🌈🌈 Neurodiversity and Gender: You Hit So Hard With All the Colors That There Are

Due both to their ability to denaturalize social norms and to their neurological differences, autistic individuals can offer novel insights into gender as a social process. Examining gender from an autistic perspective highlights some elements as socially constructed that may otherwise seem natural and supports an understanding of gender as fluid and multidimensional.

Gender Copia: Feminist Rhetorical Perspectives on an Autistic Concept of Sex/Gender: Women’s Studies in Communication: Vol 35, No 1

Gender nonconformity, dysphoria, and fluidity are oft discussed in neurodiversity communities. Neurodivergent people are more likely than the general population to be gender non-conforming. Many prominent autistic self-advocates identify as intersex, non-binary, asexual, aromantic, transgender, and genderqueer.

LGBTQI+ people with an Autistic diagnosis have two separate rainbows — and two separate coming out stories. There are times when an autistic will not come out as LGBTQI+, and vice-versa. The challenges for each minority group are great, and being a double-social minority can be especially tough. Education and peer support goes a long way in helping to navigate these challenges, and make for a smoother trip on the social highway.

About Us – Twainbow

People who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth are three to six times as likely to be autistic as cisgender people are, according to the largest study yet to examine the connection1. Gender-diverse people are also more likely to report autism traits and to suspect they have undiagnosed autism.

“All these findings across different datasets tend to tell a similar story,” says study investigator Varun Warrier, research associate at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Autistic people are more likely than neurotypical people to be gender diverse, several studies show, and gender-diverse people are more likely to have autism than are cisgender people2,3.

Largest study to date confirms overlap between autism and gender diversity

We like to think of neurodiversity as a social model umbrella that, when opened to its broadest, includes Queer people.

Spectrums and rainbows, double rainbows.

It’s a double rainbow all the way.

Yosemitebear

Here comes the sun
It's shining right through you
On everyone
You came in so hot
You broke the ice up
Feeling so strong

I got to shine on
Through all the black and blue
I got it from you
It hits so hard with all the colors that there are

I want to know you
I want to see the sound
You're like a rainbow
But not the same though
I got to shine on
Through all the black and blue
I got it from you
It hits so hard with all the colors that there are

Here comes the sun
It's shining right through you
On everyone
It hits so hard with all the colors that there are
You hit so hard with all the colors that there are

--Rainbow Shiner by Ex Hex

Laura Harris Rainbow GIF By Merge Records via GIPHY

You hit so hard with all the colors that there are.

Genderpunk: a colloquial term for culture and resistance against gendernormativity; an identity that in and of itself is a resistance against gender norms, homophobia and transphobia, oppression and societal status.

Your gender has nothing to do with your eligibility to be genderpunk. If you agree with the mindset, no matter how you identify, you can be a part of the movement. 

Have A Gay Day : What is ‘Genderpunk’?
Here comes Dick, he's wearing a skirt
Here comes Jane, y'know she's sporting a chain
Same hair, revolution
Same build, evolution
Tomorrow who's gonna fuss?

And they love each other so
Androgynous
Closer than you know, love each other so
Androgynous
Don't get him wrong and don't get him mad
He might be a father, but he sure ain't a dad
And she don't need advice that's sent at her
She's happy with the way she looks, she's happy with her gender

And they love each other so
Androgynous
Closer than you know, love each other so
Androgynous
Mirror image, see no damage
See no evil at all
Kewpie dolls and urine stalls will be laughed at
The way you're laughed at now

Now, something meets Boy, and something meets Girl
They both look the same, they're overjoyed in this world
Same hair, revolution
Unisex, evolution
Tomorrow who's gonna fuss

--Androgynous by The Replacements

Content Note: ableism, behaviorism, ABA, conversion therapy, homophobia, transphobia, abuse, dysphoria, suicide

Autistic and queer folks share some dark history—and some bad actors. Chapter 7 of NeuroTribes, Fighting the Monster, shares the legacy of Ole Ivar Lovaas, the twisted father of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and conversion therapy. He applied his abusive, torturous techniques to autistic kids and “sissy boys” to make them “indistinguishable from their peers”. He had little regard for their humanity—they were engineering projects.

“The fascinating part to me was to observe persons with eyes and ears, teeth and toenails, walking around yet presenting few of the behaviors that one would call social or human,” he wrote. “Now, I had the chance to build language and other social and intellectual behaviors where none had existed, a good test of how much help a learning-based approach could offer.” He explained to Psychology Today, “You see, you start pretty much from scratch when you work with an autistic child. You have a person in the physical sense— they have hair, a nose, and a mouth— but they are not people in the psychological sense. One way to look at the job of helping autistic kids is to see it as a matter of constructing a person. You have the raw materials, but you have to build the person.”

Source: Silberman, Steve (2015-08-25). NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (p. 285). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

…plenty of autistic people are LGBTQ and experience a double portion of discrimination. The desire to eliminate the traits that make autistic people unique is rooted in the same impulse to suppress people from affirming their gender identity or sexuality.

We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation

ABA and its conversion therapy kin are with us still, all too alive and well.

#ActuallyAutistic people reject ABA. None of the autistic people in our community support it. Some of us have been harmed by it.

Protecting queer kids protects also neurodivergent kids—and vice versa. The fight is for inclusion and acceptance—for all operating systems, for all of our different ways of being human. Supporting our kids means supporting all of their possibilities and expressions.

Queer and neurodivergent liberation are entwined.

But I don't need a cure for me
I don't need it
No, I don't need a cure for me
I don't need it
No, I don't need a cure for me
I don't need it
I don't need it

Please, no cure for me
Please, no cure for me

--Cure for Me by AURORA

“Cure for Me” is very much inspired by conversion therapy.

I just wanted to make an anthem for people to sing along with that they know they don’t need a cure.

It doesn’t take much before the world tells you that you’re different, and that you should change yourself to be the same as everybody else, which is very sad.

