It’s been a really long time since I’ve posted and I’m sorry about this. I suppose this is the specific post, I’ve been procrastinating, so maybe it will speed up from here. I’ve been spending more of my time for the past while thinking about gender issues than about Autistic issues per se. It’s been hard to talk freely without talking about that. But I was some combination of embarrassed to talk about it and concerned that it was off topic. Maybe off-topic was just an excuse for nervousness; in any case, that excuse has been dispelled. I have found plenty of tie-ins to Autism and neurodiversity.
News In Brief: I Now Identify as Female by the Most Relevant Definitions
The above squid may sound tentative and hedged, but actually it’s not. As I’ve discussed before, my experience of gender doesn’t map very well into the categories that anybody else I’ve seen talks about it, including the trans community. I have what you would call body dysphoria—my somatosensory map of my body does not match my body, but it only matches a female body a little bit better. It doesn’t really match anything real; my concept of my body is a confused mess. I don’t exactly fit either traditional gender role very well, though I have a lot in common with Autistic women, more so than Autistic men. And my previous post about authenticity should make it clear that “my true self” is not a terribly coherent concept for me.
I shouldn’t really be surprised. I don’t think it language, and often my internally relevant concepts are not the same or easily translatable to the culturally relevant concepts. But I’m used to translating as best I can because communication is important. I’d been resistant to calling myself trans for a long time, because it was a complicated cultural concept that I didn’t fully understand, and wasn’t sure I fit. It was also a scary cultural identity associated with persecution of a new kind that I hadn’t really previously experienced. So I was erring on the side of not being transgender or transsexual or trans-anything. I recognized that I almost certainly counted under the broad category “gender-queer” but I sort of left it at that mostly in terms of recognizable cultural categories.
On the other hand, I noticed increasingly over time that mentally and socially, as opposed to physically, I had more traits that my friends considered feminine than masculine. As I’ve learned more about philosophy of language, always a favorite subject, I’ve come to the belief that most complicated words like “female” are collections of properties that commonly go together rather than terms with a precise definition. I realized its a common deep mistake in thinking about natural language words as having a definition based on an essential characteristic (like have two X chromosomes or not being born with a penis). Instead words have a prototypical concept of what they apply to, that satisfies all their relevant properties but a halo of examples that satisfy enough of those properties to be mentally grouped with the prototype. Birds in general can fly, but penguins are birds. Rock songs in general have certain guitar rhythms but some recognizably rock songs have no guitar at all.
I’m a girl like that.
The Only Part That’s Really New Here is My Understanding of Words
I spent a few years, just saying things to my friends like “If you think of me as a girl, you’ll be less confused.” I spent ever longer just trying to get my friends who were mostly girls to treat me like they treat each other. This was frustratingly difficult because a frequent response was, “I dont’ treat girls and boys differently,” and being somewhat offended. The problem is that in practice “treating boys and girls the same” means treating them the same aside from recognizing that girls are girls and boys are boys. Nobody notices they’re doing it. The most open minded people would still assume that I was masculine in an new trait that they didn’t know about me. I was a boy with an increasing number of exceptions, but I had to ask for them one at a time. I wish I could give examples but there aren’t really words I know for the difference. It’s a lot more obvious with boys to each other though. People would say things in front of me that they wouldn’t say with a girl present, especially they would say things about girls and generalize about their feelings or social actions. Other things are more subtle. Social actions and degrees of confidence and such are just interpreted differently. “Polite” means different things.
But even “If you think of me as a girl, you’ll be less confused,” only helped so much. It was hard to remember and it was probably though about only when confused. I realized I should have just said “I’m female” or at least “I’m socially female.” Because think of me as female and you will make correct inferences is what “I’m female” means.
So I say that now. And I’ve come to understand that that makes me count as transgendered. So I say that now, too.
What’s Going On? How Did I Get This Way? This is Suppose to Be Sort of Uncommon, Right?
It’s probably not a coincidence that I’m Autistic and Trans. Lots of people have suggested that there is a neurological origen to gender atypicality. Neurological weirdnesses go together, because the same sort of mutations and developmental stresses that cause one can cause another. I used to think that my gender issues were mostly caused by being poked, but I think the causality is if anything the other way. There is a theory that there is something in your brain “knows” what gender you are supposed to be at a pre-verbal level and it can get confused by pre-natal hormones. The thought is that part also determines what hormones it should expect to find in your body, explaining why hormones treatment improves the mood of transexuals before physical changes are noticed. This idea intrigues me and I’m eager to try out hormones to find out if it makes me happier or more effective in some way.
