Sexuality and gender are spectrums, as is autism. People’s sexuality and gender identities do not necessarily conform to specific guidelines. In fact, it is more common for autistic individuals to deviate from gender norms. Gender norms are set ideas that attempt to dictate the ways a person should act, look, and identify based on their gender. In a similar way, autistic individuals are expected to fit a label developed by neurotypical individuals. Understanding the overlap of autism and LGBTQIA+ identities is an important step in validating our neurodiverse community. Autism serves as a gateway to gender and sexuality exploration and expression by challenging cisgender and heterosexual societal norms.
So, how do autistic individuals deviate from societal norms about gender and sexuality? According to author Laura Dattaro, “A 2018 Australian survey of transgender adolescents and young adults found that 22.5 percent had been diagnosed with autism, compared with 2.5 percent of all Australians. Some experts estimate that 6 to 25.5 percent of gender-diverse people are autistic.” The Australian survey suggests that a quarter of gender-diverse individuals could be autistic. Affirming this overlap tells non-autistic individuals that we are able to be ourselves and express original identities. Ableism has shaped autism into something that “needs fixing.” Our autism isn’t what needs fixing; the understanding of autism needs to be fixed. Homophobia frames the LBQTQIA+ community as something that “needs fixing” as well. In a similar way, a 2018 study presented by author Dattaro suggests that 70% of autistic individuals identify as sexual diverse. Additionally, a 2021 study by the University of Cambridge found that, “…autistic males are 3.5 times more likely to identify as bisexual than non-autistic males, whereas autistic females are three times more likely to identify as homosexual than non-autistic females (University of Cambridge 2021).” These studies demonstrate a connection between autism and sexual diversity. Accepting our identities and our likelihood to identify as LGBTQIA+ shows neurotypical individuals that we are confident with ourselves and do not need fixing. If the overlap between autistic and LGBTQIA+ communities allowed us all to work together, we can change the public opinion on autistic individuals, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and autistic LGBTQIA+ individuals.
Following the beat of your own drum is admirable; autistic individuals do this every day! Author Jaime Freed identifies that, “Individuals on the Autism spectrum tend to be less influenced by or responsive to societal expectations or constraints.” Evidently, a lack of influence may make autistic individuals stand out more. This isn’t a bad thing. Standing out and following one’s own interests is what leads to inventions and progress. What I mean by this is that challenging the status quo is what enables acceptance. In some countries, same-gender relationships are still illegal. Things are better, but still lacking, in America; 27 states have no laws against LBGTQIA+ discrimination. If our communities are more aware of our overlapping identities, we can push for identity acceptance in regions that reject us. Identity should be something that we are proud of. Identity is who we are. As an autistic advocate and someone who falls within the LBGTQIA+ community, advice I can offer to others who may be fearful, questioning, or resenting their identities is to be honest with yourself. There are people in your life who will accept you. Be honest with yourself about who these people are, and make an effort to communicate with them and build a support team for yourself.
What does this information mean for autistic individuals? The data proves that the autistic community is a diverse group of individuals. We can use this data to be more supportive of one another. No two people with autism are the same, and this data proves that we have the ability to express our identities and still have a community that accepts us. Having autism does not define us, and neither does sexuality and gender. We can use these parts of our collective identity to connect with others and be our own unique selves. As you continue to explore your identity, I encourage you to embrace those around you and encourage them to deviate from societal expectations. Let’s work together, and change society’s perception.
Samantha Harker is a 17-year-old female advocate with autism. She has been attending college since age 14 and currently attends the University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis Missouri as well as Arizona State University under the SCAP scholarship. She is the recipient of the 2020 Schwallie Family Scholarship from OAR. She aspires to become a Neurologist or Neuroscientist and will graduate college in Spring 2022. She memorized 1,294 digits of pi in two days and plans to go for the national record. Samantha is writing her first novel and continues to narrate her experience with autism in overcoming trauma and reaching her goals. Visit Sammie’s website here and follow her on Instagram.
“Autistic Individuals Are More Likely to Be LGBTQ+.” University of Cambridge, 20 Sept. 2021, www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/autistic-individuals-are-more-likely-to-be-lgbtq.
Dattaro, Laura. “Gender and Sexuality in Autism, Explained: Spectrum: Autism Research News.” Spectrum, 18 Sept. 2020, www.spectrumnews.org/news/gender-and-sexuality-in-autism-explained.
Freed, Jaime. “Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Asperger/Autism.” The Asperger / Autism Network (AANE), 27 July 2018, www.aane.org/sexual-orientation-gender-identity-aspergerautism.
Sarris, Marina. “Autistic People More Likely to Identify as LGBTQ.” SPARK for Autism, 22 June 2020, sparkforautism.org/discover_article/autism-lgbtq-identity.