Autism, Gender Identity, and “Autisgender”

My general take on gender identity is “go for it.” I’m the type of person that will gladly refer to another person using the singular “they” and “xir/xe” and even stuff like “bun/bunself,” if that is what they so prefer.  They know what goes on inside of their own psyches better than I do, and I have every reason to believe that the term that they have chosen to reflect this is as accurate of a representation of such as they have access to at the moment (even if such terms take the shape of such things as “volcanogender” and “gyragender“). I’d like to think that I would never discount somebody’s identity as invalid, because, well, it’s their identity, not mine.

But there is one on those aforementioned linked lists and that exists elsewhere that I couldn’t help but, well, disagree with upon my first encounter and that I’ve gone back-and-forth with every since:  ”Autisgender.” Sometimes spelled “autigender.” Defined by the-mogai-archive and archived by notyourqueertheoryposterchild:

“definition: autism as part or whole of gender identity; a gender that can only be understood in context of being autistic.

note: only to be used by autistics. “

My knee-jerk reaction was one that many people seem to have: “Autism isn’t a gender. Autism is a lot of things, but it isn’t a gender.”

But “volcanogender” is? What makes “autisgender” any different?

I thought about why this did not settle with me while I unquestioningly accepted just about everything else in the gender identity tumblrs, and I came up with this:

It seems to imply that there is a gender experience common to autistics, that being autistic gives you one particular understanding of gender.

This doesn’t at all seem to be what I gather from both my interactions within the Autistic community and from studies on the subject. There are some Autistic people who are explicitly and clearly cisgender (identity with the gender assigned to their biological sex). There are some Autistic people who are explicitly and clearly transgender. There are some Autistic people who are explicitly and clearly bigender, or agender, or any other variety ofgenderqueer. There are some Autistic people who are questioning, genderfluid, or altogether apathetic to the matter.

But then, it does seem that there are a large number of Autistics who fall into those non-cisgender categories. Perhaps more so than would be expected. I, myself, could perhaps be considered “genderqueer” if I could be bothered to do so–my inner narrative voice is sometimes male, sometimes female, and sometimes ungendered, and my outward appearance can vary from very feminine to somewhat masculine–and many of the friends that I have who are Autistic also report some degree of gender flexibility. Why would this be the case?

Some propose an underlying biological difference, that Autistics have higher levels of androgen or different underlying brain structures.

Some propose that because many Autistics do not grasp onto certain social cues and expectations in the same manner as non-autistic peers, we are less impacted by the social influences on gender that would cause us to identify with a certain gender role and, thus, a certain gender.

Some propose that being non-cisgendered isn’t actually particularly unusual and that Autistics are more likely to be open about our gender experiences than are non-Autistics.

Would that then mean that Autistics do have some perception of gender that is heavily influenced enough by being autistic to warrant a separate way of gender identity?

Maybe.

But then one does have to wonder (or at least I do) if the above factors are really unique to being autistic. There are many people who are open about their gender experiences. Not picking up or paying mind to certain social cues is not exclusive to autism; there are people who, due to a variety of neurological, cultural, and personal reasons, are not prone to being exposed to or taking note of various gender-related social cues. And the human body is very varied; differences in androgen levels and oxytonin pathways can vary even in the general population.

Yet, it seems that the combination of these factors are certainly more likely among autistics than among non-autistics.

I suppose it ultimately boils down to whether or not the use of “autisgender” is helpful to those using the label. I find that it makes more sense for me, personally, to describe the slight deviations in my gender expression or identity as “genderqueer,” because I have no way of knowing how much of my gender experience is really due to the aforementioned possible autism influences and how much of it is due to other factors entirely, such as being born in an era and region where access to discussions of non-traditional genders is made readily available or, heck, growing up in a neighborhood where most of my close-age cohorts and, thus, playmates were male. Before I knew that genderqueer was a thing, I was simply “an odd female”–and, heck, that’s still what I roll with out of convenience and because identifying as my birth gender doesn’t cause me any dysphoria or discomfort. Why rock the boat if this particular boat is floating along this particular river just fine?

But then I have to realize that not everybody is me. Some people simply aren’t content to leave it at “odd female” or even “genderqueer.” Some people need an explanation that the more commonly known means of gender expression can’t provide. If it makes sense to a particular autistic person for them to conceptualize their gender as an component or extension of their autism, if that helps them to better navigate or feel comfortable in the gender-oriented society in which many of us seem to live, then is it really my place to tell them anything different?

At the end of the day, if you want me to refer to you as autisgender, I’ll refer to you as autisgender. Just tell me what pronouns you want me to use, and I’ll use them.

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