What Does It Mean to be an Autistic Trans Woman?

(Featured image description: Image is of a neurodiversity infinity symbol redesigned with the colours of the trans flag alongside part of the transgender symbol).

(CN mention of misogyny, mental health, toxic masculinity)

Hi all, 

Sorry for the lack of activity for nearly two months. I’ve had a lot of work to do finishing up my studies. So at the time of writing this I am still in the early stages of transitioning but I have been pondering this question for a while, which I would like to talk about today in light of Pride Month. 

What exactly does it mean to be an autistic trans woman? 

It’s harder than it sounds to answer, mainly because there isn’t much information out there that is actually good and part of that is due to the stigma surrounding autism. For instance, it is harder to sieve through the mixed narratives that appear via a search engine (which vary from supportive to outright bigotry) if you don’t have any prior knowledge. Hence that is what makes autistic trans people so vulnerable and misunderstood. It is reasonable to suggest that the autistic and trans elements of somebody’s identity do interact with each other but to what extent and reasoning are not clearly defined. Of course, a lot of this is subjective and varies from person to person. 

So I’m writing this blog post to hopefully offer an insight as someone whom is just coming out of their shell and starting to embrace being the lady they really are inside. 

Please note that this perspective focuses on a trans feminine perspective. Trans men’s perspectives are important but for obvious reasons I can’t talk about that with complete accuracy (even though there are some overlaps). I encourage you to go seek out perspectives from autistic trans men on their perspective. 

For me, the answer stems from a few major points: 

Gender identity on an internal level is complicated 

Many people identify with the gender they were assigned at birth and have no problems with it, hence they are cisgender. Many people also do not identify as their assigned gender hence it’s a little more complicated with that. However, they are all transgender. On a deep level, I don’t align with either the binary male or female gender stereotypical identities.  

I never had a strong attachment to either gender roles. I’m not super huge on makeup but I’m also not big on sports. My lack of interest stemmed from the fact that I never saw binary gender roles as important. I knew the stereotypes existed but I didn’t really care. Why are they so important to allistics? It makes no sense. I was in my own bubble with my limited interests and that was fine for me for years. 

Now before I go further, I want to say something important. There is NOTHING wrong with this. There is nothing wrong with how autistic people interact with the world, it is the other way around. This also applies when you add in the dimension of gender. 

And to address a popular counterargument – could I have been influenced by my peers? No. When I was at school, there was nobody in my year group who transitioned that I knew of and was open about it so there was no opportunity to be influenced by them from a distance. I did just miss the era when trans youth started to become more aware of themselves.  Being autistic tends to help add immunity against social trends anyway so if anything, it’s actually an advantage in this instance. 

Secondly, your gender identity is not influenced by people around you changing your mind. It comes down to becoming more aware that trans identities exist and being given the freedom and opportunity to question your own gender and experiment. Being trans is not a “trend,” it’s always existed but just wasn’t hugely well known till recently. 

I don’t want to be perceived as a man anymore 

 The thought of being seen as and treated as a man really stresses me out as it’s not who I really am and can’t properly express myself. It repulses me big time as I’ve never liked it but I just never realised it before. However, I want to be treated as a woman as those thoughts are far more positive and reflective of who I am. This is a direct contrast to what the mainstream understanding of what autism is. Wait, don’t autistic people not understand social dynamics and cues? Well: 

  • It depends on how being autistic affects someone. 
  • It depends on the support they receive to understand society’s rules 
  • Regardless of how much an autistic person seems to not “pay attention” to how we’re treated, we are actually paying attention. Yes, this includes those that are seen as “low functioning” or “cannot speak for themselves.” 

That includes how we’re being perceived by others. Its why many autistic people have depression and other comorbid conditions which often makes their quality of life far worse than simply being autistic as a result of social exclusion. 

I’ve had difficulty in the past connecting to those in my true gender simply because I was socalised as a man. Some of these reasons were self-inflicted unintentionally but other reasons came from wider society (ie. Toxic masculinity).

I have also had my thinking in my mind begin to adjust to a more feminine position over the last several months as I am learning more about the issues that women and trans people face. It’s difficult to explain succinctly other than this being a fundamental personal change inside. I imagine I am not alone in this experience and is quite common with trans people. 

