Authentic Self? The Intersection between Autism and Non-Binary
This week we get personal! Lately, I have been asking myself frequently: am I agender because I am autistic?
As an agender non-binary person on the autistic spectrum sharing about neurodiversity and LGBTQIA+ on social media, it won't be a surprise for anyone that this question arose. In this personal short essay, I invite you to discover some reflections on how these two aspects of my identity have intertwined and seem to shape my understanding of gender and self-expression.
We hear it often in queer spaces: “gender is a social construct”. But what does it actually mean? In an essay titled Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory, Judith Butler (a philosopher specializing in gender theory) wrote in 1988: “Because there is neither an 'essence' that gender expresses or externalizes nor an objective ideal to which gender aspires; because gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender create the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all. Gender is, thus, a construction that regularly conceals its genesis”.
Personally, for me, as I was growing up, I gradually came to realize that different genders were imposed on me. Sometimes I was grouped with the “boys”, more often I was grouped with the “girls” and at almost all times, for everyone around me, I belonged to a category that some cultures would call “third gender”. This realization challenged the traditional norms and expectations society placed upon me based on my assigned gender at birth. And now, as a 32-year-old person recently diagnosed with autism, it seems to become all clear: my perception of societal concepts and norms had always been somewhat different thanks to my neurodiversity, prompting me to question and scrutinise the very foundations of gender.
Living on the autism spectrum means navigating a world where social norms and precepts typically seem perplexing and elusive. Neurotypical people frequently seem to have rules which are unwritten and unspoken yet deemed to be known and adhered to by everyone. Interacting with others and understanding social cues for me is a constant source of challenge and learning. Therefore, this unique perspective provides me with a fresh lens through which to explore the complexities of gender and identity. As a child, I remember asking myself cliché questions every day such as “Why is pink associated with femininity”, “Why do boys have to be obsessed with soccer and cars”, and “Why do I feel the urge to hide when I play with Barbies or wear dresses”. I was lucky because I don't remember my parents forbidding me from wearing a Barbie night dress at home or them making fun of me because I was so into “Destiny's child”.
Flash forward to 2023: the first thing that really took me by surprise when I started to get acquainted with the autistic community – besides the obvious “I finally belong somewhere” type of epiphany – is that I discovered a prevalent theme among individuals who are on the spectrum: many expressed a sense of detachment from conventional gender identities often using a sentence I myself used a thousand times “I don't know, I don't really feel gender. It is like it doesn't apply to me”. It started to feel like maybe being autistic and being agender were more linked than I ever assumed! Furthermore, it was through connecting with other autistic individuals that I began to explore the notion of “autigender” or “neurogender”, which both somehow theorize that gender and neurotype cannot really be isolated from one another.
This realization opened up new possibilities for understanding and embracing my own gender identity. I began to connect the dots between my autism and my own journey towards identifying as agender. The detachment from social norms, coupled with a unique way of perceiving and processing the world, allows me to embrace a gender identity that transcends the binary and aligns more closely with who I am today.
As written above, thanks to my introspective autistic journey and quest for self-discovery, I am convinced there is a profound connection within me between being agender and being on the spectrum. And as I navigate the complex terrain of gender, I am so happy to embrace the freedom to transcend societal norms and embrace a gender identity that today feels true to me (which might not always be the case). By questioning the constructs that confine us, I suggest to others to embark on their own journeys, where intertwining dimensions such as neurodiversity and gender identity can lead to remarkable revelations.