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Stop Gendering Autism

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of medium posts about cis women’s experience as autistic individuals, all of which seem to have a very similar theme…

“Women’s autism is different from men’s autism!”

But I take issue with this framing. Assuming that by “women” these writers are actually referring to people assigned the gender female at birth, or AFAB people, the assumption is that people who were assigned the female gender at birth will experience autism in distinctly different ways than “men” or “boys” with autism. However, reality has shown that there are a lot more variables involved. There is no “boy autism” or “girl autism” with strict symptom checklists that rarely overlap. It’s very common for individuals with autism to recognize symptoms of both in themselves, though it is now a “hot trend” in the community (of autistic people, people who research autism or have some level of interest in autism for whatever reason — also safe to say the much of the medical community) to insist that these are distinctly different “versions” of autism. However, because of the reality that there are frequent exceptions to this notion, AFAB autism (or “women’s autism”) is not strictly accurate.

Though it may, on a surface level, seem useful to describe autism appearing in females as having an entirely different set of symptoms, perhaps because of the general public’s inability to realize that white women and BIPOC could also have autism for many years, making it even more difficult to diagnose autism in BIPOC and caucasian women, and therefore more difficult for these groups to access certain services that can be astronomically helpful for autistic individuals (though this particular framing of “Woman vs. Man autism” doesn’t do anything for BIPOC). Perhaps this framing could be seen as a way to make “women’s autism” appear to be “more” valid (than accepted prior) as its own distinct category. Regardless, it is problematic to frame this matter so narrowly.

Exceptional cases (to this rule) are common enough. A significant portion of the trans population is self reported to fall on the spectrum — many AFAB trans men, including myself, also identify with this “newer” acceptable set of symptoms for identifying autism in an individual, and when I read articles about “women’s autism” I worry that it makes it hard for my existence to be articulated, as well as the existence of AMAB men who also display traits of “female autism.”

This goes the other way too. There are cis women who strongly identify with the symptoms for so called “male autism.” This can make it difficult for these cis girls to recognize their own autism, or for anyone else to even conceptualize their autism. Because as long as “women with autism” are known to be quiet and withdrawn, highly intuitive artistic geniuses who mask well (in other words, one could argue, align with stereotypical white womanhood), very real women who’s autism presents as socially outgoing (to overcompensate for a perceived lack of social skills) loud, stimmy, maybe extra good at math — to throw in another “boy autism” stereotype — there will be an unneeded confusion.

The same goes for many cis men who very closely fit the profile for “female autism” all their lives. They may write it off as an anxiety disorder, or any number of other things, unable to imagine that they share the experience of many women on the spectrum. (This can be even more likely when they are also unable to imagine autism as something other than a “problem” or an “affliction” of some kind.) I know a handful of cis men who I strongly suspect to be on the spectrum, only they will never discover this fact for themselves if any time they see these symptoms together it’s under the headline “women’s autism.” It doesn’t take a genius in our current social climate to see that cis men, due to their cultural conditioning, are often mentally and emotionally unable to identify with anything relating to womanhood or femininity, which are connected by association, so the idea of this possibility may be forcibly shut down within themselves in seconds.

If people aren’t honest enough with themselves to acknowledge their struggles, especially if they can pass to others (and themselves) as “high functioning,” then they often just won’t put two and two together.

Also, when we talk about “recently accepted” autism profiles, I feel like it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that historically and even today, regardless of how their autism presents, despite making up an about equal percentage of the autistic population, women generally are diagnosed much less. Probably, encouraging women to hide their symptoms (masking) also has something to do with this disproportion. What can we trace this back to? Sexism and misogyny.

But historically, it isn’t just white women who’ve struggled to get an autism diagnosis and/or accompanying support — It’s also BIPOC individuals. Framing the issue as “men’s vs women’s autism” while largely adhering to stereotypical white standards for femininity and masculinity when looking at “criteria for diagnosis” does nothing for non-white individuals who have a much more winding road (and sometimes no road at all) to getting a diagnosis, largely because different cultural and racial experiences will lead to widely different personal experiences of the world, as well as a colorful variety of experiences of self in relation to the world and society. Therefore, autism will look different (in any number of ways) in non-white individuals, or anyone who doesn’t align with the concept of stereotypical white-ness.

Just some thoughts on the discussion I’ve seen about this topic lately…

Side note: I wish I had more to relate to thus far as an autistic adult than other proclamations of “I discovered that I am autistic and that there is nothing wrong with me! I’m just as good as neurotypicals, if not better! (They are the “good autistics,” playing into the idea that some autistic individuals are members of a superior group and all the rest are inferior.) We all “cope” with society’s lack of accommodations to a different degree. (Stay tuned for me to make the case that people need to stop using the word Asperger's, and claiming it as a separate identity.)

I want to talk to other autistic adults about our lives and relate to them on a deep level — Adults with autism often suffer from a vast loneliness. This can’t be a coincidence. We all have struggled to be understood for most of our lives, so why don’t we seek out the perspectives of others like us? For our real life quirkiness, not for the simple shared joy that we “are not bad.” We’re not. I’ve already wasted enough time, enough of my life being sad and quiet and alone, and I’m done hating myself. So, moving on~

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Maxwell

Maxwell

young, astonishingly handsome ND trans man, putting his thots on the internet for ppl to judge ❤️