AURORA “Cure For Me” Official Lyrics & Meaning | Verified
She is our miscreant
She is our detox
She is our dagger in the dark
She is the knot mess
She is the undressed
She is the boy borne in my heart

While you sit on the fence I will burn in hell

People might try to change your gender or sexuality. They might send you to a doctor or therapist to try to change your gender or sexuality. This is called conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is wrong. Conversion therapy does not work. You have the right to not have to do conversion therapy.

You have the right to be in charge of your own body. You have the right to decide who touches you. You have the right to decide how you want to be touched. You have the right to tell someone to stop touching you.

Rights and Respect (Proud and Supported Series) – Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Gender Variance

Research that aimed to preserve autistic perspectives (Kourti & MacLeod, 2019) found that autistic perceptions of gender identity are far more diverse, and put interests, rather than gender identity, at the core of autistic people’s identity perception. Furthermore, autistic people often state repeatedly in their accounts how confusing and emotionally taxing ‘doing gender’ is for them, explaining why they may explicitly reject being confined to traditional and binary gender norms (Davidson & Tamas, 2016).

Working with Autistic Transgender and Non-Binary People
@boxmunk

ADHD Things: Gender. #adhdthings #adhd #neurodivergent #autism #actuallyautistic #genderdiverse #trans #nonbinary

♬ original sound – Boxmunk

Children on the autism spectrum are more than seven times more likely to show signs of gender variance, according to a study led by New York University. The study, published last month in Transgender Health, recruited the parents of 492 autistic children ages six to 18. When the researchers asked these parents whether their children often “wish to be the opposite sex,” a little over five percent of participants said yes, compared to less than one percent of the general population. Bolstering these findings is the fact that a previous study from the Children’s National Medical Center in 2014 found almost the exact same results. The NYU study found that 5.1 percent of children on the autism spectrum showed signs of gender variance. The 2014 study put that number down at 5.4 percent.

Both studies show that counselors working with autistic children should ask about their gender identity. Being both autistic and gender non-conforming, some children face a double-challenge in responding to society’s biases.

Study: Autistic kids more likely to be gender non-conforming | PhillyVoice

Ollie’s parents wondered if his gender nonconformity — behavior that doesn’t match masculine and feminine norms — might have something to do with his autism. Ollie had been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder at age 2: An extreme sensitivity to sounds, light, the texture of some foods or the feel of a particular fabric can send children like Ollie into a meltdown. He also had difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. It would take his parents four more years to find a doctor who recognized the classic symptoms of Asperger syndrome — above-average intelligence combined with social and communication deficits, and restricted interests. (Ollie was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome before the diagnosis was absorbed into the broader category of autism spectrum disorder in 2013.)

Ollie’s parents are not alone in pondering this puzzle. A handful of studies over the past five years — and a series of case reports going back to 1996 — show a linkage between autism and gender variance. People who feel significant distress because their gender identity differs from their birth sex — a condition known as gender dysphoria —have higher-than-expected rates of autism. Likewise, people with autism appear to have higher rates of gender dysphoria than the general population. Between 8 and 10 percent of children and adolescents seen at gender clinics around the world meet the diagnostic criteria for autism, according to studies carried out over the past five years, while roughly 20 percent have autism traits such as impaired social and communication skills or intense focus and attention to detail. Some seek treatment for their gender dysphoria already knowing or suspecting they have autism, but the majority of people in these studies had never sought nor received an autism diagnosis. What’s more, roughly the same numbers of birth males and females appear to be affected…

Over the past decade, people with gender dysphoria have developed new ways of expressing their sense of self. Whereas many once identified as transsexual or transgender, some now call themselves ‘genderqueer’ or ‘non-binary.’ Rates of autism and autism traits appear to be higher in those identifying as genderqueer. Like Ollie, these people generally say they don’t feel fully masculine or feminine, and explicitly reject the notion of two mutually exclusive genders. The word ‘trans’ is often used to encompass all of these identities and the phrase ‘affirmed gender’ to convey a person’s sense of self.

Inspired by the Dutch study, Strang and his colleagues approached prevalence from another angle. Instead of measuring the incidence of autism among gender-dysphoric children and adolescents, they assessed gender variance — defined as a child “wishing to be the other sex” — in children with autism. “We found rates that were 7.5 times higher than expected,” Strang says.

Still, she cautions that sometimes, what looks like autism may actually be untreated gender dysphoria. “So much of the experience of being trans can look like the spectrum experience,” she says. People who don’t want to socialize in their birth genders may seem to have poor social skills, for example; they may also feel so uncomfortable with their bodies that they neglect their appearance. “That can sometimes be greatly alleviated if you give that person appropriate gender support,” she says.

Others agree with these insights. A 2015 study by researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital reported that 23.1 percent of young people presenting with gender dysphoria at a gender clinic there had possible, likely or very likely Asperger syndrome, as measured by the Asperger Syndrome Diagnostic Scale, even though few had an existing diagnosis. Based on these findings, the researchers recommend routine autism screening at gender clinics.

Source: Living between genders | Spectrum

Gender norms should not be imposed on people with autism to make the rest of the world more comfortable. Why teach girls with autism how to apply makeup, dress in a feminine manner and shop? Therapists, educators and parents only consider these to be important goals because our society imposes strict gender norms.

As a member of the LGBTQ community who is also autistic, I encounter inequality based on my gender identity, my sexual orientation and my disability. Societal barriers in housing, employment, transportation, healthcare and education systematically exclude queer, gender-queer, transgender and disabled people; outdated and negative attitudes about gender, sexuality and autism affect our social relationships. Queer environments don’t often account for our sensory processing issues or social differences, whereas autism services don’t often recognize that we may identify beyond the gender binary or have queer relationships. Shifting the focus from the tired narratives of delayed diagnosis and sex differences can help the autism community take responsibility for improving our day-to-day quality of life, whatever our age at diagnosis or gender identity.

Source: Focus on autism must broaden to include non-binary genders | Spectrum

Nearly a quarter of young persons diagnosed with gender dysphoria, or who are transgender, screened positive for Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, according to a new paper in the academic journal LGBT Health. The study was a small retrospective review of intake files of 39 children at Boston Children’s Hospital. Lead author Dr. Daniel E. Shumer explains, “We found that 23 percent of kids fell into the ‘possible, likely or very likely category’ when using the evaluation tool to screen for Asperger’s.”

