As gender is a social concept, meaning it has been created by society to “categorize” people, it can be very difficult for people on the autistic spectrum to understand and use it. It has been observed that there is a higher rate of struggles with gender among autistic people. By struggle, I mean not identifying with the gender you have been assigned at birth.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects a large amount of people all over the world, regardless of their origin, sex, age (as it is a life-long condition). One of the characteristics of autism is a lack or struggle of understanding social cues. This is why gender can be even more problematic for autistic people, as it is impossible to grasp for their brain.
From a very young age, I always struggled with gender, as I could wear anything “male” or “female” and feel good in it. I was supposed to wear pink and dresses with flowers because of what society expected, but anything felt right to me. When I discovered the LGBT+ community, I realized I could have a different gender. It then varied from genderfluid (a person who doesn’t identify as having a fixed gender), to transgender man (a person that has a different gender to what they were assigned at birth, here, male), to non-binary (a person that identifies as neither man nor woman), and more, but I felt like nothing really was me. Now, I identify as agender, as it is the closest to what I feel, which is identifying to none gender.
This article is mainly to raise awareness of the struggles with gender when you have autism, and tell my peers that it is okay if you don’t understand. And that no one can tell you that you have to look a certain way.
Here are some tips to help you in your search for yourself:
(some are for everyone struggling with gender, not only autistic people)
Try different types of clothing, make-up, hairstyles, and see what suits you the best.
Look at the definitions of different genders and see which you feel more comfortable with. (You may find less-known genders that would suit you.)
Ask other people about how they perceive their gender, they may help you.
Remember, no one can tell you who you are.
Also, I recently discovered autigender.
Autigender is a gender that was specially created for autistic people who struggle with identifying as one or other gender (or who don’t care, or don’t understand). The definition is for someone whose autism “affects” their perception of gender. I don’t really like this definition, as it feels as if autism is a problem that prevents us from understanding it. In fact, it is more that society wants us to have a gender defined that is problematic.
You can also identify as autigender, even if it is less known, it is a good representation of how many of us feel!
I hope this can help you.
If you need help, you can always contact a helpline. You may find the numbers for your country on the internet. In Switzerland, the number is 147. In France, it is 3114. Both are free. Overall, most of the countries possess a free helpline number. And if you are in immediate danger you can call the urgencies number.
If you’ve read any of the previous TWE chest binding articles then I’m sure you’re already aware of what binding is, but for those who are new to the website, ‘binding’ is when a transgender person (usually someone who identifies as a trans-male, genderfluid or non-binary) compresses their chest to minimise their body dysphoria.
Binding isn’t only for people in the LGBT+ community, binders can be used for individuals who have Gynecomastia. This is a common condition in men which causes breast tissue to swell, Gynecomastia often occurs when a man has unbalanced hormones.
Binding is an excellent way of reducing body dysphoria and improving mental health. If you or someone you love is a part of the transgender community and don’t have a binder, it would be worth asking them if they require a binder. Body dysphoria can be distressing and uncomfortable, so the most beneficial thing you can do for someone who is experiencing this would be to acknowledge their preferred identification (for example, their pronouns) and understand how they’re feeling.
I started to bind at a very young age, I was around 13 years old and didn’t realise how dangerous binding can be. Then, I wasn’t out to my family and the opportunity to come out wasn’t there either so asking my family to help was not a choice that I could take. Thinking back, I see myself considerably lucky to have such amazing, supportive friends during secondary school because they would always buy me new binders when I needed them but the issue with that was they were cheap! Buying cheap binders is an absolute no go for a transgender person, please do not buy binders that are under £20. They can cause a lot of stress on your body and in bad cases, binding can send you to the hospital if not done correctly. As time went on for me, I was able to fully comprehend how poorly I used to bind and how much it had changed my body, this is when I decided to consult my doctor. Once I spoke to my doctor she informed me that she was unsure about what to do but kindly referred me to the GIC (Gender Identity Clinic) in London. From that day, I’ve only ordered binders from Underworks (not sponsored!) and I can finally breathe while maintaining a much smaller chest. I still look in the mirror and smile every day. Thankfully my family is now very supportive and helps me look for new binders online, Underworks seem to be the binders that work well for me.
