The Autism Spectrum According to Autistic People

Autism neurodiversity
Autism neurodiversity

The Intersectionality of My Erasure: Being AFAB, Black, & Autistic

Being AFAB (assigned female at birth), Black, and autistic means that since inception, because of the genetic components of my intersectional identities, mixed with transgenerational trauma, within societal systemic oppression, I have always been erased.

My lived experiences have been consistently invalidated while my voice has been either ignored or silenced from those around me, including childhood classmates, teachers, coworkers, even family and more. To be heard, seen, and understood have been rare occurrences.

Being a young AFAB, autistic child with a brother seventeen months my elder meant that I was quite aware of how differently we were treated because I have always had a keen sense of justice. I knew that our gender heavily influenced how privileges and expectations were assigned.

I remember being in elementary school, infuriated, when my brother could remain shirtless in public while I was no longer allowed. At the time, I couldn’t understand an arbitrary social standard when both of us looked physically similar. He also never had to wear dresses or the dreaded sensory hell of stockings, could go places unaccompanied, could stay out later as a teenager, and overall my parents had fewer expectations of him than me. My protests for equity were squelched by, “Life isn’t fair.”

As a young adult AFAB, the inequity of my gender, became more glaringly prominent via my objectification in relation to men. I experienced a great deal of street harassment and was commonly hit on by grown men in their thirties and older. What made it worse is that I have always looked significantly younger than my age, meaning at the time in my early twenties, I didn’t look older than fifteen.

My ongoing relationships with men were abusive, including a great deal of rape, both violent and passively coercive. Enduring the trauma of those experiences was compounded by the world ignoring and denying misogyny. There was also the hurt of Black men denying their male privilege and misogynoir.

My autism certainly played a role in my mistreatment, leaving me more vulnerable for varying reasons, with the main one being that I tended to be very trusting of people and take them at face value. I struggled with boundaries, but even when I was able to express “no,” it was either silenced or ignored.

As if being AFAB wasn’t already difficult enough, the added layer of my Blackness made things even more difficult. From kindergarten to graduation from high school, I grew up in a predominately White area with my neighborhood being significantly Jewish.

Being Black, AFAB, and having my name, Asiatu, meant that I couldn’t hide anywhere. Racism was always present, and I was called n*gger in first and third grades by two different White boys, one of whom was Jewish.

School also meant that I had to endure constant microaggressions, such as being asked by people if they could touch my hair, told that I had horse hair as my braids, being called “racist” for solely dating Black boys, etc.

Beyond school, I encountered racism within the workforce, from manipulative, passive aggressive coworkers, especially women. I consistently heard, “You make everything about race,” while simultaneously being stereotyped as the “angry Black girl/woman.” My pain was dismissed.

My assigned gender, combined with my race, only exacerbated my erasure with the additional marginalized identity of my autism. In childhood, I remember having meltdowns and shutdowns in elementary school.

My meltdowns happened more at home than in public, which was interpreted as me being “manipulative” and having “tantrums.” But in reality, I felt safe enough at home to allow myself to fall the fuck apart after having to hold my emotions in all day. Masking my traits took a great deal of effort and energy. It was exhausting, which contributed to the decline of my mental health.

At school, my shutdowns would manifest as me falling asleep, especially on school trips and on the bus. A few times, my kindergarten teacher had to carry me back inside the school for pick up.

By first grade, I had learned to stay awake long enough to crash when I got home. I would often take naps after school for many years. Therapists interpreted my excessive sleep as depression, which was partially true, but autism wasn’t considered because my traits didn’t mirror those of White boys.

So instead, my “weirdness” was rationalized as being a Black kid in a White environment, which also doubled as the reason they claimed I hated school. Nope, I was overstimulated, which lead to depression and suicidal ideation in kindergarten. I was later diagnosed with depression and anxiety in high school. But at the root of all of my struggles was my autism.

As a child, I never really fit in with my peers, which is classic for autistics. Instead, I was constantly told invalidating things, such as: “You’re too sensitive.” “You’re too wordy.” “You cut people off too easily.” “You think too logically/rigid.” “You are such a pessimist.” “You need to try harder to get along with others.” “You’re weird.” “Your tone is disrespectful, look adults in the eyes.” “You give up too easily.” “You are lazy.” “You are selfish/ungrateful.”

