My Life With Asperger's

How to live a high-functioning life with Asperger's.

Love the Homosexual, Hate Homosexuality

Is it the same for autism?

That was the title of this morning's sermon, on one of the Christian radio networks the guys play in the Robison Service shop. We've got a dozen guys here at work. As they restore our Land Rovers and Mercedes, they listen to a wide range of programming, from talk radio to heavy metal. Even with all the stuff I hear, walking through the shop, those words stopped me and got my attention.

Why would a preacher say that, in this day and age? I suppose it's a variation on a more common phrase, love the sinner, hate the sin. Yet even that phrase begs the question, why hate the sin, when the sin is perceived in another? If you perceive a sin in yourself, and you hate it, you are certainly free to change and feel better about yourself. However, hating a part of yourself is certainly nothing to brag about on the radio. Beyond that, you are powerless to change another, so why beat yourself up hating their behavior or their way of being?

Homosexuality is generally recognized (by the American Psychological Association, the AMA, and others) as a way of being; a part of who we are that's not subject to change.
That being the case, it is in that sense like autism. It's how we are born, and there's no way to change it. We can change ourselves to fit into society better, and society can change to be more accommodating, but that's it. There is no getting rid of autism, and there is no getting rid of homosexuality.

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But we should not want to get rid of either. Both autistic and gay people have made huge contributions to society; we would not be where we are today without them (us). Thanks to an aggressive gay rights movement, society has changed to be more accommodating for homosexuals. I hope society changes to better accommodate autistic people, too. The autistic rights movement is still in its infancy but folks like Ari Nee'man are driving it forward relentlessly.

I've already expressed the belief that autistic people will find their best success by learning how to fit in. On the face of it, I'd think the same would be true for gay people. When I suggested that to some friends they criticized me for suggesting gay people stay in the closet, and autistic people pretend to be someone they are not. That isn't what I mean at all. I never suggested hiding or concealing one's nature. I simply advocated learning how to act in expected ways, for the situations in which we want to succeed.

Provided we are functional and capable of doing a job, our autistic-ness or gay-ness should not be relevant. I understand there is prejudice in the world, so to the extent it exists, I would say nothing and go about my business because I want to succeed more than I want to change the world.

Yet there are others whose desire to change the world is much stronger, and they take issue with my point of view. That's ok with me, because I am not trying to change other people, and I am not terribly troubled by those who chart a different course.

Most of the bloodshed in human history came about because one group tried to force its ideas or likes and dislikes upon another. Why not let gay, autistic, and other people be? Why care who or how they are? What business is it of yours?

Some say, it's my business because it's my son. But does that make you right? As an autistic person, I understand why some parents say they hate their child's autism. I know their remarks are well intentioned, and what they are really saying is that they wish their child could have what they consider a "more normal" life. If I had a child with a serious disability, I'd want that too.


However, I also understand how those remarks have a corrosive effect on the child, and indeed on all autistic people. A parent saying they hate how we are . . . that's a strong critique of of our being, no matter how the hater may twist and turn his words.

I can see no possible benefit to a parent or other non-autistic person saying they hate autism. No constructive purpose is served, and I believe I have demonstrated the destructive effect of the phrase. Knowing that, why should hating homosexuality be any different? I suggest it's not; therefore, expressing hatred of it in others is damaging to some and helpful to none.

What about hating autism or homosexuality in yourself? Is it right to hate homosexuality, if you're the homosexual? Maybe, for yourself, but it's surely a self-destructive line of thinking. I suppose hating something about you might produce impetus to change, but change to what? My sense is, hating autism or homosexuality in oneself is really symptomatic of a much larger problem with self-esteem and success in life.

Finally, I have heard the fundamentalists cite the bible, saying "God will smite them." And yes, I've heard it for both groups . . . God's gunning for the gays and the geeks both. Fine, I say. Let God smite us, if indeed he exists, and if he cares. I've heard tell of many people and places God should smite, but I have yet to see it actually happen. In any case, if you believe in God, it's His business, not ours. If you don't believe in God, it's irrelevant.

What do you say?

John Elder Robison is the author of Look Me In The Eye: My Life With Asperger's, and Be Different, Adventures of a free-range Aspergian.

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