Know that you love your child. Even if you don’t understand everything about them, know that you love them and that is enough. Acceptance takes time.
Wow! I was moved when I read the words sent through by Mickey McNulty in response to Ayman Eckford’s questions for LGBTQIA Autistics. Mickey writes with empathy for parents and a strength that comes when you have survived the challenges of coming out as queer and autistic. Thank you Mickey, I hope your words resonate with our neuroqueer friends as much as parents who need to read them.
So, my child is autistic. Will their experiences be different from the experiences of cis hetero autistic children or neurotypical queer teens? What should I consider?
Your Queer Autistic child’s experience will be very different from a cis hetero Autistic person or a Queer NT’s experience. A lot of the Queer scene is going to clubs and drinking. That sounds like a nightmare to me. A lot of Queer spaces are also very sexual, so if you have trouble connecting with people or having physical contact or are not interested in casual sex this can make them unappealing. This is not to say that Queer people are overly sexual, just that a lot of spaces are created for the purpose of finding sexual partners. You can help you child by finding non-sexual or sensory friendly Queer spaces like coffee shops or Queer book clubs. You can help you child by educating them about sexual health and boundaries.
There may also be difficulty interacting with others in terms of over sharing. In a lot of spaces, it is not safe to be openly Queer. I, personally, have a lot of trouble understanding what is appropriate for the space I am in and what is not. I have issues with over sharing. I know that I would have benefited from learning a script for lying about my sexuality and gender. Lying is so, so difficult for me so when people ask me about relationships or gender and such I just tell the truth and that can get you in trouble. Either that or I freeze up and go non-verbal. Helping prepare your child for situations where they may need to lie or be deceptive would be very helpful.
Why has this happened in our family? What mistakes have we made? It seems like I have done something wrong? How can I cope with the feeling of guilt?
You have not made any mistakes or done anything wrong. In fact, by seeking help you are doing it right. When your have a Queer child in a world that is so hateful to Queer people, it can feel like you are hurting them by allowing them to be Queer. This is not the case. People are who they are and there is nothing wrong with being Queer. The best possible thing you can do to keep your child healthy and happy is to accept them and support them. It can be extra difficult when you are in an environment that is not welcoming to Queer people. Your child is unsafe because of being Queer, just like your child is unsafe for being Autistic. Fight for them no matter what. If your friend or community member says something hateful, look them in the eye and fight. If they say trans women are just men in disguise, argue with them. Defend your child. Even if no one says anything about your child specifically, your child will hear everything that is said about Queer people and internalize it.
Is it possible my child has made a mistake coming out? Maybe they should not talk about it, or I should not take coming out so seriously?
Always take your child seriously if they come out to you. Even if does turn out not to be accurate, it is so, so important that you support them. If you don’t, they will always remember that. Be there for your child. It is true that it is unsafe to be Queer. Your child may decide to come out to you, but not to everyone. They may decide to come out publicly and it will put them in danger. Your instinct will be to silence them to protect them, but it will hurt them in the long run. Instead, help them understand what situations are appropriate or safe and what the risks are to being out. They may decide to be out anyways. Support them. If someone attacks your child for being Queer, react like you would if someone attacked them for being Autistic.
How do I learn to accept my child?
Know that you love your child. Even if you don’t understand everything about them, know that you love them and that is enough. Acceptance takes time. Continue to love and support your child as you always have. The more you learn about them and who they are, the easier it will be to accept them. It will stop looking like “that is my child who is Queer” and look more like “that is my child and I love them no matter what.”
I think I’ll feel better if I learn to talk about my child being queer. How do I learn how to talk about it? (At least on a closed support group?)
The most important thing is to have your child’s permission before you talk to anyone about it. When you have that permission, find safe people: people that you know are not hateful, people who will not put you in danger, people who will not gossip. Find a support group for non-Queer parents of Queer kids. Make sure that the group itself is not centered on trying to change the children or paint their Queerness as negative. If your child does not give you permission, find a therapist. Make sure it is a therapist who is not hateful towards Queer people or would be of the mindset of someone who would want to “cure” them.
How can I protect and support my child?
Refuse to participate in hate. Refute it when you can. If you’re out with your friends and someone starts to complain about “those people” and everyone joins in with their own hate and complaints, don’t add to it for appearances. If it is safe to do so, stand up for yourself. You don’t have to out yourself or your child, but you can say “shame on you for being hateful, you know nothing about those people or the lives they lead.” If people are spreading misinformation (e.g. gay men are more likely to molest children, trans women are really just men, trans men are really just butch lesbians, bi people are promiscuous and need to pick a side, non-binary genders aren’t real) correct them. Compile a list of sources and statistics that you can throw at them. Make it as non-personal as possible.
If someone attacks your child specifically, stand up for them. Cut ties with friends and family members who are openly hateful. Show to your child that you are on their side no matter what.
If you were a queer autistic teenager, what things would have helped you in your past?
I would have benefited a lot from knowing about non-binary genders. It also would have been great to know more about asexuality and aromanticism. Just to have as much knowledge and know as many diverse people and hear stories and be able to be part of an accepting community.
What else can you advise me?
It is going to be very difficult for both of you, but the one thing you can do to make it easier is to go through it together. When the world is standing against you, having each other is going to mean a lot.
Thanks to Mickey for sharing so generously. You can find all of the other responses from LGBTQIA autistics here.