On the eve of Pride 2024, I find myself reflecting on just how lucky I am to have lived to see awareness and some acceptance of both the LGBTQ and autism communities seep into mass culture.

An Australian survey recently estimated that the overlap between LGBTQ identities and autism may be as high as 25%, so there’s a gracious plenty of us out here.

As a someone who has, over her lifetime, come out as both, I am hardly surprised.  One of the common features of autism is that we very frequently announce to those gathered to admire the emperor’s new robes that the Emperor is actually naked.

Most of my childhood was peppered with terrible moments when I’d remarked on something true, only to be met with something like outrage that I’d pointed out the naked truth. 

My first experience of this was in the Spring of 1974.  I was three years old and chatting with my father as I “helped” him with the yard clean up.  At one point I announced to him that when I grew up, I was going to marry a mommy.

He said.  “You can’t do that, girls don’t marry girls.” I repeated myself and tried to provide more context- figuring that I hadn’t explained it well enough and that’s why he was misunderstanding.  He repeated “You can’t do that; girls don’t marry girls.”  I kept explaining, until he finally exploded and bellowed “Girls don’t marry girls!”  scaring me.

The flip side that “being wrong” equation didn’t become apparent until I was in primary school and my various learning and social differences began to appear.  It wasn’t so much that I was saying anything to challenge the status quo, it was more that my actual existence was some sort of insult to the emperor’s followers.  Can’t hold a pencil properly? Go mute when called on to read?  You’re just being obstinate.  Can’t remember the steps for long division?  You aren’t paying attention.  Letters and numbers have colors that distract you?

“You know, young lady, this daydreaming and forgetting and sloppy penmanship is a sign of weak character.”  Or as I got older, the implication became that if I just buckled down and started acting more like girls were supposed to act that my troubles with Algebra would disappear.  These learning issues were ultimately character issues in the world I grew up in, mostly because girls like me didn’t exist yet in our culture.  I was made to feel awful, simply because I showed up as my autistic, tomboy self, for pretty much my whole life.

Still, I’m lucky, because I have lived to see both little and big girls like me represented in our culture.  I have lived to see Marcia P. Johnston celebrated for throwing the first brick at the first Pride Riot.  I have lived to see Autism Acceptance increasingly incorporated in the cultural priorities around us.  I have lived to see Pride become a family friendly celebration instead of a riot.  I have lived to see stubborn little girls who don’t believe their dads and hang on to their instincts with all their might, turn out to be right.  Diagnosed autistic late in life, I lived long enough to unlearn all the negative messages about my “defiance” and refusal to perform gender in the way that was demanded. 

Best of all, I have lived long enough to see a world where little girls like me won’t ever have to feel the way that I did.  And that is something that I have Pride in!  

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