Coming Out Disabled Part 3


I promise that some day I will write something shorter than a 3 part series, but today is not that day. Instead, today I am going to finish out my series on coming out disabled, with some final bits and pieces you may want to consider when coming out.

The first of these is that when you come out you are in some ways taking on the task of educating people. Note that I don’t say you have the responsibility or you’re agreeing to. You shouldn’t HAVE to. BUt unfortunately if you want people to understand what you’re saying and respect your accommodations, it’s highly likely that you’ll end up doing a lot of education.

So one thing you want to consider when you’re going to bring your family and friends along into the world of disability with you is how much you trust them to educate themselves, how much energy you have to educate them, and what all they need to know. In some cases this can actually be a really cool process; if your loved one is interested, open, and curious, they’ll probably do some research themselves, but ask you about your experiences. Being able to talk openly about your disability can feel relieving and validating. Even though it does take spoons and time to explain stuff, it can also feel like growing closer.

On the other hand, if your loved one isn’t super invested in the process it can be total shit. It’s exhausting when you’re always the one who has to bring up your needs, and since we’re trained to feel like setting boundaries is asking for extra special treatment, you can feel needy or whiny. You’re not. It can feel like an impossible choice to decide whether you want to keep a diagnosis to yourself and try to navigate your needs alone, or disclose and spend time educating and convincing people that you deserve respect and validation. I hear you. It sucks.

What I will say is that in one of those situations you’re not ever likely to get support. In the other, it’s possible people will learn and grow along the way. If you’re uncertain about how family or friends will react, I strongly recommend talking it out with a therapist or someone else you trust, particularly someone who has experience with the people you’re not sure about.

It’s also possible that you have just received a diagnosis, and you’re learning along with your family. In my opinion, it’s great to be upfront when that’s the case, and ask for help in finding resources and services. Sometimes it can be easier to learn about the diagnosis together with your support system, if only because other people prefer to be helpful rather than be educated.

The final concern that I want to bring up here is the possibility that someone else might out you. That sucks. Never talk about someone else’s disability unless you’re certain they are open. But sometimes it happens. I once had an executive director mention that I was autistic to our entire leadership team without asking me. What do you do?

This only becomes a problem if you find out about it, but when you do you have a few options. You can decide to be open and out, answer questions, and live that outness. That’s what I decided to do, because I had no problem being out at work it just hadn’t seemed like the right time yet.

If that’s not an option, you can set a hard boundary: “Yes, I am autistic, but I would prefer not to talk about it. I’d also appreciate it if you don’t treat me any differently because of it.” This won’t necessarily stop people from wondering, or changing the way they act around you, but it might help. You may also want to mention to the person who outs you that you’d prefer they let you decide when to disclose. Honestly if it were me, I might even say that immediately after they out me, because I would prefer for those in hearing distance to understand that it was inappropriate, and it’s not something to be shared further.

Do you have any further questions about coming out about your disability? What was the hardest part for you? What did you learn?