Yeah I know I’m rushing through this set of posts. For some reason I feel like time is running out to get these down, not sure why. Maybe I just need to get some things off my chest quickly and move on.
So I hadn’t planned this one at all (I’m actually procrastinating over my planned post on parenting) but I was reading something about the link between autism and diverse gender identities and I thought: why not?
I know gender identity is hardly a taboo topic, in fact it seems to be a common point of discussion nowadays, but it’s not something I’ve ever talked or written about before. So it feels like I’m breaking a taboo, at least on a personal level. And I have the feeling people meeting me perhaps wonder exactly where I sit on the whole LGBTQI+etc spectrum, so now you get to find out.
So, I’ve heard that quite a few spectrumites, like me, feel that their autism has affected their gender identity. There’s even a word for it: autigender. Having said that, the exact way in which autigender presents itself can be anywhere under the sexuality-gender-matrix, so please don’t think that my experience covers those of others. This post is unashamedly all about me!
So… where to start?
Well, I suppose as a child/teenager, gender identity issues were not on my radar. Back then, society was only just starting to admit that homosexuals were, you know, humans too. And transgender wasn’t a thing. I was probably about 16 when I went to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show and discovered the meaning of the word transvestite. So yeah, I was quite an innocent in that way.
It’s kind of funny, actually, because in my teens it was probably obvious that I was not exactly 100% gender conforming. I had short hair and wore jeans and T-shirts instead of dresses (actually I still do). I used to get mistaken for a lesbian sometimes, which was ironic because I was actually a little bit homophobic back then. Not in a hateful way, just out of ignorance – fear of the unknown. I like to think I’m more accepting nowadays.
I believe what was going on with me was just the way my brain was developing, because of AS. Other teenage girls grew out of adventure stories and started reading Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte – they were learning the social nuances associated with an adult female identity. I moved to spy thrillers and sci fi novels, which were just other kinds of adventure story, and I was quite happy picturing myself in the role of the hero (whether male or female). It’s like I got stuck in a prolonged pre-teen gender ambiguity.
As I entered adulthood, this did not bother me or cause me much grief. It was not that I was suffering gender dysphoria and felt myself to be male; I knew myself to be female. It was more that my systemising Asperger brain was directing me towards the study of science and engineering and other pursuits that were traditionally considered within the male domain. Plus I never did get the hang of women’s clothes – they come in way too much variety, and all with a severe lack of pockets.
It was only quite recently that I seriously wondered if I might be transgender. I’d written a novel called The Empathy Key, in which a transgender cyborg struggles with the loss of her/his humanity, which on reflection was quite clearly a cry out from my subconscious for clarity in relation to my own identity – with respect to both neurology and gender. I also read the memoir “Danger Music” by the inspiring Eddie (formerly Emma) Ayres.
So I experimented a bit with wearing more overtly men’s clothes to see how I felt – and while I quite enjoyed that, the result was that no, I was not transgender. Not only did I feel no intense, driving need to take on a permanent male identity, but I felt that too much of myself had been formed from the experience of living in a female body to make such a radical change.
My view might have been different, though, if I’d still been a teenager, struggling to understand why I was so different from the other girls.
And that makes me wonder: is this happening with modern autistic teenagers? In some cases, could autigender be getting confused with transgender?
What I’m going to say here is hugely controversial, and I concede that I’m only looking at things from my own point of view, without having experienced significant body dysphoria, so I may be out of touch with the experiences of transgender folk. But I feel like we ought to be allowed at least to express an opinion in the spirit of open discussion. So here it is…
It concerns me that in the current zeitgeist, kids who are querying their gender identity are so readily presented with the possibility of changing biological sex by hormones and surgical procedures. It seems such a radical and permanent approach, and I worry that they may not have been provided with genuine alternatives. I wonder if some of them might be spared surgery and come to peace with their gender instead through the concept of the non-binary.
Could we not dispense with the black-and-white concept that if one does not feel female, one must therefore be male?
Maybe as a society we need to move away from dividing ourselves into those two distinct categories. Could we not be accepting of a biological female who wishes to dress and act in the manner of a male? Could we not learn to be OK with a biological male dressing as a female and joining in activities with the girls (as far as it is fair and safe to do so)? Or with someone who seems male on one day and female the next? Maybe, if we had better acceptance of non-binary genders within society, there would be less need for surgical and hormonal interventions.
So hopefully, in addition to giving you food for thought, the above explains my gender identity. Yes, I do believe I’ve just followed the prevailing trend and come out as somewhere in the range of the non-binary.
Just don’t start calling me “they”, as I have no inclination to join in the whole “don’t mis-gender me” thing. “She” is fine and, if you like, “he” is fine. Or in other words, I stand with Eddie Izzard.