Derek On Life As a Gay Man With Asperger’s Syndrome #AMPLIFY

Derek
Derek

Name: Derek

Age: 23

County of Residence: Butler

Preferred Pronouns: He

How do you describe your identity? I am a single, 23-year-old gay man who happens to be gay and who also happens to live with Asperger’s Syndrome. No matter what people say, I try not to let their perceptions define me as a person.

Please describe your coming out experience. Where did you find support? What challenges did you face? My coming out experience was not as dramatic as it is often portrayed in Hollywood and in news media. It was almost a year after I graduated from high school.

A few months before hand, I was involved in a car accident where I ended up being tboned by a tractor-trailer. The car was totaled, but I only sustained a few minor cuts and bruises. (Thankfully, the driver slowed down as much as possible when he saw me pulling out into the road.) In efforts to overcome from the emotional trauma, I decided it was a good of a time as any to come out via a blog post.

I have always found support from people via Facebook, Twitter and other online social networks. It is very difficult to find other gay people in Butler county, mainly due to the Conservative political and religious mindsets of its residents. It is great to see that so many people understand some of the emotions I have gone through.

My cousin Heath does a Podcast series called “The Artrepreneur Now.” As the name suggests, it is about entrepreneurs who have either succeeded in quitting their day jobs (or who are working towards that goal.) His podcast has not only encouraged me to research careers where I can be a successful writer, but to work towards my goal of publishing a memoir about growing up as a gay man with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Depression and Anxiety has always been a challenge for me. Our society tends to believe that these conditions are fake and something that people magically “outgrow.” This mainly stems from bullying/negativity and the general ignorance involving people who insist upon saying that they know me. They (supposedly) know that one person or have watched a show with that one fictional character who exhibits textbook Asperger’s “symptoms.” These people are very difficult to “let go” of because so many of them exist.

How would you describe yourself NOW in terms of “being out”? I am still not completely out to everyone in my local community. This is mainly due to the Conservative political/religious influence. I am hoping to move out of Sarver sometime in the future.

Tell me about the first LGBTQ person whom you met. What impact did they have on your life? I have known several throughout my life, but my cousins Travis (from Georgia) and Tessa (from Las Vegas.) Both of them have dealt with the bigotry associated with being gay from friends, family and from our society in general. I don’t get to see them as often as I would like to. However, they have shown me that all people are guilty of saying offensive or hurtful things. As hard as it can be, it is best to let them go and hope they change their mindset for the better.

Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why. I like Angela from Bones, who happens to be bisexual. She has always been a great friend to Dr. Brennan (who’s Asperger’s traits are actually portrayed quite well.) She appreciates Brennan’s tenacity and bluntness and is not easily offended by it.

How do you stay informed about LGBTQ issues? Facebook, Twitter, Huffington Post, independent media (The David Pakman Show.)

Describe your geographical community.  Sarver has always been rural, but is slowly changing to suburban. It is not much of a “town” because Freeport Area School District serves multiple communities in two different counties.

I cannot say that it is LGBT friendly. Many people are misguided and misinformed about how damaging hate and discrimination can be. A few summers ago, a local family ended up having a swastika burned into their front yard and it was suspected that the family was targeted because their teenage daughter was gay. Even though that ended up not being the case, I read several unhinged and unmitigated rants about the supposed “illegitimacy” of hate crime protections after the story gained attention from our TV news media outlets. I removed several “friends” from Facebook because they ended up liking and expressing agreement with the people who wrote those “rants.”

I am happy to say that plenty of people were more than willing to call those people on their ignorance. It did remind me that there are plenty of people who do genuinely care about the well being of our youth.

Describe your local or regional LGBTQ community. I find it hard to reach out to other LGBT people in the area.

Have you ever experienced discrimination based on your identity? Specifically, in a job setting, when applying for housing or while in public. No, but I could encounter it at some point. I could always use some advice on how to handle it if it should happen.

Are there issues impacting your LGBTQ neighbors that aren’t visible or part of the local dialogue?  Yes, internalized bigotry (racism, sexism, ableism) have always been issues, along with ignorance to the fact that these forms of bigotry can jeopardize businesses and can harm the emotional and physical well being of our most vulnerable people.

What would you like to see elected officials do to improve life for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians? Most importantly, I want to see discrimination and hate crime protections legalized at the state level. I also want them to write to school administrators. 

