I don’t exist (or the colour blue)

[CN: pathologisation of homosexuality and autism, erasure, liub]

Please note: I’ve used a lot of scare quotes throughout this post because we are a group that is routinely pathologised. I don’t use the words in scare quotes, but I’ve written it that way so that my points can be understood.

Do you ever get that itchy feeling in your brain where you know that there’s an idea just under the surface of consciousness, but you can’t quite connect the dots?

I do.

The first little itch happened last year while I was reading about the historical pathologisation of homosexuality. There’s probably more than a few people who read this blog who know about this, but for those who don’t, let me (very briefly) outline a few things:

From around the mid-twentieth century, homosexuality was considered a disorder and was listed in the DSM (the book that all the psychiatrists use as their guide in identifying what they consider to be “disorders”). In 1973, homosexuality was declassified and removed from the DSM in response to the Gay Rights Movement. I think most people know that, but there is something that I didn’t know (or didn’t quite realise) until I read about it last year.

Gay men and women weren’t treated equally. While women are more likely to be over-represented as patients in mental health services, gay men were the focus of the more coercive “treatments” aimed at correcting what society saw as a failure to be a real man. This didn’t happen in the same way for lesbian women. As an example, there was the feminine boys project¹, but no masculine girls project. Why is that? It’s because we live in patriarchal societies where a gay man was seen as a failed man, so priority had to be given to correcting that. While lesbian women were also seen as failed women, they weren’t necessarily the priority because, well, they weren’t men so they weren’t as important within society.

If you would like a bit more detail about that, this book may provide you with a starting point, but I think that brief summary explains the itch.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do about that itch, so I ignored it until April happened. April – during the time of the blue profile pictures, the itch became hard to ignore.

[As an aside, for people who still want to use those coloured filters on their profile pictures, please read this. You’re creating an access barrier that doesn’t need to be created. Also, if you’re still inclined to light it up blue, please read this.]

Here’s why the itch became impossible to ignore: People keep claiming that blue has always been the colour that represents autism. It hasn’t. Blue was the colour that Autism $peaks chose for their campaign specifically to represent the “fact” that boys are more likely than girls to be identified as autistic. (By the way, colours aren’t gendered so you can stop that nonsense any time now.) I’m not linking to that hateful site to prove that statement. The founders have stated that several times over the years. You can google it if you have to do fact checking – more specifically, you can look for the thing written about rosco color filters and the light it up blue campaign.

Did you notice that I used the word identified rather than diagnosed? I did that deliberately. Boys are more likely than girls to be identified as autistic. More recent research shows that maybe that’s because girls miss out on being diagnosed because autism is thought of as a boy’s thing. I saw all the parents aflutter with wonder at this research, but I don’t think many Autistic adults were surprised. If anything, we were a little surprised that that was news to anyone.

I can’t help but wonder whether this ties in to the historic treatment of homosexuality as a disorder: Does the dominant narrative that autism is a “boy’s problem” make it seem like a higher priority problem in patriarchal societies where men are still seen as more important than women? Does the stereotype of the 8 year old white autistic boy have the same effect in societies where white supremacism still flourishes?

But the thing that made the itch impossible to ignore isn’t just the tendency to focus on autistic boys. It’s also the push back from pages centred on autistic women², and pages run by parents of autistic girls. They all want you to know that girls can also be autistic.

That’s a good point. Girls can be autistic, and more people should know that, but I don’t exist.

I’m not a man or a woman. I exist in a body that gets read as a woman more often than it gets read as a man, but I am neither. I am gendervague or an enby. I exist outside of the man-woman binary that is so prevalent within most societies.

There’s very little talk of non-binary autistic people in mainstream media. There has been some research, but really, I’m not overly keen for enby Autistics to become science’s latest lab rats.

I don’t exist in your blue profile pictures. I don’t exist in the counter campaigns about autistic girls. I don’t exist in your statistics about boys, and I don’t exist in any of your media articles which highlight that autistic girls exist too.

Yet here I am, and I feel real.

If my anecdata tells me anything, then it is that there are many Autistic people with genders outside the binary. There are also enbies who aren’t autistic, and enbies exist across most, if not all, neurotypes. We do exist, and I wonder whether autistic kids who are growing up today would feel less weird about themselves if our existence was acknowledged even a little bit.

¹ This project gave rise to the ABA therapy that we know and do not love today.
² I am not referring to organisations such as Autism Women’s Network. While they do focus on autistic women, they have also ensured that their activism is intersectional, and doesn’t erase enbies.

This post has been translated into Russian. You can access the translation here.