Coming out as autistic and LGBT+ wasn’t easy – but now I know it’s something to be celebrated

Charlie Middleton, ambassador for the LGBT+ young people’s charity Just Like Us, marks the start of Autism Awareness Month with a powerful reflection on what it means to grow up queer and autistic.

Growing up LGBT+ was challenging enough, but having autism was an added layer and played a huge part in who I have become today.

Bullying was a common occurrence throughout childhood for me – all the way up into my teen years – and if I’d have known what I do today about the intersectionality of LGBT+ identities and autism, I would have probably had a slightly easier experience.

I wasn’t diagnosed till I had reached adulthood, which presented lots of confusion for myself and my peers. This led to me not making friends at school, to the point where I would just rather go to the library and read to my heart’s content. My mental health went on a downward spiral and I blamed myself for being LGBT+.

When I was growing up, I was able to mask a lot of my symptoms by mimicking the way people act in certain situations, using words that I didn’t know the meaning of and avoiding social interaction as much as possible.

Often, I experience some sensory issues with things such as loud noises, strong smells and even the way some clothing feels. It was difficult to articulate the way that I felt in relationships and previous partners as they just didn’t understand.

When I was diagnosed, things made much more sense for me. I felt ashamed for a while and, even after diagnosis, kept dismissing the idea that I may be on the autism spectrum. I often rejected the idea because I was self-consumed by the negativity I had heard about autism. This also impacted how I felt about myself at the time. I truly believed that I would never be happy or even find a partner who would understand me.

Now that I know and have met some wonderful LGBT+ people with autism, I know all these things that I had once heard are not true.

Charlie Middleton. (Supplied)

Often autism can be misinterpreted by the media and a lot of negativities can cloud people’s views of those on the spectrum.

Some of the misconceptions people have about autism is that we do not feel emotions. Occasionally I have had to explain myself to people who have had this view, which can be frustrating at times.

Those on the autism spectrum vary in the difficulties they face everyday, whether that be struggles with communication, sensory issues, or social interactions. People on the spectrum are still people – something that seems to get lost in society.

Some people have even said that I don’t “look autistic”. This comes from the warped idea that some people think those with autism behave in a specific way or cannot verbally communicate.

Over time my views shifted dramatically, and I have never felt happier. Today I am proud of who I am. Yes, I have autism. Yes, I identify as a transgender man. These two things are nothing to be embarrassed about and should be embraced.

Autism does not have to define you. Many people with autism go on to do great things and are very successful. There are many positive traits that people with autism have that many people don’t often talk about or don’t hear enough about.

The positive traits that I have are how focused and driven I am in areas of interest. Every project I complete, every school talk I do (while volunteering with Just Like Us) and every activity in daily life is performed with a lot of thought. I know that my honesty, kind-heartedness and gentle nature are all qualities that people around me value.

From time to time, I do still find a lot of overwhelming challenges that cross my path. But when I feel low, or I am struggling from an emotional point of view, I find that thinking of at least one thing I like about myself helps.

Another tip for those struggling would be to write a letter to your younger self about what positive things are happening in your life right now. Taking care of yourself and protecting your own well being is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Even if you aren’t on the autism spectrum or LGBT+, wellbeing is still super important.

Coming out as both autistic and trans is now something I do in classrooms too – I volunteer with Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity, and give school talks. I love opening up conversations that can lead onto better support systems for young LGBT+ people with autism or other intersections.

Being autistic and LGBT+ is a great example of intersectionality, and that’s something we should not only be more aware of but also celebrate.