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HandWiki. Autism and LGBT Identities. Encyclopedia. Available online: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/32278 (accessed on 18 April 2024).
HandWiki. Autism and LGBT Identities. Encyclopedia. Available at: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/32278. Accessed April 18, 2024.
HandWiki. "Autism and LGBT Identities" Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/32278 (accessed April 18, 2024).
HandWiki. (2022, November 01). Autism and LGBT Identities. In Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/32278
HandWiki. "Autism and LGBT Identities." Encyclopedia. Web. 01 November, 2022.
Autism and LGBT Identities
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Although it is not known exactly what causes one to be on the autism spectrum or what causes one's sexual orientation or gender identity, a few limited studies into autistic people have shown higher rates of LGBT identities and feelings among autistic people than the general population.

sexual orientation autism spectrum lgbt

1. Early Studies and Limitations

Autism-related research tends to focus on children instead of adults; therefore, issues of gender and sexual diversity are often overlooked.[1] Early claims that autistic people lack a sex drive or desire for sexuality have been regarded as an inaccurate and negative stereotype.[2][3]

Autistic people are less likely to be believed by their peers or parents when coming out as LGBT. Even as adults, the agency of autistic people in knowing who they are or what they want is often questioned by those around them. Autistic adults are treated as child-like, unconcerned with sexual desire, or are prevented from exploring their own sexuality. The lack of research in the topic area means that many are unaware of how their autistic identity intersects with an LGBT one.[1]

2. Autism and Sexual Orientation

Although studies into the link between sexual orientation and those on the autism spectrum are rare, it has been noted that many autistic people are less likely to identify as heterosexual than their non-autistic counterparts.

Studies on sexual orientation and autism suggest that more autistic people have homosexual and bisexual feelings compared to the general population[2][4][5] with some studies showing higher rates of asexuality among autistic people.[4][6][7]

3. Autism and Gender Dysphoria

Gender dysphoria is a diagnosis given to transgender people who experience discomfort related to their gender identity.[8] Autistic people are more likely to experience gender dysphoria.[9][10][11] Around 20% of gender identity clinic-assessed individuals reported characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).[12]

While scientific literature is filled with case studies of autistic children with gender dysphoria, including boys,[13][14][15] girls,[16][17][18] and other children,[19][20] the first study to assess the convergence of gender dysphoria and autism was not published until 2010.[21][22] Researchers in the Netherlands examined over 200 children and adolescents who were diagnosed with gender identity disorder (gender dysphoria) in 2010, finding that 7.8% of them were autistic.[11][22] In another study, from December 2011 to June 2013, over half of the 166 young adults referred to the NHS Gender Identity Development Service were assessed as autistic.[23][24] In March 2014, researchers from the Children's National Medical Center, Arcadia University, and National Institute of Mental Health, assessed gender diversity in autistic children, and found that those who were autistic were 7.59 times more likely to be gender diverse than those who were not autistic.[22][25] One of the study's authors, psychologist John Strang, argued that children were more likely to be gender non-confirming because they were not as "worried about what people thought" as those who were older and were not noticing "the social expectations or the social biases" toward transgender people.[26][27] In December 2014, four researchers concluded that being on the autism spectrum does not "preclude gender transition" and suggested methods for assisting such individuals in "exploring their gender identities".[28] One of the study's authors, Katherine Rachlin, said that, sometimes, being transgender can "look like the spectrum experience" to clinicians.[23] A study by Yale School of Medicine scientists in March 2015 concurred, stating that those on the autism spectrum should be treated equally to other individuals for gender dysphoria, and suggested that clinicians "broaden the social frame" and facilitate an "exploration of gender roles".[29] Another study by Boston Children's Hospital researchers in October 2016 reported that about 23 percent of young people with gender dysphoria at the on-site gender clinic had Asperger's syndrome, and recommended "routine autism screening at gender clinics".[23][30] A Finnish study in April 2015 recommended that the autism spectrum be recognized seriously in developing guidelines for treating "child and adolescent gender dysphoria".[31]

