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Finding my Autistic Pride

28 October 2021

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I identify as a non-binary, bisexual, neurodivergent Autistic person.

At age 25, I was diagnosed by my physiologist. She suggested I do some informal reading and then we could talk about what I read. The only thing I knew of autism, at the time, was one of my mum’s friends had an Autistic daughter.

I went through stages of emotions, from complete shock and surprise to mortification, shame, anger - then eventually acceptance.

At first, I wondered if I’d change with the diagnosis. In the end, I realised the diagnosis didn’t’ change me. It gave me tools. With the diagnosis I now had the instruction manual I needed to better understand how I worked.

I’ve come to realise there are a lot of parallels between autism and bisexuality. Primarily, a lack of understanding. As bisexuals, we are neither gay or straight and not always accepted within the LGBTQIA+ community.

There is also a lack of understanding and education about autism in the wider community. Autistic people are just now being listened to. As an Autistic person, we are sensitive to gender and have a sense of logic and justice. We are used to observing, but not being heard.

I’ve come to realise there are a lot of parallels between autism and bisexuality. Primarily, a lack of understanding.

Recall when marriage equality changed in Australia? It recognised people were able to marry whom they choose. We’ve come a long way in changing legislation and attitudes that discriminated against queer people. There needs to be similar change in society for Autistic people. We need to be more widely recognised as a natural part of humanity, not a problem to be fixed. Neurodiversity is natural, and all bodies and minds are valid and should be valued. There is no wrong way to be wired.

Interestingly, some people who identify as LGBQTIA+ and are openly public, don’t want to also disclose that they are Autistic, because they feel people don’t understand autism and make judgements based on their lack of understanding. I, too, felt this way when I was first diagnosed. I went through a lot of fear of being discovered as an Autistic person, because a lot of messages I had internalised around autism were based on my lack of understanding and narrow view of what autism was at that time.

When I was able to meet other Autistic people, traits I thought of as barriers to me being accepted, celebrated, respected or loved, were the very traits I respected or loved in other people. Autistic people understand each other, and we help each other understand ourselves. It’s practically impossible to have much self-worth and self-confidence when I had no sense of self. Having this understanding, having pride being Autistic makes it a lot easier to manage my fear of judgement or being misunderstood.

Being diagnosed as an Autistic person was the best thing that ever happened to me.

For me, Autistic Pride is an Autistic idea and concept, but there are a lot of similarities with the journey of queer civil rights. There are a lot of stages to move through, first there’s the negative attitudes repulsion, pity, then tolerance and acceptance, then the positive attitudes: support, admiration, appreciation, and finally nurturance. Queer people have a long, painful history of being shamed, ostracized, and punished for being who we are, and so do Autistic people. I see parallels in terms of the journey Autistic people go on, and the journey we want the mainstream community to go on.

And to be clear, tolerance and acceptance should never be the end goal. Being accepted isn’t the same as having pride. Acceptance is something we are given, all the while knowing it can be taken away. Pride is something we build for ourselves.

My queer identity and my Autistic identity are not all that I am, but they are vital parts of me. Whether it's gender, bodies, sexual orientation, or being Autistic, I shouldn't need to hide a part of myself for fear of rejection and judgment, no one should. Just like no one should be forced to try and change those parts of themselves. We don’t need to change, we need to be heard and understood. We need to be given the tools to understand ourselves, so we can find what we need to thrive.

Being diagnosed as an Autistic person was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Ruby Susan Mountford is the recipient of the 2020 a different brilliant® Adult Award, recognised for their achievements in community development for LGBTQIA+ people with a disability through their work as a project coordinator, peer researcher, advocate and consultant. Their enthusiastic, caring and inclusive work has encouraged and inspired others in the autism community. Ruby has also been a part of Aspect’s LGBTQIA+ Advisory Committee, that aims to promote understanding, create change, address barriers and raise awareness.

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