When I was little, I reacted to messages people were telling me about boys and girls. I interpreted the messages about girls as if people were talking about what I was, but wasn’t allowed to be: pretty, precious, nurturing, like pink and dolls. I interpreted things they said about boys as things about what I was supposed to be morally: tough, athletic, dirty, like blue and fast things. I wanted to be good, so I tried to be both. I think this was the source of much later confusion. Unlike stereotypes, I didn’t protest when people called me a boy. I protested when people said or implied that boys couldn’t also be girls. In practice, I knew which way opinion lied; I hid most of my girl things and watched girl shows in secret. I tried to be friends like girls a lot, but not by persuading them I was one of them. Instead I marketed myself as a boy willing to do girl thing with them which made me rare and valuable. This was a reflection of by seeing being a boy too as desirable because everyone said I was supposed to be a boy.
I even learned to like some boyish things like climbing trees and squishing bugs. I think it didn’t bother me because I didn’t think they made me ugly. Green Lady still wanted me. (I think she wanted me as a boy and liked when I got dirty, but I misinterpreted her and instead had the idea that I was secretly a sex object in disguise reinforced. I had a very culturally female response to being poked. I wasn’t outraged; I though it was what I was for. I think this caused me to internalize sexism against myself in a way that MTF often don’t. This makes me “more authentic” but not exactly in a good way.) Anyway, I learned to like those activities in a genuine way. As such I think I developed a real boy-persona that comes out sometimes, but is usually childlike. On the basis of this I’ve previously identified as gender fluid or changing my gender at different times. I may still be this, but I’m primarily female so I don’t use it as my main identity term, because its just too confusing. More recently, I joke about my “tomboy phase.”
When I hit puberty I had a lot of body changes that I didn’t like. Secondary sex characteristics bothered me in a way that primaries never did. Even more upsetting, trying to spend time with girls was seen as a romantic thing. I desperately wanted a girlfriend so I could talk to her every day. I finally did get a girlfriend in high school and she’s still my best friend, even though the romance part didn’t work out. The romance part wasn’t the point. I managed to network from her and be friends with her friends and thus began my being mostly friends with girls. I learned most of what social skills I have from them, so I blend in fairly well. This was probably the main thing preventing a gender identity crisis from happening sooner.
Eventually a few close friends basically recognized me as female, but I want the world to.
Figuring Out the Right Words Can Have Useful Practical Consequences
Realizing I was trans allowed me to recognize that advice to trans people applied to me. It seems to be overwhelmingly true that trans people are better off expressing their true gender publicly, despite possible ridicule and discrimination. And when I realized this advice applied to me, I realized it made sense. I’m not very used to choosing my own clothes. Clothes make lots of random cultural statements that I don’t understand. I feel safest going with generic clothes I know. But my current clothes state to the world that I’m male; they are lying and misleading. They make it harder to be seen and treated as female. I plan to fix this problem.
So I’m getting new clothes and shaving my legs and learning to use makeup and using laser hair removal on my facial hair and things like that. I’m trying to get my body to tell the truth more or less. I think of it in the same sort of spirit as stimming in public, to tell the truth about my Autism. I plan to eventually get hormone treatment to make my body grow into a shape that tells the truth as well as maybe give my brain the hormones it wants. I’m still scared about surgeries so I don’t know if I’ll do anything more drastic. But I’m going to try to be publicly a woman as a long term goal.
I’m Declaring This Part of My Life to Be On Topic for this Blog
I think gender is a neurodiversity issue in lots of possible ways; (for example, I think sexism is partially about devaluing and misinterpreting the characteristics of female brains.) I think I’m going to offend a few people with my observations here, but I’m pressing on in the name of pursuit of truth. I don’t claim to speak for everyone, but I will dare to speak to the broader relevance of my own case.
P.S. If y’all could refer to be as “she” in the future when talking about me, (I hope you talk about me… 😉 ) that would be awesome. I won’t flip out if you forget. I’m too naturally bad about grammar to be that obsessed with pronouns anyway.
Hopefully, I’ll post more soon about a different, but possibly related topic. Squid, out.