“Having autism is a burden; a lot of things in the world change when you have autism,” says Strang. “But adding transgenderism, or maybe some of them aren’t transgender but they are just exploring gender, that is complicated in itself.”

“Knowing how to navigate in a world that is not really friendly with people who are trans can be tricky when you are missing social cues.”

Shumer says it is important that parents and medical providers be aware of the increased possibility for co-occurrence of autism and gender variance. If treating patients for one condition, they should screen for the other and be prepared to treat it. “There also may be implications for how to provide informed consent for things like hormonal interventions,” he adds.

Source: PrideSource – Transgender Youth More Likely to Have Autism

Lovaas’s crusade to “normalize” deviance was not limited to autistic children. In the 1970s, he lent his expertise to a series of experiments called the Feminine Boy Project, the brainchild of UCLA psychologist Richard Green. After interviewing one hundred men and women who applied for gender reassignment surgery, Green became interested in tracing the roots of sexual identity back to childhood. He teamed up with Lovaas to see if operant conditioning could be employed as an early intervention in cases of gender confusion to prevent the need for reassignment surgery in the future. The project’s most celebrated success story was Kirk Andrew Murphy, enrolled at UCLA by his parents at age five. Bright and precocious, Kirk would ask for his favorite snacks by their brand names at the supermarket. But after seeing Green interviewed on TV about “sissy-boy syndrome”— his term for early-onset gender dysphoria— Kirk’s parents became concerned that he was exhibiting behavior that was inappropriate for a little boy. One day, his father caught him posing in the kitchen in a long T-shirt and saying, “Isn’t my dress pretty?” Children with this syndrome, Green claimed, often grew up to become transsexual or homosexual. Lovaas assigned a young graduate student named George Rekers to become Kirk’s behavioral therapist.

Silberman, Steve (2015-08-25). NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (pp. 319-320). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In a case report that would go on to become a classic in undergraduate psychology courses, Rekers and Lovaas wrote that Kirk (called “Kraig”) possessed “a remarkable ability to mimic all the subtle feminine behaviors of an adult woman.” They framed his “offer to ‘help mommy’ by carrying her purse” as an example of the boy’s devious manipulation of his mother to “satisfy his feminine interests.” Their descriptions of the little boy’s behavior, compared with the transcripts of Green’s intake interviews with Kirk’s parents, were decidedly more extreme, as if the boy were clearly a world-class drag queen in the making at age five. They claimed that he had an elaborate “history of cross-dressing” that included plundering his grandmother’s makeup kit for cosmetics and “swishing around the home and clinic, fully dressed as a woman with a long dress, wig, nail polish, high screechy voice, [and] slovenly seductive eyes.” (In family photographs, Kirk more resembles a Mouseketeer.)

Silberman, Steve (2015-08-25). NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (pp. 319-320). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

To nip the little boy’s inappropriate behavior in the bud, they devised a program of total immersion based on Lovaas’s work on autism. This time, instead of hand-flapping, gaze aversion, and echolalia, the behaviors targeted for extinction included the “limp wrist,” the submissively yielding “hand clasp,” the notorious “swishy gait,” the girlish “hyperextension” of the limbs in moments of exuberance, and prissy declarations like “goodness gracious” and “oh, dear me.” At home, Kirk’s “masculine” behaviors were rewarded with blue chips that could be redeemed for candy and other treats, while his “feminine” behaviors were punished with red chips that were subtracted from the total. In interviews conducted by blogger Jim Burroway, who undertook a thorough investigation of the case in 2011, Kirk’s brother, Mark, recalled their father punishing the boy— with Rekers’s approval— by converting each red chip into a “swat.” Mark broke down sobbing as he confessed to hiding red chips from his brother’s pile so that Kirk wouldn’t have to endure the abuse.

Source: Silberman, Steve (2015-08-25). NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (pp. 320-321). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The intersection of being both autistic and transgender is more common than one might think. While the dialogue around autism and gender identity is expanding, I have a bit of trouble figuring out where I fit into the whole picture. So, I decided to do my own research, and while this subject is a fairly new field of study, I found some pretty astounding statistics: In 2014, a U.S. study of 147 children (ages 6 to 18) diagnosed with ASD found that autistic participants were 7.59 times more likely to express gender variance than the comparison groups. Another study, conducted in the UK in 2015, involved 166 parents of teenagers with Gender Dysphoria (63% were assigned female-at-birth.) Based on parents’ report of their children on the Social Responsiveness Scale, the study found that 54% of the teenagers scored in the mild/moderate or severe clinical range for Autism. The relationship has only begun to be explored in research in recent years, but I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of autistic trans people out there in the world. As someone who very much values human connection and simultaneously struggles with it, I have to say that looking at those figures provided me an amount of comfort. I discovered that there are a lot of people just like me. Being autistic and being transgender certainly each has their own respective challenges, though one that they share is a lack of societal acceptance due to stigma. Many people still believe that who I am as a transmasculine person is inherently invalid, just like many other people still believe autism is some kind of tragedy that is to be cured. In contrast, I feel very strongly that who I am as a person is heavily dependent on both my trans and autistic identities, and that they are beautiful things. 

Source: THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: Autism, Transmasculine Identity, and Invisibility

According to Garcia-Spiegel, autistic people often don’t pay attention to the same set of societal norms as everyone else, and with that freedom comes a vision. “We can see that a lot of the social rules around gender are”—he paused, trying to find a way to put his thoughts delicately—“bullshit, basically.”

And research supports the idea that a large swath of genderqueer people are also autistic. In 2014, a survey in the Archives of Sexual Behavior showed that “gender variance was 7.59 times more common in participants with ASD than in a large non-referred comparison group.” Gender variance is defined as “an umbrella term used to describe gender identity, expression, or behavior that falls outside of culturally defined norms associated with a specific gender,” according to Pediatric Annals. Another article published in LGBT Health in 2019 found that children who were diagnosed as autistic were four times more likely to experience gender dysphoria.

