‘Do you want to be my friend?’ They’d laugh and walk away. There were unwritten rules to friendships.’: Nonbinary person shares autism diagnosis

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“My name is Marionna DeGroat. I am a non-binary, gay, autistic advocate. I want to share a bit about what it’s like to be me. My journey has been filled with tremendous highs and lows, and there were days where I was ready to give up, but with the power of friends, family, and an amazing online community, I come here today to share my story.

At 8:00 a.m., I got up and got ready for my first days at elementary school. I remember being so excited to leave home and learn new things and make a bunch of new friends. I remember my mom putting me on the bus, and saying, ‘Have a good day, Mickey!’ Mickey, being one of my nicknames since my mom used to style my hair in these two big puffs that looked like Mickey Mouse ears. As much as I was excited for school though, it didn’t go the way I expected it.

child in striped dress
Courtesy of Marionna DeGroat

Throughout my early school years, all around me, I saw everyone making friends. People setting up playdates after they got home from school and exchanging snacks at lunch. I remember thinking, ‘How was it so easy? Do you just go up to someone and say you want to be friends and then you’re friends? What even is a friend?’ I felt like there were unwritten rules to friendships. I would try to engage in conversations with my peers in class but often found myself speaking too much or butting into other conversations. I’d go up to people at recess and ask if they wanted to be friends, and they’d laugh and walk away. I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong.

I made one friend, though. For this story, I’ll just call her M. M was so nice to me, and we talked all the time during school and had a great time together. I was so happy having M as a friend because I felt like I could finally make friends with people, and I wasn’t a loner. In my school at least, people laughed at the kids who were alone. You needed to have friends to be cool. So now I had a friend. I finally felt ‘cool.’

The coolness didn’t last long though. In middle school, M and I stopped being friends. This one girl, I’ll call her R, became close friends with M, and R began to spread rumors about me. Stuff like I was going to steal M’s boyfriend (to be honest I didn’t even like boys at that time) or I said M was ugly, all of this stuff that was completely untrue. M, unfortunately, believed R over me, and our friendship was over.

siblings smiling
Courtesy of Marionna DeGroat

It felt like heartbreak. Once again, I was a loner. The bullying didn’t end there either, as kids would call me ‘weird’ or didn’t like me but never gave me a reason. I specifically remember one girl who said she hated me. When I asked what I did, she said, ‘Everything.’ What was everything? Why is everyone so confusing? What is wrong with me? I thought maybe if I tried to act like everyone else, I might get friends. From there, the lying began. I lied about my interests, I would say I liked drawing and listening to hip-hop music. I would mimic others’ mannerisms or mimic the mannerisms from people I saw on TV. It worked because, by seventh grade, I had friends again.

These friends were different though. In sixth grade, I failed my math class and was performing poorly in school. A few teachers talked with my mother and eventually, I was transferred to special education. At first, I was nervous, as people in my school made being in ‘special ed’ mean you’re stupid. People already made fun of me enough, I didn’t need another thing to pile on.

It wasn’t bad though. The class was way smaller, and the students were so understanding and sweet. I felt like I had finally found my people. There was a ton of drama though unfortunately, and I remember getting upset and being told to ‘toughen up’ and I’m ‘too sensitive.’ Those words hurt, as I didn’t understand why I was so sensitive. Why I wasn’t like everyone else? I always felt different but never knew why. I hated myself.

Fast forward to high school and the bullying eased, and I was still depressed but had a small group of friends and was starting to understand myself a bit better. One revelation was I was a lesbian. I knew I never liked boys but didn’t know I liked girls. I remember telling my friends and they supported me, and my family did too. Learning about the LGBT community was a great experience, I finally felt seen.

person in makeup
Courtesy of Marionna DeGroat

Graduation. At the time I was sad, but now I couldn’t be happier I left. No more bullies, no more peer pressure, I could finally be myself. Teachers had high expectations for me after graduating, but if we’re being honest, I fulfilled none of them. I got a job but am currently on medical leave. I tried college but only lasted 3 weeks. I still didn’t understand why I couldn’t do things right. I was an extremely disorganized person too, and it took me weeks to clean my room. I was always so overloaded and exhausted. So, I researched.

person in graduation cap
Courtesy of Marionna DeGroat

Found a lot of labels, a lot of conditions, but nothing really made sense until I found the one word: autism. I remember finding out about autism in late 2020 and being shocked by what I learned. It was like someone unlocked a key into my brain. Everything made sense, from the relentless bullying to the lying about yourself. It was me in a nutshell and I needed to do something about this.

person in cosplay dress up
Courtesy of Marionna DeGroat

I created an Instagram account and joined the autistic community, and I never felt so seen. Everyone was so welcoming and helpful, and my page currently has over 2,000 followers. I never thought anyone would care about me this much, but they did.

Earlier this year, I decided to pursue a diagnosis. I knew in my heart I was autistic, but to get the help and benefits I needed, I had to get it on paper. I remember calling around to all the different centers, I probably called at least 20 places. Pretty much all of them said, ‘Oh sorry we don’t take your insurance. Out of pocket, it would be $2,000.’ The places that did take insurance only evaluated children. I nearly cried, I was so frustrated and just wanted someone to help me.

Finally, a place not too far from where I live took insurance and evaluated adults. It felt like a huge relief. On April 10th, I did the intake session with the neuropsychologist and my mom and I went over everything in my life, from birth till now. Then, on April 20th, I was evaluated and finally diagnosed with Autism and Generalized Anxiety. I felt euphoric honestly. I had an answer to all the confusion in my life, and a reason for all my ‘weirder’ traits. I could finally sit back and accept my differences, not hate them.

non-binary person half smiling
Courtesy of Marionna DeGroat

I remember posting about it online and seeing how happy everyone was. Endless comments of ‘Congrats!’ It was honestly one of the best days of my life. I’ve learned a lot from being in the autistic community and being in it is slowly making me regain my identity after losing it from all the masking and faking I did in school. One part of my identity I learned from here was my gender identity.

I saw a post talking about how autistic people experience gender differently. I thought to myself, ‘How do I experience gender?’ I already knew about the gender identities out there, but I didn’t think to question my own. As I thought, I realized I never really felt like any gender. Not a boy, not a girl, I just felt like me. I never understood growing up when my mom would say things like, ‘Don’t do that, you’re a girl.’ It was always weird to me. For a while, I came out online as non-binary and my online friends were all so proud of me. I didn’t really feel comfortable telling my family yet, as they weren’t transphobic, but I was just anxious to share a big part of myself.

But one day, just recently, I did it. I wrote a bit about how I felt about my gender in my notes app on my phone, and read it, shaking and crying, in front of my mom and brother. They took it well. I had to explain a bit more about it to my mom, but she ended up understanding. I remember posting about this too and crying from all the supportive comments. I didn’t think I could do it, my anxiety didn’t even want me to think about doing it, but I did it.

That brings us to today, May 30. What a ride, right? My life is definitely wild at times. I share this with you all to hopefully inspire you to be who you are. I now advocate for autism acceptance online, because I don’t want autistic kids to grow up feeling ashamed of themselves. I want them to grow up and feel comfortable, maybe even proud, to be autistic. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be you because you are unique, and unique is beautiful.”

non-binary person
Courtesy of Marionna DeGroat

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Marionna DeGroat from New York. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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