Does Autism Determine Your Gender Identity?

Jan 05, 2022
The beginning of a new year signals a time for self-exploration and self-love. Part
of self-exploration is gender identity. It is a complicated topic for many and when
you are autistic there is an added layer of confusing questions. Many autistic
adults and allies wonder if being neurodivergent intersects with gender identity.
In fact, there are a plethora of intersectionality's between the autistic community
and other marginalized groups.
 
Gender identity has become a hot topic in recent years and researchers are
making an effort to study the specific correlation between autism and gender.
When exploring this topic it is important to understand the concept of gender and
how the autistic brain works.
 
Gender is a social construct
 
The common narrative on gender in popular culture is that gender is in the brain
and not in the body. Social media is full of commentary on gender inequality,
discrimination, and the push for inclusive acceptance of gender.
 
Looking outside of mainstream media the reality is that gender is a social
construct. People identify with male and female gender labels is because of
culture, environment, and social norms. Gender stereotyping is the reason certain
clothes are labelled as male or female. There are specific ideas of how a gender
should act, talk and even colours are gendered (Winter, 2015).
 
The concept of male and female has been used in mainstream society as a way to
categorize and sadly to marginalized communities.
 
Living outside of social norms means you don’t necessarily identify as male or
female. You may be transgender, nonbinary, agender, or identify with another
gender type. People are questioning the social norms that have been in effect for
centuries and taking control of their right to be self-aware and shed the labels
society deems acceptable.
 
Autism versus social norms
 
Part of the reason gender identity is a complicated topic for autistic individuals is
that it is based on social norms. Interacting in social situations, understanding
social norms and the ability to adapt to socially acceptable activities are
challenging for autistic people.
 
To be blunt, autistic people don’t subscribe to society's predetermined unspoken rules of socializing.
 
Laura Dattaro with SpectrumNews reported this year that it is 3-6 times more
common for an autistic person to not identify as cis-gendered. Dattaro stated that
“Gender identity and sexuality are more varied among autistic people than in the
general population” (1).
 
When you consider that gender is a social construct, it makes sense that autistic
individuals will be open-minded and willing to explore their gender identity. At
the same time, it explains the intersectionality between the LGBTQIA+ community
and autism since that community is generally considered to operate outside of
social norms.
 
External influences on gender
 
It is important to acknowledge how your environment influences your choices as
an autistic adult. There are many obstacles faced by the autistic community. Some
common stereotypes about the autistic community are:
 
● Autistic people have a lack of intellect
● Autistic people are incompetent
● Functioning labels are forced onto people that are damaging to self-image
 
Being surrounded by people questioning you, gaslighting, and limiting your free
will it can be mentally exhausting to save time for self-reflection. In addition, if
you live in an environment that does not accept autism and/or being LGBTQIA+ it
can be impossible to safely come out as your authentic self.
 
Harmful therapies like Applied Behaviour Analysis suppress naturally occurring
autistic traits. The suppression and oppression are meant to force neurotypical
norms onto autists. Living through traumatic autistic experiences will influence
how your self-worth and ability to understand your gender identity.
 
Breaking the barriers of gender
 
Current research shows a correlation between gender identity and autism. The
details in this article are from the perspective of an autistic adult and are
subjective. Of course, the entire autistic community cannot be generalized.
However, it is reasonable to assume that current statistics reflect the idea that
autistic people are more likely to sit on the gender-nonconforming side of the
argument.
 
Social constructs are foreign to autistic people. The idea of gender is part of that
societal norm which means it is fair to say autistic people are not trapped in
gender norms. There is no definitive evidence confirming autism means you will
not be cis-gendered. Nevertheless, current evidence does suggest a higher
likelihood of a neurodivergent autistic individual having a gender identity outside
of societal expectations.
 
The best way to explore gender is self-reflection. Take the time to drown out the
external influences and consider your feelings on the matter. Breaking the
barriers of gender comes in many forms. Self-exploration is a worthy pursuit for
autistic and neurotypical people. Gender exploration can lead to self-acceptance
and contentment with your authentic self.
 
Writer bio: Tas are autistic members of the disability community with developmental, mental health, and physical disabilities. You could say they are the trifecta or triad of disabilities. They are a DID system, a person of colour, nonbinary and proud to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community. With this unique combination of diversity, they advocate for inclusion. Equal access to education, healthcare, and innate human rights motivate them to move past challenges in the effort to make the world accessible, inclusive, and fair for the next generation.
 
 
Follow their work: https://linktr.ee/tasthoughts 
 
Source Information
 
Brierley, Noah J., et al. “Factor Structure of Repetitive Behaviors Across Autism
Spectrum Disorder and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” Journal of
Autism and Developmental Disorders, vol. 51, no. 10, Oct. 2021, pp. 3391–3400
Dattaro, Laura. “Gender and Sexuality in Autism, Explained.” Spectrum | Autism
Research News, 10 Nov. 2021, www.spectrumnews.org/news/gender-and-
sexuality-in-autism-explained. https://doi.org/10.53053/YBTA7630
Winter, George F. “Determining Gender: A Social Construct?” Community
Practitioner, vol. 88, no. 2, Feb. 2015, p. 15.