Some studies have noted an overlap between those with autism and those who are transgender.[32][33] British researchers in 2011 concluded that trans men had more autistic traits than trans women.[34] However, a study by British researchers in 2013 concluded that there was "no significant difference" between trans men and trans woman in autistic traits observed.[35] Steven Stagg and Jaime Vincent of Anglia Ruskin University concluded in September 2019 that some of those seeking advice and help for their gender identity may be autistic, whether diagnosed or not, with these abilities impeding possible support, and urged clinicians treating individuals who are transgender or non-binary, especially those assigned female at birth, to consider whether they have undiagnosed ASD.[32] Four researchers in January 2020 suggested "overlap between autism and transgender identity", possibly more in trans men than trans woman, and stated that anxiety and depression were the highest in autistic individuals who were transgender.[33] Scientists with the Autism Research Centre at University of Cambridge, using data from 600,000 adults in the UK, concluded in August 2020 that adults who were transgender or gender diverse were three to six times more likely to have an autistic diagnosis than those who were cisgender, and suggested that between 3.5-6.5% of transgender and gender diverse adults in the UK are autistic.[36][37]

Other researchers have noted the prevalence of autistic traits among those who identify as non-binary or genderqueer.[32][38] Two Warwick University researchers, utilizing data from 446 UK adult respondents, concluded in January 2016 that, based on their sample, genderqueer individuals were more likely to be autistic than any other group with gender dysphoria.[23][39] New York University researchers, using a sample of 492 children, stated in February 2016 that autistic children were seven times more likely to experience gender variance as compared to those not on the spectrum.[26][38] A 2014 study stated that of the over 1600 surveyed, those participants with autism were "7.59 times more likely to express gender variance".[40]

4. In Popular Culture

Autistic characters that are part of the LGBTQ community are occasionally depicted in popular culture, whether in literature, animated or live-action series. Some have called for better representation. For instance, in June 2015, author Heidi Cullinan wrote in Spectrum that there is not nearly enough works of fiction with autistic people and even fewer who are part of the LGBTQ community, inspiring her to write a story with a gay autistic protagonist.[41] She also said that autistic people deserve to see themselves in stories, like anyone else. In March 2021, queer autistic novelist Naoise Dolan echoed this in an interview with PinkNews, calling for more visibility, saying that popular culture and art would be improved if "there were more queer autistics out there," along with other groups that are marginalized.[42] She also criticized bad portrayals of autistic characters and expressed her desire to "deliberately write the most counter-stereotypical autistic character possible" in her novel, Exciting Times.

Occasionally, LGBTQ autistic characters appear in literature. Some of these characters are gay. For example, a 2017 novel by KJ Charles, Unseen Attraction has a neuroatypical, mixed race protagonist named Clem Talleyfer who has a boyfriend, but he falls in love with Rowley Green, a lodger at his house.[43][44][45] A 2015 novel, Carry the Ocean, by Heidi Cullinan also had a gay protagonist. In the novel, the protagonist, Jeremey Samon, meets an autistic boy named Emmet Washington, who wants to date him, and through the course of the book, their romantic relationship develops.[46][47] Other characters in literature are lesbians. For example, Ada Hoffman's debut novel, in June 2019, The Outside, has a lesbian and autistic protagonist, Yasira Shien, who once had a lover named Tiv.[48][49][50] The book's sequel, "The Fallen," came out in July 2021,[51] with a reappearance of Yasira, and the book was praised for its "excellent neurodiverse representation."[52] In March 2020, Bitch Magazine reported that a story by Corinne Duyvis, "A Curse, A Kindness," within the Unbroken anthology, had a nine-year-old autistic, and queer, protagonist named Siena.[53] In the story, she is cursed, but the curse is not tied to her disability and she is "not made to suffer because she’s autistic," and she later falls in love with another female protagonist, Mia, and both later begin an romantic relationship.

Some autistic characters in literature are part of the LGBTQ community, but are not lesbian or gay. Xan West's 2019 novella, "Their Troublesome Crush," has a character, Ernest, who is openly autistic and demiromantic. West said they wrote the character from their own experience as an autistic demiromantic person.[54][55] Ernest has been described as "a show tunes–loving submissive," and has a metamour, the partner of his partner, named Nora.[56] Zack Smedley's 2019 novel, Tonight We Rule the World tells the story of Owen, a "bisexual high schooler...on the autism spectrum"[57] while "Whip, Stir and Serve" by Caitlyn Frost and Henry Drake has an autistc bisexual demigirl as a protagonist.[58] Furthermore, Judith, the protagonist of Xan West's 2020 novel, Tenderness, is an "autistic Jewish bisexual midsize fat femme" who has chronic pain.[59]