“When we’re forcibly distanced from social rules anyways, a lot of us kind of look at them and see, ‘Oh, these social rules shouldn’t really have an impact on how I carry myself through the world, and what my relationship to my body is,’” Garcia-Spiegel said. The large contingent of transgender autistic people is like the large amount of gay autistic people (to say nothing of autistic people who are queer and transgender): discovering one’s gender identity can offer a road map to understanding one’s autism. Learning that they are autistic can show people that they are not wrong for living outside prescribed social rules and norms, including ones for gender and sexuality. Once they accept that they are autistic, they realize that a lot of social norms are constrictive and should be questioned

We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation

Bobbi, an Autistic nonbinary person in their mid-thirties, says, “I wasn’t raised or ‘socialized’ as an Autistic girl. I was raised as a weird kid, and a gender failure.”

Masked Autism and being a closeted gender minority often go hand in hand, and the experiences share a lot of features. The baffled families of transgender people and adult Autistics alike tend to claim there “were no signs” of these identities when the person was young. In actuality, there were often many signs, which the child’s family either did not know to look for, or didn’t wish to see. Signs of nonconformity were likely met with admonishment, “helpful” condescending corrections (“you look so unhappy, please smile!”), or by freezing the child out until they conformed. Bobbi was sarcastically complimented quite often, not just for their hair, but for how they carried themselves, spoke, thought, and for the comfortable, practical ways that they dressed. As they grew older, they began to figure out what was expected of them, and shifted their gender presentation to be more feminine so they could be seen as fully human.

Price, Devon. Unmasking Autism (p. 51 – 53). Harmony/Rodale. Kindle Edition.
If I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman
My mother once told me she would have named me Laura
I would grow up to be strong and beautiful like her
One day, I’d find an honest man to make my husband
We would have two children, build our home on the Gulf of Mexico
Our family would spend hot summer days at the beach together
The sun would kiss our skin as we played in the sand and water
We would know we loved each other without having to say it
At night, we would sleep with the windows of our house left open
Letting the cool ocean air soothe the sunburned shoulders of our children
There is an ocean in my soul where the waters do not curve
There is an ocean in my soul where the waters do not curve
There is an ocean in my soul where the waters do not curve
There is an ocean in my soul where the waters do not curve

--The Ocean by Against Me

No one in young Bobbi’s life could see them as they truly were. When your belief system teaches that disability and gender variance are embarrassing and disgusting, it’s hard to look at your child and recognize those traits.

“We have to make society over again from the ground up,” they say. “Our own little neuro-queer microsocieties. Because no one else will think to include us.”

Price, Devon. Unmasking Autism (p. 53). Harmony/Rodale. Kindle Edition.

Our Dual Identities Are Not Competing; They Are Complementary

Don’t use this information to “blame” trans identity on autism. Don’t threaten identity or reduce agency.

To blame trans identities on autism is to say that autistic people cannot understand or be aware of their own gender. If an autistic person cannot know they are trans, how can they know they aren’t? How can they know anything about themselves?

When a person’s gender is doubted because they are autistic, this paves the way for removing autistic people’s agency in all kinds of other ways. If we can’t know this central aspect of our identity, we surely can’t know how we feel, what we like, or who we are. In short, it implies that we are not truly people, and that our existence, experiences, and identities are for other people to define. This is just another facet of dehumanising autistic people, and gender is certainly not the only area in which this happens.

In itself, the very urge to find a ‘reason’ that someone is transgender is a result of believing that being transgender is a problem, and that it would always be better not to be. The fact that clinicians like Zucker are focused on why someone is transgender, instead of focusing on what kind of help they need and how to best provide it, demonstrates clearly the belief that it is fundamentally bad to be transgender. Not only that, but the belief that it’s even theoretically possible for anyone besides the individual in question to know what someone’s gender is. That’s just not how gender works! No-one really understand what gender is, or what it means, or where it comes from. The only thing we know for sure is that it’s internal, subjective, and personal. You can’t prove or test someone else’s gender any more than you can prove or test their favourite colour. The idea that it can be tested is constantly used to invalidate trans people. Our genders are doubted or disbelieved if we fail to adequately ‘prove’ ourselves to everyone else – if we express too many or too few gender stereotypes, if we are too old or too young, if we claim to be nonbinary or our description of our identity is too complicated or confusing.

The best option is to allow someone to explore their feelings, support them in gaining self-understanding, and accept their identity whatever it turns out to be. It is not complicated, and it’s only scary if you are still holding onto the belief that being either autistic or transgender – or, perish the thought, both – is a terrible thing to be. Which it’s not. I am, along with countless others like me, living proof of that.

Source: Blaming trans identities on autism hurts everyone | autisticality

Misperceptions about what it means to be transgender or about autistic people’s ability to understand their gender or make decisions about their bodies often prompt service providers or family members to stand in the way of transgender autistic people’s attempts to live life with authenticity and dignity. This can include denying transgender autistic people access to transition-related care, subjecting them to “normalization” treatments aimed at suppressing their gender expression, or placing them in guardianship or institutional settings that restrict their decision-making power. While research suggests a large overlap between transgender and autistic communities, trans autistic people often lack access to services and supports that understand and respect all aspects of their identity.

“Too frequently, autistic people are denied basic rights to make decisions about our own bodies and health care, including when it comes to expressing our gender identity,” said Sam Crane, Legal Policy Director for the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. “Whether we’re transgender or not, autistic people’s gender identities are as real as anyone else’s and should be respected and supported, not dismissed based on baseless stereotypes.”

Source: Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, LGBT Groups Release Statement on Needs of Trans Autistic People | Autistic Self Advocacy Network

“A common misconception is the assumption that gender and sexuality are irrelevant to autistic people, or that our sexuality and gender identities are symptoms of our autism,” said Bascom. “These beliefs are not only inaccurate but also profoundly harmful to autistic people and are often used to prevent autistic LGBT folks from accessing LGBT spaces, authentic relationships, and transition-related health care. The reality is that autistic people can have a beautiful diversity of gender identities and sexualities, and we have the same right to self-determination as anybody else.”

Source: How doctors’ offices and queer culture are failing autistic LGBTQ people.

