Group membership and a sense of belonging can improve the physical and emotional wellbeing of gender diverse Autistic people. However, there remains real risks of transphobia within queer spaces.
At the 2018 London Pride march which was infiltrated by a small group of anti-trans protesters. These protesters made disparaging remarks about transwomen and shared literature which stated that transwomen were ‘coercing lesbians to have sex with men.’
This group were allowed to lead the Pride parade for twenty minutes before the organisers intervened, which suggests a compliant resistance to trans experiences within queer communities.
When we experience transphobia within our chosen community, a space where we are supposed to feel celebrated and accepted, we can often feel further isolated. We can feel obligated to constantly remind the larger cisgender LGB community that transgender experiences have always been part of the queer civil rights movement.
Being trans and Autistic can make feelings of belonging more complex: many of us feel that we do not belong in neurotypical, cisgender or queer communities. We are often gatekept due to not being queer, trans or ‘normal’ enough. Even when we are accepted, many queer spaces and events, such as nightclubs, parades and protests, are inaccessible to us due to high sensory input and unpredictable social expectations (see No Pride without disability Pride ).
LGBTQIA+ spaces often expect its members to be outgoing and extrovert – this can be difficult for Autistic people, especially those of us with social and sensorial differences. This links to the double empathy problem (Damien Milton & Luke Beardon), which suggest that neurotypical and neurodivergent people struggle to understand each other’s sociality. Autistic people often invest a significant amount of energy into understanding and fitting into the neurotypical world, whereas neurotypical people don’t tend to adapt to Autistic experiences and communication methods. Perhaps, the neurotypical inhabitants of queer spaces are failing to read the social cues of neurodivergent people who occupy the same space.
These experiences of ableism, whether intentional or not, send a harmful message that autistic individuals are not welcome within the LGBTQIA+ community. Feelings of self-esteem and self-acceptance are influenced by the level of celebration of human diversity within minority groups and wider society. Exclusionary behaviours which are present within LGBTQIA+ and Autistic communities, further illustrate the complexity of being accepted for our multiple identities.
Experiencing such marginalisation means that we either shrink ourselves to fit the expectations and wants of others, or we fight back. Through individual and group advocacy, we can become critically conscious; challenging and resisting social and attitudinal barriers within transphobic and disabling societies. I see this criticality especially within younger generations and I believe they could be the ones to break through the confines of neuro-normativity and binary gender. They could create a world in which all genders and neurotypes are understood and accepted, by following the road made by Autistic and trans elders.
Trans and / or non-binary Autistic people offer a unique and wonderful perspective, give us a seat at the table and you’ll see how much you can learn from us.