LGBTQ autistic characters have also appeared in animated series. In May 2020, the creator of the animated series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Noelle Stevenson, confirmed fan-favorite Entrapta as autistic, following the airing of the show's final season.[60] In later tweets, Stevenson noted that one of the show's storyboarders, Sam Szymanski, was on the spectrum and had a big role in "defining her physical acting," becoming the show's "go-to for Entrapta."[60] Stevenson later confirmed Entrapta as bisexual, saying that she had "lots of robot boyfriends and girlfriends", and a relationship with the ship, Darla, in "some capacity".[61][62] It was also said that Entrapta "sees humanity in everything,"[63] and her romantic relationship with Hordak was confirmed.[61][64][65] Some reviewers described Entrapta as one of the "more diverse representations" of characters which are characterized as neurodivergent, along with Luz Noceda coded as autistic, and confirmed as neurodivergent.[60]

This contrasted with Peridot in Steven Universe, who was said to be asexual and aromantic by storyboard artist Maya Petersen in March 2020.[66] However, Peterson did not believe that Peridot was autistic,[67] despite it being a "popular headcanon" surrounding the character. Executive producer and series creator Rebecca Sugar said that they did not consider Peridot to be neurotypical.[68] The character's voice actor, Shelby Rabara, said, in response to autistic fans of Peridot, that she was happy that she could "voice a character that gives people on the spectrum somebody to identify with."[69]

Live-action television series have LGBTQ autistic characters as well. For instance, in March 2020, it was announced that the series Everything's Gonna Be Okay was introducing a "queer storyline" for autistic protagonist Matilda, who explores her sexual identity as a pansexual woman, and her friend, Drea, becomes her girlfriend. The show's creator, Josh Thomas, told The Advocate that he likes "having queer people in my show," noted that autistic people have "an extreme emotional vulnerability" and said that is "exciting that people on the spectrum are boldly leading and as far as identity goes."[70]

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  59. "Cover Reveal: Tenderness by Xan West". Let's Fox About It. WordPress. https://letsfoxaboutit.com/cover-reveal-tenderness-by-xan-west/. 
  60. Kirichanskaya, Michele (August 9, 2021). "Brain Power: Cartoons Diversify the Face of Neurodivergence". https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/animated-children-shows-celebrate-neurodivergence. 
  61. Ostertag, Molly; Stevenson, Noelle (June 9, 2020). "We're doing a charity stream for BLM on 6/9 at 5pm PST - send donations and requests here!". https://www.twitch.tv/videos/646313443.  Alt URL
  62. From 3:55:40 to 3:57:26 in the video, Noelle says, "Entrapta has a lot of robot boyfriends and girlfriends...Entrapdak is canon...The robots learn to love because of her, and that's like Hordak," while making a number of other comments about Entrapta and Hordak.
  63. Zachary, Brandon (May 18, 2020). "She-Ra: Noelle Stevenson on Horde Prime, Entrapta & the Heart of the Series". https://www.cbr.com/she-ra-noelle-stevenson-horde-prime-entrapta-heart-of-the-show/. 
  64. Geiger, Rae (May 18, 2020). "I don't know if this counts as spoilers but was Entrapdak and Catradora always planned or was it more of a random thought while working on the different seasons?". https://raegeii.tumblr.com/post/618934445486047233/i-dont-know-if-this-counts-as-spoilers-but-was. 
  65. Geiger, Rae (May 2020). "i loooooved all of the outfits in s5!! what was the process for choosing adora's "wish" outfit and hair?". https://raegeii.tumblr.com/post/618934551160520704/i-loooooved-all-of-the-outfits-in-s5-what-was. She clarified that "I’ve never intended for every character who swaps items as described above to be married."
  66. Baron, Reuben (March 14, 2020). "Steven Universe: A Crystal Gem Is Confirmed As Asexual". https://www.cbr.com/steven-universe-crystal-gem-confirmed-asexual-peridot/. 
  67. Peterson and, Maya [@rr_tweet] (March 11, 2020). "I know many people read that in her, but not as far as I know. It doesn't mean she's not! Just that the topic hasn't ever come up in my period of employment. But then again, I would think it'd be an important point of discussion for this past ep." (in en). https://twitter.com/rr_tweet/status/1237684714044968962. 
  68. Cassidy, Eve (March 29, 2020). "Steven Universe Creator Rebecca Sugar Doesn't See the Gems as Neurotypical". https://www.cbr.com/steven-universe-neurodivernt-crystal-gems/. 
  69. Stevens, Nia (October 14, 2016). "The "Steven Universe" team on the characters' evolutions". https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-steven-universe-team-on-the-characters-evolutions/. 
  70. Gilchrest, Tracy E. (March 21, 2020). "Everything's Gonna Be Okay Shows 'Dual Spectrum' of Autism and LGBTQ Identities". https://www.advocate.com/television/2020/3/12/everythings-gonna-be-okay-shows-dual-spectrum-autism-lgbtq. 
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