Updated: Nov 19, 2020
Accept an Embrace
Autistic people are more likely to be gender diverse than the general population. That means they don’t identify with the gender they were born with. Being transgender happens less than 1% generally, but the accepted figure for Autistics is 7.8%, which is probably conservative. How common the other gender diversities are is unknown, however, it is generally accepted that Autistic people are to a higher degree.
Gender diversity is the umbrella term for those who don’t identify with their assigned gender at birth. Transgender/gender diverse people don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth (AGAB). Instead, they may identify as male, female, neither or both, or move between gender identities.
Sex and gender are not the same things.
Sex is biological. It is the anatomy of an individual’s reproductive system, and secondary sex characteristics - genitals, breasts, body hair, etc. At birth, infants are assigned male, female or intersex. Intersex children are born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.
Gender is what society layers over sex. It includes social roles believed to be gender defined, the way gender is expressed through behaviours, clothing and way of being in society. Gender is a construct - it changes over time because society changes over time. For example, in the 19th century it was believed that women were inherently morally superior to men because of their nurturing qualities and their natural environment was home and family. That was one of the reasons for refusing them the vote. That they had so much influence at home that they didn’t need to have their own vote.
Even though the link between Autism and gender diversity is generally accepted, why it exists is occasionally controversial.
There are some autism “experts” who believe it is because Autistics have problems understanding social norms. In other words, Autistics are too stupid to know their own gender. Instead, the description is “gender confused” and the Autistic individual disbelieved.
On the other hand, Autistic advocates, including gender diverse ones, have been discussing the matter for some time and arrived at more positive conclusions.
If having a diagnosis of Autism makes a person different, maybe being different in gender is easier to conceive of and accept. Maybe the constructed nature of gender is easier to see when Autistic. The ability to focus on detail and pattern making could be at play. If gender is a construct, then why not think about what really applies the self?
Another suggestion is that Autistic people are more conscious of building their identity than non Autistics who seem to absorb societal norms without conscious effort.
Many Autistics are made aware of their differences very early in life. It is not hard to do when all the messaging is about having to change to fit in.
Adaptive morphing (Masking or camouflaging) is now recognised as an Autistic trait. So, if Autistic people morph adaptively for safety, there must be an identity worth keeping safe. It isn't the one the world demands. Instead, it the one that feels truest to the Autistic individual.
Finally, perhaps being “insensitive” to social cues and pressures gives Autistic individuals freedom to be their true selves.
Whatever the reasons, the most important thing is to know is that gender diversity is Autistic reality, and embrace it.
Here are a few terms commonly used about gender diversity.
Cis - a person who identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth. Cis is Greek for “same”.
AGAB - assigned gender at birth
AFAB/AMAB - this is the acronym for assigned male or female at birth. This is the term commonly used by a person who does not identify with that gender.
Non binary - a person who doesnt identify as male or female. They may move between that binary, or identify as combination that may favour one over the other - or not.
Gender fluid - is the term use by people whose gender identity varies at different times. They may identify as both a combination of male and female, or move between the range of no gender to some other combination.
Agender - refers to a person who doesnt identify with any gender at all.