Please share a lived experience, anecdote or fact about life as an LGBTQ person in your community.  I belonged to a Lutheran (ELCA) church that was in turmoil after the national church voted in favor of allowing gay and lesbian clergy to serve openly in ministry. Discussion about the issue became very heated. People from the Liberal and Conservative sides were at each others throats and many from the latter side are no longer affiliated with our church.

(By a narrow majority, this congregation voted to remain with the ELCA.)

I did now know I was gay back then, but I still knew this made my entire family very uncomfortable. If there is anything this taught me, it is that some people are just completely unwilling to change how they feel about issues that I am passionate about.

Beyond discrimination, what other barriers create challenges for your LGBTQ neighbors? For those who live outside of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, travel distance would certainly be one major barrier.

What LGBTQ friendly resources are available for your neighbors? PFLAG of Butler county is the only one I know about, along with their Pittsburgh group. I have not attended any of their meetings yet, but I would be willing to attend them in the future.

What is your greatest fear for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania?  Being targeted with violence and shunned by the communities, law enforcement and by religious organizations.

What is your greatest hope for the LGBTQ community in Western Pennsylvania?  To come to an understanding with each other about issues like racism, sexism and about bullying in general.

What can allies do to support your LGBTQ community?  Speak out when people impose bigotry on other in any way, learn about famous LGBT activists from today and throughout history and support gay friendly businesses and community organizations

How can gay men and lesbians support the bisexual, transgender and queer members of our community? call people out on their ignorance and don’t allow them to get defensive. Ignore those who know how hateful they are and who just want attention.

What motivated you to take part in this project? I wanted to remind people that sexual orientation/gender identity is a very important part of who we are, but certainly is not the only thing.

Finally, what question should I have asked? Please also share your answer. I would revise this question:

“Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character or creator in television, film or literature? Please tell us why.”

add famous LGBTQ figures from the past or present.

I consider out musician Steve Grand to be one of my biggest inspirations. I love that he is crossing the societal boundaries of gay and straight while staying true to who he is.

(He was also featured on Heath’s podcast series “The Artrepreneur Now.”)

Read the entire AMPLIFY LGBTQ Q&A archive.

AMPLIFY LGBTQ is a new occasional series of blog posts designed to give a “signal boost” to the voices of our LGBTQ neighbors throughout Western Pennsylvania. We are using a Q&A format and will minimize editing their responses. The questions, however, may change as we ask each participant to tell us what we’ve missed asking. It is one of the vibrant elements of a blog format – evolution & growth. 

Our intent is to highlight the voices of marginalized members of our community who are not always invited to the table or whose voices are not heard (because “we” are not listening?) Obviously, my choice of questions does shape the conversation, but beyond that – these are glimpses in to the lived experiences of LGBTQ people in Western Pennsylvania as told in their own voices. If you would like to participate, please email me pghlesbian at gmail or visit the online Q&A.

You can read the other Q&A responses here.  AMPLIFY! LGBTQ is a project of Most Wanted Fine Art and Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents.

AMPLIFY LGBTQ

 

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  • Hey there Derek – I can empathize with you regarding your location. Things got much better for me years ago when I emerged from the sticks of central PA.
    Though you mention that you don’t let this limit you, could you address in detail what the aspects of living with Asperger’s as a gay man are?

    • I really cannot come up with an answer at the top of my head. Some of the classic characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome are developmental and social delays. (Some of those may include recognizing tone of voice, facial expressions and body language.) There becomes a time when we have to learn how to recognize and control those for our own good.

      Aside from the social/developmental delay, sensitivity to light, sounds and smells can be an issue for anyone with Asperger’s, but especially for someone who belongs to any of the “letters” on the LGBT spectrum. I don’t enjoy spending a long time in bars with loud music with loud music, flashing lights and tons of people crammed into one space.

      (I don’t mind going to concerts by musicians and performers that I am a fan of and have at least seen pictures or video of the performance or venue itself. But, I am just not the “party 24/7” type of guy.

      It is important for the individual to make it known to their loved ones and trusted coworkers in attempts to avoid what is called sensory overload. However, the hardest part of that is knowing that people can be very judgmental and downright insulting when they find that someone lives with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

      I hope this answers your question.

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