All of which were manifestations of my autism.

The invalidation continued in adulthood. Even after I self-diagnosed. When I shared it with my family, they responded with the typical hurtful rejection, “You don’t seem autistic.” The negation of me continued with my interactions with “autism moms” as they would deny my holding them accountable with “you are high-functioning and can’t relate to my child,” or “You aren’t that autistic.”

Even after a formal diagnosis, my family still rejected my reality by saying, “You make everything about your autism. You use it as an excuse. You lack empathy. Not everything is about you.” All of those are classic responses from allistics regarding autism, from a place of ignorance and a lack of understanding of who we are. Perceiving us through a neurotypical lens is equivalent to judging a fish based on its ability to climb a tree.

I am a culmination of my identities, which all shape my experience of this world and interconnected with systemic oppression. I am AFAB/trans, which is erased by patriarchy. I am Black, which is erased by White Supremacy and racism. I am autistic, which is erased by ableism.

My lived experiences are rarely believed by others from the multiple oppressed identities I embody. I am perpetually ignored, challenged, stereotyped, dismissed, unheard, erased, gaslit, or silenced for simply existing.

I have endured marginalization from my earliest memory. I have to fight to be heard every moment of every day. I have never experienced a second that I wasn’t aware of my intersectionality.

My lived truth is that there is no safe space on this planet for me to exist fully, authentically, as I am.

Not one.

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4 Responses

  1. As a trans man, presumably you have chosen not to mind the narrower range of costume choices accepted for men?
    You are obviously right in your sensory feeling on the shirt + stockings, costume items that oppress women. But exactly from that experience, you should empathise with the weight + quantity of costume culture that oppresses men, + from it conclude that it’s wrong to be militantly offended when men deny being privileged. We are just trying to get facts heard that presently fashionable dogma has predecided not to listen to.
    There are haphazardly different privileges. Obviously men are privileged reproductively, by the iniquitous difference of biological burden – which I care enough about not to want to reproduce. But women are privileged by not having folks think they should be all tough + violent and having a peer pool full of intimidating ape-thick swaggery laddishness. Men who commit suicide over that. In fairly recent history, women have been privileged by not getting militarily conscripted, and only in the actual paths of armies at war did instead man privilege prevail and do wrong to women. I experienced at age 16 a harrassment from a gay guy in a library + pursuing me out of it. So yes street experiences do exist in men’s lives, and right now, women are privileged by not living in terror of being guilty on an accuser’s word.
    Anyway, whenever told to admit to male privilege, I ask first to be shown where my privilege is to: wear skirts, tiaras, pigtails, nail paint, eye shadow, lipstick, beads, ponchos, leggings, high heels, curlers, puff powder, or pink oufits, or to carry one arbitrary type of useful small personal bag; and all without having any assumption made about my orientation.

    1. Um I’m confused by your comment because men being ridiculed for wearing dresses is indeed based in misogyny. Demonizing femininity is based in misogyny. Also this person used the term afab not women so I’m not sure why your comment is talking about women.

      1. Because the post was talking about (1) costume dislikes in the period of female-identified life, hence aversion to the costume prospect of life as a woman, (2) the male privilege concept, which is answered by comparing women’s + men’s lives.
        It is extreme hasty “virtue signalling” to suggest that you can’t make points about women’s lives + refer to them as such, when the person you are answering hss chosen not to be a woman exactly because of those prospective life aspects.
        Costume oppression of men yes does have misogyny in its rationale, but as an oppression of men it is a misandry too. Things are capable of being both. An actual practical oppression of life options, is a bigger impact than an abstract insult is. Yet you seem to be saying that if an opprsssion of men insults women it can’t actually be an oppression of men. To know that the women allowed to do what he wants to do are under an abstract insult not even noticed by the ones laughing at him, takes nothing at all away from a dress-wearing man’s practical oppression! Hence whither grounds for confusion?

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