Being proud of who I am at the very core of my being hasn’t always been a thing for me. I grew up undiagnosed autistic with undetected ADHD, who also happened to be a closeted member of the LGBTQ+ community. It wasn’t until my 24th year of surviving humanhood that I came out (fully) as gay and began discovering my neurodivergent brain. Talk about a big year.
I was a “weird” kid in school, never explicitly labelled, but it was evident through the subtle bullying and sly comments I experienced consistently throughout my school-aged years. I was the kid who could socialize like no tomorrow but had difficulty making real friends. The friends I did make were often boys because I naturally related more easily to them than the girls; we shared similar hobbies and humour, and I felt like I could be myself around them without feeling like as much of an alien around them as with the other girls. Whether it had to do with my gender and sexual identities or the autistic experience of not really being able to relate to my neurotypical counterparts is beyond me. Still, it made for an interesting social experience, to say the least. As if I didn’t already have a difficult time understanding social “norms”, my ability to make friends with guys earned me some conflict with girls at school, which led to even more challenges in making friends than I already experienced.
As I got older, social connections got easier in some ways and more difficult in others. I made more connections through sports and other extracurriculars, but I still felt like I was this alien-like being who couldn’t relate to friends about boys or makeup. I found myself only having one amazing female friend through almost all of junior high and high school; all the other girls were acquaintances or surface-level connections. I felt less nervous and less “weird” around my guy friends, which remains true in adulthood. I realized my sexuality in adolescence, and despite having an accepting group of people around me, I chose not to tell anyone for a very long time. Through my closeted years, I would hear comments spoken by people I knew, mocking the LGBTQ+ community and spewing stereotypes out of their mouths, simultaneously ensuring others that they weren’t homophobic. How could I be proud of that part of myself when others so comfortably toss about sugar-coated judgments?
In high school, I witnessed the kind of bullying disguised as “being nice to everyone”, as this kid in my high school was given special treatment to his face and then talked about and laughed at behind his back. He was autistic; I didn’t really know much about autism at that time, like the majority of others. I’m not really sure if he knew the bullying was happening behind his back, but he always seemed to be his same self regardless, etching the sound of his laugh and excitement into the halls of our school. I never really knew him deeper than what he would talk about in passing, but his positivity, kind energy, and humour were undeniably contagious. Once again, being reminded of how fake and unkind people can be even to the brightest of souls, I tightened my grip on the rope bound around all of my inner weirdness and queer identity.
Somewhere along the way, through the challenges of hiding my authentic self and living in the expectations of those around me, I developed this radical acceptance of who I am and what it means to be a gay, autistic individual. Much of my work was done through therapy, surrounding myself with better people, and looking inward. Still, I stopped letting people’s comments about how weird I am or how loud and enthusiastic I am dictating how I present myself to the world. I live on what feels like all the spectrums, and it brings challenges, but it also comes with the most understanding, compassionate communities. When I started learning about my unique way of being and started allowing myself to live in my queerness, I found my people who continuously uplift me and love me for me. And they are just as weird as I am. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self to stop trying to fit in moulds that weren’t meant for her, even if it felt scary. The longer I masked my (unknowingly) autistic traits and sexual/gender identities, the more detached I became from myself, and the more difficult it became to accept who I was – the more I harmed myself. I have learned that I am valued and matter, even if I am not like everyone else. Being both gay and autistic, I bring a unique perspective to the world. I feel things deeper and care immensely, and I know true understanding and unconditional love for fellow humans; my special interests allow me to learn more and spread knowledge about cool things. We have so much to offer the world within our differences, so embrace them, share your authenticity, and be SO proud of who you are.