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The link between autism and Queerness

The other day I live recorded a podcast episode about neurodivergence and queerness. In it, we discussed the fact that Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people are more likely to be Queer/2SLGBTQIA+. The discussion was very good, and we really got into some of our experiences.

It’s no secret that Queerness is a significant intersection with Autistic experience. Aside from anecdotes from within the community, studies such as Janssen et al (2016) and Strang et al (2020) indicate that not only are we more likely to be gender-diverse, but that Queer communities are more likely to contain Autistic people. Strang on particular speaks of the lack of research looking into experiences over the lifespan and the need for such longitudinal study to be carried out.

With so much Queerness in the Autistic community, one might wonder why this intersection is so significant. I think the answer is quite simple. Albeit somewhat theory heavy.


Neuronormativity is pervasive, and if you think that it only effects neurodivergent people you are wrong. Both BIPOC and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities have fallen foul of the belief that there is a standard of neurology we should all achieve. It was not so long ago that being gay or transgender was listed in the DSM as a psychiatric disorder.

Autistic people naturally queer neuronormative standards. In this sense, queer is a verb. It is the subversion of societal expectation. Through our rejection of neuronormativity, we create space to explore our gender and sexuality (or lack thereof) unencumbered by the chains of bigoted standards of being.

When we begin to dismantle neuronormativity, we also begin to dismantle heteronormativity. Our experience of ourselves and attraction (or lack of attraction) to others is built upon the experiences we have of our environment. Experiences that we have through the lens of being Autistic. You can not separate autism from our queerness any more than you can separate a person from their brain. They are part of us, and without them, we would be someone different.

Thus, to neuroqueer in society is to become more than just neurologically queer, but also queer with respect to gender and sexuality.

With this said, there is still bigotry in the Autistic community. There are those who weaponise our intersectionality against us, and wield it as a tool to invalidate and oppress us; and yes, there are oppressive attitudes within our own community.

We must continue to build a community that is loving and accepting of all of the diversity within Autistic experience and recognise that Autistic people all experience the world in their own unique way.

The relationship between queerness and being Autistic

“Queer is a term used by those wanting to reject specific labels of romantic orientation, sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It can also be a way of rejecting the perceived norms of the LGBT community (racism, sizeism, ableism etc). Although some LGBT people view the word as a slur, it was reclaimed in the late 80s by the queer community who have embraced it.”

I am queer, and I am also Autistic. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that I’m queer and multiply neurodivergent; I am not just Autistic, but also ADHD and Schizophrenic. Some might wrongly assume I should keep my queerness out of discussions of neurodivergence, but the two are inextricably linked.

As an Autistic person, I find myself constantly questioning the status quo. Even before the discovery of my neurodivergence, the concept of normality felt painful and alien to me. I used to believe that normality (perhaps more accurately, normativity) consisted of arbitrary rules, but I realise now they are not arbitrary at all.

Normativity is designed to oppress those who do not comfortably fit into it. For Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people, we struggle to fit into the system because of our neurology. For queer people, we do not fit into the capitalist fairy tale of binary gender and monogamy within the confines of heterosexuality. This is neuronormativty and heteronormativity respectively.

The relationship between the two lies in my abject rejection of normativity. I have neuroqueered myself into a fluid and radical identity that stands opposed to what colonial society wants me to be. This is more than just “acting Autistic”. I embrace queerness in all aspects of my life, sexuality included.

Queerness in this respect is not solely about who you are or who you sleep with. For me, my queerness is an act of defiance, a refusal to be contained. Being queer leaves me the space to be whomever I wish, to explore avenues that society would rather cordon off from me.

If I were not Autistic, perhaps if my particular mix of neurodivergence were different, I would not have this drive to liberate myself from the cult of normality. We were sold the lie of essentialist identities, and my bodymind is painfully aware of its dishonesty. I am queer because the world does not want me to be queer.

To be contained into fixed and sanctioned identities is to entangle the Self in the chains of normativity. Queerness, then, is the angle grinder cutting through those chains. I am openly queer so that it may be safer for others to be queer. My pride is not egotistical, but a refusal to be ashamed of any part of my being.

I reject normativity in all kinds, including the identity politics of my perceived peer groups. None of this would happen if I were not Autistic.

The infinite and I: Exploring my Neuroqueer Self

Of recent, I have been somewhat hyperfocused on how people understand their own identity, and our individual sense of Self. I have discussed in my book The New Normal how the Self is socially constructed from our interactions with others and our wider environment. I think, however, it’s time to really zoom in (or perhaps, out?) on what the Self really is to me.