If you’re in a situation similar to my own then you’ve already had your first gender clinic appointment and are currently waiting to see either the NHS clinic or waiting to have your second appointment. For those of you who are still waiting for their initial appointment, I strongly recommend preparing yourself, they will do a physical examination of your chest area. This will feel daunting and uncomfortable but these examinations are necessary to ensure that you are staying healthy while binding.
Here's the fun! Choosing your binder. The most common websites to buy a binder is either gc2b.co or underworks.com, my personal favourite is Underworks but a lot of transgender people go to gc2b for their binders. The only difference between these two websites is that gc2b binders are specifically designed for trans people whereas Underworks is for those with Gynecomastia. GC2B has so many different styles and colours to choose from so take your time while browsing the online store, remember to use a tape measure to accurately measure your chest and get the correct sized binder. GC2B has lots of great advice on their website on how to measure properly. Please do not guess or get a size too small, this can cause major health issues, both short and long term but no not be scared off by this, just be safe. Binding is safe when done properly!
Tips on binding, I have scoured the internet for the best tips on chest binding so you don’t have to:
If you wear a binder and you get nausea, bruising, panic attacks, claustrophobic feelings, sharp pains in the chest, very fast heart pace, not being able to breathe, dizziness or fainting take off your binder and consult a doctor. These are not normal so please don’t ignore it if you have any of those symptoms. Binders can make you a little sore and feel somewhat tight but that is completely normal as long as you’re wearing the correct sized binder.
Remember to stay safe while binding and to discuss your options with a close family member or friend, this is so important as you will have someone to talk to if you begin to have any issues with your transition. If you have any further questions about binding, feel free to get in contact by selecting ‘Contact Us’ at the top of the website.
Stay home and stay safe.
Discovering who you are can be a tough journey to go on, but it is one that is needed to accept yourself. For me, it was a scary path to walk but it brought out my true self.
Seeing the pride events over the years that have been held worldwide has motivated me to be who I truly am. Seeing all the people who attend these pride events just opens your eyes to how many people are like you!
When I first came to terms with my sexuality of being bisexual, I thought it was just a phase. But, it was not! I’m proud to be bisexual and if anyone makes a negative comment towards me then I’ll just stick up for myself.
My first pride event that I attended was in London. I met up with my friends and we got all glammed up: makeup is done and colourful outfits on! We wanted to express who we were through our looks! But it was all about making new friends and enjoying ourselves.
At the pride event, I made lots of new friends that I class as my close friends now! Just being colourful is what I love and the friends I made loved that too! We connected on so many levels and we accepted each other, that’s what mattered most to me!
But how has pride helped me? It’s allowed me to discover who I am, it’s built my confidence and also let me accept myself for who I am. 5 years ago, I was a completely different person; I disliked who I was and I didn’t accept myself.
If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self I would give them this advice, ‘Never let yourself be dragged down for who you are. Your sexuality is what makes you and if people dislike that then you need to cut contact with them’.
Pride has shown me that acceptance is the key to happiness. Like I said before 5 years ago, I was a different person but now, I realise that I am me for a reason. No one else can be you, no one else has your characteristics or talent the way you do.
It’s given me the chance to try new things and rediscover my identity. I’ve done things that pushed me outside of my comfort zone. Doing what I love once again, after years of punishing myself, I can finally just let it go.
Many LGBTQ+ circles hate to admit it, but navigating non-binary identities in a binary gendered society can be difficult and confusing - especially if you are new to the whole idea of non-binary genders. Not only is understanding a non-binary gender identity difficult but showing support and acceptance can also be a challenge. First and foremost, someone else’s gender is not up for debate, even if they appear to be a certain gender to you. Gender presentation is not the same as gender identity, and androgyny is not equivalent to being non-binary. Binary people can be androgynous and non-binary people can be feminine or masculine presenting. So, even if you do not understand someone’s identity, that is perfectly alright so long as you respect it. Since every non-binary person and gender identity is different, I will solely focus on ways to respect a person’s non-binary identity and show acceptance and support of non-binary people in general.
