We know autistic people are more likely to be queer, gender non-conforming, or trans than non-autistic people, but the auti-gender and ace communities are less commonly recognized, understood, and celebrated.
At AutismBC, we’re challenging that through sharing knowledge, speaking against stigmas, and advocating for positive change.
What does it mean to be auti-ace?
Autistic people who identify with an orientation under the ace umbrella often self-describe as “auti-ace.” The “ace umbrella” refers to a broad range of identities related to asexuality or aromanticism. For example:
- Asexuality, sometimes shortened to ‘ace,’ is low or absent sexual attraction. This sometimes results in little to no interest in sexual activity, allowing for a variety of romantic, emotional, and aesthetic attractions.
- Aromanticism, sometimes shortened to ‘aro,’ is the low or absent interest in romantic relationships, allowing for strong bonds and relationships in other ways.
- Demisexuality is sexual attraction after forming an emotional bond, and demiromanticism is romantic attraction after forming an emotional bond.
- Gray-asexual people sometimes experience sexual attraction, but in a less intense way or less often than others.
- Allosexuality is sexual attraction to others, and alloromanticism is romantic attraction to others. These are opposite to asexuality and aromanticism.
- There are many other orientations under the ace umbrella, and people are always finding new ways to use language in a way that better suits them.
What does it mean to be auti-gender?
For auti-gender people, autism and gender are inseparable. Auti-gender people embrace their experiences of gender within the context of autism.
Auti-gender isn’t autism as a gender, but rather the experience of gender that’s so heavily influenced by autism that the two can’t be unlinked.
For example, an auti-gender person with sensory issues might find certain kinds of physical touch uncomfortable. Someone who struggles with finding the language to describe their gender because they’re autistic might find it difficult to explain their identity to others. And auti-gender folks who struggle to understand social norms often face confusion and misinterpretation from others, which can be isolating.
Masking, or trying to hide autistic traits, is also comparable to hiding one’s true gender in order to avoid rejection or criticism. Unmasking can mean transitioning to live more authentically, both as an autistic person and as someone who doesn’t identify with the sex or gender they were assigned at birth.
Auti-gender people face challenges non-autistic people might not understand and experience life differently, which impacts self-perception, relationships, and other parts of everyday life.
Understanding the history
Members of the auti-ace and auti-gender communities have historically faced erasure, marginalization, and oppression. They have not received as much representation or support as other groups, such as neurotypical gay men. Coping with ableism while lacking the language and comfort to express one’s orientation can be painful. Canadian society has only recently started accepting deviations from the straight, cis, abled norm. Autistic ace individuals also face intersecting challenges based on factors like race, ethnicity, health, and socioeconomic status, which influence their access to appropriate support. These struggles have always existed, and while their stories are now being heard more widely, they have always been here.
Throughout history, ace people were expected to find partners. Auti-gender people were expected to conform to the sex they were assigned at birth, which they may or may not have been able to do successfully. They might have felt the pressures of heteronormativity and sexism. Even today, the dominant expectation in traditional circles is that everyone wants a romantic and sexual partner, marriage, and kids. Many auti-ace and auti-gender people defy that just by being who they are.
Autistic people are also often infantilized — or treated like children. This sometimes means others don’t take us seriously or trust us to know ourselves when we divulge details about our gender and sexuality. In a similar way, ace people might struggle to be taken seriously by people who see them as less “grown up” than allosexual or alloromantic people.
Understanding the historical context can allow us to appreciate the intersections between autism, gender, and orientation. That can empower us to advocate for equity and understanding for auti-ace and auti-gender people.
Being part of positive change
Listening to ace autistic individuals is crucial for creating a safer and more welcoming world. Centring and supporting their ideas can make a difference in shaping a brighter future. It’s important to challenge misconceptions and educate those who are open to learning when it is safe to do so.
Everyone experiences gender, attraction, and love differently, but we all deserve respect. Supporting all parts of the autistic 2SLGBTQIA+ community means focusing on accepting everyone, including auti-gender and auti-ace people. If you’re an ally, use their chosen name and pronouns, and don’t question the validity of their gender.
If you’re auti-gender or auti-ace, connecting with people who share your identities can make you feel less alone. Take any opportunity you can to safely celebrate your individuality and freely express yourself. If you’re really struggling, reach out for professional support.
Finding community is one of the best parts of Pride. Enjoy the opportunity to get to know and uplift one another!