Individuals on the Autism spectrum tend to be less influenced by or responsive to societal expectations or constraints. In many ways this individuality and “marching to a different drummer” leads to greater challenges fitting in socially and in the workplace; in other ways this out of the box thinking and behavior leads those on the spectrum to become some of our greatest thinkers, innovators and creators.
This natural inclination to be oneself and not follow the crowd or societal norms, seems to correlate with a higher than average incidence of individuals on the spectrum having greater variance and flexibility in the areas of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Many on the Autism spectrum do not subscribe to the prevailing binary definitions.
Sexual Orientation: (To whom one is attracted) While many with Asperger/Autism firmly identify as heterosexual others firmly identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Still others may be more flexible regarding whom they are attracted to; being sexually attracted to an individual for who they are as a person regardless of the other person’s biological gender, gender identity or gender expression.
Other Asperger/Autistics may identify as Asexual or Aromantic in higher numbers than in the general population.
Gender Identity: (How one thinks of oneself with regard to gender – man/woman/transgender/any number of non-binary descriptors (genderqueer, gender fluid…….)
Societal messages around gender run very deep from the pink and blue clothing and room decor bestowed on expectant parents who found out “what” they’re having to the It’s a Girl, It’s a Boy balloons waving outside newborn homes to gendered toys to public bathrooms.
This gender, assigned at birth, is determined by external genitalia and for the vast majority aligns with gender identity and expression. This is called being cisgender.
Those with Asperger/Autism may be less susceptible to buying into the prevailing binary gender identities and instead more readily identify or know that they are non-binary or transgender. [knowledge that one is the opposite of the gender assigned at birth – Male to Female (MtF), Female to Male, (FtM)] Less constrained by the strong societal messages and more inclined to be oneself, individuals with Asperger/Autism may more readily identify as Transgender than their non-autistic counterparts who may be more susceptible to strong societal messages about remaining their gender assigned at birth.
Gender Expression:(Gender expressed by an individual’s outward appearance and perceived by others) For many on the Asperger/Autism spectrum outward presentation of gender may have more to do with sensory issues than identification with accepted expressions of masculinity or femininity. Dressing for comfort rather than style or fashion, having hygiene practices that don’t match the prevailing societal expectations may lead to erroneous assumptions about one’s gender and/or sexual orientation.
Still others may wish to present as cis-gender (gender expression matching sex assigned at birth) while others on the spectrum may choose and be most comfortable presenting outwardly as a gender not matching their biological sex.
But they’re Autistic. How could they know if they’re Gay or Transgender?
Because someone is diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition does not mean that person is less capable of determining their own sexual orientation or gender identity. It is more likely that family members or professionals will question their identification with these non-mainstream identities because of the autism profile and out of concern that their loved one will be part of yet another marginalized, vulnerable group. Someone perceived as autistic may be questioned more by professionals or family members who wonder, is my client/family member choosing an alternative sexual orientation or gender identity because they want to find a reason for their difference that is not autism? Or because they are more accepted by these non-mainstream groups?
For some individuals, autistic and not, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression may fluctuate over the course of one’s lifetime. They may be more flexible or fluid. This fluidity, particularly in these areas, is often difficult for others to accept and may again be ascribed to the autism and may lead to an individual not being believed.