Few people listen to autistic transgender people or ask them their reasons for transitioning. Their dual identities are not competing; they are complementary. The acceptance of each affords transgender autistic people new freedoms they otherwise would not have. A lot of the bias against this population is also rooted in the idea that autistic people cannot understand what is in their own best interests. This pernicious ableism compounded with transphobia implies that autistic people cannot understand their own gender identity. Still, autistic people know what they want and need. They are the ones who know best about their identities and how to ensure that their bodies line up with what is in their minds. The only thing they need from other people is affirmation and support.

We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation
Now I am home
I can feel wind on my skin
Feel true love from within battle scars
Now I'm reborn
Can occupy space in my body
Surgery gave me freedom

How long can you put up
With doctors making decisions about your life
My body, my choices
I am so fed up
Of asking for approval and being doubted
Seen as abnormal

Now I am home
I can feel wind on my skin
Feel true love from within battle scars
Now I'm reborn
Can occupy space in my body
Surgery gave me freedom
No more waking up at 3 o' clock
Panic mode, trying to accept this body is yours
Seeing in the window of a crowded street
'I'm still not as flat as the boy next to me'
Your binder in the closet, it gave you too much pain
But mentally this is suffocating too in a way
There's no one here, no one there,
No one that looks like you,
Your life is the joke in a hollywood cartoon

Home
I've been searching for it
Like a snail, lost without it
Home
I've been searching for it
Now I have found my

Home
I can feel wind on my skin
Feel true love from within battle scars
Now I'm reborn
Can occupy space in my body
Surgery gave me freedom

--Reborn by Eyemèr

Gender Copia and Bricolage

The deconstruction has begun
Time for me to fall apart
And if you think that it was rough
I tell you nothing changes
Till you start to break it down

And break apart
I'll break apart
I'll break apart
Right now it's going to start
I'll break apart

The reconstruction will begin
Only when there's nothing left
But little pieces on the floor
They're made of what I was
Before I had to break it down

--The Deconstruction by The Eels

A friend shared “Gender Copia: Feminist Rhetorical Perspectives on an Autistic Concept of Sex/Gender: Women’s Studies in Communication: Vol 35, No 1” in response to my “Autigender and Neuroqueer: Two Words on the Relationship Between Autism and Gender That Fit Me” piece. I really like this graf:

Due both to their ability to denaturalize social norms and to their neurological differences, autistic individuals can offer novel insights into gender as a social process. Examining gender from an autistic perspective highlights some elements as socially constructed that may otherwise seem natural and supports an understanding of gender as fluid and multidimensional.

Gender Copia: Feminist Rhetorical Perspectives on an Autistic Concept of Sex/Gender: Women’s Studies in Communication: Vol 35, No 1

Confronting and denaturalizing social norms describes the terrain of many autistic lives. We’re social construct canaries.

The article goes on to propose a gender copia that sounds like my kind of bricolage.

The sources considered here imply not a binary model (masculine=feminine) or even a view of gender as a continuum, but something more like a copia, the rhetorical term Erasmus used to describe the practice of selecting ‘‘certain expressions and mak[ing] as many variations of them as possible’’ (17). Copia provides a strategy of invention, a rhetorical term for the process of generating ideas. To be specific, copia involves proliferation, multiplying possibilities so as to locate the range of persuasive options available to a rhetor. I find the concept of invention fitting to describe the kind of rhetoric in which many autistic individuals engage when they discuss sex and gender, a rhetoric we might consider, following Mary Hawkesworth, a feminist rhetoric, insofar as it seeks to ‘‘call worlds into being, inscribe new orders of possibility, validate frames of reference and forms of explanation, and reconstitute histories serviceable for present and future projects’’ (1988).

Individuals who find themselves engaged in this rhetorical search for terms with which to understand themselves can draw on a wide array of terms or representations, such as genderqueer, transgendered, femme, butch, boi, neutrois, androgyne, bi- or tri-gender, third gender, and even geek.

Source: Gender Copia: Feminist Rhetorical Perspectives on an Autistic Concept of Sex/Gender: Women’s Studies in Communication: Vol 35, No 1

I Don’t Feel Like a Gender, I Feel Like Myself

Participants reported not identifying with typical presentations of the female gender for a variety of reasons, linked both to autism and to sociocultural expectations. Participants described childhoods of being a tomboy or wanting to be a boy, having difficulties conforming to gender-based social expectations and powerful identifications with their personal interests. 

“I Don’t Feel Like a Gender, I Feel Like Myself”: Autistic Individuals Raised as Girls Exploring Gender Identity

The discussion looks at how autistic people are sometimes forced to act in certain ways to fit in, and how this can make them feel confused and depressed. The research design was led by the participants and this meant that a group who have rarely been asked their opinion were able to have a say.

Notably, all participants in this discussion felt that they did not relate to the typical presentation and activities of the female gender. 

“I Don’t Feel Like a Gender, I Feel Like Myself”: Autistic Individuals Raised as Girls Exploring Gender Identity

I believed myself to be a boy and was mortified and sick when I start developing as a girl. 

Ruth

A number of participants described occasionally enjoying activities that they considered to be typically female as well as activities they considered to be typically male: 

I always had a pretty even split of ‘‘girl toys’’ and ‘‘boy toys’’—baby dolls, Ninja Turtles, stuffed animals, Ghostbusters, stickers, dinosaurs, crafty stuff, Lego. 

Kate

Most participants reported having a fluid sense of gender, being gender-queer, or feeling male and female and seeing others in the same way. For example, Clare described: 

Love & desire have more to do with the personality of the individual than gender does. 

Clare

An absence of a sense of gender or being unsure of how their gender should ‘‘feel’’ was another common report: 

As a child and even now, I don’t ‘feel’ like a gender, I feel like myself and for the most part I am constantly trying to figure out what that means for me.

Betty

Many participants also described feeling agender or not identifying with a gender: 

I don’t feel like a particular gender I’m not even sure what a gender should feel like. 

Helen

Only one participant reported themselves as being trans- gender: 

I remember the first time I read about gender dysphoria in a psychology book I understood myself and gender. I am a man in a female body, [.] I have been a boy who has grown into a strong, gentle man. 