If being multiply neurodivergent has taught me anything, it’s that the variation of the human mind that exist are as numerous as the people on earth, but what of the Self? How many variations of me are possible?

First it is necessary to consider how my Self came into existence. It was constructed and scaffolded, not just by the people in my immediate environment, but by the conditioning that I have been exposed to in wider society. Society has given me structures based on false binaries, which I have had to deconstruct.

What has become clear to me is that I can become whoever I want to be. The Self is not a fixed point, it is a fluid and moving substance, more akin to a liquid than a solid. The Self that I am now, is not who I was 10 years ago, and is not who I will be 10 years from now. All things change, including me.

In that sense, each human life represents infinite possibility. Each person that exists has unlimited potential. By inflicting normative violence and attempting to mould another to who we believe they should be is to perpetuate trauma. We have to recognise that each time we hold something to be “normal”, we are likely projecting a piece of our own trauma onto another.

Conformity and assimilation has been weilded under names such as “unity” by those in power; but the true unity is in the radical queerness of subverting the social construction of reality. All things in human knowledge are socially constructed to some degree, we have a responsibility to constantly question what we hold to be true. There are infinite variations on the truth because the normative version of truth is in fact a mistruth.

We have been told that who we are, how we think, and how we express ourselves, needs to be in line with a collective truth. This is untrue, we are physical manifestations of infinite possibility. The oppressive structures of colonialism and normative culture rely on us forgetting that. Of course, because how do you control a population that knows it’s own endless possibility?

So, how do I understand my Self?

I am whatever I want to be, I am an ever changing and flowing river of possibility. Like any flowing substance, I calve a path through the landscape. That is why I have to be responsible with the course I take through life. It is not my right to cut through others and their landscape. I must calve through the oppressive structures of my own landscape, while elevating the voices of those for whom the landscape and structures are different.

We are multitude of drops forming an ocean, and we owe it to each other to create the tidal wave that washes the old world away.

Queerness and me

Queerness. It’s a word that I hid from for over 30 years, and yet, as I type it, I find myself feeling a deep comfort. I have long known that the space between myself and “typical” society is far greater than the purported six degrees of separation. I have at times considered that gulf to be one of existential orders of magnitude. The concept of “alone in a crowded room” is not alien to me. Nothing much is alien to me, except perhaps (at times) myself.

Being Autistic is a core part of my sense of Self. I understand myself through the lense of Autisticness, I embody my neurology unapologetically. Of course, there is far more to my experience than being Autistic. I am also Schizophrenic. Some might pity me, offering me sympathy for my mental illness. Illness is a word that does not sit right with me.

Schizophrenic, yes. Unwell? If I was unwell, should it not be quantifiable? A value that can be measured by a body that lacks the homeostasis that allows it to function properly.

No, I am neurodivergent. That doesn’t mean I don’t suffer, but I believe we must externalise suffering into the environment. Suffering does not arise in the Self, it is a function of inhabiting a space that was not meant for you.

So where does queerness fit into this?

I have come to understand that there are boundaries between the typical and atypical bodiment of the self. These boundaries are man made structures. Social conventions waiting to be transcended. Much like the way I transcend the convention of neurotypicality, delving into divergent neurology, I find myself openly subverting all expectations placed upon myself.

Queerness, to me, is not about who I love. Who I feel attraction to is such a small part of my queerness. In my universe, queerness is the subversion of a reality that has been imposed upon me. If experiencing psychosis has taught me anything, it’s that reality is not a fixed point. While being Autistic has taught me that society’s truths about what is and isn’t “normal” are closer to the machinations of a propaganda machine than anything objectively true.


I am Queer because I do not belong in normative society. My neurology has made it impossible to assimilate. My queerness manifests from the urgency of an existence that requires me to carve out and defend a space to exist in. The boundary I push is the need be contained. I permit myself to take up space. I permit myself to experience my reality.

In many ways, My queerness or perhaps, my neuroqueerness, has allowed me to bookmark a place in my own story, one in which I can let go of the self-hatred for my bodymind’s tenuous relationship with reality.

It is okay to feel what I feel. It is okay to think what I think. I am no more defined by the intrusive nature of my traumatised thoughts, than I am by the colour of my hair. They are a small part of a wider human structure. It’s okay for me to admit that my sense of Self is constructed from interactions with others. We all build ourselves from the words uttered about us and to us.

Queerness doesn’t feel strange to me. It’s a liberation from the chains of normative violence. It’s freedom to think and feel without the moral judgements imposed by society through me. It is freedom from policing my own existence. It is existential liberation.

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