTAQ+ community. One of the main similarities is how it is impossible to tell if someone is a member of either community based solely on appearance. Having bright blue mermaid hair may give a hint that I’m some type of awesome fae being (a mythological being or legendary creature often found in folklore), but it doesn’t mean I have a bright blue label above my head identifying myself. Disclosing your sexuality or diagnosis is also a complicated personal choice faced by community members. Just as there is no one ”right” way to be autistic, there is also not one ”right” way to be part of the LGBTAQ+ community.
The term “camouflaging” is used in the autism community to describe the immense amount of work required to mask or pretend to be someone we are not in a public or private setting. Masking who we really are, our likes, our needs and our passions, takes a toll on a person. The ability to live authentically is a privilege not everyone has for a variety of reasons and for some, the ability to camouflage is literally saving their lives. As wonderful as the world can be, there are still some places not as accepting of sexual or gender diversity. It is entirely reasonable to prioritize your own safety and it doesn’t make your sexuality or identity any less valid.
My life has been filled with people from a variety of backgrounds who have given me the courage to be myself and love who I want to love. Growing up, I was fortunate not to have been raised with expectations of finding a man and settling down to have kids. Those situational stereotypes seen in films of going home for the holidays to the onslaught of prying personal questions from relatives and not-so-subtle hints about grandchildren were never a part of my family dynamics. I’m not even going to pretend my family dynamics were entirely healthy, but I am very thankful for never being raised to feel I had to pretend to be anything other than myself.
Another important similarity between the autism and LGBTAQ+ community is how people may spend a lot of their life before the “aha!” moment where they realize they are part of the community. From a young age, I knew I was neurodiverse and saw the world differently compared to my peers. However, I dated several women before I knew I was not straight. Even more recently was my own journey understanding gender and feeling comfortable enough to admit to myself, and others, identifying as gender fluid. The thing is, as I was growing up, I honestly had no idea there were options for sexuality or gender. Once I learned there were other words to describe myself, different words for my pronoun choices, and seeing other people in relationships that made sense to me — in many ways it validated the feelings I had inside the whole time.
As a person who has encountered multiple types of complex trauma in the course of my life, it has been even more rewarding to have my authentic self revealed as I do the hard work to recover from those traumas. I’ve experienced a fair amount of trauma for being myself, for being autistic, and this has led to relationships with people who don’t have the best intentions. Having communication challenges means I will take people at their word and it takes me awhile to observe if their behavior matches. It also means subtle social cues like flirting are totally missed by me, which has even resulted in me dating people without fully being aware we were dating — for months, mind you — and this has happened multiple times.
I’ll echo what many others have said in their own ways when it comes to living their truths: Not only do I mentally feel better, but the world seems brighter. Calling myself queer is a comfort as it means so many different things in such a small word. My autistic perspective for relationships is similar to many people, even those outside the LGBTAQ+ sphere; I would like to be in a healthy relationship with a person who brings out the best in me and for whom I can also bring out their best. It is an active choice of mine to continue to trust people, to love people and to learn how to navigate healthy relationships with people who respect my whole person.