Mike

Participants also noted that some of their experiences reflected prevalent attitudes when they were children. As Sally reflected: 

Sometimes I wish I was born during today’s times. Today is a different age, and so many differences are being accepted and embraced. Maybe there’s much more hope in the future if things keep going that way. 

Sally

Participants also described ‘‘masking’’ their autistic be- haviors during childhood but tended to view this as some- thing they resisted as adults. 

I am even less likely to conform to anything now that I’m older. 

Rachel

Source: “I Don’t Feel Like a Gender, I Feel Like Myself”: Autistic Individuals Raised as Girls Exploring Gender Identity 

Participants also discussed how discovering their autistic identity has helped them accepting themselves. Sally said: 

Finding out that I am an individual with autism has helped me understand myself a lot. It explains why I’ve been so different and why I struggle with male/female roles and identity. It helps me to better accept myself. It doesn’t solve the struggles, but it helps with my own personal acceptance. 

Sally

Of particular note is the extent to which interests played a role in defining both gender identity and identity in general. Most participants within this study characterized their sense of identity as ‘‘fluid’’ and defined more from their interests: 

My sense of identity is fluid, just as my sense of gender is fluid [.] The only constant identity that runs through my life as a thread is ‘dancer.’ This is more important to me than gender, name or any other identifying features. even more important than mother. I wouldn’t admit that in the NT world as when I have, I have been corrected (after all Mother is supposed to be my primary identification, right?!) but I feel that I can admit that here.

Taylor

Mine is Artist. Thank you, Taylor.

Jessie

Participants also discussed ways in which the discovery of their autistic identity had helped them to accept themselves. Sally wrote:

‘I don’t want to be male. Yet I don’t share the female interests most women have. I don’t fit either. I wish there was a neutral.

Sally

Here, participants spoke passionately about areas of iden- tification related to personal interests. Autism in this context served as an explanation for their personal outlooks, perceived to be at odds with typical nonautistic perspectives. These were accounts of more fluid identity constructions, less constrained by social expectations. 

These accounts, although very different, conveyed a common experience of individuals finding themselves unable to identify with the typical gender expectations within their environments, and their individual struggles to make sense of themselves against these.

Participants in this study provided powerful narratives de- scribing feelings of alienation provoked by the pressure to con- form to ‘‘gender-typical’’ and ‘‘neurotypical’’ expectations of them. Gender identity is traditionally perceived in terms of bi- nary categories, which is not useful for those who do not con- form to them. 

Autistic individuals have described feeling pressure to ‘‘mask’’ their autism.14,41,42 They often do that by ‘‘per- forming’’ normative gender roles. In doing so, they are often adopting behaviors that are not instinctive to them and pre- tending to be someone they are not. For the participants of this project, this attempt to conform stopped as they grew older, but was a practice many of them adopted at a younger age and may have been part of the reason they were uncertain of their gender identity. This may also provide some expla- nation for the high occurrence of mental health problems in autistic individuals. Participants in this study articulated these challenges and their own efforts to navigate them, de- scribing struggles that persisted over many years. 

Davidson and Tamas16 highlight that ‘‘doing’’ gender as socially expected can be incredibly draining for autistic individuals. Dis- covering their autistic identity might help autistic individuals process their gender identity as well.

The connection between participants’ interests and gender identity was an important and unexpected finding of this re- search. Participants’ questioning of their gender identity often stemmed from their interests not conforming to those typically associated with femininity. 

Participants in this study provided powerful narratives de- scribing feelings of alienation provoked by the pressure to con- form to ‘‘gender-typical’’ and ‘‘neurotypical’’ expectations of them. Gender identity is traditionally perceived in terms of bi- nary categories, which is not useful for those who do not con- form to them. 

“I Don’t Feel Like a Gender, I Feel Like Myself”: Autistic Individuals Raised as Girls Exploring Gender Identity

Autistic women and nonbinary people have sometimes struggled with how society tells them they’re supposed to act. Some autistic women felt pressured to adopt traditional gender roles (and the burdens that come with them), such as wife, mother, and girlfriend, finding “this incompatible with how they wanted to live.”

We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation
Call me a girl again
Not asking for the hell of it
Call me a girl again
My gender's not your business
Call me a girl again
Not asking for the hell of it
Call me a girl again
Non-binary resistance!

(Woah-oh) They them, they them!
(Woah-oh) They them, they them!
(Woah-oh) Not asking for a friend
(Woah-oh) They them, they them!
(Woah-oh) They them, they them!
(Woah-oh) Not asking for a friend

--They/Them by Dream Nails

If gender is a social construct, then autistic people, who are less aware of social norms, are less likely to develop a typical gender identity. Autistic girls may not envisage themselves becoming wives and mothers when they grow up. If social constructs are made of symbols and representations, then autistic concreteness may lead to a less generalized, and more personal gender identity. Therefore, autism may redefine womanhood in a unique way. 

Women from another planet? Feminism and AC awareness

Minority Stress

And that is what happens when you soak one child in shame and give permission to another to hate.

Hannah Gadsby: Nanette

This is the Story of Victoria

Just like a mourning dove

And there’s no glory in Dysphoria

Victoria

Bad Cop/Bad Cop – Victoria Lyrics
CW: suicide, dysphoria

With fascists criminalizing transgender existence and pushing for government-mandated conversion therapy—forcing youth to have the wrong puberty—the chorus to Victoria has been running through our heads.

As we come to understand depression in the transgender community more accurately, it’s become clear that the major cause is what’s referred to as “minority stress;” that is, “stressors induced by a hostile, homophobic culture, which often results in a lifetime of harassment, maltreatment, discrimination and victimization.” The good news, then, is that as social relations and culture change over time, negative attitudes toward transgender people may be reduced, which will then reduce the stressors which trigger anxiety and depression.