I have gender euphoria when presenting as femme, which tells me transitioning is right for me 

I also find that whenever I take steps towards living as a woman, I get a feeling of happiness that I never had when I thought I was a guy. The best way I can describe it is a positive buzz that makes me feel very happy but it’s also known as gender euphoria. In other words, the opposite of gender dysphoria. This is a common experience for many trans people. 

This includes being able to pass in public and hear other people treat me like a cis woman. Some examples include me going to shops and being referred to with feminine terms of endearment like “love” or “dear.” Another example includes when I am being referred to by others like on a recent trip out where a mother told her kid to “watch out for the lady” when I had to walk past them to pick out some condiments in a café. 

Not all of this attention is good though, which brings me to… 

I am willing to relearn a whole new set of social rules/expectations

This is exactly what it says and links to the above. This comes with it’s challenges. “Womens’ culture” (for lack of a better way to describe it) is different from “guy culture” considerably. The social rules for women are more complex to learn and trans women will be expected to conform to these standards imposed on women (regardless of whether they agree with some exceptions). This is so that they can be seen as a cis woman by many people in daily life on a subconscious level. Unfortunately, this shouldn’t be the case but it exists and is something that needs to be considered.

This also includes important aspects like safety in public and in relationships. Being perceived as feminine changes these dynamics considerably because then transitioning into a woman pretty much means you will regularly have to deal with misogyny (or worse) in public. This is incredibly difficult to deal with when you factor in things like overstimulation and lack of spatial awareness that can often happen when you’re autistic and overloaded. Hence I’ve had to adjust what I do when I’m out and about.

This does mean a lot of trial and error, experimentation and support is required. Bear in mind this is an enormous step for any trans person (regardless of gender and disability status) because of how drastically things change. For me, this is a challenge I am willing to accept so I can find a happy medium between how I feel inside and where I want to be. Why would I put myself through that unless I am sure transitioning is right for me? It’s the same for any other trans person. 

Transitioning is one of many ways someone evolves on a personal level.

Just because somebody is trans, it doesn’t mean that is their only identity. Hence it is important not to lose sight of this. Some other related identities include career, sexual orientation, religious/political affiliations as well as various other experiences they have. Hence essentially a gender transition shows that somebody is still a work in progress. 

For me, while I am transitioning into a woman, I am also transitioning from education into the workplace for instance. Hence, I am also evolving in other ways too separately from my gender identity. Hence I’m not just Milla the trans lady, I’m also Milla the university graduate, Milla the writer etc. There are other ways too but you get the idea. 

Some final thoughts 

To conclude, this is a result of this long path to acceptance, I feel much happier and more confident with myself since accepting this and am ready to face the next wave of challenges. I will be honest and admit that I am a bit scared of what comes next and for good reasons.

That’s not to say I am unsure of what I really want – I do – but it is adjusting to huge changes that await me. This includes changing my name and gender marker on my documents, developing my fashion sense and feminine presentation as well as the medical alterations that hormones will have on my body. However, I strongly believe it will be for the better in the long run. 

That’s all for today. I hope this article has helped others better understand what living as an autistic trans woman is like.

Kind regards, 

Milla x 

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Why Asking “What’s Your Name and Pronouns?” Can Add to Anxiety

Feature image description: Image is of a rainbow flag high above the clouds. The background is a blue sky with clouds and very distant terrain.

(CN for mention of misgendering)

Hi all,

Autistic LGBTQ+ people struggle to integrate into LGBTQ+ spaces for a variety of reasons. One of these reasons is to how inaccessible dedicated clubs and spaces for LGBTQ+ people can be due to sensory overload. However as someone who is at the start trying to integrate into these spaces to help me become comfortable with myself (as I am still in the closet) I am hitting the first hurdle and I’d like to talk about that a bit today. The hurdle is the very question used to help introduce people into LGBTQ+ spaces so people know how others want to be identified and that is…

“What’s your name and pronouns?”

Now before I continue I want to make it crystal clear that I fully support trans issues as well as the normalisation of pronouns. In other words – all the motives behind this question. I myself am trans and I don’t identify with any gender on a deep level however I do wish to be treated and seen as feminine hence the need to disclose pronouns.

Disclosing pronouns makes it easy for trans people to work out who is safe to be around as many people who do not disclose pronouns aren’t allies to trans people. Furthermore, as gender is different for everyone and there are more than two there is the need for language to change and reflect this (or be normalised in the case of the singular pronoun “they”).

