A glossary of terms has been provided at the bottom of the post.
A study was published recently stating that a large majority of LGBTQIAP+ people are also autistic.
There are a few theories as to why this might be, with some thinking that our ability to see outside the box and buck social norms meant we were less likely to be constrained by gender binaries. Another theory is that because we are already social outcasts we see little point in not being ourselves in regards to our gender and sexuality as well. Another theory is that autistics are simply more likely to have genders and sexualities other than straight and cis.
Whatever the reason, it seems there are more ‘out’ queer people that are autistic than allistic.
I assume this would also be the same for PDAers.
As a queer person myself, it seems there’s a gap of research and information missing around LGBTQIAP+ PDAers that needs filling. I myself haven’t yet come across support for PDAers that is specific to our gender and sexuality needs. Managing life as a PDAer is difficult enough, but adding in figuring out your gender and/our sexuality, and finding ways to live in a society that largely stigmatises and oppresses anyone who isn’t cis and straight, is even harder.
In recent years there’s been a push to have ‘female autism’ recognised, this is in backlash to the heavily male influenced research and support that exists. While it is important that society recognises female autistics, by pushing the idea that ‘female autism’ is a thing that’s seperate from ‘male autism’ rather than addressing the male bias within autism research, we are simply reasserting that there is a difference between male and female people beyond gendered upbringing, whilst also excluding trans and non-binary people. In reality, there are few differences between male and female people outside of gendered upbringing that would, and certainly not enough of a difference to create different types of autism based on ones gender. Rather, the differences we often see between male autistics and female autistics are developed from gendered upbringing instead.
We need to find ways to recognise that female and non-binary people are autistic without creating a false stereotype that all women have a different type of autism to men, (and ignoring non-binary people in the process, or pushing the idea that there might be a non-binary type of autism).
Thankfully this hasn’t leaked over into PDA, and research seems pretty conclusive that PDA appears in just as many females as males, showing that the research isn’t as male biased as the autism research. This, however, has still excluded trans and non-binary people. However I’m hoping that this starts to change in the future, especially given the rate at which people are ‘coming out’ as trans or non-binary now compared to even 5 or 10 years ago.
Notiably there hasn’t been any research into sexualities within PDA, though this will likely be due to the limited amount of research overall, with the focus being on assesment and diagnosis instead. I am hoping there might be some research into how prevailent LGBTQAIP+ is amongst PDAers in the future.
In the meantime, we need to recognise that there is likely to be a larger than average amount of queer and gender queer people that are PDA compared to neurotypical people. Support for LGBTQIAP+ PDAers is needed, for many reasons, but most of all to support queer and gender queer PDAers, so they feel safe to be themselves and are supported by others in the ways they need.
Growing up as a queer PDAer meant I didn’t fit in in many ways. Not only was I different socially and behavourally, I also didn’t fit into the gendered groups I was expected to be part of. I never felt like the gender I was assigned at birth, but due to a lack of kmowledge around trans and non-binary identities, I didn’t know where I fit in either. It was only in my 20’s that I started to be aware of trans people, however this was still in a very binary way. While I knew I definitely wasn’t a woman, I experienced gender dysphoria at the idea of being seen as male even more so. This caused much confusion which likely added to my severe depression at the time.
It was only in my late 20’s/early 30’s that I discovered non-binary identities, even then it still took 3 years of searching and testing before I came across the gender identitiy I knew was right. I only ‘came out’ as agender around age 32.
I feel like children and teens are much better off these days with all the awareness and information about trans and non-binary identities being available, however it’s still not enough, and most of it is aimed at neurotypical people, despite there being more autistic trans and non-binary people than NT. Finding information and support for gender queer PDAers will be just as hard for adults like me as it is for children and teens.
My journey of figuring out my sexuality was even bumpier than my journey figuring out my gender. Whilst I knew I wasn’t male or female, I didn’t know I wasn’t gay or straight. There was a lot more information around sexualities when I was growing up, helped a lot by having gay uncles, but it was still very much a binary vision. You were either gay or straight, or maybe bisexual, but definitely binary. There wasn’t any understanding that you could be attracted to non-binary people, or even not attracted to anyone at all. Sexuality was also, and very much still is, muddled up with romantic attraction. The idea that you could have different sexual attraction to romantic attraction just wasn’t heard of.
I’ve always been very interested in sex, and from a young age as well. As a sex-favourable person I was confused by my lack of attraction towards people, especially my intense dislike of anything romantic. This led me to seeking out sex but not caring who I had sex with. Had I known about the spectrum of sexualities and that liking or disliking sex is seperate to sexual attraction, had I had support around this, I might not have made so many mistakes as I did growing up, and I might have understood myself a lot better.
