Growing up autistic (and not knowing until my early 30s) was confusing in many ways, but the minefield of LGBTQ+ terminology was particularly bewildering to me. I find it hard to see things outside of the ‘rules’ I have been taught from a young age. I did not even know what a lesbian was until I was in my late teens. I first slept with someone of the same sex at 18, but didn’t consider I might be bisexual until many years later, I told a few friends and they looked confused, how had I only just figured this out? Because it wasn’t part of the rule book I grew up with. I was so stuck in the idea that there are 2 genders, and they will always be attracted to the opposite one. Even though I had gay and bi friends, it had never occurred to me that I may be too. At the end of a relationship in my mid 20s I began to experiment more, discover my sexuality and talk about it more openly. One thing struck me when talking to a friend, about another friend who had recently started a hetero relationship for the first time, he told me how she was ‘straight now’, I corrected him and said she had now discovered she was bi. This did not come from a place of malice; it was a lack of understanding. I posed the question to him, if I started a relationship with someone of the same sex, would I suddenly be gay, or would he consider me bi? He thought about my comments and agreed that his interpretation had been wrong. Kind explanations and open conversations are always the best way to resolve these things.
I had managed to look past my naive rule book regarding sexuality, but until last year I still didn’t really understand gender. I do not have any trans people in my friendship group, though I could still see how someone might just be born into the wrong body. I have often felt my body has betrayed me, like I don’t fit in it properly, so I could see how this might happen to someone with regards to their gender. But my view and knowledge of this was still very binary. The term non-binary was one I found particularly confusing. In my head I wrongly assumed it was a term for people that hadn’t quite decided yet. Again, I did not know any non-binary people, so for a few years I ignored my incomprehension, there were more pressing things in life to deal with. After my autism diagnosis, I stared looking more inwards, trying to work out who I am and how to navigate the world, particularly given my recent diagnosis. I kept hearing the term non-binary more and more. I thought about my own gender, something I had not ever done before. I do not feel female, but I also don’t feel male. I thought this was how everyone felt. How could you feel like a gender? I began to talk to friends about whether they felt their gender and what their gender meant to them, I realised that most people did in fact identify with a gender, they felt either female or male. I was full of questions that nobody seemed to be able to fully answer. It was a lonely and confusing place to be. A friend sent me an article on the science behind gender, describing it as bimodal (a sliding scale where most people lie at one end or the other), rather than binary; talking about how throughout history, and in so many societies, being between the binary is nothing new and has often been fully accepted. It was in understanding the true meaning of what being non-binary means, that I realised I was. The journey of coming out has been even more lonely than when initially trying to learn about gender differences. (Just to add another layer of terminology to learn and understand, NB is an abbreviation reserved for non-black people of colour, non-binary can be shortened to NBi or enby. An easy faux pas for any ally or person starting their gender discovery journey).
I am out to close friends, most of them try, but mostly people forget my preferred pronouns and change of name, despite using a shorter, gender-neutral version of the name I grew up with. I feel most people do not understand the significance. Sometimes it doesn’t really bother me, other times it cuts me to the core. In some ways I don’t want to dramatise it, but that doesn’t mean I am fine with people ignoring this part of me I am trying to discover. I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, but how do I make them understand how important it is to me without constantly correcting pronouns and names? And to make it all harder I’m still figuring out who I am. I still accidently use my old name and pronouns sometimes, it’s hard to change old ways but it makes me so happy when the people around me try.
Even choosing a pronoun that I feel fits is hard. Initially I thought I would go with they/them, it seemed to be the most commonly chosen by other non-binary people. I started to learn about neopronouns and at first thought using them would just be even more of a statement I would have to explain. Only when trying to use they/them, and hearing other people use it more, I started to understand the importance of neopronouns. Whilst they/them has always been either singular or plural in the English language, colloquially we don’t usually use it for the singular. In the past I have mostly used it to hide the gender of a person I was seeing when talking to someone I wasn’t out about my sexuality to. Neopronouns can be anything you chose; after a lot of thinking I have decided that, at least for now, I resonate with xe/xim, it sounds more natural in conversation, but I will never be offended by any pronouns (all neutral ones preferred), unless that person is unwilling to try to get it right.
People often have so many questions, most of which I cannot answer as I am still on my own journey of discovery. I have many questions too, but I don’t know where to ask them. I joined online communities, but I’ve never been big on social media, I find it quite impersonal. I have asked a few questions to the groups and have been met with a torrent of support and advice, but it’s almost too much. I want to find a group I can meet with occasionally in person, that I can ask questions to and not feel silly, or just get a bewildered shrug in response. I want to hear other people’s stories, listen to the journeys of others within the queer community, and maybe gain some insight on how to navigate my own personal journey.
I am so grateful to have been born in a time where these things are talked about, where people are no longer punished and criminalised for being themselves, but we still have so far to go. Most LGBTQ+ people want to be able to live their lives without constantly explaining themselves. If we do not make these conversations commonplace, regardless of gender, sexuality or anything else, we cannot truly have equality. Never stop trying to learn, not just about you and the people in your life, but all the diverse corners of humanity. Be proud to be you, no matter who you are, and never judge the journeys or choices of others.
For anyone interested, this is the article I referred to about the science behind the gender spectrum
And here is a site all about words and terminology used if you want brush up:
Now go forth, with acceptance for yourself, and anyone around you. In the world we live in, totally non-judgmental love and community are a protest, so protest peacefully and spread love to the world with pride.