However, I do think in certain situations the way this question is asked can potentially make LGBTQ+ spaces inaccessible for autistic people – and by extension those that have anxiety. Hence this is something I’d like to talk about today.

Imagine this – you are an autistic person whom has just realised they are LGBTQ+ and need to seek friends in real life for support. You’re not fully out to the world and you need to get a bigger support network who will lift you up rather than put you down. You managed to get to one of these groups overcoming deep anxiety and fear of the unknown. Will you be accepted? Can you trust the people here to keep your secret safe until you’re ready to show the world?

You are too anxious to talk to others. There are so many people here talking to each other. Some people are out whereas others are in the closet. This environment is unfamiliar and you are getting exhausted due to all the sensory input. You feel like you could be welcomed and accepted here – but also very anxious at the possibility of having to deal with awkward situations with the other people there until you feel comfortable opening up. The anxiety won’t go away until you feel comfortable trusting them with your orientations.

You want to trust others here but you know it will take time and effort on your part and theirs. They may be willing to play ball so you’re going to give it a chance. But for now you only feel comfortable passively participating in the events. In other words – say what you feel comfortable saying and don’t pressure yourself.

You hear the organiser say “So before we begin we are going to go round and ask everyone’s names and pronouns.” Oh no. You’re going to have to out myself to other people before you’re ready. The reasons are perfectly understandable but is only heightening your anxiety. This goes against the mental plan you had in mind and may only make things harder for you in the long run.

People start responding to the question in order around the way you were all sitting. There’s so many different names and pronouns. You can’t go by how people present so you have to try to remember what they say even though it is difficult for you due to your anxiety. It got overwhelming. There is no way you are able to remember them all. Then the question finally got to you.

“Erm…I don’t really feel comfortable answering that,” you meekly say with visible anxiety in your voice.

It feels like a cop-out. You want to say “Hi I’m [redacted] and my pronouns are [pronoun 1/pronoun 2] but the nerves are just too much. You’re too shy and you wonder if other people feel that you aren’t interested in engaging or whether you aren’t safe because you aren’t disclosing your pronouns.

This was me at my first LGBTQ+ event. So in short – the pronouns question is giving me anxiety because it is putting me on the spot before I am ready to give the answers. This is because I am shy and am finding the unfamiliar situation overwhelming for me.

On social networking sites like Twitter disclosing pronouns is much easier. The pressure is off as users putting pronouns in their bio gets around asking the questions directly. Not to mention online spaces are often the only place somebody can be themselves before they are able to out themselves in real life.

Transferring this idea of having name/pronouns written down in real life support groups would be a good idea. Having stickers with your name and pronouns written on them would greatly help people like me better remember how to address people properly and avoid misgendering or calling people the wrong names by accident.

Similar systems are used at some left-wing conferences where pronoun stickers are given out to the guests for free as well as colour coded lanyards to indicate whether somebody is OK with strangers talking to them or not. This is one common way to improve accessibility for disabled people and would be worth transferring into communities outside of disability and left-wing environments as well. This would also help people who find it difficult to remember individual names and pronouns due to anxiety, cognitive disabilities and other reasons.

Another idea that I feel is worth suggesting could be simply just saying “you don’t have to answer if you don’t feel comfortable” in group-based situations. I had this happen when I was talking to individuals and it greatly helped my confidence. I can come out of my shell in my own time and express myself more freely when I felt comfortable. In that context I was known as someone “with no name or pronoun” which was fine by me. This is how it should be in general. In LGBTQ+ spaces this is important and also in neurodiverse spaces too. Not having that contributed to my anxiety in the group environment.

Maybe as time goes on and I integrate into these circles more and build a support network I will make some friends and this initial barrier will lower. The barriers are lower however right now it is a formidable obstacle and I need to do my best to find a way to overcome it. I am still at the start of my journey and I’d wager my view will deepen as I gain more knowledge about LGBTQ+ issues. In the meantime, I’ll likely produce labels and badges myself to take the pressure off me a bit as I can simply direct others to my labels.

LGBTQ+ circles – please think about how establishing names and pronouns could add accessibility barriers for autistic LGBTQ+ people. More autistic people are LGBTQ+ than the general population so you’re missing out on a lot of us if you don’t make your spaces accessible.

Best wishes,

Subtle

(@subtlykawaii)

Featured image source