Instead, I grew up flitting from thinking I was bisexual, to gay then back to bisexual depending solely on who I was sleeping with at the time. I didn’t realise that I’m actually asexual until nearly 30, and then realised I’m also aromantic too. I put myself in some difficult situations, made some poor choices and hurt people simply because I didn’t have the information and support to understand my own sexuality.
Supporting growing children and teens with their gender, sexuality and romantic orientation is not only important but also a bit challenging, but more so for PDAers who resond to support and information in unique ways. Had anyone told me outright what my gender and sexuality was as a child I wouldn’t rejected it, even if they were correct. However had anyone offered information and support in ways tailored to my PDA needs then I might have grown up feeling more secure, accepted and being able to find a place where I fit in.
There’s evidence to show that supporting a child’s gender and sexuality actually reduces depression and suicide, this is especially important considering how high depression and suicide rates are in queer and gender queer people. And while there may be some worries around PDAers latching onto gender and sexuality labels in order to feel like they fit in somewhere, there is very little risk to exploring ones gender and sexuality compared to being restricted.
Ultimately, what we need, is tailored support for PDAers of all ages to help them explore their gender, sexuality and romantic orientations in a way that is specific to each PDAers unique needs. Even for PDAers that are definitely straight and cis, having support to step outside the stereotypes that surround these binaries can be important, especially for those whose sensory needs or avoidance of social norms mean their gender presentation is different to their gender (ie boys that might prefer skirts or dresses for sensory reasons).
Glossary of terms
L – lesbian, women who are attracted to women
G – gay, men who are attracted to men
B – bisexual, someone is attracted to two or more genders
T – trans, someone whose gender doesn’t match the gender they were assigned at birth. Non-binary identities fall under the trans umbrella but not all non-binary use the trans label
Q – queer, a term often used to cover all sexualities, or a shorthand to say someone’s sexuality is different than straight without having to go into too much detail
Q – questioning – someone who thinks they might be queer but haven’t figured out their sexuality or gender yet
I – intersex, someone whose sex doesn’t fit the binary. There are many ways to be intersex, as one’s sex is determined by genitalia, chromosones, internal organs and hormones but not everyone’s sex characrterists are fully male or female. A person might have a penis and XY chromosones yet have overies and a womb.
A – asexual, someone that experiences little or no sexual attraction
A – aromantic, someone who experiences little or no romantic attraction
A – agender, someone who has no gender or who’s gender is missing
P – pansexual, someone who is sexually attracted to people regardless of what gender they are. This is different to bisexuality where the person is attracted to people because of their gender, and different to omnisexuality which is someone who is attracted to all genders. People who are pansexual don’t tend to factor gender into their attraction.
+ – other gender, romantic orientations and sexualities. There are loads of orientations, too many to list them all, including two spirit, gender flux, greyromantic, gender void, demisexuality and lithosexuality.
These are the explanations of orientations as far as I’m aware, however gatekeeping is uncool so people should feel free to use the label that best explains their own gender and sexual orientation, and that shouldn’t be challenged by others. There’s some disagreement over what bisexuality and pansexuality are, but what matters is that people have labels that they themselves are comfortable with regardless of what others think.
cis – someone whose gender matches the gender they were assigned at birth
gender queer – someone whose gender is different to cis, or a shorthand for being trans or non-binary often used so one doesn’t have to explain ones gender, or used when one doesn’t know their gender yet
non-binary – genders that are outside the binary of male and female. Some non-binary identities include agender, gender fluid, demiboy, demigirl and gender flux
the binaries – for years the bineries were pushed as being correct, the idea that the only sexes and genders are male/female man/woman despite scientific evidence to the contrary. These gender binaries reinforced sex binaries, the idea that a person can only be attracted to men or women, excluding other sexual orientations and genders.
sex preferences – different to sexual orientations, sex preferences is whether a person is okay having sex or not. These include sex-positive (being okay with sex in general existing), sex-positive (liking sex for yourself), sex-neutral (having no opinion eitherway), sex-negative (thinking all sex is bad), sex-repulsed (disgusted with the idea of having sex). Some people might be attracted to someone yet be sex-repulsed, whereas someone might be asexual so feel no sexual attracted yet be sex-favourable and like having sex. Sex preferences are on a sliding scale and can change over ones lifetime or due to environment such as trauma.
gender presentation – this is the way a person dresses or presents themselves that makes them appear to be a certain gender but might not align with their actual gender. For example, drag queens who are men but like wearing clothes seen as women’s clothes, or girls who dress in masculine or boy clothes and is called a tomboy yet are still girls. A person doesn’t have to dress according to their gender, and someone dressing a certain way doesn’t mean that’s their gender. Although many trans and non-binary people do dress so they present as their gender so they are misgendered less.
pronouns – the titles a person uses. Traditional pronouns include they/them, he/him and she/her, however other pronouns and neopronouns have been around for years and have gained more interest recently, such as it/its/itself, xe/xem and ze/hir/hirself.