Non-Binary & Autistic: What’s that Like?6 min read

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.

Pronoun: they
Sex: yes, please
Gender iden­tity: it’s com­pli­cated

The Aspergian
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