Tom Moran (a young autistic man)

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

With Pride Month in full swing, we catch up with Tom Moran, autistic man and a future trainee solicitor. Tom chatted to us about coming out, his identity as a gay autistic man, and dispelling autism stereotypes.

When were you diagnosed as autistic?

I was diagnosed in 2008, so I would’ve just started secondary school at the time. I definitely knew I was autistic before I knew I was gay. I was in lower sets at school, and I was quite insular. I found it difficult to communicate with others in a meaningful way, and to make friends. I liked routine and repetition. It was quite clear I was autistic early on. This was picked up by my school teachers, who let my parents know. This then led to a diagnosis.

What is being autistic like for you?

Before I was diagnosed, I really struggled academically and socially. I found it difficult to keep up with my peer group. I think this was exacerbated by being gay. I was at an all boy’s school at the time, and was trying to figure out my sexuality, as well as being on the spectrum.

I went to co-educational college, and it was here that I really began to step out of my shell. College was much more relaxed than school, and more of an understanding environment. I was able to build up my confidence in social settings. I learnt social ‘scripts’ and how to engage in small talk. I learnt more about how autistic people can ‘mask’ in social situations, which I was able to do at college. I think this helped me fit in.

Could you tell us a bit about your experience of being an autistic member of the LGBTQ+ community?

As a gay autistic man, it’s almost as if I have two identities. I have my LGBTQ+ identity and my autistic identity. Sometimes they both merge well together, and sometimes they don’t.

As a gay autistic man, it’s almost as if I have two identities.

An example of when they don’t merge so well together is when I’m in a work setting. Often, the company will have very inclusive rhetoric and an active network when it comes to their LGBTQ+ staff. However, the rhetoric around autism and other disabilities is often lacking, or perhaps less mature. You feel accepted for one side of your identity, but the autistic part of your identity is perhaps less recognised or understood.

Being part of a community who understand what it’s like to be a minority, can be really positive. LGBTQ+ people may have a greater understanding of autism, as they already know what it is like to be seen by society as ‘atypical.’ In some ways, being autistic and being LGBTQ+ are similar experiences. You may have to ‘come out’ in both communities. Both groups experience what it is like to be in a minority and face some forms of discrimination.

Why do you think raising awareness of autism in the LGBTQ+ community is so important?

I think it’s important because I’m not the only LGBTQ+ autistic person out there. All nuances of our community should be celebrated and understood. Raising awareness of having a disability and being LGBTQ+ helps that understanding, and allows the LGBTQ+ to continue to be inclusive – as it should always be.

All nuances of our community should be celebrated and understood.

Do you usually celebrate Pride Month?

I came out when I was in college, and I found an LGBTQ+ community there. I went to a lot of Pride events at that time. My first Pride event was in Brighton, then I went to London. From a sensory perspective, it’s a lot to take in – the parades, the noises, the crowds etc – but I can cope with it in short bursts. The atmosphere is amazing, and the message is so important. Obviously, things are very different this year, so I’m not sure how I’ll celebrate to be honest!

How do you think LGBTQ+ spaces can accommodate autistic people at Pride events?

Generally, autistic people and those with disabilities are really well received and accepted in LGBTQ+ spaces. A lot of effort is made to ensure that events are accessible for all.

Pride parades are designed to be loud, celebratory, and symbolic of Stonewall and how Pride started. On the other hand, it can be a very overwhelming environment. I’m not sure how they could make it more accessible for autistic people, but perhaps there should be some more consideration around that.

How do you think straight autistic people can be better allies to autistic people in the LGBTQ+ community?

Having an understanding that we all share similar paths could help. I think it can be hard for straight autistic people to be allies, as there is not that much information out there. Sharing stories and content from the perspective of LGBTQ+ autistic people and other intersectional identities could be really helpful.

Representation is really important for any minority group. A great example of this I saw recently was the addition of black and brown colours to the Pride flag, representing ethnic minorities within the LGBTQ+ community. More representation in the media is really important as well.

If you could destroy one myth or stereotype about autism, what would it be?

One that comes to mind is the myth that autistic people lack empathy. I think sometimes autistic people can actually experience more empathy than others. Emotions are shown in so many different ways. Just because we don’t show our emotions in the same way as non-autistic people doesn’t mean we lack empathy. For instance, I’ve noticed a lot of autistic people have been great at campaigning for the rights of minority groups and speaking out against discrimination of all kinds.

Although media representation is important, I think it’s equally important to meet and talk to autistic people and to have those conversations. That way, you’ll have a much better understanding of what it means to be that person, and what being autistic is like for them.

How are you coping with the lockdown?

It’s been both positive and negative.

A positive aspect is that things have been much quieter. There are fewer people around, fewer cars on the road. Just walking outside has been less overwhelming than before, particularly in cities.

The downside, for me, is definitely the lack of routine. Planning out my day in advance has really helped, and trying to build in structure where possible.

I’m doing the GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law) course at the moment, so I’m doing a lot of exams and coursework. The deadlines have allowed me to create some structure in my day. Without that, I think I’d find the routine change quite challenging.

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