There wasn’t much time between when I realised I was asexual and when I was diagnosed as autistic – only around a year. Ironically, the first person I ever came out to was a therapist I only saw once, when I originally began to fall into the mental health crisis causing the realisation that I was autistic. It’s been six years since then, and I’m still asked – or alternatively told – whether the two are one and the same.
Unfortunately, the stereotype that all disabled people are asexual or don’t have sex is one that is long-standing and one that the whole community is trying to quash, but it isn’t going away easily. This idea comes from several angles, particularly when it comes to autistic people.
Firstly, there’s the desexualisation of disabled and autistic people; the belief that we could not possibly be wanted, be sexy, or even have a romantic relationship.
It’s no wonder that this occurs when we live in a society where those who ask disabled people to prom are held up as heroes, and media representation (if we are given a crumb of it) consists only of side characters – individuals who are never the ones experiencing epic romances or exploring their sexuality as a teenager.
With autistic people, there’s the added layers that come from misconceptions about how we experience emotions and, in turn, attraction.
The stereotype that autistic people are emotionless robots who can’t interact with others has to end. Many of us actually feel emotion and empathy more highly than allistic (non-autistic) people, which can impact our daily life due to feeling everything so intensely.
Although some autistic people may struggle to communicate their emotions, it doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling them. Not only that, but attraction should then be separated from this entirely; many autistic people experience both romantic and sexual attraction. We have friendships and relationships just like anyone else does.
There’s also the idea that asexuality stems from a genetic issue, a mental health issue or hormone problem, which, whilst totally inaccurate, is something that is still extremely prevalent. Asexuality is a sexual orientation just like heterosexuality or bisexuality is, we are not broken, and we do not need to be fixed.
This easily fits into false impressions that individuals may also hold about autism.
As both a disabled and asexual person, I often find myself convincing myself that I perpetuate this stereotype. I feel that I am hindering the progression the disabled community is making in being open about their attraction, relationships, or sex lives.
When I began to lean into my disabled identity at 16, my asexuality began to take a back seat because of these ideas (alongside community gatekeeping issues), but I shouldn’t have to hide a part of me to try and tackle a falsehood.
I spent my school days hiding my autism, while everyone knew I was disabled by being chronically ill. I also spent a lot of time educating my peers about asexuality because, like many identities within the LGBTQ+ community, asexuality is almost non-existent on both the curriculum and the radar of those growing up in it.
If you weren’t a Tumblr kid, chances are you would never have heard of it. It is not easy to be the first person your peers who have come across who falls into both of these marginalised communities, and looking back, I worry some people will have conflated them as one thing. Yet that shouldn’t have been on my shoulders as a teenager discovering themselves.
I believe there is better education needed on both disability and asexuality. It’s entirely problematic that so much of the general public believes them to be intrinsically linked. Both of these groups are commonly infantilised, desexualised and sometimes violated due to these problematic beliefs.
I should be able to claim my asexuality, and my disabled identity, whilst being able to challenge the misconceptions that my communities face. I shouldn’t have to pick between my identities, but I fear it is something I will always have to cautiously balance.
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