Source: When Worlds Collide – Mental Illness Within the Trans Community — Lionheart

everyone's walking in a straight line
I can't seem to fit in
I won't even try
to be like them
what is it like?
to just be accepted for being yourself
and not having to come out 
of your comfort zone

so here, here I am
we are the people you see on TV
that can't seem to shut up
that never seem pleased
our entire existence is still part of debates
when breathing is political 
then you just don't 
believe in slow progress
and take your faith in own hands 

So here, here I am

don't hold me up

everyone's walking in a straight line
I can't seem to fit in
I won't even try
to be like them
what is it like?
to just be accepted (here I am)

--Queer Line (Non-Binary / LGBTQIA+ song) by Eyemèr

Why are there greater mental health stresses on autistic people from gender-minority groups? To quote from the research paper,

“The increased rates of mental health problems in these minority populations are often a consequence of the stigma and marginalisation attached to living outside mainstream sociocultural norms (Meyer 2003). This stigma can lead to what Meyer (2003) refers to as ‘minority stress’. This stress could come from external adverse events, which among other forms of victimization could include verbal abuse, acts of violence, sexual assault by a known or unknown person, reduced opportunities for employment and medical care, and harassment from persons in positions of authority (Sandfort et al. 2007).”

Source: Ann’s Autism Blog: Autism, Transgender and Avoiding Tragedy

I've got one fatal flaw
I'm a compulsive liar
If I don't love you
I will tell you anything
And even if I love you
I'll always be conniving
I'll always be negotiating with the truth

And I can trace the habit
To when I was eleven
And I thought boys were pretty
And I couldn't tell no one
It opens at a young age
That all-protective closet
Just lock the door
And settle in among the raincoats
The longer you stay in there
The more you'll get distorted
The more contorted all your lies will have to be

Don't wait a moment longer:
Stand up and turn the doorknob
And I'll tell you my secret
If you will tell me yours

--Compulsive Liar by Ezra Furman
Transition from nowhere to nowhere
Here I come again
Nobody cares if you're dying 'til you're dead
Ambition leads nowhere
I dream of going right back to bed
Nobody cares if you're dying 'til you're dead

And if it's not enough to keep the lights on
Let 'em turn the lights off
Broken spirit and a bad cough
Turn 'em off, turn 'em off
And when you’re really at the end of your rope
No, you don’t take the night off
Too many demons to fight off
Cut me off, cut me off
Remember I tried to ask what it means to be a man?
They threw me in the back of a truck and they tied my hands

--Transition from Nowhere to Nowhere by Ezra Furman

For more songs—and perspective—on dysphoria, minority stress, and queer and neurodivergent mental health, check out our playlist ”Chronic Neurodivergent Depressed Queer Punk: Punk Rock, the Social Model of Disability, and the Dream of the Accepting Community”.

Autigender and Neuroqueer: Two Words on the Relationship Between Autism and Gender That Fit Me

Autigender Flag

These words about two words helped me figure myself out more. Passing them along.

Autigender is not explicitly saying that “My gender is autism” – it’s not about saying you are a boy, girl, enby, autism, whatever. It’s about your relationship with your gender.

Specifically, gender is a social construct. The primary deficit of autism includes difficulties interpreting and understanding social constructions. This means that we have a disability that inherently makes understanding gender part of our disability.

Because of this, we can have exceptionally complicated and unique understanding of what gender is, how it affects us, and how we express gender.

Autigender is a word that describes this unique, complicated relationship. So when a person is saying that they are autigender, what they are saying is more or less that their understanding of gender is fundamentally altered by their autism.

Because autigender describes the relationship with gender, an autigender person’s gender can be, well anything. Boy. Girl. Enby. Cis. Trans. Anything. Agender. Gender Nope.

So what about a person who says they are autigender, and that IS their gender? Well, I think this still describes the relationship with their gender – Specifically in this case, their autism affects their understanding to such a degree that they just can’tbe any more descriptive with regards to gender. That leaves the only word they have – autigender.

Source: Candidly Autistic — What exactly is autigender? I’ve seen it used a…

“Autigender” is a term that some autistic people use to describe their relationship with gender. Specifically, it means that they feel that their autism affects the way they perceive and feel about gender.

Unfortunately, a lot of people interpret this as meaning that people think “autism” is their gender, which results in a lot of rage-filled posts on social media about how your gender cannot be a disability. Because, of course, it can’t. Autism is a neurotype, not a gender.

But this is a complete misunderstanding of the term.

No one who calls themselves “autigender” is going to write “autism” next to the word “gender” on a questionnaire.

The fact is that autism is a neurotype that specifically affects our perceptions and understanding of social conventions, norms, etiquette and mores.

Nor does it affect every autistic person the same way. One person may pick up on social norms easily but may struggle with small talk while another remains oblivious to social norms but can banter easily with strangers in line at the checkout.

It’s well documented that there is a significantly higher rate of gay, bi, trans, ace, and gender-queer people in the autistic community compared to the non-autistic community. What researchers haven’t figured out yet though is whether autism is in some way related to gender and sexual orientation or whether autistic people are just less brain-washed by society into following heteronormative stereotypes.

In other words, are there really more gay/trans/queer/ace autistic people, or do they just figure it out/come out of the closet more readily than non-autistic people?

We don’t know yet.

What we do know is that there are some people who feel that their ability to think of themselves as a particular gender is affected by their autism. This feeling is shared by enough autistic people that they have dubbed themselves “autigender.”

I don’t call myself autigender, but I get it. Gender is confusing to me, too.

I don’t feel offended by the idea of autigender. But some people really do. They feel it insults other non-binary and genderqueer people, that it mocks and makes light of their relationship with their gender. Autistic community leaders try to remind people that if you don’t like the term, you don’t have to use it.

But if it gives some people a feeling of belonging and helps them describe what must be a very complicated emotional response, then you should support them and let them call it what they want.

If someone feels their autism is affecting how they perceive their gender, let them call themselves autigender.

Considering how many LGBTQA+ autistic folk there are, I think there’s something in that one way or another.

Source: 7 Cool Aspects of Autistic Culture » NeuroClastic

I originally conceived of neuroqueer as a verb: neuroqueering as the practice of queering (subverting, defying, disrupting, liberating oneself from) neuronormativity and heteronormativity simultaneously. It was an extension of the way queer is used as a verb in Queer Theory; I was expanding the Queer Theory conceptualization of queering to encompass the queering of neurocognitive norms as well as gender norms––and, in the process, I was examining how socially-imposed neuronormativity and socially-imposed heteronormativity were entwined with one another, and how the queering of either of those two forms of normativity entwined with and blended into the queering of the other one.

