Nothing about us without (more of) us.

By Caroline Hearst

August 2, 2017

Last night I watched “Against the Law“, a BBC drama documentary (I’m not sure if that is the technical term. It was a “from a true story” drama interspersed with footage of interviews with men speaking about real experiences).

I was struck by the fact that Peter Wildeblood was the only openly gay man who spoke to the Wolfenden committee whose report led to the decrimalisation of gay male sex between consenting adults over 21 in private. As depicted in the play that particular man had ideas about what constituted homosexuality that now look pretty dated.

Wildeblood put forward the idea that there are three types of homosexuals – effeminate men who made a display of themselves in public (his attitude was he supposed they couldn’t help it, they were made that way and therefore, he supposed, deserved pity), pederasts, who he had the same attitude to as he supposed upstanding heterosexuals would have towards paedophiles, and ordinary homosexual men like him who were normal people who just happened to be attracted to other men and just wanted to get on with their lives in private.

Because Wildeblood was the the only gay man the committee spoke to my guess is that they conflated his opinion with the opinion of gay men, or the gay community. In fact Wildeblood, although he regarded himself as an advocate for homosexual men and was brave in the way that he dealt with being forced “out”, appears to have taken on a lot of homophobia – as shown by the stereotypes he portrayed and by the idea that it was not acceptable to have homosexuality visible in public.

As with many LGBTQI concerns I think there are deep parallels with the current climate for autistic people. Often a random autistic individual is taken to speak on behalf of autistic people more generally. Also there are many organisations with “autistic” in the title that are not run by autistic people at all, but by others who rightly or wrongly are considered experts in “autism” and therefore entitled to speak for us.

Myths about autism are perpetuated in many ways and are sometimes believed by  by autistic people (just like gay people, we are not immune to the surrounding cultures myths and prejudices even when they are about us). I think it is vital that we start to increase our visibility and build up our community and infrastructure so that the opinions of random autistic individuals are not assumed to represent the autistic community as a whole.