Blog Post by Ella Willis
Being autistic impacts everything I do. It is the control centre of my brain and writes the code for how I see life. So, naturally it’s going to impact my view of my gender, sexuality and how I view my place in the world.
Of course I’m not saying that being autistic makes me queer, but the fact I am autistic very much impacts how I understand and view my queerness.
When I realised I was autistic, it was the biggest “a-ha!” moment of my life. Bigger than finally getting my head around photosynthesis in school and bigger than realising that the moon was not in fact Spain.
Everything made sense. From all the things I was told were personal failures to literally feeling like my brain had been trying to tell me something my whole life. I always had this feeling of “one day, you’re going to realise you’re an alien” because it was so obvious that I was not wired the way other people were.
Learning that there was a reason I rehearsed jokes and kept them in storage for the right moment. Learning that there was a reason I need 3-5 working days to recover from socialising. Learning that there was a reason drastic changes in a plan made me feel like the world was splitting in two. Unless you experience this learning, you will never know the combination of comfort and fear it brings.
From that moment, you begin to analyse everything you do. It’s also scary because it brings out all your struggles and you start to realise your needs. This can feel like a failure and like you are regressing; becoming more dependent and reliant on support and thinking “why can’t I do the things I used to?!”
But this process of unmasking also makes you realise the true extent of everything you have been hiding. From things like hiding your music taste to literally suppressing your sexuality and gender from yourself. Unmasking my autism is completely intertwined with me unmasking my queerness. I’m breaking down the whole hidden personality behind the mask, it’s only natural that other major realisations come with it.
Masking is a literal survival mechanism. On top of my brain naturally kicking into a survival instinct, growing up in a small minded town in a school that ridiculed you for being different I knew myself that I had to adjust. The long lasting impact of this resulted in me only discovering my autism and queerness as an adult. And this was traumatising. It’s only natural that so many of us struggle with imposter syndrome.
I look back at myself at this time and I do not recognise the person I was. Because it was a completely fake persona from the clothes I wore to how I responded to things in class. I feel so sorry for my younger self because they felt so lost and no matter what help they called for, they were always pushed back.
And what is so fascinating is that so much of my queer and autistic identities have navigated the world in the same way. They have both been told they need curing. They have both been told that they are all in my head. They have both been told that they are the product of bad parenting or mental illness. But discovering both of them has been absolutely essential to me managing my mental health and happiness.
Hiding this for so long was exhausting and spirit breaking. Unmasking was essential to my wellbeing but it must be understood that it isn’t always safe for others to do so. Autistic people of colour are more likely to face discrimination, those with other disabilities and queer autistic people are also under a greater threat than their cis/straight/ non disabled counterparts. Making is both essential and detrimental to the safety of autistic people. We need better intersectional and caring support systems.
A whole vast community exists to support and hold people online. A community that I feel so grateful to exist in. And I exist as myself, as an unmasking queer autistic person that is finally navigating life in an authentic way.