Like many other transgender people, non-binary people coming out may have a different name or set of pronouns that they identify with. If someone comes out to you as transgender or non-binary and does not tell you anything about pronouns - it is always best to ask. In fact, one common practice that provides great social support for trans and GNC (gender non-conforming) people includes introducing yourself with your pronouns and asking for others’. Many non-binary people (myself included) use they/them pronouns, but not all non-binary people use them, and not all people who use they/them pronouns are non-binary. Some non-binary (as well as binary trans and cis) people use multiple pronouns as well, so be sure to understand what that person’s specific pronouns are. Use their chosen name and correct pronouns, even when they are not around.
When I first came out, my mother struggled to understand they/them pronouns. As someone who learned English as a second language, and who’s native tongue, Tagalog, does not have gendered pronouns, it was confusing for her to use plural pronouns for a singular person and she did not understand the significance of the gender of pronouns. Hearing the people that love me most refer to me by the wrong pronouns for years, and feeling like I could not do anything about it, hurt so much. Part of the pain came from knowing that she did love and accept me, but I could not get her to support me in the way I needed. Only now that I have finally been able to get her to understand why it mattered so much do I see how heavy of a burden it was all those years.
One thing my family was able to do for me was start using gender neutral language when referring to me. Instead of referring to me as their “daughter” I was their “child.” My mom even changed her silly embarrassing pet-name for me from her “baby-girl” to her “baby-doll.” Using gender-neutral language in all settings is one small and easy act to support any non-binary person who could be listening. Many people with binary genders tend to not realize it, but most - if not all - of society is structured around binary gender. It is evident in products for sale, language, bathrooms, and is only heightened in media and entertainment. Non-binary people live in a world that refuses to acknowledge that we exist. So by simply using phrases that make room for us, that alone makes a big difference.
A word of caution: though it is important to support and acknowledge people’s gender identities, it is even more important to not out them. I have heard many stories of people trying to show their support and accidentally outing someone to a person they had not come out to. Coming out is a process, and just because a person came out to you does not mean they are out to everyone. Sometimes, someone who may seem out and proud in public needs to hide their identity at home, and sometimes it’s just the opposite. To ensure mishaps don’t occur, ask them if they are out in general and if there are specific people they are or aren’t out to.
Finally, the most important thing to do is to affirm their identity. When I first came out to my family, they never acknowledged the fact that I am non-binary - at least not that I was aware of. Since there was a fight when I came out, I assumed their lack of acknowledgement meant that they did not support me, and was surprised to hear years later that they accepted me all along. Don’t let this happen to the people in your life. Don’t only tell them you accept their identity when they first come out, remind them regularly. Not too much to the point of obsession, but don’t let them forget or doubt your support. In a world where most people refuse to acknowledge we exist, each person counts.
Best of luck!
If you are new to LGBTQ+ identities or gender theory, or if you are struggling to label your own gender identity, this article is for you! I will go over several major gender identities and terminology, beyond their dictionary definitions. Most of these terms are perceived as being black and white or having very strict definitions, but many are much looser than what people perceive. If more information on any given label is desired, it is always best to look specifically to people who identify as such and are willing to talk with you about it. Many LGBTQ+ and transgender accounts exist with admins who are more than willing to explain their identities and experiences with their gender and labels they use, or their posts about the same information may be enough.
SEX: Defined purely by biology, typically male or female. Sex is determined by the sex characteristics a person has. Most frequently it is clear to determine, and these characteristics are the result of XX or XY chromosomes, but there are instances of chromosomes not matching someone’s sex - such as women who have XY chromosomes but are insensitive to testosterone and therefore never develop male sexual characteristics or organs.
GENDER: An identity that is culturally and socially influenced; often matches the person’s sex, though not always. Someone’s gender is not always obvious by their appearance, and only you can determine your gender identity.
GENDER BINARY: The social theory that gender is either male or female, and that everyone must fall in one category. The gender binary is still the most dominant theory of gender perpetuated in modern society.
GENDER SPECTRUM: The theory that gender is not a binary, but a spectrum between male and female, and that people can fall in the middle, shift around over time, encompass multiple areas of it at once, or not be on it at all. This theory is widely accepted in gender studies academia, yet some parts of the LGBTQ+ community do not believe it goes far enough.
