Hi! I’m non binary and autistic. Just like autistic folks, non binary people aren’t a monolith, and I can speak only from my own perspective and about my own life, my own self.
My autism and my gender identity are connected. When I sought top surgery to remove my breast tissue, a significant motivation behind it for me personally was seeking a solution for sensory issues with bras and jiggling flesh. How could I separate my gender dysphoria, which definitely had an impact here, from autistic sensory issues? I couldn’t.
I didn’t know I was autistic then, but I knew that I felt sensory experiences really intensely, and it wasn’t something I could simply put out of my mind and go on about my day.
I never got the surgery, incidentally, but that doesn’t mean that my experience at the gender identity clinic, and the whole personal process of working through my feelings about my chest, were any less significant in my transition.
The gender binary is a social construct.
It only exists because of an agreement in this specific society (because not all societies agree on this) that there should be two genders and they should appear and operate a certain way. The idea that you’re born, a doctor or midwife or doula or proud new parent can glance at your genitals and proclaim who and what you are for life, is a closely-linked concept that has far reaching consequences for everyone that goes through that rite of passage.
I know some babies are labelled with their gender by chromosomal analysis now. No, that isn’t any more ‘accurate’ or meaningful. Intersex and trans people exist.
In my personal experience (and that of others I’m close to), autistic people tend to have a more casual relationship with social norms. Once researched, it is easy to see how arbitrary the wobbly lines drawn around genders and biological sexes are.
Transgender and intersex people are proof that a cisgender-as-norm, binary understanding is greatly flawed. How can a theory be true if it’s wrong more than 1 time in every 100 births? From that point, it’s a case of figuring out who you are and what you want, and doing and being that… gate-keeping doctors and governmental barriers notwithstanding.
Does being autistic make you more likely to question the gender you were assigned at birth? Does it make you more likely to question the gender binary (binary trans autistics and non-autistics exist and are valid!) and possibly find yourself somewhere outside it? Or, are you moving to another point on what is actually a broad spectrum? Yes, a spectrum. Sound familiar?
I won’t provide a trans 101 course as that exists in many places online. This is a look at the specific interaction between being autistic and being trans, for me.
As a child, I was already misunderstood, I was already deeply confused about social norms, let alone the complicated ones around gender roles, sexuality, gender identity, romantic attraction. I can’t say how much of wanting to be a boy when I was a child was related to being trans and how much was wishing I wasn’t held to such intense social scrutiny, that I could grow up to be the “strong silent type” the way men are allowed to be and women aren’t. That’s another truth inextricable from autism.
As a teenager, I grew up in the grunge era. I’m showing my age, but it’s okay, because grunge is cool again. The androgynous, loose fitting, layered clothing of the time, in combination with my own stubbornly-prepubescent body, were a refuge in which I scarcely weathered the storm of those years.
My mental health was abysmal, and I was bullied for being a ‘freak’. The simple (or so I’d thought) social rules of middle school had careened into complexity, and I was not prepared. But, I had comfort, and I had plaid flannel. And, I survived it– just about.
I started experimenting with fashion more in my twenties. Clothing and hairstyles– and yes, body shape and genital configuration– aren’t indicators or requirements of gender identity. However, many people transitioning or questioning their gender identity try out different clothing, hairstyles, makeup, removing or adding body hair, etc. to see how it feels and what it might mean for them.
That doesn’t mean a certain appearance is necessarily connected to any particular gender. To most people, I’d be gendered on sight as a regular ol’ cisgender mum. I’m actually non-binary and bisexual. Queering up your school gates, as it were.
I went through some sort of hypermasculine and hyperfeminine phases, almost like going to the extremes with each could help me work out what worked for me and what didn’t. None of it? All of it? Some from each? Sometimes lots, sometimes nothing?
Round and round and up and down, wibbly wobbly gendery wendery? Not removing my body hair is one thing I discovered during this time that gives me that long-awaited gender euphoria, that coming home feeling, the click of knowing what feels right for you.
Seeking top surgery happened during a time where I was investigating my more stereotypically-masculine tendencies. I say stereotypically, because you can make masculinity whatever you want. Destroy stereotypical masculinity! Make it into something far more diverse and wonderful that it has been confined to thus far, and the same with femininity.
At my hyperfeminine extremes, I was in pink wigs and top-to-toe Lolita fashion. Gender and sexuality has been a special interest of mine, and while I was going through all this I was also doing a master of science in a related subject and coauthoring papers on similar topics.
I was transitioning, the autistic way… and info dumping all of this onto unsuspecting strangers at parties who never knew they wanted to know the terms for twenty-seven possible identities under the non-binary umbrella.
Moving into my thirties and having children, giving birth and breastfeeding has not changed my gender identity. I identify myself as non-binary– the kind of non binary with a moderate amount of gender mixed in, not lots and not none, though those and more are equally valid.
I identify myself politically with women, also with mothers (regardless of gender) and with anyone else who is the target of misogyny. So much of my life experience is and has been dictated by being perceived as a girl and a woman, and I can’t undo that. I won’t relinquish my solidarity with that political category.
I feel that I’ve gotten to the point where I’m comfortable with my gender identity, and I no longer have to justify who I am or how I look. I do, though, wish it was better understood.
Sex: yes, please
Gender identity: it’s complicated