I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) when I was around 14. After struggling with mental health issues for most of my childhood, I was diagnosed on-and-off with general anxiety disorder, depressive symptoms, and overall being a stress-head. ASD is a disability that impacts a person’s behaviour and interactions, particularly those of a social nature. I was always an anxious kid but had found ways to manage myself in public so that no one would’ve really guessed how anxious I was. So, when I was told that women with autism generally have the remarkable ability to use masking and camouflaging in their day-to-day lives, it absolutely opened my eyes and confirmed that what I was doing was an actual thing.
Camouflaging refers to the differing experience of ASD individuals trying to put their best or ‘normal’ foot forward in social situations. This may involve actual behaviours used to fit into a social environment or the mental processes of trying to actively change behaviour. Camouflage is a coping strategy used by vulnerable individuals to improve their social adjustment, whether it be by masking their autistic behaviours that may stand out, or by compensating for their social-communicative shortfalls to better ‘fit’ into their environment.
Prior to my acceptance of myself as an autistic, cisgender, bisexual woman with pink hair and seventeen pairs of pants, I spent a lot of time questioning myself and who I am.
Since my original diagnosis, I have gone through many phases of acceptance, anger, and confusion, all in a repeated cycle. That is, until now. Prior to my acceptance of myself as an autistic, cisgender, bisexual woman with pink hair and seventeen pairs of pants, I spent a lot of time questioning myself and who I am. I questioned not only my sexuality, and dealing with my previous repression and rejection of it, but also my gender. This, I found out, is not uncommon in autistic people, as ASD has been known to present a unique experience in the formation and consolidation of gender identity, and for some autistic individuals, their sexual orientation relates to their gender experience.
The phenomenon of gender and sexuality conflation occurs due to many and varied reasons, but much of this within ASD has been thought to occur due to the perception of gender roles and sexual orientation by those with ASD. Autism-related characteristics may facilitate greater freedom regarding norms, potentially creating less pressure to conform to standards. For me, however, I felt the complete opposite. I fused gender and sexuality together because I wanted so badly to ‘fit in’, and thought that liking women may have meant that for me to be ‘normal’ (i.e. heterosexual), I would have to be a man. This took a real toll for a while, as I was, in a way, utilising gender expression to repress my own sexuality.
I have always known that I was not exclusively attracted to boys. The first time I had a crush on a girl, I was about seven, and I remember rationalising it as being because I hung around boys a lot. Even at that age, I didn’t want to be perceived as ‘different’, because I already found presenting myself as being a funny, sporty kid really tiring, and couldn’t imagine having something else to add to it.
Photo by Courtney Coles on Unsplash
After causing a lot of internal turmoil and talking to various people about my questions and feelings, I came to accept that I was indeed a cisgender, bisexual woman that had simply conflated gender and sexuality and caused myself a whole bunch of stress. As such, it is important to increase awareness about increased non‐heterosexuality in ASD among autistic populations to provide specialised care if needed and to increase support and inclusion for non‐heterosexual autistic individuals. And, of course, it’s important to note that not everyone needs labels to feel authentic. But I know for me, I want facts and figures and labels so my brain can understand what’s going on, so I’m happy to place myself into a category that I’m comfortable with if needed.
It is important to increase awareness about increased non‐heterosexuality in ASD among autistic populations to provide specialised care if needed and to increase support and inclusion for non‐heterosexual autistic individuals.
Many people who know me now would say that I’m a loud, energetic, (maybe) funny, and, in general, quite a confident person. ‘Fake it till you make it’ has really worked for me. By presenting myself in a manner that hid my vulnerabilities, I was able to somewhat convince myself that I was that confident, funny woman I was making myself out to be. I know this doesn’t work for everyone, and honestly, I didn’t know if it would work for me for a while. It’s really tiring trying to manifest your whole being in a way that works for you, in manners that don’t feel as though you’re changing your whole self. In a way, I also had to accept that everyone presents themselves in different ways depending on who they’re with and where they are to normalise myself doing the same.
In the end, working with my camouflage has allowed me to present myself in ways that are authentic, and much less tiring than when I first came to terms with my diagnosis. Coming to terms with who I am as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community has allowed me to be the most authentic formulation of who I am. Throughout my journey to self-discovery, I stumbled upon a phrase that I repeat in my head like a mantra: No one cares about you or what you do. It seems rough, and yes, it is. But in reality, everyone has their own things going on, and I’m just one of the several billion people on this earth. I might as well do what I want to make me feel like myself, without worrying what others think. So, manifest yourself into the being you feel most like yourself in, and the confidence will follow.
Alex completed her undergraduate degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics in 2020 and is currently studying a Master of International Development at La Trobe University. In her spare time, she’s reading books and watering her ever-growing number of indoor plants.