Coming out in adulthood: I’m Autistic, in my 30s and I’m non-binary

Coming out as non-binary as an autistic adult

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Jun 30, 2020

Tiimo member

June 30, 2020
Laura Zdan
Host of the Not Neurotypical Podcast and creator of the Not Neurotypical Squad

It’s the end of Pride month and we want to uplift the stories of neurodivergent people who are also LGBTQA2S+ and/or gender non-conforming. Our amazing #actuallyautistic partner Laura Zdan recently came out as non-binary. Most of this blog post is an abridged version of Laura’s reflections on Instagram and Twitter - please follow! Here’s Laura’s story.

I am non-binary

I AM NON-BINARY. I've never said that publicly before. It seems to be even less understood than autism, even in "woke" circles on the internet. I am so sick of having to "come out" in my 30s. It is fucking EXHAUSTING! My identities have changed so much in the last year because it wasn’t until my son was diagnosed as autistic that I realized, I too was experiencing a lot more than my childhood diagnosis of ADHD, which I knew for a long time, but getting doctors to listen was impossible until my son spearheaded the way for me.

As a young girl, I remember questioning why I had to wear uncomfortable clothes, why I had to act lady-like if I didn’t feel “girly”, and most of all, I wondered why I couldn't “run free” like the boys did? Gender-diverse people identify in a wide range of ways and my guess is that neurodivergent minds are a little more open to questioning the social norms related to gender, identity, and sexuality than the average neurotypical. Being neurodivergent myself, I struggled with the social rules and ideas surrounding how I “had to be” and what I had to do for reasons I didn’t understand.

Autism & LGBTQIA2S+

It is estimated that around 60% (possibly more) of Autistic people also identify within the LGBTQIA2S+ community compared to between 4.5% and 10% of estimated percentage of the general population. In an overview of research on autism and gender diversity and sexuality, John Strang found that, in one study that followed autistic adolescents who identified as gender diverse, ‘most Autistic adolescents recall having gender-diverse inclinations in early childhood. Many were reluctant to express their gender identity because they worried about bias and harassment’ 2018.

Unfortunately, autistic people live in a world where their every thought, belief, and exploration of identity is questioned. This is sometimes called the ‘eternal child’ bias, or the unwillingness to acknowledge or see individuals with brain differences as mature and capable of self-determination. This same hurtful stigma poses the idea that an individual’s “autism” causes confusion, lack of understanding, or even self-imposed faking just to “fit in” instead of the basic idea that, like everyone else, it is common to explore your identity and sexuality as you grow.

Ableism

When an autistic individual of any age decides to explore gender identity and sexuality, they are met with this double-standard that immediately gaslights their own self-exploration. The double-standards placed on autistic people, who are essentially exploring the same concepts that everyone does throughout development, comes from the societal ideas of what people are supposed to look and/or act like. The idea that there is a better way to explore, to learn, and to identify is called “ableism”, and it is harmful to neurodivergent and disabled people.

Ableism has led society to impose the false belief that adults should know exactly who they are and have everything figured out. This concept is most hurtful to marginalized groups and those who were unsafe to explore sexuality, gender and identity in their formative years. THEN when adults are finally free to explore who they really are, they are often told that they are just looking for attention, crazy, unstable, or worse… and when a person is unsafe to explore who they are this has a direct impact on mental health. But, who really has it all figured out in adulthood anyway?

Being who we are

I think we just have to keep going. Keep exploring. Keep finding out who we really are. Just find yourself and love yourself. I think we all know what can happen when we ignore what’s inside of us. Finding the community I have across social media and feeling supported within that community has been a lifesaver for me. For that, and all of you, I am forever grateful. 🖤

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