For Bisexual Awareness Week, I have a series of guest posts scheduled every day leading up to 5 posts for today (Sept 23rd). Buckle up for some bi visibility! This interview of TJ, a bisexual nonbinary person and creator of the Fan Wonderland podcast, discusses their journey with gender/sexuality identities as a person with Asperger’s. (Read all posts in the series here.)
[AL&HL]: What was it like to come out to your mum? How did she take it?
[TJ]: Extremely difficult. Given I was raised in a Christian household, generally speaking, and although I’m agnostic/atheist and was at the time, Mum wasn’t as open-minded as she is now. It took about 4 years from me telling my friends to being in a place I could tell Mum. My worst fear was she would kick me out of the house. This was something I’d kinda planned with a few friends if this eventuated, however, thankfully it didn’t.
From memory Mum was packing up the Christmas tree, and somehow we were on the topic of relationships or something, and Mum wasn’t in a generally positive mood but for some bizarre reason it felt like a good time, despite Mum’s current mood at the time. All Mum knew of me at this stage was that I had Asperger’s (was diagnosed in Year 11). Mum took it incredibly well. Was kinda confused and shocked but was generally accepting and just asked questions as most parents (in an ideal world) would, like “How did you know”, “what’s that mean”, etc. Mum said she would never kick me out regardless of sexuality, which made me really happy. By this stage though my grandmother was out of the house by this time and in a nursing home so I felt I could tell Mum by this time.
It made telling Mum in March this year (2019) I was non-binary so, so much easier. Sure it was a lot harder to try and explain than “I just like both men and women” but Mum is so much more open-minded now and accepting and I’m super grateful for that.
[AL&HL]: Do you think having Asperger’s made it hard for you to realize your sexuality and gender identity? Why do you think that?
[TJ]: I wouldn’t say “hard” as such. More difficult and frustrating. As someone who is incredibly socially awkward, I don’t have that “freedom” to randomly stroll up to someone and hook up with them as people without Asperger’s can do more freely and easily. It makes figuring out what kinks, what I want in a relationship, etc. incredibly frustrating and hard to figure out. Where a lot of people without Asperger’s can go from relationship to relationship or hookup to hookup, it’s not that easy for people like me.
A lot judge by appearance or the way you conduct yourself. While I’m incredibly out there and confident online, in person I’m a mess with zero confidence (something I’m working on with my psychologist currently). This very much ties in to all of this as in discussions with my psych, it’s become inherently apparent that a lot of my struggles stem from Asperger’s. From overwhelming auditory issues (this is a frustratingly selective problem as at work or in an auditorium like at a university, as it’s a major overwhelming factor tied into my anxiety, however I can visit shopping centres, concerts, etc without an issue).
One thing I’ve mentioned to a few people and this is something my psych pointed out to me, as I hadn’t realised it until we talked: Because of my Aspergers, I NEED everything in my life to be in black and white (i.e. clear cut and obvious and either one thing or the other). And my gender identity is the furthest thing from it which is why a lot of my Asperger’s issues mixed with my anxiety is recently popping up in daily life. My gender isn’t “black and white.” Many people have asked me how they can address me without me being offended, and the truth is I haven’t fully worked it out yet. The closest I’ve come is genderfluid bisexual. However, the latter of that being the “bisexual” part is continuously shifting with my moods and mindset.
My psych pointed out that the “world” of autism has changed a lot over time. From what I can tell, this hasn’t yet happened with gender and sexual identity and acceptance of that fact. It’s very much a reflection of society that people think you can’t be what you’ve identified as. That’s their opinion. Essentially all of this makes it incredibly hard for me to know where I sit in my sexuality, in particular as it makes meeting people I’d like to learn about my sexuality with incredibly difficult. So far, I’ve found one person (outside of friends) who’s fairly understanding of this but not entirely to the point I would honestly like. They are trying though and that’s really all I can ask right now.
[AL&HL] How has your podcast, Fan Wonderland, helped you be more accepting of your identity?
[TJ]: Honestly Fan Wonderland has certainly helped, as given its audio-only, I’m able to kind of “hide” if things go sideways, but thankfully the general reception was really good after my coming out episode. Shawn-Caulin Young has been instrumental in helping me feel more like myself (particularly during recording episodes as I’m less trying to hide). It’s very much a different side of me, particularly when there’s a guest like Jai Rodriguez (Culture Vulture from original Queer Eye) who’s openly gay, funny, and makes you feel relaxed and comfortable and also compliments me for “Serving looks” and so on.
It varies guest to guest, but it’s been about 17 episodes or so (at the time of writing this) since I first mentioned being non-binary and every person has been really good about it. Fan Wonderland has absolutely helped as the entire reason I created it was to give the LGBTQIA+ community a safe place to be themselves and it’s grown so much past what I dreamt from starting out with just actors and actresses, to embracing fan artists, models, photographers and so many more. And it’s all been from word of mouth, as I can’t afford to pay to promote the podcast yet, so the fact we’ve had over 40+ guests is mindblowing, and its been going since October 2018 and people are starting to find us when looking for podcasts for their clients.
Despite me saying “we” to a lot of people its very much only me running all of it from designing episode covers, to recording to e-mailing publicists. It’s massively boosted my confidence in being able to professionally reach out to different companies, publicists etc, but further than that, creating Fan Wonderland has introduced me to people like Shawn and Sonalli Castillo, who I’m grateful to call my friends and have had my back since so very early on. It’s also introduced me to people like Natalie on Instagram who found me via our episode with Anjelica Bette Fellini (The Gifted) who I’ve been in touch with since, as well as new artists I admire and would never have met without the podcast. It’s changed my life for the positive and while I have a great deal of work on self-confidence in everyday life and socially, when it comes to being confident enough to run a podcast and everything surrounding it, it’s massively helped by having supportive people around me to help me accept my identity, particularly when they’re well known people in media, art, etc but accept you for you. And that means the absolute world to me.
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