The Autistic Art of Failure? Unknowing Imperfect Systems of Sexuality and Gender

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Research and anecdote dealing in autistic sexual and gender identities present the picture of a group of people who may not conform to (cis)gender binaries, (hetero)sexual norms, or discrete sexual categories of a ‘heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual’ nature. Considering that the ‘over-representation’ of sexual and gender diversity amongst autistic people requires attention, research in the field largely emphasises perceived autistic deficits to explain this phenomenon. In this way, the authenticity of autistic sexual and gender subjectivity is called into question, while both deficit readings of autism and assumptions of a stable, binary reading of sexuality and gender are left untroubled. Leaning on Halberstam’s use of failure, I challenge the grounding of autistic sexual and gender diversity in deficit, considering instead autistic experience of gender and sexual identity as valid and authentic. This approach offers epistemological, ethical, and ontological opportunities and turns the research gaze away from supposed autistic deficit, interrogating instead the often unquestioned assumptions of the ‘imperfect systems’ of sexual and gender norms. I briefly present three alternative and emergent theoretical approaches with the potential to question both what we think we know about autism and what we may be able to know about sexuality and gender through autism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-229
JournalScandinavian Journal of Disability Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jul 2020


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