After more than two years of writing, wrangling and occasionally weeping, my book, Queerly Autistic: The Ultimate Guide for LGBTQIA+ Teens on the Spectrum, is out today!
In writing the book, I wanted to give younger versions of me the opportunity to understand themselves and the world around them in a way that I didn’t. And with that as my focal point, I am incredibly proud of what I, with the help of so many other people and organisations and resources, have been able to create for young people.
This book is a primer for young autistic people who know they are/think they might be/wonder if they’re LGBTQIA+: from exploring the meanings and history of different identity labels, through digging deep into how to recognise and interpret what you are feeling, physically and emotionally, around your sexuality and gender, coming out, transitioning, relationships and friendships, sex, finding accessible spaces in the community and how to deal with bullying and bigotry. It contains resources in the form of book recommendations, links and youtube videos, all of which can also be found here: https://queerlyautistic.com/resources/.
Here’s a sneak peak at the first part of the first chapter: The Double Rainbow. You can also listen to the same excerpt from the audiobook.
My name is Erin. On the internet, I am also known as QueerlyAutistic.
This is because I am queer. And I am autistic. I like to say that I live under the double rainbow.
But what is the double rainbow?
The LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual, and other non-straight, non-cisgender identities) community is represented by the rainbow flag. Designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978, at the request of famous gay politician Harvey Milk, the rainbow was a symbol for San Francisco Pride. It has since spread as a symbol for the LGBTQIA+ community across the world – the different colours of the rainbow capturing the different people and identities who live under it.
We also know that autism is described as a spectrum. I was personally diagnosed with ‘autism spectrum disorder’. Autistic people are often referred to as being ‘on the spectrum’. This is because it’s a wide range of behaviours and experiences grouped together. Not all autistic people have the same traits, but we often share similarities. The word ‘spectrum’, however, is also a scientific term, meaning the rainbow of colours in visible light.
This is why autistic LGBTQIA+ people are sometimes referred to as existing under the ‘double rainbow’.
This term exists because of one reason: a greater percentage of the autistic population identifies as LGBTQIA+ than the non-autistic (neurotypical) population.
There have been a number of studies into this. Some of these studies have tried to get the figures on how many autistic people actually identify as ‘not straight’ or ‘not cis’. Others have tried to compare the number of autistic people who identify as LGBTQIA+ against the number of neurotypical people who identify as LGBTQIA+. Many have focused on the crossover between being autistic and having a trans identity (as these numbers appear to be particularly high when compared with the neurotypical community). Further studies have tried to get to the bottom of the crossover between LGBTQIA+ and autism, to explain it in medical or psychological terms, and to try to answer the question: why?
In the process of doing research for this book, it has become painfully obvious to me that very few of these studies involved autistic LGBTQIA+ people in any real way. One study in particular attempted to draw a line between ‘sexual identity’ and ‘sexual behaviour’, pointing out that many autistic people studied ‘claimed’ to be LGBTQIA+ and yet had never had sex with someone of the same sex (implying that sexuality is based on your sexual history rather than your knowledge of your own attraction and identity). It also suggested that many autistic men may identify as ‘non-heterosexual’ simply because they were nervous about approaching girls.
Not only is this insulting to the many autistic LGBTQIA+ people out there (plus autistic people and LGBTQIA+ people individually), but it’s not reflective of the reality that I have found as a person actively existing, socializing and advocating under the double rainbow. The unfortunate fact is that many of these studies simply fail to recognize that autistic LGBTQIA+ people are real people, living real and varied lives. More disappointingly, however, they never actually address the things that would have helped me as a young autistic LGBTQIA+ person.
That’s why I decided to write this book.
As a teenager, I desperately needed something that could guide me through life as an autistic LGBTQIA+ person: through working out my identity, coming out to family, friends, colleagues and strangers, finding support, getting involved in the community, and safely navigating friendships and relationships as both autistic and LGBTQIA+.
I needed someone to hold my hand and tell me what to do, what to expect, and to reassure me that it was going to be okay. Or, at the very least, that it wasn’t going to be quite the horror show I had created in my mind.
I came out as bisexual when I was 16. I started identifying as ‘queer’ as well as bisexual when I began getting involved in campaigning at university. I’ve always been a shouty person who wants to change the world for the better. Seeing injustice has always been physically painful for me.
As much as I worked towards being proud of my sexuality, I still found it difficult to find my place in the LGBTQIA+ world. I just couldn’t find where I belonged. I still felt different, detached, as though everyone around me was tapping into something that I couldn’t quite get a handle on.
Then, when I was 23, I got my answer: I am autistic as well.
This opened up a whole new door of possibilities for me. As comedian and writer Hannah Gadsby says, my diagnosis ‘was like being handed the key to the city of me’.
For the first time, I understood myself fully. I also understood myself as a queer person fully, and why I had struggled to find my place in the queer world.
In some ways, I was lucky. By coming out years before my autism diagnosis, I had managed to avoid a lot of the denial around sexuality, gender and autism. Nobody ever questioned whether I could or should be queer, or even if I should have a sexuality. That kind of pushback was never a part of my coming out story.
But I always was autistic. I was autistic when I was figuring it out. I was autistic when I was coming out. I was autistic when I was building relationships for the first time. I was autistic when I tried to go out and about in the queer community. I was autistic while trying to deal with the bigotry and injustice that sometimes come part and parcel with living loudly as a queer person.
And a book like this would have helped make that process so much easier.
So I hope this is helpful to you. I hope that this is at least a small bit of guidance on the winding road that is figuring out who you are and who you love.
I am so grateful for the love and support that I have received over the course of writing the book, and I have been bowled over by the kindness of people’s comments and reviews. This is clearly a book that was sorely needed – I’m just the one who was given the privilege of being able to write it.
I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve collaborated with the fabulous Rainbow & Co, a queer autistic owned small business, to produce two t-shirts designs in conjunction with the launch of my book. I won’t be taking any money from this, and £5 from each sale will go to Gendered Intelligence, a trans led organisation without whose resources this book would not have been written.
I was also honoured to be interviewed on Hannah Whitton’s brilliant podcast, Doing It!, about the book and my experiences being queer and autistic. There was also lengthy discussion about fanfiction and it’s importance in helping people figure this stuff out. You can find our chat here: https://pod.link/doingit/episode/557d0447ab17f06cac6efdc60894f47e.
I’ll be hosting a live Twitter Q&A from 8pm-9pm this evening to celebrate the launch. If you have any questions, tag me on Twitter using the hashtag #QueerlyAutistic.
I’m also hoping to organise a virtual livestream launch in the next few weeks (giving people some time to read the book beforehand).
There is an accompanying audiobook version of the book which should be available in most places where you can purchase audiobooks. It seems to be taking a little longer than expected to pass through Audible’s stringent checks and balances, but it should be available for download from Audible within the next couple of weeks.
I’m so excited for this to be out in the world, hopefully making the difference that I desperately hope it will make. And I hope that people will walk away from it with at least one thing in mind:
Be proudly autistic.
Be proudly queer.
And be proudly you.