Throughout childhood I was always the outsider. Geeky, socially inappropriate, independent and protective of my freedom, the natural tendency to fit in didn't rule my life. And it's not because I'm a natural rebel. Nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, this was the 1980s and individualism was not yet in vogue.
The challenge is that I wasn't accepted on any level. Flamboyant and dressing in a classically feminine/androgynous way but also possessing what was called a “robotic demeanour” by students and educators alike, I hardly fit in. But I didn't choose to be an outcast.
Even though I didn't want it, I was forced to accept that being the odd person out was my world...and little did I know it would be my future.
It was little wonder then, in my last year of high school, that when I was found laying on the couch cuddling my boyfriend that I was homeless for the first time. Growing up in those earlier decades filled with homophobic violence, the looming spectre of death that only AIDS could provide, the ever-present need to stay alive – that sheer grit of survival – became real. But now that I chose to live life as a gay person on my own terms, and not having the luxury of the option of ever being in the closet at any rate, there was freedom to choose my own life. So that's what I did, finding a rag-tag group of friends that became my version of a family.
That freedom of being out of the closet tasted good. And even without a sense of belonging or even a home I still graduated from high school – the first in my family to do so on either side. I drew strength from my adopted family of rent boys and ne'er-do-wells, staying mostly out of trouble only by what must have been a divine hand over my life.
Early in my career I didn't speak much and when I did it was in rapid-fire dialogue about science and philosophy that could last for hours if you let me, with an inadvertent penchant for taking things literally. This literal mind was often taken as rebelliousness in school – no surprise there – and these qualities also didn't work out in a work setting.
Although the gay community (we called everyone gay back then) was often vicious, there has always been a rough-around-the-edges maternal side to this coin, and again I drew inspiration from my community by looking at those closeted executives in large firms and Fortune 50 companies. Starting my own business I learned to make my own opportunities. As usual, without the luxury of hesitancy I went head-first into consulting work, often not knowing anything about the industries I was hired into and learning along the way.
Cheers for a survival mindset, hurrah!
In time I got a whole lot of education (my mother says I have more degrees than a thermometre), became a senior partner in a world-wide consulting practice, an elected official, an appointed judge, professor, and author. Whew!
Dating became a series of long-term relationships, which was good for me, but as in childhood I never quite understood the rules everyone else seemed to effortlessly and instinctively know. One day while describing my strict analysis of relationships with their “permutations in decision-making with regard to emotional stimuli” to my therapist friend Daniel, he suggested I might be autistic.
Autistic? I had no idea what that was really. Somewhere deep in my memory bank I remembered something: Wasn't that the thing where kids like to spin coins all day?
Looking it up I found a definition of Dictionary.com that autism is “a pervasive developmental disorder of children, characterized by impaired communication, excessive rigidity, and emotional detachment.” Children? I wasn't a child. Impaired communication? Well I certainly have often been a loss for words. Excessive rigidity? That was definitely right. Emotional detachment? I'd been called that, but it was more in expression than my emotions.
Over time I've learned that these definitions are created by those who are not autistic, viewed from what is called a “neurotypical” individual. Like being gay, autism is a minority status. So although an average person is non-autistic and straight, that doesn't mean because we gay and autistic people have brains that develop differently that we're not “typical”.
But I digress.
So what is autism? I prefer the definition of “a lifelong non-progressive neurological difference often marked by rigidity in thought (literalness), preference for repetition...and fabulousness.”
Being the bold individual, I came out as autistically publically – and little did I realise I would be the first elected official in the world to do so.
So two closets: the queer one and the autistic one. Two neurological differences that are normal, both with a recorded history going back millennia. Two rainbows; a gay rainbow and the autism spectrum.
Here again I wanted to find my family and community. But at the time of my professional identification as an autistic person in 2014 there was no community of people like me, so I founded Twainbow – People Under A Double Rainbow, which is now represented world-wide and is a sponsor of research for those under the two rainbows. Long ago I learned that letting things grow often means letting them go (something very tough for an autistic person), and although I still serve on the board of Twainbow, I've retired from direct leadership.
We have grown in the last forty years that I've identified as a member of the LGBT+ community, and I still do. My preference for androgynous dress was not just a phase. I've since come out (publically of course!) as gender fluid, though still gay. Heck, all LGBT+ people are gay in my vintage mindset.
So there you have it: a life of exclusion, finding families and communities in the most unusual ways, discovering that fear can be a driving force, that closets are a luxury, and in fact we can have many closets in our lives...and that anything is possible with enough grit and support from unlikely family if we'll just open ourselves up to it.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Written by Louis Molnár
Louis Molnár is a politico, author, broadcaster and businessperson. A board member of various not-for-profits, they have been honoured with awards worldwide for their work in autism, LGBT+, and gender diversity.
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