Written by Alex Creece
Personally, my gender is a piece of trivia. My gender is arbitrary.
My relationship to womanhood is more about my experiences of misogyny, and how I’m treated in the world, rather than any internal self-concept. I’m a feminist, therefore I care about gender equity, particularly for the most marginalised and vulnerable people in society. I’m a lesbian, therefore, I have a kinship to sapphic queerness and an understanding of how my sexuality obscures and ‘others’ my gender identity.
Beyond that, however, I don’t often find it useful to speak of my experiences along gendered lines. After all, this can so easily become exclusionary, as one may assume that certain experiences are gender-specific when they’re not.
In the context of Autism, I’m finding it increasingly common for my Autistic experiences to be filtered through a gendered narrative – one that doesn’t even resonate with me, and doesn’t reflect the whole community at all.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s important for us to address bias and prejudice in how Autism is diagnosed and supported, including gender bias. It’s important for us to fight against sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and all forms of bigotry in societal institutions, including medical and healthcare systems. It’s important for us to promote an understanding of diverse Autistic experiences and presentations.
However, we can’t make this progress by creating new stereotypes, or introducing yet another binary. Autism itself is not gendered; every Autistic person experiences their disability differently.
And if you’re a marginalised gender, you may have a higher likelihood of being overlooked, gaslit or dismissed by medical authorities and other institutions. But this doesn’t mean that there’s ‘female Autism’ and ‘male Autism’, or ‘AMAB Autism’ and ‘AFAB Autism’.
Many people have undoubtedly benefitted from resources tailored around ‘Autism in women’, but perhaps this could be better framed as ‘lesser known’ or ‘subtle’ Autism traits, rather than ascribing those traits to one gender. Some late-diagnosed cis women may feel represented by these resources, but everyone else is left out of the picture. Especially trans, non-binary and gender diverse people, who are suspected to make up a higher-than-average portion of the Autistic community (when compared to non-autistic communities). A new term, autigender, has even been coined for people whose gender is intrinsically linked to their Autistic identity.
These gender stereotypes also fail to account for people’s varied support needs and life experiences. Not all people who are diagnosed later in life are cis women, and not all people who are diagnosed young are cis boys.
We have long battled the only Autistic representation being that of white cis boys, but now a new stereotype is emerging of the late-diagnosed, high-masking cis white woman. For me, two stereotypes are no better than one.
My masking skills are limited, and people tend to know I’m Autistic in an instant when interacting with me. I have an ‘odd’ and monotonous voice, disorganised speech, a bizarre and unspecific accent, and a lack of volume control. My social skills and awareness are poor. I’m highly strung and particular about almost everything. I function with strict routines. I’m intense, obsessive, and incredibly avoidant of unfamiliar situations, suffering from extreme anxiety and phobias. I’m not intuitive, I’m not much of a social chameleon despite my best efforts, and I’m noticeably awkward, uncoordinated, and clumsy within my body.
There’s nothing wrong with the traits I possess. These aren’t self-deprecating comments; they’re just facts. These experiences don’t make me ‘more’ or ‘less’ Autistic than anyone else, but they do make me feel alienated from the gender binaries and expectations that exist within the Autistic community.
“You don’t seem Autistic” isn’t something I usually hear – it’s not a surprise or a secret, and that’s fine. However, I find it hard when people assume that, based on my gender, I must possess certain Autistic traits and shared experiences as a rite of passage, such as being late-diagnosed and a good masker.
In my opinion, we need to be careful not to associate certain traits as only affecting certain Autistic people, whether that’s due to their gender, race, sexuality, or any other personal attributes.
Recent memes about The Good Doctor mocked Autistic traits, such as meltdowns, perpetuating ableism both inside and outside of the Autistic community. From my observations, some people considered this as fair game because the actor isn’t Autistic, and his character demonstrates traits that are seen as ‘stereotypical’ or associated with cis men and boys. But what’s stereotypical for one person is accurate for others. What one person sees as a ‘male trait’, others experience regardless of their gender.
The Good Doctor may have its flaws, and there’s a lot to rightfully criticise, but that’s not my point. It’s erasure to say that no real Autistic person could identify with this portrayal, and it hurts us all to condone ableism simply when we consider a person (or character) to be unflattering, embarrassing, cringey, or ‘stereotypically male’.
On social media, these stereotypes become even more pronounced. Even when passively scrolling and rarely engaging with Autism content, I’m bombarded with videos touting a false dichotomy between ‘cute Autistic girls’ and ‘grotty Autistic boys’. I acknowledge that it may be intended in jest by those within the Autistic community, but I know it’s not just me who’s harmed or rendered invisible by this imposed and offensive binary. Besides, I happen to be grotty and cute, thank you very much!
Every Autistic person is unique, and every person’s gender identity (or lack thereof) is unique too. Defining Autistic experiences by gender is reductive and inaccurate, and means that only a select few can enjoy a sense of inclusion and relatability in the community.
For those of us who don’t fit the mould, these gendered narratives simply result in more stereotypes and misinformation to be tackled. Don’t we all have enough of that already?
Alex Creece is a writer, poet, collage artist, and average kook living on Wadawurrung land. She was awarded a Write-ability Fellowship in 2019 and a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowship in 2020. A sample of Alex’s work was Highly Commended in the 2019 Next Chapter Scheme, and she was shortlisted for the 2021 Kat Muscat Fellowship. In 2022, Alex was shortlisted for the inaugural Born Writers Award and the Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Award. Her work has been widely published.
Image credit: Bakri Mahmoud
The Reframing Autism team would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we have the privilege to learn, work, and grow. Whilst we gather on many different parts of this Country, the RA team walk on the land of the Birpai, Awabakal, Wattamattagal, Whadjak, Amangu, Bunurong and Kaurna Yarta peoples.
We are committed to honouring the rich culture of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of this Country, and the diversity and learning opportunities with which they provide us. We extend our gratitude and respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and to all Elders past, present, and emerging, for their wisdom, their resilience, and for helping this Country to heal.