George Morl (a young autistic man)

Photo credit: George Morl and Emily Jayne Boyd

To celebrate Pride Month in the UK, we’re interviewing autistic members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Meet Georgle Morl, autistic artist and writer. He recently received a Firstsite Bursary Award to explore autism in the arts. In celebration of Pride Month, George writes about his experience of being autistic in the LGBTQ+ community, his artwork, and where he draws his inspiration from.

I see autism, sexuality and gender as interwoven like a matrix. All of these exist on a spectrum and aren’t distinct. My identity and gender, how I relate to others, and how I process my environment constantly fluctuates. I see it as like a Heironymus Bosch painting, which contains multiple layers of mutated and morphed creatures and objects, with multiple meanings and outcomes.

This approach extends to my art practice, where the process is an act of self-development. I form emotional attachments to colours and materials. For instance, the colour orange has positive associations of comfort, as I dressed in orange as a child. This resurfaced following a family bereavement. I don’t distinctly experience emotions like ‘love’, ‘happiness’, or ‘joy’, but rather extreme placidity or mania. I can’t perceive facial expressions and emotions, therefore not understanding when I should show affection. I express appreciation and affection through visuals and objects. Being shamed by others for this, receiving negative views, or microaggressions, coupled with the internalised shame of being queer, the sense of suppression can be overwhelming. When these emotions are so intense, as it often is with those on the spectrum, we find ourselves having to justify or validate our feelings, which leads to further judgement. All of these end up placing the blame upon us.

 

George Morl (a young autistic man)

Orange boy by George Morl and Emily Jayne Boyd (2018)

 

When it comes to relationships, I do not feel the need to have intense contact with others. Because of this, I question monogamous relations as I do not wholly require exclusivity from another person. I develop extreme appreciation for people but this is not always ‘love’ for me, it’s because I value their company, trust, safety, and values as people. I see the person for who they are.

People may be surprised to find that autistic people are more likely to not identify with conventional genders and sexualities. One Swedish survey reports that autistic adults were three times more likely to identify as LGBTQ+ compared with the wider population. In another US clinical report, 70% of individuals responded as being non-heterosexual. As queer people we are in fact over-represented in the autistic community, but what I’ve felt is that it is stigma and lack of true awareness which prevents us from being embraced and represented in queer culture.

 

'Intimacy in an Age of Physical Absence' - art by George Morl

Intimacy in an Age of Physical Absence by George Morl (2020)

 

Navigating and exploring sexuality can be strange for me. There are a lot of false assumptions made about autistic people, when it comes to sexuality and relationships. I think this is due to societal bias towards those who have developmental and neurological conditions. We are often seen as unable to have sexual autonomy, and we are often ‘infantilised’. These thoughts seem to be at odds within queer culture, which puts an extreme emphasis on belonging and identity.

There are a lot of false assumptions made about autistic people, when it comes to sexuality and relationships.

Due to hypersensitivity I have to approach environments and physical intimacy differently. Part of my sensory processing is being able to feel my bones vibrate when they move, feeling blood pulsate, or how a touch can feel like a punch. As in Intimacy In An Age Of Physical Absence 2020, the body is a series of pressure points as though it is inverted, with bones and muscle exaggerated. I see bodies as moving networks, they are often gender fluid, fragmented and morphed. In this respect, although not apparent, my work is realistic. I am communicating the experience, not of how I feel emotionally, but how it feels through sensations and processing my experience of my body or another’s body.

Attending art school, there is a hugely diverse environment in thought and expression. However, the platforms and modes in which queer people connect and meet for young autistic people are not always accessible. Student queer societies were often alcohol focused and not inclusive, clubs with dedicated LGBTQ+ nights were characterised by intense contact where sexual assault was too often minimised as sexual liberation. It can be difficult to develop authentic connections with others in these environments. This why I think ‘safe spaces’ are essential.

Queer culture appears to have an issue with intersectionality, especially towards those with disabilities. Much of the conversations revolves around mental health, which many autistic people experience. However, when it comes to deafness, autism, physical, learning, and cognitive disabilities there I feel there is little representation. This would require those from the LGBTQ+ community to confront their own prejudices and stereotypes to recognise others, educate themselves, and address it from within. Positive advocation examples can be seen in Wolfgang Tillman’s Spectrum/Dagger 2014 documenting alternative social environments, or Lady Gaga’s recent Stupid Love 2020 music video in which she embraces American Sign Language in a future dystopian landscape, encouraging those from within queer culture to raise and support each other. Without these efforts we are not having our voice and existence validated.

Queer culture appears to have an issue with intersectionality, especially towards those with disabilities.

 

'Precious Boys' - artwork by George Morl

Precious Boys by George Morl (2016)

 

This issue around lack of belonging and possible isolation is relevant to the autistic community. Recent autistic research suggests around 80% of autistic people experience isolation in society, which is something similarly experienced by the LGBTQ+ community. For those who live in rural and less urbanised areas where there is fewer access to networks this issue is even more intense, as many queer individuals strive to find meaningful connections with others. This is often clouded further by the performative aspect of smartphone dating apps. Precious Boys 2016 is my vigil to this social health crisis, with bodily forms resting on imaginary landscapes, acting as a refuge for emotionally suppressed individuals.

The effect of isolation on autistic and queer people’s mental health has been exposed by the current coronovirus lockdown. The networks in which we seek support or intimacy have been depleted or radically changed. In these times of collective isolation, evidenced by Grayson Perry’s Art Club (2020), the retreat and private nature of art helps us to develop empathy and learn about ourselves and others, through honesty and shared experience. Under this we have been forced to reflect upon our immediate circumstances and observe similarities with others. What some have suddenly experienced is something us autistic people and queer people are going through most of the time.

For LGBTQ+ rights, we have seen legal change in past several decades. Equality, which is what LGBTQ+ organisations campaign for, is not the same as emotional stability. That is something that can’t be legislated for but ensured through listening and proactive change. Ultimately, I feel adapting our communication and the creation of safe spaces for autistic people who require it is key. Until then, whose voices are we listening to?

You can admire more of George’s handiwork and find out more about his latest projects on his website here.