So what does it mean to neuroqueer, as a verb? What are the various practices that fall within the definition of neuroqueering

Neuroqueer: An Introduction

Just as intentionally liberating oneself from the culturally ingrained and enforced performance of heteronormativity is sometimes referred to as queering, intentionally liberating oneself from the culturally ingrained and enforced performance of neuronormativity can be thought of as neuroqueering.

The concept of neuroqueering represents a rich and important intersection of the fields of Neurodiversity Studies and Queer Theory.

Neuroqueer Heresies: Notes on the Neurodiversity Paradigm, Autistic Empowerment, and Postnormal Possibilities

I didn’t have the vocabulary for what I felt back in Southern Baptist Texas in the 1970s and 80s, but I was uncomfortable with and resistant to gender norms as a kid. They felt: silly, arbitrary, oppressive, confining, unnecessary, counter-productive, irrational. They did not make sense. They did not fit.

A small, shareable anecdote of the ways norms went against my grind, from a lifetime collection:

I didn’t openly express myself in dress much—I was deathly afraid of being noticed and totally unsure about what I felt—but I would splash some color in. I opted for a pink tinted coating on a new pair of eyeglasses once. Kids at school gave me grief, but I liked them and came to wear them as a defiant badge and also a sort of shield. My father had the coating removed.

Several burnouts and a retirement later, I have zero capacity for masking, for attenuating myself to the sensibilities of surrounding bigots and bullies. I enjoy my pink and my flower print Thai fisherman pants and wistfully wishing I could dial my gender to my pansexual, polyamorous, genderpunk, genderqueer mood.

Autigender and neuroqueer are the best fits I’ve found after a lifetime of seeking. Perhaps a term that fits even better will emerge. Perhaps it’s already out there for me to discover. I’ll keep reading other queer autistics as we help each other figure ourselves out.

Studies

Bird, You Can Fly

So the time has come
For your soul to finally belong
Stop the facade
Though the world is not ready for you and I

You're starting your life
From this moment now 
Bird you can fly
Bird you can fly
You're breaking out
Out of your shell today 
You're starting your life
From this moment now 
Bird you can fly
Bird you can fly
You're breaking out
Out of your shell today 

Kid, you'll be fine
You're not a girl
You're not a boy
Nor am I

Kid, you'll be fine
You're not a girl
You're not a boy
Nor am I
Kid, you'll be fine
You're not a girl
You're not a boy
Nor am I

Kid, you'll be fine
You're not a girl
You're not a boy
Nor am I

Kid, you'll be fine
You're not a girl
You're not a boy
Nor am I

--Bird, You Can Fly (Non-Binary Song) by Eyemèr

Transform

If you loved me
I wouldn't have to run away
I wouldn't have to hide away
Through this life

If I could transform
And change the way I am right now
I'd be
Exactly what you want to see

If you loved me
I wouldn't have to be sad
I could smile and you'd be glad
That I'm from this life

If I could transform
I wouldn't have to be afraid
I wouldn't have to be unmade
From this life

I don't want special treatment
I don't want attention
I just want to coexist
On the realm that you play on

Open up your heart
Take me as I am
Love me, hate me, break my heart
Just let me live
Well, if you loved me
I wouldn't have to be sad
I could smile and you'd be glad
That I'm from this life

(If I could) Transform
And I don't have to be afraid
I wouldn't have to be unmade
From this life
Life

Well, if you loved me
I wouldn't have to be sad
I could smile and you'd be glad
That I'm from this life

If I could transform
I wouldn't have to be afraid
I wouldn't have to be unmade
From this life

Life!
Transform!
Give yourself a combo plate (Combo plate)
Transform
Transform, transform, everybody transform

If we could transform
We wouldn't have to be afraid
We wouldn't have to be unmade
From this life

If we could transform
And change the way we are right now
It'd be
Much, much, too easy

Can you take those thoughts away?
Can't you see I'm fine?
Warm your heart, don't you see
It's just the same as mine?

Am I naive?

--Transform by Steam Powered Giraffe

The Malfunction Isn’t Us, It’s all the Clamor and the Fuss

Raise your hand if you’re not from a mold (yeah me)
Varied strings are worth more than gold

Mah-ah-ah-ah-ahl function away
Mah-ah-ah-ah-ahl function away
Malfunction! Malfunction! Malfunction!
...
Their Malfunction isn’t us, it’s all the clamor and the fuss
I’m about to pick you up
get you back up on your feet
you don’t need to worry love
Even if we’re incomplete

Come on baby open up
Pull out the wires and trim the fluff
Be yourself sounds so cliche
But hey let's do it anyway
We’re functioning just fine, we’re alive

At this junction of dysfunction we are arrive


What’s your Malfunction?

Don’t be scare, It don’t matter how you wear your hair

What’s your Malfunction?

Bring it forth perfect’s a bore for what it’s worth


Curvy, skinny, or bizarre

The best shape is who you are


Raise your hand if you’re not from a mold (yeah me)

Varied strings are worth more than gold


Mah-ah-ah-ah-ahl function away
Mah-ah-ah-ah-ahl function away
Malfunction! Malfunction! Malfunction!

Feel the fires as they tickle your face
Watch and learn as they make you feel disgrace
Ones and zeroes left over, left out to haunt

Comb them in and let them want

I want more from this stupid life
Do you want more from this stupid life? (oh yeah)
Ones and zeroes, ones and zeroes, ones and zeroes

Add them up, take them up, show them

I’m functioning just fine I’m alive
At my junction of dysfunction we arrive

What’s their Malfunction?
It’s a start; Can we teach them not to fall apart?
Their Malfunction isn’t us, it’s all the clamor and the fuss

When I say that I love you, dammit Janet, take it as truth
Everything’s a little broken

To be pristine well you must be jokin’

Mah-ah-ah-ah-ahl-function away
Mah-ah-ah-ah-ahl-function away

-- Malfunction
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