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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16 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?

    2. Of all that I spoke about, all aspects of my oppression of intersectional identities your response is to say “men are oppressed too.” It is an “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter” response. Do you not see how absolutely inappropriate and disrespectful af that is? It is the epitome of male privilege, proving my points made and classic misogyny. I suggest that you stop centering yourself when someone from marginalized communities expresses their lived experiences of oppression, especially in which you do not experience. Your comments are privileged, invalidating, and entitled. You may want to stop blatantly displaying your poor character and instead learn how to be an authentic support of those of underserved communities you don’t belong.

      1. Wrong – you made a comment on male privilege. “black men denying their male privilege.” All those clockwork ritual accusatioms about “blue lives matter” would only apply if you had said nothing about men’s situation: if I had raised men’s situation out of the blue after you had only mentioned women’s. Instead you chose to mention men’s situation, by your attack on men who don’t confess to being privileged.

        By making that attack, you justify response to it. So to slap down a response with all of misandry’s classic ritual dogma accusations, ignoring tnat it is a response and treating it as if you had not raised the men topic first, perfectly demonstrates the problem, injustice of the whole make privilege dogma.

        You have not shown me to have the privileges + entitlements to wear the costumes I listed, hence you have not proved me privileged. You have not refuted that the mixture of privileges I described exists, hence you have not proved that men should confess to being privileged overall. Hence you have not answered my answer to your first-raised point on men, of entitled demanding of that confession from us in the face of the obvious mixture of privileges.

        1. I have to completely disagree with you. Certain ‘harms’ and/or ‘limitations’ men experience are the unfortunate side effects of male privilege and men’s dutiful compliance with masculine expectations. If men are indeed oppressed as you claim, then women would ultimately be the privileged group… if that is the case, then please explain to me why:

          – Women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate people.
          – women all over the world earn less than men
          – women are underrepresented in senior positions
          – women have limited influence over important household decisions in many countries
          – Adult women and girls account for 72 per cent of all human trafficking victims detected globally

          That’s just a few damning statistics, not all. Cleary you haven’t fully educated yourself or looked at actual statistics, just theses that fit and push your own agenda. This is exactly as asiatucoach states, an ‘all lives matter’ response.

          we have a fabulous black AFAB/trans autistic trying to share her experience (which we as an autistic community desperately need by the way, as it’s pretty much white dominated) and you’re coming on here being incredibly disrespectful. Shame on you.

          1. Shame on you for (1) dogma resting on selective ignorement, as you have not answered any of the specific man oppressions I had already posted, that’s a disrespect of half the world, (2) holding whole population groups to blame for actions of any of their members in any place + time, which is the type of reasoning racism uses.
            Nobody living now is responsible for the actions of past folks who lived before our time. Nobody living in any one society is responsible for the actions of same-gendered folks who elsewhere in the world. Patriarchally and matriarchally inclined cultures have existed simultaneously in different places, and neither disproved the other’s existence, they simply existed in different places, and different balances of privilege existed in different places, or times.
            * It’s not Western society that is failing women’s literacy. So it does not constitute a male privilege here, but only in the countries where it is happening. While here, there is a female privilege of schools allowing girls but not boys to wear weather-comfortable clothes, have you heard of the boy skirt protests that happen every summer, and concern what is often an autistic sensory issue. Luke Beardon described to NAS Aberdeen conference 2015 a man whose whole school outcome was ruined by not being allowed shorts, and resultingly feeling his skin “on fire” during exams. That was child abuse + evil
            – Yes, the senior business culture has not evolved out all of its male privileged history. As only an elite minority of the population are senior businessfolks, that says nothing whatever about privileges in the ordinary workers’ population
            – the many countries are evil, yes, but so have been cultures with matriarchal family traditions instead. Neither’s existence disproves the other, history has made different privilege in different places. And in more socially advanced countries with neither, nobody who lives there is made privileged by what happens somewhere else
            – Yes, and conversely, which gender have always been targeted for pressing or capturing to fight in wars?
            A selective one-sided list proves only the items in the list in the places where they happen. It refutes nothing that happens on the unmentioned other side.It does not make anything that happens specifically in some countries constitute privilege in the rest of the world where the item is not happening! or refute other things that are happening, e.g. court bias. .

  2. I would have probably liked this if it weren’t antisemitic. There really is no need to randomly call out a group that has been historically targeted with prejudice, discrimination, and genocide. I mean did we really need to know that some of the white people that bullied you happened to be Jewish? Was that important to your story?

    1. He was Jewish, he was racist and he was my bully. I was speaking to facts. And yes I purposely mentioned it because either have been told countless times that Jewish people can’t be racist throughout my life. Just because he was Jewish doesn’t exempt him from having White privilege or being racist which he clearly learned from his family. So no this wasn’t antisemitic, these were my LIVED EXPERIENCES which are valid regardless of your problematic OPINION.

  3. Wow, this is an incredible article! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, it’s so important for voices like yours to be heard, and to emphasise the importance of intersectionality in people’s experiences and how each different characteristic, and how they interact with each other, impact how you are treated by others. I’m also so sorry that you’ve had to endure so much erasure, prejudice and discrimination. Thank you for an amazing article, really important and so well written. I hope things get easier for you.

  4. I also had the same conversation about my brother being allowed to go shirtless. In the end he had to wear a shirt. I have not been diagnosed as autistic but I am beginning my journey by trying to find resources.

  5. Heartbreaking but so informative that I had to look up several words to make sure I understood the full breadth of what you were communicating! My privileges have shielded me from those experiences of identity erasure, but your writing helped me to realize that those experiences I *did* relate with were not things I made up. All that to say: thank you for validating my symptoms (of ADHD and anxiety/depression in this case) because I’ve been thrust into a living situation where my allistic identity is being questioned and I’m being gaslit daily.

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