PRONOUNS: The gendered pronouns we use to refer to a person have become increasingly more noticed as the transgender community gains greater mainstream acceptance, yet there are many who incorrectly assume that pronouns only apply to LGBTQ+ individuals. However, everyone uses pronouns - it is just that anyone who is cishet rarely needs to think about it. Typically those who are male/masculine aligned use he/him, female/female aligned use she/her, and those who do not feel more of one or the other use they/them (with plural conjugations for verbs: ex. They are kind). However, there are dozens of alternative gender/neutral pronouns, and pronouns do not always dictate a person’s gender. What pronouns one uses is a personal decision.
CISGENDER: Using the latin prefix cis-, which means on the same side as, this term is used to describe those whose gender identities align with their sex, i.e. a biologically female person who identifies as a woman.
TRANSGENDER: Using the latin prefix trans-, which means across, this term describes anyone whose gender is not aligned with their biological sex, and is an umbrella term for both binary and non-binary gender identities. In fact, the white stripe in the transgender flag is meant to represent anyone who does not identify with a binary identity. Many trans people physically transition or present outwardly as their gender identity, but some do not and their lack of outward presentation does not invalidate their identity.
ASSIGNED GENDER AT BIRTH (AGAB): Essentially, refers to the F or M on a person’s birth certificate. Most people’s AGAB aligns with their sex, however, individuals with unclear sex-characteristics also have an AGAB. It is common to see the abbreviations of AMAB (assigned male at birth) and AFAB (assigned female at birth) within LGBTQ+ accepting communities.
GENDER NON-CONFORMING (GNC): Anyone who’s outward expression of their gender identity does not conform with expectations of their gender. This term is inclusive of trans people.
MtF/ TRANS WOMAN: Anyone who was male or assigned male at birth and identifies as a woman/female. Likewise, FtM/ TRANS MAN refers to anyone who was female or assigned female at birth and identifies as a man/male.
NONBINARY: An umbrella term for anyone who does not identify as strictly male or strictly female. Many non-binary people simply identify their gender as nonbinary, wheras others use more specific labels. Non-binary genders have existed in many cultures across the world. Many individuals who are non-binary (such as myself) may also find a more specific label that describes their gender identity, but all can use non-binary as the label is intended to be encompassing of anyone who is neither male nore female, not as an androgynous third gender.
AGENDER: A term to refer to someone who feels no connection with any gender identity, or feels that they have no gender. Agender falls under the non-binary umbrella as it is neither male nor female.
BIGENDER: A term to refer to someone who feels their gender identity encompasses multiple genders simultaneously. Also falls under the non-binary umbrella.
GENDERQUEER: A non-binary gender label that is often used by people who feel their gender is not neutral between male or female and cannot be pinned down on the gender spectrum.
DEMIGIRL/DEMIBOY: A gender identity that describes someone that somewhat identifies with a male or female gender, but not wholly.
GENDERFLUID: A label used to describe people whose gender identities are inconsistent and changing. Some genderfluid people are fluid only between two genders, some the whole spectrum. Genderfluid people can have both binary and non-binary genders, but do not need to have both. The rate of change for people’s genders is not set in stone. Some genderfluid people use multiple pronouns to reflect what gender they are at the moment, others use only one set of pronouns. I myself am genderfluid, but often do not use this label and instead opt for the more encompassing term “non-binary.”
INTERSEX: Someone who is not born with clearly defined male or female sexual characteristics. As many as 1% of the population are intersex, and many are unaware that they are. Intersex people can be cisgender or transgender, and have a binary or non-binary gender identity. PERISEX is the opposite term, used to describe people who are clearly male or female.
Hopefully these explanations helped you better understand the transgender commmunity. There is a lot of information online about gender identities, and unfortunately a lot of it is not helpful for people still trying to wrap their heads around what is what. If you want to learn more about a specific part of the transgender community or a specific issue that trans people face, feel free to reach out to us at TWE. We can direct you to some resources, or do an article of our own about a specific topic!