Having done all three, I’ve often been asked, as a disabled “gaytheist” (Not gay, not an atheist, but that’s just so darn catchy! What about “lestik”, or “fagnostic”, or “inqueerer”, or “bitheist” or “agnobian?” I’ll stop now.) which “coming out” experience was the most difficult.
The answer is bloody complicated. See, depending on the social circle you belong to, the discomfort level and acceptance of the big revelation are going to vary drastically. And as anyone can tell you, contrary to what television would have you think, there’s no one singular coming out, for any of those. You have to self-identify, “come out”, repeatedly, to family, to co-workers, to your friends, to new acquaintances, and each presents its own level and type of awkwardness and fear.
When I came out as an autistic at my first workplace, my bosses started treating me more kindly and assigned me to more autism-friendly tasks, such as zone maintenance (It was at a bookstore) and organization as opposed to customer service. But when one of my managers, an Evangelical Christian, found out I didn’t believe in any type of god, she began harassing me during and after work; she added me on facebook and kept dropping hints about how we “needed to talk” about my agnosticism. She went as far as to harass me when I posted stories about evolution and global warming, and bringing it up at work.
When she found out I had worked on the Obama campaign during my sophomore year of college, she began telling racist jokes about the Obamas, such as speculating whether the White House couches were stained with a brand of black hair products from the 70s, and laughing and looking at me expectantly. It was hell. I wish I had quit or filed a complaint… anything. That was simply unprofessional. I can’t even imagine ever talking about Jaime in that type of environment. I probably would have found pray the gay away lit in my locker if I did.
Among my college age mates though, coming out as autistic proved much more controversial than queerness or agnosticism/skepticism. I faced a lot of hostility from them for openly identifying as autistic and taking anti-anxiety medication, because I was a slave to the DSM and Big Pharma, and was obviously so repressed, stupid and stifled that I had to depend upon meaningless labels and pathologize my behaviour to feel comfortable, I clearly was just not proud of my identity. Uh-huh. I suppose these same people causing me to have a major a panic attack just confirmed their smug beliefs in my weakness by putting me in panic attack mode.
This isn’t just a group of arrogant snobs either. After coming out as autistic among my neurotypical age mates, the common reaction is discomfort. A lot of people in my age who are not disabled themselves or have close friends and relatives with developmental disabilities are extremely uncomfortable among the disabled, I’ve noticed. After I identify as disabled, people stop hitting on me, I stop getting invited to friendly gatherings, and the attitude I perceive towards myself has a new element, I’d almost call it “fear”. Why this fear is present is beyond my understanding. I’ve seen people even get up and move across the room when the openly intellectually disabled sit down near them at restaurants, on the bus, or other public spaces. What the hell? We have many many more reasons to be afraid of neurotypicals than they have to be afraid of us. And yet, we’re the feared and stigmatized ones.
The internet is probably the most interesting place where I’ve seen different reactions to my identities surface. On skeptical/science oriented forums and blogs, my autism is also a lot more controversial than my queerness or my nonbelief (obviously) It’s not uncommon to be dubbed “Ass Burgers”, or told that because I’m on the internet, I’m too high functioning to matter. Conversely, it’s also popular to brand me a cloistered loser hiding away in my mother’s basement, not maintaining any contact with the outside world. Psh.
On autism forums, however, my queerness proved much more controversial. I especially didn’t appreciate people gleefully declaring that the number of queer autistic women was proof that autism was a manifestation of hyper male brain whatever. And on queer forums, being autistic earned me some ire. A lot of other queers were very uncomfortable with discussing the intersection of disability and queerness, probably because they had spent a hell of a lot of time and effort distancing the idea of queerness from mental illness. But this meant that a lot of developmentally disabled queers were shut out of discussion and made to feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Myself included.
All of this amounts to a beautiful story on how, as someone who faces homophobia, disablism, and bigotry for my beliefs (or lack thereof) it is silly and pointless to rank them by who experiences the worst discrimination and harassment. It is an exercise in futility to try and put the focus on one while ignoring the other, or prioritizing one and claiming the other two don’t matter, or choosing any combination and saying that the last variable is not worthy of protection. I own all three identities proudly, and I know there will be many more times I have to “come out” with each one and get rained on again and again. It’s my hope that some day I won’t face any crap for all three, and neither will my children, if they turn out queer or decide to become agnostic/atheists.