When I was asked to contribute a piece to Lesbian Family on what it’s like to parent a child on the autism spectrum as an out lesbian, I was so honored I actually giggled. To be able to be in a place in my life where I can be open and out and tell the truth about my family, and to share all that with such a supportive community…. well, that just makes me wanna sing!
… Which I won’t do here, but if you were standing in my kitchen, you’d get an earful of show tunes from the woman my future sister-in-law calls “the happiest gay person ever!” …
For me, parenting a child on the autism spectrum feels not so different from my coming out experiences. The lessons I learned on each side seemed to be all about truth-telling and living life authentically. The more aware I became as an autism parent, the more I began to live in that space of being ready for anything, open to life, comfortable in my own skin. Not because I initially wanted to learn about myself or change necessarily, but because I had to. My son challenged me to connect with him exactly where he was and use whatever resources I had to stay in the moment and accept whatever came next. It was the only way to parent him. I had to tap into my intuition and my heart, and throw away all the “what to expect when you’re parenting” books.
The more time I spent living in that open space, the more I wanted all the parts of myself to align, for everything to feel right in every aspect of my life. I had to find my own “truth” and go from there.
Coming out as a lesbian later-in-life was so easy because I’d already had my preconceived notions about the way my life “should” or “would” be shattered during the early years of being a special needs parent. I no longer needed to try to create an image of love based on what society-at-large had to say about it, I could recognize love where it existed naturally. I didn’t need to do anything– relationships, work, parenting, art– the way anyone else thought it should be done. Nothing anyone else touted was necessarily “truth” for me and once again I had to find my own and live as honestly as I could.
My son, like many kids on the spectrum, cannot really lie. And now thanks in large part to him, neither can I. So in the spirit of celebrating our truth and our families and our relationships, I present to you the…
TOP TEN REASONS I LOVE BEING AN OPENLY GAY AUTISM PARENT
10. Acceptance where it counts, baby! I didn’t have to come out to my autistic son. He understands what it means to love someone exactly as they are.
9. Hearing my 7 year old daughter tell everyone at our polling place:
“I’m voting for Obama because my brother who has autism watches Elmo. And also because I want my Mom to be able to marry the woman she loves!”
8. RAINBOWS— one of nature’s greatest light displays! Eternally captivating, shiny and colorful. An awesome sensory experience. And they always seem to come *after* the much-too-loud thunder-booms.
7. I can relate to all the coolest autism professionals. Of course I’m not saying all the cool therapists and teachers and autism staff are gay, but you gotta admit that in order to be effective in working with kids on the autism spectrum, you have to have a pretty open heart, a flexible mind and an awesome, inclusive, curious attitude. Wouldn’t you agree?
Which brings me to the next reason….
6. An ever-expanding network of creative connections! The bigger the village, the stronger the community, the more sanity for autism parents, the brighter the future for our kids. And once again I’m back to big beautiful gay rainbows all around!
(… here come the show tunes dancing through my head in a huge street-scene coordinated dance number …)
5. Plenty of practice forging my own path. How did I come to be marrying the woman of my dreams? The same way I came to accept myself as the parent of my utterly unique children– through a lot of hard work. Even though it didn’t feel comfortable at first, everything in my life was by my choice. It was tough to be at the beginning, and the journey is constant, but I love, love, love the place I’ve come to now.
4. Twice the MOM love! Last year my son officially changed my name from “Mom” to “Mom-Aubrey.” That said it all. Plus, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. We’re expanding the family unit. Not just Mom, not just Dad. “Lesbian Dad” and “Second Mom” and “Mama Cat” too. Kids need more, not less– more love, more hugs, more positive experiences. So do autism parents. (Refer to the village comment in reason #6.)
3. The chance to SHOW my children– especially my autistic son who is a visual-experiential learner– that true love comes to those who believe in love and follow their hearts. The chance to be a living example for them of what partnership, respect, acceptance and cooperation really are.
2. Inner Peace! You’ve heard the expression “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” at special needs conferences and IEP meetings, right? Well honey, let me tell you– this Mama is happy. In every way. In ways I couldn’t even have imagined ten years ago. And much to my surprise, the happiness just keeps on expanding to everyone in the family. Can you say “trickle down effect?”
And the number one reason I love being an openly gay autism parent…
1. Because I’m convinced I was put on this earth to do something. Many days I’m still confused about how exactly to do whatever it is I’m supposed to do…
But when I look at the back of my car with the “Coexist” sticker, the Autism ribbon, the Rainbow peace sign and the Human Rights Campaign logo, I have to smile and breathe a little easier because it all just goes together and somehow I know I must be on the right track.